Category Archives: RPG tools

The Sound of Music

Don’t worry, I don’t want to talk about the movie from 1965 , I just thought it made for a witty title. Instead I want to have another look on how you can use music as an effective tool in your GM’s toolbox. I am convinced that music can be a very powerful and effective tool when it comes to setting the mood. There’s definitely a limit to what mere words can accomplish. Music reaches us in a more subconscious, emotional way. A good GM can use detailed and poignant descriptions to make a scene come alive, but a great GM adds an additional layer by using music.

Of course not every music works in any situation. Personally I avoid any contemporary popular music, especially when there are lyrics involved. In my opinion lyrics often tend to distract people (especially me). In most cases you want the music to remain in the background. I still remember one adventure set into an underground facility shortly after Christmas. Dead bodies and destruction where accompanied by the same Christmas song repeating itself continuously. Christmas music has never been so creepy.

When running games based on popular movie, video game, or TV series licenses it makes a lot of sense to get your hands onto the respective soundtracks. Nothing helps to set the mood for a Star Wars game quicker and easier than John Williams’ score. But especially less iconic soundtracks can be used in all kinds of games. One of my favorites is the soundtrack to the original Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s my go-to music for horror games and it never disappointed. Even though the players know the music by heart already, it still helps everyone to get into the right mindset.

For one Star Trek game I made the effort to setup and use a software called Ares (Aural RPG Experience System). In Ares you can play music, sound effects etc. at the touch of a button. You can also create elaborate sound environments. Of course using sound of a Star Trek door opening and closing whenever the players leave a scene gets old pretty fast, but using the Enterprise background loop, or the occasional phaser sound during combat can be very effective.

But you have to make sure that using music and sounds doesn’t become a distraction. If the flow of your game gets interrupted because of you searching for a certain track on a CD, or if you are struggling with a software like Ares more than focusing on what your players are saying, then its time to tone it down a bit. Often playing some music in the background from a CD or MP3 playlist is all that it needed.

So what does one need to use music in their roleplaying game sessions? If you play always at the same place and if there’s dedicated hi-fi equipment available that’s almost perfect – especially if it’s the GM’s place where they can prepare everything beforehand. Personally I prefer a more mobile solution. Most of the music I use for gaming is saved on my smartphone. I also own a couple of Bluetooth speakers, which I can take with me. Nowadays I also make sure that I pack some audio cables as well. I remember more than one session that got interrupted because the speaker decided it doesn’t want to connect to my phone anymore.

I’ve experimented with the idea to use an intro theme music to my campaigns. But this actually didn’t really work that well with the only exception being Star Wars. My current Star Wars GM even uses a custom Star Wars opening crawl which includes a recap of the last sessions. That’s a very efficient and fun way to get everyone back into the game even after a longer hiatus.

What are your thoughts on using music during roleplaying game sessions? Have you embraced the use of music as I have or do you avoid it? Please share your thoughts below!

Distress Call, a Starfinder adventure on Kickstarter, an interview with the author.

A couple of weeks ago I found about a new product in Kickstarter. With the success of Starfinder there are a slew of new third-party products available. Many push the system in new and interesting directions.  However, I learned about this project vial the Google+ Stargazer’s World Community. The author shared the campaign, and I was really intrigued by the fact the project was being created in Mexico. I contacted the author, Davide Tramma, to learn more about From Beyond: Distress Call, a sci-fi adventure. He was kind enough to answer my questions, here is the interview.

Sunglar: Davide, before we talk specifically about your Kickstarter project, let’s get to know you. Who is Davide Tramma? Where are you from?

Davide: Well, I’m many things and that depends of the point of view. I’m a husband, I’m a teacher, I’m a cook, I’m a player. Essentially, I’m all the things that I’ve been through during the 40 years I have been here. In few words, I’m what I like to do and at the same time what I don’t.

Sunglar: How did you start playing role-playing games? Continue reading Distress Call, a Starfinder adventure on Kickstarter, an interview with the author.

What about Starfinder? A review….

In early 2010 one of my first posts on this blog was a review of Pathfinder. It is only fitting that seven years and a few months later I review Paizo’s newest hit Starfinder.

Allow me to muse a little before I get to the meat of this review.

If you read my review on Pathfinder back then, I was really enamored with the system. Having tried and disliked D&D 4th edition, I was thrilled someone was continuing and expanding upon the 3.5 rules which all my gaming group enjoyed. Fast forward to now, and as much as I like Pathfinder, and continue to buy products from Paizo such as Pawns, Flip-Mats and Map Packs, I’m no longer playing the game. My current fantasy campaign uses the D&D 5th edition rules. Some of my players still play on Pathfinder campaigns and long for the character options and builds they can do in Pathfinder.

Over the past seven years I’ve come to appreciate simpler, more streamlined systems, and while Paizo does a lot to make running the game easier through tools and books like the NPC, Monster and Villain Codex, and their terrific Pathfinder Reference Document, keeping up to date with all the Feats, Spells, special rules, character classes, etc., is a daunting task. As a GM you don’t have to use them all, but you need to check character builds, make sure you create challenges appropriate to their powers, and fun for the players. I felt that running Pathfinder was too much of a hassle. I liked what WotC did with D&D 5th edition and moved on to that system.

Still I long for the kind of support Paizo gives Pathfinder, I know that my players want more options that the ones 5th edition offers, and I’d be more than happy to run Pathfinder 2nd edition if they cleanup and simplify the system. When Starfinder was announced I was sure this was a prelude to a new edition. Testing out the waters, fiddling around with the rules, and then using that for an updated version of the flagship game. I pre-ordered Starfinder, and thanks to Hurricane María, had some free time to read the book. Did I get what I expected? Read on and find out… Continue reading What about Starfinder? A review….