I’ve played and run games with and without musical accompaniment, and if I had to state a preference, I’d side with music every time. It can’t just be haphazard use of music though. It’s best when the music is appropriate to the situation that we are currently in. Lord of the Rings OST is thematic, but having a scene specific for our arrival at the Fey Court or exploring the sewers is what I prefer. Opposing this is time and ease of access.
How much time is a GM going to spend to find just the right music for a scenario? I’ve spent a lot of time on it myself, and acquiring a solid collection of tunes is time consuming and expensive, representing almost a side-hobby in itself. After you’ve traversed that obstacle, then you need to construct a setup that you can use without slowing down the game. Often that means more prep, and more equipment: getting a sound system in place, setting up your computer, getting a selection of music easily at hand and organized. If you attempt to add sound to your game without taking all of this into account, you risk bland ambience, distracting shuffles as you set up, or both.
DMDJ from Blueface makes a solid attempt at easing these pains. As an RPG music soundboard and dice roller for the iPhone/iPad, it offers great “at your fingertips” control in a convenient and portable package, surmounting some of the difficulties of setting up sound in your game, though there remain issues to address.
The app is easy to get started with. Within seconds of downloading, I constructed a soundscape consisting of a crowded city street with imperial horns for music accompaniment. It sounded great, but definitely listen to what the app tells you on load: Play it on real speakers. The app definitely needs better speakers than your mobile device supplies you, and will sound terrible if you ignore the advice.
Color me surprised at the quality of the music that comes with DMDJ; I typically expect default music to be the musical equivalent of clip art, but this is not the case. Still, I would like an option to bring my own music into the app. As I mentioned before, I’ve spent much time and energy on building my own library and effects. Not being able to bring them into this device is one aspect of the package that keeps me from replacing my current hodge podge system with it right now. One thing to keep in mind is despite its UI having a fantasy theme, the app has modern and sci-fi environments and music included with it.
The other deterrent is the inability to save my created soundscapes for future use. After creating that cool city sounds mix, I was dismayed to find that I couldn’t save it for later. It only takes a few clicks to make a new soundscape, but when I am running a game, the last thing I need is another set of things to remember; the full usefulness of an app would be in letting me create soundscapes ahead of time and then accessing what I made with a button push. I want to store a few soundboards at a time, so I have a portable soundtrack for my games that is easy to access. The app stores your last saved sounds, but I need a little more than that.
I am surprised that the dice roller feature exists. It’s actually very useful and nice, but I was saddened to see that I could store pre-built dice rolls when I couldn’t do that for sound. The dice roller feels like a distraction from the soundscape usage, and vice-versa. I feel like the dice roller functionality should split into its own app (I would buy it) so that I can get full access to music capabilities of DMDJ.
I like where the app starts from, and I think it is completely worth buying if the developers can address the ability to store multiple soundscapes and import music. If they bring those in, the app moves from pretty useful to “can’t live without it.” I hope that they do this, but in the meantime I’ll recommend this to you if you want to add music and sound effects to your game but haven’t really started, as this is a great start. If you already have a setup, I’ll suggest you wait until we see how the app develops.
DMDJ is available now from the App Store for the iPhone and iPad.