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How to Use the Three Playlist System for RPG Background Music: A Step-by-Step Guide
Posted By Martin Ralya On January 18, 2012 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice | 11 Comments
Over the past couple of years, I’ve refined a simple, lazy, but highly effective approach to RPG background music. I call it the Three Playlist System, and in this article I’m going to show you how to use it.
This approach to BGM balances the desire to set the mood at the gaming table with the need to focus on what really matters: the game. I want background music and my group wants background music, but we don’t want to devote a lot of time to it.
That’s where the three playlists come in. This system will provide you with scene-appropriate background music without requiring much attention at the table.
I use the following:
I primarily use soundtracks because, in general, they work for multiple genres. My three playlists are more or less genre-neutral, and should work for most RPGs. (For a slightly more refined approach, see the tweaks at the end of this article.)
That may not sound like enough playlists or enough diversity to cover every situation, but the past couple years’ of gaming have taught me that (for my group, at least), it works well.
Cataloging your background music can take some time at first, but maintaining that catalog is easy — and even up front, when it’s work, it’s really just an excuse to listen to awesome soundtracks.
The first time you listen to a new soundtrack (or other source of BGM), write down “Action,” “Ambient,” and “Sinister” on a scrap of paper and keep it next to you.
When you’ve heard an entire track (to avoid unpleasant surprises, like a sinister track that suddenly gets cheerful) and know which playlist it should go in, note its track number in the appropriate spot. After you’ve listened to the whole album, drop the tracks into the appropriate playlists.
Shuffle is important because it introduces variety into your background music — doubly so if you don’t have a huge amount of music in your playlists. I also turn on the repeat option so a playlist won’t end suddenly.
This step couldn’t be simpler: If it’s an action scene, switch to Action; if it’s a tense or creepy scene, switch to Sinister; otherwise leave it on Ambient.
One of the things I like about this approach is that it’s easy to tweak. Here are my two current tweaks:
Creating Simple, Deep Playlists for RPG Background Music was the genesis of the Three Playlist System, and goes into more detail about how to build each playlist and what kinds of music work best.
I hope this system gives you and your group as much enjoyment as it has me and mine!
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