The Soundtrack of my RPG Life


I wanted to share a storytelling strategy that I’ve picked up over the years….

Give each player a song with lyrics as a personal soundtrack for their characters.

Ever since I started writing well… pretty much anything… I’ve always listened to music. It helps me think and focus. This was also true when I would sit down to plan out D&D games that I would GM over the weekend with my friends. Inevitably, I think those songs weaved into my subconscious and manifested themselves in my games. I remember specifically a D&D game where the entire soundtrack to Blind Guardian’s “Nightfall” album PERFECTLY described past, current, and future events going on in the story arc.

So you bet I incorporated those songs into the game! Frankly, I don’t even remember exactly how anymore. I think someone found an ancient tome of the head bad guy that had those songs written as passages in a magical journal, and by deciphering the riddles and analogies of the text, the protagonists were able to figure out how to proceed.

So I remained hung up on this idea in college as well. I REALLY started incorporating songs into my games. Sometimes a song would inspire the entire plot of a narrative, sometimes they would be the catalyst that moved the adventure forward. I introduced a recurring character in my games named Horus. He was a musician that could touch a person and then immediately sing a song that revealed that person’s true nature. In one game in particular he laid his hand on each character and delivered a song. He of course had to be accompanied by an impromptu heavy metal rock band because the songs were always from Evanescence, Disturbed, Bllind Guardian, Iced, Earth, etc. haha!

I found that my players loved it. They were totally into listening to a song about them, and in some cases trying to figure out why it pertained to them. I would even see them model their own behaviors and actions after the content of the song. Sometimes it gave them direction when they seemed to be waffling with a central theme or focus for their characters. I also used this to “out” players and NPCs. I remember playing the Demon and Wizards song “Poor Man’s Crusade” that helped reveal that a paladin helping the group was actually a turncloak.

I recommend picking songs you like… and maybe even more importantly… songs with a lot of metaphor, imagery, and symbolism. Those can really open the door to interpretation… and sometimes the players will take it in a direction you didn’t even anticipate which is better than what you had planned out.

Here’s one more tip:  play a character’s song lightly in the background at points in the game when you are looking for them to step up and be a factor.

This encourages them to really take charge; you’d be amazed how well this works! It’s like having a personal soundtrack, and once that song gets going, they really get psyched! And that’s what it’s about… getting people into their characters and getting them to become part of the narrative – not just a pawn in your storyline.

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2 responses to “The Soundtrack of my RPG Life

  1. My solitary criticism of this idea is that, at least for my sorts of players, the soundtrack would distract them from the gravity of the game.

    Still- not a half-bad idea to provide some sort of cues!

    • maybe you could use it for something other than a character soundtrack? I also had a lot of success using songs in “puzzle” campaigns – the lyrics provided clues on how to escape the mansion, kill the head bad guy, etc.

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