Friday, May 07, 2010

Metal and D&D

This video of an Afrika Bombaataa remake/remix of Gary Numan's "Metal" is tongue in cheek for a variety of reasons (one of which being that turning the song into a club-friendly pseudo-rap song kinda defeats the whole purpose, theme and tone of the song in the first place--the other being that this kind of music is anathema to metal fans) but hey, I can occasionally throw a weird non sequitur out there, right?

It should be obvious to anyone who's talked about D&D online before, but there are a lot of folks who play D&D who infer a serious and thorough link between Dungeons & Dragons and metal. Metal the music, I mean.

This inference is really bizarre, in my opinion. Other than the fact that a handful of metal bands have Frank Frazetta art as album covers (or Frazetta clones) I'm struggling to see any link at all. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that at a certain point in the 80s both metal and D&D were saddled with a similar image problem; linked with Satanism and all kinds of other bizarre claims. Both of these links were equally absurd, but is that enough to explain the bizarre fixation many gamers have with linking metal and D&D?

For my money, metal is just about the worst music I could play during a session. For metal fans, it would be distracting. "Are we here to listen to your CDs, or to play D&D?" For metal non-fans, like me, it'd be distracting in a different way. "Can you turn this crap off so I can hear what the GM is saying?"

This is true of any music with lyrics, though: it tends to be distracting. There's a reason that most movie soundtracks are orchestral music; or if they're not, the volume of the soundtrack goes way down when characters are talking. Lyrics are extremely distracting.

But used appropriately, music can add greatly to your session, just like it does to a movie or TV show. Some people swear by having certain tracks queued for certain types of activities in-game. For me, that would be distracting as a GM; too much effort. Rather, I tend to find soundtracks that give me the basic ambient "feel" I want for the game, put them on shuffle, and let them rip in the background while playing.

Although their musical acumen is perhaps a little bit suspect, you can't beat outfits like Nox Arcana and Midnight Syndicate for pure mood. They've both made their names for themselves primarily around the Halloween music circuit, but they both have a lot of stuff that's highly appropriate as background music during gaming. Heck; Midnight Syndicate even made the official Dungeons and Dragons Soundtrack, fer cryin' out loud. Nox Arcana's Blood of the Dragon is a direct answer to that CD, combining the same vibe with a synthesized Conan the Barbarian and Braveheart soundtrack. And for that matter, their Halloween themed music is still pretty darn appropriate for most games I've ever been in and certainly every game I'd ever run, since I really enjoy a dark fantasy twist on my fantasy gaming.

For my money, though, the best music to listen to while gaming is actual movie scores. I've mentioned before that I've managed to amass a fairly impressive collection of movie scores over the years, and this is exactly the reason why: to play in the background while reading, writing, or gaming.

Here's a (partial) list of some of the soundtracks that I've used and continue to use for my gaming, reading and writing sessions, as well as during game preparation. This is meant more to give you a flavor of what I listen to than to be complete. I don't espouse or recommend any of these movies at this point for anything other than their musical scores.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Batman Begins
The Wolfman
10,000 B.C.
The Mummy
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Fellowship of the Ring
Clash of the Titans
Van Helsing

All the links above go to Amazon, where you can hear samples, and for most of those, you can also buy them as mp3 instant downloads.

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