Musings Of The Bard: Using Music To Design Campaigns

Music, like no other art-form, can transcend any nationality, background, or language. It is the universal language of the human race. Since the dawn of humanity it has evoked emotion, moved people to tears, and inspired billions. So why the hell aren't you using it to write your campaign?

Alright, bare with me on this one, cause it might get a little weird, but remember... I am a Bard. This is sort of my wheelhouse.

Last week I was pondering, as I am oft to do. I was considering the direction I want my Dragonslayer campaign to go in. I have a very solid idea in my head about how I want it to end, but getting there is half the fun. So I sat, and plotted, and pondered and schemed. Then I became stumped. I had idea where I wanted to go after the current location.

When I get stuck like this, I tend to pop on the o'le headphones, close my eyes, and hit shuffle on iTunes. I let the music hit me, and if something sticks, I roll with it. As I started settling it, I glanced at my shelf-o-goodies and noticed my copy of Kingdom Hearts II. I will confess, I love me some Kingdom Hearts. Yes, the story is as easy to follow as a Rorschach and some of the characters are just downright pointless, but the music... the music makes it. Much in the same way that legendary composer Nobou Uematsu made the Final Fantasy games what they were.

So, while in my haze about airships and stunning imagery, I absently opened up the Kingdom Hearts II soundtrack and gave a good listen. The first few tracks did nothing for me, except make me want to play Kingdom Hearts again. But then one little track popped up, and suddenly my mind was blown. I could see with perfect clarity the direction of the campaign, all the way to its completion. More than that, locations began to pop. A floating city, hidden in the clouds. A council of mages, a peaceful society, a dragon attack, chase through a canyon on an airship with dragons in hot pursuit, and more.

All that, from this one track...

"Don't judge me!"

This wasn't the first time I've done something like this, but I hadn't realized how many times I have relied on music to spark the creative juices. I've always been a big proponent of utilizing a campaign soundtrack during the game, but I think it is just as equally important when planning the game. At that point, you are creating more than just scenery for your players; you're crafting the feeling of it, be it awe, fear, wonder or simply a sense of calm. It is one thing to describe how a bust city street looks in your imagination. But with the right piece of music, suddenly you can hear the merchants barking to potential customers, you can smell the scintillation smells of all different kinds of food, you can almost feel children running past, laughing and playing, and for a moment you might even check your pocket to see if the little bastards stole your wallet.

Music That I Use
When utilizing music to help paint a scene for myself, I tend to organize it in a bunch of different categories. Organization is sort of my thing. This helps me break things down into how I want to convey the scene. For example, for a big, epic fight with someting massive, I am not going to use something like...

"No. Just no."

No, I would want something bigger. Grander. More intense. I find that pieces utilizing a chorus led the right feel and scope to the situation. A rapid tempo certainly increases the sense of tension and rising action, and screaming violins can really sell how dire the battle really is. This is a decent example...

"Thank you, anime, for making power levels obscene for decades."

When I want something serene and beautiful, I look to slow things down. After all, in a serene and beautiful place, what's the rush? Slow, meaningful violins or fiddles, perhaps some soft pipe music can add rustic touches that your words can hardly convey. A great example is...

"If you can listen to that and not see the rolling green hills of the shire, you have no soul."

Sometimes though, you have some hardcore elements in the game that beg for a harder touch. Orcs, for example. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are some pretty hardcore badasses that demand music of equal tempo and intensity. I find that Metal is a good place to look when concerning yourself with things like orcs, because lets face it, orcs are friggin' metal. One cannot listen to these without envisioning an orc hoard descending on an unsuspecting village. Poor bastards...

"I like my metal like I like my women; screaming at me brutally."

 Sometimes, though, it is nice to step back. Players can be some of the best sources of comedy you will ever see in your life. They sure top most movies these days in the sense of bringing the funny. I cannot hear the following track without visions of player characters chasing a chicken through the streets of a village running through my head.

 "Yakity Sax."

I know this one seems to have rambled on a bit, but I am curious; does anyone else use music as a component when writing their material? If so, what kind? Do you prefer lyrics, or straight up instrumental? Orchestral or synth pop? Let me know.

Renumber, the only difference between magical and musical is us... and I suppose ag.
+Ed The Bard

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