I have heard it before. "So, I'm not a bard. Why do I care about musical instruments?"
Sigh. This is not for you. It is for a GM.
There are many things people can be playing and ways they can play them.
A writer, or GM, only has so much "brain time" to create and research for their game. They are going to spend their time on TBTs (edit: The Big Things). They are spending time on campaign defining and dependent NPCs, Places, Plots, and Setting. They don't have time (and effort) to spare to do the little things. Those little things help make a setting more real and a game more engaging.
In addition, most people really don't know much about the medieval period, even though most games are set in worlds that roughly match them. This is a painless bit of research that will work for them to create a "cool" setting.
So the joy and power of this site is that you can go and "pick something up" off the shelf here and plop it in your game with a minimum of fuss. Sometimes you use the things here as raw ingredients to make your own, but most people want little things to grab and go with.
And players will think you are incredibly smart being able to pull "real musical things" out of your memory. Go to Comment
In the Backbone Mountains, there is a convent of monks. They have a few unique instruments which they use in meditations and rituals.
1. Wind Stones: These large standing stones(picture Stonehedge without the top cross-pieces) are modified by drilling small holes into their sides and etching grooves into the surfaces in intricate patterns. They are then stood up on end near the peak of a mountain or large hill. The wind passing these stones is channeled through the holes and etchings creating a haunting melody as the air whistles past.
2. Saja Rattles: The Saja bean is a plant which grows pods, much like peas. When these pods are dried in the sun, the bean within the pod shrivels into a small, hard ball, which is then left inside the pod and the pod is shaken like a rattle. These are primarily used in group meditation rituals. Go to Comment
The Banjolele is a mix of Banjo (the body) and Ukelele (the fretted neck) with 4 to 5 strings. Some Halfling musicians have been known to decorate them with small noise-making rattles, bells, and miniature cymbals for extra noise. Listeners liken the sound to capturing the worst qualities of the Banjo and Ukelele. Go to Comment
Remember the huge number of instruments that have existed in the real world. Serpents (wind instruments which actually had serpent's heads carved in them), brass instruments with huge numbers of loops, triangular violins and so on. Also, in many periods, instruments were so expensive that they were a work of art - quite literally, not just in the time and skill which went in to their construction. Pianos would have elaborate paintings (as good as any which would go on the walls) painted on the back or in the bit under where the strings go. Go to Comment
Specific unusual instruments from the museum
- A glass harmonica (about the size of a small keyboard instrument) which was designed by Benjamin Franklin.
- The "lyroharp", basically like 3 guitars (18 strings in total) fused at the base. The two side "necks" went up at about 30 degrees on either side of the centre neck; a curving piece of wood then connected all three necks at the top.
- Pochettes, 18th century violins small enough that music teachers could carry them in their pockets.
- The Nest of Serpents: 12 serpents (i.e. long, wide curved wind instruments with heads carved like serpents) put around a central decorated column (about 5 ft high). Each serpent was separate (musically) from the rest though it was all joined together in a physical sense. Required 12 people to play. Go to Comment
The dragon horns of the dwarves of the Amra mountains are amongst the most difficult instruments to play in the world, due to the amount of breath that they demand. These huge, wide horns are heavy enough that they require 6 dwarves to carry; the front of it is carved in to a ferocious dragon's head and the rest of it ornately decorated as well. All six dwarves must blow and play in unison in order to produce a good sound. The dragon horns are played twice a year, at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes in large festivals to ward off the forces of evil. The playing of the horns is meant to invoke the protective dragon spirits of the Amra dwarfs (the dwarfs believe that the dragons in the Amra mountains are their guardians (whether they are or not is up to you)). Each horn is a family heirloom and it is an honour to be selected to be one of the six horn players. Go to Comment
The fisherfolk of the Idril coast use many simple instruments to make music; amongst them is the Psiltaria, or "fish player." This small stringed instrument is shaped like a fish and has three strings. The strings are played by hitting them with small sticks. Go to Comment
Wind stones (continued from Alec_Shadowkin's post
Perhaps the stones, as well as emitting the haunting melody, are fashioned such that occasionally, in a strong wind at just the right speed, the stone will resonate producing a very loud, low booming noise (sort of resembling humpback whale sounds). Go to Comment
A bungurz is a drum ... of sorts. Used by a few savage tribes for music and communication, it resembles a mushroom of sorts - a semispherical construction covered in leather, with faces of different size and thus different sound, with a hollow tree trunk attached for resonance. Within, smaller pieces of wood that resonate as well are attached too. The tone is rarely clear, consisting of several overlaping tones.
A true master drummaker can craft a bungurz that has a tone harmonic and full, while a newbie, or an awful musician, will make the bungurz sound like a landslide.
Being a good bungurzer earns quite a bit respect from the tribesmates. Go to Comment
Quite a few of the magely folk tend to be rather novel and creative, and some express this through music - this intrument is made for and by them.
Like an ordinary guitar, it consists of a head, neck and body.
The body will be richly decorated, most often covered in leather for insulation, and to protect powerstones housed within. The neck's length is what determines whether the tones the instrument plays will be dark and booming, or high trills. The head is meant ot anchor one to nine 'strings' - those are low-power currents of magic mnergy, which can be brought to vibrate if touched by a magically gifted individual.
An unique feature of the instrument is that depending on the person playing it, it will sound different - a very talented fire mage will produce different tones from a diviner of middling power, even though trying to emulate him.
Wizards will often decorate their instruments excessively, and some even use them instead of staves. Go to Comment
An extremely rare instrument for various reasons, the first being the rarity of the materials needed to create them, the second is the great time and training required too achieve even the lowest level of proficiency, third is the immense amount of space an entire set takes up, and lastly is the requirement of arcane mastery to use. Baubells are semi-transparent orbs of Mageglass (Magic sensitive glass) and mithril. The orbs vary in size from the size of a marble all the way too (in some sets) the size of an Ogre's head, likewise they vary in weight and density from the weight of a feather to several hundred pounds. They are designed to vibrate when arcane magic is channeled through them, each Baubell, when touched, converts the magical energy of the 'musician' into a different note, pitch, or tone, and even various or multiple tones depending on the musicians arcane mastery level, but in the hands of a true master this novelty can create a beautiful and unique musical sensation so moving that some starry-eyed sorcerers have been driven insane as they seek a sound they will never be able to create.
The Sect of Beustra is made up of a group of talented people that have the gift of spirit sight and the ability to trap the most harmful of the spirits. It usually takes two of them to complete the capture and when they do it is not often that dramatic.
Once an evil spirit is identified and detected the Beustra collects a rock of a large enough size to use as a capturing device for the spirit. Nobody is quite sure if the rock is simply a gate to return the spirit to their world or if it is actually a prison. The Sect of Beustra believes it is used only as a gateway through to the spirit realm.
The Beustra, through chanting and beckoning can lure the spirit into a confined area. When the spirit becomes stationary due to the chanting of one Beustra, the other holding (or grasping if it is too large) the chosen rock will begin the meditations to drag the spirit through the rock to its home plane. The size of the rock isn't as important as the location of it when the spirit becomes trapped in the chants. Smaller rocks have the danger of missing when the spirit is hurled towards it. Larger rocks are prefered for safety. An angry spirit gets much angrier when somebody tries to trap it and fails.
Through this chanting over the rock, the rock takes on a jelly type consistancy. It is soft to the touch and depressions can be left in it but nothing nonethereal can be found to penetrate it. The consistancy allows any rock in any configuration to be used as the trap. Often the same rock is used for multiple spirit trappings.
At a predetermined time the two Beustra finish their chat sending the spirit hurling into the rock. As it enters the rock it creates a ripple as if a rock is dropped into the water. As it enters the Beustra stop their chant and the rock returns to it's solid nature. Depending on when the Beustra stop their chat determines how large the ripple on the rock is. For multiple spirits it takes multiple Beustra. Each one is in control of a portal for one spirit.
Since the Beustra do not believe anything is held in the rock it is simply discarded or left where it is. Go to Comment
These curious plants are extremely rare. Found in deep caverns, they resemble large, rough boulders; you would be hard-pushed to find anything less vegetablesque anywhere in the world. But left to themselves, after decades of gestation, they sprout tender, fist-thick tendrils which grope their painfully slow and convoluted way through the tunnels, seeking the light above. More often than not, they are not left to themselves. Rats, trolls, insects and other cave-dwelling species feed on the nutricious tendrils, sucking out the slightly sweet flesh and leaving a menagerie of toothmarks. After centuries of trying, the cave potato will exhaust its starch supplies and shrivel up, dropping its tendrils to leave a rough husk covered with the weird circular markings of tendril-sockets.
Just occasionally, maybe once every hundred years, a cave potato will succeed in reaching the surface, where the sprout buds into flower and the entrance to the cave will be garlanded for a few days with pretty white blossoms. The blossoms scatter countless amounts of pollen to the wind and the resilient pollen hangs around for a long time (sometimes up to a thousand years) until it eventually lands on the stamen of another cave potato flower. Then the strangest thing of all happens.
With its last remaining energy the mother potato grows its tendrils yet more. As the baby potato begins to swell and harden it is pulled back into the caverns and pushed on to uncharted depths far from the mother's resting place. Eventually it becomes too heavy for the mother to carry and she shrivels up and dies, depositing the baby in a deep cavern of its own so that the whole cycle can take place again. Go to Comment