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Mar 10

Sounds, great!

How do you DM?

It’s a simple question with a multiplicity of responses. Maybe you want to work in a scant, utilitarian fashion without a surface to play upon. Encouraging players to enter an almost zen like role play trance. Perhaps, like myself, you stick to the more traditional screen, map and minis combo. Table littered with as many bowls of crisps as character sheets. Or are you hard core? Hosting fully structured cathedrals with LED lit alcoves strewn along massive single purpose gaming tables? Dry ice vapor curling around the bases of exquisitely painted miniatures in a diorama of doom!

DMDJ-Screenshot-01-Main

Regardless of how you play, all game sessions of one sort or another share a common need for a soundtrack.

Role play games revolve around our ability to tell really engaging stories. Remember C3PO’s encounter with the Ewoks? Even though he’s fluent in over three million forms of communication he still uses sound effects to fill a narrative gap.

I mean it’s one thing for the DM to say, for example…

     ‘the arrow flies deftly through the air only to strike, ineffectually, into the door frame behind your           head.’

A perfectly descriptive and accurate sentence, but to cry out…

     ‘PFFFWWWWT! PTH-UNK! The Orc missed!’

Well it does more to raise the blood of your band of adventurers and makes things a bit more emotive.

In fact, sounds are such an important part of my story telling that I end up providing a sort of continual background foley track for my players.

Every arrow “pffwwting” past ears. Axes “whumming” through the air. The occasional soggy “squelch” indicating the passing of some poor critter. I’ve even got pretty a pretty passable Wilhelm scream up my sleeve.

But to add some real aural reach to your games you will want to bring some tech to the table. So how do we achieve the maximum amount of oomph, with the minimum amount of effort?

I used to rely on a PC hooked up to Winamp (remember that, llama fans?) A playlist filled with all my most atmospheric tunes and the hope that it wouldn’t play anything inappropriate mid-encounter.

While this worked after a fashion, it was cumbersome. And since swapping my PC for an iPhone, DMDJ-Screenshot-03-Musicother attempts to bring sounds to the table end in more or less the same fashion. Where I once used Winamp I might now use iTunes, or a YouTube playlist but i would still end up fiddling with the playlist at the most inconvenient times.

So I went on a mission with some clear goals. Find a simple, user friendly utility that can provide all the sounds I need without gumming up the works. It took a while but I found it. The app that beats all other apps that aim to enhance game play without detracting from it.

DMDJ from Blue Face Games is ridiculous. It is, hands down, the best purpose-built soundscape solution for RPG games that I’ve come across. Ever. It is amazing.

Almost a game unto itself, like a Minecraft made from with audible blocks, I can spend hours playing with all the many functions it has to offer. It’s interface is heavy with choices and sub menus that keep you entertained by building entire worlds out of sound.

Do you want to craft a soundscape for an encounter on a haunted pirate ship crawling with demons at night! Sure. Want to incorporate your favorite thrash metal tune into a ‘run’ for a party of gun clerics? No problem. You can make it do just about anything. And it is rich with content, if you think you don’t have any music in your collection you think is suitable? Then why not choose from one of the one-hundred and eleven included tracks spanning 5 genres?

Need sound effects for every conceivable critter or battle? It has them, all there, all available and all at an exceptional quality. It is obvious that this app is a labour of love. Created by gamers for gamers.

So, asides from choice how is functionality?

One of the apps many features is to save snapshots for each of your audio scenarios. This means you can arrange your soundscapes before each game and quickly switch between them without any fuss.

Once you’ve selected your snapshot and set the ambiance you can start to play with the FX groups. These are broken down into suitable genres and are pretty accurately labelled. Be warned, there are a lot of them though!

They cover, in alphabetical order:
DMDJ-Screenshot-02-Environment-Presets

 

  • Cthulhu
  • Extraterrestrial
  • Fauna
  • Horror
  • Human
  • Monsters
  • Music cues
  • Special effects
  • Spells
  • Weapons: medieval
  • Weapons: modern

Now while I like the fact that Cthulhu has a category unto itself, there is one point where DMDJ falls down.

It is unwieldy when it comes to navigating the sound effects menus.

When you consider that for a Lovecraftian horror jaunt in the 1920’s you may need three separate sound boards to cover “Snarl of soggy monster”, “owl twit-twooing” and “gunshot” it is unfortunate that these three effects are on three separate boards and you need to navigate back and forward to find them. Sure if you don’t use sounds heavily then this isn’t an issue but assuming, like me, you do then any action that forces you to look away from the players or stop concentrating on the game for even a second can break your flow.

Considering how well it stands up in other respects to maintaining flow, it is a real shame that here is where it trips up over itself.

DMDJ-Screenshot-11-QuickRollWhile it provides a huge range and great customization it doesn’t allow the user to craft a custom soundboard for each snapshot. Okay, so it has three quick links to a selection of handy die rollers but it would have been nice if one of those quick links took you to a custom soundboard that has your chosen encounter specific sounds on it.

The other caveat, one which may alienate fifty percent of the readers, is that it is currently only available for iOS!? I’m sorry Android fans, this isn’t for you… yet. But it could be. But for an app that costs £2.49 can I really complain?

If you consider that the app has already had two significant updates for content since I purchased it the answer is probably no.

 

Ultimately though, for anyone who owns an iOS device this is a must. Do as they say and hook it up to your stereo, set up a snapshot and enjoy the immersion.

2 comments

  1. Christopher R. (@EldritchFire)

    Man if I only had a face-to-face group to use this app with, I tell ya what! It’s great for setting up music by scenes, and the integrated dice roller tells you that the designers know their audience!

    My biggest problem with it, though, is that it doesn’t keep playing in the background. I have so many different apps I use at the gaming table that I switch back and forth. DMDJ only plays when it’s the active app, which is annoying.

    I have found 2 alternatives for DMDJ, but they’re not as specialized and only have background sound, no SFX or anything like that.

    The first one is Ambiance. It’s also an iOS app, but it plays in the background!

    The second is Tabletop Audio. It’s a webpage, not an app, so it’ll work on iOS, Android, Mac, Win, Linux, etc. Like Ambiance, it’s only background sounds, so no SFX. But being a website means anyone can use it!

    1. Brian Cleland
      Brian Cleland

      Great call on the two other apps (well one app and one website I suppose). I’ve used Table Top Audio before and I love what it can do but as you aptly pointed out it’s not a solution for SFX.

      But definitely a good call for cross platform, ambient sounds.

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