Music & Dancing (2)

In Part 1 of this double post on Music and Dance, I looked at music in a fantasy setting, however I wasn’t very innovative, and played on stereotypes that have been established in FRPGs and literature.  That is because I like my game worlds to feel familiar to players, I like the game background to exist in the background, familiar and consistent, to give the players things to build on and work with as they concentrate on the game I set out before them.  If I do it properly, it should make it easy for players to add little bits of RP flavour to their game play, rather than RP being something that requires a lot of effort.  It should facilitate RP for all the players, rather than just those who like to build heavy RP into their game.

In short, we finished up with Elves liking long complex pieces of music, Gnomes with complex and avant-garde instruments and musical styles, while dwarves are into brass bands, marches and Oompah bands.  Halflings and half-humans fit in the local culture they grow up in – but Half-Orcs have a penchant for drums and chants, while Halflings tend to use small and discreet instruments.  However, it is important to remember that is just the ‘average’ position and that most NPCs from those races will follow those trends.  Certainly not all of them, and players should not feel that that their characters should be constrained by them.  It is just what they are most likely to have encountered in a traditional setting.

Most importantly, I am always happy to work with players to tweak bits of my game background to suit their needs.  Those tweaks might just relate to a specific area that the PC can use for their personal background, although it might develop into something game affecting.  While it doesn’t deal with music or dance (yet),  the Duchy of Stonewall, started out as a single player tweak and has been developed as four or five players designed their characters.  The way it has developed could affect the outcome of a war,  later in the game.

Anyway back to the matter in hand – and this is where it starts to get more specific to my current game world.  The world is very human centric with a fair few half-humans and Halflings scattered about, Dwarves are fairly common but Gnomes and full Elves are infrequent.  Certainly among the NPCs.  I am using the AD&DII Complete Bard’s Handbook as guide to instrument costs – there was some excellent supplemental information in that series of books. Books from that series are available on DriveThruRPG in a PDF format.

Folk Music and Dance

This is the music of the ‘common people’, hobbyists rather than professional musicians.  In game terms, the people playing (or dancing to) this sort of music have probably only put one or two skill points into perform and don’t make a living from it.  The majority of them (Commoner is the most common NPC class, by a long way) don’t have much money and can only afford cheap instruments.  You are likely to hear it casually, in bars that don’t specialize in entertainment, or when every-day people throw home parties.

Tunes are simple to reflect low skill levels and basic instruments and musical groups are quite small with two, three or four musicians.  Songs tend to be straightforward, without backing or harmony parts, and are often sung by a single person – or the group all singing the same vocal part together.  Crowd accessible choruses are a feature of many of the songs.  I tend to imagine this music played on penny whistles or recorders, accompanied by a simple drum or tambourine and, perhaps, a single stringed instrument.  I know this is difficult to accept in the modern age, but stringed instruments are difficult to make and were one of the more expensive types of instrument, so they are less accessible to the NPC classes.  Any NPC with a stringed instrument is likely to treasure it and may have aspirations to become a professional musician.  You can add in colour with a Halfling playing an ocarina, a Half-Orc with a rhythm block or a gnome playing the spoons.  Wash-tub bass, Pan Pipes, Maracas (Rattles) are other ways to add a bit of variety.

Listening music is liable to be ballad-y, with story songs about soldiers going to war, country life and young women either pining or getting into trouble.  Very traditional Folk or Country & Western style to keep it cheesy, stereo-typical and familiar.  Dancing follows the same pattern with jigs, reels and other lively foot stomping songs.  There might even be clog dancers …

Semi-Formal Music and Dance.

This is the type of music you find played in dance-halls or bars that think of themselves as ‘Music Venues’ – in my game world that is places like The Golden Flute or the Palace of Dance in Restov and The Dragons Den in Tusk.  This is played by professional, or semi-professional, NPC musicians – although they are liable to be experts, rather than bards.  They have higher skill levels that ‘folk’ musicians, can afford more expensive instrument and tend to play in larger ensembles.  However, much of the music they play is similar in style to the every-day music of the region –  just a bit more complex and better executed.

The performers might have flutes, violins, lutes, mandolins, brass instruments and more sophisticated (and louder) drums.  Songs and tunes are more complex than the stripped down versions played by folk musicians, and are intended to entertain larger groups of people.

When it comes to dance venues think of Ceilidhs and Barn Dances, with set dances and a caller to help people get through the steps – most people will have only put one or two skill points into dance.   Modern ballroom dancing didn’t really become a real thing until the 19th century, and styles such as Jive and Rock & Roll are later still.  That doesn’t mean there is no scope for ‘personal’ dances around the side of the set dance – just that the majority of NPCs are all dancing one formal dance together.

In my game world, The Mountain Toast in Restov is a Dwarf themed bar, and is more likely to have a specialist Dwarf Brass Band playing Oompah style music.  However, the concept for both the music, and any late night dancing, is the same as above.

Formal Music and Dance

This is the music of the nobility, and is likely only performed in noble estates and palaces, by professional musicians.  The majority of the NPC performers will be experienced Expert Musicians, possibly led by an NPC bard or two, only the very wealthiest of nobles can afford an orchestra containing all bards.  Most noble estates won’t have a full sized ball room, but they may well have a dedicated music room, which will probably be used for recitals and small dances.  These nobles probably keep a small orchestra of half a dozen musicians, who are versed in the most sophisticated tunes and music, possibly based around a piano or other keyboard instrument – think chamber music with a bit of extra spice. 

Those nobles lucky enough to have a multi-use hall, might well have a larger orchestra, perhaps a couple of dozen musicians, with a larger range of instruments that are capable of playing music loud enough to fill the whole hall.  Remember that the modern day electric amp hasn’t yet been invented, and that any form of magical amplification is liable to be expensive.   The wealthiest of nobles might keep a larger orchestra, perhaps up to sixty or seventy musicians, capable of regularly willing the ballroom with good quality dancing music.  

In larger orchestras instruments are duplicated, one of the reasons a modern orchestra has a whole section of violins playing the same part of the tune, so they are loud enough to be heard across a crowded ball room.  As there are often two violin parts in modern symphony music, so modern orchestras have two sets of violinists, playing separate parts – not to mention all the other string sections that go to make up a full orchestra!

For smaller ensembles pianos (they are expensive but loud) are often the central instrument, supported by a few strings, wood wind and maybe a brass instrument or two – they may not have a percussion  instrument as a double base or a large brass horn (perhaps a Tuba) can act as a rhythm section, if required.

Larger orchestras are liable to be supported by timpani, or other large drums and may well have sophisticated rhythm sections with large glockenspiels, or metallophones, as well.  Think symphony or philharmonic orchestra, with a tendency to ‘jazz it up’ occasionally.  When you describe the orchestra throw in a mixture of instruments – Violins, Double Bass, Trumpets, Trombones etc playing in groups to get the volume.  It is, however, probably better to stay away from Lutes, Guitars and other plucked instruments – as you start to lose the ‘feel’ of an orchestra.

Dancing is very formal, with set dances such as formalized minuets, quatrains, quadrilles and marches.  You don’t need to describe the dances, just that they are formally regimented, performed as a group and have set steps.  Think very stately and courtly with a bit of formal Scottish dancing thrown in for good measure. 

However, the nobility has always had multicultural tendencies – after all they socialize more with nobles from neighbouring countries than they do with the common folk labouring in their own estates.  So throw in a formal Dwarven March (featuring the brass section of the orchestra) followed by the Elvish Quadrille (featuring the string section).  But once the senior nobles have retired, and leave the Young Bucks (and their female equivalent) in charge – the party is likely to hot up a bit.


Note 1:  All nobles, and anyone with Knowledge(Nobility) or Perform(Dance), knows the steps to a few of the formal dances – clearly the higher the skill score, the more dances they know.  This doesn’t mean that they dance them well or gracefully – just that they can follow them through without making a fool of themselves.  As always, the quality of an individual’s dancing performance relies on their Dex or Perform Dance skills.

Note 2:  I know I have mixed up a number of styles and periods in this piece –  but (IMO) it gives a historical feeling to the game world setting – but still keeps large chunks of it familiar to the majority of players.

Posted in Role Playing Aids, World Building.

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