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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Thoughts on 13th Age: Some inspiration for my Dragon Empire

If you have been reading my blog, and really who hasn't been, you'll know that I am running a new campaign using the pre-publication 13th Age rules in the default setting of the game, the Dragon Empire.

One of the great things about the setting is that there is just enough information to provide a lot of great plot hooks and adventure ideas without railroading a game master into a particular mode of play with too much detail.  In the classic formulation in Dungeon World (which is definitely influencing me even while not playing those rules), with the Dragon Empire, they have drawn a map but left blanks to be filled in through play.

So, I am using many tools to help fill in my Dragon Empire.  I have a ton of old Dragon Magazines, access to some Dungeon Magazines too.  I am using a lot of ideas from my players.  I am stealing shamelessly from every fantasy, history, and documentary piece of media (book, movie, game) that I have been exposed to.

But, when I really just need to let my mind take the pieces and try to fit them together in some inspired way I need music.  I have been listening to a lot of different things, and I try to change things up with some frequency.  I have a large playlist, but my MP3 player is a very rugged but "ancient" iRiver that holds just one MB of music.  So, I try to randomize what goes on and change things out (I keep it because I am descended from tight fisted Scots, because it is rugged and I don't to worry about using it every day, and it has a radio on it too and I listen to the news a lot).

However, I have developed a list of musical pieces, mostly movie and game soundtrack music, though some other things drawn from folk/world/and movie trailer music that have become an essential part of any mix.

Since these are, at the moment, my favorite inspirational musical tracks for my Dragon Empire, I though I should share them (with annotations, of course).  In no particular order, they are as follows:

Artist Dead Can Dance
Album Dead Can Dance 1981-1998 (4 Disc Set)
Title(s) Saltarello, Nierika
The first piece I ever heard by Dead Can Dance was Saltarello.  I heard it played on the public radio station in Chicago (WBEZ) on an ecclectic music show hosted by Stuart Rosenberg.  I was transported to another world.  Nierika also does that, and it is a completely different world.  There is a tremendous range in the music here, and I am hoping to infuse those many different flavors into my game.

Artist Knut Avenstroup Haugen
Album Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
Title Ere The World Crumbles . . .
This is an awesome track with amazing vocals and powerful orcehstral music.  It feels like you are entering a mighty world.  The whole album is great, but this is the must have piece for me.

Artist Knut Avenstroup Haugen
Album Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer
Title All Heroes Unite!
This is another amazing album, though I slightly prefer Hyborian Adventures over this, but only slightly.  This is a straight up rousing adventure piece.  The album also has a terrific mix of Asian influenced music, but this is the piece I like to hear often to get my mind on epic adventures.

Artist Loreena McKennitt
Album An Ancient Muse
Title Caravanserai
I got turned on to Loreena McKennitt's music about the time I met with Dead Can Dance.  I'm not sure if I heard it first on Stuart Rosenberg's show or on something like the Thistle and Shamrock.  In any case, I have collected her music ever since.  This piece is evocative for me, because my Dragon Empire has a "silk road" theme in my mind.  Many cultures, many peoples, many traditions, many spices, many dangers, all bound together.  I love this piece.

Artist Hans Zimmer
Album Angels & Demons
Title 503
Zimmer is amazingly prolific.  He can be great, he can be terrible.  Here, he is amazing.  I could not care less about the movie, but the piece here is mournful, evocative and engaging.  It has tones of menace and a hint of the supernatural.  I don't leave home without it in the playlist.

Artist Jesper Kyd
Album Assassin's Creed 2
Title(s) Ezio's Family, Flight Over Venice 1
Jesper Kyd is one amazing composer.  I don't get to play many video games, but I try to keep up with the music review sites, and I came across praise for Kyd's work on the Assassin's Creed series.  They were not kidding.  This guy is a terrific composer.  These two pieces are some of the best ever.  Flight Over Venice 1 (there is a 2 and it is also good) is just a beautiful piece and perfectly captures the idea of flying over a city of danger and adventure.  The masterpiece, however, is really Ezio's Family.  It starts out beautiful and almost wistful, and then subtlely turns to horror.  For me (never having played the game), like coming home to your family home, pausing to relive all the beautiful memories that it holds, and then going in and finding a murdered member of your household in every room; after you have processed the full horror of what your enemies have done to you, you fall to your knees and swear eternal vengean on them and all they know.  That is some damn fine composing.

Artist Jesper Kyd
Album Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Title The Brotherhood Escapes
Probably one of the best action/chase/fight pieces I have heard in the last ten years.  It's driving percussion pounds images of a desperate running fight through a tower or the streets into my mind.  Shadows, mist, swirling cloaks and the flash of knives, crossbow bolts, and probably some parkour just invade my mind when I hear this.  Amazing.

Artist Denez Prigeng, Lisa Gerard
Album Black Hawk Down
Title Gortoz A Ran
A beautiful song and a melncholy song in Breton with great production.  Evocative of many things and many imaginings.

Artist Ilan Eshkeri
Album Centurion
Title We Are The Prey
This was a terrible, if watchable (because of Michael Fassbender) movie.  However, it had some very solid music by Eshkeri (who also scored Stardust).  This piece is very eerie and perfectly evokes the sense of being persued by someone or something very bad.

Artist Basil Poledouris 
Album Conan the Barbarian
Title(s) Riders of Doom, Anvil of Crom
Whether you loved or hated the Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan movies, the first film had some of the best fantasy adventure music every created.  My two favorite blood pumping (okay maybe blood spurting) pieces are Riders of Doom and Anvil of Crom.  Both are simply awesome.  If listening to them does not make you want to pick up a sword and charge out to fight the darkness then there is no talking to you.  Interestingly, Riders of Doom is in part so highly effective because of the choral part of the track.  Anvil of Crom does not need no stinkin' chorus and kicks butt quite well without it.  Poledouris showed genius in creating the score.

Artist Shigeru Umebayashi
Album Curse of the Golden Flower
Title Tai-He-Song
I was ultimately unsatisfied with this film, but the music score is great.  Tai-He-Song is on my must play list because it's amazing chorus draives home the magesty and power of an emperor.  If I want people to know what it is like to walk into the audience chamber in the full court of the Dragon Emperor, this is the music to convey that emotional impact.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Dragon Age: Origins
Title Lelianna's Song
Need to evoke an enchanted forest (or perhaps any kind of enchanted landscape).  This is your track.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Dragon Age 2
Title Main Theme
A dark, powerful and haunting theme, with great vocal work and great musical storytelling.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Dynasty
Title Magika
A musical piece that starts off strong and builds to an amazing climax once the choral part starts.  The music makes my hair stand on end.  Something primal and magical about it.

Artist Jeremy Soule
Album The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Title Dragonborn
This is the amazing opening piece from the huge Skyrim soundtrack.  This piece just about floored me with its power.  Great orchestration and great use of chanting and choral singing.  If you are not seeing flying dragons and advancing armies by the end of this piece, I'm not sure what to do with you.

Artist Howard Shore
Album The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Title(s)  Over Hill, Erebor
These two pieces from The Hobbit stand with the best that Shore has ever done.  Over Hill contains one of the most exciting expressions of the heroic music from The Hobbit, which is brilliantly first picked up in the Dwarves "Misty Mountains" song.  When the full on orchestral version of that music hits in Over Hill it is like an explosion of adventure in my brain ("struck by lightning, struck by lightning").  Erebor, a piece that is only on the Special Edition music, is just a terrific integration of traditional instruments (bagpipe particularly) and full orchestra.  It is a perfect evocation of a lost dwarven kingdom.

Artist John Debney & Kevin Kaska
Album Lair
Title(s) Rohn's Theme, Darkness Theme
The Lair soundtrack is simply a revelation.  Every track is amazing.  It has some of the best action music, some of the best "place" music, and here I have chosen some of it's most evocative "mood" music.  Rohn's Theme is a contemplative heroic theme.  The hero has resolve and bravery, but also faces tragedy and hardship.  It is a great piece.  The Darkness theme is appropriately dark and spooky, with a hint of perhaps tragic regret.  Both tracks are imeasurably deepened by the outstanding and emotional vocals that accompany the instruments.  Absolutely must have tracks for me.

Artist Jamie Christopherson
Album The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II
Title(s) Men of the West, Pride of the Dwarves
Somehow I stumbled onto the existence of this musci long after it came out.  This is a great album.  If I ever believed that Howard Shore was the only composer to really evoke Middle Earth, this work by Christopherson would shatter that illusion.  Shore is surely a master, but Christopherson shows himself equal to the task on this album (and in a prior one in which he collaborated with anothe composer).  My favorite two piees are Men of the West and Pride of the Dwarves.  Men of the West is simply the most magestic and noble theme I have heard, perhaps ever.  Pride of the Dwarves perfectly evokes its subject, with the sound of anvils and the feel of the deep places in the earth filled with treasures.  Highly recommended.

Artist Howard Shore
Album The Lord of the RIngs: The Fellowship of the Ring
Title The Bridge of Khazad Dum
Howard Shore truly is the master of Middle Earth, at least as far as it's emotional core.  This music connects with me on a deep emotional level, and it takes me through an amazing emotional range of excitement, terror, determination, tragedy.  It perfectly describes the flight of the Fellowship through Moria, across the Bridge, the fall of Gandalf, the esacpe of the survivors and their pain and loss.  It is inspirational, emotional storytelling that I hope to internalize.

Artist Howard Shore
Album The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings - The Complete Recordings
Title The Passing of the Elves
Simply beautiful singing in Tolkien's invented language.  Beauty and loss captured in an ancient tongue that never was.

Artist Howard Shore
Album Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Title(s) Foundations of Stone, The Riders of Rohan, The Uruk-Hai, Frth Eorlingas
 Amazing Howard Shore awesomeness in Middle Earth.  Musical storytelling of the highest order.  Thus I must listen.  Frequently.

Artist Lei Qiang
Album Putumayo: Music from the Tea Lands
Title Picking Flowers
A simple Chinese folk tune.  It feels like a journey, like a dream, like finding a magical place.  It is just what my Dragon Empire needs.

Artist Hans Zimmer
Album Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Title Singapore
A terrific over the top Asian inspired piece.  I think it fits with part of my over the top Asian inspired Dragon Empire.  East and West mixing in a big blender of imagination.

Artist  Marc Streitenfeld
Album Robin Hood (2010 Soundtrack)
Title(s) Fate Has Smiled Upon Us, Landing of the French
I did not see the movie, but the music got very good reviews, and after listening, I have to agree.  These two tracks are interesting and exciting examples of the strong theme that Streitenfeld develops for Robin Hood, exciting, urgent, resolute.

Artist Michael Kamen 
Album Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
Title Oveture and a Prisoner of the Crusades
Terrible movie, great score.  This is a rip roaring opening to an adventure tale (hopefully I can do a much better job than they did in the movie).

Artist  Kaoru Wada
Album Samurai 7
Title Samurai 7
An entire anime series that reimagines the story from The Seven Samurai in a weird steam punk, mecha, dystopian future/paralel universe.   Sounds like a disaster, but it was actually pretty good, and I loved the music.  My track choice is the anthology of the action music from the show, which showcases many of the iconic folk instruments of Japan.  Wonderful and evocative.

Artist  Dead Can Dance
Album The Serpent's Egg
Title Chant of the Paladin
Once again Dead Can Dance take me to another world.  This is what it says on the box, a chant.  It is droning and compelling.  I see the interior of a dark temple, a sacred space, the fog of incense, and the presence of something beyond mortal ken.  Good job Dead Can Dance.  Good job.

Artist Naoki Sato & Hiroshi Miyagawa
Album Space Battleship Yamato
Title Opening Title
One of the first examples of Japanese anime that I ever saw was Star Blazers, the American adaption of the Japanese Series, Space Battleship Yamato.  As a kid, I was not allowed to watch much TV and I never really saw much of the series, but I was aware of it.  A few years ago, apparently a big live action blockbuster movie based on the series got made in Japan.  Naoki Sato took the original music by Hiroshi Miyagawa and gave it the western orchestral treatment, pumping it up to 11 in my estimation.  I saw a review and finally was able to acquire the music.  It is a great album.  I like the opening title because it feels like a warship launching, whether by sea or in space.

Artist  John Williams
Album Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
Title  Duel of the Fates
An absolutely amazing musical track, with huge emotional power, especially due to the choral elements.  The ultimate fight music.

Artist  Greg Edmonson
Album Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Title  Nate's Theme 2.0
Edmonson's work on Uncharted is outstanding.  There are three scores with a huge amonunt of material.  This is my favorite version of the main theme.  It sounds like and adveruturer's theme.  I'm ready to plunge into jugle temples, find desert pyramids, and climb to high mountain necroploises listening to this.

Artist  Garmarna
Album Vengeance
Title Gamen
A Swedish group that sings folk songs about werewolves, murder, madness, all to a heavy metal beat?  Okay, turns out that's awesome.  This track rocks with a major norse vibe.

Artist Jason Hayes, Tracy W. Bush, Derek Duke, Glenn Stafford
Album World of Warcraft
Title The Shaping of the World
I don't play WOW.  No time.  But I got introduced to the music, and I am hooked.  This is a great track and it does what it says on the box.  It feels like we are flying through the creation of an amazing world of magic and danger.

So, this is some of the music that I need for my personal inspiration.  If you find something you like, I hope it is similarly inspirational for you.