In a world of Bards and actual magical flutes, music can play a key role in your fantasy games. As a dramatic endeavor, background music can also be an awesome flourish to make a combat feel more epic. Here are some ideas for incorporating music as a key element in your adventure plots, followed by some neat musical tips for adding musical flair to your gaming experiences.
Throughout April Dungeon’s Master is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The challenge is to write a new article ever day in April, excluding Sundays. That’s 26 articles over the course of the month. To make things even more interesting the title of each article will begin with a different letter of the alphabet. This year we’ve decided that every article will provide our readers with new adventure hooks. Today “M” is for Music as Joe Lastowski shares some great adventure hooks and additional resources for adding music to your campaign.
Adventure Hooks: Music
1. Fabled Instruments of Oakenfold
Throughout the land, the wooden instruments from a particular remote town are renown as the greatest: their pitch, their resonance, their timbre… all perfect. This plot works best if there’s a Bard in the party who would seek out such an item, or you can have a wealthy patron pay the party to retrieve such an instrument for him. Either way, when the party arrives, they find a grove of clearly magical trees at the center of the town, and beautiful music sounds whenever the wind blows through these trees. If the party tries to steal or forcibly take wood from these trees, any instrument they make from that wood will sound awful. The truth is that the center tree is a Treant Druid or Witch who gives of herself when a seeker of an “Oakenfold Instrument” has proven himself to her. How that proof happens could be anything from an epic performance to an act of kindness to a quest to rid a nearby forest (or part of the Feywild) from some evil. It’s not often that a treasure the party receives is an actual part of an ancient creature, so you can make the final awarding of this instrument a major event, when it finally happens.
2. Keep On Dancing (1st movement)
I’ve seen variations of this done in several different published and home-spun dungeons. A room with markings on the floor (works great with a grid map system) has magical music playing in it, playing a well-known ancient waltz (or whatever dance you like). In order to cross the room, the players must move in a way that matches the dance, which should be something not straightforward, like Forward, Forward, Left, Back. To complicate matters, you can add pillars or fire braziers or other obstacles to make folks potentially fall out of step. Falling out of step should impose some sort of magical damage penalty (maybe sonic damage as the instruments try to reset, or psychic damage for breaking the aesthetic of the magical room). It needn’t be a ton of damage per misstep, but ignoring the dance and just walking across the room should add up to a significant amount of damage altogether.
3. Keep On Dancing (2nd movement)
This is similar to what is above, except that there are zombies (or whatever monster suits your fancy) already dancing the dance. The party can fight the monsters, but must do so while remaining in-step with the dance, else they take the damage. This can add an interesting tactical element if your party has controllers who can force the enemies out of step (immobilization or slowing powers), in which case they, too, would take damage from the room.
4. Keep On Dancing (3rd movement)
In this variation, the party is either attempting to sneak up on an enemy noble in the midst of a giant dance, or they are attempting to protect a noble from assassination. The dance, however, is held by one of the Arch Fey, who sets very specific rules for the dance floor (which explains the damage). While going about their task, the party must avoid attracting the ire of the powerful Fey Lord by doing whatever they are doing while staying in-step with the dance. This has the added fun of letting party members who do move out-of-step make bluff checks to try and look as if they were still in-step, though it’s up to them whether they want to try bluffing someone like Queen Mab or one another Fairy Royal.
5. Soothing the Savage Beasts
The Bell Tower at the edge of Monster Valley has been attacked, and some of its many Mithral bells have been stolen by thieves. Now it cannot play its magical melodies to keep nearby monsters calm, which could mean that rampaging hordes of monsters will soon rush out of the valley into the civilized lands. The party must either track down the stolen bells or find enough Mithral (and a smith of enough skill) to recast them. For an epic finale to this adventure, you can have the party’s brutes fight off charging monsters (of increasing difficulty) while the more magically-minded make Arcana checks to try and place the bells properly.
6. One Song, Glory
An ancient Bard who is friends with the party knows that he is not long for this world. He wishes to write one last song, so that he will be remembered throughout the ages. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have any material worthy of such a song. He asks the party to go retrieve several famous magic items, then return to tell him of the epic adventures they had to engage in to retrieve them. As a twist, you could have one of the items on some old adventurer’s mantle, given freely to the party when they ask for it… which might mean that they have to invent the story of what monsters they killed to retrieve it. If you’re a cruel DM (and really, which of us aren’t, from time-to-time), you can kill the old Bard off before the party returns, prompting them to write the song themselves to honor their departed friend.
A quick search of Youtube for “epic music” will yield hour-long sets from all sorts of artists that make great generic background music.
If you’re more of a hands-on soundtrack person, you might consider an app called Syrinscape. It’s a free app (with the option to purchase additional settings). Each setting has a variety of preset background noises to play, but you can customize each, adjusting volume and components. Seascape with ominous music? Sure, but let’s turn off the seagull noises. Really a fun tool.
The final tool I suggest is movie soundtracks. Specifically, movie score soundtracks. If you’re running Ravenloft, find a horror movie score. For a sweeping journey through a vast landscape… try Braveheart or Last of the Mohicans. For a combat-heavy session, maybe Mortal Kombat. And when your party succeeds, it never hurts to have the Final Fantasy victory music ready on your phone (one of my D&D Encounters players has this, and it never gets old).
Speaking of Final Fantasy, many video games have soundtrack designers, and a lot of them will release those scores as separate albums, too. The Resident Evil 2 game soundtrack is a particular favorite of mine.