The use of music as a tool to manipulate people, Gods, magic and things does not need to be justified. The use musical based abilities has also been written into numerous RPGs, and while singing at a monster might lack some the visceral joy of bashing its head in with ax, it does have a place at a game table. However, the use of song in game could be made more enjoyable by greater development. Herein, I have generated an inventory of supernatural music for use in an RPG setting. The system for employing this song assumes that a character or force in the game will play or perform these the songs via an instrument or by singing. Performing these song will manipulate the game world, and can be employed similar to spells or other abilities. The list of songs below outlines how a specific type of song can manipulate the game world. The songs have been broken down into four categories, and archetypal examples of the different songs in those categories.
The four categories of song are inspirational songs, heartening songs, persuasive songs and enchanting songs. Inspirational songs improve the ability of the audience to perform some task; the original Bard’s songs in DnD increased the combat abilities of the listeners. Inspirational songs increase the effectiveness on the audiences' deliberate actions or desired actions. Heartening songs are similar to inspirational songs in that they alter the listener’s abilities, but the effect is passive. Heartening songs increase or decrease the physical and mental resistance of the listener to other outside influences. Persuasive music changes the attitude of the audience to either the literal or perceived focus of the song. In these cases the focus of the song need not be the literal meaning of the song, but rather the object or person with which the performer has linked to the song either through direct exposition or context. A persuasive serenade effects the reactions and thus perhaps the behavior its audience to various stimuli. The enchanting family of music directly affects the behavior of it audience. Unlike persuasive music, which affects the response, enchanting music compels the audience towards a specific behavior such as sleep, pain or despair.
Below are examples of songs from all four categories, I presented them as archetypes because of the wide variety in game worlds and in cultures. Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkaries” is empowering and invigorating stuff, but it fits a very specific genre of music from a relatively narrow cultural background. I am making the conceit that the basic emotional responses to music are the same in all cultures and it is only the vocabulary that changes. Thus the songs below are presented as concepts, and in this way a player can chose a song based on his or her desired effect without disrupting the continuity of the game world. For example, a character may want to play a song like a supernaturally enhanced Nine Inch Nail’s Head Like a Hole, a song that attempts to invoke a sense of anger at and disgust with the culture’s values system. But the game may take place in a Pre-Colombian Mesoamerican setting ruled by a race of immortal humanoids who treat the local lycanthrope populations like slaves, and progressive rock music with a heavy techno influence may not translate well.
Here is an example of how this system may play out:
1) Song of Hearth and Home:
Description: The Patriotic Songs that emote the joy having a home and the painful necessities of having to leave that home in order to defend it.
Examples: The Minstrel Boy or Danny Boy
In Game: These songs can be used two ways, but in both case they remind people of traditional values. These songs can fight either despair or ennui if the people are about to give up their ideals. It call also be used resist intimidation. Gives characters a bonus to morale checks or similar resistance checks.
2) Pied piper’s tune
Description: A song for beasts:
Example: Aside for the titular example there are numerous instances in fiction in which music or noise has been used to control animals not normally under a character’s command.
In Game: This agitates or placates animals enough so that they will follow commands.
Description: soporific sounds
In Game: Puts people and animals to sleep
4) Song of Seduction:
Description: A song that compels people towards certain course of action regarding the performer.
Examples: “The Bonny Wee Lass who Never Said No”-Celtic folk song. But of course there is this
In Game: The magic of this song is to makes the performer seem desirable, sympathetic and attractive, if the audience fails to resist the song they will behave accordingly
5) The anthem of lust and desire:
Description: A song that makes everything sexual
Examples: The old fear regarding at least half the Rap, Pop and Heavy Metal Music anthems.
In Game: Unlike the song of seduction that forms a bond between the performer and the audience this music taps into and encourages latent or repressed wants of the audience. This does not control the audience as much as it winds them up so that they will actively pursue what they want. Causes a sex riot.
6) Anthem of Identity:
Description: Like the song of hearth and home but instead of an enforcement of ideals this an emotional reset button.
Example: The scene is Casablanca when Rick’s bar is filled with French collaborators and French women willing to love the Germans. Then Lazlo starts signing the French National anthem, and the French stop being caught up in the moment and remember who they are, where the came from and more importantly who the Germans are not.
In Game: This will break the audience away from other things (spells, drugs, other songs or just time) that have negatively influenced the audiences’ previously defined loyalty and values.
7) The craftsman’s dance.
Description: Song that inspires energy but not recklessness. It inspires precise and detailed action that an artisan needs and it inspire persistence and focus.
IN GAME: This song will speed someone’s labor and improve the quality.
8) The round of joyous labor:
Description: This is spirited tune led by the performer but song as round by a group with shared task.
IN GAME: The song unifies a group with a shared task, making the work of many so connected that their individual strengths are shared and their individual weakness compensated for. Another title for this might be the song of Synergy.
9) The Rhythms of Combat:
Description: These simple beats can be kept in the heart of the fighter and they can keep him or her disciplined and centered. A fighter that can keep his combat rhythm will not get rattled and it will keep the fight on his terms.
Example: The rhythm of combat makes a large part of the martial art Capoeira.
IN GAME: Depending on the system this could give the character bonuses of initiative, defense or striking efficacy.
10) The March of War:
Description: Music the sets the pace for the men, keeps their energy up and helps to keep movements unified
Example: “In any place where they fight, a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King . . . A soldier does not think. He only obeys. Do you really think that if a soldier thought twice he'd give his life for queen and country? Not bloody likely.” –Danny Dravot.
IN GAME: The March of War helps keep men in the ranks and on the move. It will speed the movement of groups of men or reduce the cost of movement (depending on the system)
11) Eye of the Tiger:
Description: The song of giving it all you got, and stuff you didn’t know you had.
EXAMPLE “Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.”-Rocky Balboa
Basically any song by Survivor
IN GAME: Hearing or singing this song before a test of strength or endurance makes it easier to succeed at that test.
12) The Battle Hymn:
Description: A song that makes burning down a town beautiful, almost religious.
NARRATIVE EXAMPLE: The Halls of Montezuma and the Battle Hymn of the republic are all about how great it is to be a force of destruction.
IN GAME: This song aids anyone arguing that the audience should lay down his or her lives or engage in some destructive
13) The Revelry within a Requiem:
Description: Sometimes something is so absurdly horrible all you can do is laugh at it.
EXAMPLES: The theme to Bridge Over River Kwai had happy fatalism to it and
IN GAME: The use of this song is tricky, but the goal is to turn a moment of irreconcilable grief or horror into laughter or at least levity without turning attention away from the horror. It can get bereavedmoving again.
14) Song of Self-Empowerment:
Description: This song could be corrupting or liberating depending on the listener. The passive and put-upon serf may benefit from the song of self-empowerment. It may drive them to make decision that benefits them or they are told will benefit them. It may cause them to do what they know is right even if their social station not allow such an action. Conversely, it may inspire somebody to shuck responsibilities and obligations in favor of a self-serving course of action.
IN GAME: Unlike the song of Lust or the "I hate you" songs, this does not make a person feel reckless necessarily. All this song does is make them feel unafraid, and important.
15) A Ballad of Crushing Despair:
Description: “Here is a little song I wrote, it might want to make you slit your throat.”
EXAMPLE For every song Nina Simone arranged about sexuality, independence and the joys of life, she sang two songs about personal pain and loss. And she isn’t alone,
IN GAME: This song will cripple somebody with a blast of narcissistic anguish, the person will feel so sorry for themselves they will be unable to act at 100% capacity.
16) Requiem of Regret:
Description: Where is the Sinner man going to run? EXAMPLE: These morality songs show somebody where they have gone wrong and make them feel sympathy for those they have wronged.
IN GAME: Persuasive song in which the singer hangs their argument or message on the audience feelings of shame or regret.
17) A Tune of Honor and Glory:
Description: When you stand for something, it is nice if somebody sings a song about it while you stand there. NARRATIVE EXAMPLE: The politician that stands in front of the flag, speaking while a song about the glory of the nation is played is a example of somebody taping into the a Tune of Honor and Glory. There are also at least two examples of this in the movie Animal House.
IN GAME: Another persuasive song designed to accompany a verbal argument. This song appeals to the past ideals of honor and glory and affects people’s mood to an end, which would be supportive of those ideals. It can link the audience’s opinion of the singer to the audience’s opinion of a group or institution.
18) The “I Hate You” Riffs:
Description: The kind of song that makes you want to smash something or spit on somebody.
IN GAME: These charming (brainwashing) tunes are employed to channel negative emotion against single object or group of scapegoats. This could used to push a bunch of people or an individual to violent or destructive resolution of a conflict.
19) The Unmistakable sounds of a good time:
Description: Happy rhythmic music that says “You gotta dance”
EXAMPLE: Funky rhythms, catchy tunes and themes of youth of and energy have been making people move for ages
IN GAME: This song would be most effective when people are open to a good time, but if successful it can be a form of mind control.
20) An Anthem for Understanding:
Description: This could be any number of song types depending on the topic, but its intent is to present in a sympathetic light a subject or object to which the audience would normally hostile.
Example: “Spring in Springfield”
IN GAME: Alters the audience’s reaction to groups it would normally be hostile towards.
21) A trembling tune of tension:
Description: Actually anti-heartening because these melodies are eerie, subtle and make the dark darker and threats more intense.
In Game Use: Reduces peoples morale saves and/or gives false positives of spot and/or perception type checks.
22) A stunning song of beauty:
Description: Can’t move….. limbic key
EXAMPLE: The idea of limbic key as long been kicked around science fiction. It is the idea that a tone or a series of tones can trigger different emotional responses. Anne McCaffrey discussed it as a concept called Dylanism in the novel “The Ship Who Sang” and the Isaac Asimov’s villain The Mule employed limbic keys to enhance his mental powers in “Foundation and Empire”.
IN GAME: This song is so moving that people are absolutely helpless while they listen to it.
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? Responses (10)
A very good sub for bards and suchlike! How about
22) Introspective Songs
Makes the listener think about himself and about how he could make/do things better.
In Game: perhaps adds to his chances of success for an Intelligence or Will based skill.
Anyhow, a very good sub. 4/5
What effect would a RickRoll have? lol 5/5
A couple years back I had burned a bunch of songs of varying flavors for my own campaign (combat, defeat, travelling, high seas, blizzard, strange magic, etc). Took me a while to compile. Pity this wasn't available back then; would've saved me a lot of time and headache (particularly since I'm not all that musically inclined).
I love it when an article really makes me think. This is a treasure for anyone who wants to enhance their musical presence within a game. I'm going to have to kick this around in my head for awhile and see if I can come up with any more to add to the list.
A little hard to read and follow in spots, but a very nice and useful article. Two thumbs up.
Very useful. Very good! Entertaining read. GMs and Bards take note (and joy)!
Bringing this back to light for the new members. Winner of my patented "Smashing Sub of the Day" award. Have an HoH!
This is cool - I think we should look at filling this one out with real-links for all of them.
Excellent sub, (the youtube links are a nice touch!) This is a excellent resource for players of Bardic characters and/or GM's who want to add a touch of music to the taverns and inns without breaking with the genere (A few of these are perfect for Serenity & wild west games others for fantasy)