318 Audio in Tabletop Role-playing Games

Injecting audio into your tabletop role-playing game can create mood and help immersion, but can it be a negative?


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Sure. I’ve had a GM spend 20 minutes trying to get his audio to work correctly. I’ve found myself breaking up the flow of the game I was running by pausing to play a sound effect. Honestly…they really don’t add as much as they distract.

Unless it’s something that takes literally no effort to find and play, I’m now fine with appropriate ambient music and sounds. That’s something that’s easy to change from time to time as necessary without getting in the way.


I score 100% of my games. Generally I don’t do “spot effects” as I don’t have the extra attention cycles with everything else I’m doing.

Mostly ambient tracks and musical tracks. I never just “put on an album.” - Every major location or scene change has a score. And I have special tracks for combat (again, contextually suggested.)

Though, if it’s something special, I’ll pre-mix a track that includes various voice and audio effects.

Sometimes, it’s just a recording of poetry/clues, scored and timed just so:

(There are two more Analects read there, feel free to use them if you’re running Scepter Tower of Spelgard)

Here’s a narrative/effects track that included participation of a PC and his backstory recorded between sessions:

I did a rare real-time session track at the conclusion Madness at Gardmore Abbey:

… that track played until the PCs neutralized the threat, when I switched to a different track.

Actually, the session summary contains a practical playlist from that session embedded in the photoblog post:


Scoring my sessions (and watching how it subtly encourages “immersion”) is one of the most personally enjoyable things that I miss…


A buddy intermittently used a creepy monsters roar when we were trying to banish the demon in the CoC scenario, Edge of Darkness. I thought it was a great effect and helped enhance the desperate nature of the moment adding additional tension to the game. I think, if used sparingly, it can add a lot to the game.

@sean, D&D burn out is a thing! I experienced it right around when we switched from 3e to 5e and I think you’re right. It has to do with the players never wanting to fail. The Min/Maxing and PC optimization ties right into that. Players max out their skills so that if they roll like shit they still have a high probability of making the DC. They never fail, so as the DM you start asking yourself why even bother having them roll in the first place outside of a possible 1 die roll hitting the table? It makes designing challenges difficult, sometimes fruitless. You think you’ve created awesome obstacles that will create tense moments in the game but the players end up breezing through them. You feel kind of good for them, but for you the moment falls flat cause it’s not what you’d hope would be produced at the table. I wish players would embrace failure more. Failure leads to interesting, tense moments where players need to rethink their approach to over come the obstacles before them. Great roleplaying can emerge from that.

I’m now experiencing the same feelings with 5e. With all the new feats and subclasses that are being released the min/maxing and optimization within my group is getting out of control. I’m still enjoying the game as a player but for the moment, I have no desire to DM another campaign. When I eventually do, I’ll have to have a talk with the players first cause it will be PHB only or I’ll pass on doing it.

Great show as always, gents!


That sounds awesome in more ways then one! Did you find that it added a lot to your prep time, finding the right tracks for the moment?

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Yeah! I play fighters on purpose. I hate keeping track of lists of spells and abilities! And what do they do? THEY GIVE ALL CLAASES SPELLS! Very disappointing. I tend to stay away from 5e nowadays.


Not to take this thread off-topic, there’s an easy fix. Limit what can be used in non-Player’s Handbook books. Simple. For example: You could easily say you aren’t including XGTE and TGTE.


I have all my sound tracks on my phone, organized by theme.

Mixing a typical session takes about 30 minutes - I’m just building playlists by scanning my collection and selecting the best stuff. This is usually about 1 hour before the session, and I’m getting “warmed up” and re-contextualized to the game story.

The special tracks (shared above) are made using Audacity. Again I select a musical mood track, and mix in SFX and record voices over that. In the case of Tobin’s Flashback, I bought Cadavra’s yelling (by a voice actress) from a sfx site. In the case of 'The Sundering" I had to mix in the tailing loop to last 11 minutes.

Hand editing a track like that can take an hour or more - but I save it for very, very special things. The Sundering was the finale. Tobin’s Flashback set up a PC leaving the party.

I have used mobile editing/mixing before, but find it very awkward to manage files on my Android as well as difficult to use a small screen to select waveforms.


Right on, I like how you’re using the mixing sessions as an opportunity to get back into story, like triggering memories. I’ll sometimes start talking in character when I’m driving to the game to help get into the right frame of mind.


Regarding technical issues, I’ve had my sound set up crap out. It gets 5 seconds, then I ignore it. If the players are discussing something and don’t need me, I may try again, aside from that, I’m just off sounds that session. Also, my current setup is running a second login of Discord for my sounds, so players can adjust their personal volume of the soundboard.

The discussion about burnout and players always wanting to succeed. Funny enough, as we were finishing our game Friday night, the conversation kinda turned to this. Topics started up about memorable moments and I said “you know what’s funny, all the stuff you brought up, every one of those stories is based on someone botching something to get there.” Aside from the valid addendum “well, those and the unexpected wild successes”, everyone agreed. This is why failure should matter, to Sean’s point, you don’t get to the sandbarge if Han didn’t lose a fight.


Couldn’t help but think about the CDs put out by TSR back in the mid-90s. I used to have three of them. The one was Mystara was horrifyingly bad (it was just the read-aloud text of a bad adventure read by voice actors), Planescape’s was an in-game magic item that would share recordings of other planar travellers and really, really cool. But it was the Ravenloft one that took the cake and filled it with vampires. In addition to high quality sound effects, it had room descriptions read by a professional voice actor with creepy music and SFX included. Damn fine work that was.