• Martijn VellingerMartijn Vellinger
  • Date:  February 19, 2024
  • Writing

Building a playlist

Building a playlist

It’s my assumption that most GMs have at least some sort of playlist going when they run games, even if no one is actively listening to it having something that gives off a (for lack of a better term) “vibe” to me, feels almost essential for immersion.

Unfortunately I have also noticed that many GMs do not really give much thought to their playlist and it can result in very jarring mismatches.

Here’s how I work through playlist creation:

Step 1: catalogue

Before you can pick actual songs, you need to know what you need songs for. This can vary from person to person, campaign to campaign, naturally.

You also need sources, good places to look are youtube, khinsider.com (try the king’s field soundtracks), and bandcamp (though you may want to go ahead and purchase songs you like directly as mp3s so that you can use a proper media player app to manage playback).

Here is what I need for my current Old School Essentials game:

  • Town music, should feel either a bit upbeat or perhaps melancholy? This song will become analogous with “being in a safe place” to my players through repetition
  • Outdoors exploration music, I will want a more upbeat daytime track and a more scary nighttime one, I might eventually get different songs for different biomes (mountain/forest/field)
  • Indoors exploration music, I will want about three tracks that reflect the cavernous deep darkness
  • Combat music, I want at least two tracks ideally they loop without too much of a jarring halt and I don’t want them to be overpowering (a lot of “combat music” seems like it wasn’t designed with the idea that someone will need to talk over it. Bear that in mind.

This doesn’t seem like a lot of tracks, and it isn’t. This is intentional; I want the players to start associating the music with the situation.

Step 2: find and collect

This is the fun, but also the hard part, you need to go look for what you need. Things that may help in your journey is to actually try searching for the keywords of the slot you are trying to fill!

Here I am searching for my town music on Bandcamp:

As you can see, this actually works quite well! Other things you might want to try are keywords like “ambient” and “dungeonsynth” and “retro”.

After a little bit of poking around, I found the town track that I want.


Next I try to locate my outdoorsy tracks, I type in “dungeon synth forest” on bandcamp and browse a bit and hey presto:


Exactly what I was looking for.

I add the word “dark” to my search and swiftly locate this:


This may be a bit intense for some tables but it will work for mine (remember to manage your volume levels!)

In any case, you can see how this works. What is nice about bandcamp is that you can just purchase individual tracks (usually for a dollar or less) and download the files.

Step 3: prep your player

While you CAN just play music from streaming services, I don’t actually recommend doing that. You run the risk of your internet crapping itself, or your music just no longer being there etc.
Instead, try to obtain actual music files and store them on one of your devices.

Don’t just leave the tracks as you downloaded them however, because you will forget which track is for what area/vibe. Instead, edit the metadata so you can immediately see what is what.

Load it all up in your favorite media player and you’re good to go!

Obviously this example is very minimalist, but you can easily expand your selection to have themes for specific areas, characters or moods.

Just remember to label them well!

Additional thoughts/Q&A:

“But what if the track I want is not for sale?”

If you really CANNOT buy a track you found on, say, youtube. You will either need to keep streaming it, ask the author in the comments if you can have the mp3, or find a youtube to mp3 converter (they are plentiful online). But PLEASE if you can you should buy the tracks. Musicians need to eat too.

“I could have thought of this myself”


Some of my favorites:




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