Music – Swan Song, Monarch!


Horatio Hornblower

At a rummage sale the other day, I found an omnibus of the Young Hornblower novels. For those unfamiliar, Horatio Hornblower is a balls-out action hero British Naval officer during the Napoleonic wars.  Though not written in chronological order, the Hornblower novels chronicle the young man’s meteoric rise from junior midshipman to Admiral of the Fleet. He is brilliant, lucky (though not so lucky as to never experience defeat), and his life is an endless string of nautical adventures and misadventures.

If you have any thought to run a nautical adventure, the Hornblower books are essential reading. In them, you’ll find all sorts of plot seeds, adventure hooks and scenarios to run with your party.

A few examples of what you’ll find:

Grappling and deck to deck melee
Navigating a highly damaged prize ships
Dangerous prisoners
Getting captured by pirates
Daring night raids on anchored ships under threat of heavy fire
Amphibious landings (and retreats)
Important missives hidden in petticoats

One of the great ideas you might get from these stories is how your players can ‘lose’ without dying. Any defeat, tactical or strategic, should not present the end of an adventure, but rather a turn and opportunity for new adventure. In just one book, Hornblower loses a ship (cargo rice expands and turns to porridge when exposed to sea-water), is captured by pirates (if there’s a chance of rescue by another ship, set your captor’s ship on fire), participates in a disastrous counter-insurgent invasion of Brittany (French allies are never good for anything), and is imprisoned by Spaniards (sometimes captivity is a waiting game). Hornblower’s hero’s luck isn’t enough to let him overcome anything thrown against him, but it is enough to let him survive and endure anything thrown against him.

(Also, here’s some nautical metal from Monarch! to go with your nautical adventures).

2012 Music Mini-Roundup

There were some great albums that came out in 2012, and I’d like to highlight a few of them. Is this RPG related? I’d say yes, because a lot of these albums are great atmospheric pieces, fit into common RPG themes, or are just plain nerdy as all get out. Of course this list isn’t exhaustive, and I’m sure there are a lot of other amazing albums that came out in 2012, but these are just a few I’d like to bring particular attention to.

Ahab – The Giant
Awhile back, I mentioned that what I’d heard of Ahab’s new album wasn’t that great. I WAS WRONG. The Giant is an absolutely amazing work, a concept album that revolves around Edgar Allan Poe’s Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The Giant is just as haunting and mystical as Call of the Wretched Sea, but pushes in new and different directions of post-rock influences on the traditional funeral doom formula. If you like songs about the high seas, this album is a must have.

Monarch! – Omens
I’m still not entirely sure what to think of Omens. I enjoy it, a lot, but it remains a bit of a mystery to me. Monarch!’s latest album, Omens is one of the first that is not overtly nautically themed. Or at least that’s how it seems. Unlike the other albums I have by Monarch!, it doesn’t come with liner notes or lyrics, and given Eurogirl’s french accent and vocal style, is not particularly conducive to easy interpretation. Nonetheless, the songs on Omens feel more structured and purposeful than some more meandering previous efforts. Not that meandering is bad, it’s what Monarch! excels at. As much as I like it, I don’t know how well it would stack up against Mer Morte or Dead Men Tell No Tales for use during roleplay.

Burzum – Umskiptar
There have been many mixed responses to this album. The most negative was perhaps Pitchfork’s, which declared Burzum to be an irrelevant old fuddy-duddy who should just hang it up. One of my metal maven friends said “At least as good as Bellus, better than Fallen”. Well, I, for one, loved Fallen. I don’t know if I love Umskiptar, but do appreciate it. Every artist, I think, is entitled to self-indulgence, because if you’re not pleasing yourself, you’re not really creating art. This recitation of the Voluspa set to music (I’m hesitant to call Umskiptar metal; while it is unmistakably Burzum, calling the eclectic mix of folk, martial, and balladry ‘metal’ just doesn’t do it descriptive justice) is clearly something that Varg wanted to do because HE wanted to do it, not because he thought it would be cool, hip or particularly influential to play guitar with a lot of tremolo while reciting the names of around 20-odd random dwarves. If anything, Umskiptar is reflective of Varg’s love of mythology, which has recently taken him back in the direction of fantasy role playing. Varg has been working on his own fantasy RPG, and, based on his previous music and writings on mythology, love him or hate him, agree with him or disagree, it should be very interesting to see.

Towards Darkness – Barren
I don’t really know what to say about this, other than Barren is probably the most beautiful doom album of 2012. Fire up your PIP-Boy, grab a short wave radio and whatever provisions you can. Barren will take you through the end of the world. If you’re like me and like doom metal with a synth heavy rhythm section, you’ll love this album. If you hate hour long albums that only have 4 tracks, you’d probably want to avoid it.

Nautical Metal for Nautical Misadventures

For anyone who’s been following Cirsova and paying attention to the music posts, you’ve probably noticed I’m really big into doom & sludge metal. I remember as far back as Vampire: The Masquerade 1st ed, a sourcebook suggesting the using music to enhance the mood of certain scenes for roleplaying. I wanna say that the example they used was something like “A guy crashes a party and switches out the cd; throw on something like Butthole Surfers”.

Recently, ST:Wild on Roleplaying posted about creating soundtrack cds. Rather than soundtracks, I’ve always preferred soundscapes, largely because they enhance the mood without the jarring created by either track breaks or players’ familiarity with songs. Droning doom metal, however, might be a different story,  as the length of tracks and ambient nature create a fairly consistent atmosphere with less of a roller-coaster feel than a playlist with a few dozen shorter songs.

One of the sub-genres within doom that I’ve found oddly appealing is nautical themed doom metal. All of the music is played so as to recreate the feel of rolling waves of the ocean and being lost out at sea. One of these bands, Ahab, plays whaling-themed funeral doom, their first album being a retelling of Moby Dick. I’ll admit that what I’ve heard of the new album is not that great, but their first, The Call of the Wretched Sea, is pretty amazing.

Another band I’ve recently become enamoured with is Monarch!, from Bayonne, France. Lyrically, their songs are ballads of the forelorn wives of sailors, oceans of tears, etc., and they are heavier than a planet with epic 20 minute tracks that evoke the despair and isolation of high seas. Their album Dead Men Tell No Tales is a great introduction, as it’s a pretty cheap two disc cd giving you two albums, 5 tracks and nearly two hours of the heaviest metal you’ve heard.

If you plan on having any sort of nautical adventures, or even astral-nautical adventures (who HASN’T wanted to play a Gith pirate campaign?), I strongly recommend checking out both of these bands and trying out a little in the background of your next session.