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So, here you find a blog about life in general, but with a focus on family, games, books and creativity. Other "stuff" will creep in from timt to time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

More Musical Inspiration for My 13th Age Dragon Empire

I have previously written about some musical inspiration for my 13th Age Campaign (see here).

Since I last wrote, a few more music tracks have made it into my essentials list, so I thought I would record them here.  I hope others may find these pieces as interesting and enjoyable as I do.

Artist Clannad
Album PastPresent
Title(s) Newgrange, Coinleach Ghlas an Fhomhair
Clannad is a quintessential band in the Celtic Folk revival that went beyond the reinvigoration of the old tradition (so capably done by other bands like the Chieftains) and on into creation of new forms of popular Celtic style music.  Some of their experiments showcased what could be best and worst about the so called "New Age" music, but mostly they just made really interesting and beautiful songs that laid the foundation for artists such as Enya (who is from the same family as the members of Clannad) and Loreena McKennit.  Clannad created some groundbreaking fantasy music for the 1980s series Robin of Sherwood, which is still, for my money, the best TV series ever done around the Robin Hood myth.  These two pieces, Newgrange and Coinleach Ghlas an Fhómhair are two beautiful songs that definitely speak to sounds one might find in my Dragon Empire, possibly in Concord, or the Wild Wood.

Artist Jack Wall
Album Mass Effect 2
Title Suicide Mission 
Usually, I keep my science fiction (Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc.) music and my epic fantasy music (Lord of the Rings, Willow, Conan, etc.) in different boxes.  Star Wars does some crossover.  Jack Wall's "Suicide Mission" from the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack also can end up in either list as far as I'm concerned.  Its soring instrumentation and urgent vocals sets a heroic and resolved tone that could be the prelude to any hopeless battle or potentially fatal act of courage.  Good stuff.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Lord of the Rings War in the North
Title Nordinbad
Inon Zur has established himself as a major player in electronic fantasy gaming music.  This track evokes the feeling of a lonely frontier fortress, ever watchful, standing guard against the forces of darkness.  The kind of place I need to send my gamers' player characters to check out.

Artist Jamie Christopherson
Album The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II
Title(s) Joining Forces, Elven Morning Light, Elven Nightfall
I have already extolled the great virtues of Mr. Christopherson's Middle Earth music.  Let me just add, it is so good that I had to add these three additional pieces into my regular mix because they so consistently evoke the wonder of a fantasy realm.

Artist(s) Bill Brown, Jamie Christopherson
Album The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth
Title Heroes Shall Rise
In my original list, I had not included a track from the first "Battle for Middle Earth" album, composed not only by Jamie Christopherson, but also by Bill Brown.  This track does exactly what it says on the package.  Heroes rise to the challenge on the majesty of this music.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Legends
Title(s) Infinite Legends, Goddysey
You will hear Two Steps From Hell (a music company that specializes in Movie Trailer music, heard in trailers for movies, computer games, and TV and in commercials) everywhere.  This is not a bad thing, because their music is reliably excellent.  Both of these pieces evoke the huge sweep of an amazing and fantastic world.  Infinite Legends unfolds for me over the sprawl of a vast and fabulous city.  Goddysey takes me across the vast oceans of an imagined world.  Very good music.

Artist Jack Wall
Album Jade Empire
Title Into the Fray
Here's Jack Wall again.  Before he helped define the amazingly successful Mass Effect universe, he scored an earlier BioWare game called Jade Empire.  Jade Empire . . . Dragon Empire, you can see how things might fit together.  This piece is pretty much just the kind of thing I want to play during a martial arts smack down.  Great east Asian percussion worthy of Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Dynasty
Title Elementum
Here's Two Steps again, because they are awesome.  Another track from the Dynasty album.  I visualize some serious spell slinging to this track with its driving beat and soaring chorus.

Artist Inon Zur
Album Dragon Age: Origins
Title I am the One
The signature track from Zur's first foray into the Dragon Age franchise.  I already highlighted the album for another track in my last music post, but this one also found a place in my heart.  A song of destiny, and we always have those characters in our games it seems, especially in the 13th Age of the Dragon Empire.

Artist Oscar Araujo
Album Castlevania Lords of Shadow
Title The Warg
Araujo's Castlevania is a triumph of an album with dark and powerful musical set pieces, but I had a hard time choosing the right track from it.  I settled on The Warg.  This is a dynamic musical piece with great choral parts (of course).  It might narrate a battle, or a frenzied ceremony, or even a cat and mouse chase (with explosions maybe).  Whatever images are inspired by this piece, it is a little piece of dark majesty.

Artist Nox Arcana
Album Blood of the Dragon
Title The Mystic's Keep
Nox Arcana can be hit and miss, but they produce a lot of very moody and interesting theme albums.  This one is tailored for a fantasy campaign.  The Mystic’s Keep is perhaps not the best track off the album, but it has such great atmosphere, with a recurring chant, I just can’t resist it.  Visions of a horrible death cult for my players to face? Check!  Mission accomplished.

Artist Two Steps From Hell 
Album Archangel
Title Norwegian Pirate
Here's Two Steps one more time.  What is the meaning of this song title?  I don’t know.  What it has to do with pirates or Norwegians is not entirely clear, but it is a rousing tune that could take one from the heaving deck of a dragon longship to a vast fantasy battlefields.

Artist Taro Iwashiro
Album Red Cliff
Title Battle to Battle
Red Cliff is a terrific movie (see the extended two part Asian release).  Lots of heroic combat and beautiful cinematography.  Also, the music is a highlight, and this piece is just what I look for to visualize the clash of great armies.

Artist Atli Örvarsson
Album The Eagle
Title Return of the Eagle
The movie "The Eagle," based on one of my favorite books as a kid, "The Eagle of the Ninth," was a big bust at the box office, and one of several quite bad sword and sandals movies in the last half decade.  However, both "The Eagle" and "Centurian" had good music.  I featured a piece from Centurian in my last discussion, but I am glad to include this piece by Örvarsson here.  It is a dynamic, Celtic fiddle inspired piece that conveys a sense of motion, an urgent chase or desperate escape.  A very fun piece of music.  Atli Örvarsson is someone I hope keeps making great music.

So, I hope this helps someone out there find great music and great inspiration to continue life in the Dragon Empire.

Stay Legendary.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

13th Age, Organized Play, Actual Play and the universe of great ideas

For anyone who reads this blog (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) , you know that I try to keep up an actual play description (pretty much bow by blow) of my current "Heroes of the 13th Age" game.  Our progress has been slow, as we can only manage about a gathering once a month at best.  Still, we are close to done with our first epic adventure and dungeon crawl, and the characters are all going to get to level up to second level.

While I have been developing my 13th Age game, I have tried to absorb all that I can from other people's experience with the system and the world of 13th Age.  There is a lot of fun stuff out there from which to learn.

One thing in which I have not been able to participate is the 13th Age Organized Play.  Pelgrane Press, with the work of 13th Age luminarie Ash Law (head of organized play) & Wade Rockett (strategy and promotion), have put together a plan for a series of regular games in which friendly local gamings stores and individual groups can participate.  Each will apparently revolve around places and issues important to one of the 13 Icons of the game.  The first, Crown of the Lich King, is already done, and a second set of adventures, Wyrd of the Wild Wood, is in progress (dealing with the High Druid).  Each regular game is 6 weeks of adventures (at least in its ideal form), much like the pioneering D&D Encounters model used by Wizards of the Coast.  However, after the 13 individual icon inspired adventures, there will be an epic scale 13 week "end of age" adventure released (read more in this article).

Why am I not getting into this?

Basically, timing.  The organized play is interactive.  Play reports need to be submitted, because events in the earlier adventures help shape later planned events.  Given the timing of getting my ten person group together, we would not have even started Crown of the Lich King.  So, Organized Play, will have to go on its own way.

But, I can still draw inspiration from it, because so many other people are sharing it.  If you want to vicariously experience the organized play (or just compare your experience to others'), I highly recommend the following:

A Game of Whit's Whit Mattson is currently running his play group through Crown of the Lich King using an online meet up, and he is recording and posting the play sessions.  They are very entertaining, and I have learned a lot about pacing and technique from just watching.  The videos are posted through YouTube, so you can find them directly there, but Whit's website has a deep library of video and audio actual play, as well as reviews and other interesting things.  Whit and his friends were early playtesters of 13th Age, and their actual play recordings of the playtest definitely help to inspire me to run the game (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  Whit and his group are running a little behind on posting their actual play, and they are not on the strict schedule for Crown of the Lich King, but they are a fascinating group to watch.  Highly recommended.

Tales of the 13th Age is the website for the written (and illustrated!) actual play reports by a GM tag team, Ben and Sarah, who are running the organized play at Fair Game store in Downers Grove, IL.  They are keeping to the strict schedule of the Organized Play, and have already completed Crown of the Lich King.  It has been fascinating to see that they played through the same structure that Whit's group (above) is following, yet the play packets are so flexible, that so many details are different, and so responsive to the individual characters, their Icon relationships and their One Unique Things (1UT) and Backgrounds.  So now Ben and Sarah are running Wyrd of the Wild Wood, and I am hooked on their narration.  Their write-ups definitely show how to run a good store game, where people may have to drop in and out.  They clearly have a lot of discipline in keeping the pacing.  Also, they are geniuses with bringing interesting visual terrain and monsters (hey, play doh giant monster tenticles--awesome!!) to the table.  They document this with actual play photos.  I love reading the reports and I learn a lot. 

After I got hooked on the Organized Play write-ups/broadcasts, I started looking for more examples of play.

There is a very intribuing start of a blog at 13th Age: Squires of Skyharbor Abbey.  I am hopeful that more will appear at it soon, but what is there so far has been very interesting reading.

Also, a really interesting set of actual play recordings can be found under the term 13th Age MadCast.  A GM that goes by the moniker Khaos and his group have been new to playing 13th Age, and they obviously started with the adventure in the rule book (having to do with the Bolt Strike Tower (of which an earlier version Whit's group above played through for the playtest).  The actual play picks up in the aftermath of the written adventure, and it is the epic way the game springboards from there that is really fascinating. 

It is also prolific.  They began to record their third play session (at least that is the earliest I can find), and they are well into ten or so sessions recorded at this point.  They play in a virtual play space and are calling in from different time zones.  Unlike A Game of Whit's, we don't see the players, but instead we see the (often static) play space, so it is more like listening to a podcast than watching a video.  Still, despite it being visually less engaging and despite it dragging at times as the group is very large (so the juggling Khaos has to do as GM is daunting), the way the characters and the story develop is really fun and interesting.

Here are all the links to what they have put up on YouTube so far:

MadCast 13th Age Session 3 (2/2)by MadCast13thAge
MadCast presents: 13th Age, Sept. 7th (Part 2)
13th Age, led by Khaos (22/9/13) - Part 1
I am on Session 5, and before I figured out the order, I listened to some of a later session, and Khaos is clearly building to some epic challenges for his players.  This is harder going than the other write-ups or recordings, but it is definitely rewarding and entertaining and there are ideas I will be stealing.