BATTLEBARDS-PREMIER TABLETOP AUDIO & TOOLS FOR YOUR CAMPAIGNS

Battlebards

Over a year ago I had the chance to do a Q&A session with the team behind a little Kickstarter project trying to give us the auditory means to shape atmosphere at our gaming tables. Today the Battlebards website finds itself deep into its Beta launch with a slew of new options coming to the fore. Thus, though I’ve been using music and sound effects from the site ever since launch, I felt know was the perfect time to do a bit of a deep dive into the site and see just what new tools I can play around with.

Before I get into the music I wanted to give some props to the site’s blog (because of course I’d be interested in the blog portion of any site, even one dedicated to awesome musical additions to gaming). When crafting an article for the blog the site creators don’t simply note that a new track is available, or that an update has occurred. Instead the pieces are usually really engaging write-ups. Currently at the top of the page you’ll find a post that gives us insight into one of the composers used on the site. The composer is Stefan Totsev, who crafted the haunting\uplifting melody “Monks of the Sun God”. I love gaining insight into people’s backstories and this is just an excellent treat. Beyond that there are numerous mentions of new tracks, deals on the site, and even a few guest spots from other notables. Even if you aren’t a subscriber (yet), the blog has a lot going for it.

Store

Let’s get into the music though, shall we? When I backed the project I actually purchased a decent chunk of tunes but after actually paying attention to the store I now see that my library of nearly 200 tracks is a paltry sum. There are currently 871 tracks available for purchase individually or you can pick them up in bundled forms by choosing from 77 albums. The albums are broken down into categories so you can easily pinpoint what you might want. If you just want mood music (the arena I’ve been most successful in) simply do a store search for “Music” under Albums. If you’re a bit better about adding actual sound effects to your games you can grab from things like “NPC Scripts”, or “Sound Effects” (Shields breaking, bowstrings, sword clangs etc.).

One thing Battlebards is not is stingy with their sampling. To my knowledge you can listen through the entirety of an album before deciding to purchase it. You can hit play on anything you wish to sample and throughout your stay on the site the track(s) will play using an audio player that remains stationary on the bottom of the site, until you decide to try out another sound. I’ve been listening to the Underground Lake City album the entire time I’ve been writing this, I own one of the four tracks and want to know if I need more (I was running Out of the Abyss at one point, the track “Underground Lake City – Lightness Shores” was used often). If you listen long enough you’ll notice the phrase “Battlebards dot com” being intermittently cropping up to break the immersion, can’t have you just playing from the site for game night eh?

Sample

I will say that the ease in which you can search for music in the store holds gives way to validating one of my frustrations with the site. In the section housing what you’ve purchased, the “Library” tab, you don’t get that same level of functionality. What I have on my end is a list of my 192 tracks, that appear to be sorted by artist, with no other method of sorting available. Granted, the idea is to download tracks into your own audio playing software, and I have done this, where you can sort with greater ease. It still bugged me that I couldn’t do a quick search for a specific track I wanted right then and there though. If you have a full albums of something you can go to the Albums tab where you can click on the “tracks” number to give an album breakdown, but I don’t think all of my tracks show up here. If I’m ever to make a playlist on the actual site to be used on their Soundboard, I’d really like to be able to break things down into smaller chunks.

Library

I keep wanting to click “Audio Type” to re-organize this list!

Speaking of the Soundboard, it is one of the newer aspects of the site. In this area you’ll be able to bring up a fully completed playlist to incorporate into one of you games. I played around with this a ton and this is exactly what I’ve been missing when trying to have something on hand to incorporate multiple sounds at a time in my games. You can pull up to two playlists up at a time, perhaps one for Music and Soundscapes while the second incorporates your favorite Sound Effects. Here’s another deal, in the Soundboard there’s a MUCH easier way of adding to a playlist than using the Your Playlist tab. I can simply add tracks to a playlist using the option on the left, and lo and behold they actually have it broken down exactly how I wanted it done in my library too. So while my ire with the library still stands it is greatly lessened by the ease in which I can utilize the soundboard. There are still some bugs here though as it appears one of my recently chosen tracks seems to have disappeared behind the “Play All” banner in the second column. This is going to be a huge boon to my audio usage at the table though.

Soundboard

What a few Playlists look like

Adding Soundboard Tracks

Clicking the “plus sign” to the left opens up your tracks

The last new item I wanted to talk about is the Mixer. This is something I’ve been very excited about since day one. I always pictured myself making some killer tracks on this thing and it seems I’m fully able to do so! That is…if I had a single skill in my body to do so. Seriously, I played around with this and it is apparent I’ve a long way to go in order to make use of it myself. That’s on me though, the mixer seems very intuitive. It is still in development so the ease of adding tracks can be tricky unless you know to actually create a mix first (would love to be able to play around with mixing then save a mix after, but that’s only a quibble). One of the mixes I did recently was adding a few extra sound effects to the Monsterscape track “Common Giant – Combat – Fighting the Hill Giant” It was a real simple mix that makes it sound as if an Arrow Barrage takes the giant down.

Mixer Demo

Obviously people are going to do far better than I at crafting some seriously awesome sounds with this mixer, even if I never do. Stands to be seen how exactly Battlebards allows the mixer to be used. Will we one day be able to import our own sounds and sell through the site? Either way, even if it is only ever for private use, I’m having a blast toying with it.

Frankly, I don’t know how much longer Battlebards will have the right to keep that word Beta on their site. Things are beginning to be very well polished over there. I imagine once they finalize the Mixer they are going to have to consider themselves fully fleshed out. I’ve had a blast on the site during this review and I think you will too. Signing up on the site is 100% free, i’d suggest anyone to so it if for no reason other than to listen to some of the cool works they have. Once signed up, you’ll probably want to buy a track or two and for that, you’re in luck.

There is currently a coupon code for some great free tracks on the Battlebards site, exclusively from The RPG Academy Network, to celebrate the upcoming release of an Album called “Pirates – And the Grand Ocean“, but you can’t get it right here sadly (don’t want to just throw a Coupon Code into the wilds of the net for easy Google searches!). Here’s what you need to do, check out one of many fine podcasts in the RPG Academy Network because this code is going to crop up in some, maybe all of their shows. I know for a fact that the newest line of podcast material from The RPG Academy called “Detention” (hosted by The Caleb G.) will house the code info soon, if not already.

Another way to get the code? Leave a comment below and I’ll get you the list of codes by another means!

The codes will get you the following discounts, they are good through the end of the year (Happy hunting!):

If you buy the $10 or $24 package, the first code gets you 1 free track
if you buy the $50 or $100 package, the second code gets you 5 free tracks
If you buy the $150 or $300 package, the third Code gets you 16 free tracks

You have to have a battle bards account to claim anything. it’s free to set up with an email

That’s all from me folks, let me know if you have any tidbits to share from your own Battlebards wanderings. Remember, comments will get you Codes!

-Melvs

P.S. Battlebards has also produced 16 videos thus far on their YouTube Channel, many of them go to great lengths to showcase how to use certain functions on their site. If you are having trouble with something they may have produced a video on it! I know I need to check out this video right here to learn more about mixing.

Out of the Abyss: Adventures Three & Four

ADVENTURE’S THREE & FOUR

underdark 01

SYNOPSIS:

The brave adventurers crawl through the darkness barely keeping ahead of their pursuers while battling the denizens of the Underdark’s nooks and crannies.

PREPARATION:

Monster tokens… HO BOY was this the chapter for Monster Tokens. These two adventures took place using the details laid out in Chapter 2 of Out of the Abyss so I went crazy and made Monster Tokens for anything they could potentially run into during their long trek through the Underdark facing random encounters.

Another item of prep was rolling randomly on the tables provided in Chapter 2 to set up the myriad of random places\creatures\events that cropped up. I accepted the fact that there was the potential for deviation here but for the most part things fell into line.

OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:

MAPS: I created a variety of maps for potential encounters. I also printed out a map for The Lost Tomb location since that was something I rolled randomly and they found.

  • Lost Tomb – Pulled from the book.
  • Camping Encounter 01 – A nice big map purple circles are giant Mushrooms
  • Camping Encounter 02 – A small map near a pool of fresh water
  • Random Encounter 01 – Never got to use this one but I like it a lot. Ground glows eerily light green. The square block is an old alter of sorts
  • Random Encounter 02 – Used this for the Rocktopus encounter. The craggy semicircles represent a valley they had to go through
  • Dark Lake Encounter 01 – Characters would have been in a boat for this one. Circles are pillars under the water

THE GAME:

THE PLAYERS:

Solaris – Half-Elven Bard.

Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric, Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall

Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian, Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall

Ander – Half-Elven Paladin, Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture. Wielder of Dawnbringer

Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer, Has sworn revenge on Ilvara for her role in the deaths of Tosy & Turvy

NOTABLE NPCS:

COHORTS

BUPPIDO – Derro. Surprisingly affable.
PRINCE DERENDIL – Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.
ELDETH FELDRUN – Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.
JIMJAR – Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there’s nothing to gamble.
SARITH KZEKARIT – A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.
SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED – A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.
STOOL aka (“TimTum”) – A childlike Mychonid Sprout. Bonded from day one to Rurick
DAWNBRINGER – Sentient Longsword, was locked away for ages. Fears the dark, wishes only to be brought out and to shine a light against it’s enemies. She has now bonded to Ander.

ENEMIES

The Pursuit Party:

ILVARA MIZZRYM – Drow Priestess of Lloth. Recently imprisoned the PCs and their Cohorts with intention to turn them into slaves. Now she hunts them all across the Underdaaarrrrrk! (“I’ll get you!”).
ASHA VANDREE – Junior Preistess of Lloth.
SHOOR VANDREE – Drow Elite, current lover to Ilvara.
JORLAN DUSKRYN – Drow Elite, spurned lover to Ilvara. Assited in the PC’s escape to spite Ilvara.

OTHERS

Runnar Haftholder – Dwarven Scout, had just left the city of Sloobludop. Was convinced to return with the PC’s and NPC Cohorts in tow.

ADVENTURES THREE & FOUR:

Battlebards Cue: “Dark Elf Temple” by Mike Bridge

I combined these two adventures because they represent the long, 8 day, crawl through the Underdark the players had to accomplish as they proceeded to their next destination of Sloobludop, city of the Kuo-Toa (Look… I know Gary Gygax created the Kuo-Toa, but I’m not certain if he is the one to blame for their F$%*ing names. If he is… man is he lucky I have so much more to thank him for…).

Right from the start they realize that they are going to have to rely on someone very unreliable to guide them… the Drow, Sarith Kzekarit. He was the only one who truly knew his way to Dark Lake where Sloobludop lay. Shuushar could assist if they got near Dark Lake but he had no clue how to get there. The fact that their Drow captors quickly revealed that they were in pursuit ensured that the matter was quickly put to rest and they pushed on.

Funny thing about the depths of Fearun, you can never tell when it’s day or night. However, the heroes had to rest at some point. Beaten and bedraggled they prayed for a full rest. They were not so lucky. Only a matter of hours later they were beset by an Orcan..Orcian…ORCISH raiding party. The fight was fortunately brief but they were really starting to feel their wounds. They opted to move out rather than attempt to rest again, fearing the pursuing Drow. They opted for a normal speed of travel. They could have moved faster, with penalties to perception checks, or slower, to improve stealth and foraging, they were pretty good on supplies from when they luckily found their gear though.

Trudging through the next day they were relieved to encounter no beasts and to get a full rest beneath the protective domes of some giant shrooms. Three more days passed like this with only one brief encounter with some forward scouts from their pursuers and a cave-in that they barely survived. Sarith had a rare moment of pleasant chatter when he mentioned that the cave-in would at least slow down Ilvara and company.

Joy at that was short lived however when they happened upon the lair of a Rocktopus! It really wanted to have a few adventurers for dinner. Turns out things went the other way for the beastie.

On the sixth night all were awoken by a ruckus as they discovered a crazed Sarith treating Shuushar to a frenzied beating. They pulled the slavering drow off the poor wretched Kou-toa and restrained him. While most of the group tended to Shuushar Solaris worked up the nerve to delve into the deranged Drow’s mind. Casting Detect Thoughts he was immediately beset by waves of terror and madness that permeated every inch of his surface thoughts. Probing deeper, because Sarith had little willpower to resist anything at this point, Solaris began to feel the Drow’s connection to some great entity. An obsession to find & serve her. He could go no further though, the madness was too much.

Day seven of their trudge brought about something strange. They began to feel almost a whisper in their minds. Soon it began to take form. They discover they are hearing a mental communication. A feminine voice echoes in their mind claiming to be lost and in need of rescue. Fearful of the dark. The group was almost split in its decision of whether or not to follow the vague impressions being given to them of where to follow. Eventually they decided to trust that someone truly did need their aid and they followed. They happened upon an ornate door.

The players left the NPCs behind for this one, asking Derindel to keep a close eye on Sarith, thought the Drow had been silent for most the day. They entered the structure beyond the door. Upon entering they discovered a diorama depicting the fact that this was the tomb of a long dead sorcerer, Brysis Khaem. They continued searching, often being urged on by the mysterious voice. They found what appeared to be the room of the main Sarcophagi. It turned out to be a ruse however, as a curse burst forth while a Magic Mouth uttered a dire threat. Rurick found himself disadvantaged on Attack Rolls and Saving Throws as a result of failing the saving throw. They fought a group of Spectres in a room filled with small coffins, Rurick laboring under the effects of the curse.

After fighting the Spectres Rurick was done, simply raging at his misfortune. He wanted to leave. However, another of the adventurers spotted some rollers affixed to one of the smaller tombs and they pushed it aside revealing a final room in the tomb. Within it was the true resting place of Brysis Khaem, but the sorcerer had arisen once more in the dark form of a Wraith! A battle ensued, throughout the fight the voice continued to cry out that it was “Right here, come grab me! Please! I can help!”. 

It wasn’t until after the fight that the players discovered the source of the pleas for help. A long sword, finely crafted and apparently sentient. Her name was Dawnbringer. She immediately felt a kinship to the party’s Paladin, Ander. They were soon bonded.

Upon leaving the tomb, and discovering to their relief nothing amiss had occurred while they delved, they moved on. Near the end of their long day they discovered the lapping shore of Dark Lake. It’s size was immense, they knew of no way to cross it. However they did notice a small flicker of flame coming from a nearby cave. They decided to brave it.

Within the cave was a Dwarven scout by the name of Runnar Haftholder. Runnar had actually just come from Sloobudop, and had no desire to return. He quickly changed his mind however when told of the impending Drow slaver group heading this way. Grumbling about the crazy Kuo-toa he finally agreed to take the group on the boat he had “acquired” from the fish people.

They slept, knowing the next day they might at last be in some form of civilization, despite Runnar’s harsh words for Shuushar’s people.

POST GAME THOUGHTS:

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:

I fully believe I could have made the Underdark more interesting. I spent a lot of time prepping physical props for these games and less on just how I was going to package the oddity of the place to the group. I did better on their second night of Underdark crawlin’, especially with the Lost Tomb, but I could sense they were just ready to get to civilization. Though, Sloobludop was a terrible place anyway, so they weren’t all that excited to get there (more on that in the next write-up as I realize I’ve tipped my hand at being late to write these up).

In the Lost Tomb I forgot that the place was infested with an essence known to inhabit portions of the Underdark known as faerzress. This chaotic magic causes magic to react weirldy and can spawn rolls on the Wild Magic Surge table from the PHB. Really bummed I missed my chance at wielding that tool.

THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE ABOUT OotA: Chapter Two

  • LIKES:
    • Chapter 2’s Random Generation tables and details are legit. They take care to have encounters based on the denizens of the deep and some interesting locales. Often times both.
    • Chapter 2 doesn’t only craft the encounters for the trip to Sloobludop (though that will almost always be the direction the characters will first head), it covers any trek through the Underdark, and some of these treks are a Month or more long in game time!
    • Random encounters aren’t always bad, plenty of desirable things can happen as well.
    • Careful attention was paid to include some BIG encounters as well, my players found the Lost Tomb and
  • DISLIKES:
    • There is a strong chance your players might tire of trudging through the Underdark and from the look of things, this is going to happen a lot. It is becoming apparent that it may take a lot of time for the players to be doing ANYTHING beyond struggling around and getting mixed up in things they probably don’t care about.
      • The trick I need to work on is figuring out how to get them more invested in things beyond survival alone.

Well, that’s it for these two adventures! Join me soon for Adventure 5! If you have any questions or wish for some embellishment on something I mentioned hit me up in the comments. Or on Twitter @SharnDM.

-Melvs

Out of the Abyss: Adventure Two

Travel-Settlement

ADVENTURE TWO

SYNOPSIS:

Last night’s game was a slug-fest. I mean, I knew it would be but I never imagined the fight would last the entire session! The guys went toe to toe with some of the nastiest denizens of Velkynvelve and scrapped out a win… as in they survived long enough to flee into the depths of the Underdark.

PREPARATION:

Thankfully my prep for this adventure was supplemented mostly by Adventure One’s prep. I already had all the monster tokens I needed for the fight and had printed off the bulk of the monster stats from my scanned MM pages. There were only a few other items of note.

OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:

  • I needed a battle map so I did what I typically do. I use the one inch by one inch excel sheet I made to craft one
    • Here’s my take on the ledge overlooking the drop-off where the lift runs. I made it a little bit larger than the map in the book dictates because things would have been incredibly crowded for the fight. If you take issue with my deviating from the written source material just remember that I typically don’t run pre-made games anyway.
  • I devised a roll system to determine how long the guys would have before the following things occurred. Essentially, at the start of the fight I rolled a d6 to see how many rounds it would take for the Vrock and the Chasme Demons to finish their little spar. After that I used a D4 to determine how many rounds until reinforcements and a D6 to see what kind of reinforcements would show.
    • D6 for what kind of Reinforcements
      • D1 – Ilvara, Asha, Shoor, and Jorlen Show up
      • D2-3 – Three Drow
      • D3-4 – Two Quaggoth
      • D6 – Two Drow & a Drow Elite
  • I also figured that for every person on the lift beyond 5 I would make it a 20% chance the lift would break under the additional strain. I told the guys it looked like it could fit 4 people comfortably but I knew it could handle the weight of 5 easily.
  • I decided it would take 8 rounds for the lift to get to the floor and return.

THE GAME:

THE PLAYERS:

  • Solaris – Half-Elven Bard
  • Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric
    • Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall
  • Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian
    • Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall
  • Ander – Half-Elven Paladin
    • Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture
  • Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer
    • Has sworn revenge on Ilvara for her role in the deaths of Tosy & Turvy

ADVENTURE TWO:

Battlebards Cue: “Dark Elf Temple” by Mike Bridge

Not much to tell story wise, merely a play by play of action. The guys equipped themselves while the outpost continued to defend itself from the rampaging demons that flew above them. They attempted to deliberate and come up with a plan but their time was short as the Vrock fell from the air, crushing open the side of the stalactite they were taking refuge in. This left them fully open to the contingent of drow and quaggoth on the ledge near the lift. A battle began.

The first thing they did was ignore the stunned Vrock, and with good reason as the beast decimated a drow before it took back off into the air. The fight was a good one though and only two of the heroes were ever dropped, our paladin Ander and the Dwaven NPC Eldeth. Hunar was able to heal Ander, getting him back into the fight, and Edleth was stabilized last minute by Shuushar.

The PCs were not alone during the fight, the NPCs helped as well. Prince Derendil gave in fully to his quaggoth nature and dropped a number of enemies with assistance from Jimjar and Eldeth as well. Shushaar remained true to his pacifist nature, Buppido simply held back near Stool, Sarith spent most of the time muttering to himself and clutching his head, and Ront…well Ront decided to be a right bastard.

Ront

Ront… you’re a prick

At about the midpoint of the fight Ront fled directly to the lift and used the distraction everyone else was providing to escape to the floor below. Solaris attempted to stop him but was unable to battle against the orc’s brute strength. The players watched with no small measure of rage as the orc fled into the darkness below.

From there it was a matter of clearing out the enemies left over, doing a bit of searching, and sending a number of groups down the lift. Solaris was fortunate in finding something he thought odd on one of the Drow warriors. A lute imbued with magical power, quite the treasure for the Bard. As the last group was heading downward there was an attempt above to stop the lift. At least they’d learned one thing from Ront’s cowardly act, they know they could counteract the braking mechanism. Soon they were all fleeing into the Underdark wilds themselves.

POST GAME THOUGHTS:

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:

Can’t say I went in unprepared here. The fight was long but it went smoothly.

THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE SO FAR ABOUT OOTA: Chapter One

  • LIKES:
    • The start off point is solid and different. Throws the players directly into survival mode.
    • A few solid ideas were given for potential escape points. The Jorlen concept is great and I love that even though the players may never know the full reason he’d be willing to release them they ensure the DM knows exactly why.
    • I really like the next part, Chapter 2, but I can’t really go into great detail about that.
  • DISLIKES:
    • The Players had very little chance of getting out of prison without a DM push for them. My group noticed Jorlen and pursued getting him on their side but not a lot of groups would think to do that.
    • The NPCs should come with stats. All it would have taken was one extra page in Appendix C.
    • Would have been nice to detail some daily routines in the Outpost.
    • Wizards of the Coast needs to give us the ability to purchase .pdfs of their Monster Manual at least. Having to choose to flip back and forth between two books for monster stats is terrible and I know for a fact their core books are already available for illegal download anyway so I really don’t grasp their fears in this arena (Barely a commentary on OotA and more of an “overall” complaint I know but… c’mon Wizards).

 

Out of the Abyss: Adventure One

OUT_OF_THE_ABYSS Main Picture

Detracting from my typical style, I have decided to run a premade 5th Edition D&D setting for my players. For this I decided to choose the most alien concept possible for them, the newest addition to Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC) line of super adventures, Out of the Abyss. For those unfamiliar, OotA is a setting placed almost exclusively within the Underdark of the Forgotten Realms. A world beneath the surface filled with treachery and danger, wildly strange to anyone who calls the topside of Forgotten Realms home. I found myself excited by the prospect of running something so tied to this strange land and was really glad the guys agreed to give it a go. Once I discovered the sandbox feel this Campaign Setting provided I was doubly glad to use it. So without further ado, I’ll begin my first post-game write-up!

ADVENTURE ONE

SYNOPSIS:

Velkynelve, an outpost high above a cavern floor. Home to the dreaded drow, their quaggoth servants, & giant spider pets.

Velkynelve, an outpost high above a cavern floor. Home to the dreaded drow, their quaggoth servants, & giant spider pets…and our PCs prison!

The players begin this Campaign in some pretty dire straits. They have been captured and imprisoned by a group of Drow located at an Outpost far away from any civilization, even the Underdark kind. They are not alone either, there are ten fellow prisoners NPCs trapped with them. Many of these NPCs are denizens of the Underdark but that doesn’t save anyone from the slaver’s binds. The PCs and their NPC companions must attempt to work together if they are to escape before they are carted off to the Drow city of Menzoberranzan where chances are even slimmer for escape.

PREPARATION:

Man there’s a lot of prep leading into this adventure. There are TEN potentially friendly NPCs to juggle. For me that was a lot of time spent getting a rough idea of what to sound like when roleplaying these individuals and ensuring I was familiar enough with their stats to use them in any potential combats or skill based encounters. Fortunately I found a resource a Reddit user posted that gives a great three page spread of these NPCs where you have their stats laid bare for use.

NPC1: BUPPIDO - Male Derro. Surprisingly affable.

NPC1: BUPPIDO – Male Derro. Surprisingly affable.

NPC 2: Prince Derendil - Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.

NPC 2: Prince Derendil – Quaggoth who claims to truly be a cursed elven prince.

NPC 3: ELDETH FELDRUN - Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.

NPC 3: ELDETH FELDRUN – Shield Dwarf from Gaultlgrym. Heroic to a fault. Willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the group.

NPC 4: JIMJAR - Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there's nothing to gamble.

NPC 4: JIMJAR – Taking all in stride this Deep Gnome is also a compulsive gambler. Even when there’s nothing to gamble.

NPC 5: RONT - A bully of an Orc. Tries to intimidate others but falls under the same pressure easily.

NPC 5: RONT – A bully of an Orc. Tries to intimidate others but falls under the same pressure easily.

NPC 6: SARITH KZEKARIT - A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.

NPC 6: SARITH KZEKARIT – A drow imprisoned for the murder of another drow. Though he claims no memory of it.

NPC 7: SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED - A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.

NPC 7: SHUUSHAR THE AWAKENED – A Kuo-toa pacifist. He hopes to one day spread his message to others of his kind.

NPC 8: STOOL (aka "TimTum") - A childlike Mychonid Sprout.

NPC 8: STOOL (aka “TimTum”) – A childlike Mychonid Sprout.

NPCs 9 & 10: TOPSY & TURVY - Two quiet Deep Gnomes, share very little and keep to themselves.

NPCs 9 & 10: TOPSY & TURVY – Two quiet Deep Gnomes, share very little and keep to themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I really feel like the burden was placed squarely on the DMs of the world to produce the stats for these NPCs. This is something that should have had at least a page of info on in the book. The OotA guide does a great job of providing background info on all these characters, why not their stats as well? Especially because it is heavily insinuated that these characters might be around for some time.

OTHER ITEMS OF PREP:

  • Created my own set of Monster/NPC tokens to print off and use as Minis
  • Made a spreadsheet, that will continue to grow, detailing what Monsters/NPCs might appear per chapter and where to find the stats for them in the Monster Manual or in the back of OotA.
  • Scanned the stats for all the potential monsters so I could print them off separately instead of trying to flip back and forth in the MM &/or OotA in Combat (Hey WotC… SELL US SOME DAMN .PDF VERSIONS OF YOUR CORE BOOKS ALREADY!)
  • Decided which events I wanted to occur to facilitate a potential escape
    • The book details a number of options the players might go with and even provides the DM with some “nudge” options that I liked.
  • Ran through what I’d downloaded from my Battlebards material to set the mood music and even some sound effects
    • I chose the Musical Score “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas as my ambiance music as I enjoyed not only the subtle darkness of the piece but the fact that the water effects played nicely with the fact there is a waterfall present at this outpost.
  • Rolled randomly to determine where the drow would be storing the player’s stolen gear. I decided pre-game that they would have to stumble upon it, I was not going to ensure they would get it back as many expect in a prisoner situation. They would have to get lucky, or clear the place out.

THE GAME:

THE PLAYERS:

Sadly I’ve not received any fully fleshed out backstories from the guys yet but they might fill in those details a bit later. I do have a few bits to share though.

  • Solaris – Half-Elven Bard
  • Hunar Brawnanvil – Dwarven Cleric
    • Brother of Rurick, from Mithral Hall
  • Rurick Brawnanvil – Dwarven Barbarian
    • Brother of Hunar, from Mithral Hall
  • Ander – Half-Elven Paladin
    • Spent some time in the Underdark before his capture
  • Corbin Honeyhump – Half-Elven Sorcerer

ADVENTURE ONE:

Battlebards

Battlebards Cue: “Underground Lake City” by Richard Daskas

The guys were informed right away that they were imprisoned by the Drow (my buddy was betting on Duergar and was sorely disappointed). Learning they were not alone they spent a little time getting to know some of the other prisoners. Corbin found himself approaching the reserved Deep Gnome twins Topsy and Turvy. He found their behaviors and mannerisms strange, but they’d been in here the longest (decided by random roll) so who was he to judge. From them he learned just how much the cards were stacked against escape as they detailed a large squad of Drow, Drow elites, and Quaggoth that stood in the way of escape. Rurick, immediately establishing his boisterous attitude to this particular setback, found himself befriending the Mychonid named Stool. Rurick nicknamed the little guy “Timtum” before finally hugging the fungal humanoid allowing some “rapport spores” to enter his brain via his ears and suddenly the two could talk. Though the connection was a psychic one Rurick continued to speak his end of the conversation aloud, which simply made him look mad to the others.

Ilvara - Drow Priestess of Lloth

Ilvara – Drow Priestess of Lloth

 

Time passed and the guards decided to bring a few of the prisoners out to the “yard” to do some demeaning labor. Rurick, Solaris, and Stool were chosen to go but Ander somehow convinced the guards he should go in Stool’s place. The labor was essentially moving large rocks to the side of the cliff and dropping them over. This served no other purpose than further discouraging escape as it showed the players that the only escape from this outpost was down past enormous webs guarded by giant spiders. Rurick attempted to hit a spider with a rock but failed. Solaris sang a little and actually did so well the guards enjoyed it. Meanwhile, Ander had decided he’d already had enough. Sensing an opportunity he succeeded in thieving a short sword right out of the hilt of a distracted guard and began some combat.

Things went better for the three than was to be expected. Ander immediately killed the drow he had stolen his weapon from with a blast of divine might that sent its body flailing over the cliff. As the drow flew a number of drow poisoned bolts fell upon the ground and Ander scooped them up. Rurick squared off against two drow and built up a furious rage, punching one square in the face. Solaris proved the most helpful however as he fully charmed one of the quaggoths standing nearby and sending it into the fray on behalf of the players.

Quaggoth

In the four rounds of combat before reinforcements showed up the players and their quaggoth recruit killed two drow, two quaggoth, and almost downed a drow elite. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t enough. During this time one of the prisoners, Jimjar the deep gnome, attempted to do some wagering with Hunar about the survival of the three combatants. Hunar was not amused. Soon, Ilvara Mizzrym, the Drow Priestess of Lloth in charge of the outpost, herself came with Tentacle Rod in hand. With her were ten more drow, hand crossbows pointed at the players. Solaris surrendered, Anders struck down the staggered quaggoth in front of him and set a defiant pose, Rurick simply didn’t cease his fighting. All three of the tentacles struck home, dropping Solaris and Ander. Rurick remained standing though and said simply “You’d better kill me!”  With that, ten drow bolts were launched that eventually dropped him, miraculously not killing him.

Ilvara drug the unconscious three to her chambers for a few days of torture, making a show of it to the other prisoners. The next two days did not go well for the three upstarts.

For the next two days the rest of the prisoners remained submissive to their captors, who were doubly cruel after losing a few of their own to the fray. Corbin started paying attention to the guard rotations and noticed that one of the guards was a drow wearing the garb of an elite, a heavily scarred individual known as Jorlen. He was the only elite who ever had to pull guard duty and by the looks of him he did not care for the assignment, quickly dismissing the other drow who were supposed to run the detail with him. Corbin decided to attempt to speak with the dark elf.

Jorlen was not very receptive at first but Corbin proved most diplomatic and persuasive so Jorlen eventually opened up. Corbin was able to discern that Jorlen was deeply unhappy with the way things were currently. He was once the right-hand elf and lover of Ilvara but that changed after an accident robbed him of the full use of his right arm and his features. These days she flaunts her new relationship with a younger drow elite named Shoor. Shoor takes full advantage of his position as the new head of the regular drow and the elites. It is he who placed Jorlen on guard duty. Corbin attempts to leverage the dark elf’s disdain into something of use but the drow merely continues to mock the captives.

Jorlen does let slip one bit of advice though. Ilvara intends to make an example of one or more of the prisoners after she tires of torturing the three who started the fight. He cautions Corbin to not “stand out” in the near future. True to his word when Ilvara brings the victims of her scourge back the very next day she declares one of the lot will be fed to the spiders. She chooses Topsy, one of the deep gnome twins, seemingly at random. Corbin attempts to persuade her to take him instead but she laughs off his noble gesture. When the guards grab for Topsy her brother Turvy attempts to stop them resulting in his being drug away as well. The rest of the prisoners overhear their plaintive cries as they are thrown to the spiders. Corbin vows revenge for the poor deep gnomes.

A few days later some items of interest arise. Corbin continues to foster a relationship of sorts with Jorlen, who appears to tolerate it with a measure of tedium. Stool convinces Rurick to get the others to accept the Rapport Spores so they can speak in secret via the telepathy it allows. The group begins to get desperate as it is well known the envoy from Menzoberranzan approaches. Their chance comes soon though from an unlikely source. Jorlen shows up for his shift in a rage of a mood. He also shows up with the character’s daily meal, a chore he was apparently given this day by Shoor. Feeding the prisoners is apparently quite the slight because he pulls Corbin aside and declares his intentions to leave their cell door unlocked so their escape attempt can be an embarrassment for Ilvara and Shoor. It is apparent he holds no real love for Corbin or the others though as he laughs off Corbin’s gratitude stating that he doesn’t believe they will actually make it very far, and they’ll receive no further help from him.

The group of prisoners agree with one another that it’s worth the risk of torture to attempt an escape when Jorlen leaves the cell unlocked, even if it might be a trap. Over their time as captives they had collected a few items the could use as potential weapons (an iron bar and a drow poison dart) but they knew that stealth would likely assist more. As Jorlen leaves he casually drops a dagger at the cell door and begins his walk. The captives discover the cell door unlocked, true to Jorlen’s word, and then witness him flippantly tossing a drow over the ledge to the spiders. It seems Jorlen’s temper was in rare form. The players and their NPC fellows slipped out into the quiet camp.

They headed to the right, as this was the direction of the waterfall they normally cleaned their chamber pots in. They had noticed the path continued past the waterfall but had never ventured that far. As they went beyond their regular route they came upon a cave where a few quaggoth slept, the smell giving away that the cave represented the quaggoths’ lair. Ahead of them was a small building hanging off the ledge, overlooking the gorge below. Corbin and Ander snuck ahead and peered inside. A pair of drow were holding casual conversation, apparently they eagerly awaited the arrival of the relief group from Menzoberranzan. The two drow would never see that group however as Ander and Corbin made sure the two fell to bottom of the cavern below, they never saw the attack coming. Ander was even able to lift a short sword off one of the drow before killing him.

Corbin exited the building and looked down. He could see that a pool from the waterfall lay below them, but was unable to tell its depth. He took a chance and sent some dancing lights towards the water below. He was just making note of the fact it was too grimy on top to determine its depth when a shrill screech was emitted from below. The dancing lights had disturbed the rest of a foul creature, identified by Hunar, as a Vrock. A chain reaction then tool place. The Vrock awakened all in the outpost and they began to defend themselves, but the Vrock was more concerned with another, bug-like, creature that began attacking it. It was chaos.

Jimjar mentioned above the din that he had seen a lift when he was brought in, but it was on the other side of the outpost. The group decided to utilize the chaos of the creatures fighting to try and push through. They ducked through one of the stalactites, taking out the distracted drow inside, and hoofed it towards the lift. They decided against seeking out Ilvara, and her junior priestess Asha, and ran past the shrine to Lloth. They spied the lift in the distance but there were a lot of drow and quaggoth between they and it so they ducked into another stalactite. Inside they defeated a drow elitie warrior while a few of the others held back the drow who were trying to get in the room. In a group of chests the PC’s discovered their looted gear. It was at this point we all called it a night.

POST GAME THOUGHTS:

Overall the first adventure was a lot of fun and had us all playing later than we typically would. My pre-game prep was solid and there were only a few takeaways I feel i could have considered better ahead of time.

THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE:

  • I could have done a better job coming up with scenarios for the NPCs to instigate conversations with the players. By nature a number of players aren’t the type to instigate that sort of thing.
  • I wish I would have encouraged everyone to take Undercommon as a language, even if it meant coming up with reasons why they would. It will certainly be interesting to see where this goes with needing multiple language to convey things however. I may end up liking the difficulty.
  • I did all of the battles without laying out a battle grid and while I like how fast narrative battling ends up making things move I can tell the guys were a bit put off by it. They like their minis and the strategies that a grid based combat allows for.

THINGS I LIKE/DISLIKE SO FAR ABOUT OOTA:

  • LIKES:
    • The start off point is solid and different. Throws the players directly into survival mode.
    • A few solid ideas were given for potential escape points. The Jorlen concept is great and I love that even though the players may never know the full reason he’d be willing to release them they ensure the DM knows exactly why.
    • I really like the next part, Chapter 2, but I can’t really go into great detail about that.
  • DISLIKES:
    • The Players had very little chance of getting out of prison without a DM push for them. My group noticed Jorlen and pursued getting him on their side but not a lot of groups would think to do that.
    • The NPCs should come with stats. All it would have taken was one extra page in Appendix C.
    • Would have been nice to detail some daily routines in the Outpost.
    • Wizards of the Coast needs to give us the ability to purchase .pdfs of their Monster Manual at least. Having to choose to flip back and forth between two books for monster stats is terrible and I know for a fact their core books are already available for illegal download anyway so I really don’t grasp their fears in this arena (Barely a commentary on OotA and more of an “overall” complaint I know but… c’mon Wizards).

So far Out of the Abyss is great stuff. I can’t wait to see where this leads and the guys seem to really be digging it. Let’s see if they survive eh? Please feel free to comment below!

-Melvs

RPGaDAY 2015!

rpg-a-day-2015

Last year I dutifully posted a single post dedicated to this topic daily, even during my trip to Gen Con 2014. Well, last year’s Kevin apparently had time on his hands because it didn’t even register as a possibility this year. No worries though, I’m feeding you all the info you need today. I know you’ve been waiting for this with baited breath (my answers to this…not who won the contest right?). So let’s get to it!


AUGUST 1ST: FORTHCOMING GAME YOU’RE MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO

Pheonix dawn command

That would be Phoenix Dawn Command by Keith Baker. The premise excites me the most, player characters expected to die heroically and return from the dead to fight once more. It’s been kickstarted and I for one can’t wait for the final product!

AUGUST 2ND: KICKSTARTED GAME YOU’RE MOST PLEASED YOU BACKED

Spirit of '77

I actually missed out on Phoenix Dawn Command so I can’t reiterate that campaign. However, it’d be hard pressed to out-due my love for Spirit of ’77 anyway! I’ve had some immense fun reading through the rule-book ever since it arrived. Easily the most groovy Kickstarted I’ve ever been a part of.

AUGUST 3RD: FAVORITE NEW GAME OF THE LAST 12 MONTHS

wpid-20150415_065836.jpg

Has to be Unleashed. I wrote about it extensively here on the blog, and you should certainly check it out for yourself. The game uniquely places its players in the boots of some of the most savage “heroes” you could muster up. The concept works on all levels, and I can’t wait to run more of it at my table.

AUGUST 4TH: MOST SURPRISING GAME

gamma world

I’d go with Gamma World, the version made with a hack of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rule-set. What surprises me the most is how well it actually works. I’ve always been a fan of 4th Edition but I think some of the gaming concepts the edition brings to the table actually work best in Gamma World. A really fun, quick to set up, game. Still a go-to for me when I need something last minute.

AUGUST 5TH: MOST RECENT RPG PURCHASE

I don’t purchase a lot of RPG’s from the established companies these days, perk of being a blogger. I do back some of the Kickstarters I believe in the most though as they don’t have the resources to simply gift me a review copy. Some of the Kickstarters I’ve back recently have been Spirit of ’77, BattleBards, Of Dreams and Magic, Feng Shui 2, Karthun, & Fae Nightmares. I realize BattleBards isn’t preceisely an RPG but I like them enough to put them on the list.

AUGUST 6TH: MOST RECENT RPG PLAYED

I took a jaunt over to Illinois recently to hang out with some of my buddies over at the Gamerstable Podcast to… help with something I’m not at liberty to discuss. Anyway, I got to play Pathfinder for the first time. I played a ton of D&D 3.X back in the day so it wasn’t anything I found myself being “introduced to”, it’s the same game really. I did get to play Greyhawk for the first time ever though. It was a huge pleasure playing games with those folks, always a good time.

AUGUST 7TH: FAVORITE FREE RPG

OSH

Nothing has changed from last year, my favorite free RPG continues to be Old School Hack. A fantastic little pick up game with some great support on it’s website. An honorable mention does go out to FATE though. I need to dig into that a bit more.

AUGUST 8TH: FAVORITE APPEARANCE OF RPG’S IN THE MEDIA

I imagine this was meant to be “popular media” and I generally don’t care for how it’s portrayed honestly. I think Role-Play Gaming is just too personal a thing for me and any time I see someone trying to portray it they just get it wrong somehow. It can be the smallest quirk in how they decide to play and I’m out. I don’t get angry though, a poor portrayal isn’t going to ruin the game for me anyway.

AUGUST 9TH: FAVORITE MEDIA YOU WISH WAS AN RPG

Steven Universe

I kindof just let my brain leap to the first thing I’d love to play and I think I’d love an expanded world of Steven Universe to play around in. For those not familiar with the show I’d check it out. Has a great mix of comedy and an utterly intriguing world. Would be awesome to play a character as some form of Gem. I’d also love to play a crazed Rick and Morty RPG.

rick and morty

AUGUST 10TH: FAVORITE RPG PUBLISHER

I’d have to go with Pinnacle Entertainment Group. They make Savage Worlds and a number of the Campaign Settings I love from the rule-set. I’m also a huge fan of Privateer Press these days, I mean Iron Kingdoms and Unleashed are amazing.

AUGUST 11TH: FAVORITE RPG WRITER

This one’s tough but I’ll go with Keith Baker. The guy is just so friendly to fans and he made my favorite D&D setting of all time, Eberron.

AUGUST 12TH: FAVORITE RPG ILLUSTRATION

Currently I’m digging the bar fight from the cover of the Unleashed book.

unleashed bar fight

AUGUST 13TH: FAVORITE RPG PRODUCT

My most go-to RPG Product would be my dice I guess.

My three strongest sets of rollers!

My three strongest sets of rollers!

AUGUST 14TH: FAVORITE RPG ACCESSORY

I’ve always been really excited by the prospect of what the folks at Trapdoor Technologies keeps trying to bring us and they seem to have found their place lately with their app Playbook. It’s a soft launch of the product with more to come but go check it out!

AUGUST 15TH: LONGEST CAMPAIGN PLAYED

Back in high school our main DM Mike “The Meatfist” ran a D&D 3.5 game set in the Forgotten Realms that lasted years and took us from level 1 to level 18. Solidly long game. Wish we’d actually tied it up with a true ending.

AUGUST 16TH: LONGEST GAME SESSION PLAYED

Honestly this could be represented by any number of games I played back in college. There were times we’d start in the afternoon and leave the house with the sun peeking out for sunrise. I can’t name one single time that was the longest though.

AUGUST 17TH: FAVORITE FANTASY RPG

It’s Dungeons and Dragons, it will probably always be.

AUGUST 18TH: FAVORITE SF RPG

I love the concepts in Numenera, and would love to play it more, I just can’t run the game. I have a mind built for fantasy and Numenera is too weird for me there!

AUGUST 19TH: FAVORITE SUPERS RPG

Eh, never been a huge fan. Maybe I just need a GM who can introduce me to a game where I actually enjoy it.

AUGUST 20TH: FAVORITE HORROR RPG

Dread. I love the added thrill of the Jenga tower. I do need more exposure to other horror games though.

AUGUST 21ST: FAVORITE RPG SETTING

EBERRON!

combat_eberron

AUGUST 22ND: PERFECT GAMING ENVIRONMENT

With friends. Cheesy as Hell, but there it is. I do prefer an in person game to one over the net.

AUGUST 23RD: PERFECT GAME FOR YOU

One where everyone is involved with only slight distraction for cutting a few jokes. Plenty of role-play with characters that everyone wants to play, and interesting combat.

AUGUST 24TH: FAVORITE HOUSE RULE

Not worrying about stuff like arrows or food and water.

AUGUST 25TH: FAVORITE REVOLUTIONARY GAME MECHANIC

The 20 sided die.

AUGUST 26TH: FAVORITE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR GAME

Conversations with friends and colleagues. I love tapping into resources like The RPG Academy Network I’m a part of or The Vagabond Gamers G+ group I helped start. We are all gifted creatives and bouncing ideas off one another rocks.

AUGUST 27TH: FAVORITE IDEA FOR MERGING TWO GAMES INTO ONE

Can’t say I have tons of experience with this one but I do enjoy taking a gaming style from on area and making it work in Savage Worlds. For example when Gamerstable took Conan and used Savage Worlds to run it.

AUGUST 28TH: FAVORITE GAME YOU NO LONGER PLAY

My Eberron game from a few years back. Loved the players’ characters, my NPC’s, and where the story was headed. Sadly it fell apart. Non-Revivable.

AUGUST 29TH: FAVORITE RPG WEBSITE/BLOG

You mean other than Melvin Smif’s Geekery? I’m a huge fan of everyone in the RPG Academy Network, you should certainly check them out. Other than that I like The Angry GM‘s stuff, Gamerstable Podcast, Monkey in the Cage, and Dyvers.

AUGUST 30TH: FAVORITE RPG PLAYING CELEBRITY

Probably Steven Colbert. He wears it on his sleeve pretty heavily and I think the more you see that the more likely others are going to want to try the games.

AUGUST 31ST: FAVORITE NON-RPG THING TO COME OUT OF RPG’ING

Video Games. Without RPG’s most of the things people really dig in video games would have been less likely to ever show up. Hit Points, Experience, Levels. You can thank RPGs for that.


There you have it folks! Let me know some of you answers below! As an added note, I’ll have the winners of my contest posted by Friday September 11th! Don’t forget about the AcadeCon Kickstarter either! It’s winding down but there are still badges to pick up. Would love to see you there.

-Melvs.

Kickstart That GEEK! BattleBards

Cover

There are countless ways to spice up the gaming experience at the table, 3d models of dungeon tiles, miniatures, or maybe a dice tower or two. One way to really set the tone for an evening is to set the mood with music and sound and if you’re like me your efforts to do that have been minimal at best. Many of the other enhancements to the game experience I mentioned have companies dedicated to producing the products mentioned, not so with audio enhancement of gaming.

Enter the folks behind BattleBards, a new application dedicated to bringing these audio enhancements to your fingertips. I had the pleasure to speak with the folks regarding what they have to offer us, and just why we may want to get in on the ground floor through their current revamped Kickstarter campaign!

NOTE: During this Q&A process the BattleBards team made a major descision, they dropped their original campaign that focused on a subscription model of their work and changed to a purchase and own model based on the reactions of their investors. I mention it below but I feel they were well on their way to funding their original run but decided to restart under a different model simply because the community spoke, and they listened. The gamble seems to have paid off as they have already funded the new Kickstarter day one.

The BattleBards Team

Alex Jarzebinski

Kyn Chaturvedi

Mike Adams

Mridul Pandey

Melvin Smif: First, I want to thank you all for speaking with me today. I’m a big fan of music and sound effects at the table. Well, in theory I am, I’ve never actually done a lot beyond ambiance music in the background. I suppose that could be my first question actually. What makes you such a proponent of Music and Sound at the table? How would you sway someone who’s never really considered adding something like this?

BattleBards: No worries, it’s an incredible opportunity for us to discussion our passion with dedicated gamers!

The best example of the power of audio at the gaming table that I love to use requires the following YouTube video.The reason this video has such impact is because it shows the glaring hole made by removing the wonderfully evocative music by John Williams necessary to drive home the impact of the scene. It’s the same with gaming. Narrating, say, the loss of a major NPC can pull some heartstrings but accompanying the narrative with a touching piece like Dumbledore’s Farewell from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince allows the GM to dial in his/her players’ emotional state through audible context. In truth, many GMs use audio quite a bit at the table but as you pointed out, its use is normally restrained to providing some narrative backdrop or ambiance.

There’s a whole world of audio out there that can help make gaming more immersive beyond its use as a background such as NPC and Player interaction through voiceovers, accenting important moments through timed sound effects, and the use of what’s called “Source Audio” which provides a whole new way of interacting with the actual characters, living and breathing in these worlds composed of collective imagination. All of this just scratches the surface of how audio can plunge players even deeper into the worlds tabletop gaming creates.

MS: Do you feel audio is too frequently left out of tabletop gaming?

BB: Too often, it is left out. We’ve lost count how many times a GM runs players through an otherwise deep, thought provoking, or exciting sequence only to have it fall completely flat since the appropriate moods between player and GM were way out of sync. Given the power of audio, a GM need not score every second of a game, but even a dash of thunder, an NPC greeting, or the sounds of an exotic language being spoken by someone in town can add that immersive element to a game that’s tough to get any other way.

Like using minis, tile sets, illustrations, and props, audio is just another tool in the GM’s arsenal to paint a world that players can lose themselves in. In fact, given the tie between sound and emotion, it’s by far the most powerful tool any GM has at his or her disposal.

MS: Along that same line of thought, I often feel like introducing technology to the Pen and Paper scene can feel threatening to some, just look at what happened to Codename: Morningstar (aka Dungeonscape) for a reference. Have you experienced any backlash at all from people claiming this isn’t something “we” need, or have you been met with largely positive responses?

BB: When our last Kickstarter, Realmsound Project was starting up we did get a few folks who questioned the value of bringing audio into the game, thinking that it will detract from the gaming experience. Since the success of Realmsound, we’ve been working hard to show how audio, like any other tool; can add to the gaming experience, providing a context for the scenes the GM unfolds during the creation of a story. With even a dash of audio used at the right moment can add a very real sense of immersion in the game where ever the GM feels it most appropriate.

MS: The first project I can recall your group funding through Kickstarter was the Realmsound Project, a similar project that helped bring gaming sound effects and music to the table. What are the major differences between that first successful run and Battle Bards?

BB: BattleBards is our attempt to take the little experiment of sourcing a batch of professionally created audio and make it into an engine, providing not just a random, one-time collection of music, sound effects, and voiceovers but a vibrant marketplace where top tier composers, sound designers, and voice talent continuously add to this new universe of tabletop specific audio.

MS: Talk to me about your two key fixtures, the Soundboard and Mixer. How will access to them be structured?  Are they first downloaded as apps and then logged into or will you have to access via the web?

BB: The Soundboard is the lynchpin to the BattleBards service. You can have the great audio ever composed but without the means to seamlessly integrate it into a gaming environment, it’s useless. Using a system of modular customizable playlists, GMs will be able to setup their own “audio command and control” center, bringing at the ready whatever they need for the coming session.

The Mixer is a tool of endless possibilities (sorry for the cliché). Using nothing more than click and drag, users can layer any and all kinds of audio (think iMovie but purely Audio-based for TTRPGs) to create narrative backdrops with synched sound effects to go with the ebb and flow of the script. Provide ambiance to voice overs in order to command the setting. Create complex sound effects able to describe any event in-game from the rise of a towering earth elemental culminating in a sky-shaking roar to a pack of goblins beating down a weakening wooden door. Without needing to be a sound engineer at all, users with a bit of imagination have a new world to explore here.

Everything will be accessible from the web from any device. Every track purchased will be available for download as well as unlocked on the BattleBards service for streaming. Combine this with the ability to upload and store your own audio on our cloud and you can carry around all of your gaming audio with you anywhere you game with an internet connection. With Sync, you can even carry around your library without an internet connection, just sync the audio you want to take with you and BAM, instant customized gaming audio available in the deepest dungeon.. er.. basement.

MS: Can content made using the Mixer be made freely available to other users? To further that question is there a consideration to having an open sharing area for user generated content?

BB: Yes. Some of the best mods in the video game industry are made by the community and we want to bring that same creativity and passion in with a community of our own. Users will be able to assemble mixes using BattleBards audio and share them with their fellows, quickly earning fame for mixes that get a ton of downloads. As far as publicly sharing mixes created using non-BattleBards audio, it’s yet to be hammered out since that often gets into the murky depths of validating and protecting copyrighted material.

MS: If you can upload to the Mixer couldn’t that allow for some wholly original pieces of audio? If someone user the mixer for that kind of project could they then reach out to you and see if they could sell it through BattleBards rather than give it away freely? I suppose on that note, Mixer aside, how would someone approach you with something they think you could sell?

BB: The BattleBards Mixer is a wonderful tool and is very user-friendly. However, it has purposefully been designed for simplicity in mind to aid GMs at the gaming table. It has not been created for the aspiring professional artist. For artists, they would be much better served using a professional audio suite to put together an original composition. Anyone interested to throw their hat into the gaming audio ring should email us directly and we’ll hook them up with the details for the auditioning process.

MS: Ever thought of teaming up with any of the big name publishers out there to produce audio in combination with a release of theirs?

BB: Oh yeah! We would love to work with a number of publishers for sure. Once we have found our footing post-launch we will be reaching out for sure.

MS: Why do think no one has really done much with this type of gaming enhancement in the past? Or have they and I just never noticed it?

BB: There’s a ton of incredible audio out there but we think it hasn’t hit the mainstream for a couple of reasons. First, the tools. Beyond simply using a music track as a backdrop, integrating audio in any kind of an extensive way is a huge pain in the neck. The GM has enough on their plate as it is and needing to queue up 4 different media players and YouTube windows for anything beyond putting up simple loops detracts from the gaming experience. For this reason, we’ve spent a great deal of time researching just what tools would be needed to bring audio close enough to the GM to allow its use at the table to be practical, enter The Soundboard.

Secondly, sourcing movie-quality music, sound effects, voice overs, and the like is EXPENSIVE, and to build a network of great talent is even harder to pull off. See, we don’t have just a single composer or voice talent on staff. We work with dozens of accomplished artists who have serious cred in film, video games, tv shows, animation, etc. That gives us a lot of variety to work with. And, though they are all super talented, no one individual can do justice to every genre of audio. Each artist has a niche where they truly rock and so we play to that strength to get the best we can out of everyone.

MS: Your Kickstarter plug states “BattleBards – Fantasy Audio for Tabletop Gamers Done Right”, is your focus solely on fantasy gaming or have you collected audio for other genres? i.e. Science Fiction, Steampunk, Gothic Horror

BB: For right now, we’re diving deep into fantasy in order to give gamers a solid base from which to provide audible gaming candy to almost any session possible. However, to offer a bit of a tease, we know what genre is coming next and it’s related to a major, MAJOR movie being released this coming Christmas…

MS: Ha! Nice tease. I can see tons of applications beyond the table for this kind of audio. Podcasts, the rising popularity of “radio” dramas, what restrictions will users have on using these sounds for their projects? Can they be used beyond the table?

BB: There’s a ton of ways to use this audio and we want to work with everyone. Let’s get this level of gaming audio to every passionate gamer out there and what better way than to broadcast it on the air/cyber waves? All of the audio that BattleBards purchases from talent (The Audio Vault) we want to make available to podcasters, radio shows, and whoever is willing to share what we offer in a credible way. For all of the other audio that we don’t own, but’s offer on BattleBards, it will be up to our talent, that’s providing the audio, to allow for non-personal use. In short, for those out there who want to use our audio over a public channel or for interesting media projects, shoot us an email!

MS: Very recently you canceled your first Kickstarter for BattleBards before it reached its end to favor a different style of final product. Why did BattleBards decide to switch from a subscription model to a purchase model? How will this affect how the soundboard and mixer will be available to users?

BB: We launched the first BattleBards Kickstarter Campaign with a subscription model hoping to offer gamers a colossal library of audio as a streaming service. However, as the campaign gained steam we collected more and more feedback from gamers. It became clear that they loved the audio, but not the subscription delivery method. They preferred the ability to select the audio they wanted for download specifically.

It came to the point where we had to ask ourselves if we were really offering a service that most gamers wanted. As we reached 74% funded with 18 days remaining, we decided to do something quite unorthodox and cancel mid-campaign in order to start over with a more desirable pay-to-download model.

Like the Realmsound Project that came before, we’re giving concrete products. The Soundboard and Mixer, critical components for integrating audio in a game setting are all browser based now so there’s no need for actual apps and the like, use it anywhere!

MS: Looks like its paid off! Hey, plan on hitting up any Cons during the upcoming Con Season?

BB: Oh yes. Mike Adams is our Cons Colonel who is mapping out what we can hit and where. Since we’re just getting our start, we’ll likely just be wanderers in the sea of Cons like everyone else but it would be a dream come true to actually have a bigger role in them.

MS: What is the future for BattleBards? Where do you see this application going down the line?

BB: Already, future feature additions to the Soundboard and Mixer are being drawn up to give gamers a chance to play around with their creations in an intuitive manner, as well as some innovations in the works to bring audio even closer to the GM than a click. Eventually, we want to be able to offer native mobile applications to further increase the portability aspect of BattleBards. Lastly, as we mentioned already, we’re looking into bringing the same insane level of quality of audio into new genres beyond Fantasy, and we have some plans in the works to make that happen sooner rather than later.

MS: A few final words from me here. First I want to thank you again for speaking with me, and I want to commend you on switching your project from a subscription model to what you’ll be doing now. While I don’t know yet which I personally would have preferred, it seems you are really listening to the majority of your backers. 74% with 18 days remaining is a strong indicator of a project that likely would have funded so kudos for taking this leap of faith based of the desires of the community. I feel it shows a strong commitment to our hobby. Do you have any parting thoughts?

BB: We can’t thank you enough for giving us this time and platform to talk about what we’re working on. With regards to the move from subscription to purchase, thanks for the kudos. It was an agonizing decision that left several of us in the Team with sleepless nights. Ultimately, we’re gamers. Gaming is where we live and we want to introduce top tier audio to the entire community. If that means we need to tear things down in order to rebuild, then so be it.

Finally, for those of you who really like what we’re doing at BattleBards, we are telling you right now, don’t be shy. Reach out to us and tell us what you want. Let’s join forces and create the best sound library the tabletop gaming community has ever seen.


Here you can find the revamped BattleBards Kickstarter

Currently they sit at 124% funded and climbing so I’m excited to see what sort of stretch goals they roll out. I’ll be throwing my hat into the ring and backing these fine folks, can’t wait to try things out!

Other places to see BattleBards info:

-Melvs

P.S. Big thanks to Toby (author for the blog Roll and Groove) for reminding me of these fine folk and their product! We’ll have to got to more concerts together so you can get me more content.