I’ve previously experimented with trying to get ChatGPT to suggest songs to build a soundtrack for my D&D campaign when it ventured into the territory of Planescape. Planescape is weird. It’s a multiverse-based setting where the intensity of beliefs can actually change the geography of the world. As such, there are the obvious ideological wars that ensue. But Planescape is mostly based around this weird, in-between land where folks from all over the multiverse can intermingle, where angels and devils walk the same streets. So, obviously it should have a pretty unique vibe, and, being relatively new to the setting, I didn’t know really where to start.
I was surprised to learn that, when I asked ChatGPT to come up with a playlist of songs that would be appropriate music for a Planescape-based setting it did…pretty good. This was before Bing search was integrated and yet it was still able to find songs that I could easily look up and add to a playlist on Spotify and they, more or less, fit the vibe.
Recently, when I was working on a Call of Cthulhu one-shot, I set it to a similar task. This time, however, I knew it did have internet access, and could actually look deeper for some source material. I got the background music (split into four different playlists for each part of the narrative) and I was pretty happy with all that, but then I decided to take it a couple steps further.
I was working with ChatGPT to come up with a cast of NPC characters. I had the AI give me names, pronouns and brief descriptions of each character. Later, I asked it to come up with a general mixtape — in the style of Josh’s Blair Witch Mix, the unofficial (or official?) soundtrack for The Blair Witch Project, which wasn’t really a soundtrack (because there was not a soundtrack) but rather an in-world mixtape compiled by one of the filmographer/characters. The list it came up with was pretty damn good, and included some stuff that I would have picked as well as some stuff that I was less familiar with. I actually like it a lot and added a couple things to it (check out Hex’s Black Ritual Mix).
Then, I decided to see if it could come up with “theme songs” for each of the named NPC characters, to get an idea of how well it could create a mix that represented the cast of characters. The premise of the one-shot was a performance art preview show where the cast actually summoned a demon. Some of the choices were pretty obvious and infantile, like choosing “Claire De Lune” for a character named Sera Moon, “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles for an audience member who was a writer, or “Dress” by PJ Harvey for a costume designer. But overall, taken as a whole, the list included things that were what — or adjacent to what — I might have picked myself mixed with stuff that I definitely would not have picked (either because I forgot about it, like “Brother” by Murder by Death — for a character who’s brother was in the show — or because my tastes have moved on, like a newer Coldplay song that was released after I stopped paying attention to them). (Check out My Sympathy for the Audience.)
Most recently, I’ve started writing what I think I can confidently refer to (now) as a novel, and I’ve been using ChatGPT to help with various elements of brainstorming (I’m sure I’ll write about this more later). I’ve already used the same technique to come up with a playlist for my main character Lorelei as well as a trendy bar near where she works in San Francisco called The Gridlock.
In these contexts, it feels like giving the characters and places their own agency in the story. Who am I to say what this character listens to? Surely, I, as a single person with very particular musical tastes (albeit broad) can only think of so many things that a character who is not me might listen to. This is especially true for coming up with things that would be representative of the type of music that might be played in a bar or club. I don’t go to bars or clubs frequently these days, and I, in my elder millennial days, don’t always know “what the kids are listening to these days.” I’m not positive the AI does either, but it is able to come up with playlists that are different than what I would create and that in itself is refreshing enough.