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DM Pressure, more music!

In a way, the internet is an awesome resource for DMs looking for inspiration and ideas. However, it's also awful because if you're like me, you see all the awesome campaigns out there and what other DMs are doing and feel totally overwhelmed! I mean, look at the stuff Gabe @ Penny Arcade is doing, and that's as a (relatively) rookie DM! Then there's people with light-pen projector tables, all sorts of awesome Dwarven Forge terrain dungeons, and of course the completely mind-blowing SurfaceScapes project.

Sure, it's self-inflicted pressure, since no one else in my group even hears of these awesome things unless I tell them. But still! I want to keep pushing the bar and surprising my players in as many ways as possible.

Some of the fancier table tricks are, unfortunately, out of the question for me and my limited finances. But as someone with a laptop, extra monitor, and devoted "gaming table" speakers, one thing I can do is use electronic props to their fullest.

I mentioned previously how essential music was in the finale to our last chapter, and I intend to continue this trend when the party ventures to a haunted village later on in the campaign. They don't know anything about the village other than its tragic, distant history, so it should be interesting when they eventually find the hooks connecting it to the central plotline.

The song is from a World of Warcraft dungeon called Karazhan, a haunted, magical tower which contained all sorts of awesome noble ghosts and weirdness, like an undead butler still serving at a banquet of cultured, elegant ghosts, a giant chess board where you had to participate as chess pieces, and an opera event where - in front of a ghostly audience - you re-enacted well-known folklore stories such as Romeo & Juliet or Red Riding Hood. (How full of great, classic fantasy RPG hooks is that??)

The way I see this happening is they'll travel to the village, expecting long-deserted ruins. But the village will be still there, bustling with people in antiquated style houses and clothing. Gloomy lights, cobblestone streets, Victorian manors...maybe a Ravenloft feel. Obviously, because it's blatantly fishy and because they're PCs, they'll be suspicious. Which is fine!

Then, as they proceed deeper into the seemingly-innocuous village, wondering what all the fuss was...maybe they find a few hidden secrets and discover the darker truth beneath the simple exterior. Or maybe there will be some old man on the road warning them not to stay past nightfall, but they do and when the sun disappears the town gets all demonic. Endless possibilities!

Using music to enhance your game

In a previous post I mentioned how I was using a very cool song from the movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children to add a ton of atmosphere and suspense to my 4E Shackled City campaign. It was a huge success, and I highly recommend using special music for special events. Here's a few more details about how it went down. (The full session recap can be found here.

The temple was well defended, and the party had been overcoming tough opposition (and were starting to really hate kuo-toas.) After emerging into a large open cavern, they started to hear a loud, rhythmic thumping noise.

This is what they heard (I clipped the first minute or so and played it on repeat.)

As they explored further, they looked into a huge, football-stadium sized chamber only to see hundreds of kuo-toas deep in trance/meditation. The sound was the sound of countless kuo-toa hearts beating in unison.

A long bridge led above the crowd into a shrine, and the effect of the suspenseful, ominous music playing while they crept across was great. I stopped the music when they entered the shrine. A few encounters and one session later, they had the dwarf in tow and were ready to start sneaking out again. They exchanged nervous looks when I put the music on again, which I took great pleasure in.

Sneaking out over the bridge was a stealth-based skill challenge, so as to not alert the dormant horde beneath them. They eventually failed, making noise and alerting the kuo-toas. However, I didn't tell them they had failed or that the kuo-toas had noticed them, I simply switched the song to the 1:40 mark and waited. When the tempo changed everyone at the tables completely lost their minds and started all yelling at once what they were doing, in a panic.

The skill challenge turned into an escape-themed one, led into a fight with a vengeful dragon back for a rematch, and finally a terrible far realm abomination blocking the way to their escape boat, all while being pursued by enraged kuo-toas out for blood. I used various escape/pursuit-themed songs to emphasize the danger, and after the beaten, tired but successful players drifted away on their boat, they all said it was one of the most intense sessions yet.

It can be tough to find that song that perfectly fits an event, and you don't want to do it too often or it'll lose its magic. But sometimes it works perfectly, and makes a cool encounter unforgettable.