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Monday Music: Music Parallelism

I've been thinking about music parallelism lately - using different versions of the same song for different moments (or using two different but similar sounding songs). When a familiar melody from a past important moment starts playing again, different yet still immediately recognizable, players will immediately think back to that moment, and also wonder what the musical change entails.

The dual nature of using parallel songs lets you achieve a number of different effects. You can show how something has evolved or changed, maybe due to the players' actions, maybe IN SPITE of their actions; you can have a slow/fast-paced combination to use as foreshadowing/eventual reveal; or even something that is literally parallel like a mirror universe or a "dark world" alternate reality.

Tristram Village

I recently used the Tristram Village theme in a Monday Music post, but I've since discovered a track on the Death Note (anime) soundtrack that sounds remarkable similar. You could use the second song to represent the same village, only years later, or after some significant event - showing that while things in the village have changed (like the song), at heart it's still the same place (the music sounding very similar).

Ave Satani

This is the song that original made me want to start using parallel audio cues. The first, original version of this song would be perfect for an evil god's plane, lair, temple or whatever. Something that firmly associates the god with the song. The second song, fast-paced and rocking guitar, would be great for the inevitable epic battle with said evil god.

Those Who Fight

One of the best sources of roleplaying music ever, the Final Fantasy series is also awesome because there are different versions of so many of its songs. Whether it be fanmade, from a movie inspired by one of the games, or even a spinoff game, there are countless FF renditions to pick from. The following songs are all version of the Final Fantasy 7 battle music "Those Who Fight." The second song is a great modernized version of the original, and the third is something completely different - a discordant yet beautiful piano version.

One Winged Angel

Probably one of the most famous Final Fantasy songs, this one actually worked on me via parallelism - I was familiar with the original version, I heard it again in Final Fantasy spinoff game Kingdom Hearts and instantly went "Oh shit!" upon hearing it, which is EXACTLY what I believe DMs can achieve with good music selection in their campaigns. The third version is the mind-blowing version that was in the Final Fantasy 7 movie, Advent Children. Listen to the first two and picture those songs playing as the party fought a villain during Heroic and Paragon tiers - enough so that they associate the villain to the song. Then listen to the third video and picture the terror on their faces as they realize just who's back for revenge.

Anatomy of a One-Shot

Last week our D&D night was a special one-shot session that still took place in our regular campaign continuity. One of our players was moving away, so we wanted to play one last time before he left. Fortunately, we happened to be directly between chapters and not buried in some dungeon, but I didn't want to start the next chapter since the moving player wouldn't get to see any of it anyway. It took some brainstorming, but I was able to weave together enough loose ends and dormant plot hooks into a cohesive and fun night, while still remaining relevant to the long-term campaign!

In my opinion, when you run a one-shot that takes place as part of your regular campaign, it's a great opportunity for the DM to:
• Expand on NPC personalities and their relationships to the party
• Sprinkle plot hooks, clues and hints that you might neglect during a busy "real" session
• Let the players really guide the night and do what they want; it's not part of the "real" plot or storyline so let them have fun! It's a perfect time to look back at what silly/unexpected things the players really latched onto and had fun with, and focus on those things for a few hours.

Previous Events

A while back, the party fought off a rampaging Umber Hulk and saved some innocent civilians. However, the highlight of that night wasn't their heroics, but instead how they saw a little cart on the official map labeled Meat on a Stick. Being typical D&D players, the instantly fixated on this random little stand and, after some improvised vendor dialogue, purchased the "franchise" and started elaborate plans to turn it into a lucrative business. (Players. Sigh.)

In a different incident, a local inn a short distance away from town was ransacked by bandits and mostly destroyed about a year ago. The players fought off the bandits but were too late to save the innkeep & workers. Since then it's been cleaned up but abandoned. The party purchased the deed to turn it into Meat on a Stick's headquarters.

The party is also in an ongoing war with local thieves guild The Last Laugh, having thwarted their efforts on numerous occasions. Both sides hate the other.

What I decided to go with as the basis for the session was the Grand Opening of Meat on a Stick, rebuilt on the old, destroyed inn. I let them pretty much design the layout and floorplan of the restaurant themselves (which was a lot of fun for everyone), working with a big supply of D&D tiles on the table. I then had the NPC author of our campaign newspaper arrive and suggest they hold a grand opening event, so he could write a restaurant review in the newspaper. Naturally there would need to be important city dignitaries and officials at such an important grand opening...

Two encounters is a perfect amount for a one-shot night, and this worked out perfectly - one encounter would be the party getting the required meat for the night (huge, rare animals captured and brought back by their ogre chef), in a huge melee right in the restaurant's backyard. The other encounter was a surprise ambush by the Last Laugh during the meal, a dual purpose assault to both injure/kill the PC's and to damage their reputation by killing the dignitaries.

This led to some great creative goofiness as the party came up with insane ideas for entertaining the guests, such as enchanting all the cutlery to sing songs and serving all sorts of bizarre, exotic meat (dire lion chops, portal drake stew and phase spider pudding were all on the menu).

There was also some nice individual roleplaying time as the players got to play their characters in non-combat situations, and expand on their individual quirks and personalities a bit. The barbarian decided that he wasn't going to serve anyone and acted as the bouncer. Meanwhile, the warforged cleric took the opportunity to chat up the mayor about the many benefits of establishing an all-construct city guard. Additionally, they got to interact and chat with important NPC's who, though they had met them before, had never really received equal table time with the party. Important NPC's who will soon play major roles in the campaign...

The Last Laugh's attack caught the party completely off-guard, and was surprisingly emotional, as it was the first time the thieves guild had proactively attacked the party instead of vice versa. Since Meat on a Stick was the party's precious baby, they took the attack very, very personally. It was also very interesting watching the party actually be concerned about property damage and such for the first time EVER.

At the end of the night, Meat on a Stick had gone from a funny running joke to an actual, in-game thing, many essential NPC's had been fleshed out, and the Last Laugh hate was stronger than ever. In retrospect, it's probably good to run sessions like this once in a while, to let the players' actions dictate the night's events, tie up loose ends and plant some nice plot/story hooks for the future.

Achievements in D&D, part 2

No music spotlight today - instead, update on the D&D Achievements system! We finally managed some D&D game time on the weekend, for the first time in months. I've been gradually adding more and more achievements to my master list for some time now, and decided to implement them in Saturday's game.

I printed all the achievements I'd come up with on 2.5" x 3.5" cardstock cards (baseball card size) with the name, point value, and criteria (and a little line at the bottom for the achiever to write their name). An empty box to check when the points had been spent, and I was ready to go.

I told my players, and they were excited about this new element of the game. One thing I was sure to emphasize was that in general, each achievement would only be attainable once, ever. I told them it would make sense later.

The first achievement

About 20 minutes into the game, the first achievement was given out! It was one for rolling over a 30 on a skill check. This was a perfect opportunity to explain why each achievement was only attainable once - in this case, it was so that the other players, upon learning of the criteria for an achievement, didn't go out of their way making silly skill checks or stacking bonuses to get a result over 30. I think that unlike video games, purposefully "farming" achievements would ruin the game and get everyone distracted and preoccupied with metagame thinking.

Problem: Tracking long-term stats

I quickly ran into a predicament with some of the achievements though. Long-term ones such as "kill 100 enemies with melee attacks" quickly made me realize that I need some sort of easy recording method, as it's quite tough to keep track of in the heat of battle, especially when you're running half a dozen monsters and numerous abilities, status effects, etc. A master list with each player's name & current kill count already written down will help. Since this is an ongoing, permanent stat sheet, it should be easy to keep updated.

Problem: Tracking short-term, temporary stats

The other type of achievement that caused me headache were the short-term ones such as "Fail 5 saving throws in a row." Not only did I need to track each PC when they had a status effect, but if they saved against the effect and then received a new one, I had to start counting all over again. I haven't yet figured out a nice way to handle these.

For both of these, I could ask the players to help me, but I think asking them to keep track of how many saves you fail in a row would tip them off that there's an achievement related somehow, which I want to avoid.

Problem: Need More Achievements!

One player got a little disappointed after pulling off a phenomenal series of actions to keep the entire party AND a room full of important dignitary NPC's alive, and not getting an achievement for his efforts. We laughed about it, and I told him flat out that I mistakenly forgot to design some healing achievements (though I do have a long-term one for restoring 15 allies from negative HP to positives).

While this wasn't a big deal, it did slightly set off alarm bells that getting achievements was already an important objective in my players' minds, despite there being nothing to redeem the points for yet! I'm hoping this was just because they were new and fun, and everyone wanted one.

Overall, the achievements were a great success. For next time, I'm going to try to come up with some better bookkeeping methods, and maybe a fun little sound to play when an achievement is received - maybe the Final Fantasy victory jingle?

Monday Music: Unstoppable

One of the most vivid, dramatic campaign scenes is when the party has to take on titanic being that looms over them, massively powerful and destructive. These songs have deep bass-like qualities that convey a feeling of immense size and invincibility, an unstoppable force that everything flees from.

Shingun (Marching Army)

Source: Fullmetal Alchemist OST 3

In Labors & Dangers ~Fortitudo~

Source: Bayonetta [Xbox 360]

Bridge Battle

Source: Lair [PS3]

Mood: Power, enormous size, unstoppable, impending disaster

Summary: These songs would fit any situation where the party is faced with something that they really can't slash or magic down - maybe it's a huge, primordial being awakened from dormancy, an army of hulking warforged juggernauts bearing down on a city, or even something more mundane like a volcano eruption. They all feel very epic, and would be perfect to use as in a campaign/chapter final battle.

These songs would be perfect for:
• A gargantuan, godly creature that dwarfs the party
• A driven, mindless, merciless construct army destroying all in their path
• The end of the world, when the fate of humanity/earth/existence is at stake