I’ve talked about how I use music to help me flesh out story and character dies, but I haven’t shared what those ideas are. I think even my players don’t know a lot of the songs behind the campaigns unless I make them very explicit. But with all the work I’ve been doing on the Eight Arms wiki, I’ve considered how or whether to put those songs somewhere on there. As long as they’re on my mind it’s as good a time as any to list them.
In case you’re reading this on mobile and don’t feel like loading a million videos, the rest of the article is behind the link.
Song: “All Systems Go” — Krypteria
Campaign: The Eight Arms and the Conqueror Worm
This was the first time I used a song to push the campaign forward, but I did it more for the feel of the campaign than any particular meaning. The lyrics work, sort of; the villain was ready to give everything up and dedicate herself wholeheartedly to her plan, but that’s true of most campaigns. I did lose a bit when the campaign changed from thirteen sessions in my first plans to five sessions when we actually ran it. Given that time I could have worked a lot more in.
Song: “Karma” — Kamelot
Campaign: The Eight Arms and the Empire of Sin
Here, the campaign came first. We decided we were going to run a campaign set in some version of the Wild West, but I didn’t have a good idea for a villain or his/her motivations. This song gave me the seed I needed. A king is reaching the end of his life and realizes he’s wasted it, so he’s going to make a grand gesture to improve the world and hopefully that will make up for all the bad he’s done. This grand gesture will probably kill a lot of people, but it will make the world a better place. It doesn’t work so well mostly because of his advisor, who engineered the whole plan to get the king killed and put himself on the throne.
I really liked the idea of making the villain a tragic figure misled into a catastrophic plan that capitalized on his desperation, specifically because I knew my players wouldn’t care at all. They weren’t going to recognize the conflict between what he wanted to happen and what he knew was inevitable, they only knew that he wasn’t going to stop unless somebody stopped him. That sort of moral dilemma appeals to me in villains. They’re not bad guys, they’re just guys doing bad things, and that will come to a head in a campaign or two.
Song: “The Unforgiving Blade” — Hammerfall
Campaign: The Eight Arms and the Unforgiving Blade
The story of this campaign was a mission of revenge. The Eight Arms’ founder fought in a war for territory some time ago (twenty years, if I’m allowed to let the song lyrics write a PC’s backstory). During that war, several members of a specific well-known family died in battles where the founder happened to be present. One of the last surviving members of the family saw it as a personal vendetta (“He was at every battle? That can’t be a coincidence!”) and moved to assassinate the founder via a magical poison that would cause as much suffering as possible. The party had to chase the villain down and find the antidote.
The song is from the point of view of the villain, cursing the founder for imagined slights and his subsequent success and popularity. It doesn’t apply much to the campaign plot because it’s all in his head, but the music fits the story’s pacing fairly well, including the stark, driving bit at the end right before everything breaks down. Part of this was intentional (the last few days feature few battles, because I felt the tension would increase more through skills checks and player decision-making than through turn-by-turn combat) and, I’ll admit, part was not (“Cripes, at this rate we won’t make it to the last day by the final session. Alright, double-time!”).
Song: “Any Means Necessary” — Hammerfall
Campaign: The Eight Arms and the Memento Mori
Finally, an official link.
This one was interesting because I didn’t link it to the villain until after the campaign had started. I knew there was a bad guy and he had a magic violin that controlled giant monsters, but I wasn’t entirely clear on his motivation. This song was the hook that made me ask “what’s a goal so big somebody will do literally anything to reach it?”, and from there it wasn’t long until he became an eco-terrorist.
The song also made its way into the rest of the campaign. Yes, the villain was willing to do anything to fend off civilization. But the party also met a rival adventuring group willing to lie, kill, and steal to accomplish some unknown but obviously dangerous task. They ran into a church whose high priest had allied with the villain to carve out their own territory for the glory of the god of tyranny. The nations of the world united and mobilized a military force to raze anything and everything related to the villain so they could stop the church’s attacks. Every major player and group in the campaign operated under an “by any means necessary” policy, up to and including the players when they finally killed the villain in his sleep.
Song: “Ghost Opera” — Kamelot
Campaign: The Umbrageous Sodality and the Ghost Opera
I promise I know more than three bands.
I’d wanted to run a campaign based on this song for years. Originally it was going to feature the same characters from the first Eight Arms campaign, and it’s why their home base city had a theater. When the vigilante campaign came up, everything just clicked, so I shifted the general idea and made it less about “ghosts are doing a dangerous magical ritual” and more about “a specific, punchable person is doing a similar ritual”. I also scrapped the relevant set piece, as I am wont to do. Not bitter at all, though.
Anyway, the campaign was about a nosferatu, a D&D vampire who’s older than most but unable to create any further vampires. The nosferatu found a magical ritual he was planning on using to convert most of a city’s upper crust into various kinds of subservient vampires under his control. Most of the campaign was the party finding out about the ritual and countering every step of his plan, but it wasn’t until the very end when they got around to stopping the actual music that powered the ritual. What finally killed him was the “walls so white” at the beginning of the song, when the party restarted a spell that caused the opera house itself to glow like sunlight.
Song: “A Tap Dancer’s Dilemma” — Diablo Swing Orchestra
Campaign: Wrath of the Cosmic Accountant
I think this song came before the campaign idea, but I’m not entirely certain. In the most evil city in the world, a ridiculously powerful entity summons the most morally-upright people it can find. In order to maintain cosmic balance, the entity is going to destroy the city and everyone in it unless the party can tilt the city’s overall morality to something better.
The lyrics are pretty on-the-nose about how the city needs to be saved, and the best way to do that is to remove the biggest sources of evil and put in place big sources of good. The players mostly focused on the former, because finding crime bosses and hitting them was much quicker than changing the morality of the population, rooting out the corruption in government, or convincing good people and groups from afar to come to the city’s aid. This campaign had a lot of problems; the players told me they interpreted the entity’s soft time limit as a very hard “solve every problem rapidly or everybody will die and there is no leeway” limit, which gave us serious pacing issues exacerbated by the campaign’s intentional sandbox design. Then, right as the campaign was getting going, I left town for half a year. Unlike the song, the campaign had no satisfying conclusion.