I haven’t always been great about including sound in my role-playing sessions. I used to at least run an iTunes playlist of cool fantasy/sci-fi soundtracks in the background, but even that has fallen by the wayside in the last few years. But I’m starting to look at audio options for my games again, for a few reasons. Mainly, I just really like having that audio component and I’ve missed it. Even if it’s just a playlist of appropriate background music, I’d forgotten how much music can keep the players focused on the game, and help them become immersed in the session.
But a second contributing factor (and one which you might get sick of hearing about) is Matt Mercer’s DMing on Critical Role. Recently Matt has been using Syrinscape to build custom audio files for his sessions. I didn’t notice it right away, and then only when he brought it up during a special Goblins episode of Critical Role. But once I noticed the sweet background music and sounds, I realized how effective it was at enhancing each session. Going back and listening to earlier episodes I found that, while still enjoyable, the absence of background music/soundscape was definitely odd.
So audio is returning to my sessions. I’m starting slow, not just for myself but for my players. I don’t want to go from no audio to full-on customized soundscape; I think that will be jarring for everyone involved. Plus, using a system like Syrinscape has a bit of a learning curve, and I’d rather overcome that away from the table before I try to make it a part of my GMing routine. So we’re going to start with some background music during sessions, just to ease everyone back in to hearing something besides my mellifluous tones during the game. I’ve got an extensive collection of movie and gaming soundtracks, so it should be pretty easy to put together a 4-5 hour playlist of suitable music.
If you aren’t as well-stocked with soundtrack music, I highly recommend two resources to use at your table. The first is Radio Rivendell, an online radio station which streams music from various video games, new age albums, and fantasy soundtracks. Very few commercials most days, so it makes perfect background music for your game as long as you don’t mind having no say over the music you get. If you want a bit more control, I recommend getting a Spotify account (or using it for free, but get used to periodic commercials during your games). Spotify allows you to build playlists, and you have access to a damn extensive library of music to pull from. You can get as granular as you like, pulling together lists of music to suit whatever campaign you are running.
Later, once I have a handle on how to use Syrinscape, I’ll introduce more focused soundscapes to my sessions. I might start by using them just during “boss fights”, and then introduce them in to other situations until I’m comfortable using the system. I’d recommend taking a look at Syrinscape, even if you don’t think it’s for you. It appears to be pretty user-friendly, and I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. Count on a full report of my experiences with it in future posts.
Have you been using sound in your games? How much or how little? Let me know in the comments.
Update: Ran a session of my Council of Thieves campaign yesterday afternoon, and contrary to what I said about easing in to Syrinscape use, I went full Syrinscape during the session. And it worked! Players enjoyed it, it wasn’t distracting, and it did help focus the players (and me) on the game. 10/10 would use again.