Using music in Call of Cthulhu

19 Sep

I’ve talked before about how I am enjoy of using music during roleplaying sessions and how, as a game master, it can really help set the atmosphere while giving aural cues to the players. Recently, during one of my many web wanderings, I had the pleasure of stumbling across Musica Cthulhiana. These guys have produced three dark ambient soundtracks specidically for roleplaying games that, while largely intended for Call of Cthulhu, would work for a range of darker settings.

This prompted me to think of what album recommendations I would make to fellow Keepers to create  a suitable soundtrack to a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

Musica Cthulhiana – Fragment

This is an excellent album. I can’t speak strongly enough about it. It has a diverse range of high and low intensity ambient tracks each of which would sit well on loop during the background of a Call of Cthulhu game. Often it’s not the high-energy ‘action’ or horror tracks that are hard to find, but rather the subtle ones that maintain a degree of insidious tension over a long period of time. Fragment has these sorts of tracks in spades. Of course it also has plenty of music that would work well for rituals, monstrous revelations and other bombastic activity. What’s particularly excellent is that Musica Cthulhiana offer a 5-track EP for free download via their site. The album consisting for 20 tracks has a very user-friendly price at around 12 euros.

Squaremetre (M2) – Heliogabal

Squaremetre (Mathis Mootz) has a number of albums that work very nicely for roleplaying sessions. His latest offering Heligabal has a more eclectic range of tracks across a range of tones and themes. While this doesn’t make it as ‘concept’ driven as albums like Parsec and Aswad, it does make it an excellent resource for roleplaying. Tracks that are particularly Cthulhu-esque are ‘The Priests’, ‘Winds and Ruins’, ‘Relics of the Undefeated Guard’ and ‘The Sacred Shrine’. Tell me those don’t sound like the kind of things that you’d have in a Cthulhu session?

RCA Victor – Jazz of the 1920s

This album just happens to be the compilation album I use to in my 1920s sessions to help evoke something of the era. Obviously better used for parties, speak easies, clubs and soirees than ungodly rites or pondering non-euclidean riddles. There are plenty of other options available, try an iTunes search for 1920s jazz to get a range of options. I recommend instrumentals over jazz with a singer as it doesn’t intrude too much onto player discussion.

Sherlock Holmes OST — Hans Zimmer

 I’ve made no secret on this blog for my enthusiasm for Hans Zimmer’s film scores. Sherlock Holmes is a fantastic example of what he’s capable of when he really gets going. I’d strongly recommend this for a Gaslight campaign. Even with it’s recurring leitmotifs there’s atmospheric strings and general ‘investigative background music’ to work well in an 1880s/1890s setting.

SFX

My only other suggestion to round out an excellent Call of Cthulhu soundtrack would be to grab a couple of SFX sound scapes like thunderstorms, forests and rain for other scene specific background elements during play. This helps to break up the ‘cinematic’ feel of soundtrack music with a bit of real world ambiance.

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8 Responses to “Using music in Call of Cthulhu”

  1. Mike Higbee October 22, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    You might want to check out some lustmord as well like his album the place where the black stars hang, if you want to make a really creepy atmosphere

  2. Jason Badower January 14, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    Oh, I found Fragments from Musica on Amazon for a little cheaper than E$12: http://www.amazon.com/Fragment/dp/B004C2BP1U/ref=sr_shvl_album_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326482664&sr=301-1

    • RPG Plotter January 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

      Good point, that is cheaper. Personally I try to directly from the artist where possible so they get a greater share of the profits for their work.

  3. Nicolas Fuentealba (@photonafs) July 21, 2012 at 1:11 am #

    Just a few more suggestions:
    – Kevin Macleod (www.incompetech.com): has truckloads of license-free music available, and you can browse according to the sort of mood you’re looking after.
    – Legacy of Cthulhu, by Arkham Inmate: available as an MP3 download through Amazon or iTunes. Very atmospheric and perfectly fitting for Cthulhu adventuring.
    – George Fenton’s soundtrack for Mary Reilly movie (Stephen Frears’ rendition of the Dr. Jekyll ‘n Mr. Hyde novel): provides great ambiance for gaslight adventures, including a great, albeit rather brief brothel tune.
    Best regards!!

  4. ozzysong August 28, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Useful post!

    I recomend the “Mafia” videogame OST for Cthulhu 1920s. Great ambience music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkYoXSE2bO0

    • RPG Plotter August 29, 2012 at 11:46 pm #

      Thanks for the recommendation! I agree period-style music can really help to build the historical setting.

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