Thursday, March 18, 2010

RPG Ability: Musical Attunement

The wind howled through the skeletal trees as the party picked their way through the moonlit forest. The Thief, Fighter, Wizard, and Cleric clutched their weapons and peered into the gloom. The tavern rumors they had heard had been vague, but it was clear that the forest was a bad place to be after dark.

The Fighter stopped in his tracks and the others took a few more steps before noticing. They turned and saw him standing with his head tilted, as if he were listening for something. The Thief stretched out his highly attuned senses, but he could not make anything out. He was about to ask the Fighter what he was listening to when the latter spun, his great blade flashing silver in the moonlight as he struck something behind him.

The rest of the party hurried over to him, gasping to see the decapitated body of a twisted, dog-like creature. The Thief looked at the Fighter with undisguised admiration and a touch of jealousy. "How did you...?"

The Fighter shrugged. "Just had a feeling," he said.

He did not mention that he had known that the creature was coming because the string section he had been listening to for the past few minutes had risen to a shrieking crescendo before suddenly going silent a few tense seconds before the monster had struck...

Image by hiddenmoves. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Musical Attunement is a sixth sense that manifests itself as music heard only by the player with the ability. The music the character hears corresponds to the situation he is in, and can let that character know when he is in danger, when he is talking to someone who is not to be trusted, or when the final confrontation with the main enemy is beginning...

If the campaign were a movie, the character with musical attunement would be able to hear the soundtrack. This can be helpful, but also somewhat distracting, and can lead to the character receiving some strange looks from people who wonder what he is grooving to. It can even be frustrating, as nobody wants to hear a goofy "wa wa waaaaa" when he flubs an important Diplomacy roll.

In game terms, the character is never caught flat-footed and he gets a bonus to skills relating to sensing motives and making arguments. The character may receive a bonus to the rousing speech he is giving when he hears the heroic music give a great crescendo. When searching for a hidden door, the music may give a playful trill when he comes to the false wall, increasing his Search check. Other benefits are not related to rolls but come in the form of additional context to certain situations. Most of the travelers entering the tavern may not change the lively, rustic music, until an otherwise ordinary-looking traveler comes through the doors and the music suddenly switches to something tense and mysterious.

Ideally, the DM would have a CD or playlist of songs on tap that he or she could use as the situation demanded. The CD player, mp3 player, or computer may even be hooked up to the player's headphones so that only the character with musical attunement benefits from it. More realistically, the DM should describe what the character is hearing at important moments, and allow the player to ask about the music at any time.


bluefish said...

In my experience, one of the most difficult things about RPGs is making the NPCs feel like real people. All too often, players want too much information about an NPC, which takes away all the fun of getting to know him or her. As soon as I describe the new character, they say, "I roll to see if I can trust him!", and suddenly they have a single dominant impression of the character whether or not he or she was meant to be much more. For that reason, I resist the idea of giving the players even more information.

On the other hand, I have a feeling I might use your chrome-plated gold R2 unit in the Star Wars campaign.

Elizabeth E. Grey said...

so awesome. i can't count the number of times i've screamed at a movie "noo!!! don't open that door!!! can't you hear the music?!?!?!"