Make it Sound Good: Background Ambience For Your Solo Campaign

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I started getting into D&D through computer games such as Baldur’s Gate and Nevewinter Nights.

Aside from the awesome gameplay, engaging story and near-perfect implementation of the rules, the masterfully composed music in these games, by the likes of Michael Hoenig and the award-winning Jeremy Soule, did much to set the mood for each area you explored.

On top of that, the background sound effects – whether it is the incessant din of daily hustle in the Slums and Docks Districts, or the creepy and disturbing otherworldly ambience of the Abyss – did much to bring the game to life.

So when I migrated to tabletop, one of the things that I noticed (aside from having to shuffle around more paper than usual), is the silence as I began experimenting with solo D&D.

The solution at that time was to keep my computer on and play music from the computer games, but eventually I began to look for other sources of audio to avoid feeling like I’m playing a re-run of Baldur’s Gate II.

I make more ‘strategic’ use of music nowadays, only playing it whenever I feel it adds to the game – and making do without when it doesn’t.

Instead, I have found ambient background sound effects to be a more effective tool, because I feel it adds more to the immersion than music does.

But first of all, what does this have to do with solo D&D and why should you care?

Want More Immersion? Just Add Sound

Well, first of all, when you play D&D solo, it’s just you and your imagination.

The social aspect of D&D is missing – no descriptive narration from the DM or banter around the gaming table.

Anything that can help aid or enhance your imagination to make your campaign world feel more alive can only be a good thing, and good quality audio is certainly a tool that is capable of doing just that.

You see, your imagination is an amazing aspect of your mind that can, in response to an effectively-designed audio work, immediately fill in the missing details and create an image that you can seemingly see, touch, hear and feel – a living, breathing world you own completely, and one based partly on your own unique experiences, dreams and fears.1

For example, hearing an ambient soundtrack that simulates a forest setting would inevitably conjure up an image of a forest.

Someone who has had much first hand experience of interacting within a forest setting can take it further and recall things like the breeze, the smell of the fauna and the emotions that were experienced at the time.

This is the power of the human imagination, the ability to form images (whether in response to audio stimuli or not) and create worlds that we can seemingly physically insert ourselves into.

Essentially, a good audio soundtrack gives you a reference point for when you try to build an image in your mind of the place you want to fully explore through the multiple senses of your D&D character and, for me, it is an essential tool to use if you really want to add another layer of immersion in your solo D&D games.

Music also has a role to play, an effective tool that helps establish the mood and setting, enhance action, or evoke emotions in the listener – but it is far more effective to use music that is an actual part of the scene itself (such as a bard playing in a tavern), rather than ‘combat music’ that is only meant for the ears of the player.2

That said, it would be far better to make do with silence if the audio you use isn’t up to scratch, so where can you go to find good quality audio for your solo D&D campaigns?

Tabletop Audio

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Tabletop Audio is the first website I found when searching the web for good quality background audio.

Upon loading up the website, you are greeted with a collection of audio files arranged in rows of four, each with a front cover image that visually represents the theme of the sound clip.

There are several types of audio, which are pretty self-explanatory: music, ambience, or a combination of the two.

The layout of the website is clean, simple, user friendly and very well presented, with good use of art for the website’s background and the audio track cover images themselves.

The tracks are presented in chronological order – that is, from the newest first to the oldest – but you can manually sort them by genre or type (fantasy, sci-fi, nature, music, etc.).

Hovering over each file gives you the option to save, play or add the file to a playlist – the latter of which I personally find least useful.

Even so, the convenience is there, as is the option to save your playlist so that you can come back to it at a later date – or share it with others.

As for the quality of the tracks themselves, the content was obviously created by someone who clearly knows a thing or two about sound design.

In fact, the tracks are so good that I find myself actually listening to some of them while I work or browse the internet (the “Elven Glade” and “Cathedral” are two of my favourites).

The save function comes in handy if you want to use a particular track offline, or if you want to use it as part of a sound mix (which I’ll get into in just a bit).

If you don’t find what you are looking for, Tabletop Audio comes with something called a SoundPad.

A SoundPad is basically a collection of sound effects that fall under a specific theme, such as “Dark Woods”, “House on the Hill”, “Olde Town”, “Combat” and several others.

Each sound in a SoundPad can be played individually and independently of each other, allowing you to customise your audio experience on the fly and create a unique ambience appropriate for your current scenario.

You can also mix and match sound effects from the existing SoundPads in order to create your own custom SoundPad, so you could take some of the sound effects from “Olde Town” and add a few others from “Combat” to simulate a town under attack.

Unlike the stock ambient tracks on the website, you cannot download a SoundPad – even custom created ones – but you can save them for when you need them later.

It’s a website that has more than enough to serve the general needs of any solo gamer looking for high quality background audio, and it has certainly become my go to website for everything audio related.

And best of all?

It’s free!*

Nowhere are you going to get such good quality for absolutely nothing – and it is currently being added to monthly / bi-monthly.

If you’re interested in checking it out, click here.

*The author of Tabletop Audio is accepting donations in order to cover his maintenance of equipment and operating costs. If you find his content worthwhile, please consider supporting the artist.

Ambient Mixer

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Ambient-Mixer is a community driven project that allows anyone to contribute to it and make their creations available to everyone else.

Ambient-Mixer is also a little more generic compared to Tabletop Audio, the latter being specifically aimed at the roleplaying community.

What sets the Ambient Mixer apart from Tabletop Audio is the ability to mix as many as eight sound effects from a catalogue of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual clips to create a single “Atmosphere” that can be used as an audio track.

You can start entirely from scratch, or you can take one of the many pre-made Atmospheres and change the settings to create something entirely different.

Individual sounds can be added or removed from the Atmosphere.

The website comes with a document that explains how to use Ambient Mixer to create your own Atmospheres, but if you find this to be too much of a hassle, you can simply search the website to find the Atmosphere you need.

The ability to upload your own sound files is a useful feature of Ambient-Mixer, allowing you to use any sound effects you might have in your personal library to create your own custom Atmospheres.

This is where Tabletop Audio’s ‘save’ feature can be handy, since you can use any track saved from Tabletop Audio as part of a custom Ambient-Mixer atmosphere, although you could just as easily keep both the Ambient-Mixer and Tabletop Audio windows open and play your audio from both websites at the same time.

Even so, it’s nice to have the option.

To save your custom Atmospheres, you will need to create a free account.

A small bonus is awarded to your account upon registration, allowing you to download any Atmosphere in mp3 format for free (as long as it costs no more than $5).

The usefulness of this free mp3 track is debatable, but a freebie is always welcome and perhaps you will find a use for it where I didn’t.

You will need to be quick, however, since the coupon is valid for only one week following registration.

Because this project was created by a community of users rather than the efforts of a dedicated professional, the quality will inevitably vary from one Atmosphere to the next.

For this reason, it’s best to spend a little time digging out all the tracks you need before you begin a session of D&D, separating the wheat from the chaff and build a library you can quickly use on the fly.

Click here to check out Ambient-Mixer.

YouTube

YouTube logo 2015
Finally, if all else fails, there’s always the good old ‘Tube.

If you haven’t heard of YouTube (well… where have you been the last 10 years 😛 ?), it is a video sharing website that has been leveraged by many users as a platform to spread their creativity around.

You can find anything, from independent films to game trailers, from personal vlogs to documentaries – and from recorded D&D sessions to a host of other D&D related stuff, such as player or DM tips, if you look hard enough 🙂 .

On top of this, some ‘YouTubers’ have also released audio-only content in the form of independent music and background ambiences.

You can find almost any kind of audio (or video, for that matter) on YouTube, which probably makes the website the best site to fall back on when you’ve exhausted all the options above and still cannot find what you need.

I admit I haven’t used Youtube much as a source of background ambience, (Tabletop Audio has given me pretty much everything I’ve ever needed for now) but since there’s a lot(!) of content on Youtube, it’s inevitable that the quality will vary.

Regardless, here are a few that seem quite decent to start you off:

And since it’s that season again, here are a couple more for your Halloween one shots…

And finally, if it’s music you need, independent artists such as Adrian Von Ziegler and Vindsvept have made their entire collection free to listen to.

Your Turn

The website I find myself visiting more than any other is Tabletop Audio.

Great audio quality, coupled with some customisability in the form of SoundPad, gives you all the soundscapes you will need in order to get lost in your campaign world, with Ambient-Mixer being a solid second option to fill in the gaps when you need it.

If you already use music and / or sound in your games, what do you think about using music and / or ambient sound effects in your roleplaying games?

Do you think it is a good or bad thing?

Does it enhance the immersion and enrich your D&D experience?

Or do you feel it is too much of a hassle and the results are generally not worth the trouble?

Finally, what other websites, apps or resources would you recommend?

Drop a comment below!

 

1Audio Design: Creating Multi-Sensory Images For The Mind, by Gary Ferrington.
2Audio Design: Creating Multi-Sensory Images For The Mind, by Gary Ferrington.

 

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2 comments

  • Jeftah

    Thank you so much for this article! I love Tabletop audio’s clean interface and sound quality, I’ll definitely be using them on my next solo run, as I think it’s going to do much to increase immersion (using headphones for best effect!)

    I’ll let you know how it goes, but just listening to it without any game attached got my imagination running!

    • Ken Wai Lau

      Doesn’t it?

      Solo play certainly calls for things like this to really take your RP experience to the next level, and as for headphones, well… you speak my mind 🙂 .

      Glad you liked the article and that it has inspired your imagination.

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