Inspire Confidence – Instant Settings, Journeys and Aliens

There are a lot of game systems out there and many of them come preloaded with settings. But what happens when you want to play in a setting that doesn’t have a corresponding system? You improvise! Which is what you do when you game, so you’re already on the right path. I have talked about creating playlists before and I will definitely talk about it again, this one arrived this morning.

When you create a new setting it’s important to make sure everyone has a sense of the place. Will it have high magic? Space travel? Low fantasy? Contemporary with monsters? Whatever you decide to go with, there are a lot of ways to convey that to your players. Something we do at our table, especially for our Friday night actual play game is create a soundtrack, that way our viewers and our players all have a sense of the setting.

Sometimes these settings craft themselves for me as I listen to music, like this morning while I get ready for my day. There are songs the immediately evoke stories, images, and take me down paths of places that only exist in my mind. Today started with a favorite “I Want” song (a standard song in musical theater, sung by the hero and sets the tone) “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana, which flipped my story making switch to on.

Here’s what played this morning and what I’ve taken from it (No judging my music tastes!) and a brief impression.

“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana – someone with wanderlust who loves her home but wants to explore the beyond.

“Graceland” by Paul Simon – pilgrims on a pilgrimage to a sacred place that will welcome them. This song evokes another song on my playing list “The King Knows How”, by Over the Rhine, which is about Nashville and Elvis.

“Radar Love” by Golden Earring – driving to be with the one you long to be with desperately.

“Men in Black” by Will Smith – secret organization that deals with alien encounters and lends a sense of serious but silly/comedic tone.

The first three songs have a sense of moving toward a place as well as character sketches, while “Men in Black” presents a sense of another character or type of people who occupy that place. With just these four songs (plus one) I imagine a short campaign that could include elements from: the Witch Mountain movies, Fury Road, Wizard of Oz (one of my favorite touchstone stories for pacing), E.T., Buckaroo Banzai, Big Trouble in Little China, The Cat from Outer Space, The Book of Eli (although a little more serious of a tone than the songs imply), Men in Black (duh), the Cornetto trilogy, Paul, and so many more stories and movies.

I prefer my setting soundtracks to have more than a handful of songs to shed some light in other corners of the room, so, without specific combinations I feel the following songs/pieces of music could be used to round out a set of 10 that would lead to several settings.

“Shine” by Collective Soul – more spiritual journey

“Shit Towne” by LIVE – escaping a bad situation to a better place (“Graceland”)

“Lost My Driving Wheel” by Cowboy Junkies – meshes well with “Radar Love”

“Donald Where’s Your Troosers?” by Enter the Haggis – more comedic slant, “Men in Black”, the Cornetto trilogy, and Big Trouble

“A Common Disaster” by Cowboy Junkies – speaks for itself, Fury Road

“Friday I’m in Love” The Cure – light hearted comedy

“Calling Elvis” by Dire Straits – pairs with “Graceland” and “The King Knows How”, leaning deeply toward Bubba Hotep now

“Ticket to Heaven” by Dire Straits – a song about a crooked televangelist. I like this song for the “Graceland”/”Elvis” storyline for the “wizard” behind the curtain reveal.

“Missionary Man” by Eurythmics – I’m zeroing in on a setting about a religious journey that ends in disappointment here

“Female of the Species” by Space – in case you really like the alien vibe and want a Mars Attacks feel

Once I’ve pinned down my broad stroke, I add in some video game or soundtrack music to fill in the background tone. Then I listen to the play list as I create, to help me stay in the playable zone. You can find other similar play lists here for space travelers and a ghost pirate ship, which we have played in, with our videos posted on our YouTube channel. Let me know if you have any setting ideas you’d like to see me create a playlist for!

Monica Marlowe

Monica Marlowe is the 2015 Paizo RPG Superstar. Winning the contest launched her freelance game designing career. Her winning adventure, "Down the Blighted Path" and PFS scenario "Captive in Crystal" are available through Paizo. She’s publishing additional gaming materials under Marlowe House and through 3rd party publishers. Monica is also active in the ongoing education in gender, sexual, and racial equality in the gaming community. Driven by a desire to see a more diverse gaming community, Monica has joined the Know Direction network to help and encourage all gamers, veteran and new, to find their voices. Monica lives in southwest Ohio with her husband, Andrew, and 2 children, Kate and Thomas.