Music & Dancing (1)

Ach.  I have been doing all of these serious posts, and I have a more planned in the sequence.  And I should really be writing up the Down Time rules, but ….. SQUIRREL!  Here in the UK it is Proms season, for those of you who don’t know, The Proms are an annual series of classical music concerts, many of which are performed at The Royal Albert Hall and shown live on national television.  I am not a great fan of classical music, but every so often I see a concert that appeals to me.  This year it was Warner Brothers film scores and scores from Sci Fi films – all played by full symphony orchestras.  And that got me started thinking about music in fantasy worlds, and that lead to dance in fantasy worlds, and ….  SQUIRREL!

However, it turned out to be a bigger project than I thought. So expect Part 2 later – as I think about dance 🙂

Suddenly, I was wondering what sort of music I would hear at a grand ball or in a dwarf bar – and at all points between.  What sort of music would people be dancing to?  How would they be dancing?  I wrote a piece on this some time ago, but things have moved on and it was time for a rethink.

To start with, the world I run my games in has changed.  Back then, I was running D&DII in a bespoke world, now I am running Pathfinder in Golarion (slightly modified) and that is a big change.  Paizo have re-imagined the history of the races and changed their backgrounds.  Elves left the world to avoid a cataclysm and didn’t return for many years.  Gnomes become exiled members of the First World who have a reputation for obsessiveness and flamboyance.  Dwarves lived underground but fought their way to the surface, while Halflings have become mini humans with little to distinguish them culturally. Humans rule the civilised world and the various races have few (if any) cultural centres.

Half-Elves and Half-Orcs are just as popular as ever 🙂

All of that said, this will only be an overview with broad cultural guidelines – it isn’t meant to be prescriptive or tie PCs down.  I also like my world to be recognisable –  so I tend to use a lot of stereotypes and traditional interpretations.   This just documents and formalises them so I remember them all next time around.


Tolkein, and Bilbo in particular, spoiled me for elves – so  elves live for a long time and can spend years creating complex and sophisticated art.  Formal performance music probably entails a small orchestra playing masterwork instruments with complex interplay between them.  Music for the people, in my mind, probably consists of a single musician playing an instrument and singing a complex ballad.  The Forlorn, Elves brought up in non-elven cultures, have been cut off from their mainstream culture, and have a limited understanding of the nuances in a full eleven piece – and probably recognise that short coming. Unfortunately, Humans (and other races) can only appreciate an even smaller fraction of the subtle complexity. 

Dances, both formal and informal, are liable to include a series of intricate forms, performed precisely and accurately – with minor changes of posture having great symbolic and emotional meaning. 

In game terms:  If you meet a travelling elven bard –  they will probably be singing sophisticated ballads and accompany themselves on (perhaps) a lute or mandolin.  While they appreciate the attention, they probably smile sadly at how much of their performance went unnoticed.


Golarion gnomes are both flamboyant, obsessive, have a penchant for inventing things that are over complicated.  Formal gnome music, if there is such a thing, is liable to be experimental music played on weird and wonderful instruments making weird and wonderful sounds.  There are no (known) formal dances, but there are performance artists specialised in different dance styles.  Informal dancing is very individualistic and does not follow any set pattern.  It probably includes the worst elements of 60’s hippy dancing crossed with a good helping of dad dancing.

In game terms: If you should enter a tavern in a Gnome run town – you may well find a bard of a different race (probably Halfling) providing the entertainment.  If you should ever come across a travelling Gnome musician – they will probably have some sort of weird home-brewed musical instrument.  Examples might include an accordion fitted with the drones from a set of bagpipes or some sort of small, mouth blown keyboard instrument (such as a Melodica) with bird calls built in.  And who knows what they might be playing!


I got Dwarves right first time around. J  Their mining and metal working skills mean metal instruments, Pratchett’s Glod means horns and the traditional dwarf with a Germanic accent means Oompah bands.  So horns of all types (Trumpets, Euphonium, Tuba, Sousaphone, etc) and drums – ranging from the largest Timpani down to smaller metal-bowled bass and snare-like drums – other instruments might include the glockenspiel and metallophones.

For music think Marching bands and Oompah bands!  Formal dancing involves participants parading in lines or sets, and are carried out at a walking/marching pace, they are known, appropriately enough, as Marches.  Dancing to the Oompah style often happens later in the evening (after a fair number of drinks have been consumed)  and involves a lot of thigh slapping as well as dancing.  These dances are known collectively as Polkas.  NOTE – check YouTube for Traditional Polkas.

In game terms:  If you are in a Dwarf Bar the entertainment is liable to be something like a brass three piece in the corner playing rowdy drinking music, that might well lead into some raucous Polka music later. Quieter ‘folk’ type music is liable to feature a singer accompanied by someone picking out a simple tune on a small glockenspiel. If you should come across a Dwarf bard they are probably skilled in both horn and percussion.


In Golarion halflings are low profile member of human communities, often slaves or in service roles, who get ‘wander lust’ as they are growing up.  However, they have a rich heritage of racial stories and heroes that few ‘big folk’ have ever been aware of.  Which all points to small, portable and quiet – but from all over the place.  So instruments such as the harmonica, penny whistle/recorder, mouth harp, pan pipes, rattles, bones, and tambourines are popular.

Halflings have an eclectic mix of dance and music styles, as experienced through their ‘wander lust’ years, but normally settle down to the style associated with the area they finally settle in.  However, it is said that there are a few simple songs and rhymes, that tell of halfling racial heroes, that are passed down from parent to child, as the child grows up.

In game terms:  Most Halfling musicians and story tellers go along with the local style and tunes, although they often have a large repertoire of different types of music they can call on if they need to.  Even if you come across a wandering Halfling Musician, they are liable to try and take a less significant role in a musical ensemble – even if they are the harmonica or recorder player in town.


Half-Humans, haven’t really changed much and tend to follow the culture that they were brought up in although, traditionally, they feel as if they are outsiders.  They don’t have racial cultural centres of their own.

Nothing new or out of the ordinary is noted for half-elves.  However, they are seen as extremely versatile and half-elf musicians and dancers soak up whatever the local culture is.

Half-Orcs, in Golarion, are noted for being impetuous and impatient as well as having an innately savage nature.  I tend to interpret this as a preference for (typically orcish) drums, chants and shuffling/stompy war dances.  (Yeah, I know it is stereotypical).

In game terms: Most half-orc musicians you meet will be percussionists, and they  aren’t natural dancers. Half-Elf musicians could be playing any sort of musical instrument and just about any style of music.


Humans are incredibly populous, they are very versatile and come from a number of different cultures and backgrounds.  They play many different types of musical instrument, and different types of music. In the next post, I’ll look at the styles most associated with my Midmarch game setting.

Posted in Role Playing Aids, World Building.

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