Music to My Ears

A girl listens to music in a room and outside one window jellyfish are flying

The pandemic made it harder to stay engaged with our games. Video calls introduce distance because of the screen divide and the infinitesimal delay in responses. I like to be all in on my characters and my stories, so I found myself finding new ways to engage with the games, sometimes alone and sometimes shared. One that I fell headfirst for during 2020 is easy but not something I’d really explored very thoroughly previously: playlists. 

The same way that we used to (or sometimes still do!) make playlists for a romantic interest works for games too! It extends the emotional connection and gives you a way to connect even when the person (or the game) is not around. For games, it might be a character, a setting or location, a story, an encounter, or heck, the game itself. Steeping in the sensory inspiration for a scene or a character keeps me in the right headspace to connect with the game or story that they belong to.  It’s another individual way to remain connected to a game, but it can also be done as a social activity — a shared playlist where everyone’s interpretation of the game can expand how you consider it in the best ways! And if you are not a writer or an artist, it’s another option for a creative non-table outlet. 

I have frequently been inspired by music in the past, but I think it’s time to take it a step further, and commit to making inspiration playlists for games I’m running or characters I’m creating.
I have frequently been inspired by music in the past, but I think it’s time to take it a step further, and commit to making inspiration playlists for games I’m running or characters I’m creating. It helps me pinpoint the feel of whatever I’m creating for the game while I do other things so that my mind can percolate ideas in the background. Sometimes it’s about evocative lyrics, the feel of the song itself, or a sense memory that they give me. Sometimes it’s about sillier connections, like the music video or one line in the chorus that caught my attention. Let’s talk through some songs that have been clear inspiration for me — and maybe you’ll be inspired to involve music in your play/prep in a new way! (You can hear all the songs on this list here on Spotify)


I most frequently find songs for characters that are my representation of who they are in my head. In the same way Tales From the Loop has you pick a favorite song, having a song to associate with a character helps me nail down some of the intangible things about them and how I might play them that are sometimes hard to figure out immediately from the caricature on paper. Here are some of my favorites:

  • bad guy – Billie Eilish – There are all sorts of bad guys that bad guy could inspire – but for me this year, it was a vampire. The confidence, sexiness, and self awareness all worked for a very deadly woman that I enjoyed very much. 
  • Arrow – LEVV – This was the song of my “If Buffy were a 37 year old yoga instructor inspired by Artemis.” She was tangled in a difficult but fated relationship with a Djinn…exactly the sort of “monster” she was supposed to be out killing. The arrow symbolism mixed with the unlooked-for relationship worked perfectly for her. 
  • Winter Bird – AURORA – For a dark fairy tale that was intended to have a tragic ending, the daughter of Winter wandered in search of her former self. 


  • Moiety Theme – Robyn Miller – If you remember Myst and Riven, you may understand why I find their soundtracks to be evocative. This particular one put me on the track of an abandoned desert temple dungeon a la Ocarina of Time. Imagine sand trickling through the beams of light shining from cracks in the ceiling and a giant statue in the middle of the entryway whose head was shrouded in shadow high above. There are so many things this expands into – sand is a cool landscape feature I don’t think gets used very consistently, but that could also just be my own games. 
  • City of the Dead – Eurielle – For me this song feels like crumbling, moss covered ruins on a damp moor with occasional pools or boggy parts. Mist swirling around the dwellings of a civilization long gone eerily might be cut by the occasional breath of air clearing a sudden structure or a strangely shaped statue unexpectedly before closing in again. There is some poison here, a crawling, slimy thing that isn’t immediately visible. There was immense beauty here once, but can your characters escape the deadly mystery that ended this community?


  • Knights of Cydonia – Muse – This is such a narrative song with clear setting elements as well that I could well have put it in the category above also. What I want here is a moment of quiet sage brush vista suddenly broken by the whine of a hover car racing across the desert. The passenger turns to fire a laser weapon as the second hover car comes into view, and then we follow this chase over the dry cracked ground as lizards scramble for cover. It ends in a standoff in a mostly dry river basin with a thin trickle of water sliding down the middle. 


  • Minds Without Fear – Imogen Heap – This song inspired my last 200 Word RPG (We Can Once More Ascend). It’s a game that uses old folk tale feel to express something I needed to mechanize personally, which is how we move on from traumatic fear in our body response. It gets easier, but doesn’t go away; and just because you can still fail even when you’ve been practicing for a long time doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress. 
  • Us – Regina Spektor – This song inspired a game I still haven’t finished about rediscovering yourself and your relationship to another person through bits and pieces of old newspapers or books.
  • Machine – Imogen Heap – Strangely the game this song ended up inspiring doesn’t look anything like the original idea! It’s called Connections, and you can find it in the Love and Resistance compilation. It started out being about the process of losing yourself to the machine, but ended up being much more positive, about gaining empathy and care through learning about someone else. 


Is there a particular song or album that has inspired you? Do you make playlists for your games or your characters? Want to share?

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