Every Story Needs A Soundtrack


Imagine sitting in a theater watching an incredibly imaginative and compelling movie with incredible art and special effects, but one thing is missing: music. I was gaming at a friend's last week, as a trial foray into his new Shadowrun campaign, and I flogged him for the lack of atmosphere that he created in his gaming space.

Imagine sitting in a theater watching an incredibly imaginative and compelling movie with incredible art and special effects, but one thing is missing: music. I was gaming at a friend's last week, as a trial foray into his new Shadowrun campaign, and I flogged him for the lack of atmosphere that he created in his gaming space.

"Where's the music?" I asked.

"Music?" was his reply, as if I was speaking some foreign language.

It quickly dawned on me that others may be in this same predicament: semi-exciting games that are hindered by lack of atmosphere, lack of music. So, for those of you who would like to add a fitting soundtrack to your campaigns, or for those of you who do use music, but need some fresh suggestions, I hereby give this list.

(Disclaimer: This list is given by the assumption that you are all smart people and that you know there are hundreds of RPGs out there. Please do not scold me for leaving "your system" off the list. This list is merely here to provide myriad settings of games and their appropriate soundtrack choices. If you cannot find your particular game here, then find a game on the list with a similar setting to yours and use that music selection. Also note that some of the artists listed here are a bit obscure: the less popular and recognizable a song, the less your party will focus on it and not the play.)

Basic soundtrack selections are bands that can be played as background music during the entire campaign session, which will set the basic mood for gameplay. Key/Action soundtrack selections are choices that you will want to play during any "key" point in the session (i.e. a battle, a death scene, discovery, or anything cool and momentous). If a particular album or song is extremely befitting to a particular game setting, it will follow the band/composer in parenthesis. And of course, comments and additions to this list are more than welcome!

Call of Cthulhu
Basic Soundtrack: 1920's Lounge/Jazz Music, Hoagy Carmichael, John Tavener, O Brother Where Art Thou? Soundtrack, Fire Walk With Me Soundtrack
Key/Action Soundtrack: The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, Black Sabbath

Basic Soundtrack: Stewart Walker, Arvo Part (Te Deum), Sojourn
Key/Action Soundtrack: The Yo-Yo's (Rumble)

Basic Soundtrack: Aphex Twin, Mortal Combat Soundtrack, Nine Inch Nails
Key/Action Soundtrack: KMFDM, Sheep On Drugs

Dark Conspiracy
Basic Soundtrack: Aphex Twin, Arvo Part (Te Deum), Dead Can Dance (The Serpent's Egg)
Key/Action Soundtrack: Bela Bartok (The Miraculous Mandarin)

Basic Soundtrack: Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack, Dead Can Dance (Spiritchaser), Ralph Vaughan Williams
Key/Action Soundtrack: KMFDM, Fields of the Nephilim

Dungeons & Dragons
Basic Soundtrack: Sweet Lullaby (Deep Forest), Calliope, Meredith Monk (Book of Days), Philip Pickett (Sinners & Saints: The Ultimate Medieval and Renaissance Music Collection)
Key/Action Soundtrack: Dead Can Dance (Aion)

Legend of the Five Rings
Basic Soundtrack: Willow Soundtrack, John Tavener, Ralph Vaughan Williams
Key/Action Soundtrack: Karl Orff (Carmina Burana), Bela Bartok (The Miraculous Mandarin)

Basic Soundtrack: VNV Nation, Nine Inch Nails, Einsturzende Neubauten
Key/Action Soundtrack: KMFDM, Ministry

Basic Soundtrack: John Tavener, Meredith Monk (Book of Days), Nine Inch Nails
Key/Action Soundtrack: KMFDM, Einsturzende Neubauten

7th Sea
Basic Soundtrack: Cutthroat Island Soundtrack, Fields of the Nephilim, Sojourn, Cocteau Twins
Key/Action Soundtrack: Apocalyptica, Jocelyn Pook (Flood)

Basic Soundtrack: Aphex Twin, Covenant, Arvo Part (Te Deum)
Key/Action Soundtrack: KMFDM, Bela Bartok (The Miraculous Mandarin)

Vampire, the Masquerade
Basic Soundtrack: Bauhaus, Anne Clark (Our Darkness), Legendary Pink Dots, Swans, Sisters of Mercy, Christian Death
Key/Action Soundtrack: My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Jocelyn Pook (Flood), Bach (Tocata and Fugue), Karl Orff (Carmina Burana)

You're forgetting one key soundtrack: SPYBREAK by THE PROPELLORHEADS. (For those of you who don't know The Matrix inside out, that's the lobby scene music.). Or for that matter, some of the new soundtracks from Matrix Reloaded work well for action sequences. I particularly like BURLY BRAWL (from the Agent Smith fight) and CHATEAU (The massive exotic weapon fight).

Theme music for any situation is easily found from any of the Final Fantasy games, and Chrono Trigger, as well.

a point that you touched on, but havn't flat out said:
I am not a professionall DJ, and even though I think I have a decent taste for music, I don't think I could come up with the perfect soundtrack for whatever type of game. I don't even want to think about the time it would take to try. there is a shortcut: movies. they come with sountracks made by proffesionals to fit the mood for a specific movie, so find a movie with a mood similar to your campain, and use that soundtrack. Great, now how long did that take? My point is that I don't really think I can do better than those whose job it is to put these things togather, and certainly not in any reasonable amount of time (they don't pull the compilations out of their hats either). ignore me if youthink you can do better.

good list. I'd like to offer a few myself:

Champions: the Cowboy BeBop soundtrack. What fun!
Deadlands: Anything Ragtime. Think about Scott joplin and tinny saloon pianos. Maple Leaf Rag, (or anything that ends with "Rag")
LoFR: Don't forget the tracks from The Last Emperor and Empire of the Sun
7th Sea: how about Bach, Handel, and the other baroque folks? Also, check out a neat group called the Baltimore Consort. They have a few albums of Late Renaissance or early baroque music out there, notably The Art of the Bawdy Song and On the Banks of the Halicon.

That's all I got for just now. Great concept for an Article, KP.



I also recommend Dark Ambient music for games like Call of Cthulhu or that are grim in nature such as the Midnight game world for D&D.

You can find some of the music at Cold Meat Industry. Very grim and gritty music...IIRC CMI's motto is

For those who appreciate listening to another person's nightmare.

Or something like that.

Alot of this music has no lyrics (some have chanting) and is perfect atmosphere music, IMO, for grim and gritty games.


I find FF music particularly appropriate for my D&D campaign.

I know I used to play Batman to the Titan A.E. soundtrack cuz it was pretty diverse. It might be worth it to map out the music in advance though.

Great ideas - all. I've always found that a good soundtrack can enhance the emotional vibe or sense of pace in a game. In movies, it provides the emotional voice of the film usually.

We use instrumental soundtracks - often movie or videogame soundtracks in our games. Another GM tried to give us clues about the game by picking songs with certain lyrics. For example, we had to figure out that someone was a vampire, so he played Bela Lugosi's Dead. This was awful - basically metagaming because he couldn't figure out a way to tell us within the context of the game. Bad way to go.

But definately - to add emotional flavor, without adding information - this is what you want.

Our repertoir?

-Independence Day - for big AWESOME scenes. We're talkin' scale here.
-Lord of the Rings.
-Star Trek "Amok Time" Ta Ta Ta ta ta ta... on a loop for fights.
-Night Fight (big drums) from Crouching Tiger...
-for planar and demonic stuff we use a bit of industrial music - Event Horizon, the Quake themes by NIN.
-for gloomy dungeon atmosphere without cues - Alien vs predator soundtrack - the alien theme.
- Jawa music for lvl 1 encounters - kobalds and goblins
- Gladiator
- Holzt: The Planets
- The Carmen Burana for big fights -"source music for the "Apocalyptic Rave" a few years back - everyone knows it.
- Star Trek: First Contact and The Undiscovered Country has some great themes.
-Raiders of the Lost Ark has some awesome chase music.
- Myst soundtrack for magical mystical settings.

In the better known scores, we shy away from instantly recognizable themes ie Jaws and the main Star Wars theme - these are great but it's hard not to think Star Wars when you hear them. That's a disconnection.

Also - I flavor more than the fights and creepiness with these things. If the party visits a tavern, I play tavern music, and I use this throughout visits to town, and happy times.

Gregorian chants for visiting holy places.

Holy CRAP. I thought I was the only person in the world who listened to Sheep on Drugs. You just made my whole day!

Now this thread will run and run. Everyone has different opinions on what works well for a game and I could come up with a set of soundtracks for all kinds of things.

Ten soundtracks you need to buy yesterday - not all the tracks are perfect but our group plays them to death:

The Crow: The instrumental album is good fantasy and modern horror, the OST is a perfect Vampire backdrop.

Gladiator: Epic fantasy, grand battles and somber arias, Perfect for Dark Sun and good all-rounder.

Dracula: A natural for Ravenloft, steampunk and fantasy.
Useful for those 'enter the villain' moments.

Natural Born Killers: Modern/cyberpunk violence with a high body count doesn't get much better soundtracks...

Matrix: ...unless you have this. Modern/postmodern, not one to loop but good for selections.

Wild at Heart: Surreal mix of blues, classical, rock & roll.
And let's not forget the thrash metal. Odd and intriguing.

From Dusk Till Dawn: Forgive the dialogue clips, a nice spit-n' sawdust mix of guitars and desperation.

American McGee's Alice: Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky. Victorian/Gothic. Very, very, very, cool.

Jurassic Park: Atmospheric, good background music and quite transplantable into any number of games.

Braveheart: OK, it has bagpipes but there is some very good music for fights and also quiet moment tracks too.

As an aside, do any of you GMs have soundtracks that inspire greatness while writing?

The Eternal Newbie cheers.

I thought I was the ony one who bothered using music to set the mood. Ofcourse, considering most my games are done online, almost every player has their own specific play list for any particular situation.

What do I use most? Depends on the situation, not the game. Shadowrun usually finds me rotating between the Cowboy Bebop sound track, Tom Waits or Oingo Boingo. Yet when I'm reffing a pokemon battle (Make fun all you want, my system is made for collage kids, not your snitty 11 y/o's) I'll drag in some Rammenstin or the Fight Club sound track. Heck, almost everythng I've collected has been used for some tole some tie or another.

You want some weird music to run gaes to or inspire some bizare situatios though? Go run a search on Brainbelly. This guy is bizarre.

Our group has been using "atmospheric music" for years. We like movie soundtracks because they're prepared in advance, though they always tend to have at least one tune that doesn't suit the mood. We generally avoid vocals because we find them distracting. We avoid pop music for the same reason.

However, it is sometimes hard to find something new to listen to. I am just about sick of hearing the Batman and X-Men tracks for our Champions games. I've discovered that some "rave" type dance music such as Juno Reactor and Chemical Brothers is great for action in superhero games (and would probably work for something like Spycraft or d20 Modern as well). I also found a soundtrack from a skateboarding Nintendo game that works really well. You just have to try lots of different stuff. Try ethnic music too; it's great for fantasy games to give a different flavor to your campaign world.

Hey all - thanks for the great response!

And Mark,

They've got to be one of the greatest bands in history...well maybe not, but they are still kool as hell...I just attended a Pigface show in L.A. and they had a little cd shop set up there and I got the Sheep On Drugs "box set" with rare live shows and a kool water-glitter cover (you know, the squishy kind???) What a find!

Glad I made your day :)


Don't forget MP3.com as a fantastic source for any kind of music you could want -- most of the bands have plenty of free tracks as well as albums for sale. You'll find plenty of bands that you've never heard of and some really interesting stuff there (as well as some really odd stuff...).

There are also a number of sound effects companies that offer free or cheap samples for those times when you need a creaky door or clashing swords, too. A quick web search will turn up a bunch of 'em.

hi there

i began to play music in rpg with my first vampire game.
With the joy of a new experience i could combine my taste with the game ( a bit of the cure , a bit of bauhaus a bit of chopin, yes a very joyful choice). so we began to play music with all the games we run in a sort of challenge of music/moment synthesis. We were young at this time, and now i try not to switch te cd too often so for me the best are twin peaks o.s.t., a bit of dead can dance and also some like korn or placebo for modern violence...

But the point is : all the tracks you and i use are i think very personnal to ourselves and that is what is important. I cant play the half of the tracks listed here because they dont evoque the same things for me than for you. But it's cool it's a part of the subjectivity of playing roleplaying games dont you think

p.s. you forget ennio morricone for deadlands, he'is the best spaghetti western composer of the world (yes you got scene wich are real cliche, but it's fun from time to time....)

I have to disagree--or at least my skills as a DJ aren't up to the task of enhancing the game with music. I remember trying to match up our Space 1889 game with a John Adams piece, but it just got in the way. If the music's loud enough to really contribute to the game, it's too loud to talk over comfortably, particularly those swelling, martial parts that are good for fight scenes, or the launch of your steam powered space ship to Mars.

Lustmord might not hurt a call of cthulhu game. We generally tend to just put classical in for dungeons and dragons round these parts. Half of sheep on drugs quit after hassle and runaround with invisible records, but are still quite localized and live in the UK I believe.

p.s. Morricone can also also do horror-oriented games too. In fact I might go out on a limb to say if that you found the right Morricone soundtrack you could find a atmospheric setting for AAAANYTHING.

I listened to Thanatopsis last night at a party. It lulls you into an ‘exorcist’ sort of mood (I recommend that soundtrack too, especially if your players were freaked out by the movie…).

Non-soundtrack/non-classical bands For D&D music:
Lacuna Coil
Porcupine Tree
Annie Lennox
David Bowie
Nine Inch Nails
Linkin Park
Siouxsie and the Banshees
A Perfect Circle (most selections from them are also good as the Riddler's music in any Batman game)
It's easy to create your own soundtrack by getting an MP3 program and taking songs that you like off your different CD's and burning them on a new CD. Then you can just keep the CD player close at hand and change the track playing with the touch of a finger to suit the mood of the action.

First I was made exceptionally happy by the inclusion of Dark Conspiracy on the list. Was is and will be my fav game.

On to music.

Dead can Dance is good for literaly all types of games. no joke. just don't over play them like our group has. :)

Always check out the "world music" section at cd stores. I feel that it is always good to have some realy exotic music for strange and foreign locals. I would recomend anything by Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn (esp. Exatcy), and any thing that is from Sufism (a type of Islam which has realy good music)

For any churchy religious moments or games Hildegard Von Bingen is recomended. Very choral church music.

And i cannot belive that this one isn't up there (maybe I missed it) but the Interveiw with a Vampire soundtrack has some realy good stuff on it.

well thats my 2 1/2 cents.


Eu falo Português! E vocês não!

The soundtrack to Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl is useful for D&D games. Very swash-buckley.

for mage:the sorceror's crusade, any cd by Haggard

For a while at B.U.B.s somebody had left a copy of the Jurassic Park soundtrack in the cd player so we listened to it during D&D sessions. It was great. I have noticed that any movie score usually works great for game music. I also used to listen to Enigma, that was pretty cool. Just aboput any type of music without lyrics works great. Even like a karaoke disc would work.

Hmm .. just let me jot these down. I admit to being musically ignorant, so I'll have to try these out.

My suggestiions:

(1) Mars from Holst Planets for when you meet a real awesome menace.
(2) CONAN THE BARBARIAN - soundtrack has battle and travelling tracks.
(3) The Gunfighter music with harmonica from "once upon a time in the west" for assassins or deadly situations.
(4) Painted black - for raids

uh all my stuff is old stuff ...sigh.

Seriously, just about any score done by Danny Elfman is perfect. Especially Nightbreed. I liked To Die For quite a bit too. For a good variety of stuff his cds Music For A Darkened Theater 1 and 2 are both excelent. They have a wide variety of stuff from different films he did. Now that I think of it the music he did for Spider Man wounld be good game background too.

My standby's...

1990's Hamlet. Good for somber moments and low threat tomb raiding

Dracula (the Copola version). Good for menacing moments.

Planet of the Apes (Chuck Heston version). Good for "weird" explorations -- lost cities, forbidden tombs, etc.

Aliens. Good for stealthy moments...and intense chases.

Last of the Mohicians. Good for being in the woods & other quiet moments.

The Crow. Good for urban mission.

Black Aria (by Glen Danzig -- all instrumental). Good for confrontations with dark gods n' such.

And...of course...the best soundtrack ever...Conan the Barbarian.

Mars, as Mo says, is good for the exact reason he mentions. At the climax of a Conan game I did, I used this track to (finally) introduce the main bad guy.

Instrumental tracks work best for period piece and fantasy settings. As in the movies, the music is intended to always follow or even supply the emotional state of the characters or of the audience themselves (if the audience is party to info the characters lack.)

In particular, game soundtracks work very well because frequently they are built to be long playing and atmospheric.

The trick is to avoid the tracks that are too well known, which will only make characters think of the movie and not the game. I plan music in my campaigns almost as much as the story – scoring nearly all of the dm’s narrative revelations, sometimes timing big action cues with a flourish that occurs somewhere in the middle of a music track. When I pull this one off, some players get a big chill, because the effect is as if the music is following what *I’m* saying. Then they really feel like they are in a movie.

I find lyrics distracting, especially since the action in a game is all spoken, so you have to talk over the lyrics. Also - NEVER EVER even THINK of using song lyrics to give vital clues as to what is going on. It's metagaming, and it's very stupid. We had a GM that tried it on us - what did he think, that our characters had Peter Murphy cadaverously following us into the cyberpunk stronghold singing Bela Lugosi's Dead, so we'd know it was vamps?

Here’s some of my faves:

Independence Day – for “big scale”, by hans zimmer

Trinity and Beyond (The Atomic Bomb Movie) – The George Device –(beautiful and terrible, massive scale and beauty turning to horror)

Hellraiser 2 (big scale horror and intro, creepy horror)

The Suite from Se7en (howard Shore) – dread, rising to a crescendo

Dracula – a brooding and somber march


Raiders of the Lost Ark – the map room, desert chase

Star Trek TOS: Amok Time (tat a tat a tat a) – fight music, campy

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – Night Fight – percussive fight music

Mission impossible 2 – Mano a mano – by hans zimmer (a plodding and percussive, careful track – slow mo fight)

Star Trek – The Wrath of Khan (nautical)
Titanic – any of the sinking track (nautical)

Star Wars – Jawa music – creepy, little (kobald music)

Any Lord of the Rings music

Riven soundtrack (game) – magical, mysterious

Alien vs predator game– the alien tracks – creepy atmospheric - long

Glory – military

Holst's The Planets is good and has an old Star Trek feeling - Mars is especially good for fights.

Carmina Burana is another familiar classic for fights.

that was me

when i first started running back in the day i
almost always used type o negative,the cult,sisters of mercy etc but always background and low
i now run d&d and tend to use classical (to suite the game combat heavy booming classics for example) or enya type music played low in the background even though my players want heavy thrash metal ALL THE TIME LOUD
when my mate runs SLA they tend to get it so much you cant almost communicate oh well!!!

if u want atmosphere while playing grim & gritty games use dark ambient music.

One thing I reccomend is that if you're having some ritual going on (especially if there is chanting and/or the ritual seems a bit bizzare), play some music that sounds a bit like chanting, and it's (purely) in a language or languages you and your players don't know and it's hard to keep track of what they're saying (I sing along with some of my J-pop tracks all the time, despite the fact that my Japanese vocab consists of about fifty words and no grammar aside from the proper usage of the possessive particle "no"). I wouldn't use these particular tracks, because the singer is speaking relatively clearly. The words don't flow together in the way that you want for this atmosphere.

Also, try playing the same mood music you plan to use durng the game while you're planning out the event. It gives you a better feel for it if you're playing either one or a small (2-3) handful of songs on repeat as you write up your plans for the plot. You need to be careful not to railroad, and you must realize that the PCs can and will take your story in different directions, but if you plan your campaign with the same music you use to plan it, you can adapt things better, even if the PCs go on a tangent.

Good song for this kind of thing:
"Kioku" by See-Saw, from the album "Dream Field" (only problem is that the album is practically impossible to find)

Bad song for this kind of thing:
"Per Te" by Josh Groban, from I don't know which album, since I got the song from my dad's playlist.


I'm not a rare flower
Nor am I a shiny treasure box
I'm just your average gamer girl
Who has a bit of power

I GM for the boys
I write up a set of rules
To make sure they keep a reign
On all their spiffy toys