Welcome DMs and players alike. As the title mentioned, today we will be talking about the importance of music in games. Several of us here on Lichliar agree that music is crazy important, to varying degrees, even though we don’t often agree on much. This is an opinion piece while using two examples in the media that I cherish.
In the movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (big spoilers ahead) there is a big moment that has always stuck with me, the death of my favorite flawed character. Borimir is blowing the horn to call for his allies as he defends two hobbits from an oncoming army of Orcs. The theme is intense and uses continuous drums to show that danger is coming in from all around, then it lessens to a single drum beat as the Orc Commander arrives, aims his bow, and fires. As the arrow strikes Borimir’s heart the music drops away instantly, he drops to a knee. He stands back up and continues fighting, taking down Orc after Orc, until he is hit with another arrow; he drops to both of his knees and looks upon the little hobbits who he needs to defend, he is struggling to breathe, a new melody slowly comes back to life. Borimir uses all of his strength to continue fighting, barely enough to stand but enough to defend his allies, you can only hear the sound of his fading yells as he swings his sword, everything in slow motion, before the final arrow strikes.
I’m also reminded of a moment near the end of Avatar the Last AirBender (spoilers ahead) when Zuko had to fight his sister Azula. The show is known for always having some amazing music, especially during combats when you can hear chanting, drums, and many different instruments playing in the background. But in one of the final fights, while both characters are supercharged with power; there is no intense tune, there is no adrenaline filled beat or action packed song. Instead the piece is slow…and sad, nearly completely drowned out by the sounds of raging fire as these two siblings fight one another, you can barely hear it. It is an upsetting battle where you are rooting for the good guy who was once a bad guy. But if he changed, could she not also change? Could she not see the error in her ways? And that moment is remembered not as an epic fight (although it is) but as a meaningful experience between characters, amplified by the fact that the music you are used to is nearly completely absent.
A song can bring an extra layer of emotion to a scene, a location, or a moment. Granted it is important to remember that your game is not a movie nor is it a book or a show, that is actually antithetical to a game of D&D in a lot of ways. You will almost never have moments like these because it isn’t a preplanned experience that you can add the perfect sound to with the perfect timing. But why not have some melodies that set the mood for your players? Does a player character have a hometown, why not pick a song for that place in the beginning of the game? What happens when after a year long campaign, they return back to their hometown and you play that song again? How do you capture tension? How do you capture the beginning and end of an adventure? Music makes all of these moments so much more meaningful. I am in no way musically inclined, I play no instruments and I sure as hell can’t sing, and yet when it comes to my games I can not stand the silence of a game that has no tunes. Having just a small selection of songs can make all the difference and really help to take your players further away into your world.
You don’t even have to go to this level of thought honestly. A song for battles, tension, and cities/towns, is all you need. Even if you just use one of each of these and occasionally mix it up for a boss encounter or when arriving in a new city. There is a song in Oblivion that is literally titled Tension, if you use this anytime a serious discussion is being had then you are golden. There, now all you need is two more songs and you have yourself the beginnings of a playlist. Skyrim alone has all that you need, no other playlists help to capture the feeling of a fantasy setting better! Your players are usually in taverns when they are in towns right? Just look up ‘Tavern music’ and now that can be your town melody. Whatever you choose to play, if a character dies, turn the volume all the way down, let them have their moment, sit in it, and experience it. If a big bad is finally dealt the killing blow, pause the song, let your player describe it, then put something victorious after the battle as they all celebrate.
If you are a group that finds music too distracting then that is perfectly fine, it’s not for everyone. You don’t have to really understand music at all, just an appreciation. You as a DM do enough, anything extra you do is just bonus points. So make a simple little playlist, four songs max and take your players away on an adventure, filled with moments that they can remember, amplified by just a few tunes. Because we all need a little music in our lives.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to be updated whenever we post something new, don’t forget to follow us on our social media. If you have any interesting comments or funny anecdotes do leave us a message in our forums!