This past Sunday was the dramatic midseason finale for our current chronicle in the Chicago Chronicles - Orpheus: Project Flatline!
It was a longer than usual game night, full of drama and horror and everything is changed forever, and I’m not going to recap it.
InaWoD is still brand new, so I’m not going to throw you all into the deep end of “Here’s the entire first half of our group’s 1990s Haunted Prison Drama / Dot Com Workplace Dramedy / X-Files Conspiracy that’s now veering into Villain Origin Story! Here’s a dozen characters you should immediately care about!”
You don’t need all of that yet.
Instead, I’m gonna talk about the soundtrack!
I’ve done soundtracks for our TTRPG sessions forever. In the Before Times, this was typically a few iTunes playlists on my computer, and we’d switch between Vampire-Main, Vampire-FIGHT!, and Vampire-Mellow as needed.
When the weekly game moved online in March 2020, I found the best way for us to share a soundtrack is to create a YouTube Music playlist every week, and share it with my players, who can play it quietly in a second tab while we play the game in Discord voice chat.
(Everyone does need to turn the volume on the playlist down to just above muted, or it drowns out the players.)
A couple years into the 2020s, and I’ve got the weekly soundtrack down to something of a science. An ADHD Hyperfocus fueled science.
Orpheus: Project Flatline Chapter 09 was the midpoint climax for this game. The turning point in the story that splits from the first half where we’re setting things up, to the second half where we’re knocking things down.
I knew I wanted a big soundtrack, with lots of extra space for the night’s vaguely planned scenes to play out, and lots of dramatic, memorable music.
Every game’s soundtrack begins with the same basic template.
This way I have all the songs that repeat each week, like the opening theme song and intermission and closing credits and post game chill out vibes, already in place.
Here’s the Orpheus: Project Flatline soundtrack template.
From that template, I built the full Chapter 09 soundtrack playlist:
The full Orpheus Project Flatline Chapter 09 soundtrack playlist.
It ended up being almost one hundred songs, and more than two hours longer than what we’d play on game night!
The soundtrack is broken up like so:
Pregame vibes of this week’s Lance’s Dark Mood Party Mix. Lance is a guy on youtube who has made over 320 Dark Mood Party Mixes, of mostly trip hop and downtempo and chill dance music. Every week we start off with the new Lance mix before game.
Between each section is John Cage’s 4’33. It’s easy to spot in the playlist, and the silence stands out when we get to intermission etc. The first 4’33 divides the pregame Lance’s mix from the start of game time.
Every game starts with a theme song, a sort of Pavlovian cue to the players that now is the time to focus on nerdery.
Project Flatline has an intro song before the opening theme, where we narrate a brief flash forward to 2022 where an art student in Chicago is obsessively watching a youtube series called “The Orpheus Group: Fact or Fiction?” while also living through 2022. This brief scene is set to Music Box from Candyman (2021).
The opening theme to Project Flatline is Heat Miser by Massive Attack. It just has such a perfect “tv show opening credits” vibe, that I can’t help but imagine our Orpheus game with some House MD style opening graphics.
The rest of the first section is our two groups of characters waking up on a Wednesday in July 1994, and the vibes in the secret Orpheus Group lab under Marion Prison before our PCs enter the Become Ghosts (Temporarily) Machines.
I had one small scene planned in this early part, set to Nas’s classic Life’s A Bitch, and the rest I baked in extra time because I didn’t know how long this part would take. It turns out we used all of this section so well done there.
The next section follows another 4’33. As the PCs enter the strange cryo chambers and then experience dream like visions of being a ghost, the music starts very ambient and tranquil, growing more ominous and industrial, culminating in some dramatic scary music.
I like to put the same songs on the soundtrack before the intermission and closing credits, and for this every chapter has NIN’s Eraser (Polite) to close out before the break.
Break is two ambient Aphex Twin songs, keeping the theme going. They are of course surrounded by 4’33s.
The next section begins with another song that’s in almost every Orpheus: Project Flatline soundtrack, Royksopp’s (Nothing But) Ashes… This section is all mounting scary music that culminates in NIN’s I Do Not Want This.
The second break is also two ambient Aphex Twin songs, in a 4’33 sandwich.
This leads to the big climactic section of the soundtrack, starting with dramatic scary instrumental music and ramping up to NIN, Helmet, and Slayer!
A 4’33 marks the start of the post climax denouement. It starts very sad, with Portishead and Cranberries, but I knew I wanted a tension relieving end song, to take the edge off the night and signal the chaos is over. So I closed out our tale with Rancid’s Salvation. The denouement ends with our standard closing song - This Is Where You Say Goodbye, which has a good vibe but also a very easy to spot song title.
There’s another 4’33, and the closing credits and post game vibes. Archive 81 Credits is a good spooky end of the night song, and the whole following section with NIN’s Burn into A Warm Place, I Burn, Resurrection, Ring of Fire, and Lake of Fire act as kind of a closing credits suite. We usually wrap up XP and chatting somewhere around I Burn.
I like to leave the soundtrack playing and have a drink or whatnot as part of my decompression time after game night, so there’s a whole after game section that’s mostly just for me.. It’s a good place to put a bunch of songs that fit the vibe but I might not have room for.
Every soundtrack closes out with another Lance’s Dark Mood Party Mix, in case I or any players want even more late night vibes. The soundtrack ends on a live version of 4’33 that is 4 and a half minutes of silence followed by some light applause, just because that amuses me.
On Sunday, we ended up playing the first half almost entirely, and largely missed out on the epic NIN/Slayer based finale. (It was getting late, and I wanted time for the denouement, so instead of pushing for a big final fight I said the PCs’ escape attempts worked out.)
Here’s a playlist of what we actually played on Sunday night.
You can compare and contrast and see which sections got skipped.
I’m really happy with this soundtrack. It was a fair amount of work to put together, but that works goes faster with experience. It had some cool moments, and the scary stuff really helped set the tone.
That’s the basics of how I used this soundtrack. But how about the useful stuff? Finding good music? Putting it together?
Most of that answer is just “get years of experience”. But the good news is years of experience is easy to get if you just keep doing something. This post is also long as hell, so I’ll save more for later, but some basic tips:
Listen to a lot of soundtracks, and find interesting music you like that either has no vocals or few vocals. The more artists and albums and genres you know about, the more you can apply that to putting music together for a game.
When arranging a soundtrack, pay more attention to musical flow than lyrics or thematic resonance or anything else. Quiet songs for the quiet parts, loud songs for the loud parts, put songs in an order that flows well together.
You can get a lot of mileage out of picking songs with really obvious titles and lyrics. So much of the Project Flatline soundtrack is songs that have some obvious comment or connection to this story, and once players start to notice them it can be a lot of fun.
Feel free to steal anything from this post or anything in the Orpheus soundtracks. If there are any songs you like, or you want to build a template playlist for your current game, or use 4’33s to split things up, or use a Lance’s Dark Mood Party Mix to set the vibes, absolutely, go for it!
Next time: Some more Orpheus rambling. I’ll probably post the document full of NPC details and talk about using AI to create portraits for your game!
(If not, I’ll write about that soon.)
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Huzzah!! Thank you so much!! This evening’s plans are now to compile one of these for my upcoming game