Background music is a time-honoured game
master tool, perfect for setting the atmosphere of the session. Ideally the
soundtrack has to be of the ambient sort, from the Brian Eno gray zone of “as
ignorable as it is interesting”. There are many ready-made solutions, which
work perfectly (e.g. Cryo Chamber
ambient releases for dark fantasy/horror games), but I tend to go the extra
mile, and most of my prep time is spent compiling the perfect playlist for the
I love RPGs and I love weird obscure music.
So here’s a sample of what I’d used for an
early modern LotFP game. This mix conveys melancholia and a sense of the weird,
but it is not overtly dark or oppressive. It features both ambientish materials
and a selection of period music. Just make sure you put the playlist on
shuffle: too much period music in one bunch leads to a Ren-faire atmosphere.
But if the short harpsichord interludes are mixed with brooding ambient, it’s
MIXTAPE – “17th
Century Schizoid Man”
Mort Garson – Black Mass/Lucifer (1971)
electronic composer Mort Garson
created several “occult” themed albums (Ataraxia:
The Unexplained (1970) being one of the other prominent ones), but Black Mass/Lucifer is my favourite… For
today’s listener, this doesn’t sound like a grim & dark “Satanic” album –
but it’s wonderfully weird and creative.
Anna Själv Tredje – Tussilago Fanfara (1977)
This Swedish gem
is one of my favourites. Atmospherically it goes from mellow and fairy-tale
qualities to eerie otherworldliness. Abstract synth music tends to work great,
and I find that even if sometimes it sounds “futuristic” (with cosmic beeps and
echoes), it blends in perfectly with a pseudo-historical setting.
Henry Purcell – The Suites for Harpsichord [Played by Colin Tilney] (1979)
Tilney is a
renowned master of early keyboard instruments, and there are many albums where
he plays old harpsichords and organs. Any compilation of baroque music is
great, but Tilney is my personal preference.
The City Waites – Sorcery and Spectres:
Songs of the Supernatural (1995)
Music from the other end of the social hierarchy: a
collection of traditional folk songs, broadside ballads (and some chamber music
too). This album is great, but you have to go through the songs first, because
some of them can be distracting, and, as such, have no place in your session
Check out also Popular Tunes in 17th Century
England (1980) by the Broadside Band,
or any other similar compilation.
The Unquiet Void – Scorpio (1999) & Poisoned Dreams (2004)
If the list
sounds too up-beat, add some Lovecraftian horror ambient!
Klaus Morlock – The Bridmore Lodge Tapes (2014)
is certainly a revival of “hauntological” music, inspired by the Berlin school
of electronic music, the BBC Radiophonic
Workshop, and many other weird apparitions. Check out the Ghost Box label
and their ilk, or, for instance, Klaus
Morlock. The Devon Folklore Tapes series
is great as well.
John Foxx – London Overgrown (2015)
synth washes, this time by John Foxx (of Ultravox fame). I love London Overgrown, because thematically
it depicts a world after the downfall of humanity... But if this sonic vision is
too new-agey and soothing, replace it with an unhealthy dose of Lustmord or Atrium Carceri.
The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths (2017)
Closing of the
list is a recent release by the revived BBC
Radiophonic Workshop... this tapestry of noises, drones, chimes, buzzing
synths proves that they are truly the masters of their art.