When you think of Dungeons & Dragons, what comes to mind first? Whimsical adventure? Medieval-style fantasy plots? Elves running amok? Whatever it is, it’s likely that music is not the first thought. Why would it be? This isn’t a concert; it’s a tabletop game!
Ever notice in a horror movie when the music cuts out and everything starts to go eerily silent? Subconsciously, even if we don’t know it yet, we’re preparing ourselves for something bad or scary to happen. Not just in the horror genre, though–music is extremely useful when it comes to setting the tone in all kinds of media. When the rain starts to fall and the character cries over their lost loved one, a soft piano can be often heard lilting in the distance. When the characters are grinding at a club, you hear the bumping beat that they’re dancing to, and sometimes it makes you want to dance, too. If it is has the power to make us feel things so strongly in movies, why shouldn’t we use it in D&D? Like in movies, music can help your players know what the vibe of the scene is, what kind of story they’re telling right now, and help them get into character.
Every DM has their own approach to how to they add music and soundtracks to their campaign. Personally, I prefer songs without words, softly playing in the background, just to fill the empty silence. If it gets too distracting, it might actually do the opposite and take your players out of the game. Before your players start acting OOC (out-of-character), try to strike a balance between setting the scene and stealing the show!
If you’ve never put your campaign to music before, don’t worry–I’ve got you covered! Here’s some Soundtrack ‘Spo to get you started:
- Your favorite action RPG soundtracks. Nothing gets a session going like some video game music! I have really good luck with Dragon Age: Inquisition, Witcher 3, and Skyrim for general mood music. Try searching for your video game OST of the moment on YouTube and see what you can find!
- Bardcore. I’m obsessed with Dungeon Synth and Medieval Style song covers. You can find so many wonderful artists on just YouTube alone doing crazy-genius things with popular, pre-existing songs. This cover of Jolene is awesome for some ye olde towne music!
- Tabletop Audio. This site is 100% free and has an insane selection. It beats Netflix for most obscure categories, including Mysterious Grotto, Oregon Trail, and Nordic Noir. And they all slap.
- Reddit: Somehow I’m always surprised, but yes, there’s a subreddit for this.
- Check Amazon Music: If you have an Amazon membership, you can find some really cool music on there for free! Hawkwind is a little more attention-grabbing than most of this list, but if not played too loudly, I think they could provide some sweet battle tunes.
- Select from My Favorites: If you’re looking for something more grab-and-go, here are a few playlists already curated for your listening pleasure: nature sounds, town and tavern songs, and battle music (credit: Janna Chapman)
- And, if all else fails, there’s always ten hours of sea shanties.