Editorial: Music in the Game, not at the Table

Logo RSP Karneval 250pxAs part of their monthly carnival project, German rpg-bloggers are currently discussing at length the pros and cons of using background music at the gaming table.

So far, only one of them looked beyond this, and wrote an article about music within the setting – detailing the sinister death’s drummers cult.

This prevalence of articles about music “external” to the game world appears quite symptomatic to me. In short: I have long held the belief, that we do not have near enough music in most of our (fantasy) games.

Let’s look at one of many prominent examples for music within a fantasy tale.

In the Hobbit, practically the first thing the dwarves do is to fetch their instruments and start to sing (in fact, they already sing before that).

Whereas in most RPGs, I can count myself lucky if I get as much as a single bored bard, who only breaks out the lyre if there is some sort of social conflict encounter going on, or if he can give a direct combat boost to the party.

Where are your musical instruments on the equipment lists for your “normal” characters? And where are your “singing” skill values on your character sheets?

And don’t get me started on the gamemastering side of things!

All we get is maybe a monster or two (I happen to have one here…) with a musical shtick of some sort or another, or a villain, who does some weird music-y villainous stuff. In 9 cases out of 10 it’s a variation on the Pied Piper theme (guilty as charged over here).

But where are the battle chants of the orks (and I mean chants, and not some “menacing grunts” and “terrible sound of drums”)? Where are the songs of the bandits as they sit at the campfire in their forest camp? Where is the traitorous song, by which Rumpelstiltskin doomed himself?

I do miss that kind of stuff a lot – both from many of my own games, but also from the discussion, the awareness even?, of the gaming community.

Yet, things could be so simple!

It’s not just that most of us are likely able to come up with a line of text or two, fitting enough for an in-game song, no, it would be even simpler than that to amp up the “music level” of a campaign.

Just mention songs more often: Less “you eavesdrop on the murderlings talking and thus manage to piece together most of their plan” and more “you listen to the murderlings from your hiding place, and their singing and bragging gives you a good idea of what they are planning”. There really isn’t any more to it!

Still, this makes a significant difference in my … ears.

Our single German article this weeks picks up the music theme. The English one takes another route, though:

English articles
This Friday, it’s time once more to ask “What is …?” and present the results of another round of collective brainstorming.

German articles
Meanwhile on Wednesday an universal house rule for bards, may entice some more music into some settings.

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