Welcome to the first ever Tools of the Trade article, a new series in which I talk about tools and products that can be used to enhance your gaming experience. I like to open new segments talking about things that I like, and this is going to be no exception. So, let me tell you about Syrinscape.
What is it?
The official website describes Syrinscape as “a revolutionary sound design app that adds evocative ambient background sound and a movie-like soundtrack to your tabletop gaming experience.” But what does that mean when you take out the marketing and buzzwords? Well…
Syrinscape is a free app that makes it very easy to be a DM and a DJ at the same time. There are two core apps: one for fantasy and one for sci-fi, and they each support sound packs that you can buy rather cheaply on their store, which I will include a link to here. Each sound pack comes with a collection of audio elements which can be played alone or combined to create unique audio for your game. Each sound pack also comes with a playlist of default “moods” (combinations of elements) to start you off, but we’ll get more to that in the next section which is…
What’s good about it?
There’s a lot about Syrinscape that makes it worth picking up and using, but I’m going to start with the way the app handles the sounds.
As I mentioned earlier, the sound packs come not only with a variety of elements but also pre-built combinations of them which it calls “moods.” These moods are often varied and provide a solid example of the sort of soundtrack you can make using only that pack. More impressive to me, though, is that the default moods follow a progression in most cases. The “High Seas” sound pack, for example, starts you at pleasant sailing and takes you through an increasing terrible storm until you’re hiding below deck. The “Red Dragon City Raid” pack has a peaceful town going about town business, the dragon raid itself, and then the aftermath with the townsfolk picking up the pieces of their rubbled city. Every sound pack has all of the tools you need to run a simple scene without needing any experience or practice managing the app.
But what if you’re not satisfied with that? What if you want to get a little (or a lot) more advanced? Fear not, because the sound packs aren’t just playlists, they’re toolkits. Syrinscape has the ability to create custom moods by combining the sounds from multiple packs.
Want to add a dragon to your bugbear battle, or have an army of plucky goblins marching into battle against a group of stone giants? There’s a custom moods tab where you can combine your own mixes for whatever scene you have in mind. You can also adjust on the fly by adding sounds to existing moods as they become relevant. Which brings me to the next cool thing, the sound effects!
Now, I know you’re probably thinking “What do you mean? You’ve been talking about the sound effects!” But no, see, each sound pack also comes with one-shot sound effects that don’t loop. These are the sounds of weapons hitting other weapons, weapons hitting people, monsters growling and snarling or spells being cast. It’s a really effective way to increase the immersion in your game by changing the background music to include the player’s actions.
What could be better?
Syrinscape is awesome, but it’s not quite perfect.
My biggest gripe is that the sci-fi sounds and the fantasy sounds come on different, but seemingly identical apps. While having to have two different apps is inconvenient enough, it also means that I haven’t been able to make custom moods that blend the two genres, which I might need if I want a horde of bugbears rolling up on a much smaller but also much more technologically advanced group of heroes.
My other complaint, and this is a small one, is that the way you build custom moods in the “Custom Moods” section is a little clunky and weird. You have to go through, playing your sounds from between packs, and then go to the “custom mood” pack and play the “enigmatic silence” sound, which allows you put the mood you’ve created in your section for custom moods. As far as I can tell, this is because you have to have a sound from the pack in your mix to save it as a mood in that pack’s tab.
It’s hard to explain why it bugs me that you can’t just move a mood into that sound pack after you customize it, or open a library with all of your available sounds without jumping from pack to pack. If I had to try to put why I’m bothered by this into words, it’s because it makes building a custom mood feel more like a cheat code or a hack than a feature. It is a feature though, and there’s even an explanation for it in the custom moods section that will be described to you by either an old crone or a non-copyright infringing android with paranoia, for fantasy and sci-fi respectively.
Syrinscape is an awesome way to add ambience and engagement to your tabletop adventures. I plan on using it in my future games, and at the very least I recommend that you give it a try. You can download the apps at www.syrinscape.com