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"Whaddahell?"

 

A hale and hearty "whazzup!" from the wilds of NYC, where the Bronx is up, the Battery's down, and spring is bustin' out all over. Allow me to introduce myself: I'm Gareth-Michael Skarka, freelance RPG designer, writer and general ne'er-do-well. It will be my inestimable pleasure to act as your guide over the coming months through the world of Music in RPGs.

I remember the first time that I played a game with a "soundtrack." Back in 1987, a friend of mine was running a Star Wars campaign in our dorm at the University of Kansas. As we began to play, he hit the play button on his CD player remote, and, as he began to intone those famous words-- "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away"-- the opening fanfare of John William's rightfully legendary Star Wars Theme began to fill the room, just under the level of my friends voice. I was instantly hooked. It required little effort on his part-- the music simply elevated what we were doing one step closer to sitting in a darkened theatre and watching the films. The mood was set perfectly.

Immediately thereafter, I began to experiment in the same technique on my own. I didn't do it as much as I do now, largely because at the time my playing experiences were limited to the open meetings of the Kansas University Gamers And Roleplayers club (KUGAR)-- and a large common room filled with 50 or so gamers is not the location in which to experiment with mood-setting techniques. Gradually, as club members began to gravitate into distinct playing groups, and began to meet in private rooms, and off-campus apartments, the stage was set for the grand experiment. One game came along that made it all possible.

Vampire.

I started a Vampire chronicle immediately after returning to school following GenCon 91. I had purchased the game when it initially came out, but seemed incapable of getting any of my friends interested in playing. When they saw the all-out blitz that was the White Wolf presence at GenCon 91, that all changed-- I was inundated with requests to run it-- which I gladly did.

The presence of a myriad of lyrical quotes throughout the rulebook (regardless of their hazy legality) immediately put one in a musical mind. Before the chronicle had begun, I had created a mix tape of background music, alternating between classical pieces and modern rock, gothic and rap compositions. This became the first in what was to become a series of 6 tapes for this campaign alone. The players became enamored of the idea, and soon we had "guest soundtracks" making appearances as well. Soundtracks for our campaigns became a staple of our gaming from then on.

This column will serve a twofold purpose. I will discuss the techniques of using music in your games-- everything from technical pointers to gaming theory. I will talk about the merits of CDs vs tapes, about what music works for what genres, even about the composition of original music for those of you with the means to do so (a topic inspired by the efforts of Event Horizon Production president John Phythyon, who, as one of the most multi-talented players I've ever had the joy to be associated with, one day arrived at my apartment with a cassette of originally composed music, performed on a synthesizer and multi-tracked by overdubbing, for our JAMES BOND 007 campaign-- but more on that another month).

Second, I will provide reviews of CDs, with their use as role-playing background music specifically in mind. These will range from comments of general suitability, to track-by-track discussions of their possible usage. Those reviews will be linked directly to the CD's entry at Amazon.com, so if you are intrigued by what you read, you can order it directly and have it delivered to you. The musical selection will be diverse, and hopefully surprising-- we won't just cover the usual suspects of RPG music (soundtracks, gothic, etc.)-- but will give you options you might not have considered (swing, ambient, folk, guerilla-lesbian-thrash-country-- well, OK, maybe not that last one). If any of this serves to expand your horizons and improve your gaming experiences, then I will have done my job.

So, sorry-- no reviews this month. They begin in earnest with the next column. If you have any recommendations or comments or hell, even flames-- bring 'em on. I can be reached at the email address listed below.

Sound off,
Gareth-Michael Skarka
audio@rpg.net

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