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Enter... the Entrance Theme!

It happens in all sorts of media that incorporates music: movies, TV, plays, audio dramas... a few notes play and, at least if you’re a fan, you know who's about to show up even before they actually enter. It even happens in other live activities such as sports - that song starts, the crowd gets pumped,  and you know exactly who's coming out onto the field or into the ring. While we’ve had posts about music in the form of Never Say Disc, and even a few posts that mention choosing music to set the scene in your tabletop games, we’ve never focused on music for a particular group or character. Something to bring you into the game, get you pumped, put you in the right mindset and/or set you up for a good gaming session. So this week, let’s do just that - discuss using music to bring you into the game and increase your immersion at the tabletop. - A

A
: Picking intro music for a group can be an easy task, depending upon what you’re playing. If you’re sitting down to a Star Wars session and including music, opening with the opening scroll/main title  music is basically a given. Or, if you’re playing an "evil" heroes of the Empire session, intro-ing with the Imperial March is an easy way to go. Likewise, if you’re playing something adjacent to Lord of the Rings - "Concerning Hobbits" might be the go-to intro to set your game’s mood. What about media that doesn’t already have a theme? What's the sound of something like D&D or Call of Cthulhu? In situations like that, you might fall back to genre in general. Think about what style of game you’re playing. Action? Exploration? Gritty Noir? It doesn’t have to be entirely the GM’s decision, either. Soliciting ideas from everyone at the table is a good bet to get everyone involved and keep them interested. It can also give a GM an idea of the genre the players think the game is/will be, which may not always coincide with what was originally planned. If there are several good ideas, you may even rotate through them from session to session.

When it comes to individual themes, it can get a bit trickier. While the GM, or even other players, could provide input, this should probably be more of a personal journey. Considering what will "pump you up" or energize you before the game is something to think about. It doesn’t necessarily need to match with the character you’ll be playing, though. A driving heavy metal tune might get your blood pumping and get you excited for the session, but does it fit for you if your character is a back-line healer/support type? It could, but that's probably unlikely. Focus on the character’s role in the game, their background and motivations. Should their theme have lyrics or be instrumental? While you can always solicit input from the rest of the table, make sure you pick something that works for you. Bugsy, how do you go about selecting and incorporating a group’s or character’s theme into your tabletop games?

B: Tone is something always on my mind when working on games, from brainstorming ideas all the way to post-session rundowns. It's one of foundations of narrative storytelling, particularly in collaborative forms like tabletop games, as it provides a basis on whether potential elements will be consistent with the project as a whole and what might feel incongruous - there's a reason "tonal whiplash" is such an established phrase. If tone is conveyed correctly, a single player might be less likely to go on a wacky murder spree in a game where everyone else is going for "tense espionage," or a to play a serious, by-the-book, humorless character in a game built on cartoonish whimsy. It can be a lot to keep processing, though, especially in the early stages of writing and planning a game, so music is a fantastic way to "off-load" that mental work, and helps keep you "in-character" as a GM when you're consciously focusing on the more practical matters in front of you. When I'm planning for a Paranoia game, for instance, I need to be thinking from both the viewpoint of Friend Computer (who I'll be playing throughout the game), but also in the mindset of people who have made other works with a feel similar to what I'm going for. So, in addition to listening to the game soundtrack playlist throughout the creation process, I'll usually start off with the opening to Portal 2 for myself, even though I no longer play licensed music during the game itself (partly in case a player wants to record a session and put it online, but primarily to remove any previous associations a player may have with a piece of music). Portal 2 is a piece of media that has a lot of the tone I'm going for in my Paranoia games, so listening to the music intended to convey the game's tone to those players also helps me get into the "Paranoia GM" headspace myself. Likewise, when I helped put together a noir-influenced Call of Cthulhu game (someday I'll get to run Trail of Cthulhu myself), I put together a playlist of noir and mystery soundtracks from moves that existed when the game was set. I wasn't even running that game, but it helped keep me "in character" for the tone I wanted to convey all through the process of researching and writing the game materials.

While the game itself can have a starting theme (there are a few particular tracks I liked to use to kick off Paranoia games), it can be harder to actually link specific songs to in-game events or characters - GMs already have enough to deal with as it is! So it might be worthwhile to offload some of this onto the players, even making it part of their character creation process: is there a song you feel applies to this character and how you like to play them? Are there circumstances where that song might change? If the player's a music fan, they'll probably be able to come up with something quickly, but if they need help, make sure they control the direction things are going - this shouldn't be something dictated or assigned to them. Once a song has been determined, encourage them to listen before playing. And, as mentioned above, choose one for yourself... or a slew of them! If you or your players are musically inclined and have the time/energy/focus, you can try making your own! Participants can share these songs with the group or make it part of their private preparation routine. When sharing, it might be best to simply provide links for everyone to listen on their own time rather than spending session time on it. Time is a precious commodity, at the table and in the process of getting ready for it. Which is why things like theme songs can make a big difference - they can get you quickly "in the mood," especially once you've built up associations. And the more we're able to convey that tone and feeling, to ourselves and to each other, the better our shared experiences are going to be.

Send questions, comments, and suggestions for a Never Say Dice entrance theme to neversaydice20@gmail.com or Tweet us @neversaydice2.

 


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