This amazing blog post by @riseupcomus was stuck in my head – much like a song, ironically – and this article hopes to build upon the ideas a bit, and make it easy to integrate into non-Tolkien settings.
Also, HIS MAJESTY THE WORM is shaping up to be amazing, so go check that out.
Image: Bard by Anastasiia Kriukova
Why I Like It So Much
OSR/NSR games can often feel quite grim, with ‘combat as war’, every goblin having the potential to kill, and adventures being altogether far more dangerous than in other 5th edition type games.
I think it’s exactly because of that implied grimness, that it becomes even more fun to offset it with a degree of whimsy and joy. Adventuring is not just about a dreadful depletion of resources and the battle of attrition against the world; it’s also about going to new places, facing danger, and living to tell the tale. Not just surviving, but thriving. My previous post about cooking was also an attempt to tap into that energy, and Songs of Power for the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game does exactly the same.
This is my attempt to convert the mentioned songs and mechanics to Cairn (or, more specifically, Block, Dodge, Parry, out now, wink wink).
Block, Dodge, Parry includes a framework to pick up skills and knowledge as you play (and not gated by arbitrary XP gain), so let’s apply that here, as well.
Songs can be encountered in many places; a minstrel on a market square, a bard in a tavern, a battalion of soldiers marching by, a maiden at the local well. To really understand a song, however, one must spend some time reflecting upon its meaning, the emotions behind it, and how to perform it well.
Studying A Song
You can dedicate days of downtime to learning a new song. During such a day, you need to be exposed to the song at least once. This might mean paying a singer to perform it for you, be at the same window at the same time of day to hear someone sing it or simply hire a trainer.
Each song has a listed complexity. This functions as a tracker for how many days of successful study you need to be able to perform the song.
If you’d like some random chance included in this process, I’d suggest the Learning A Skill rules as found in the very cool Downtime in Zyan:
For each day of study, roll 2d6. Apply a -1 modifier if you have no teacher, a 0 if you have a competent teacher, and a +1 if you have an expert teacher.
On a 6 or lower, you’re not catching on, and make no progress.
On a 7-9, you make steady progress, and advance the tracker by 1.
On a 10 or higher, you progress by leaps and bounds, advancing the tracker by 1 today, and automatically get a 7-9 on the next day you would have to roll.
For complexity for custom songs, I’d suggest a range of 1 (simple) to 3 (difficult) to 5 (very hard).
Singing A Song
For singing a song, use the following rules:
- Singing a song takes a full turn in combat (as per Block, Dodge, Parry rules, meaning that it takes as long as casting a spell, and that those taking quick turns go first without needing a DEX Save).
- You sing a song by making a WIL Save. You need to roll equal to or under your WIL, but above the song’s complexity.
- If you fail, you gain 1 Fatigue.
- Roleplaying by singing or speaking at least four lines that feel appropriate means you reduce the difficulty by 3 (possibly reducing it to 0).
- If a song targets a specific ally or enemy, you must be able to see them, and they must be able to hear you.
- You cannot sing in melee combat, and being attacked or attacking in melee ends the song.
Complexity is noted in brackets behind the title. These are pretty rough, and I’m pretty sure you can fine-tune them a bit more with little effort. The core themes are taken from the original blog post.
Song of the Hearth (1)
A warm song, slowly building in intensity, singing of home, friendship, family – everything worth fighting for. It is popular as a lullaby but is also sung by soldiers marching into battle.
When sung, it fills the hearts of your companions with comfort and passion, making all who hear it immune to fear and automatically passing Morale checks until the fight is over.
Song of Vigilance (2)
Sung by children playing hide-and-seek, though also mumbled by sentries to keep their wits sharp. It tells the tale of a spider checking its web for flies and is thought to have originated during a public panic about Dopplegangers, centuries ago.
When sung, it prevents your party from getting ambushed by enemies. The song has a repeating structure, running for roughly 10 minutes (or an Exploration turn within a dungeon).
Song of Slaying (1)
A shanty-like song about Gork the Barbarian, a figure of legend said to have slain literally every type of being in existence at least once. The song structure allows the performer to insert any type of creature they want into its lyrics.
The song lasts for 1 round (effectively until all combatants have had 1 turn), and gives +1 bonus damage against a particular type of foe (goblins, bandits, trolls, orcs etc.). This bonus damage cannot exceed the maximum possible damage roll of the weapon, so a 4 on a d6 becomes a 5, but a 6 remains a 6.
Song of Silent Passing (2)
Sung by the performer and usually softly hummed along to by others in the company in a call-and-response like fashion, this song describes a nobleman’s son fleeing the city after his father has been overthrown. Each couplet describes a new threat encountered and cleverly bypassed.
When sung while traveling (in either wilderness or dungeon), roll 2 instead of 1 Event Dice next time a roll comes up. The party gets to pick the most favorable result.
Song of Light Feet (2)
Sung by lumberjacks and miners when they venture further into the forest or mines than they have before, as a way to steel their nerves.
If sung while traveling, it aids in bypassing natural obstacles involving physical exertion (such as climbing a rock wall) by preventing Fatigue of the party. If sung while in a dungeon, it prevents Fatigue loss from Exhaustion or similar events.
Song of All Seasons (3)
Popular among travelers, merchants, and pilgrims, this song describes the passing of seasons. It has a strong sense of rhythm, which helps with long marches.
When sung during a Travel turn, it decreases the effects of bad weather by one tier (i.e., terrible weather has the effect of bad weather, bad weather has the effect of pleasant weather).
Song of Woe (5)
A deceivingly simple song, describing the hardships of the world and man’s struggle against it. Its complexity rests in its complicated melodic transitions.
When sung during a moment of rest, all who hear it remove 1d6 Fatigue. The singer does not restore Fatigue, and is left Deprived until they can find proper rest (a good night’s sleep in a properly made camp in the wilderness, or something better). The song’s complexity requires the singer to truly feel the woe they’re singing about, and thus it cannot be sung properly unless the singer is at least somewhat uncomfortable.
This is DM-speak for, don’t use this song to meta-game; it doesn’t work if the singer has a camp available to them, as a quick way to ‘top off’ Fatigue just before a quick rest. The party must be in a bad, desperate situation of some sorts for this song to work.
Song of Goodbye (1)
A song sung about the recently departed. It summarizes the departed’s life, but also highlights the lessons and words they would want to impart on those still living. Its melody is haunting – similar in tone to Dies Irae. Each verse ends with “That’s what [name] would say, that’s what [name] would do”.
If sung after a battle in which a (Non) Player Character has fallen, this song takes on special properties; the player of the fallen companion gets to impart their final words and goodbyes through the lyrics.
Song of Iron (3)
A song singing the praises of a particular weapon, describing past deeds and battles, and ending each verse with a warning and threat.
Singing this song in battle allows for one specific weapon to roll an extra damage die whenever it is used in an attack (as per usual in Cairn, take the highest result). The song takes one turn to sing, and lasts for the rest of the fight.
Final Notes: Worldbuilding
Songs are historically an important way of sharing culture and imparting knowledge and wisdom. Specific regions might have specific songs; songs to travel across the mountains, chill beats to fight the local goblins to, songs to sail across the sea during particular weather.
Songs thus provide an interesting vehicle to combine lore, regional information, foreshadowing and actual boons in one!
That’s my take on songs! I love how it gives bard-like capabilities to characters who aren’t specifically bards, tying into the philosophy “No classes, you are what you carry (and know)”. What do you think?
Once again, all credit to the original post!