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[brainstorm] Use of Music and/or Singing as Mechanics

Started by David Artman, May 08, 2007, 11:50:37 AM

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David Artman

Hi, folks;

Due to other threads here at The Forge and at, I have begun thinking about how one could use music performance, singing, both, or some other poesy (wordplay, poetry, haikus) as actual game MECHANICS--NOT in-character performances for in-game benefits, but actual resolution mechanics; the system, NOT ephemera.

To help drive this thinking, I'd like to start a brainstorming session in this thread. This being a fairly '"high theory" concept, I suggest the following lines of thought or questions to answer, during deliberations:

1) What is the actual method of beginning, continuing, and resolving your concept for use of music or poesy?
2) What "feel" or "mood" would your mechanic typically engender? And thus...
3) Is there a particular style of play, genre, or tone that is better supported by your idea?

Any takers?
Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

David Artman

One idea, to prime the pump, from that thread:

A Dangerous Liaisons game in which sexual encounters were acted using poetry; the longer and better your poetry... well, the longer and better your, uh, service to your partner. It must be presumed that performing well lead to some future influence over that character. This strikes me as a VERY smooth way to handle a VERY problematic element of live action play (sexuality), while also evoking the feel of the movie itself (the romantic poetry is akin to the letters flying back and forth between the various lovers). Further, it solves the "recognition problem" that's often an issue in LARPs: how can other players tell from a reasonable distance what's happening between you and your opponent/paramour?

Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Jason Morningstar

My first thought is a negative one, in that player talent and skill is powerfully foregrounded if you use music as a resolution element.  Not that this is necessarily bad, but it would need to be addressed.

My mind keeps returning to ritual phrasing, openings and closings.  What if you sing to turn away trouble, and singing together is more powerful than singing alone (it is, actually).  Hmm.

Simon C

I remember an old computer adventure game (Loom?), where your character had spells that were combinations of musical notes.  If you wanted to cast the "Dye" spell (which turned things green), you had to remember that it was B, A, B, A#, B.  Learning a new spell meant listening to it being cast, and hearing the notes, and then practicing until you could play it right.  There was a little stave at the bottom of the screen which you could click on to produce different notes.  It was a fun game, but pretty difficult for the musically inept. 

I can see this translating to an RPG, but it would take a pretty encylopedic knowledge and perfect pitch on the part of the GM, which is a bit of a hurdle.  If everyone had a recorder or a similar instrument, that would simplify things. 

I love the idea of group involvement making stronger effects, that's sweet.


As a curative for the "I roll to hit" mentality, I did once have the idea of a game which I called "Figures of Speech" in which plot points were awarded for roleplay based on the number of literary figures of speech and allusions that one worked into their play. So a metaphor  or simile might be worth 1, an extended metaphore would add points for each time the metaphor was used, mixed metaphors would be worth 2 points (it was a tongue-in-cheek game concept), puns could be worth 2 points (unless they were really bad and then the group could award additional points). Other points could be scored for assonance, aliteration, end-rhymes, automotopia (sp?). Literary allusions would also score points.

I haven't taken this beyond the concept stage, however. The biggest drawback is that it would favor players that actually had a level of comfort with wordplay, as opposed to playing characters that possessed the skill.
James R.


My first reaction is to raise the matter of practicality: I happen to have a clarinet, an upright bass, and seven kinds of flute, but none of my other gamer buddies have so much as a mouth harp.

My second reaction is: if for some reason I had all my friends in a room with musical instruments, we'd rapidly be not gaming, but jamming. ;)

However! Singing and poetry have great potential because they
1) Don't require any sort of special gear,
2) Can be entertaining even when done poorly, and
3) Lend themselves to participation and assistance.

In practice, these would play out like rhyming games, improv singing, and spontaneous poetry.

Thematically, Cyrano's ballade battle comes instantly to mind... this is the sort of mechanic I'd employ for extended, complex tests. Fencing, choreography, debates... architecture/crafting? Anything where style counts as much as completion. Didn't the residents of Hell as depicted in Sandman go through a rhyming fad? The quirk with poetry as a mechanic is that sometimes someone can come up with the right word instantly, and sometimes not even after five minutes. So, such tests should be reserved for the events that really command full attention.

Would you give different weight to different forms? To completely mix metaphors, couplets would be a bunt, ABAB quatrains a double, limmericks a triple, and ballads a home run? The advantage of the classic forms is players will know without a doubt when the test is over, and can learn to budget their words appropriately.

Tests could be resolved through solo efforts, duets, trios, and so on. Participation could be cooperative (setting your allies up with good lines to resolve the stanza) or competitive (incorporating a word your opponent will find very tough to rhyme). Challenges could be started with a random line from the Sonnets, which the players then have to run with.

Heh-- there'd have to be a "Silver Orange" clause to the rules, recognizing that certain words just kill the whole process.

David Artman

Good replies so far; I'll  throw another one into the hat (similar to okaynowa's):

Quote...competitive (incorporating a word your opponent will find very tough to rhyme).

This made me think of the game Inigo Montoya and Fezzik would play in The Princess Bride. From that, a method was born:

  • Challenge initiator makes a gesture of some kind, signaling the beginning of a challenge and the opponent (i.e. point, with thumb up, like pantomiming shooting a gun).
  • Initiator makes a statement, asserting what he or she wants (or what he or she is attempting to assert in the narrative space).
  • Opponent must make a counter-argument which ends by rhyming the last word; however, this would merely be a "tie," allowing the initiator to begin again.
  • BUT, if the opponent can rhyme BOTH the first and the last words of the initiator's statement, then he or she "gains initiative" and may make a second statement immediately, which puts the onus on the initiator to rhyme.
  • Whenever a participant can not create a rhyming statement, he or she loses the challenge and ALL the assertions of the other participant become true.

Workable? (Yes, probably needs a Silver Orange rule... or that could be a trumping rhyme!)
Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages