A good many RPGs include musician skills. Sometimes they’re just in there without much of a use. Possibly the greatest music skill tragedy was in the Robotech RPG. Music is central to the theme of Macross but other than the skill existing, it had no form or function. Later on there was a sourcebook that used sound as a weapon but that’s somewhat the opposite of what music was portrayed as in the series.
I pick on Robotech because it’s a glaring example. There are many RPGs out there that include music but don’t give any structure as to why you would want to play a musician. They try to give some combat reason for playing music and they’re missing the point.
No Music For The Artifact?
Those are pretty strong words for someone who didn’t put a music skill in his game. I admit it, music is not an easy thing to tackle in an RPG. It requires a whole different set of rules beyond combat. That’s exactly why I didn’t put the skill in the game originally. For one, I didn’t feel that anyone wanted any music skills. They usually are just ignored, only to picked up by a player for a lark.
Then one of our players down in Florida asked me why there was no music skill. I was a little confused and explained that players just ignore those skills, kind of like a tailoring skill. Then he laid out his concept of what a musician should be able to do in an RPG. Mainly the thought was to use it to boost morale. I don’t have a defined morale mechanic in The Artifact but Psyche does stand in for morale in most occasions and Tortuga is going to introduce a type of morale mechanic.
As he was talking about this, I suddenly realized what else music would be good for and there is a mechanic already in place for it.
What does a musician do?
Let’s think about why a musician plays music. Music makes people happy, in one way or another, even if it’s a sad song. That fits in nicely with the morale idea. The second reason a musician plays music is to get paid. Music isn’t like a physical object if you play someone a song, it’s not like you can unplay a song if they don’t pay you. People have to really enjoy what a musician is playing and feel enough gratitude toward them that they’ll hand the musician cash. In this process, people will remember that musician, in other words they get famous and we do have a system for that. In fact any music skill would work somewhat similarly to the skill Storytelling but thats not the end of it.
So thats three effects that music can have. One is elevating mood (and thus morale). Another is gratitude for playing the music (and thus pay). The third is the musician making a name for themselves. In the Fraction Column system, fame is a charisma modifier. The more famous the character the easier it is for them to influence people.
I’m torn between the simplicity of a Music skill and the accuracy of a Play Instrument skill and a singing skill. I guess it depends on how much complexity you want in implementing this. I tend to go for realism instead of simplicity when it’s practical so I’ll go with the more complex solution.
Singing (1) – Charisma
This skill is the character’s ability to hit notes and add feeling to their voice while singing.
Play Instrument <specific> (2) – Dexterity
The player chooses one type of instrument that the character can play. A second instrument and each instrument after that advances at half the cost.
When playing music for an audience one player rolls against the character’s musical skill as the lead. Each musician in addition to the lead adds (or subtracts on a failure) a helping roll to the lead’s skill. If the character playing music fails a roll the group looses 4 fame. If the player rolls successfully they may add a Fame Point, when they roll under the 1/2 fraction column adds 2, 1/4 adds 3 and 1/8 adds 4.
When playing to raise morale a similar system is followed. One player rolls against the character’s musical skill as the lead. Each musician in addition to the lead adds (or subtracts on a failure) a helping roll to the lead’s skill. If the character playing music fails a roll the group gets a -5 CDF to Psy (and therefore morale). If the player rolls successfully they get a +5 CDF to Psy, when they roll under the 1/2 fraction column the group gets a +10 CDF, 1/4 gets a +15 CDF and 1/8 gets a +20 CDF.
Getting paid for a gig is dependent on how many people the musical group draws. If the forum is the draw and the musicians are just for atmosphere, then pay will be minimal if anything. The player of the lead character takes a Charisma roll modified by their fame. The PCs can take helping rolls. The number that the roll is passed by is how many people are attracted by the musicians. For example a musician with a Charisma of 30 and a fame of 30 rolls a 10 would attract 50 people to a venue.
Each attracted person would only pay a small amount directly to the musician, perhaps only a dollar or two.
That’s my take on how to do music. I think using it as a means to build fame and therefore powerfully enhancing charisma is a way of building up what a character can do outside of combat.