Just like last year, I’m here to take another look at the albums I reviewed for my “Music to Haunt By” article series with their use in tabletop role-playing games in mind. Also like last time, the order of the albums reflects the order in which I reviewed them and does not mean I ranked one over another. Although I had to remove some tracks for spacing purposes, you can find the complete tracks in each of the links. While the original reviewers reviewed the tracks in order, I decided to go out of order this time around. I think this lets me focus on similar tracks all in one go rather than repeating myself over and over again. It also lets me concentrate on what I feel are the “Best” tracks when it comes to gaming. Your opinions may vary:
Introsound – The Horrorville Haunt is an interesting ambient album due to its splitting itself into two halves: one for music and the other for soundscapes. Most of the music tracks have random effects playing throughout them and don’t seem all that useful for use while role playing (at least, in my opinion). But there are some that do fit the bill. Thanks to the use of an evil voice welcoming the listener and some circus-style music, “Tuned-in to Terror,” “Freddy’s Hallway to Hell!” and “Horror-thon” can be used together for an adventure in a circus or funhouse, either one that’s haunted or in a superhero RPG. “Tuned-in to Terror” can also be used in a haunted club encounter. “Shock! Chiller Movie Theme”offers low key piano work and minimal use of sound effects. Its musical “crawling” feel makes it perfect for encounters with insects. The soft opening buildup eerie music that starts “Underneath the House” is wonderfully understated and ethereal. It should be noted, however, that it cranks up the amount of odd effects towards the end. “Underworld Pt I-Trapped!” gives the listener the sense of wandering through a maze of tunnels. That, and the sound of growling monsters make it great for a dungeon crawl…as long as you don’t mind the electrically distorted “Help me” towards the end. “Underworld Pt III-Possessed” makes great use of a creepy music box and echoed mumbling in Latin while “Underworld Pt IV-Doomed” has plenty of snarls and growls, along with a musical sense of fearful wandering that only increases as time goes on. “When Crows Attack!” combines the sounds of cawing crows and wind while “Kruegerville Ghost Town” is great for explorations of abandoned areas thanks to its slamming shutters and hinges creaking in the loud wind (along with the occasional barking dog).
“Stinkin’ Flies!” consists of nothing but the sound of buzzing flies, which is great for scenes of slaughter, junkyards and other filthy locales. “HauntScape” makes the listeners feel like they’re surrounded by spirits swirling around you, thanks to its combination of wind and soft ghostly wails and groans. “Horror Thunder Storm” offers howling wind and rumbling thunder and lightning strikes and “Werewolf II” has just what you expect it to have. The ghostly breathing and pulsing noises of “The Soul Machine” would be great for a laboratory or, if you play Call of Cthulhu, with a Tillinghast Resonator. “Vampire’s Lair” features low wind, flapping wings and bats chittering. I personally found the chittering to sound kinda cutesy, so this might be better used with younger gamers. Adventurers playing Pathfinder and the like will surely appreciate your using “Forest Of Apparitions” during the inevitable forest encounters. There’s plenty of bird calls and insects faintly chirping, along with soft wind and the occasional monstrous groaning.
Attrition – Since This Death House was originally supposed to be the soundtrack for the unreleased zombie role-playing game “Death House,” it would make sense to use it in a horror scenario involving zombies. So although the album has only two tracks, the fact that each of them is over 22 minutes long will make use of them during gaming easy. The dark and foreboding opening of “Crawling” sets the tone for the rest of the track. There’s plenty of electro touches, wailing wind and various noises which remind me of malfunctioning machinery. It’s unnerving enough to use with a variety of settings, but the machine-sounding parts (and really spacey noises which come in later ) makes me think this is perfect for a laboratory, cyberpunk setting or a scenario like this. In contrast, “Dead of night” has a lower key opening that slowly builds up. Although more musical than the last track, there’s plenty of effects like pounding, whooshing wind and a police siren-like noises at points. It’s hardy to truly describe it, but it somehow creeps out the listener by making them not sure of what is going on (or what will happen in the future). I could see this being used while players explore a factory or navigate around a bottomless pit.
Grave Tone Productions – Only the opening and closing tracks of Dead By Midnight aren’t rock music. “Dying of the Day” would be a great to start a horror game with, as its opening has sounds of wind and soft piano work usher in a narrator who warns of the dangers present when the sun goes down. The rocking guitars of “Night Terror” are combined with tolling bells, wordless female vocals, ticking clock and children singing about a monster. Rattling noises and slow piano work give “Fatal Melody” an eerie feel. So much so that the energetic rock elements don’t detract from it. There’s a definite sense of creeping or ascending and the unisex chorus towards the end really adds to the effect. This could work in any spooky encounter. “Death Awaits” has a fast and heavy rock intro which sets the tone for the rest of the track. The unisex backing choir is very creepy and nicely meshes with the music box-like tones and modern horror stings. Considering the name of the album and use of a clock in an earlier track, the content of “The Final Hour” should not surprise you. “Graveyard Waltz” takes us outdoors, with plenty of appropriate effects like blowing wind, chirping crickets and frogs, distant howls (along with footsteps and a creaking gate) coupled with bursts of piano and spooky string work.
Midnight Syndicate – If you’re playing gothic horror adventures (especially in a setting like Ravenloft), then you need Monsters of Legend. Are you characters taking a carriage ride at night? Play “Return to Arcacia” and follow it up with “Carriage Ride” and “A Watchful Gathering.” If they’re on horseback, use “Into the Valley of Shadows” instead. “Inn of the Weeping Sparrow” musically conveys elegance and would be great for when your players enter a castle or mansion. “Unwanted Visitor” features dark and relentless musical notes, with plenty of gong strikes and “scared”-sounding strings. There’s also a segment where a stranger knocks on a door and is told to be on his way, which is followed by whispers and piano work. I’m sure this could be effortlessly be dropped into a variety of adventures. The tolling bells and wind which effectively open “Requiem” works with different settings depending on the type of RPG you’re playing. Horror games should opt for using it with a funeral parlor, while fantasy games can use it anywhere chanting is needed. “Witching Hour” offers a sense of urgency or pursuit, “Unexpected Cargo” is great for a ghost ship and “Black Woods” is perfect for anything involving wolves or a haunted forest. “Stone Guardians” offers a sense of lurking at times and “Lord of the Realm” is wonderful for a chase. If a player opens an ancient door, “Ancient Portal” is the track for you. Similarly, “Building the Monster” is great for when a mad scientist enters a laboratory. “Dark Tower” is deliciously ominous and its use of whispers and male chanting that bring drudgery and dark deeds to mind. “Cloistered Cemetery” is great for a crypt and “Beyond the Veil of Time” offers plenty of menace.
Sam Haynes – The music of Sam Haynes can often be roughly separated into two categories: dance and atmosphere. I recommend saving the following dance tracks for when characters visit a night club or listen to the radio: “Ghost House,” “Zombie,” “Endless Nightmare,” “Ghost House (Fettdog remix)” and “Scarecrows (Cheekyboy Dub).” “All Hallows,” “Shadows,” “Scarecrows,” “Midnight,” “The Dark” and “Spirit Box” are great all purpose scary music. “The Dark” stands out thanks to its use of wordless female vocals and “Spirit Box” offers low key piano work. Some tracks have titles which make it easy to figure out what sort of scenario to use them with, like “Doll House,” “Seance” and the lengthy “Midnight at the Funhouse,” but others can surprise you. I think “Ghost Train” goes great with a slasher-themed adventure and “31-13” brings to mind walking through dark alleyways at night. Speedy strings start off “Halloween Night,” could be used in a circus or fun house while “Witching Hour” works great with mummies due to its exotic feel.
Nox Arcana – If you want to have an adventure in the Ravenloft campaign setting, you need a copy of Transylvania to set the mood. Joseph Vargo’s eerie narration in “Transylvania Overture” makes for a perfect way to open an adventure. The sound of wind is a constant presence in “Gossamer Mist.” That, along with its moody piano work, make it perfect for when your players are lost in the fog or are exploring a windy peak. If you’re in need of a storm and spooky music, just play “The Black Coach.” Both of those tracks can also be used to lead into the short “Sentinels of Stone,” where the sound of grinding stones leads up to a gargoyle discussing its role as a guardian. Do I even have to tell you how to use that in an RPG? Other tracks with narration include an old woman’s warning in “From Dusk Till Dawn” and “Lair of the Vampire” has a female vampire trying to lure your players in (and also works well with “Brides of Darkness”). “The Howling” has the sound effects you expect, along with a take on the classic “Children of the night” speech. Need to create the feel of excitement and danger? Play “Into the Shadows.” Similarly, use “Shadow Hunters” to musically convey determination and strength and “Visitors in the Night” for a ghostly encounter. Both “Castle Dracula” and “Grande Masquerade” offer a sense of elegance while “Nocturne” offers a darker take on the matter. Exploring an abandoned monastery or church? Crank up “Bats in the Belfry,” “Gothic Sanctum,” “Night of the Wolf” and “Echoes from the Crypt.” The chanting in many of those tracks is also useful for when your players run into cultists. You can even use the hidden track “Sealing The Crypt” as the end of your adventure. If you want things to be open ended, then just wait until “Ordo Dracul, Ave Dracula” plays.
Prelude to a Nightmare – Don’t let the name Dark Ride fool you, this album can be used in a variety of RPG scenarios. With that in mind, let’s start with the general use stuff first. “Into the Black” sounds like something from a modern horror film, as does “The Visitors Remain” thanks to its industrial or tribal feel. “Triple D’s” is a dance track best suited for use when players head to a club while “Aftermath” and “Lights Out” can also be used with many different types of settings. “Ghosts of the Dark Ride” can also be used in many types of RPGs, but the use of whispers and a children’s choir would make it perfect for a haunted school. Anything involving creepy children would benefit from having “Dark Lullabye” or “Kiddieland” playing as you game. But if a trip to the (haunted) circus is what you want, there’s plenty of music for that as well. Calliope fans will enjoy “Haunted Midway” and “Midway Madness.” Want lots of sound effects in order to disorient people? Just use “Scarry Larry’s Collection of Curios Creatures and Other Creepy…Stuff” coupled with the relatively subdued “Laugh Til You Puke.” “The Dark Ride” can be used both in a circus and in an asylum (as a way to sharing the patients’ madness with the players). There’s plenty of other circus tracks, but I enjoy “Tunnel of Love” due to its use of dripping water and off-kilter music.
Jerry Vayne – Virus 308 is great for use with a zombie-themed RPG whose players don’t mind a little rock. “Emergency Broadcast” is a perfect start thanks to its use of music being interrupted by an emergency broadcast system bulletin about virus outbreaks. “Outbreak” features screaming crowds and sirens mixed in with rockin’ guitars while the music of “Wasteland” can help players get in the right mindset for a journey through a desolate landscape. If you want lots of sirens and zombie noises, “Under Martial Law” is the track for you. The use of a heart monitor in both “Mandatory Quarantine” and “Patient Zero” means these tracks can be used in a non-zombie horror hospital scenario. The unnerving ambiance and chilling (but energetic) rock of “Annihilation” and “The Dead” make them a great fit for any scene, while “Virus 308” and “Mankind No More” feature nothing but rock. If you prefer your rock music with zombie moans, crank up “Spreading The Infection,” “Re-Animated” and “Land Of The Undead.” “Feast of the Flesh” changes things up with the sounds of zombies snarling and feeding.
Music to Haunt By: The Return has tips on using music (along with some free album downloads).
Episode 62 of this site’s official podcast is completely devoted to gaming music (horror, fantasy and cyberpunk) and episode 78 has more horror music. In fact, many of the tracks noted here can be heard in it!