Music is a vital part of culture, invoked and shared at celebrations of all types. Poetry and rhyme are similarly present in most of the high points of life, from the prosaic songs sung at birthdays through to high art quoted at funerals. But in roleplaying games, music and poetry are rarely experienced or invoked.
In fantasy societies, music is a key part of life. Every ritual and celebration will likely include sound, lyric, and tune. Even societies that choose not to include music do so with reason and deliberation. It’s a key means for human expression and communication, especially for mood and magic.
I was musing upon the way in which Tolkien uses poetry, song, and music to punctuate the narrative of his writing with colour and richness. Without music, the key figures in Middle-earth would not interact or fall in love. Every social event seems to be enhanced with song. Where is this element within our gaming?
Focused as I have been upon the action-adventure approach to play, it has never really crossed my mind to utilise music and poetry in my worlds. I have played music in the background, sometimes even in the foreground, but this was always much like the movie score: the characters are not engaging with the sound; it’s for the players.
What could adding poetry, rhyme, and music to our worlds do to enhance the sense of the Otherworld?
Bards would have more meaning and significance, certainly, if you include such roles. But I am minded of when Aragorn sings over the Morgul blade, causing it to melt away, before using the Athalas to heal Frodo. What exactly does this old song, sung in a language not understood by the hobbits, communicate?
I am thinking about making my world’s magic draw upon songs and words, including perhaps chants and rhymes to bring dynamism to the casting. While it would be really cool to go all Tolkien and write poetry for the moment, I do think that describing the healer chanting over the character’s body would at least add some colour.
At the very least, I’d like to invite my players to enrich the play experience with imagined details that include auditory elements. Musical instruments used in interesting ritualistic ways, words muttered as prayers, songs sung to raise spirits, and legends recounted to remember fallen heroes. Aren’t these the stuff of myth and fantasy?