With the world building, adventure planning, NPC creating and rules revising us DMs have to do, it’s hardly a surprise that music and ambient sounds are often hurriedly sourced as an after thought, or else overlooked completely. However, more than a Dungeon Master’s lovingly-prepared scene description, a well-chosen soundtrack can capture the mood of a scene, and help lift the curtain on the theatre of the mind, fully immersing us in the story.
Recently I had a chat with talented composer Michael Ghelfi, who has created a diverse music portfolio of ambient and background sounds that you incorporate into your D&D games and made them available for free on Youtube.
Here’s what happened when we talked music and Dungeons & Dragons in general…
Why is sound important to you in D&D?
Imagine a world where the only sounds you would hear are voices, nothing else. Would you find it enjoyable? How would you qualify that world? Since it’s actually impossible to add sounds to each of our D&D actions, we have to find workarounds, and music and ambiences are the best options. Sound is incredibly efficient to help us imagine places. As an experienced DM, I never write a single sentence without listening to some carefully chosen music or ambience, sometimes both at the same time.
What is your musical background and what do you aim to achieve with your audio creations?
I’m a self-taught fantasy and orchestral music composer, and I use my knowledge to create very high quality ambient tracks for RPGs, with a focus on D&D (since it’s my favorite). I started creating unique ambiences because I never found satisfying ones on the Internet for my D&D sessions. So, since I have the knowledge and the material to make them, I created them myself!
Now I have around 80 different ambience tracks and I’m creating and uploading a new one every two days. I won’t stop before I reach 200 different tracks at least… so stay tuned because this is a fast growing project! Oh, and they are all free.
For those more interested in music, I have also composed more than 160 different songs in ~20 genres. Sometimes I use both music and sound effects at the same time at my tables, for example for a tavern scene.
How can people access your music/sounds?
Youtube is the best option, everything is uploaded on it in loops of 1 hour.
You can also download them on my Bandcamp page as 30-minutes loops.
Getting them on Bandcamp doesn’t give you any premium advantage or whatever, it’s just an option I gave to people who want to support the artist and have the sounds on their computer.
And just for fun…
What is your current PC?
I have to admit something: I’m not a player, I’m only a DM. I had a few characters when I began but they are either forgotten or dead. My players never DM because they tend to compare their adventures with mine (which is a mistake, don’t compare, play for fun), and since I put a LOT of effort and passion in what I do… they end up waiting on me to organize another session!
So instead of speaking about my favorite PC, I will speak about my favorite NPC, which was called “Azmija”. She was a fortune teller with two personalities fighting each other. One personality wanted the players to banish the other half, and the other half wanted to destroy the players who were the only real threat to her (in the game that was more complex than that but you got it).
Your favourite character class?
The Mageblade. What is this? It’s a homebrew class I created, used by some of my players. To make it simple, it’s a melee class with a few non-aggressive spells and highly randomized effects on attacks (both positive and negative to the player and his entourage). It blends very well in the game, and I’m quite proud of my work.
Your favourite monster?
I will chose a non-homebrew content this time. I will mention the Ghost. It’s indeed a low-CR monster, but it’s definitely useful against those min-max players who tend to focus on DEX/STR/CST and have very low other characteristics. Also ghosts are an infinite source of roleplay opportunities.
Your favourite official D&D adventure?
Lost Mines of Phandelver. I started playing D&D on this scenario, so it will ever have a special place in my heart.
Your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?
“Archipelago of the Sun”. It’s a 400 pages campaign I’m writing, featuring a whole new language with its own script, grammar and vocabulary. Players have to translate it to uncover the final plot of the story. The campaign will be edited and published this year, along a 200 pages book of additional rules (including the Mageblade and five other classes) and a ton of 30 pages scenarios.
Your D&D alter ego?
Archmage Demetrian. It’s an archmage specialized in teleportation, alchemy and illusions. It’s also my writer name. I include him in my campaigns as a secondary protagonist, like Quentin Tarantino does with himself in his movies. Quentin plays in them, but he’s nearly useless or just very secondary.
In my campaigns, I made it clear that Demetrian wasn’t important, so they don’t bother investigating about him, they just buy potions to him and ask for teleportation. Sometimes my players wonder if he’s not in fact the big bad guy of the stories. SPOILER: He’s not. He makes potions.
Thanks so much for your attention, and don’t hesitate to contact me to speak about music, D&D, worldbuilding or linguistics!