Law A

The Laws started as kind of a tongue-in-cheek breakdown of my DMing style, which is how they got wording like “players can screw themselves over” that would get me laughed out of Wikipedia. Originally the list was longer and included less serious items that were there for the humor value rather than as recurring, representative tenets. As I started rewriting them, especially for this site, a lot of them fell by the wayside, but there’s one that I had a real hard time cutting:

Law A – Everybody important should have a theme song.

Interestingly, this wasn’t a law I rejected because my style moved beyond it. If anything, I believe it now more than ever, made easier since I’m taking a laptop to sessions and have a means for playing music. This one fell by the wayside because the players universally rejected it. The players I had at the time, and actually any players I’ve mentioned it to since, felt very strongly that their characters should not have theme songs for reasons I never fully understood. And since a law isn’t a law if it only applies to half the population, this one never made it to the list proper.

That said, it hasn’t stopped me from using music wherever I can get away with it. In my post on set pieces I mentioned that I based one around the theme songs of a group of NPCs, and I still assign theme songs to significant antagonists. I find that it helps flesh them out a little, in that the style of the music accents their personality and it gives me some key phrases, epithets, or background that I can integrate into the character. Two characters with very similar stats feel very different when one appears to a jaunty jazz piece and another gets ominous Latin chanting.

The strongest example of this was in The Great Tower of Oldechi, where the party had spent the campaign dealing with a group of NPCs who blah blah blah I wrote about this last time. The music didn’t actually come into play until the set piece I describe, but I did name all of the NPCs after songs from the same band, Iron Savior. I then named that group of NPCs “the Iron Saviors”, fitting because their goal was to build a war machine to break everybody of the campaign setting, which they interpreted as a prison. Their motto was “Observe, Protect, Preserve”, a line in the chorus of the song Titans of Our Time, which was not only the leader’s theme song but spelled out most of their plan.

I only had two members of the Iron Saviors written (“Starchaser” Noma and “Running” Riot) before I decided on their plan, so the remaining members (“Mindfeeder” Ixxiata, “Ironbound” Nevitash, “Cybernetic Queen” Aine, and Mike [with his jetpack, named “Thunderbird”]) were designed by finding a song and building an NPC around it, which was startlingly successful. It also gave me an idea for lower-level creatures, the Predators, that the NPCs could use to assist and later antagonize the players before the final battle. It’s safe to say that the group wouldn’t have been as cohesive or memorable without the music behind them, and memorable villains are usually the best for one reason or another.

But beyond that, I also like giving theme songs to the campaigns themselves. It works in largely the same way; it helps with the feel of the campaign, gives me some ideas I hadn’t considered, and adds general background. Occasionally I even integrate the lyrics into the plot, to the point where a player that determines the theme song can learn non-critical plot details ahead of time. (Hint: nobody ever has.) Though I sort of feel that if I’m going to give a campaign a theme song then the players should know about it. I may start mentioning them on the campaigns’ websites, once I get over my tendency to only use big band or power metal songs.

A part of me feels like this is something I can bring back. The players liked the combat music enough to request it for later sessions, even if the logistics of the table didn’t support it. And when I mentioned that an NPC in Wrath of the Cosmic Accountant was entering the room to his own theme song, the players asked to hear it. I think I’m going to ask my current players to try and come up with one for their characters and see what comes up. I can guarantee that this law will be in effect for the Awesome Campaign, so I might as well get everybody used to it.

So if you’re currently reading this and in one of my campaigns, surprise! You have homework!

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4 Responses to Law A

  1. Yanni says:

    I definitely think that having appropriate music playing for a campaign is important. I’d love to have a set of 2-6 “mood” themed playlists I could easily switch between when DMing… I don’t think specific theme songs are a bad idea per se; to be honest, in general I’d prefer unrecognized or unfamiliar music most of the time. Getting something epic from Lord of the Rings or The Matrix for a big boss battle can be a great enhancer, but generally you don’t want your players singing along with the “theme music” … well, maybe if you have a bard.

    That said, I think next campaign that I have a bard in, I’m going to make them responsible for keeping appropriately themed music playing at all times.

  2. Dave Fried says:

    I’ve always wanted to use one of the Final Fantasy fight tracks as background for a boss fight. Track 20 (“Still More Fighting”) from the FF7 OST is probably my favorite.

    But yeah, mood music is a big deal even if you don’t tie it to the current scene or featured character. We’ve done nothing but mood music for our Friday Night Apocalypse games – it was actually one of my requirements as MC.

    Unfortunately, there is never enough cello.

  3. Amanda says:

    I have entire playlists on my iPod devoted to campaigns and characters (and video game settings). Playlists and songs go a long way toward establishing world mood and facets of character personality. Makes good sense. Mage never would have hit a certain level of hilarity if we didn’t have 80s music in the background every week.

    The rub with character themes is that it can be hard to go with only one for a PC. Facets. It’s easy to peg an NPC with a thing, but I’ve found that my PCs usually need two songs to hit the high notes– dark and light, or nature and demeanor, etc.

    While Finnola (“Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows” and “Kiseki No Umi” from Record of Lodoss War) and Signy (“The Hand that Feeds”, “Dog Days are Over”, and “Through the Fire and Flames”) have had songs for a long time, I guess I need to start brainstorming for Nate!!

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