iPod Adventure Design

A while back Joe Nelson wrote a post about using music in your games. I'm a big supporter of soundtracks for RPGs, as it helps set the mood and create atmosphere. The trick, however, is finding the right music to match your game.

I think I've found the answer: What if you write the adventure to fit the music?

I'm going to do an experiment. I'm going to write an adventure module, entirely inspired by random songs from my iPod set on shuffle. I'm not going to even decide on a setting or a game system before I begin: I'm just going to hit play and see what comes up. I'll try to build my game around the songs.

I will need 8 pieces of music to inspire the 8 components I think the adventure will need:

Setting/Theme: To set the overall tone of the adventure.
Plot Hook: How and why do the players get involved in this story?
Big Bad: Who is the villain? Villains with theme music are always better.
NPC/Resource: There should be some sort of non-player resource to support the players and give them information. This could be a mentor or patron, an organization, whatever.
Encounter 1: The first conflict or complication (not necessarily combat) the players have to overcome. This will hopefully set the theme and pace of what's to come.
Encounter 2: The middle act. Again, not necessarily combat, but it very well could be.
Encounter 3: This is the main event. The battle against the big bad, a huge chase scene, an edge-of your seat debate or argument, whatever. This is what you plunk down your $5 for. (What, you don't charge your players to play in your game?)
Aftermath/Denouement: If your game was a movie, this is what would play over the credits. This should epitomize your heroes' victory or defeat.

In case you're not familiar with the songs, I strongly recommend firing up Grooveshark in another browser window, so you can listen along and see where I'm coming from.

Make Sense? All Ready? Let's do this! *Shakes iPod vigorously"

Setting/Theme - "Indestructible" by Disturbed
Awesome way to start. I don't know what the actual setting/system is, but the players are going to be tough, disciplined fighting machines. They could be knights or mercenaries in a fantasy game, a team of special forces/marines in a modern or space warfare game, or maybe even bad ass antiheroes in a dark supers game.

I'm talking about guys that would slap Satan in the face. And teabag him.

Determination that is incorruptible.

From the other side,

A terror to behold.
Annihilation will be unavoidable.

Every broken enemy will know,

That their opponent had to be invincible.

Take a last look around while you're alive,
I'm an indestructible master of war."

This is the kind of character any good role-player worth their dice would want to play.


Plot Hook - "Anymore" by Savatage
Fuck. Savatage is awesome (they're the fore-runners of the Transsiberian Orchestra, you know), but this is one of their wussier songs. Really takes the wind out of the Disturbed song.

This is either the cover of a Savatage album, or the cover the 1st Edition DMG. There are so many better songs from this band that are practically the text from an old adventure module set to music.

It seems to be about regrets; wishing for a simpler time when we were children and our friends were alive and we still believed in god... or it's about a sailor remembering a shipwreck.

"Or if it sank down through the depths
Of cold reality

To rest upon the ocean floor
For all eternity

For at the bottom of the sea
The dead d
o not feel pain
And neath the ocean made of tears
They never fear the rain"

Let's go with that. The heroes are looking for a shipwreck. And treasure. Moving on.

Big Bad - "Hot Patootie/Bless My Soul" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show
What? Um, okay. So the bad guy is Meatloaf. In a denim vest, leather pants and a white plastic belt. And he rides a bitching motorcycle. Let's call him a rival treasure hunter, trying to beat the players to the shipwreck. I can work with that.

As far as villains go, he's no Darth Vader, but c'mon: Don't you want to punch him in the nose?

NPC/Resource - "Gives You Hell" from Glee
You may be thinking: "What the fuck is this doing on your iPod?" My response to that is: "no comment."

Though I did think the Singing in the Rain sequence from episode 2-07 was pretty kicking.

Let's say the person who hired the PCs to find the shipwreck is the girl that Meatloaf felt-up in the Hot Patootie song. Her family owned the ship and she believes she has rights to it, but she foolishly told the slick greaser dude where to find it, then he took off on her. She wants the heroes to "Give him hell" for using her.

See? I saved.

Encounter 1 - "I Am Hated" by Slipknot

Maybe these guys should be the villains. Looking like this, your job options are kind of limited. It's not like you can be a babysitter or a Wal-Mart greeter.

Okay, this helps get back the bad-ass cred of the adventure group. I don't care who the wussy supporting cast is, this is the party's chance to prove their mettle in an awesome combat encounter. I don't care who they fight, but they need to kick some major ass. It's them against the world. According to the lyrics:

"The whole world is my enemy - and I'm a walking target
Two times the devil with all the significance
Dragged and raped for the love of a mob
I can't stay - because I can't be stopped

Eat motherfuckers alive who cross us

I know you're all tired of the same ol' bosses
Let me tell you how it's gonna be

I'm gonna kill anyone who steps up in front of me "

I actually think this is a theme song for kids about to shoot up their high schools but I'm not touching that with a ten foot pole. So let's say the PCs fight ninjas on jet-skies.

No explanation necessary.

Encounter 2 - "Breadfan" by Metallica

Another song that makes the heroes seem like badasses with swagger. It talks about robbing and stealing and it has fast guitars and pre-sucky James Hetfield. Unfortunately, I think the titular "Breadfan" they're singing about is actually a seagull (heavy metal in the 70s, people). Let's just say the heroes have to have another sweet battle in motorboats while they're stealing/escaping with some cool treasure or weapon, with seagulls providing complications to the chase scene. (Getting stuck in the engines, maybe?)

Music trivia: This was originally recorded back in the 70s by a British thrash metal band called Budgie.

"Dude, I got an awesome name for our metal band: Budgie!"
"What the fuck is a budgie?"
"It's one of those giant man-eating birds, isn't it? Like a griffin or something?"

Encounter 3 - "Swete Sone" by Mediaeval Baebes
Are you kidding me? After two kick ass songs for the build up, THIS is the climactic scene? For those of you who don't know the Medieaval Baebes, just go listen to this song and you'll understand. It sounds like Loreena McKennitt on roofies. However, if you listen closely to the lyrics, and translate it to modern language (they sing all their songs in Chaucerian English), this is a very dark song about Mary weeping at Christ's feet during the crucifixion.

"Sweet Son, have pity on me
And deliver me from this life
For I think I see

Your death approaches quickly

Your feet have been nailed
to the tree
Now I may never prosper

For without you, all of this world

Can never make me happy."

Depressing shit. But how can I work this into the adventure? Does one of the heroes' get crucified/otherwise deaded, and his mother weeps at his feet? Maybe it's Meatloaf's ex-girlfriend that's crying for the dead guy? Maybe she's actually crying for Meatloaf, after the heroes waste his ass? Maybe the treasure on the sunken ship is something out of a Dan Brown novel? An actual artifact of the crucifixion, like Jesus' ripped muscle-shirt?

I think that if the Gnostic Gospels were more widely accepted, then more people would go to church.

It could go many ways, but let's keep it simple and say someone dies (a PC would be more striking, but we'll work with Meatloaf if we have to) and the chicky-boo cries about it. She should. If she hired the players, it's her fault if they killed him. (That's how you use rationalization to keep your character's "good" alignment.) Hopefully it provides a nice stirring contrast to cold butchery the "heroes" have handed out until this point. Depending on your players, though, the emotion may be completely lost on them.

Aftermath/Credits - "I'm Still Breathing" by Katy Perry
And there goes what little metal cred I had left. Sigh. So I thought this song was about a girl getting ready to kill herself, which made me go: "What the fuck? That's way too deep for that muppet-humping Zooey Deschanel look-a-like!" Then I realized it's about a girl breaking up with her boyfriend and feeling like she may as well be dead, which made me go: "What the fuck? How am I going to fit that into my adventure?"

Finally, a practical purpose for Calvin's Duplicator...

I guess it kinda makes sense, if the chicky-boo really did love Meatloaf, and is now bemoaning his loss, and of course it is all her fault. She did hire some brutal killers to murder the guy, remember (if you keep telling yourself that, you can make your GM believe it). Unfortunately, this leaves the PCs as merely a plot device in the real story, which is about Meatloaf and Zooey #2. It would be much better if Zooey #2 was actually involved with one of the characters, to give them more connection and motivation to the action.

So what do you think? I never decided on a game system - I was picturing some kind of modern combat-heavy game, but it could be modified for fantasy or sci-fi with minor tweaks. And though I kept referring to the Zooey #2 character as female, you could easily swap sexes/genders as necessary.

Warning: Success at gender modification may vary.

I don't know if this would make a good adventure module, but I think it would make a kick-ass action movie. Feel free to add any suggestions for changes, but how much more awesome could it be?

Like this?


  1. For the second-to-last, I could see a heroic sacrifice or close-to-heroic-sacrifice as the theme. You know, putting oneself between the group and certain destruction, last stand or holding up the roof or what have you, and then for the last song a way to pull them back, keep them still breathing--which could be some sort of loophole or clever maneuver, but given the rest of the theme here might as well be the discovery that whoever, probably a PC, stayed back for the heroic sacrifice/last stand/etc is Just Too Awesome to just go down like that.

    That help?

  2. Joe NelsonApril 28, 2011

    That's...epic. I cannot imagine improving upon such awesome perfection!

    I did something similar once. Except I just used three random songs to set the entire theme, tone, and style of the game. I can't remember exactly what I got, but I know two of 'em were Blue Oyster Cult, so it was a real trippy, science fantasy type game.

  3. JsalvatoriApril 28, 2011

    This is totally cracked. You need to get more sleep...
    And let me re-load your iPod!

  4. CDGallant_KingApril 28, 2011

    What? You told me to go out and be creative.

    And I'm not letting you near my iPod. You're going to fill it with over-wrought angsty quasi-metal alternative bands with pale girl lead singers.

  5. CDGallant_KingApril 28, 2011

    Thank you. And trippy is good. Especially BOC. I would love to have a whole game set in a world inspired by 70s prog metal.

  6. CDGallant_KingApril 28, 2011

    That's actually really good. I was reading it too literally, your idea makes way more sense. It's moving and emotional without being sappy. I approve.

    Thank you!

  7. Glad to be of service!

  8. This was a fun read. I'd never try this with my iPod, though; I'm not sure how great an adventure would be if it were based mainly off songs from Weird Al and the Beatles.


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