If You Don’t Know What Syrinscape Is:
It does everything it says it does, but I still wouldn’t recommend it. You can achieve roughly the same effect for free by composing a Youtube playlist of ambient tracks or extended game songs, and while they might repeat every two to three hours, it’s not anything worth committing to a subscription over. The on-demand sound effects are cool, but divert the players’ focus away from the GM and the GM’s focus away from the game. There’s nothing this service does that a GM can’t learn to do better with practice.
Syrinscape is a subscription-based high end soundboard program for tabletop games. I say high end not because the subscription is especially pricey – just $10 per month for the full ensemble of noise – but because the service is quite fleshed out. This isn’t your standard collection of moaning zombies plus some rustling wind. Well, it can be, but it can also be so much more.
I was infatuated with Syrinscape upon first purchasing the product. Most of the features are based around “Soundpacks”, which are a number of custom looping sound effects ranging from blaster fire, monster roars, creepy ambient chimes, blizzard winds, doppler effect bullets, and many more. A user is free to turn on or off each sound effect, layering them together as he or she wishes and using sliders to determine how frequently a sound loops. They can also pick from a few presets included in each pack. Finally, there’s a few sound effects that are separate from the ambiance – these buttons play their individual sound once when pressed, and are meant to be used on the fly. A shotgun blast for a player’s attack hitting, a monster’s death squeal to accompany descriptive dialogue, or the sound of an airlock closing as someone drifts into space… You get the idea.
There’s a few versions of the service: You can either purchase individual soundpacks for anywhere from $3 – $25 each, sign up for a monthly subscription of all the service’s (numerous) fantasy-themed packs for $7.15 monthly, or all the service’s (equally numerous) science fiction themed packs for the same price. Finally, the SuperSyrin subscriber (Which was me) gains total access to everything the service has to offer for $10.99 per month. The SuperSyrin also gains access to the soundpack creator, a tool that was way above my head but will surely delight many others.
The first thing I have to say about this product is that it did everything it tells you it does. The software chugged a bit on my Dell Inspiron 5576 laptop, but it was functional enough for me to queue up different sounds for gaming sessions. The wide variety of sound packs offered stole the show for me. There’s options specifically designed for Call of Cuthulu, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, and more. There’s packs for specific creatures, time settings, and everything in between. I spent several hours finding my personal favorites, and even then felt like I had only scratched the surface. Hats off to Syrinscape’s sound designer, Loomes. He’s done a fantastic job.
Unfortunately, I can’t recommend it.
This is a product that does everything it says, for a fairly reasonable price. It will create hundreds upon hundreds of totally unique and non-looping soundtracks to back up your epic tabletop combats, it will bring a range of new sound effects to the field, and it is capable of total customization. But when it comes down to using it in games, it does not add to the experience.
First: The main problem that Syrinscape sets out to fix, which is looping, repetitive background music, is not a huge problem if you know where to look. Before and after using Syrinscape, I’ve used a mix of extended ambient tracks and extended game soundtracks, sorted into playlists and available for free on Youtube. Simple searches such as “DnD Ambiance” or even more specific searches like “DnD Ambiance Camp” or “DnD Ambiance Cave” net many Ad-Free tracks ranging from 2-3 hours in length. Even if these do eventually loop, your players will not notice. For the musical side of things, some extended tracks from Skyrim, The Witcher III, any Assassin’s Creed, Nier: Automata, Final Fantasy XV and even Metal Gear Rising feature lyric-free background music that is designed for this exact purpose: to play in the background, accompanying action without taking center stage. As far as soundtracks go, your free options more than match up to Syrinscape’s library.
It’s true that none of the Youtube tracks offer the variety of mixed-in sound effects that Syrinscape offers, but my players and I had mixed feelings about this feature. We used a few of the service’s Starfinder packs during laser rifle shootouts, and found the constant pew-pew of plasma guns in the background to be oddly contradictory to the game’s main action: If the combat was turn-based, who was firing their weapon 4 times during a player’s turn? This might work with other parties, but it didn’t help sell the action for anyone I tried it with. And while I could just turn those effects off, at that point I’m better off saving on the subscription and using Youtube tracks instead.
Finally, the sound effect buttons. My advice: Just make the noises yourself. Some of the noises have a bit of startup delay, leading to awkward pauses between an audible “click” of you pressing the button and the monster’s roar. But the real issue is how this system encourages the GM to “share” their storytelling role with a computer. Even if you can’t make the monster’s scream sound intimidating on your own, you can learn to convince players that he’s intimidating because of how he looks or the sea of bones in his cavern. Sharing your storytelling power with this service will dilute your power as a Game Master and dilute your players’ ability to focus on you.
Maybe this service would work better for other groups, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. It offers a paid service for something that can be achieved resonably well for free, and its best features are more likely to stunt a Game Master’s creative flow than enhance it.
Image Via Flickr / Spellbound Book Art