Friday, January 27, 2012

What D&D Sounds Like

Over on RPGnet, a guy started a thread called AD&D is Metal.  Mostly, it was about how he ran AD&D and how it felt to him, but (as these things often do) the thread quickly turned to what music folks think of in the context of D&D.

For me, that's a bit of an odd question, at least in the early days.  In high school, I really wasn't into a particular style of music until my senior year, and by then, I'd kind of given up D&D for games like Traveller and Top Secret.  The only song that really makes me remember those early days is the rather less than good "Hold the Line" from Toto, which always reminds me of sitting in my room on New Year's Eve 1978, keying a dungeon.

By the time I got into hard rock and metal, I had moved on to games like RuneQuest and Stormbringer.  For that period, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and Iron Maiden were the soundtracks of my life, but I still didn't really mix gaming and music.  At least, not directly. I certainly cribbed heavily from BOC for my Stormbringer games (f'rinstance, the holy symbol of Chardros the Reaper was their logo in my version of the Young Kingdoms).

By 1982 or so, I was heavily in Champions' embrace, and, apart from the "Superman" soundtrack, there wasn't a lot of music that screamed "superheroes" out there back in the day.

I "rediscovered" AD&D, so to speak, when I was working in a bookstore and got everything at 40% off.  Also, we carried Dragon, and that's when I started reading it regularly for the first time in years.  That got me back to thinking about AD&D, though I still didn't play it often.  But musically, it didn't sound like metal to me.  Nope, mid-80s AD&D sounded like this:

(In my version of Faerun, this is the national anthem of Myth Drannor)

I still wasn't using music in my games, but that show, and the album renewed my interest in things medieval fantasy in a big way, and I was obsessed with capturing the sense of "historical myth" it did so well in my games.

Even into 2nd Edition, I was far more likely to use medieval or renaissance music to inspire my games.  I didn't actually use it while playing, but I'd have it on in the background while noodling maps. The first time I really remember being faced with the idea of using music as a backdrop for my games was reading the boxed first edition of Cyberpunk.  It had a section on creating atmosphere and even included musical suggestions.  This was, to me, an entirely new idea and I went more than a little overboard with it.  I'm pretty sure that some of my game mix-tapes ran longer than the campaigns they were recorded for.

But the genie was out of the bottle, and music became one of my things.  Used sparingly, it worked pretty well.

Then, 3e/D20 came along.  And 3.5.  Right around the same time I discovered Power Metal, one of my true guilty pleasures. Almost entirely European in origin, it eschews the growly yarl of most mainstream metal, harkening back to the 80s, when lead singers actually, y'know, sang.  And the subject matter is pure fantasy geekgasm writ large.  I could go on, but it's easier to let some of this stuff speak for itself:

Yeah, that's Christopher Lee, wearing a crown and robes and narrating.  For reals.

This one's actually about Raistlin Majere, from "DragonLance." I am not making this up.

Though I do like SOME growly stuff.  If the subject matter's good and I can understand the words.

Fact is, I enjoy this particular genre so much, I made up a Pandora station entirely focused on it.  If it sounds like your thing, you should check it out. It's pretty much how both 3rd and 4th editions sound to me these days.  Pathfinder too.  Probably all subsequent versions of the game.

So what's D&D sound like to you?


  1. As soon as I started reading I had a hunch Blind Guardian was going to make an appearance.

    For me, one bizarre audio touchstone of the D&D era is The Fixx. I just pulled up "One Thing Leads to Another" and the images it conjures up are from the Fiend Folio. Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" used to do this as well, but now it conjures the end credits of Real Genius.

    So, 80s New Wave for me. I have no ready explanation other than the obvious one that it's what I was listening to at the time.

  2. Yeah, I could've chosen from any one of about two dozen Blind Guardian songs. In the end, I went with one that had a direct D&D connection, instead of a favorite like "Nightfall" or "Jerusalem."

  3. For me, D&D sounds like "O Fortuna":

    I pretty much can't hear that music without picturing a group of desperate adventurers fighting and fleeing their way through a dungeon.

  4. @Bard: Thanks to "Excalibur," that one's eternally linked to Pendragon in my head, but it is awesome adventurer music.

  5. Oh, so YOU'RE the one who put together the Elfcore station! I listen to it every once in a while and it's always a hoot. Thanks to that station I discovered there's such a thing as "pirate metal." (Whether my life is richer or poorer for the discovery remains an unresolved point...)

    D&D's always had a strong classic rock connection for me, but that's probably because the two media came from the same creative stew that was the 70s. Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Yes, Hawkwind... The whole "70s rock revival" movement of the last few years has provided plenty of bands with an even more overt connection to D&D-isms, and not in the laughably cheesy (but still enjoyable) sense of Blind Guardian. Check out The Sword if you're not familiar with their stuff.

  6. @Sir Larkins: I often wonder whether or not my life has been improved by the existence of Elfcore. It has given my son and I something to bond over, as my wife utterly HATES it.

    I have heard The Sword, though not much of them (they don't seem to fit on either of the XM Metal stations I listen to, being too new-fangled for one and too old-school for the other).

    (While I don't much care for their stuff, I have to give kudos to Three Inches of Blood for releasing a single called "Kill the Orcs" and, at one time, having copies of their D&D character sheets posted on their website.)

  7. ok. Elfcore is good. thanks for this! I didn't know about it.