Seas of Infinity

One of the albums that I’m happy to go back and listen to is Mega Drive’s 198XAD. It’s very atmospheric while always staying in your face, and it never lets up until the end. Well Mega Drive is back with Seas of Infinity, released through Lakeshore Records (also home to the amazing Mr. Robot and Stranger Things soundtracks!). There’s some definite evolution and growth, but it’s still his signature sound; you can’t mistake the hectic yet somehow structured chaos that is the very essence of Mega Drive.

Soundtracks – Part 2

Three years ago I wrote about my favorite soundtracks, focusing on computer and video games. I’ve discovered a few more since then, and I also wanted to include a few notable film soundtracks. It’s hard to talk about each soundtrack without also going into the game or film that it accompanies, but I’ll try to keep it short. Let’s go!

The 7th Guest



It’s hard to describe the music for The 7th Guest. It’s a weird, jazzy kinda thing. It’s definitely something that’s not heard very often, and I sure wish there was more of it. Checking out their horrifically-designed website, I don’t see a whole lot of material produced since this game. I’m glad I got to discover this music, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Alan Wake

 

The Alan Wake soundtrack is pretty hard to distinguish from a film soundtrack. It’s polished, dynamic, and emotive. It sometimes feels a little too polished and subdued, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best soundtracks for an incredible game. Petri Alanko has worked on several other projects, including Quantum Break and the Nightwish Imaginaerum soundtrack.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

 

During the limited time I played Amnesia The Dark Descent, the music definitely contributed to my uneasiness and encouragement to not explore very far at a time. While I enjoyed watching Markiplier’s playthrough of Amnesia I couldn’t hear much of the music; but when I took the time to listen to this soundtrack composed by Mikko Tarmia, I was very enthralled as well as unsettled. Check this link for a short Youtube video where Mikko discusses his process while creating the Amnesia soundtrack. Along with this soundtrack, Mikko has worked with Frictional Games to create the scores for the Penumbra series of games as well as Fricitional’s latest hit, SOMA. A soundtrack for a cancelled game, Tempest, is now available on Bandcamp as well.

Bastion



The Bastion soundtrack took me by surprise; like the music for The 7th Guest, it’s not what I was expecting at all, which is a good thing. With the use of acoustic guitar I couldn’t help but get a Firefly feel, but there’s still a subtle electronic base to it. Along with Bastion, Darren Korb has worked with Supergiant Games on their latest release, Transistor.

Blade Runner

 

A movie by Ridley Scott with a soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s hard to describe this combination other than monstrous, or even colossal. Using the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, Vangelis crafted one of the most sublime soundtracks ever heard, with notes of sorrow and wonder intertwining throughout. This perfectly fit the movie, blending sci-fi with noir. This is definitely one of those soundtracks you have to have!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

While Bethesda released Fallout 3 between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim, it still didn’t seem that long after Oblivion that Skyrim came out. Every screenshot and preview I saw involved snow. And hills. And tall mountains. Yay, more areas that the player has a hard time if even possible to travel! My experience with Oblivion was mixed, and I wasn’t sure Skyrim would be that much of an improvement, again with so little time seeming to pass between Bethesda’s games. Well, most of my worries were put to rest with Skyrim, and it is much closer to my ideal computer RPG.

As far as the music goes, it can be hard not to compare this soundtrack to Oblivion, Guild Wars, etc. Like Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule does have the ability to craft a certain signature sound for each project, but underneath it’s still the same composer, and for better or worse the listener is going to get a consistent experience in regards to the music. In Skyrim there is a bit more vocal work that fits in well with the Nord motif. We still get the beautiful strings and other soft sounds that help fill the void of sometimes slow exploration in the game, but even that is a bit more subdued and sparse compared to other games.

The Fifth Element

 

Released in 1997, The Fifth Element was one of the biggest-budget sci-fi movies at that point. Directed by Luc Besson, this movie went above and beyond when it came to everything: story, design, and even the music. Tapping the talents of fellow Frenchman Éric Serra, this movie has a very unique soundtrack, often moving from hard, explosive, face-hitting notes and accents to soft and subdued saxophone and keys.

Firewatch



Chris Remo has worked on several game soundtracks, and before the score for Firewatch he was probably best known for his work on Gone Home. Now a full-time member of Campo Santo, Chris worked on Firewatch as a designer, writer, and scorer. Compared to Gone Home, the music for Firewatch is much more subdued, utilizing electric piano and acoustic guitar for its outdoor vibes. Like many game scores each track is painfully short, and I always want more!

The Last Door


The Last Door is a short but excellent retro-style adventure game, featuring creepy visuals and a very emotive soundtrack by Carlos Viola. This soundtrack makes astounding use of cellos and other stringed instruments, and you can’t help but feel sucked in. Along with the soundtrack for the first game/season, Carlos also produced the soundtrack for Season 2.

Mirror’s Edge

 

Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was lauded for its incredible lighting and unique gameplay. The score, by Solar Fields, is an incredible electronic composition. Fitting perfectly with the game’s motif of running and climbing, this soundtrack would make an excellent workout accompaniment.

Mr. Robot



I had heard about Mr. Robot quite a lot before I finally got around to watching the first episode on Amazon Prime, and to say it floored me is an understatement. And the key reason for that wasn’t the acting, story, editing, etc.; not to say all of those weren’t fantastic, because they all were! It was actually because of the music. To say it’s stunning, or even superb, doesn’t serve justice to Mac Quayle‘s work. I would at least put this on par with Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack or maybe even a notch above; it’s THAT good.

Shadowrun Returns

 

While I’ve played Shadowrun Dragonfall on PC, it was the music of Shadowrun Returns that I remember hearing in the game, as well as what’s available to listen to if purchased from GOG. It hasn’t been since the Deus Ex games (as far as being more cyberpunk rather than general sci-fi) that I’ve heard such outstanding music featuring synths and drum machines (but these days just as likely sequenced all via software, who knows!) that elicit the streets, clubs, gunfights, and more that the cyberpunk genre encapsulates so well. If I was to consider running an RPG session in the cyberpunk or near-future genre, this soundtrack would be an absolute necessity!

Silent Hill 2 & 3

 

While the music of the first Silent Hill was very sparse, somewhat atmospheric, and leaning towards industrial, it was the release of the next two games that Akira Yamaoka really upped the ante for video game music. They were also the games that ratcheted up the personal emotions and terrors that made the Silent Hill series such a success at that time. Bringing in more use of synths and electric pianos, electric guitar, and drums and other rhythmic sounds, the soundtracks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 capture the horror and sadness of the games in a unique manner.

The Social Network

 

Anyone my age or older will recognize Trent Reznor first and foremost as the founder and key member of Nine Inch Nails. These days, he’s likely to be recognized just as much if not more for the outstanding film scoring he’s created along with Atticus Ross. The Social Network was the first film scored by this duo, and the first of 3 films of David Fincher‘s they worked on (the others being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). While I can hear some NIN influence in the soundtrack, there’s also a lot more subtlety as a film soundtrack demands. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can still listen to over and over.

Tron: Legacy

 

When it comes to electronic music mastery I don’t think anyone could argue that what Daft Punk did for Disney’s Tron Legacy was nothing short of an astonishing masterpiece. It’s just that good. The movie itself was received with mixed responses (I personally think it’s far better than the first one), but there was no denial that what was pouring out of the speakers was true analog bliss. Utilizing monster modular synths and their decades of experience, Daft Punk delivered in spades. If I could only listen to one soundtrack ever again, I would choose this without hesitation; if I could only listen to one album period, this would be in the top 5 contenders.

System-neutral RPG resources Part 2

Almost three years ago I wrote a post about some great system-neutral RPG resources. I wanted to follow-up and add a few more I’ve discovered since then.

D30 DM Companion

First up from Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.’s New Big Dragon Games is the D30 DM Companion, a 40-page book filled with many, many charts that utilize the fairly-rare D30 die (while other dice or an app could be substituted, I think the D30 is a neat die and recommend purchasing one). Before getting into the charts there’s a couple of other useful things presented first: a dungeon mapping master key (very handy if not playing Moldvay D&D Basic, as those games don’t include many or any mapping symbols), a dungeon crawl worksheet (a very detailed sheet for elaborating exactly what’s in a room), and a classed character attribute generator (I admit this page is pretty confusing to me and doesn’t seem that helpful).

D30 Sandbox Companion

Similar to the prior entry, the D30 Sandbox Companion is another handy book from New Big Dragon Games, this time to help the DM with outdoor/expert-level adventures. This book also starts with some handy pages before getting into the charts: a wilderness mapping key (again, helpful if not playing Cook/Marsh Expert D&D), a hex crawl worksheet (a little handier than the dungeon crawl worksheet as it covers a larger area), a settlement worksheet (this is very handy for detailing a village or town, but may not provide enough room for a larger town or city), and an NPC record sheet. What I really like about this book is that it provides so much helpful charts and information to elaborate and build up an outdoors/wilderness adventure. Pretty much every fantasy RPG, from Cook/Marsh Expert D&D to every OSR RPG I’ve read so far, throws in a few pages of rules and maybe some charts to use for outdoor/wilderness travel, but still maintains such a focus on dungeon adventures and encounters that it always feel like an afterthought. In my games travel is pretty much “OK you arrive at the village”, and maybe 1 key encounter or notable event happens along the way. With this book, I can run a much better and more engaging game.

The Dungeon Dozen

Compiling many entries from his Dungeon Dozen blog, this book by Jason Sholtis (you may recognize his artwork from Swords & Wizardry as well!) is an incredibly useful resource of tables utilizing the D12. Sorted alphabetically, the range of subjects and ideas these pages and tables present is almost incomprehensible, it’s that wide-spread. And at 225 pages, there’s a LOT of content here! Luckily Jason has a 2nd book in the works, I can’t wait!

The Starship from Hell

After having owned Rafael Chandler’s Roll XX and Roll XX: Double Damage, I’m not sure why it took me so long to finally purchase his similar resource for sci-fi games, The Starship from Hell. Like many of his works, there’s some twisted and crazy stuff in here, so while it may not be quite the tone for your Star Trek or Firefly game, it would be perfect for Alien(s), Eclipse Phase, etc. There’s not just handy tables for creating starship details; the second half of the book is for creating detailed NPCs on those starships. The PDF is free, so there’s no reason not to check this out!

Your Whispering Homunculus

Another PDF that I purchased on sale on DriveThruRPG, Richard Pett’s Your Whispering Homunculus is written for Pathfinder but can be easily used for any RPG. At 169 pages this book has a lot to sift through and absorb, so don’t feel bad if you only use a little bit at a time! Based on how much I liked this book, I will likely purchase Richard’s More Whispering Homunculus. And if that’s not enough, as this book is published by Kobold Press there are many more guides available from them.

Cook/Marsh Expert D&D

Awhile back I reviewed the Basic Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. I figured that if I’m gonna review the Basic book, I might as well review its accompanying Expert book! I don’t remember exactly what all the Basic book included, and with reading so many other retroclones and RPGs I figured I’d take the perspective of someone who’s played Basic D&D a few times but not exclusively.

Introduction

The Expert book makes it very clear that the Basic book is required to play. While there’s doubtless some repeated info and consolidated tables, it’s not hard to see this is an expansion, not a whole-new bigger volume.

One thing I liked reading was that the Expert book is intended to be used for outdoor adventures, not merely deeper and more difficult dungeon adventures. This book intended for players to travel more, and to even setup their own settlements and castles! While I’m sure many groups did just that, from what I’ve read and seen online it seems that dungeon adventures continued to be the norm.

Finally, there is a small section devoted to those who wish to use the Expert book with the earlier 1977 edition of the Basic game (commonly referred to as Holmes basic). This section could also apply if you use a retroclone such as Blueholme Prentice rules, which I reviewed a couple years ago. Would I personally use a retroclone along with Expert, rather than Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy RPG? Probably not, but options are always nice.

Player Character Information

Here we get the same tables for all of the available classes, but now expanded to anywhere from level 8 (Halflings) to 14 (for all Human classes). I keep forgetting this game has class titles, and while most are kinda cool there’s one that’s completely ridiculous: an 8th-level Halfling has the title of Sheriff. Yep.

There’s a small section detailing level beyond 14, only available to the Human classes (because a Dwarf or Elf could never advance further, even though they live for centuries!). While this was intended for the planned third expanded rule-set, I guess it’s nice to see here. Personally I think going beyond the levels in Expert would be boring and devolve into a numbers game with excessive combat (which is indeed what has become more popular with later editions).

Finally we have a table and explanation for equipment. Is it the exact same as the one in Basic or are there new items? I have no idea and it doesn’t say.

Spells

Here we have the spells available for the Cleric, Elf, and Magic-User. While the tables lists all available spells for each spell level, the descriptions are only for the new spells in this book. Nothing really stands out as new or unique.

The Adventure

While this section re-iterates some of the things from the Basic book, it focuses on outdoor adventures, and describes most if not all the things a DM will have to consider in planning such an adventure or full-blown campaign. Travel and mapping are just as important as in a dungeon, but there’s also the possibility of getting lost or even running out of supplies; again, this can happen in a dungeon, but it can be more likely and more dangerous outdoors. Along with travel by sea we now get some information on travel by air. This may seem a little extravagant or maybe even excessive, but I think it could be used sparingly in a neat adventure setup or intermission. This section ends with additional specialists and mercenaries, which can become more important as the PCs continue to level up as well as accumulate more money.

The Encounter

Similar to the previous section, this one covers much of the same ground as in the Basic book, adding on a few needed notes and rules for higher-level and outdoor adventures. Aside from the attack tables expanded to cover higher levels (and an interesting side-note, there’s not a separate entry for each and every level, they’re grouped in chunks and this means far less number-crunching).

Monsters

With higher levels and outdoor adventures comes more and tougher monsters for the PCs to fight. There’s a decent number of new entries, with a few favorites of mine included: Blink Dogs, Golems, Mummies, Treants (though in my games they’d be either allies or neutral), and Vampires.

Treasure

More goodies! I honestly can’t think of anything else to add here…

Dungeon Master Information

Just like the same section in the Basic book, there’s a lot of great information and tables here. There’s some brief re-stated info for designing a dungeon, but now it includes info for higher-level monsters, treasure, etc. Alongside that is now a section on designing a wilderness area. There is also a section on designing castles, strongholds, and hideouts. I personally don’t know if these would matter much in my games, but I could certainly include them in a potential adventure. Just like the Basic book had a sample map and the symbols needed for a dungeon map, at the end of this section is a sample wilderness map and symbols to use. This is STILL something I haven’t seen in any OSR game, and it’s infuriating to me as it’s something needed, not just for those new to RPGs.

Special Adventures

This very short 2-page section should have been named “Adventures at Sea”, as that is what’s covered. What about air travel that’s mentioned earlier? Anyways, here there are some tables and information on weather, encounters, and combat. I feel this section is unnecessary, as the information could have been folded into the previous sections.

Conclusion

At the end of my review of the Basic book, I stated that I was pretty pleased with the game and it would be difficult to choose one of the OSR clones over the real thing. Now that I’ve taken some time to look over the Expert book, do I still feel the same? I do like what Expert includes, and that it follows the same layout and order as the Basic book. But the fact remains that I would still have to consolidate the pages together, whether digitally or on paper, and even then there could still be quite a few things duplicated, moved, or missing. I will always respect the work that Dave Cook and Steve Marsh did, along with Tom Moldvay’s work on the Basic book. But with several outstanding OSR games available (and that’s assuming I’d want to play a D20-based game), it’s just too easy to pick up and use one of those instead.

 

Inner Demon



It seems like yesterday that Meteor came out with his first album, Parallel Lives. That was in March 2016, and a little over a year later he’s back with Inner Demon. While I had a pretty good impression of his debut album, I went into listening to Inner Demon with my expectations in check, as I’ve been let down on new releases in the past. My initial listening impression for this album? Pretty darn good! There’s a lot of similarities to Parallel Lives, but I’m also picking up quite a few new and different things. It will still take me quite a few more listens before I can form a final opinion, but overall I’m quite happy to see this new release from Meteor, and I look forward to more!