Evil DM TricksTM
Sounds and Music
A rattling chain hidden under the table would make quite a ghost entrance - really chilling.
One more thing, it's been said many times before, but not in this thread. Music helps set the mood very well. Here is a time it "clicked" for me: Timing a music cue perfectly. Apocalptica's "Path" starts out slow and creepy and then jumps into scary loud battle music. I know the song so well I timed my description perfectly and they all jumped as the music change coincided with Lumley House coming alive.
I use the Midnight Syndicate CDs a lot. The music is gothic in nature and has some great mood music. The D&D CD is also quite good. I have classical pieces of music to add mood, or played at tense or exciting moments of gaming.
I have other CDs with haunted house sounds (screams, wolves, ghosts) which are used sparingly and always when unexpected. Another location to find gothic, ambiance, classical, etc is Live365. Search for gothic music. You can listen to tracks and decide whether to purchase them or not.
Ambient sound works good too. The low key music and sound effects used in horror movies works good if you can get ahold of any. Just let it play in the background to add suspense. Even if nothing happens, it keeps the players on their toes.
Music planning and organisation
Joël of the Fraternity
Not everything in a movie soundtracks is good. Great tracks for a gothic game are mixed with other moods. To skip these useless tracks, or to avoid sudden changes from the ‘mood’ needed in game, I put all my music on the computer (legal as long as you do not share it) and sort it by ‘theme’ folders. Those are the ‘themes’ I use in my Ravenloft game:
I have a list for each folder, providing for each track the length and my thoughts for each track. I note switch of mood or pace within a track. It’s not that long to make, I upgrade the list once in a while with new tracks I first listen to when doing something else.
Before a game, I review my game plan and choose music for each part of the adventure. Sometimes players do not notice the efforts but it works, it works 200%.
You also can find fan made sounds and music at Neverwinter.
One of the best things I've ever done in a game was associate music with a certain horrific scene in the game. It works best for a re-occuring scene, as it gives you a better chance to associate the music with the scene. It works well to get a piece of music that is completely fitting with the scene. Fortunately for me, the adventure I used gave a valid reason for the music, but I can imagine most scenes could have music associated with them anyway. Using a piece of music that is completely different from anything else you use in the adventure also helps, as it makes the music more memorable. The end result is that once the music starts again, watch with glee as your players switch from confident to genuinely scared in a matter of seconds.
Screaming Plains Cats
Wiccy of the Fraternity
I have used many cheap and underhanded ploys in the past to scare players, but not many came even close to one trick I pulled. It was simply switching off the cd we were playing while the others were on a break and setting up a tape I had prepared a few weeks before during a hurricane we had. The players were out on the plains of Nova Vaasa tracking down a pack of Plains Cats that had been terrorizing a horse ranch and the winds had picked up as they camped in the dark plains at night. To set the atmosphere started to play the tape. When they were fully engrossed in the scene, I had set up another small tape player behind my DM screen and pressed play, on this I had been able to record myself screaming and alter the playing speed, so it came out faster, my own scream a higher pitch. When the scream came out the players literally jumped in their seats. Plains Cats let out a scream-like noise as they call out at night and there is nothing better than to give them what they deserve.
Sudden loud noise
Place a heavy book upright on a hard surface, place a piece of card inside the cover with a reel of Cotton taped to it, make sure its the other side of the room to you. To add affect pull the cotton, and watch the players Jump.
Joël of the Fraternity
In a game, the players were pursuing something at night. Then I tell them they heard a wolf howl in the distance. After a moment, they put their attention back to the pursuit, until my CD player makes a wolf howling sound… Then the players knew the wolves threat was for real.
I'll tell you guys some music that I've recently run into that I've enjoyed for RL games. I wrote the section on music in the DMG, so this would be on top of those suggestions.
"One Hour Photo" - A great atmospheric score. Just put it in and hit play. No need to look for specific tracks. Just about everything on this CD is worth it. Highly recommended. Get it on I-Tunes or...
"American McGee's Alice" - There's already been alot of talk about this score. The music for this score is pretty warped and twisted...like the game. You probably can't just put it in and hit play. You'll need to pick and choose what song you want for what score. Again, it's one I-Tunes, so you can pick and choose what you want. I'd recommend "Battle With the Red Queen," "Forest of Doors," or "Skool Daze." Be warned! Each track comes with a small bit of dialogue in the beginning - might ruin the mood if you're not careful.
"Van Helsing" - Okay, I know what you're saying. That movie? Sure, the movie is over-the-top, but the music is great for battle scene and combat. Plus, it's on I-Tunes. I highly recommend the opening track: "Translyvania 1887" for some good battle tunes.
"The Village" - The jury is out on the movie. Some liked it. Some hated it. But the music for this movie is simply outstanding. Understand that this score isn't very "creepy." It's beautiful, haunting, and tragic. So what would you use this for in a game? It's great background for when the PCs aren't in danger, or when they're just out and about.
Anyone looking for a particular track by the way? Like, "I need something for a child's nursery?" or "I need something for a big entrance of a big bad guy?"
For Wandering Around Town
Nothing beats the friendship theme from the Conan soundtrack. It's track 6 on the soundtrack. It's great for sitting around the tavern or just a quiet scene where the characters are conversing. But that's not availabe on I-Tunes.
If you want immediate gratification: "Earth" or Track 4 from the Gladiator soundtrack on I-Tunes. It's slow and tragic, soft and subtle. Follow that up with "To Zuccubar" - Track 6 from the same score - and you're set.
I personally would use the main theme of the "Riven" soundtrack. But you can't get it off of I-Tunes.
How about..."In the Beginning" - Track 2 from The 6th Day. Very sinister and anticipatory. The organ-effect makes it sound very Azalinish to me. The track makes it sound like something wicked it coming this way.
Also: "Her Eyes...So Beautiful" - Track 6 from The Crow soundtrack. That track is sinister, warped, and menacing. That's for when people are brought before Azalin and he's pouring them some wine.
"The Main Theme" - Track 1 from The Usual Suspects is perfect for this. It's the perfect detective's theme. This anticipatory theme makes it sound like you are about to embark on a mystery.
"Princess Pleads for Wallace's Life"- Track 16 from the Braveheart soundtrack. This lonely theme with it's solo flute is just so sad, so tragic, and so full of quiet heroism that it simply stirs the heart.
You can download quite a lot of music for free at Neverwinter Vault (this welcome page shows the latest additions, just click full listings to browse). You don't have to register to download songs or anything like that. The music is all kinds of varieties; ambient, battle, spooky, even modern-sounding pieces. This was all meant to go with the Neverwinter Nights game and much of it is in the game's format, .bmu. However, there is a freeware program to convert bmu to mp3 and back here.
Ever wanted appropriate music when the PCs find a torture chamber? Try "Chamber of the Tortured" by Argitoth. Creepy forest? "Eternal Forest" by David John. Need something that sounds like a chant? "The Ceremony" by ZeroCorpse is perfect for a religious rite. And for a beautifully sad tone, "Rural Melancholy" by Felix Furlow is terrific.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many songs, far too many to list here, available to download at the NWN Vault. I've downloaded somewhere around 300 megs of songs from there - I kid you not. Enjoy :)
The soundtrack from the PS2 game 'Haunting Ground' is extremely good for use in Ravenloft. While not all of the tracks are perfect (the tracks for Daniella are a bit too techno), a solid 90% of the tracks project a sense of isolation, imprisonment, and the feeling that something is lurking just behind you. Even has a track of a twisted circus, which has become almost a staple in my campaign (all of the players are freaked out by clowns).
To contribute to the Evil DM Trick, send your ideas to Joel@fraternityofshadows.com