Post by JimP.
I played 'mood music' for gaming for about 15 minutes. We couldn't
hear each other, even though it was low about a 3 on the volume out of
10. I turned it off and we never did it again.
I've used music, but sparingly. I've even used an sound-board app that
lets me trigger sound-effects (after the initial neato factor, I gave
it to one of the players and let them trigger the effects, either when
they thought it appropriate or when I asked for a specific one). Both
can be very useful in setting the mood but - as noted - can also be
I'd recommend only using orchestral music; nothing with lyrics. Our
brains key on to voices and even background music can trigger that.
Simpler tunes are better, but at the same time nothing with too catchy
a beat (except, perhaps, when you want to simulate a distracting
environment, like in the tavern). If possible, don't use anything too
familiar to the players either; I ransack video- and movie-soundtracks
to find the appropriate tunes. You also don't have to - or generally
want to - keep the music going the whole time; basically use it for
background for when you are speaking and then turn it off (I call it
"boxed text" music).
As importantly, don't let the act of turning on/off the music be
distracting; nothing is worse than the DM stopping, rummaging around
for the ipad, finding the appropriate track, pressing play, fiddling
with the volume, then talking, and then waiting for him to turn the
music back off. Streamline your process; I used an ipad app called
soundslate that let me trigger the right music and raise and lower the
volume with one hand and got to the point where I could do it all
almost without looking at the thing. DMing is as much performance as
it is adjudication, and you want the music to be a seamless addition
to your theatrics, not a clumsy interruption.
The biggest problem with using music was the preparation; you really
want to customize your music selections to the situation and
adventure. More, you will probably need to prepare the tunes
themselves. I didn't just pick a song; I found a tune and then edited
it down to JUST the part I thought appropriate. Nothing too
complicated; just cutting out the bits that weren't useful (usually
the intro and end, maybe looping that section a few times) but it's
some extra work. I picked specific tunes for expected situations:
entering the creepy mines, crossing the cemetery, meeting the helpless
damsel, combat, etc. Each bit was fairly short - maybe thirty seconds
- and often were one-use soundtracks; they weren't something I kept
playing all the time. It's the main reason I don't use music in some
adventures; I just don't have the time to put in that extra effort.
Music's utility is also very dependent on the sort of game you are
playing. If your group skews more towards the "gaming" part of RPGs,
then you will probably find that music doesn't enhance the experience
that much; you just want to roll dem bones and see how well you can
hack'n'slash through the monsters. It's definitely more a tool for the
role-playing cadre. The type of adventure matters too; I mostly use it
for "spooky" adventures where setting the mood is very important.
Used well, music can really enhance the atmosphere but it takes
effort. You can't just have a CD playing in the background and expect
the same results.