A week or so ago I was contacted by the people at Battlebards to see whether I’d be interested in reviewing their custom sound effects, which, along with the program they are building, give DM’s a tool for bringing music and sound effects into their games. Since I’m a fan of using music and sound effects I agreed and they sent me some samples ahead of their Kickstarter that is running now. In the interest of transparency these samples were sent to me free of charge, to give me a better idea of what it is they are doing.
I’ve used music in my games, on and off, for quite a long time. I recall chapters in Ravenloft and Deadlands sourcebooks that highlighted specific pieces of music that could be used to build atmosphere during sessions and these same chapters really drove home to me how the TV and movie industries use music to evoke specific feelings at certain points during the story.
It’s not just music that helps either, TSR realised in the 90’s that there was a market for audio accessories and released such excellent offerings as Planescape’s Players Primer to the Outlands with it’s Mimir CD and Ravenloft’s A Light in the Belfry audio adventure, amongst others. These kind of accessories tend to be rare nowadays with the soundtrack provided as part of Eberron’s Sharn- City of Towers and Call of Cthulhu’s Sense Impacts being the only recent examples that spring to mind.
My point here is that music and sound effects can have a huge impact on the way your players feel about a session. Having ominous chanting gradually get louder as they make their way into a temple can set the mood in a way that a DM’s description just can’t equal. Likewise, having haunting music play as they enter a supposedly abandoned theatre will induce fear in a deeper and more effective way than a statement of fact.
Background sound, the hustle and bustle of everyday life is something that we take for granted, day to day, but it would seem strange, almost jarring without it and the same applies to your games. Being a DM is all about how you frame a scene, how your describe it and far you can draw your players into an imaginary world and make them connect with it. Lighting is important, I never run a horror game by anything other than candlelight, and so is what your player’s hear around them, and if it’s just the sounds of the modern world then your players will have trouble truly connecting to game.
Now back when I first started gaming it wasn’t all that easy to put a soundtrack to a game, you’d tend to have CD’s and generally wouldn’t have a computer nearby. This mean’t you’d either need to keep swapping between CD’s or make a playlist to play through and have to break the action to skip to the right track at the right time. Additionally it wasn’t that easy to get hold of single tracks so if you wanted a particular track from Holst’s The Planets, you’d need to buy the whole CD rather than just hit up iTunes. Likewise, sound effects were pretty hard to get hold of, unless you happened to get a Horror Sounds CD at Halloween.
Thankfully it’s a whole lot easier nowadays, tracks can be found individually, devices can store thousands of MP3s and its commonplace to have a laptop or tablet near the table to use during the game. Even thematic pieces of music are more common with the rise in big budget fantasy and sci-fi movies and so gone are my days of putting the Final Fantasy 7 fight music on repeat during combat scenes (for hours on end sometimes).
A couple of things that haven’t changed though are how hard it is to find quality sound effects and the fact it can be fiddly to switch between tracks and sound effects during sessions, which can detract from the atmosphere as much as help it. That’s where the folks at Battlebards come in.
Battlebards are gamers, like you and me, and they really like trying to add atmosphere to their games. They ran a Kickstarter named Realmsound 2.0, back in October 2013, which let them begin to build a library of high quality sound effects and compositions that DMs could download and use within their own games. These sound effects aren’t just the classic creaky door or heroine screaming but are high quality representations of dragon’s roaring and breathing fire, spells verbal components, exploding fireballs and the like.
In addition they have scripts of merchants and tavern conversations that can just be playing in the background while your party go about their downtime activity. These sounds, music and scripts are composed and read by professional musicians and actors specifically for gaming sessions, providing a higher quality product that you can achieve through repurposing movie soundtracks.
Now Battlebards are back on Kickstarter, running a self titled campaign, that kicked off on 14/04/15, to expand this library to over 500 and build a custom program that DM’s can use to simply add music and sound effects to their game. This program is set to be an amazing tool that gives DMs a desktop soundboard that can be customised to use any of the sounds and compositions in their library. There is even an offline mode for when you don’t have net access.
At higher tiers you can get access to a mixer that lets you combine and layer the different sounds to fit your own purposes. Have a scene set up with a Beholder blasting the party while they try to disrupt a ritual to prevent a Lich raising all the dead in the kingdom while in the heart of a volcano? Their tools can let you layer those sounds together to give your players a unique and memorable experience.
Their service is a subscription one and so even if you missed the Kickstarter you can head over there and sign up to gain access to their library and tools, once the project delivers. At the time of writing they don’t have the price structure set, a lot depends on the feedback they get from the Kickstarter, both as to what sells and what their backers say.
I have to say, what they have planned is exciting. The RPG industry is a small one and the publishers don’t have the time or money to devote to developing service like this and so it’s great to see that a group of gamers have taken the initiative to do it themselves. The beauty of the Kickstarter model is that gamers can do something like this and share their vision and passion with the wider community.
What Battlebards are doing might not be for you, they are passionate about fantasy gaming, D&D, Pathfinder, 13th Age etc. and the project is geared towards that. So if you aren’t planning on running a fantasy game around the time that this delivers (estimated as November 2015) then you might not get quite as much out of it, although I guarantee that some sounds and effects will be suitable for repurposing.