Since Free RPG Day has me in a gaming sort of mood, I have decided to revisit the idea of reusing the albums from the previous year’s “Music to Haunt By” review series to use during RPG sessions.
For those new to this series, I’ll explain: Each of the synopses below are edited down and reworked versions of the reviews linked to on the left. For the full review (including tracks that I didn’t mention in this article), just click the link. I want to stress that the order of the albums below merely reflects the order in which I received them for use in “Music to Haunt By” and is not mean to be interpreted as a “best to worst” ranking. Also, please keep in mind that (for the most part) these albums were not made to be used during role-playing and as a result, some work better as gaming accessories than others.
Prelude to a Nightmare – While many tracks off the other albums in this article have a timeless feel to them, Carpe Noctem also features work that sounds like something from a modern day horror movie. No matter what feel the track has, all of them are well suited for looping. An opening door and footsteps start off “Time Forgotten,” which provides a sense of antiquity and horror. I can easily see this being used for when players enter a castle or ancient ruins. “The Terror Within” has a big opening, with tolling bells and a very spooky musical stinger that soon yields to industrial music. This would work well in haunted club, factory or boiler room, especially in a Vampire: The Masquerade session. “Playful Spirits” would work wonders in a “haunted nursery”-type scenario (such as in a game like Little Fears). The strong piano opening of “Phantoms In The Attic” leads to violins and wordless female vocals, which make it perfect for use in a haunted attic or any other spooky setting. The tolling bells and violin work in “Hallowed Grounds” are a great match, and its solemn, scary feel makes it perfect for a graveyard or crypt. The mix of soft music and sound effects (like distant voices and dripping) of “The Tormented” makes it perfect for use in a dungeon or torture chamber. The bonus track, “Subterranean Terror,” is an incredible soundscape that captures the feel of wandering through a dark cave. It’s perfect for any dungeon crawl.
Alex Otterlei – In Where Evil Lurks: Special Edition, the music is “happy” for large stretches, but the horror factor increases as time goes on. There’s also an “old west” feel, which allows for its use with Deadlands, Call of Cthulhu or any horror scenario involving a house with a nasty presence inside. Due to the lighter interludes, I imagine that most people using this will only play certain tracks rather than play the entire album as a loop. Things start off with “The House,” which uses its music to convey both age and grandeur (with a hint of something else). The orchestral sections seem to convey the players and violins help represent something unnatural. “Arrival of the Jeffersons” is a short track consisting of happy, peppy music and one can easily picture frolicking comedic characters . The pounding piano and violins of “Entering the House” create an eerie feeling. There’s definitely a sense of lurking thanks to the muted horns, which tones down as the “family” (players) excitedly explores. “Investigation” is calmer, but still has a sense of unease and snooping. In fact, the snooping notes seem almost comical at first, but gets calmer and serious as time passes. Faint moaning tones kick in as the players makes unpleasant discoveries. The soft, spooky notes of “The Basement” steadily grow, as if you’re going deeper and deeper into the basement (or any underground location). “Nausea” provides an appropriate sense of unease and not feeling well. “Manifestation of Evil” uses stab-like musical tones and pounding notes to create a sense of evil. One section gives the feel of rushing or running, which flows perfectly into the next track. It also allows one to use this in a chase scenario. “Evil Unbound” makes one think of little things running all over, so it could work well in a insect or spider-filled room.
Darkmood – Halloween Descends offers a mix of themes (including a spoken word track) that, although the album can’t be looped as a whole unless you’re playing a Waxwork-type adventure, offers plenty of excellent tracks to pick from for individual use. The album gets its name from its first track, “Halloween Descends,” which features a pounding intro and plenty of screams. “They” is perfect for a haunted factory or industrial setup. The simulated musical creaking of an opening door starts off “Night Falls” and soon provides a definite sense of darkness and evil approaching. “Stalker” effectively combines a heartbeat-like tone, footsteps and other spooky touches. The scream at the end is a great touch. As it’s just under a minute long, it’s not suitable for looping (unlike the majority of the tracks on this album). However, playing it when players enter a dark hallway would be an excellent use of it. “It Creeps” provides a sense of being followed while “Whispers Of Evil” eschews from using music in favor of utilizing numerous whispers in an odd language. “Eerie” definitely lives up to its name and mere words can’t do it justice. If you want to make people feel like they’re trapped in an 80’s horror movie, you need “Zombies Rise.” “Dance Of The Dead” sounds like an organ that plays ghostly, moan-like music while “Thunderstorm” combines wind and synth work with touches of thunder. When you think about it, a thunderstorm goes well with just about anything spooky. Steady synth work pounds in “Ghost Ship,” while we also hear the creaking of a haunted vessel. “A Sense Of Fear” sounds as if it’s played by someone who is nervous and constantly checks over shoulders. The darker synth work seems to represent what the player is afraid of. It’s perfect for any scene where you want to create nervousness.
Dead Rose Symphony – In their self-titled debut album Dead Rose Symphony, the band showcases their unique mix of scary music and rock. In many cases, the songs feature both types of music. I should also note how most tracks on their albums are suitable for looping, with only a few exceptions. The sounds of crickets and footsteps usher us into “Behind the Door,” which is followed by smashing sounds that quickly become a catchy beat. “I’m in the House” features eerie piano work and effects and is just barely long enough to work as a loop in any spooky scene. In “Can You Find Me?,” a forceful (but soft) piano and violin form a mysterious, sneaky feeling tune that’s great for thieves. In “Young Steven’s Waltz” you can hear the winding up of a music box, then its plinking tune coupled with a violin and effects. It’s perfect for a haunted nursery, playroom or other kid-themed scenario (like Kidworld). The piano and violin work in “Meu Mort Trandifir” is beautiful, but also gets scary and rockin’. “The Pendulum” starts with the sound of a swinging pendulum that’s soon followed by music. Naturally, it’s great for an encounter in a torture chamber. The next three tracks all fall under the banner of “Masquerade Ball.” First up is “Mov I – The Waltz,” which kicks off with the sounds of guests going to the front door to a party on a stormy night. Heavy drums start the waltz while the sounds of clapping and instruments tuning close everything. A cracking whip kicks off “Mov II – Bacchanalia,” a jaunty Italian ditty that turns into a dark, rocking tune with plenty of evil laughter and debauchery. The ball ends with “Mov III – The Unmasking,” a rocking, waltz-style track that’s good for a haunted ballroom scene.
The Dark Gift – Soft bells open “The Abduction,” followed by dark piano work and the occasional tolling bells. Percussion kicks in as things pick up, with the guitars entering with thunder before the light, mournful piano. “The Cell” features dripping water and touches of piano representing a captive’s thoughts of sadness and fear. In “Morgan’s Theme,” piano strains are used to represent the titular character mysterious background as a thief, with an Irish flute representing her youth. That said, it could also work for any character that’s a thief. The piano work of “Solitude” definitely helps this track live up to its name and has a great eerie feel. In “The Questioning,” pizzicato strings represent the questioners interrogating their prisoner and the unnerving (but soft) backing music hints at dark motivations. “Valinor’s Theme” features masterful piano work with touches of darkness and mystery while “The Plan” uses musical buildup with piano work and touches of guitars as the players plot their escape. “Nadjinia’s Theme” uses chimes to create a vaguely mystic feel while “The Escape” uses piano work and guitars to convey a desperate flight to freedom. To me, the piano is like footsteps while the guitars stand for the players’ feeling of danger. The low strings and piano work blend with guitars in “The Ring’s Theme” to symbolize both the titular evil organization and a sense of dangerous pursuit. In “Sanctuary” the fugitive finds a church. There is a strong feeling of peace as the piano brings in chanting vocals, guitar work and a pipe organ. In “The Fight,” multiple guitars usher in the final battle. Organ work and chanting appear, as do the sounds of things breaking and female yelling.
Spectral Evidence – The beginning of “March of the Dead” features a piano, whistling wind and tolling bells. A mournful violin joins subdued guitars in the background along with militaristic marching drums. “Walking In Shadows” uses bursts of Jaws-esque piano work coupled with soft, fearful notes and minor guitar work. There’s a definite nervous feel and the sound of footsteps add to the effect. Do you have a scene planned where players investigate a haunted room or an asylum’s hallway? Then “Ward 5” is the track for you. “The Dead See Trolls” uses violins, marching drums and piano work to conjure up a sense of mystery and large things. As the title might have you guess, “The Forest” is perfect for any haunted forest. In “The Rocking Chair,” we hear the creaking of rocking chair, a crying baby and its grandmother talking (with very creepy backing music). In “Wolf Chase,” there’s a feel of running and pursuit, which is aided by the growling and snarling wolf sound effects, along with the sound of padded feet. Soft music gradually fades up in “The Parlour” (sic), along with moaning in the background. Violins soon join in, along with a soft heartbeat. Laughing and scary piano work usher in “Clowns,” which features a twisted version of circus march played on an accordion. The rumbling thunder and low organ work of “Draci Triada” is quite scary. Tolling bells, mournful tip-toeing piano work and violins work well together. There’s a great piano solo about nine minutes in, along with sounds like thunder, footsteps in the rain, breathing, and entering a house via creaky door.
Nox Arcana – While The Dark Tower is somewhat talkier than your average Nox Arcana album, it’s still full of the scary musical excellence that Nox Arcana is known for. “Darkness Rising” uses tolling bells, soft chanting and string work as a prelude to Joseph Vargo’s spooky voice, which speaks of spirits, vampires and gargoyles inhabiting the Dark Tower. It’s an incredible way to introduce your players to a haunted tower. “Born of the Night” starts off with pounding noises, violins and snippets of organ work. Both the unisex chanting and tolling bells provide an unrelenting feel. “Vasaria” has a heavy intro which makes it seem like something menacing is approaching. “Path of Shadows” has low pounding drums and a lurking tone conveyed by the music that’s perfect for any trip through a passageway, trail or forest. “Ghost at the Gate” features great piano work and groaning effects that’s perfect for any ghostly encounter. “Nightwatcher” features scary organ music, along with the occasional pounding percussion and distant chanting. “The Dark Tower” features a spoken intro that’s great for the entrance to a tomb or crypt. Think of it as a secondary game master of sorts. “Haunted” uses thunder, soft cries, chanting and a harpsichord to conjure up sense of antiquity. Soft piano work grows in terms of both intensity and volume in “Undying Love.” There are music box-like chimes at points, which make it work perfectly in a vampiress’ or room haunted by a woman’s spirit. “Masque of Sorrow” has powerful intro with chanting and organ work. “King of Fools” is perfect for an encounter featuring a throne with a (un)dead king in it. Ravens’ cawing joins distant moans in “Sinister Forces.” It’s almost playful in tone, which means you could get away with using in a haunted circus scenario. Both “Immortal Fire” and “Sorrow’s End” feature plenty of female chanting. “Dark Desire” conveys a sense of dark elegance or regality using soft, speedy plinking tones, tolling bells and chanting. In “Noctem Aeternus” the chanting and organ start immediately. The bells and increased chanting add to the feeling of darkness. Those who wait patiently will be rewarded with a few short bonus tracks as well…
Sonic Realm – Given that it’s an album of soundscapes, the tracks from Sonic Realm are best utilized in role-playing individually (especially played as snippets rather than the full track). I say that because most of the tracks are a wild mix of sound effects, which admitted could work in a loop if unless players are investigating a carnival haunted house. Eerie, synth-sounding music is heard in “Alone at the Cabin,” along with chimes. We hear breathing and rain, the latter of which becomes muffled after we hear a door close and footsteps. Our unseen protagonist is soon attacked by some howling beast, which leaves the cabin for more prey with an evil laugh. Despite the creaking of a closing door, things are only just starting on “The Lab Experiment (A Rebirth).” Bubbling potions and electrical cracks go perfectly with the storm effects. Breathing and evil laugh hint at the awakening of a man-made monster. The door opens to panicked villagers, various bird calls and music “stings.” With and evil laugh and electricity crackling, the villagers soon meet their fate. Rain and hoof beats signal the arrival of “The Headless Horseman,” whose ride sounds like no ordinary horse. The overall effect is like caught in forest during a storm while trying to run from the horseman. Synth music takes us away from the horseman and to the sounds of digging and a man attacked (and eaten) by a monster, so I recommend stopping the track before this part. Spooky drums are coupled with the sounds of numerous screaming victims, wind and chainsaws in “Killing Spree,” which is perfect for any “mad slasher” encounter. “Electrocution in the Shower” features exactly what you’d expect it to, as does Fear (Death by Axe).”
Other links of interest:
Music to Haunt By: The Return has some tips on using music to scare people (complete with some free downloads).
The 15th episode of 6’+, Ambience and AtmosFEAR, features tracks from all of the albums noted in the “Music to Game By” series so far!