The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in April 2008. 


You can find James’ soundtracks for Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, and Esoterrorists.

by James Semple

As a composer and roleplayer, I’ve been very interested in using music in my games. At the moment I game once a week and generally my group plays music end-to-end through the session. Music can help to underline the game, both helping create an atmosphere and potentially blocking out any distracting external noise.

So Why Use a Theme Tune

The music discussed above is ambient backing music. A theme tune on the other hand is designed to draw attention to itself. It is used to create a sonic identity for a tv show that becomes recognisable and prepares the audience. Why might we want to use this for a roleplaying game?

The Transitional Period

A player of mine once commented on what he called ‘The transitional period.’ When the group gets together we spend time catching up, telling jokes and just being mates together. Not everyone starts the evening in the roleplaying mood, ready to immerse themselves. Whenever I tried to start a game the group went through a transitional period. This period varied from night to night but it was basically the time that it took for the group to really get into the game. During this transitional period the group were often distracted and still catching up with their discussions.

The Theme Tune?

So, to use similar techniques to Robin, we can play the Theme Tune to underline that the game is starting. Perhaps the GM says a few words over this, recaps the basic idea of game or whatever but the point should come across that the game starts now and hopefully the theme should help to get the group into the roleplaying mood more directly.

So What Should I Use?

Well this is an important point and we’ve often found ourselves using the same music throughout campaigns. It should be something that plays through in a fairly brief period. For me, not longer than 1 minute seems appropriate. For my group I found that playing the same music every week really helps to reinforce the effect. Some games have obvious music (Star Wars, for instance) but other games took a while to find appropriate music. For Call of Cthulhu I’ve used jazz, classical, film soundtracks and even some pop tracks.

…But If You’re A Composer?

Ok, I did write some music myself and this month I am very proud to present a piece I’ve written specifically as a theme for The Esoterrorists game. Although I am currently working on Trail of Cthulhu music at the moment, I am planning to complete an album of Esoterrorists music this year. For this specific theme I wanted to allude to the general mystery and add some anticipation with some heart-racing action music.

Update: The Esoterrorists Theme Tune

The Esoterrorists Theme Tune is now available with three other tracks from the Pelgrane Press store. You can listen to a 15 second sample here.

Sample

Esoterrorists Theme

Related Links


The Esoterrorists are occult terrorists intent on tearing the fabric of the world – and you play elite investigators out to stop them. This is the game that revolutionized investigative RPGs by ensuring that players are never deprived of the crucial clues they need to move the story forward. Purchase The Esoterrorists in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

This music inspired by, and composed for, The Yellow King Roleplaying Game is included free as a digital download with The Yellow King RPG, and separately from the link below. The Yellow King Suite covers each of the four different settings. In addition, it presents a theme for The Yellow King RPG, and music for the doomed, lost city of Carcosa. Each setting required different instrumentation and arrangements; however, the influence of the Yellow King is evident in all of them, uniting them all as a cohesive suite.

Perfect to accompany your Yellow King RPG – or any other reality horror RPG – sessions, or to enjoy over a glass of absinthe.
 
Listen to a sample here:

 

The King In Yellow

The strange descending chromatic melody reminds me of something from a carnival or street music. While the violin grabs your attention initially soon you hear the rest of the strings, clarinet, glockenspiel and even boys choir for that otherworldy sound.

Belle Epoque

A lazy chord progression on the piano starts this gentle dreamlike sequence. Roxane’s beautiful cello breezes effortlessly across the harmonies telling a tale of opulence and ease but also perhaps ennui and decadence.

The Aftermath

An almost hypnotic pattern on the harp echoes the rhythms of the Yellow King as this unsettling piece of music suggests danger, desolation and loneliness.

The War

The music here is very obviously martial with strident rhythms, snares, piccolos and heavy brass. Even here the sinister presence of the Yellow King is heard.

This Is Normal Now

Reality shifts around you but you keep just telling yourself this is normal now. Dance on and enjoy yourself and try to ignore those strange voices and screams you hear. Just keep on dancing!

Carcosa

Poor doomed, lost Carcosa! I felt that the city needed a dramatic and tragic piece with an almost operatic quality. The music shifts constantly, never sitting comfortably in one key but often returning to the same 3 different musical ideas.

The Yellow King Suite is included free as a digital download with The Yellow King RPG, and separately from the link below.

Buy the YKRPG Suite MP3s now

13a_soundtrack_cover_editedJonathan Hicks reviewed the 13th Age Soundtrack on rpg.net. Thanks Jonathan! Jonathan says,

“First off, let me be blunt – if, like me, you’re a lover of music in your game then this soundtrack is fantastic whether you intend to use it in a 13th Age game or not. The themes stand out and once the group hears them during their first few games then they’ll forever associate the music with the sessions, up to a point where an evening’s play will feel peculiar without having the music playing in the background.”

“It’s an amazing selection of music and I can’t see any gaming group not getting something out of it. More than anything, it’s unique; there are no movies, shows or games that have this music so the player’s will not have heard any of it before and will always equate it with their 13th Age games, or whatever ongoing RPG setting they’re gaming in. If that’s not perfect for a gaming group then I don’t know what is.”

“And that, at the end of the day, is what this soundtrack does – it delivers iconic music that not only suits the epic atmosphere of 13th Age but is so varied it contains a style of music that will suit most games in pretty much any fantasy setting. Left on loop in the background it’s perfect for any gaming session and has enough variety to help enhance the atmosphere of many playing styles.

The team of composers and performers on this album have done a sterling job on this soundtrack and they should be commended; I’ve got a few game-centric soundtracks and this is, by far, the best one yet. If you’re looking for an album that’ll help to take your games up a notch, or if you feel that your games are missing that little something that’ll take it to the next level, then this album is an absolute must.”

“A great album filled with solid, wonderfully crafted music. It’s a soundtrack waiting for a movie to be put to it.”


 

13th Age combines the best parts of traditional d20-rolling fantasy gaming with new story-focused rules, designed so you can run the kind of game you most want to play with your group. Created by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, 13th Age gives you all the tools you need to make unique characters who are immediately embedded in the setting in important ways; quickly prepare adventures based on the PCs’ backgrounds and goals; create your own monsters; fight exciting battles; and focus on what’s always been cool and fun about fantasy adventure gaming. Purchase 13th Age in print and PDF at the Pelgrane Shop.

 

high-fidelity-cusack-mixtapeAs you know, we’re big fans of tabletop RPG soundtracks. We have several official soundtracks to our games for sale in the Pelgrane Store thanks to the brilliance of James Semple and his collaborators. (Scroll down and click on Music to open that section.)

But ours are not the only possible soundtracks! Fans of Pelgrane games have created playlists featuring everything from orchestral film scores to electronic dance music, including Music for the 13th Age by Matthew Federico, and Night’s Black Agents playlists by mathey and myself. And we’d love to hear yours.

Please share your playlists for Night’s Black Agents, 13th Age, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, TimeWatch or any of our other games on Twitter with the hashtag #mypelgranemix or leave it here in a comment. We’re hoping to post a roundup of great music in the next Page XX!

Soundtrack coverGive your 13th Age game the soundtrack it deserves

The 13th Age Age Soundtrack brings you 30 pieces of music to evoke excitement, suspense, wonder and mystery at your gaming table. Keep it running in the background, play individual tracks to herald the arrival of battle, the icons or a change in location, or use it as inspiration while building worlds, characters and monsters. (Or, you know, just enjoy it as a really great album.)

The 13th Age Age Soundtrack by James Semple and an array of talented musicians and composers includes:

  • Themes for the icons (wait – one’s missing…?)
  • Themes for key locations in the Dragon Empire, or ones of your own creation that have a similar atmosphere
  • Music for frantic chases, fierce combat, exploration, resting and remembrance
  • Special utility tracks – play “Chase Music” and “Escalation 0-6” on a loop to sustain the mood for as long as you need

Listen to these sample tracks below:

13th Age theme:

Dreams of a Lost Age:

Exploration:

 

Track Listing

1. 13th Age

Prophecies fail. Demons invade, living dungeons rip towards the surface and the Empire’s protectors falter. A sweeping anthem for the heroes who will save the world, or die trying.

2. Archmage

He has preserved the Empire for centuries and created astonishing new lands. He has also threatened the fabric of reality with experiments you’d have to be brilliant or hugely arrogant to attempt.

3. Crusader

He’s the armored fist of the dark gods, crusading against demons — but happy to stomp out virtue or innocence if they’re stupid enough to get in his way.

 4. Diabolist

Unlike the demons she controls, the Diabolist doesn’t necessary want to destroy the universe. She wants to play with it, as a tiger plays with a troupe of monkeys. Those who dance best may not be eaten.

5. Dwarf King

The Dwarf King remembers when his kingdom in the deeps was the mightiest in all creation. Forced towards the surface by elven treachery, he guards the Empire from threats such as the orcs while calculating how to claim the Empire for his own. Or maybe he’s content to mine the treasures of the earth, and build great things that his ancestors would have coveted. Maybe.

 6. Elf Queen

Once upon a time, the Elf Queen united the dark elves, wood elves, and high elves as one people. Now she is the only thing they have in common.

7. Emperor

The ruler of the Dragon Empire holds his Empire together with armies, magic, force of will, tolerably wise rule, and grand squadrons of dragons. You may not agree with him, but you’re not going to mistake him for someone who does things halfway.

 8. Great Gold Wyrm

This great gold dragon is the champion of the oppressed and those who fight for justice. Unfortunately the Wyrm is stuck holding the gates of the hells shut against the demons, so the Wyrm’s champions must do its work in the world.

 9. High Druid

She is the champion of the resurgent Wild, and the spiritual and magical leader of spirits of nature and the elements that were chained by the Emperor and Archmage but are now working themselves free.

 10. Lich King

The Lich King is the not-quite-insane lord of the undead, a fallen tyrant who plans to conquer the Dragon Empire. He mostly understands that ruling a kingdom is not the same as destroying it.

 11. Orc Lord

The leader of the hordes. An apocalyptic icon of war, disease, and endings that could be worse than death.

12. Priestess

The gods are distant but she hears all the gods of light and speaks for those who please her. Part oracle, part mystic, and part metaphysical engineer, since she created the Cathedral, an ever-expanding temple with rooms or entire wings for each of the faiths she favors.

13. The Three

Three ancient dragons cooperate to become one of the dominant evils of the world. The red dragon embodies fury, the black masters stealth and betrayal, and the blue has used sorcery to become a legally appointed governor of the Empire as well as an evil mastermind!

14. The Eyes of the Stone Thief

The Stone Thief is a terrible centuries-old living dungeon that cuts through the earth, surfacing to swallow people and places that the heroes love.

15. Tales Around the Fire

For the rare moments when nothing is trying to kill you.

16. Exploration

Descending into the ruined temple. Opening the gates of the living dungeon. Moving in the dark down a corridor that might be made of stone, but then why is the stone breathing? Wind from up ahead, but it’s not the wind from the surface. Welcome to the underworld.

17. The Demon Coast

Coastlines can be bad business on the Midland Sea, home to all the evil things forced out of the ocean by the Empire’s magic. The coast just north of the Abyss is even worse, hit by tides of evil from both directions.

18. The Fangs

The rivers that feed into the Midland Sea are dangerous places and this is the worst of the bunch, fast moving forks of water populated by sahuagin and sea devils and other creatures forced out of the Midland Sea by the Blessed Emperor. Another great tune for ramping up the tension.

19. High Dock

There aren’t any actual docks in these rolling western hills, and the name may or may not be a joke. For magical reasons no one understands, all the flying realms of the Empire eventually drop low and bump up against the hills or take out big chunks of the terrain in terrible skidding ‘landings.’ Eventually the realms lift off again. If you want to hitch a ride into the overworld, head to the High Dock and take your chances.

20. Omen

This island started small. It’s growing like a cancer in the center of the Midland Sea, bulking up the worst way possible as living dungeon after living dungeon tear up to the surface, depositing their payloads of monstrous weirdness. On the bright side, there’s nobody competing for space on the beach, you should be able to catch a good thirty minutes of sun before the monsters smell you.

 21. Starport

The stars come to this mountain for repair and refitting. What does this mean, you ask? We don’t know — we left it open for each game table to decide for themselves.

22. Dreams of a Lost Age

Every culture in the world has its own version of this song. The world is ancient, all have lost things they would have wanted to preserve. They summon the dreams in song.

23. Chase Music

Who is chasing who? Doesn’t matter. Put it on loop to cue frantic backward glances, quick changes of direction, and short cuts that lead to greater peril.

24-30. Escalation 0 through Escalation 6

You can use this music to accompany the escalation die, starting at 0 and topping off at 6; or loop the low levels for relatively normal situations, then switch to high levels when power makes the air hum.

Stock #: PEL13A08D Composed by: James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer, Thery Ehrlich, Chris J. Nairn, Tristan Noon
Format: MP3s
Musicians: Eos Chater, Deryn Cullen, Eanan Paterson, Pete Whitfield, Simon Porter, Hugh Davies, Harry Davidson, Julie Minasian

Buy Now

by James Semple

Having recently completed the 13th Age Suite I was interested in writing something more contemporary again. While music for the Night’s Black Agents Dracula Dossier is on the horizon, I felt it had been far, far too long since I’d last written anything for The Esoterrorists. I remember that ever since I’d read The Esoterror Fact Book I’d had an idea for some music which I never got around to writing. Now I had a moment of spare time I thought it was time to revisit this idea!

[audio:http://site.pelgranepress.com/files/Music/Irrawaddy_Landing_v2_24_bit_master.mp3]

The first thing I realised was that it was important to differentiate the music of The Esoterrorists from the music of Night’s Black Agents. After all they’re both contemporary action dramas with strong elements of the occult. It would be easy to end up with fairly interchangeable music between the two. With that in mind I reviewed the music I’d written for both and then drew out a list of elements that were specific to Esoterrorists and distinct from NBA.

Stylistically I felt that The Esoterrorists has a heavier focus on action and less on tension. The music is a little more muscular with overt nods to military snares and heavy rock guitar. Perhaps almost a sense of New World confidence in contrast to the more world-weary European quality of NBA. There’s definitely an action movie quality there. This is particularly emphasised on tracks focusing on the Special Suppression Forces.

Another important aspect is the usage of musique concrete and reversed sound design to represent the Membrane, particularly highlighted in the track The Membrane. This felt like a very useful colour to again help differentiate the Esoterrorist sound.

Finally I have also been wanting to write music for the Ordo Veritatis itself. I have many ideas for this going around but there’s likely to be something in the style of brass chorale and perhaps something with choirs as well. Maybe a hymn or even a march. There is a definite sense of noble duty I’d like to capture.

Anyway having suitably established my Esoterrorists sound I decided to crack on and write the track itself. It’s called Irrawaddy Landing and is the first scene in Operation Whirlwind Reaper, the scenario in The Esoterror Fact Book. As soon as I read this scene I wanted to write music for it.

Imagine rice fields in Myanmar at night … peaceful and calm. Suddenly a military plane comes into view. We see the Special Suppression Forces getting ready. There’s a brief quiet moment of noble duty and then they jump. Cue the hero music! Finally they land and the music gets more creepy as they begin sneaking into dangerous territory. I’ve written the music as though I was scoring this scene but of course you don’t have to use it in this way.

NBA CD front coverEvery spy needs a cool soundtrack

The best espionage thrillers use music to bring audiences to the edges of their seats, with soundtracks that evoke suspense, danger and mystery. Now you can bring this same excitement to your Night’s Black Agents RPG adventures with Dust and Mirrors: Music for Night’s Black Agents.

James Semple and his crack team of composers sonically equip your agents for any situation: shadowing a target in the fog-shrouded streets of Berlin, hacking into a corporate network, running seconds ahead of an explosion, or assaulting a secret vampire stronghold.

Play individual tracks on Dust and Mirrors for specific scenes during your game, or leave it on in the background to evoke a general mood of tension, action and horror.

 

Track Samples:

Main Theme

Urban Parkour:

 

Dust and Mirrors contains the following tracks, specifically composed for Night’s Black Agents:

1. Main Theme
Mysterious and dramatic music sets the scene for the game ahead!

2. Stakeout
Hidden surveillance and gathering evidence during dark hours of the night.

3. The Brief
A meeting, telephone call, email or letter is the catalyst for a series of events where danger lurks in the shadows.

4. Infiltration
An overall sense of dread envelopes you when you discreetly enter the state-of-the-art facility.

5. Ambient
A moment to reflect where secret agents become ambivalent when their duty to the mission conflicts with their consciences.

6. Manhunt
A dangerous chase in a network of power and crime.

7. Suit Up
The final battle approaches, and only you have what it takes.

8. Urban Parkour
Desperate pursuit across rooftops in a city where death is on the line.

9. Purging The Demon
A desperate struggle between human and vampire.

10. Heist
Heavyweight direct brute force is sometimes the agents’ only recourse.

11. Conspyramid
Conspiracy theories take a horrific turn after uncovering an ancient and dangerous secret society.

12. Covert Ops
Behind enemy lines sometimes subterfuge is the best approach.

13. The Great Escape
Confrontation is futile, all you can do now is run for your life. How will you get out of this one?

14. Captured
Emotionally draining circumstance of being trapped in a fiercely unpleasant and smelly environment.

15. An Eye For An Eye
An all out horror piece where the character is alone, vulnerable and miles away from any other human being.

16. Horror
The unfortunate and unforeseen event of meeting with blood-thirsty Vampires.

17. Darkness
The true nature and power of the Vampires is revealed. Few can stand against it!

18. Crawlers
You can feel them watching, waiting patiently for you to come out of your hiding place.

19. Atonement
A final reflective moment when the agents examine the life they lead and the choices they have made.

Stock #: PELGN04D Author: James A Semple
Artist: George Cotronis Format: MP3 tracks

Buy

 

Eternal_Lies_cover_mockupEternal Lies is an epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu, the tabletop RPG written by Will Hindmarch, Jeff Tidball and Jeremy Keller.

Video by Mike Torr and James Semple, featuring the voice of Wil Wheaton, with music from the soundtrack album The Complete Eternal Lies Suite.

Eternal Lies and the Complete Eternal Lies Suite is available for pre-order from the store.

 

 

Scene from The Third ManShare a link to your online playlist for Night’s Black Agents (or just your suggestions) on Twitter with the hashtag #nightsblackagents — or leave a comment below — and we’ll pass it along. We can always use more cool spy music in our lives. And if you listen to cool spy music and haven’t ordered the [REDACTED] Edition yet, for heaven’s sake fix that right away.

In a spy thriller, sometimes it’s the music that makes it all work.

The 1996 movie Mission: Impossible is a good example. In one scene, Ethan Hunt’s team discovers that they’re going to have to steal something they need from a secure room in CIA Headquarters . The scene instantly shifts to Langley, Virginia and the famous theme song blasts on the soundtrack, letting us know that we’re about to see the Impossible Missions Force swing into action.

Music can also be a great mood-setter for role-playing games. Groups playing Night’s Black Agents have no shortage of evocative music that can take them from ominous to ass-kicking and back again. Here are a couple of online playlists for your enjoyment:

Mathey’s Night’s Black Agents mix on 8tracks.com combines music from spy movies such as The Ipcress File, Ronin and Léon: The Professional with indie rock to pulse-pounding effect.

When I took a break from promoting 13th Age and started reading The [REDACTED] Edition, I assembled a Night’s Black Agents Spotify playlist to conjure the high-tech menace of the intelligence underworld, with music from the soundtracks of Taken, Spy Game and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy.

What’s your soundtrack, agent?

 

James Semple and Yaiza Varona present the Ashen Stars theme.

[audio:http://site.pelgranepress.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Ashen%20Stars.mp3]
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