The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in April 2008.
You can find James’ soundtracks for Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, and Esoterrorists.
by James Semple
As a composer and roleplayer, I’ve been very interested in using music in my games. At the moment I game once a week and generally my group plays music end-to-end through the session. Music can help to underline the game, both helping create an atmosphere and potentially blocking out any distracting external noise.
So Why Use a Theme Tune
The music discussed above is ambient backing music. A theme tune on the other hand is designed to draw attention to itself. It is used to create a sonic identity for a tv show that becomes recognisable and prepares the audience. Why might we want to use this for a roleplaying game?
The Transitional Period
A player of mine once commented on what he called ‘The transitional period.’ When the group gets together we spend time catching up, telling jokes and just being mates together. Not everyone starts the evening in the roleplaying mood, ready to immerse themselves. Whenever I tried to start a game the group went through a transitional period. This period varied from night to night but it was basically the time that it took for the group to really get into the game. During this transitional period the group were often distracted and still catching up with their discussions.
The Theme Tune?
So, to use similar techniques to Robin, we can play the Theme Tune to underline that the game is starting. Perhaps the GM says a few words over this, recaps the basic idea of game or whatever but the point should come across that the game starts now and hopefully the theme should help to get the group into the roleplaying mood more directly.
So What Should I Use?
Well this is an important point and we’ve often found ourselves using the same music throughout campaigns. It should be something that plays through in a fairly brief period. For me, not longer than 1 minute seems appropriate. For my group I found that playing the same music every week really helps to reinforce the effect. Some games have obvious music (Star Wars, for instance) but other games took a while to find appropriate music. For Call of Cthulhu I’ve used jazz, classical, film soundtracks and even some pop tracks.
…But If You’re A Composer?
Ok, I did write some music myself and this month I am very proud to present a piece I’ve written specifically as a theme for The Esoterrorists game. Although I am currently working on Trail of Cthulhu music at the moment, I am planning to complete an album of Esoterrorists music this year. For this specific theme I wanted to allude to the general mystery and add some anticipation with some heart-racing action music.
Update: The Esoterrorists Theme Tune
The Esoterrorists Theme Tune is now available with three other tracks from the Pelgrane Press store. You can listen to a 15 second sample here.
- Musical Stings for Trail of Cthulhu by James Semple
- James Semple’s Website
- Sting, Sting Sting – Ending Scenes with Music in GUMSHOE by Robin D Laws
The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.