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More Awesome RPG Background Music: 58 Reader Favorites and New Discoveries

Posted By Martin Ralya On April 25, 2011 @ 1:04 am In GMing Advice | 18 Comments

Gnome Stew readers posted so many great suggestions for RPG background music in the comments on RPG Background Music: 41 Awesome Soundtracks that I decided to make a “reader tips” edition as a follow-up article. Combined, there are 99 recommendations between these two pieces.

I’ve already picked up one album based on your comments (the BSG Season One soundtrack, which is amazing — and also great music to prep to), and wishlisted many others. Many thanks to the fine folks who suggested these albums!

In the weeks since I posted that list, I’ve also discovered some new stuff I wanted to share. I’m a background music fiend, so this is something of an obsession for me — one I hope you can benefit from!

(These are all Amazon links, and Gnome Stew earns a small percentage when you buy something after following one of them; that revenue helps pay for our new server. I mentioned in the comments on the previous article that I’d be posting reader tips with links here, but if you shared an idea and you’re not comfortable with your soundtrack suggestion potentially earning money for the Stew, please let me know and I’ll be happy to remove your suggestion(s) immediately.)

Our Readers Want to Have Babies With These Soundtracks

Many thanks to steamcrow, Rafe, Sporkchop, JohnnyBravo, BryanB, Donogh, Iomythica, kossowankenobi, ouzelum, Volcarthe, Squeejee, rednightmare, Necrognomicon, and Ravenbow for recommending these albums!

There are some non-soundtracks mixed into this list — in general, if there’s a comma in the entry (like “Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony”), it’s a band; if not, it’s a soundtrack.

  • Age of Conan — “Works best for an outdoorsy, fantasy feel for most of the tracks, but there are some good ones for combat.”
  • Alien
  • Aliens — Both Alien and Aliens were suggested as having a good mix of ambient, action, and sinister tracks.
  • Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony
  • Apocalypto — “Pretty sinister, in fact my players start to get seriously worried if they hear anything from them!”
  • Battlestar Galactica: Season One (CD) — I picked this up and it’s amazing. Awesome for writing/prep music, too.

  • Batman (1989) — “One of my old friends and DM’s swears by the Batman(1989) soundtrack.”
  • Beats Antique, Collide — “Nice Fantasy marketplace music. Good for steampunk campaigns too. Traveling music.”
  • Blade — “Pretty sinister, in fact my players start to get seriously worried if they hear anything from them!”
  • The Civil War Soundtrack — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
  • Conan the Barbarian (CD) — “So epic it’s almost cliche… but it’s SO good.” Also: “Re. Conan the Barbarian – see if you can get the longer version of this if possible.”
  • The Dark Knight — “Intense, remember?”

  • Dead Man — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
  • Doctor Who Series 5 — “Murray has amazing diversity. From high adventure, to mystical, to action, to soft moody tracks.”
  • Elizabeth — “very nice ambient pieces, but especially for social/politics sequences”
  • Epica, Design Your Universe
  • Event Horizon
  • Fable 2 — “Danny Elfman. ’nuff said.”

  • Final Fantasy
  • The Ghost and the Darkness
  • Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai — “with some great short read passages from Hagakure”
  • Gladiator
  • The Good, The Bad & The Ugly — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games): Various Ennio Morricone spaghetti western scores”
  • King Arthur — “I find obscure music far more useful. Never saw King Arthur? Perfect. Never played Lord of the Rings Online? Excellent. Every time someone recognizes a song I take it out of the rotation and find something else.”

  • La Reine Margot — “Some outstanding choral pieces iwth an unusual style”
  • Leaving Richmond, The Secret Traditions Of Washington Ave. EP
  • Lord of the Rings Online — “I find obscure music far more useful. Never saw King Arthur? Perfect. Never played Lord of the Rings Online? Excellent. Every time someone recognizes a song I take it out of the rotation and find something else.”
  • Lustmord, Rising — “dark ambient stuff. Great for spooky atmosphere and horror.”
  • The Matrix
  • Moon — “Good for any intense sci-fi adventure… but also still respectable for a spooky c’thulu or fantasy adventure. Subtle, intense, unique.”

  • The Mummy
  • Ravenous — “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games)”
  • Robin Hood (BBC) (CD)– “A lot of excellent High adventure or piratesque tracks. There are also some fpgreat tracks for romantic fantasy or plots.”
  • Shadow of the Colossus (CD) — “The best soundtrack I’ve found for my sessions is the Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack”
  • Sherlock Holmes — “Solid. Nice range.”

  • The Spiderwick Chronicles — “Classical, with a range from dark to lighthearted.”
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (CD)
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (CD)
  • 10,000 BC — “Good for orcs and war.”
  • The Thin Red Line — “not your usual Hans Zimmer, with some nice ethnic touches from the south-west Pacific”
  • 300 — “Pretty powerful stuff, if you don’t mind the guitars.”

  • To Kill a King — “very nice ambient pieces, but especially for social/politics sequences”
  • Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen — “Orc music, with chanting and big drums. Intense, and far better than the movie, I’d gamble.”
  • Troy
  • Two Steps From Hell, Invincible
  • Underworld

A Few New Discoveries

I keep a running wishlist of RPG background music, and this is what’s on it right now. I haven’t picked any of these soundtracks up yet, but they’re all on my radar and sound excellent based on samples and reviews:

  • Battle: Los Angeles — I haven’t seen the movie or picked up this soundtrack yet, but based on the samples it’s packed with solid action music. I find that many soundtracks are light on good action music, so I’m always on the lookout for more.

  • Call Of Duty: Black Ops — With this game’s budget, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack is good. As one Amazon reviewer pointed out, it’s not traditional action music so much as it is tense, buildup-y action music — a neat category to add to one’s library. Also notable: it’s long, at 1:36 — twice as long as some soundtracks!
  • Crysis 2 — I’ve never played the game, but this looks like a steal at $4.
  • Dead Space 2 — I like sci-fi/horror soundtracks in particular because they offer a different kind of action music — tense, foreboding action music. From the samples, this fits the bill nicely.
  • Dragon Age 2 — The first one (which I have) was solid fantasy music, and the second one seems to be more of the same. Also notable: it’s cheap!
  • Epic Score, Epic Action & Adventure Vol. 1 — I could do a whole article just on their stuff — it’s amazing. They basically write music for use in movie scores, often including both vocal (mainly choral) and vocal-free versions of their tracks. As the band’s name suggests, it’s mostly big, epic, Hollywood awesomeness that will wind up in your Action playlist (if you use my palylist system). Here are several of their albums in one place.

  • Homefront — Action, action, action, and of the modern, guitar-driven kind, which I quite like. It reminds me of the Battlefield 2 soundtrack, a staple of my Action playlist.
  • Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands — Another big-game soundtrack for under $5, this one has a Middle Eastern flair and doesn’t seem tied to any particular genre.
  • Splinter Cell Conviction — Also under $5, this is good, tense spy music. I don’t own the soundtrack (yet), but I’ve played the game.

  • Vendetta – Position Music Orchestral Series Vol. 6 — Sounds a lot like Epic Score, but I haven’t researched them. Compelling and excellent, based on the samples.
  • Wolf Creek — This was a grim and disturbing flick, and the soundtrack is eerie, tense, and evocative.

Reader Tips that Aren’t Links

These excellent reader comments didn’t break out into MP3 links, but are well worth sharing:

“I typically crawl the classics and RPG soundtracks (Jeremy Soule’s stuff is brilliant and typically obscure enough) and then rename them to fit a given mood (tension, surprise, pastoral, traveling, combat). When the mood strikes, stick to the same song – building your own soundtrack (especially useful for suspense). Let it run out and then let it go (or fade out when appropriate). Don’t fiddle with the song, tell the story. Don’t worry about timing the music to your tale, it will never fit properly.” (kossowankenobi)

“Contemporary, lyrical music can do things instrumentals can’t. My brother’s managed to do some REALLY great foreshadowing with songs like “The Man Who Sold the World” by Nirvana, and I used “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead for a character who later discovered he was a spy invented by a smithing god.” (ouzelum)

(From Necrognomicon) “For Deadlands (or other Wild West games):

  • Various Pray for Rain songs, including ‘The Killers’ from Straight to Hell and the Roadside Prophets Soundtrack
  • Various airs and marches (eg ‘Garryowen’) performed by the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus
  • The ‘official’ Deadlands soundtrack CDs aren’t too bad either…

“A little late to the party, but I use Pandora. I made a “Howard Shore” station and just let it do its thing.” (Ravenbow)

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for checking out this article, and I hope you discovered some killer music!

If you have more RPG background music suggestions, share away in the comments — there’s a huge catalog of great BGM out there, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "More Awesome RPG Background Music: 58 Reader Favorites and New Discoveries"

#1 Comment By XonImmortal On April 25, 2011 @ 2:41 am

For a dark but mysterious atmosphere, I like Inkubus Sukubus and Dead Can Dance.

#2 Comment By Totally Guy On April 25, 2011 @ 4:06 am

I have been picking up all the Lost Soundtracks for RPG purposes. I’ve been splitting them up into emotional scene content. But its been taking a long time. Have you got any idea how long it takes to listen to 12 hours of music?

12 hours…

Anyway, that show had such epic music.

#3 Comment By claidheamh On April 25, 2011 @ 5:04 am

The ‘Terminator: Definitive Collection’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgement Day’ (both by Brad Fiedel) are cliched but excellent high tension stuff.

‘Ghosts I-IV’ by Nine Inch Nails is excellent moody, atmospheric stuff – good horror background music (no vocals, not their typical stuff). Very similar to the soundtrack from “The Social Network.”

Anything by “Godspeed You! Black Emperor” is grim, grinding background music – probably best for modern horror or post-apocalypse.

Finally – the music tracks for Half-Life 2 (available from the program directories if you installed them) are excellent (just like the game).

#4 Comment By twoddr On April 25, 2011 @ 6:35 am

Has someone tried royalty-free music, like that on jamendo.com. This would have two advantages:

1. It’s free.
2. Nobody will associate it with a movie…

But you have to comb through the archives to find something suitable. So I wondered if anyone has already done this.

#5 Comment By Svafa On April 25, 2011 @ 10:29 am

Not at home, so I can’t peruse my library or play lists, but off the top of my head:

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm Soundtrack – The other three were listed in the first post, and this one works as well. It’s a little more varied in themes, in comparison to the BC or WotLK soundtracks.

Hellsing I: Raid and Hellsing II: Ruins – I could have sworn I bought them as a set, but I only see them listed separately on Amazon. It’s a soundtrack to an anime series featuring ax crazy vampires and secret church organizations, so you can be fairly assured it has lots of creepy and dark themes. Some songs have lyrics, but for the most part that just makes them more awesome. The most disturbing track, I believe it’s “From 666 to 777″ features laughing children. Also has some good action themes.

Lain: Serial Experiments – Another anime soundtrack. As a whole I’m unsure of its usefulness, so you may want to demo the songs before purchasing. It has a nice cyberpunk feel though, and would be right at home in a Shadowrun or similar setting.

Amadeus: The Complete Original Soundtrack Recording – Has some great moody pieces and a good selection of various Mozart pieces, assuming you don’t just want to invest in a complete collection of Mozart…

I’ll have to check my music library when I get home to see if I’ve missed anything major, but most of my western sources (i.e. LOTR, Gladiator, etc.) have already been covered. :/

#6 Comment By Svafa On April 25, 2011 @ 11:38 am

@Svafa – At home for lunch break…

Legend of Zelda – In general any of them are good. Personally, though, if you can get the Ocarina of Time soundtrack performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra…

For the pirate fans out there:

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World – Great soundtrack for seafaring settings, and good for fantasy campaigns in general. Ha, I found one movie score that hadn’t been mentioned yet. :P

Monkey Island – I don’t know where to find these. A friend gave me the soundtracks for these games, and they have a lot of fantastic pieces. Almost all of them are under two minutes in length and in general they have a Caribbean, nautical, and pirate theme.

#7 Comment By ouzelum On April 25, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

A name-drop! So exciting! I’m internet famous! I can do anything! I–

Ahem. To be honest, D&D soundtracks are something I could go on all day about. Music is such a powerful tool for evoking mood and emotion, but you need a balance– something you can narrate over that needs to be used sparingly lest it become less special. And again, pre-existing soundtracks your players recognize might break immersion… Unless you can use it so well that your new association you make with it supersedes the old associations they had. But I daresay that the moment you play Duel of the Fates, your players will imagine Obi-Wan and Darth Maul fighting instead of their underdog adventurers versus your badass wizard.

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On April 25, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

Hot cha cha for new suggestions — thank you! *runs off to listen to samples*

@Totally Guy – I do indeed have an idea. ;-) I queue up new soundtracks to listen to while I write, since RPG BGM is also nearly always perfect writing music for me, and then keep a little notepad next to me. As I go through the album, I rate and categorize each track.

I’ve discovered that if I skim tracks — especially from TV soundtracks, which are prone to lumping things together, a la “Awesome Fight Song/Mournful Dirge/Space Peanuts” is one track — I file stuff in one playlist and later find that it’s wildly inappropriate. ;-)

#9 Comment By Gnomentashen On April 25, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

As a musician, I find I have a soundtrack following me wherever I go, and a lot of what I find myself drawn to works superbly for roleplaying.

For moody atmospherics, check out Steve Roach, an electronic musician who builds soundworlds (his term) alone and with a number of collaborators. “Dust to Dust” is perfect Western fare; “The Serpent’s Lair” is full of eerie atmospheres intertwined with assaults of polyrhythmic hand percussion. I’m going to use two of his collaborations with Vidna Obmana for my next game, which needs to have a very otherworldly, but organic, quality to it. And more than a little menacing at times.

On the soundtrack front, I’d like to suggest soundtracks to “Mongol,” “Ghost in the Shell,” and Peter Gabriel’s score for “Long Walk Home.”

I’m trying to figure out an excuse to use something from the Sword’s latest album, “Warp Riders,” in my game, but it’s not there. I did use Pelican’s truly epic metal opus “March to the Sea” for a big combat, and it was perfect. Post-rock & post-metal bands can yield great combat tunes. The Grails, especially “Black Tar Prophecies” and “Burning Off Impurities” are more rock with dark psychedelic undertones. Very moody.

And then we could start on the stuff from India, China, Japan, North Africa, Scandinavia…. World music, and, sometimes especially, reworkings of folk music by the descendents of the folk in question (I”m looking at you, Hedningarna!) are deep mines for musical exploration.

Keep your ears open!

#10 Comment By Roxysteve On April 26, 2011 @ 8:59 am

Since moving my games to the LFGS I’ve eschewed music.

We don’t miss it, and now I think on it, when I was in a music-backed D&D game we were either ignoring it or distracted into trivia-fests and Python Joke Marathons by it.

“Let the music be the chatter generated by the game play” shall be the whole of the law.

#11 Comment By SavageTheDM On April 26, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

I have found some great uses for music backgrounds in my DnD games. If I use fast paced battle music people move through there turns faster then they did before I used music. I also tend to use youtube and make play-list for my different themes like when we do an adventure or battle inside of a cold/frozen environment I load up my Frozen play-list or when I have Cthulu inspired moments I load up my paranoia play-list. it works great.
thanks for the great music I will be looking back and trying these out for a long time to come.

#12 Comment By kossowankenobi On April 26, 2011 @ 12:43 pm

@ouzelum +1 – well said, sir

Really powerful pieces work well if it’s in the first 10 or 15 seconds to establish mood… but then you need the game to take over the music so it needs to get faded into background as narration/RP kicks in.

Don’t force them to listen to it all. ;)

I had a GM try to get us watch all of Blade Runner once before playing an RPG for it to get us in the mood. Overkill?

#13 Comment By ouzelum On April 26, 2011 @ 7:23 pm

@kossowankenobi – Well thanks. I’ve not played in ages, but I THINK about playing a LOT lately, and I run campaigns in my head in between my college classes. I could theorize and pontificate all day but truthfully I have little DMing experience.

The folks I play with, if they were in the right mood they’d all dig Blade Runner but if they were all together like that there’s no way they’d watch it and pay attention. It wouldn’t put them in the mood– they’d just beat Blade Runner’s mood over the head with a warhammer.

#14 Comment By rednightmare On April 28, 2011 @ 2:56 am

Glad to hear your enjoying the Battlestar Galactica Soundtrack, Martin. It only get better and more epic as the series goes on.
And I too use music during preptime of my Dark Sun game. Currently I like to listen to Precipice for Season 3 of BSG. It’s exactly the type of sound that gets me into the Dark Sun mood.

#15 Comment By Damocles On April 29, 2011 @ 11:51 am

Paizo.com has some great soundscape by a group called Sonic Legends. They put background sound effects into generic music styles to really give you a feel of a larger scene around you. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have fallen in love with that stuff.

Otherwise, Two Steps From Hell, saw that was on the list, but I use there stuff a lot. Also, if you go onto youtube and look up “rain sounds” or something similar you can find some music less background rain noise that can set a scene just as well as music can.

#16 Comment By Techieninja On May 3, 2011 @ 4:07 pm

There’s a semi-obscure group out there called E.S. Posthumus. They’ve been around since 2001, and they have a very impressive range of instrumental music, from ambiance, to theatric. They’ve done a few hollywood previews, if I recall correctly.
You can find them on iTunes, and you can listen to them on Youtube. Most of their songs could lend themselves very well to action sequences.
There’s another group out there called Atlas Plug. They’re more electronic than E.S. Posthumus, and they also have an impressive range of songs. Most of this group’s songs could lend themselves very well to a post-apocalyptic, SciFi, or cyberpunk game.

#17 Comment By scruffylad On May 7, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

A couple months back, I got the Mumford and Sons CD, and outlined the history of my campaign kingdom while listening to it. Each song gave me a different historical period or key event. It was the first time I’d tried that approach, and I found it very interesting and helpful. (I don’t know if I’d play the songs for the group, but in terms of outlining things, it really worked well. :) )

#18 Comment By LashLightning On September 24, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

Those looking for a soundtrack for their post-apocalypse ought to look at Zynthetic’s… Soundtrack for the Apocalypse: http://zynthetic.bandcamp.com/album/soundtrack-for-the-apocalypse

Also, their other stuff, even a free album, is pretty good too.

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