Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gaming Soundtracks: Conan the Barbarian

I love using background music when I run an RPG. Before I got into gaming I was already a big fan of film scores, and after becoming a gamer my fondness for games and cinematic music have supported each other in a way that I find extra satisfying. When I get a new RPG, I feel the need to find just the right music to accompany it, and when I get a new movie soundtrack, I just have to find a way to use it in a game.

Today I’d like to celebrate the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack by Basil Poledouris (1982). Its use as background music for a fantasy game like 13th Age should be obvious, but the album is also useful in supporting action games in general. Despite its origins in the 80s, the music isn’t too dated.

One reason I like the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack is that it isn't strongly branded. Some fantasy soundtracks are riddled with themes that most listeners easily recognize if they've seen the movie. You don't have to listen too long before you realize you're hearing a Lord of the Rings or a Harry Potter soundtrack. That can be fine, but I prefer my background soundtrack to blend in well enough that it could have been composed specifically for my game.

Here's a list of the tracks on Conan the Barbarian, along with any comments I have about each one. I also list a few keywords to describe the music (such as its mood and tempo), plus my ideas about how a GM might use the piece in a game.

(Note: while writing this, I noticed that a Blu-Ray combo pack of the 2 Conan movies (Conan: The Complete Quest (Conan the Barbarian / Conan the Destroyer)) is coming out on June 14, 2016. I don’t get a cut if you order it from that link; I just wanted to point you to it in case you’re itching to see the movies now like I am. I also discovered a 3 CD version of the soundtrack that I didn’t know about. Dammit.)
  1. Anvil of Crom. I skip this track because of the chronicler's voiceover. The music is good, though, starting at 1:04. I do like the voiceover when I'm listening to the soundtrack in a non-gaming context. I just don't want my game interrupted by someone else talking.
  2. Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom. This track is light, fast, and somewhat whimsical. It features chanting vocals and sounds heroic. Useful for traveling music or marching into battle.
  3. Gift of Fury. This one is sad and serious, with Latin-sounding vocals.
  4. Wheel of Pain. Slow, serious. Good for a non-combat dramatic scene, or to indicate something menacing drawing inexorably nearer.
  5. Atlantean Sword. Slow, mystical, wondrous. Good for exploration, or to convey a sense of wonder. Would work well for visiting some new place, especially if it's magical.
  6. Theology/Civilization. Slow, peaceful, with flutes and chimes. Good for traveling through or visiting a village or kingdom.
  7. Wifeing (Theme of Love). Slow, serious, begins somewhat mournful but progresses to a more happy theme. (Or maybe that's just my interpretation.)
  8. Leaving/The Search. Slow, serious, but not too somber. Picks up a bit at the 2 minute mark. Might be good for traveling, or background to a dramatic conversation. Or for a travel montage.
  9. Mountain of Power Procession. Driving, serious but upbeat. Good for battle preparation or visiting a martial location like a gladiatorial arena or a throne room.
  10. Tree of Woe. Tense, suspenseful. Good for a scene of approaching danger. At the 2 minute mark the track turns peaceful and happy, so watch out if that's not how your suspenseful scene ends!
  11. Recovery. Slow, serious but peaceful. Good for representing down time.
  12. Kitchen/The Orgy. Upbeat, cheerful. Good marching music. Could easily represent dwarves heading into battle. When I think of the Conan soundtrack, I think of this piece. "The Orgy" starts at about 2:20, and continues the upbeat, cheerful mood, but in a less-marchy, more peaceful mode. Which is probably appropriate for an orgy.
  13. Funeral Pyre. Somber, as you'd expect from the title. In addition to accompanying sad moments, this track would be useful during dramatic scenes or exploring the ruins of a previous age.
  14. Battle of the Mounds. Driving, serious, orchestral music with vocal chanting. Good for battle music, as you might guess.
  15. Death of Rexnor. Serious, ominous, with some vocal chants. Would be suitable for a momentous occasion (such as a funeral), or for exploring somewhere dangerous.
  16. Orphans of Doom/The Awakening. Slow, peaceful, with a dramatic ending. This would work great as background for exploring a faerie village, or meeting a princess.

Have you done any gaming to the stirring melodies of Conan the Barbarian? What’s YOUR favorite gaming soundtrack?

Friday, May 20, 2016

How to Get YOUR Heroes Into a Civil War

You'll have to do a little extra clicking for this one. (One. One extra clicking.) I wrote this post as a guest writer for Gnome Stew.

How to Get YOUR Heroes Into a Civil War

Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Son's Famous Dad

James K. Polk Theater, Nashville, TN

I found out what it takes to make my teenager proud of me: getting my face up on a movie screen!

Let me back up a bit. My wife and son and I are big fans of RiffTrax, the former Mystery Science 3000 guys who now produce downloadable movie commentary tracks (the “riff tracks”). Better still, the RiffTrax crew also do live in-theater movie riffs a few times a year.

When the latest riff—Time Chasers--came to a theater within driving range, I had to go see it in person. (They record the riffing at one theater and broadcast it to a few hundred others.) I wanted to take my son, but it was a school night (a Thursday, even). He was staying with his mom that week, so she and I agreed it would be best not to mention the show to him. Didn’t want the boy to be upset that he couldn’t go.

So, it was just my wife and me at the Nashville show. We loved it! Before the show, some camera operators rounded up a bunch of fans wearing MST-related shirts and had us cheer for the camera. They like to splice in shots from the live showing for rebroadcast to the other theaters, and for the eventual DVD release. As you might imagine, I was dressed appropriately, so they put me in this group too. Indeed, I was the only one wearing an actual RiffTrax shirt, so they even pulled me aside after this shot to get a bit of me by myself, cheering like an idiot. (This was only halfway difficult for me. I don’t like being singled out, but I do like getting attention for my carefully selected nerdrobe. You know, nerd-wardrobe? I just coined that. You can use it.)

OK, cut to two weeks later. As they always do, the theaters ran an encore showing of the recorded RiffTrax event, and this time I was able to take the boy. I knew there was a chance he would see me in the post-movie-rabid-fan-footage, so I braced myself to tell him the above story. (You didn’t think I wrote all that for YOU, did you?) And to tell him how sorry I was that he couldn’t go with us in person two weeks ago.

When he saw my mug on screen, the boy went nuts! But in a good way! He said “Oh my god! That’s you!” His mouth was hanging open, I mean literally. They showed me again. “That’s awesome!” He kept saying that over and over again. On the way out of the theater, he told me that seeing me on the movie screen made his day.

My boy is only 13, but in attitude he is already a capital-T Teenager. He doesn't want take part in a lot of the activities we used to share, or shows we used to watch, and spends a lot of his time practicing his eye-roll and his unimpressed-glare. So it's great to learn that I can still impress him. All I have to do is...get my mug up on a movie screen.

But what am I gonna do when he's FOURteen?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Kickstarter Watch: Rifts for Savage Worlds

Here’s another Kickstarter project I’m backing: Rifts for Savage Worlds.

From the project description:

All that was, destroyed in atomic fire and arcane Armageddon, brought about a world full of magic and monsters, cybernetic post-humanism, and infinite potential for greatness...and disaster.
This is the terrifying and wonderful world of Rifts®. Originally released in 1990, this “anything and everything” setting features over-the-top action, super-powered heroes, and an exceptionally deep canon of content and story.

I haven’t played Rifts before (because I like something more lightweight than the original Palladium system), but I’m looking forward to trying this version. It’s got power armor, mechs, psionics, sorcerers, cyborgs, super-soldiers, and two words that tend to make Rifts players drool: “mega damage."

Also, Pinnacle is doing their usual excellent job of adding value to the Kickstarter campaign. They've produced five PDFs (so far) containing content previews and Design Diary entries, and the project has cleared lots of stretch goals (33 at this moment). My favorite is the one that expands the page count of the Player’s Guide—but I’m also excited about the added bookmarks because yay bookmarks!

The Rifts for Savage Worlds Kickstarter ends on May 19.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

International TableTop Day 2016

For this year’s International TableTop Day, the theme was “Keith plays a lot of games and doesn’t win any of them but has a great time anyway.” (Hey, that was last year’s theme, too!)

Here are the games my friends and I played. (I wanted to find a public venue for some gaming, but couldn’t locate a good one.)

(Image by Geek & Sundry)

Game 1: Tsuro

This was my first time playing Tsuro. It’s been on my list since seeing it played on Tabletop, and I bit this week when I spotted it at my favorite local game store. My son—very much a NON tabletop gamer—joined my wife and me in this first game, and he won! He was proud. See?

See the evil? Do you see it?

I’m happy to have Tsuro in my collection. It’s simple, fast, easy to learn, easy to play, and you can pour as little or as much strategy into it as you wish. Another bonus is that it can support up to 8 players.

Game 2: Cthulhu Wars

This is both a game full of monsters, and a monster of a game. And it’s another that I hadn’t played before today. It’s a conquer-the-world kind of game, only the conquerers are all Lovecraftian Great Old Ones figuring out who gets to own the earth. The pieces (monsters) are large and attractive, and each of the 4 factions in the base game play very differently than the others. I played as the Crawling Chaos. Next time I hope to be Great Cthulhu himself, because his spells and abilities were super cool. Like being able to turn a cultist (basically a pawn) into a Deep One.

NOT a representative photo. The Great Old One figures
are much more massive than these cute lil monsters.

My friend Jeff won this game, because (a) he’s a skilled, strategic player, and (b) his wife Shannon and I spent most of the early game fighting each other, giving Jeff plenty of time to spread his Great Old seed across the map. (Eww.)

Game 3: Poo

I brought back Poo (the game) from GenCon for my friend Jay a year or two ago, and we took this opportunity to fling some more at each other. We tried to talk my son into playing it with us, but he strangely thought that the game sounded silly. (Kids today.)

Here's Poo on Jay's fancy gaming table.

Jay won. I thew lots of poo at him, but somehow kept getting it back in my face. He’s SO GOOD at flinging poo. (I should probably mention this is a card game, not a LARP.)

Game 4: Villains of the Multiverse

This one is Jay’s latest acquisition, an expansion to the excellent Sentinels of the Multiverse. In this variant, each player manages a villain deck in addition to their hero deck. In theory, this is a team of super-villains who are individually weaker than the single villains you fight in the base game. In our experience, each one of the villains nearly kicked our super-asses.

Early in the game, before I was crushed. (Of course I'm not bitter!)

I was knocked out of the game early, because the villain I chose (Greazer) was an intergalactic bounty hunter whose only goal was to take ME out. We decided the best thing for the team would be to let him do so, while we focused damage on the other villains—because when Greazer takes out his target, he effectively leaves the game. The other players successfully defeated the remaining villains, but it was close; I think the other heroes ended the game with about 3 hit points each.

Game 5: More Tsuro

We squeezed in another game of Tsuro because I wanted Jeff, Shannon, and Jay to try it; they hadn’t been around for game 1. Logan won again!

Game 6: Epic Spell Wars of The Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre

And at last we come to my current favorite game! This is another one I learned about on Tabletop, and that episode can demonstrate the game better than I could describe it here. But I do want to praise the game’s chaotic nature.

That tower has no function.

The game’s premise is that you’re assembling spell components from the cards in your hand and casting them to hurt your opponents, and I love how fun it is to pick a few cards that might end up helping OR hurting you. I don’t worry much about the consequences of a bad play in this game, because even when you lose, you get a “dead wizard” card that gives you a boost when you start over in the next round.

A full three-card spell.

We played two rounds of this one. I didn’t win either, but I did get to knock Jay out. And that, my friends, is sometimes all I need.

The board at top is my character. The cards at
bottom are treasures. Made just for me.