Choosing Music for Your Dungeons and Dragons Campaign
Since you first became a DM, you’ve thought about every way to make your Dungeons and Dragons campaigns unique and engaging for your players. If you’re like many of us here at Dirt Cheap Dungeons, you’ve probably lost sleep thinking about all the extra things you can do to enhance the experience. Whether it’s lighting, themed food for your players, map layouts, the list is endless.
But what about music? Sure, you probably have some themed music that plays in the background as your players trudge over the landscape. But maybe that music becomes little more than idle background noise after a while. If any of this sounds familiar, keep reading. We’ve got some thoughts about how you can use music to make D&D that much more real for everyone involved.
Choose Your Music Passively (the Easy Approach)
If you’re still refining your skills as a DM, or want to slowly incorporate music into your Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, don’t worry. It can be done. Instead of having to worry about switching music every time the mood changes, try searching YouTube for something like RPG music. All you have to do is hit play and you’re off to the races.
The only downside with a more passive approach is that you might encounter music that doesn’t quite fit what’s going on during the campaign. Even more, the music might stop all of sudden when the playlist is finished. Having this happen at a moment of high intensity isn’t an ideal scenario.
Make Your Music Dynamic (the Advanced Approach)
If you’re more experienced as a DM, you’ve likely become adept at handling multiple D&D tasks at once. Since you can more or less run your campaigns on autopilot, it shouldn’t be too unreasonable to change the music to fit the mood of what’s going on.
When Should You Switch Music?
But how exactly do you know when to switch the music? Even as competent as you are, it’s easy to forget this part of the equation. A helpful hack is to mark specific cues in your session notes. Maybe that means you switch to a particular song and play it on a loop, or you have a short playlist you can access quickly. That choice is entirely up to you.
Speaking of Playlists
When you make music a priority in your campaigns, you’ll quickly learn that having preset playlists makes life a whole lot easier.
Before your campaign begins, take some time to create YouTube or Spotify playlists that are specific to different stages therein. A lot of DM’s have preset playlists for a night in the tavern, traveling, combat, and time spent in an idyllic forest, for example.
By having playlists with different themes at the ready, switching from one to the other is easy.
Others Factors to Consider
Even though choosing the right kind of music seems pretty easy, there are some important factors to consider.
As a general rule of thumb, less is more when it comes to choosing music. While you might be tempted to play music with appropriately themed lyrics, doing so becomes a distraction more often than not. The last thing you want is your players to start their own karaoke session instead of listening to you.
The same can be said with music that’s “busy” with lots of different instruments. Between the guitar, piano, drums, and horns, this type of music can have a similar, overwhelming effect.
If you’re looking for a place to start, sample some music that accompanies video games. More often than not, the music is noticeable but not overbearing.
Download if You Can
We highly recommend downloading music if you have the chance. Not only is downloaded music usually higher in quality, it alleviates the worry of a spotty Internet connection causing music to come in and out.
By all means, we only recommend downloading music legally. This usually involves some sort of paid subscription, but the cost is well worth it.
The truth is, not all Dungeons and Dragons campaigns are the same. If you have beginning players in the game, the mood might be more lighthearted than campaigns with seasoned players who take the game seriously. Whatever the case may be, you might want to consider using some intermittent comedy at the right time.
Let’s say a player gets knocked out in battle. This might be the perfect opportunity to play a funny line from a comedian that everyone is familiar with. Even if it’s just a short clip. A little levity can do wonders to keep everyone engaged and having fun.
Again, the use of comedy is at your complete discretion. While we don’t recommend having Chappelle reruns on in the background the entire time, don’t be afraid to experiment with a little humor.
No Music at All
If you run enough campaigns, you’ll eventually encounter one when music just doesn’t seem to fit the mood. Maybe it’s because your players are so involved at the task at hand, or it’s just the ambiance is one of quiet and relaxation amongst friends.
Whatever the group prefers, that’s what you should go with. Sometimes, that might not mean any music at all.
As a DM, you’re constantly coming up with ways to make your campaigns more interesting and dynamic.
One way to go about this is by incorporating music. You can do this in any number of ways from simply finding a playlist on YouTube, to downloading your own music, and creating your own on-demand playlists.
Whichever way you go about it, don’t be afraid to experiment. The key is to choose music that enhances the mood without detracting from the Dungeons and Dragons session itself. When you do, you’ll get another creative dynamic to your campaigns, and your players will enjoy it all the more.