When I GM I prefer to play music in the background to create an atmosphere expressing the generall feel of the campaign world. I dont try to match certain events with specific songs, thats way too much work and also pretty hard to prepare for in an open ended game. I just play a soundtrack embodying the kind of ambience I associate with the game. At the most I may distinguishe between a general soundtrack for the campaign at large and more specific tunes for combat or more weird and eerie environments.
Like everyone else I’ve used Basil Poledouris’ magnificient soundtrack for Conan the Barbarian, but I wanted to share some other stuff I find useful.
I prefer ambient or other kinds of atmospheric music with little or no vocal parts. For Xuh’lan I choose music evoking weird, phantasmagoric and psychedelic moods and visions – such as Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Planete Sauvage or the kind of theremin music you hear in old scifi movies. The dark ambient of Lustmord, Abominations of Yondo, Zoviet France, Nocturnal Emissions and others make a great background for delving into underground labyrinths.
Lately my friend and collaborateur on this blog project, Berra, has been experimenting with the “Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch” program (famous for actually making Justin Bieber songs enjoyable by slowing them down by 800%) and has produced some pieces that work very well for this purpose.
Brian Eno has made a couple of eerie tracks, like In Dark Tree’s
Tangerine Dream made a lot of boring new agy stuff in the 80’s and 90’s, but their early recordings from the 70’s are haunting and dark: Alpha Centauri (1971), Zeit (1972), Atem (1973) and Phaedra (1974).
French psychedelic ambient duo Planete Sauvage.
Few others can channel the vast abyss of outer space as Lustmord on the iconic The Place Where the Black Stars Hang.
Dark ambient soundscapes inspired by Clark Ashton Smith: Abominations of Yondo
SPK’s frontman, and later Hollywood film score composer, Graeme Revell has also made “The Insect Musicians”, music entirely based on samples of insect sounds. Two the better tracks are Invaders of the Heart and Balinese Twilight.
Dead Can Dance has many songs that evoke oriental or medieval atmospheres. Highly recommended!
Swedish electronic musician Bo Hansson made a really nice album based on The Lord of the Rings in 1972. Here’s The Black Riders. I wouldn’t use this for Xuh’lan, but its perfect for a somewhat more classic fantasy campaign with elfs and dwarfs and shit.