Friday, April 29, 2011

WoW : A healers' journey Pt. 1

Today’s blog is about WoW.
More specifically, the first of what is hopefully to be a small series of my experiences with my newly founded project. The healing-project.
Allow me to be more specific:
To say I’ve been a sworn and dedicated WoW-player is by no means an exaggeration. Truthfully, having tagged along since early beta, it’s a safe bet that I’ve given my part of contribution to Blizzard’s mountain of gold and broken relationships. But as the words of Edith Piaf goes; Non, je ne regrettes rien (aka IT WAS LEIK 2TALLY THE R0XX!).
On the contrary, though, my relationship with WoW has been one of modest breaks and interruptions. We had to agree to go other places and see other people. Naturally, WoW had the advantage of seeing 11.999.999 other people, whereas I had a scarce host of people. To boot, the majority of which had taken of peculiar liking of unimportant subjects, such as children, careers and all that stuff I keep wishing I’d care more about. In the end I was half-way expecting Chris Metzen to giggle in his chair, every time I decided to cancel my subscription, thinking to himself; “Where’s he going to run? He’ll be back…”.
And I would.
And still am.
My real trouble with WoW honestly began around Wrath of the Lich King. In many ways being some of an anticlimax. Not as such because the expansion in itself was bad (which truthfully, I couldn’t say as I never progressed past Naxx) but because a lot of my real life friends from The Burning Crusade quit the game around that time. In that regard, I again refer to the previous paragraph. There are some things more important in life than epics. I’ve heard.
Naturally, when you’re used to play with 10 of your best friends, suddenly accepting pugs and strangers is a daunting task. Too much of a task, really, and when I look back I’m honestly puzzled as to how I managed to stand around in Dalaran doing very little for a whole expansion. I never saw Ulduar, I never stepped into Icecrown Citadel, neither that bland coliseum-thing either. I frankly couldn’t find the enthusiasm.
This very mental enervation struck me at the beginning of Cataclysm as well. I was one of those in my guild that made it to 85 in two days, only to realize I didn’t really like what they’d done to the Warlock-class. I managed to level my old favorite class; the rogue, only to find out approximately the same. This is not me preaching the old ‘Holy shit they nerfed my class!!” as I am well aware that there are several skilled rogues and locks out there. On the other hand, it is no secret that there’s always been pet-classes in each expansions, and to some degree, at varying stages of said expansion. As for rogues, we all know we were sitting up there nice and tight on our DPS-throne, back in both The Burning Crusade and vanilla (and how I still equip my Bloodfang-set just for nostalgia).  At the same time, it was always my impressions that Warlocks had a golden age in end-game raiding of TBC. At least I remember easily achieving very high dps in Black Temple and Hyjal, without that much effort or gear, basically abusing destroy.
As for now, death knights and mages seem to have a lot of fun. And I’m happy on their account. Truly, I am. I would just never roll one, as I don’t favor those classes.
To cut what is left short: I’ve been a sworn DPS’er since the launch of WoW. Watching the white and yellow numbers flow, not standing in the fire and managing crowd control has been standard procedure for me ever since, and I frankly consider myself good at it.
But there comes a time in which it just gets too much. In this case it combines with the fact that I am not keen on the changes and/or it’s getting way too similar. After all, I’ve been looking right up the ass of one boss after another, while manically trusting daggers up his/her/its anus/es. Enough is enough. Anus-stabbing gets tedious, even for the most patient rogue.
And my rogue has the Insane in the Membrane-feat of strength, so patience is something I normally associate with him.
When I renewed my account barely two weeks ago, I decided I was eligible for my WoW-Identity-Mid-Life crisis. I needed a very long holiday away from DPS’ing.
The only alternative was to take on another part of the Holy RPG-Trinity.
How hard could it possibly be to heal? Aka “WY SO HARD 2 HEEL M0RE????”
I’ve always shouted (to myself) at the healers when they did a piss poor job. I know; I’m one of those guys, retardo dps’ers who insist that you should be able to heal me, no matter how much shit is under me. Why should I move when it royally screws over my rotation?

Well, that might be an exaggeration, but try to follow me here.
Back in my raiding days, I honestly had a hard time avoiding the occasional curse whenever I noticed our MT’s healthbar reached the ominous red area, only to expire in that demotivational  *BUUH-DUUM*-sound as the living snot was beaten out of him. In particular I remember my favored sentence “HOW HARD CAN IT BE?”
You might argue that this is the very reason why I decided to see things from another perspective. After all, one would always do well trying to walk a mile in their shoes. If you learn, great. If not, you’re a mile away and you’ve got their shoes.
Healer versus tank. Aka “Instant dungeon queue? Winning!”
The healer has intrigued me greatly since vanilla. I was a priest in beta, and was about to roll one initially had it not been for my friend getting there first. There is a certain feeling and sense of accomplishment to this role, that really makes you think you’ve made a difference, besides having a greater DPS-epeen than the rest. I suppose this could also be said for the tank, but my main problem with tanking is the obvious spotlight of responsibility. You’re expected to lead right from the bat. People respect tanks (I know I do for certain) and often follow their advice and directions. Not to say this couldn’t be done by a healer or dps’er for that matter, but you kind of expect it from the huge armor-clad guy running in the front.
Frankly, I’ve had my share of that kind of responsibility in real life. I don’t want to have it when I relax and game. I love to be the blind passenger, the unseen puppeteer, who makes things works.
That being said, I managed to once level a priest to level 57, healing through a few instances and made some observations. In general, Horde-players were much more nice and polite when I told them this was my first time healing. They also gave more compliments and took the occasional death much more relaxed. In my optic this has changed a great deal since Vanilla, but I tend to encounter more nice people on Horde-side.

Another interesting, and yet ironical fact, is that we gladly post one DPS-meter after another, screaming in nerd-joy when we get a boss-kill in record time. But you very rarely see praise towards the people who keep up the green bars and the boss at his place. Namely the tank and the healer. Only in case one of these fucks up.
My original thought was; that I can live with. So I decided to go for a healer, meaning I had the responsibility, and was more than able to skulk around in the back, making sure those green bars were kept  from running out. Sounds easy, right?

The rules of leveling. Aka “U LEIK NICE HAWT CUP OF REJUVENATION???”I’m a firm believer in two rules.

1) Practice makes perfect.
2) Mistakes are only another way for us to grow and improve.

I once made it to 80 on my paladin and decided to join up with a VOA-raid for fun. Of course I had zero experience with paladin-healing, resulting in a most embarrassing wipe, with a swift (and well deserved) kick from the raid. My shocking epiphany was that healing is, like any other role, an art to me mastered through dedication. How this is done is purely up to you.
I therefore decided to get on with it. Reach level 15 and plow through every dungeon in the game possible in my way to 85. This hellish road trip is what I wish to portray in this blog-series.
Chose your healer. Aka “SOZ, BUT WE REELY WANT A PALLY!”I love priest and think their equipment looks the most bad-ass of it all. But then again I’ve played this class a lot, and if I had to make this seem all new and exciting, I obviously had to go for another route.
Actually that bars the choice solidly, as paladin and shamans were really boring in their respective ways. I love much about paladins, just not their way of healing (I like the concept of group-healing) and shaman is just a weird class. I’ve tried rolling them four times but never made it past level 12.

I’ve always liked druids a lot, but never really had a good reason to roll one. This situation was as good as any, so shortly after, Mosaique the Tauren Druid marched out into Thunderbluff, ready to take on the world of green bars and moronic dps’ers.

The basic steps: Ragefire Chasm, Deadmines, Wailing Caverns & Shadowfang Keep. Aka “LOL CAN I TELE OUT 2 GET A SHEILD??” (True quote btw.)
I was once told that your glory as a healer is immense right up till someone dies. You’re a popular guy, wanted and asked for pretty much all around. All in all, the healer is the friendly neighbor down the road who, silently, always shows up at parties with enough cake for everyone. Everyone knows that if they need anything they can make a stroll down to his house and chances are pretty good that he’ll have it laying around. They’re even better that he’ll let you borrow it. Eventually, everyone grows accustomed to it. It’s when he finally snaps and appears at the party without any cake that he gets the most attention. People start trash-talking, and his popularity drops in an instant. The fatter and merrier people’ve become, the harder the fall. But the popularity? It’s there. As long as you don’t screw up. And people will expect you not to fail.
Popularity is reflected already in the dungeon queues, in which I was used to those 30-45 minutes for dps, and suddenly I wondering if I had to wait for five minutes or more.
Let me, first and foremost admit one thing: One of the biggest hurdles for me was to overcome what I have later termed ‘Healing-anxiety’. Just like normal anxiety, except that you get physiological reactions involving nausea, shakes, pounding heart and shortage of breath. A lot of people encounter this problem in various areas of life, such as job interviews and exams, and for me it, ironically, has chosen to manifest itself in a computer-game. This is something I plan to do an essay on later, but for now, I’m honestly telling you that just signing up as a healer for a dungeon could trigger these reactions. During some personal psychotherapy on myself, it was evidently due to extremely high expectations from myself and my skills. I was also afraid of what would happen if/when I fucked it up and we would wipe.
The really bad thing about this, is that if you give in/up, you’re pretty much only disappointing yourself, which can potentially turn into sadness and depression later. I was aware that whenever I’d turn down a queue because I felt stress, it was followed by a short relief and then personal disappointment in myself.
Disappointment because I’ve always wanted to be a good healer and master what I consider to be a really noble craft. I’m often speculating whether this is merely a side-effect from my therapeutic gene, but the feeling that I made a difference, when everything seemed to come crashing down…that’s everything to me.
And let’s start with that feeling, because I actually did manage to achieve it. More than I bargained for.
Ragefire Chasm
Lesson learned: Tanks without shields and only partly mail-armor are fragile, and should be forced to watch ‘Eragon’ on repeat.
RFC hasn’t changed that much with Cataclysm, at all. Likely this was also the reason why I managed to break the nervousness, as I’ve been there a couple of times, and on my priest it was really easy. That hasn’t changed either, expect the fact that the group was a lot dumber than back then.
I don’t really make demands that people step in with full heirlooms or min-maxed their entire sets. But when you enter and see your paladin-tank wielding a one-hander, no shield and some parts leather, you can’t help getting that sour taste of “Welcome to the jungle”. Add in the obvious aggroing hunter-pet, and the rogue who for some TOTALLY unexplained reason, decides to pull four mobs on his own.
Now, on this level it’s not really that huge of a difference (not compared to just mentioned tank) but I dread how this could’ve turned out at higher level, where swiftmend and rejuv likely won’t cut it.
I imagine he will die.

RFC was also a great way to try out and see the difference from priest to druid. While not entirely transparent yet, I’m at least telling myself that my HoT’s are stronger and I have to get used to playing a bit more reactionary. On my priest I often delighted in Power Word: Shield to save idiotic aggro-pulling rogues and clothies, whereas now I have to pay a little bit more attention.
Lesson learned: This instance has really improved for the better. The rest of your pug-group don’t give shit about you till their health-bar is empty.
The second conclusion is an exaggeration, but began in my second run of Ragefire, in which the tank for some reason decided not to pick up any strays that went mad on healing-aggro. That also accounted for a wide majority of DPS’ers, mind you. It seemed as if, as long as they lived, it didn’t really matter I was getting gang-banged behind the scenes. After all, as long as everyone was still standing, it was likely a sign that I could handle it.
Healing and typing “TANK! Pick up add, please!” is kind hard, when you have to heal a tank taking too much damage, yourself in leather, and idiotic rogue who pulls adds. Just saying. Might be an additional lesson learned: Make a macro spamming that. Maybe make one in green, saying the same just more politely.
Nothing terribly bad really happened in this instance, and I even decided to run it a couple of times. I was much luckier with my tanks here.
As a side note this instance has always been one of my all time favorites, and it’s good to see that it’s still just as good. I still miss mr. Smite, but you can’t have it all, I assume.
Wailing Caverns
Lesson learned: Still takes a lot of time. Hunter pets make for surprisingly good turtle-tank-power, when your original tank leaves. I love rejuvenation.
Wailing Caverns is a nice instance. Cozy, almost. Long, yes, but interesting, and the first time I really started getting those ‘WAH!TANKLOSINGHEALTHFAST!!!”-moments. Nothing bad really happened, though, and the degree of moronic dps’ers significantly dropped. The obvious ninja-looter appeared, though, and despite hating ninjas as much as the next man (after all, I’m a pirate-guy) I really didn’t want to start a fight about it at so low level. Our main tank left, though, which didn’t really bother me, as our retradin managed to tank better than him. Frankly, when we pulled out our hunter’s turtle “Turtle” (so much for originality after all) it did really well on some bosses.
Shadowfang Keep
Lesson learned: Shit got real. Despite wanting to see new instances, you pretty much tend to return to the green bars. Casting heals while being gang-banged by ghouls is hard.
I’ve been to the old SFK on my priest, a long time ago. I was eager to see the new setup. However, I must’ve gotten unlucky with my group, as the morons kept pulling as if they were paid for it. I barely saw anything from the new instance, as my gaze was ever fixed on those quickly-dropping bars.
Again, you must seriously start to hate those players who insist on pulling shit on themselves, no basically no matter what kind of armor they wear. It goes without saying that they expect you to heal through it, which isn’t totally implausible with good mail dps’ers, as long as you’re quick.
We had a situation with commander Springvale, in which an idiotic caster decided to pull a trash-mob. I don’t get it why groups won’t clear the entire room before pulling, honestly. Nonetheless, I actually felt a bit proud for saving the situation nicely, without any deaths.
The final encounter was close. Not sure exactly what went wrong, but I imagine people standing in barrage was serious business. Not that I’d have problems with that, but the fact that the tank didn’t pick up the ghouls meant I had to spend a lot of time just keeping myself up. As none of the dps’ers seemed to give a shit either.

It’s a these situations that you get so tempted to just let it stand, die and shout at the morons. But then again, it was a healthy challenge, and the paladin tank managed to at least kick in a lay on hands, which saved us the final seconds. And I got my fancy new staff, with +30 spellpower enchant.

Coming up next.
Chapter 2: Kinder garden: Follow Mosaique the Cow, as he ventures forth in the name of Nature, into new challenging content. Will he defeat and conquer the mighty Hogger of Stormwind Stockades, and the entire army of the Scarlet Monestary? Or will add-ignoring tanks and retardo-rogues be the end of him?
Don’t miss the next chapter!

Warhammer: Skaven Painting Pt. 3 - Of Rat Ogres and tiny men

Not a whole lot to say these days, and I suppose you’re more than entitled to flame me for that. Frankly, I now have more time than I can ever remember. Yes, still waiting for my final project to pass at university.
That being said there’s been a birthday in between, which involved moderate amounts of alcohol, and my new ‘Project Healer’…project. I’ll get back to you on that one later. Hopefully soon.
Oh, and I’m moving in with my better half. I’m actually amazed of the associated consumption of time.
However, just to feel that something is happening in here while the weather outside is SO great, a small update on the Rat Ogres. That’s right, I finally managed to finish those. I’m aware that I’ve put them off for way too long, considering how long they’ve stood around. It might be due to my opinion that models like them should truly be expressed in many details, and more than often I didn’t approve of the final result. Especially the Master-Bred (aka ‘the blue one’) caused me a lot of headache before I was slightly happy with it.
I went along and decided to apply quickshader. Not my first option, but then again they did stand out a bit from their dirty, gloomy fellow-rats. Which seemed…stupid, when they’re standing so much out in the crowd. I really don’t want my hammers to be the shiny example. I want them to look their worst for their first battle (in which they’re hopefully going to bash in some ork-brains).
The original photo became very dark for some odd reason. Another one was taken at the brightest hour of the day, which improved matters a lot. I’ve decided to post both.

I’m quite okay with them for now. Also the fact that so far I only own four, and I really need six, meaning I need to find someone who could sell me an additional two. And I’d TRULY like to have to Isle of Blood-versions. Frankly, I loathe the old ones (the gorilla-versions) and till I find some kind of solution, we will have to go for large-base invisible rat ogres.
Seems skavenish enough for me.
The second highlight of this post would be the fact that I really need a little holiday from Skavens. I’ve painted rats out of my ass the past month, and it’s driving me crazy. Especially the clannies who just keep on coming and coming, and I can’t make myself go into speed-painting. I did some with the handlers of the Rat Ogres, mostly because they will always stand in the shadow of their larger brethren (literally) and likely not be seen too much.

So I finally decided to start up my second army. Despite the fact that I have half an army of WoC, I wanted something with color, metal, jolly good spirit and guns that didn’t misfire.
In other words, I have started growing a long beard…

Work is in progress.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

D&D: Music and GM'ing - Part 1

Finally having the time to once again sit down and do some blogging, I decided to take a break from painting my Warhammer-army, and finally touch upon a subject I’ve always wanted to discuss.
That of D&D and the use of music.
Back in 2007 Dragon-magazine (issue 355) printed a short article discussing the subject of including music in your D&D-sessions, along with some suggestions as to how one could acquire and utilize it in the best way possible. Though a solid article, it sadly (in my opinion) spent too much time on the practical details of obtaining the music, and in what way one could prepare it for the session.

I’ve been using music in basically all D&D-campaigns, since I started playing back in 1996. I’m a big proponent for musical adventuring, and with this blog I hope to inspire some of you to at least give it a shot, or otherwise provide some suggestions as to what kind of music seems to do especially well.
Also keep in mind that despite the title, D&D could translate roughly into any fantasy-setting. In the second part, I will provide a very short section in the end for Horror, Sci-Fi and World of Darkness, but I admit my experience is limited in that regard.

Why use music in your campaign?
There are as many opinions on this matter as there are people, which is frankly understandable. After all, it comes down to personal taste, and I am in no way preaching or trying to convince anyone. In the end, you’re likely reading up on this, either as a designated or an aspiring GM, and the logical conclusion is: It’s your decision.
However, there are a few points you might want to consider the advantages of:

Don’t tell it. Show it! 
One of the finest tasks of the GM is the ability to not only tell but also portraying an engulfing, trustworthy (as trustworthy as fantasy-universes become), living world for the players. After all, if you didn’t feel like living in a fantastic universe, you might as well just bring Descent: Journeys in the Dark to your next session.
This is the same reason why pictures are included in many adventurers, as they, after all, say more than a thousand words. Music can’t so easily be included, but is often bound to have the same effect. Travelling through a meadow, with subtle tones of flutes and birds singing in the background, will often provide significantly more depth to the description the GM is providing from the textbook.
In that way, a musical score might say more than…500 words. Maybe 600.
Duel of the Silence
Combat can be extremely more intense and rewarding, with a tense track playing in the background. I tend to imagine how the final battle of, say, The Phantom Menace would have been, if not for Duel of the Fates.
Setting the Theme
If you know, well in advance (which you should as a GM) what themes will dominate the upcoming session, providing the right music from the start will get your players quickly into the proper mood. Is loss and despair coming up? Don’t worry that you might not be Shakespeare. Write a small introduction about how everything has seemed moody and depressing of late, how dark clouds are gathering and people are losing faith. A sorrowful tune is the spice that can make it all work out for you from the start.
Forcing the theme
Though an atmosphere shouldn’t have to be forced, putting up a proper theme will often tell your players, discretely, that right now might not be the time to jump around casting dancing lights. Otherwise, putting a happy theme on loop will bolster that merry spirit, and make sure your players will notice the fun is about to stop, once you switch track.
Hello, silence, my old friend!
Humans are adaptive creatures, meaning we often tend to accommodate to the surroundings. Playing with music might feel awkward tin the beginning, even later at the beginning of the campaign. However, as time passes, the players might investigate a dungeon with a recording of wind blowing through caverns sounding from your speakers. And they won’t notice a thing.
Once they enter the inner sanctum, bathed in unholy red light, you can turn off everything, and let silence spread through the room. Suddenly, silence is uncomfortably noisy, and you’ve doubled your gain, as the players start having a really bad feeling about this place.
After all, they’re relied on music to set the theme.
Without it, you’re basically robbing them of a sense of orientation, which can be a strong narrative element.
“Hi, my name is DJ-GM!”  
If you’re new to using music in your campaign (and perhaps, new to GM’ing in the first place) a potential DJ-career might seem potentially overwhelming. Dragon Magazine #355 presents some suggestions as to how you can better manage and prepare your DJ-booth ahead of time. My personal advice; Keep it simple. Keep it safe (not hidden). Begin with 10-15 tracks and work your way out. You might potentially end up with thousands of good tracks, and most human beings won’t be able to remember even half of them. Stressing yourself and wasting time searching for that special song takes time away from the game, and bores you and your players. Prepare in advance, and chose what to use.
“No, really. I like Tokyo Hotel!”
It’s impossible to account for personal taste. Some players prefer one type of music, and some prefer otherwise. To some, the wrong kind of music might very well have the exact opposite effect of what you’re trying to achieve, if they find your DJ-selection distasteful. Others will merely be bothered by it. Another group I used to game in, sincerely insisted that the only music to be played during session was metal, which in the end was really distracting to me. Be prepared to hear your players out, if you decide to spin that shit.
“Who’re those ‘Beatles’-people I keep hearing so much about?”
Some people just don’t like music. They exist, trust me. No matter what you chose, they’d rather listen to silence or the washing-machine in the next basement-room.
“Hi, I wondered if you still have that Baldur’s Gate Soundtrack on sale?”
Getting your hands on the music can be a long and, despite what Dragon Magazine points out, demanding task, depending on your preferences. I am not venturing too much into that territory in this blog, but be prepared to maybe spend some time looking. Various pages on the internet are selling individual tracks from popular albums and movies, whereas some tracks from old computer-games and the like have been freely (and legally) published for download. Remember that downloading tracks from the internet can potentially be illegal, due to copyright reasons!
Luckily, some computer-games have published official soundtracks, whereas others actually include their music as individual MP3’s.
Music-Use: Atmosphere versus Cinematic
In general I prefer to perceive my music as either the general, discrete type used to create an atmosphere, or the very active track, which draws a lot of attention to itself, often used only once in a specific scene.
Atmosphere is any track or repeating series of sounds which can be used to establish the players’ current environment. When music is used it is often set on repeat, or switching between variations of the same theme. An example of this could be the overland-music from Oblivion or Morrowind, which is divided into several tracks, and yet sound amazingly similar.
Sounds are often recordings of natural occurrences or environments, such as wind blowing in the treetops, and birds gently singing. Or it could be the sound of rain, a ruffled crowd or waves slowly brushing up on the beach. In most cases, the recording can be set on repeat without many people noticing.
Cinematic music is used for that special scene. You are of no doubt aware of them from movies. The one in which the villain raises his evil speech, the hero is making a run for it to get out of the burning house, or the Balrog chasing down the fellowship. While narratively powerful, this can require a great deal of coordination from the GM in order to work perfectly. Especially if you’re the kind (like me) who prefer to write down important scenes in advance, to be read out loud to the players.
However, making it work, and the music setting in at just the right time, can contribute to amazing memorable scenes. If you’re new to DJ-GM’ing, I’d suggest you stick to atmosphere initially, as this only requires you to change tracks, whenever your players change location.
Pitfalls of DJ-GM’ing
Also known as common mistakes.Too loud!: Music can be very different from when you’re sitting at home with your headphones, compared to coming out of your speakers. Especially if they are placed near you. Your voice should always take precedence, and music should be the background choir.
Using too popular music. Aka “Oh! I know that one! Isn’t that the one from that Gladiator-movie?” : While using popular tracks is certainly justifiable, be prepared that it might backfire, should you decide to utilize very popular overtures. Whereas using music from a scene in The Dark Knight might be great in a night-time investigation, playing the well-known theme from the new Batman-movies might just be too much or simply be too distracting.In the end, it comes down to your knowledge of your players. If none of them have ever played World of Warcraft (I’ve heard those people do actually exist) you’re blessed with a myriad of possible soundtracks. Whereas another group would instantly utter; “Cool, Arthas-theme! Reminds me of that raid yesterday…”
Being a one-track pony: As sessions progress, our energy-level often drops. That’s okay, but make sure to keep the music changing at least a little bit. Late at night it can be surprisingly tempting to simply switch between the same four tracks. Use variation, not only to avoid dullness, but to aspire people to move on and experience new things.
What is good fantasy-music?
The answer to this is in no way, and will likely never be, set in stone. Below are some of my recommendations, regarding soundtracks, games and albums.  In part 2 I will describe my suggestions for various, but recurring, fantasy-situations.
Dragon Age: Origins. OST.
Readers of my previous blogs will know that I very much favor DA:O as one of the best games ever to be released. A great reason for this is its great selection of music. According to the Dragon Age Wiki, it was officially released on the 3rd of November, 2009, and composed and arranged by Inon Zuhr.
Various versions of the OST seem to appear. A special version was included with Collector’s Edition, featuring seven new tracks, though a great deal of the tracks are available on Amazon.
There are still tracks lacking from the official releases, such as the one from The Fade, among others. Nonetheless, this album is a great start if you’re new to DJ’ing. There is good music for battle as well as exploration, and general mood-setting. Also, despite its popularity, most of the scores are so subtle and varied that your players likely won’t recognize it.

Baldurs' Gate and Baldurs' Gate 2 OST
I honestly can’t give any advice as to how you should acquire these masterpieces, but they are really worthwhile getting. Why? Because this is actually one of those albums which you want your players to recognize. I’ve been playing with only a very few people who honestly complained about the all too familiar tunes in the backgrounds, which honestly seemed a bit cantankerous… In my humble opinion, both tracks are great for that special nostalgic feeling. Even if your players never touched the Baldurs’ Gate-series they will likely appreciate a lot of these tracks as well. Much of this music is to my knowledge by Michael Hoening.The BG-OSTs (still sounds like a weapon from Quake or something) offer some awesome tracks for your average adventuring, whether your party is travelling in the ruins of a lonesome forest, or in the depths of the dungeons. Others are great for rich/poor taverns, or as a theme-song for that very special NPC. After all, that was what these lovely games were all about. There are some few good combat tracks, though some of them are rather short, and they do tend to get a bit repetitive after some time.
BG2 offers some really good background music for when you’re reading introductions aloud, such as “Galean Bayle sailing” and “Jon Battle and Peace”. It’s worthwhile to familiarize yourself with as much as possible, as they make for awesome sequences.
Icewind Dale 1+2 OST.
Continuing with the same theme; the IWD-games. I’m frankly not aware of any soundtrack to the second game, but I did manage to listen to the first one back then. Overall, they do not seem to offer as much potential as BG. Some combat-themes which are okay, and some great stuff for taverns and inns.

The Vale of Shadow-theme actually turned out to be massively great in my Savage Tide-campaign, when my players were exploring the ancient Olmen *cough*Inkan*cough* ruins.
That being said, I wouldn’t go to great lengths to get my hands on these.

Planescape Torment OST
To me PST is all about NPC-music. There are some tremendous and awesome themes for the tremendous and awesome characters of the original game. PST is a game which I really want to love, and actually progress into (further than the mortuary in the start, at least) but that shouldn’t influence my opinion of its musical scores.
If you haven’t played it and you’re new to the whole planescape-concept, I might best describe it as ‘wonderfully philosophically weird’. That also shows in the music. If you’re running a planescape-campaign, you’re likely acquainted with this game, at least. That being said, giving it a chance is not a bad idea. Plus, it’s not really that common among new players, at all, so you’re not likely to have players who recognize it.
You won’t find much combat-oriented music here, though the few pieces are by no means bad.
Neverwinter Nights 1+2
Great games with some great music. Though I’ve never been that much of a fan regarding the first one. I’m actually not entirely sure as to how big the difference really is between the two of them, regarding music. A lot of it seems to overlap. What I especially like in NWN 2 is its combat-themes. These are easily the best I’ve heard in a game to date.
NWN 1+2 both have the special advantage that the music is included with the games, as you install them. Even better, so is the environmental sound. Those who’ve played the games will remember how howling wind, rain, breezes, and muffled shouting behind closed doors all were a natural part of the adventuring. Hell, there is even the sound of a room with talking people, a busy street and much more. With no musical interaction these tracks make for perfect scores, once you think everyone needs a little break, or simply if you’re not that big a fan of music. I’d strongly suggest you to at least give it a listen. All the files should be included in your Neverwinter Nights install-directory.

World of Warcraft
We’re not getting around this. I am aware that there is some conservatism regarding keeping PnP and WoW separated, which seems silly. Whether one likes the universe or not, the Blizzard-boys have made some really good and solid musical scores in their many years, and a lot of them are more than viable for tabletop-gaming, even without using the extremely well-known themes.
WoW has generated tons of great scores in its time, which is also the reason why it’s so hard to specifically recommend an album as such. Good tracks tend to be found spread out along the different OST’s, which by now should cover The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm. A lot of the original music is still good, such as the familiar Stranglethorn Vale-theme, for more exotic adventures. You really have to sit down and make a listen and see if there’s anything you like. Much of the cinematic music is good for your own reading out loud-pieces.  Just don’t, ironically, expect that much great music for battle.
If the majority of your group plays WoW this can actually be quite the advantage (as long as it doesn’t lead to WoW-talk, too much). Other people will beat you with their cane, telling you that Gygax is spinning in his grave.
Might and Magic 6 – The Mandate of Heaven
From very new to very old. MM6 hasn’t really aged well on the graphical side.
Frankly, it’s ugly as sin. Still it’s a wonderful game, and the CD comes with a number of tracks ready to play in your stereo. Ah, those were the days…
Whereas some of the tracks here are downright dull and not very inspiring, a few of them are quite fantastic for the special feeling. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I am judging partly with rose-tinted goggles, since MM6 was the first piece of music I ever used. Still, I do believe there is some potential to be had, especially when your group is travelling outside in the open landscape. A few instrumental dungeon-tracks are there as well, though they tend to get a bit too instrumental and dramatic at times. Listen and judge for yourself.
If end up liking this, I can truly recommend to also check out Might and Magic 7, which is basically more of the same stuff.

Final Fantasy 7-8-9
I have a strange relationship with FF. The reason for only mentioning 7-9 is the fact that these are the only ones I’ve played. That being said, I like a lot of the FF-scores, and always wanted to include some of them, one time or the other.
The main problem for me is the fact that I never seem to find a situation into which the tracks really fit. FF does have its own kind of musical style which might be kind of hard to include in your average basic fantasy-campaign, unless you end up with an ideal situation. Some of the tracks are generic enough in themselves, so that they can qualify for almost everything, whereas others have almost zero potential. Still, Dragon recommended One-Winged Angel if I recall correctly, which is perhaps one of the most popular villain-themes to ever exist (and with good reason) so I am sure others besides me had the thought.

There are a few good combat-themes in FF, but again, they aren’t exactly classical as you’ll find in BG or NWN. If you’re going for medieval fantasy, Final Fantasy 9 might be your best bet.

Temple of Elemental Evil
If you’re like me, you tried ToEE once it finally hit the shelves and left with a bitter feeling in your mouth. While not a particular awesome game, one had to at least respect it for staying true to the 3rd edition rules. And its good music. I am not aware whether an official soundtrack was ever released, but I seem to remember the music as available files from the installation. Just like NWN.
ToEE isn’t exactly abundant with awesome tracks, but there are a few that might be worthwhile using. The theme in Hommlet has the perfect atmosphere of an idyllic country-town, and the battle music is varied, offering just the right pacing. Plus it easily bears being put on repeat for longer fights.

Midnight Syndicate
I’m split about the Dungeons & Dragons soundtrack created by these people in 2003. The same counts for the 13th hour-soundtrack. First and foremost, let me say that we seriously need a lot more of initiatives like the ones taken by this band. There are a lot of good tracks in various games, but to see dedicated artists actually undertake the making of music specifically aimed at PnP-games deserves recommendation.
Some tracks on the D&D soundtrack and the 13th hour are great. Tracks such as ‘Beasts of the Borderlands’ , ‘Family Secrets’, ‘Deep trouble’ and ‘Troubled times’ are memorable, whereas others are generic at best. Again, you might disagree with me on this, so the best advice is to give these guys a chance and listen it out. I imagine that the real issue with this one, isn’t that the music is bad. Just that it might be hard to imagine what you could use it for. There isn’t much music for battle, and the one track that does involve combat contains background sounds of people fighting. Personally, I’ve always found that effect rather silly. But if it’s your style, all the better.
Oblivion+Morrowind OST
Great games. Great atmosphere. Poor combat.
I don’t think I can put it better. Especially Oblivion has some extremely nice tracks for outdoor exploring. “Peace of Akatosh” and “Wings of Kyraneth” from Oblivion has become my main theme whenever my players are exploring sunny plains and forests.
Everything seems to be at this meditative slow pace, which is also the reason I loved the games. Even the combat-music was…spacey.  Some might prefer this, I really didn’t.
There are some tracks for dungeons as well, which are more or less on par with the MM 6 and 7.
All in all, both of these ‘albums’ are awesome if you want a meditative, almost therapeutic, session with a relaxed atmosphere. Jeremy Soule seems to be the main man to look for here, by the way.
Thief: Deadly Shadows OST
I’m a long time fan of the Thief-series, and for your average gloomy-ominous-dangerous place, you will have to look for some time, before you find something better. Eric Brosius is the genius behind these tracks, which are characterized by a subtle unnerving tune. If you’ve ever played some of the Thief-games, you might be familiar with the eerie feeling associated with them. The music is, sometimes, barely noticeable and instead turns into a collection of strange sounds and nodes. At other times it’s merely strange or threatening. Seaside Manor is one of my favorite tracks at all time, as is the level in the game from which it was taken.
Listen this soundtrack out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Thus we conclude the first part. Stay tuned for part 2 in which I will review various typical fantasy-elements with specific recommendations for music. I will also attempt to make suggestions for other types of campaigns.

Warhammer: Skaven painting pt. 2

What I really loathe about painting rank and file-troops is the fact that you can feel so overwhelmingly productive, and yet have so little to show off from it. After all, there is a certain limit as to how many times one can take a snapshot of 25 clan rats, shouting “IO! BEHOLD!”
Combine this fact with my current ownership of 200 clannies, and you might start to see my point of view.  I’ve found it to be beneficial to paint around 20 of them at a time (which can easily take a night’s work) and thereafter proceed to something more interesting, like a rogre og something from a different army.
I’ve kept my Warriors of Chaos-models around for this very reason, even though I despise the army itself.
Coming up next will be the dwarf-army. In that way, I go from alternating between painting small, slim people and big fat people, to just painting small fat people.
And a god damn gun. Or five.
I have to admit, I’m a whore for war-machines. Several of my friends are into heavy magic usage or highly armored juggernaut-heroes. I’m more for the toys than the boys.

Yes, that’s what she said, I know.
I never was much for magic, which tends to reflect itself in my lack of motivation regarding magic phases. I really just wish to blast something and get it over with, moving on to what I tend to term “Clan Skryre-phase”. In the opposing player’s magic-phase, I deep inside want to spam dispel scrolls and dices, so I can get on laying the smackdown on them.
As a lot of friends have told me; “That sounds like dwarf-talk to me!”
Moving on to the Underempire:

The Warp Lightning Cannon has always been a personal favorite of mine, despite its tendency to detonate, and spin around while blasting half of my army into oblivion. This is more or less portrayed by the engineer having wretched off the handle already. Whereas this tendency has led to several episodes of shouting and cursing, at many other times, a well aimed S10 small template has indeed saved the day. Such acceptances are a natural part of the mercurial nature of the Skaven.

Just as lethal and potentially more random is the Warp Fire Thrower.  I tend to compare this Weapon-Team with getting severely drunk Saturday night, waking up in the gutter and vomiting on an old lady in the bus. I can make this comparison justifiably as I’ve done it. Once.
The major point being that you swear never ever to do it again.
Of course you’ll be out there at it again the week after. Whether it’s vodka or a S5 template ignoring armor save, able to fire into melee. And when you (like me) roll your 11th misfire (true story) in a battle, and your weapon team storms into your jezzails, screaming in terror before they explode…you pretty much swear to yourself; never, ever again.

That’s why I own three of them, of course. I am certain that NEXT time; they’ll all make it through.

Skaven-players tend to be split about the usage of plague monks. They were the first skavens I ever bought, so naturally they hold a dear place in my heart. Back then the choice was mostly based on style. After all, there is so much to love about monks spreading plague. Game-wise I’m still a bit on the fence. Monks are a bit more expensive than clannies and certainly more than slaves. I can’t imagine them being that great as a hammer-regiment due to their low strength, and once they lose a round of combat they really seem to sink below value, compared to, say, Vermins with a banner. Their toughness 4 seem nice, but the lack of armor makes me think twice about using them as an anvil, compared to a solid mass of slaves or clannies with shields. On the other hand, I’ve been hearing good stuff about monks with a plague furnace. I also have an idea that they might work out fine against huge packs of weak infantry, such as skeletons or goblins, if you need to tear them down fast.
I suppose I’m still a bit on the fence, though mostly I end up sticking to clannies, slaves for anvil and rogres, vermins and a-bombs for hammer. I’ve had a great love for monks, censer-bearers, jezzails and globadiers, but they tend to rarely show up on my list.
There’s also a picture of 75 clan rats. But you’ve seen it all before, really.