Setting the Mood: Dungeons and Dragons Music and Soundboards

Using music and soundboards is an excellent way to set the mood for your Dungeons and Dragons games. They can help you create an atmosphere that is filled with excitement, tension, or mystery. But where do you find good music for dungeons and dragons? We’ll outline some great resources for finding the perfect background tunes to make your Dungeons and Dragons experience better than ever before!

Why play music in your Dungeons and Dragons game?

Music can provide an excellent background to any Dungeons and Dragons game. It can create the perfect mood for your adventure, bringing tension or excitement with it, and is a way to transport players into the world you create.

It also lets players know what’s coming up in the game, for example, the music might start getting more ominous when a dungeon is about to come into view.

Music can also provide effects that are either not present or difficult to describe during gameplay and save you from having to specifically describe them. For example, heavy rain falling while your character enters an old temple for the first time.

Good pieces of background music can help create a world your players want to explore. After many games of D&D, it’s still one of the best things I’ve found for enhancing the experience.

Disadvantages of Playing Music in Dungeons and Dragons

Sound can be distracting for some players. Some people swear that they cannot concentrate on the game because of the sound playing in the background.

It can also be difficult for the dungeons master to multitask – they already have to think about the game they’re running and now have another thing to take care of as well. This can lead to a lot of mistakes or not noticing important things going on in the game, which is unfair for your players.

There are ways around this problem though – you could ask one of the players at the table to be in charge of playing the music or you could have a set of preprepared playlists that just play in the background, making it a bit more hands-off for the dungeon master.

Be Prepared

You need to have your music prepared before the session so that it’s quick to access and play. This makes it a lot easier for the DM to both play and run the game as they can focus on the game rather than what song needs to be played next.

I currently play everything through my phone. Before a session I do the following to prepare:

  1. On Spotify (or your application of choice – see below for options) I prepare several ambient playlists for the settings I think will be in my campaign. For example a tavern playlist, forest playlist, and cave/cavern playlist.
  2. I also have some playlists for fights. If the situation is really tense, I’ll quickly switch to a fighting playlist to set the mood. I have a few tracks playlists I swap between depending on how intense the battle is. The boss battles always get a special playlist.
  3. I also have a soundboard app with some custom sounds that may happen during my campaign. A few of these are particular to the campaign (eg. a scream heard in the background), as well as some generic fighting sounds (eg. a sword swinging) to help out with my descriptions.
  4. On my session notes I include notes for myself on when to change the playlist and what playlist or soundboard sound I expect to be using.
The DnDify app helps keep all your playlists organised

Approaches to Playing Music in Dungeons and Dragons

There are 2 general ways to play D&D music for your session. Which one you pick is determined by how much control you want over the sound in each situation, but more control comes with the downside of needing to put more effort in.

Active Music

The active approach is best for more experienced Dungeon Masters who can split their focus between running the session and playing music. If running the session is currently taking all your brainpower then this option is probably not for you. Remember running the game comes first, if you’re ruining the mood by fumbling around finding the right playlist and then trying to get back into the swing of the game it’s going to ruin the immersive effect of playing music.

While this method does take more effort than the passive approach, it’s worth the investment for those who are really into having an immersive atmosphere. It lets you make adjustments on the fly to match what is happening in-game at any given time. If you’re using this approach then being prepared is a must so that you can change songs seamlessly without having to stop playing.

This approach is more difficult, but when you get it right it makes for an unforgettable experience.

Passive Music

This is the simpler approach, where you just pick a playlist for your area or game and play it. This is great for when you want to set the mood to play but not feeling up to controlling every element of what is being played.

However, using passive music means that you don’t have full control of the song in a given situation, and what’s on the playlist might not always be ideal. For example, if your party is in a dark dungeon and then suddenly starts heading through a more cheerful area the music will stay dark even though the mood has changed dramatically.

Finding Music

There are many places you can use to find the songs you want and then either download them or stream them onto your device of choice. There are specialized options designed specifically for RPG games, such as websites like Tabletop Audio or Syrinscape being popular choices. Other places to look can be places like YouTube, Spotify, iTunes Store, Amazon Instant Video, etc.

You will then also need to figure out how to organize your songs into playlists and may also need a soundboard app to allow you to easily have all your ambient playlists and sounds on hand.

Best Options for Finding D&D Ambient Music

Ambient music is played in the background and evokes a mood without being the main focus of attention. It can be used to set the mood for any setting and there are many different types available to use, such as dungeon soundtracks or battle themes.

Some of the best options for finding Ambient Music for your Dungeons and Dragons game are:

  • Tabletop Audio – A website that contains an extensive library of free ambient tracks of about 10 minutes each designed especially with tabletop RPGs in mind. They also have a sound pad area to organize your tracks so you can find your desired pieces easily. There are many tracks covering the full range of realistic environments including battles, caves, dungeons, meadows. This is a great choice if you just want to pick ambient tracks for a scene, but keep in mind the tracks are only 10 minutes each so you will be frequently changing them. It also has the option to Broadcast and stream the audio online.
  • Syrinscape – Similar to Tabletop audio but much more in-depth and customizable. It has both background noise and sound effects and allows you to set up the exact feeling you want with many sliders and buttons so that you have complete control of the audio. There are also many preset sound pads, for example, a combat sound pad that has many options for grunts, slash attacks, spells, etc. This is the best choice for DMs who want complete control over sound during their game. This is a paid subscription service, and while some people may find this too expensive but others would argue that it’s worth it for the convenience.
  • Spotify – if you already have a premium Spotify subscription there are lots of great playlists available. I wouldn’t use the free tier of Spotify for this as an ad coming on can ruin the mood. Some RPG-specific playlists that can be set as background ambient noise can be found from the users Gutrund, Brian Davis, Squidbeard. These users have each put together a lot of different playlists for each of the different settings and are a great option for playlists to set each time your players enter a different area. There are also a lot of video gaming soundtracks that are suitable to just set and forget for your entire game. such as from Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, Final Fantasy, or even from fantasy movies such as Lord of the Rings.
  • YouTube – if you have YouTube there are a lot of great playlists, but you’ll want to be careful to pick ones without ads or have YouTube Premium. Using Youtube tends to give a bit less control as there tends to be more generic ambient tracks rather than specific playlists for different settings. If you search for D&D music on YouTube you’ll get plenty of hour-long ambient thematic instrumental tracks, but user Cephean has some good playlists for different settings.
  • Soundtale – an android app that has 32 different prepared atmospheres as well as a few different sounds. It’s not the most comprehensive, but for a one-off cost it’s decent and easy to use. It also comes with the option to create a room to stream what you are playing online.
Syrinscape offers a Dungeons and Dragons Specific Subscription

Best Options for Dungeons and Dragons Soundboards

A soundboard is an audio player that contains multiple preloaded tracks of gaming-specific sounds such as monsters roaring, spells casting, dice rolling, etc. Some of these apps are designed with RPG games like Dungeons & Dragons in mind because they allow you to play sound effects very easily by having them ready at the click of a button. Some also have built-in functionality that allows you to turn off any other ambient music playing so only sounds will come out when all other sources go silent. The benefit of using a Soundboard is they allow DMs to have complete control over their surroundings without getting off task during gameplay.

Some great options for soundboards are:

RPG Sound Mixer Soundboard
  • Syrinscape – as mentioned above this subscription service has a super-comprehensive library of sounds, and you can even make collections for each of your gaming sessions that contain the sounds that you think you will be using.
  • Battlebards – A soundboard for D&D with a wide range of sounds. Mostly paid but there are some free ones mixed in as well. There is a subscription service or you can buy tracks for a one-off cost, which is preferable for people that don’t like adding an ongoing monthly cost to their budget.
  • RPG Master Sounds Mixer – this app covers phones and tablets for both iOS and Android and has soundboards and some ambient music, and you can pay one-off for more sounds. The sounds vary in quality though, so you’ll want to vet them before using them in your game.
  • RPG Sounds: Fantasy – this app covers phones and tablets for both iOS and Android and provides a soundboard and some also some ambient music options. Not the most comprehensive amount of sounds in comparison to something like Syrinscape, but the free version covers all the basics for someone just getting started, and the in-app purchases are reasonably priced upgrades.
  • AudioTiles – an android soundboard app, this one provides full flexibility to use your own sounds and make your own boards. Perfect for audiophiles who want full control over the sounds in their games.

Other Software Tools

Depending on what you’ve picked and where your players are located, there are other tools that may help you get organized for running your Dungeons and Dragons games. These are:

  • DnDify – an android app that lets you have a nice soundboard interface for your Spotify or YouTube ambient playlists, complete with a “Fight” button to quickly change the tone when a fight is on. This is one of my favorite apps and one I personally use to make my playlists on Spotify easily accessible.
  • Watch2Gether – this lets you stream YouTube to a room of players if you’re playing online.
  • Roll20 – is a popular app for playing D&D online and has a jukebox feature to share what you are playing online.
  • Discord – has native Spotify integration that you can have a “Listening Party”, but each player needs to have their own premium Spotify account.

What to Play Music On

There are 3 situations you can be playing D&D, and each needs a different setup:

Offline

If you’re playing offline, you’ll want to play your music out loud in the room you are playing in. You’ll need a nice speaker, the easiest method is a Bluetooth speaker as they are portable, relatively cheap, and have good sound. If you already have something like a google home or a Bluetooth stereo system in your house then you should already know what you’re doing – use those.

Online

If you’re playing online you’ll want to make sure you can play the sound in a way everyone hears it at once. You can just play it through your speakers and let your computer mic pick up the sounds, but this will degrade the sound quality. Some audio players let you stream to a group of people, or you can use software like Watch2Gether, which lets you stream YouTube to a room of players.

Some Players Online

This is when some players are in the same room, and some are dialing in. This is also the most difficult situation. If each of your players in the room has a microphone, and when you are playing sound through speakers you can get a lot of feedback which is not good. Generally, if you have some players online it would be worth your while to invest a specialized set up – something like a Jabra that will be used by all your players that are in the same room as both the microphone and speaker and is designed to stop any echo.

If you can’t get the proper equipment for this, it may be best to skip the music in this situation.

Some General Tips

  • You don’t always need music – if it’s too hard don’t feel obliged, Dungeons and Dragons is still great without music.
  • Avoid anything with lyrics – this is because players can sometimes get distracted trying to sing along and they may not be able to concentrate fully on the game at hand.
  • Use playlists – sometimes you will find that one song is not enough, which is where playlists can be really useful. Preset playlists usually have a theme or genre to them, or you could create your own.
  • Use a soundboard – Sometimes you will find that you want to have specific sounds for what is happening (eg. a scream in the background or a kobold attack). This is where a soundboard comes in useful as each sound is easily available to you at the click of a button.
  • Match the atmosphere of your campaign – there are plenty of recommendations, but in the end you know your players best. If you’re running a serious campaign pick something serious, if you’re running a fun campaign you need something that matches the lighthearted atmosphere.
  • Pick a style – You want to make sure to pick a style that suits your dungeon. There are plenty of options that go from spooky and creepy up to triumphant and heroic, and you want the atmosphere to be consistent for an area and throughout the campaign. It’s going to seem odd if you switch from heavy metal to an acoustic folk song in the middle of a cavern.
  • Pick what your players will enjoy – it’s not worth forcing them to listen to tunes they don’t like just for the sake of keeping things realistic, as long as it suits the mood well enough then you’re probably fine.
  • Be careful using game or movie music – if your players recognize it they may associate it too much with that game or movie rather than your game.
  • Don’t play too loud – you want the volume loud enough to be heard in the background but not so loud as to be a distraction.

My Personal D&D Music Setup

Personally, I like to keep things easy. I already have Spotify premium, so I use ambient playlists from Spotify user Gutrund and play it through the DnDify app on my phone. As players enter a new area or start doing a new thing, I quickly change the playlist. This uses the same playlist for each game with randomized songs, but my players have never noticed (or at least never mentioned it). When a battle starts, I just hit the battle button available on the app and it changes to something suitable for an intense battle.

I have google home setup at home, so play any sound through that. I also have a Bluetooth speaker for if I’m DMing on the go.

I do also have the RPG Sounds: Fantasy app installed on my phone to play sounds for specific situations, but to be honest, I generally prefer to describe these situations (eg. you hear a loud scream in the distance) so find myself only using it in very specific situations.

I have tried Syrinscape before, which is amazing! As a bit of a control freak it gives me everything I’d ever want at hand both in ambient music and a plethora of sounds. But I found it a bit overwhelming to control everything to that degree as well as running a good game. I also already pay for a bunch of subscriptions in my life, and I’m always hesitant to add another ongoing cost if I don’t need to.

Conclusion

The use of music in your D&D game can help to set the mood for players and create a more immersive game. Many places provide music and sounds, but you need to pick the best option for you depending on what type of mood or atmosphere you want your adventure to have and how much control over the sound you want to have throughout the game.

But make sure to be well prepared as you want the music to enhance the game, not hinder it.

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