With Free RPG Day just around the corner, I have decided to once again delve into the world of gaming music. More specifically, I’m going to look at how the albums I reviewed for the 2012 version of my annual “Music to Haunt By” series can be used with role-playing games. As was the case with the last two installments of this series, I managed to dig up some more example of early experiments with “gaming soundtracks.” And, as always, the reviews will be presented strictly in terms of the order I originally reviewed them and not by any sort of ranking of which is “Better” than the other. However, that’s not to say that things won’t be different this time around. In addition to the majority of the albums listed below having streaming sample tracks available in the linked reviews, I’m returning to my original vision for this series. While I had initially planned for “Music to Game By” to shorten my original reviews that would both inform gamers and entice them to check out the original full length reviews, I eventually lapsed into lengthy reedits of my old reviews. Thankfully, that’s not the case this time around:
Shadow’s Symphony – To quote my original review, The House In The Mist is “an amazing musical trip through a long-ruined place of former elegance, with wordless female vocals appearing in most of the tracks. I’m overwhelmed by both the sheer excellence of this album and the limitless potential it has.” The titular opening track, “The House in the Mist,” immediately sets the tone for things to come (especially if you use it when your players first enter a haunted house). Tracks like “Dust Covered Opulence,” “Legend of the Ruins” and “The Hands of Time” imply age and lost luxury. For those seeking to unnerve adventurers as they enter a new area, “Restless Spirits” will work wonders. “Tragedy” goes well with funeral parlors while “A Sinister Feeling” can work in a dungeon or sewer encounter thanks to its dripping tones. The heavy touches and harpsichord work of “The Haunting of the Crowley House” let it work in a fantasy setting, as does the ethereal “The Dead Will Rise Again.” And those, dear reader, are only a small portion of the tracks available on this album!
Grave Tone Productions – Given its heavy rock nature and use of numerous samples, Music To Be Buried By is something of an odd duck in terms of role-playing music (unless you’re specifically running an adventure with rock music in mind). That said, it can still be useful. The opening soundscape of “Sinister Foreshadowing,” which takes the listener on a spooky walk through the woods and into an old cabin, could be used to start off a horror adventure. Also helping matters is the creepy narrator who warns of the horrors to come. The music box-like segments of “6 Degrees of Suffering” and “Room 324” do allow use with a haunted nursery, especially in games like Little Fears or KidWorld. That said, both also offer lost of nontraditional moments as well, like rock segments and the sounds of screeching metal. “Nightmares and Lullabies” and “Creatures in the Closet” also fit into this category. Although the creepy piano work of “Ghost Note Funeral Hymn” would seemingly make it usable in a variety of scenarios, the Spanish funeral speech at the start and finish of the track does complicate matters somewhat. “The Murder Game” similarly uses eerie, soft tones with loud bursts of samples in order to create a creeping feel. While some might be tempted to use the catchy mix of rock and Night of the Living Dead samples during a zombie encounter, I recommend using it while players design their characters for a zombie apocalypse RPG. Those seeking something that sounds like a selection from a modern horror movie will enjoy “Deathmarch” and “Violent Midnight” (which starts out with an 80’s horror feel) while “Raining Fear” fits just about any horror scenario thanks to its combination of the sounds of thunder and rain with spooky music.
Sounds of Gore – The Sounds of Gore Compilation is a collection of 5 minute samples from the hour-long soundscapes that make up each of the first 15 volumes of the Sounds of Gore series. As you can imagine, the sheer variety of material makes this the sort of album you select tracks from rather than play in full (unless you’re running a Waxwork-inspired adventure). In addition for the kinds of scenarios implied by its name, the use of flies and clanking chains in “Meat Locker” allows it to be used in Hellraiser-themed adventures. The factory sounds of “Industrial Terror” can be used in a variety of gaming systems, including cyberpunk. “Spectral Nightmare” mixes the sounds of wind and ghostly moans, which I recommend to be played at a low volume for maximum effect. In addition to the sorts of effects you would expect in a soundscape called “The Cave” (dripping, swarms of bats and gusts of wind), there’s also plenty of monstrous growls and screams. Most of the other tracks’ content is exactly what their names imply: “Cemetary of Unrest,” “Sanitarium,” “Angry Skies,” “The Laboratory,” “Play Time,” “Zombie Attack,” “Demonic Whispers,” “Pig Pit” and “Circus of Freaks.” The sheer variety of roars and growls in “Night Creatures” makes it best-suited for when players navigate through a haunted forest or warehouse full of caged abominations. In addition to the sounds of numerous scuttling, chirping insects, “Creepy Crawlies” also includes the loud squeal-cries of a much larger specimen that compliments encounters with giant spiders or Carrion Crawlers.
Organum features nothing but pipe organ music and each track can be easily played as a single loop. Like the Sounds of Gore Compilation, this album makes great use of stereo effects. “Dirge” has a somewhat medieval feel to it, as does “Dismay.” “Spectre’s Ball,” “Hypnoticus” and “Baroque” all live up to their names while playing “Lost Love” after your group recovers from a lost battle would greatly add to the effect. “Miserie” has a “church organ” feel to it, while “Madman” sounds vaguely like something from a haunted carousel.
Nox Arcana – As you might expect from the name, Carnival of Lost Souls is exactly the sort of album you’d want if you’re running an adventure featuring a haunted circus or spooky kids-themed stuff. It even works in non-horror RPGs, like if you play it when your players’ super heroes are battling it out with super villains in a fun house. The spoken word/effects tracks “Ghosts of the Midway,” “Madame Endora” and “Circus Diabolique” are a great way to make encounters with NPCs seem more “real” to the players as well. However, what you wouldn’t realize is that it also has other uses in horror RPGs. So much so that I’m primarily going to focus on the general horror material. “Harlequin’s Lament” offers a general melancholy tone and “Shadows Fall” is suitable for any spooky situation. Whether players are chasing or being chased, you’re going to want to play “Nightmare Parade” and/or “Soul Stealer.” If you’re running a scenario where players are exploring a haunted house, try playing “Spellbound” if they find a phonograph in a room and try examining it. “Cries in the Night” offers a creepy chorus of voices and ghostly wails and “Theatre of Sorrows” creates a sense of mystery that would work well when players visit magic or sideshow performances. If you’re looking for something with a Middle Eastern feel, “Snake Charmer” has you covered. Likewise, “Freaks” is perfect if you’re ever in need of a soundscape featuring chains, heavy breathing and laughter. Finally, “Storm” combines sound effects with chilling music, which is pretty for a wide variety of RPGs. Hell, I’ve heard of people who make it a point play Call of Cthulhu whenever a storm rolls through their area just for the atmosphere the “natural soundtrack” provides.
Verse 13 – Memories from the Grave has lots of spooky tracks that would be perfect for use in a scenario where your players investigate a haunted mansion (especially one involving a haunted nursery). As was the case in the above album, I’m going to focus on the other tracks this CD has to offer. “Voices in the Attic,” “Unfinished Business” and “Blighted” are perfect for when you want to create a sense of chase or pursuit. “Silhouetted” makes great use of a spooky piano, “Residual” has a sinister feel and “Did You Hear That?” has some eerie moaning. “Cold Spot” has a decidedly circus-like feel to it, while the mournful tone of “Cemetery Moonlight” is aided by its unique piano work and sound effects. Speaking of sound effects, “Buried in the Walls” has plenty of digging sounds and distant growls. Both “As Black As Pitch” and “Torn Asunder” are well-suited for creating a creepy feel (especially if your characters have to visit a funeral home). In addition to the eerie tone conjured up by the music, the use of distant conversations and breathing in “She Still Roams” would work wonders in a horror RPG.
Other albums of interest:
Tales of the Frightened – Although much of the album is made up of scary stories read by Vernon Wells, there’s also plenty of excellent instrumental tracks that could be of use during horror gaming sessions. The aptly-titled “Prelude” is both creepy and effective, in addition the setting the tone for many of the music tracks. Of particular note are the theremin-style “Grave Robber” and the energetic and foreboding “Samba Of The Frightened,” while the names of the other tracks make it clear what their content is like. Cases in point are “Slayer Piano,” “Senseless Violins” and “Madhouse Lament.”
The Mission Creeps – While most of the Mission Creeps’ album Halloween is made up of great rock music, the final track is a half hour long soundcape called “Land of the Departed.” It’s filled with ghostly moans, thunder, etc. and sounds like an improved version of the sort of spooky sound effects CDs that flood stores every October. So if your party has to enter a carnival’s haunted house, you can throw them for a loop by playing this instead of the usual atmospheric music you play.
Daikaiju – Whether you play the RPG Mecha vs. Kaiju, wargames like Kaiju Kaos or any of the various kaiju battle-themed games, you’re going to want to pick up Daikaiju’s complete discography to add to the experience. Their self-titled debut album is full of great surf music but some of my favorite gaming tracks are “Sharkakhan” (works great when an aquatic monster is attacking), “Showdown In Shinjuku” (PERFECT for battles) and “Super X-9” (great for encounters with the military or mechanical foes). Some of my favorites from Phase 2 include “Escape From Nebula M Spacehunter,” “Flight Of Garuda” (for aerial battles) and “Za Feijingu Supaidaa Kyoui” (for when teleporting foes appear). Hell, you can easily get away with playing the entire album(s) in a loop.
Clouseaux – Clouseaux’s self-titled debut album has tons of music that’s perfect for giving your espionage-themed adventures the feel of an old school James Bond movie, especially “Reum With A View” and “Marauder.” “A Most Excellent Flying Death” works great fro car chases (especially ones that end in a crash). Lagoon! has several other 60’s-sounding spy music, my favorite being “Copper Locked Nymph.” Those seeking something for their kaiju battle should find this album’s reworking of “A Most Excellent Flying Death” to be of great use for battles between flying monsters. Speaking of monsters, “The Awful Green Things From Outer Space” from Beyond Good and Evil provides a sense of menace and something approaching. You can even try using it while playing the game that inspired it!
Music to Haunt By and Sounds to Scare By: An Introduction has tips on music use and sound effects to scare people (along with some free downloads).
Episode 41 of the site’s podcast features tons of scary material, including selection from most of the albums mentioned in this article. Those seeking more spy-themed material should check out episode 36.