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Role-playing Rants: Can't stop the beat, or how to correctly utilise music during your games

There are a lot of things that can make a single, ordinary RPG session, truly awesome. One of them is a climactic soundtrack, specifically tailored for the oncoming game. But how to utilise it to its fullest extent?

Game music (and possibly ambient sounds) is a tricky medium to master. First of all, I'd suggest to not base your entire game on it. I've known people who have created entire adventures, based on a single track from a movie or video game. While it usually worked rather well, more often than not a single derail on the PC's part made the whole thing change its course, and the final, dramatic tune had to be either abandoned or used in a different matter. Life sucks, I know. From my experience it's a great idea to base a single scene or maybe a chapter, on your favorite "Gladiator" OST. They are usually short enough to warrant success, not to mention it's easier to control what's going on during a single chapter, than an entire campaign. Just saying.

Music is important. Controlling what's going on with the world that you're creating, even more so!
Next we have the age-old problem of what kind of music to actually use? The aforementioned "Gladiator" soundtrack would probably work great for your average fantasy-based game. WFRP, Dungeons & Dragons, Conan - these are the kind of setting that could benefit from loud, epic and pompous OST's, at least for most of their sessions. It's a no-brainer really. But what about using a less than obvious tunes for our next game of "The Enemy Within"? I've got good news for you, my fellow Gamemaster, it's absolutely possible. However there's a catch - you'll need to utilise the age-old trial and error technique. The results, however, are almost always worth it. For example, in my games of WFRP I'm using a lot of Irish jigs. The "Rocky Road to Dublin" and a lot of tracks from both "Sherlock Holmes" movies with Robert Downey Jr. are a great addition to my Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay games. Another example of a less-than-obvious music used right, is the entire "Deus Ex" OST, which I've been playing during my Hunter: The Reckoning sessions. They've worked wonders, especially during the night scenes and investigative parts.

In this day and age most of us are lucky enough to possess a laptop or a tablet. Smartphones are a standard part of our everyday lives. Because of this, we're having free access to apps like Spotify and online services like YouTube. Spotify is perfect for composing your very own playlists for different game systems. YouTube, however, is where it's at. It's a bloody gold mine of music for every, single occasion. Single clips or whole playlists, entire albums of every music genre ever created (I once used a Renaissance-era party music for a ball in Nuln) - YouTube has it all, and more! I especially recommend Adrian von Ziegler for all your fantasy needs and various game OST's for more modern/futuristic stuff. There are even RPG-oriented playlists, like music from taverns, forest music, winter music, sewer music etc. YouTube is your friend, when it comes to building the perfect mood by utilizing some nice, appropriate tunes. Trust me on that.

For all your RPG-music-related needs, accept no substitues
Finally there's the case of ambient sounds. It's a simple thing for me - I'm not using them. Music, good, climactic music, is all that I need in my games. If a track that's currently playing, has any ambience within it, all the better. That said, I'm not using any sort of environmental clips, as I'm not really seeing a point in doing so. Besides, I've always believed that a good GM needs to master the adventure that he's running, as well as the atmosphere and feel of the world which he creates. Being a part-time DJ should not be part of his duties, as it's simply too distracting and time-consuming. Just my two cents.

Here's hoping that you'll be able to expertly use various musical tracks in your games. It's not that hard and, just like with everything else regarding this hobby, remember to not rely solely on the tunes, no matter how good they might be. After all, they're just a part of a greater whole, an experience in which you and your players partake during your weekly sessions. It's like a meal, composed from many, different ingredients. While each of them might be tasty in its own right, only by combining them together will you be able to create a unique and truly memorable feast for the senses.

Until next time!



Xathrodox86 reviews: "Solomon Kane"

On my blog I've reviewed games and books, but not any movies... until now. Let's take a look upon a quintessential Warhammer movie - "Solomon Kane".

Based on the classic witch hunter character created by the legendary Robert E. Howard, author of the most famous barbarian in history, "Solomon Kane" is a perfect example of a dark fantasy movie done right. Even with its modest budget of $40 million, it manages to deliver a fantastic tale of dark fantasy-action adventure, with a great lead role and a wonderful visual style.

I need this poster in my life!
The film begins in North Africa, where Solomon Kane, a ruthless mercenary, leads his band of ne'er-do-wells against the Ottoman soldiers, occupying a fortress town. After killing all of them, Kane and his men plan to steal their sweet loot for themselves, but a bunch of mirror demons have other plans and decide to interfere. They butcher the pirates and Solomon only manages to escape, after jumping out of a window... but not before exchanging a few, prophetic words with the grim reaper himself. Damn!

Following this unfortunate event, he declines violence and seeks refuge in a monastery. However his fate has been written. Kane must die and go to hell for his sins, and so the elderly abbot expels him from the only place, where he could've been relatively safe, holy ground and all that stuff. What an asshole. Anyway, Solomon decides to return to England, but his seven years of bad luck quickly catch up with him, as he is ambushed by robbers and left for dead. Fortunately he is found by a group of friendly Puritans, who nurse him back to health and accept Kane as one of their own. Naturally this is a movie about a badass witch hunter, and not an episode of a fucking "Little House on the Prairie", so the entire family is butchered by the servants of Malachi, an eeeevil wizard and arch-asshole extraordinaire. Kane decides that he has enough of this shit, puts on the signature wide-brimmed hat, stuffs two flintlocks behind his belt and goes to town on those devil-worshipping motherfuckers, while also trying to save Meredith, the last of the family that helped him in his hour of need.

Solomon Kane is basically a Warhammer Fantasy scenario in movie format. Kane travels the bleak, desolate wildlands of England, fighting cultists, ghouls and crazy priests, before his final confrontation with Malachi, himself a fantastically looking villain (seriously, the makeup artist working on that picture did a splendid job). Along the way he befriends some of his old pirate crew, who are now fighting against the vile Malachi and his enforcer, the enigmatic Masked Rider. There's also a friendly, old witch, who treats his wounds, after a particularly nasty case of crucifixion.

The cast is solid enough, and although the only really fleshed out character is Kane himself, the rest of the actors are doing a fine enough job of their own. James Purefoy as Solomon Kane really encapsulates the spirit of this dark and brooding character on a quest for redemption and it's a real joy to see him in a classical, witch hunter attire. Special mention goes to Jason Flemyng who portrays Malachi, the evil warlock. He chews the scenery so much, that it's beyond godly and every time he's on screen, he steals the show.

"I'll be shitting out wood for the next three months, after this movie is over."
"Solomon Kane" has some great fight scenes, with excellent choreography. There's no flair here, no fancy sword work. The combatants fight in a brutally realistic style, bludgeoning each other with swords, axes and maces and it really works well with the overall theme of this flick. The supernatural elements are scarce enough, but when they appear, there's this feeling of dread, of something dark and otherworldly. Even when Kane is saved by the old witch, one can only wonder what kind of magic she used on his flesh, that it was able to heal so quickly...

The soundtrack is top notch as well. I'm using it during my WFRP games, and it's really worth listening to. There are suitably dark themes, as well as more optimistic ones, playing by the end of the movie. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

My only problem with this movie, is that it takes a fair bit for Kane to become the hero that we all know and love. There are also a fare few bits of him acting all emo, and sometimes it can be a bit cringey to watch. Other than that, however, I have no complaints. "Solomon Kane" is a solid piece of action fantasy, and a great movie to watch, if you're having a writer's block on that latest WFRP scenario, that you're working on. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.

Until next time!