Story and Soundtrack to a Savage World of Darkness

Music to play vampire RPGs by

Photo Credit: Michael D. Dunn

I’m pleased to report that a 5-Part Savage Worlds campaign inspired by WoD Vampires went about as well as I could have imagined. (In no particular order) Brian, Christoph, Lisa, Ian & Rhys, please congratulate yourselves on some epic roleplaying.

I’m not doing a full plot point recap or short story based on the sessions, but I am providing some notes below to remember some of the good stuff that went into this. Here goes…

The Big Idea I Had for this Chronicle: Interview with a Vampire meets Memento

In this campaign, I wanted to have some fun exploring the idea of vampires as tragic creatures: immortal, yet condemned to live outside humanity; superhuman, but vulnerable to violent death; able to corrupt and manipulate all around them, yet betrayed by their own unreliable memories. Lots of puzzles wrapped in enigmas, with the Players having to decide whether the others around them are manipulative, dangerous or just plain demented — with a little combat thrown in (since this is Savage Worlds, after all).

The Player Wild Cards

I wanted to avoid what I’d seen before with WoD Vampire groups that essentially turn Players into blood-sucking X-Men. My pre-generated characters weren’t particularly over-powered and they all had pretty dark and tragic histories, tied together by intensely personal connections:

MAGNUS (AKA SILAS — it’s a long story). A charismatic leader, able to persuade, intimidate, or confuse as needed — or just strangle people with a length of chain when things didn’t go his way. His (invented?) code of honour clashes with his innate malevolence.

ARIANA. A shape-shifting vampire who lets her Beast loose when it suits her, she is particularly hindered by an inability to read or deal with modern technology. Agile and tough in a scrape, she is unable to live in this new modern society without others’ help.

MYCROFT. Occultist, scholar, investigator and patient seeker of dark powers. In some ways, he is the most human member of the group, but that doesn’t make him the most humane one. He can get stabby if you provoke him.

CALIBAN. A monstrous, stealthy and brutally powerful Nosferatu, he tends to listen from the shadows until trouble shows up. He has a literally tortured past and is generous with giving back suffering to the world when someone is asking for it.

RICK. A vampiric assassin who helps an undead gangster maintain control of the city’s waterfront. He isn’t an original member of MAGNUS’ coterie, but joins them when common enemies threaten them all.

The Soundtrack

I didn’t play music for the first two sessions, but realized it would be good to set the mood. For the third and fourth sessions, I used the creepy soundtrack from Shutter Island — another GM had used it for a different horror RPG and I liked the experience. The music was a great fit, with an old-timey, dissonant feel.

But then I decided to get more ambitious. I put together an iTunes Playlist based on songs that would not only help create a mood, but possibly even provide insight for the Players as to what was happening in the scenes. Unfortunately, I probably kept the volume too low for them to pick up the clues since I was afraid the music might actually be a distraction if it was too loud. Still, as a GM, it helped keep me tuned into what I was doing.

Without further ado, here are the songs played during the 4th and 5th sessions, and what was going on game-wise:

4th Session Songs

This session wrapped up a mystery introduced right from the beginning of the adventure — namely, why is everyone so damned pissed off at the Player Wild Cards? Who the hell are they, anyway?

Also, a major villain closes in to have his vengeance for what the Players’ characters had done to him back in the 1970s (It was really bad. He deserved it. ‘Nuff said). Some stuff I played for this session:

Psychopomp (The Tea Party). Check out the full lyrics to this song. It’s like a contract for turning someone into a vampire. Reminded me of the backstories of the creation of ARIANA and MYCROFT.

Babylon (The Tea Party). A song to play any time our vampires beat someone in combat. It also ties into MAGNUS’ story, since he’s so damned old.

Heresy (Nine Inch Nails). The villain was inspired by a lot of Christian imagery — a wayward, one-time priest who essentially became a monstrous pariah. The pertinent lyrics include:

He sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
He tries to tell me what i put inside of me
He’s got the answers to ease my curiosity
He dreamed up a god and called it christianity
Your god is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell i will see you there

Ruiner (Nine Inch Nails). I could have used this song right from the first session in pretty much all of the games we played. It’s lyrics evoke at least half of the manipulative, lying (or insane) NPCs, all of the main villains and pretty much all of the Player characters to boot. Some sample lyrics that tie in:

You had all of them on your side didn’t you?
You believe in all your lies didn’t you?

Yup. The Players could have said that exact thing to their “sire”, LUCILLE, as well as the VAMPIRE PRINCE and all the bad guys except for the drooling brainless WENDIGO (again, long story).

You had to give them all a sign, didn’t you?
You had to covet what was mine, didn’t you?

Right. Got it.

What you gave to me
My perfect ring of scars
You know I can see what you really are
You didn’t hurt me nothing can hurt me
You didn’t hurt me nothing can stop me now

That last bit has that vengeful badass villain’s story written all over it, though it also pays homage to MAGNUS and CALIBAN’s respective origin stories. Those guys all had it rough…

Anyway, the rest of that session was pretty much the soundtrack to Shutter Island, as explained above.

5th Session Songs

A bit more up-tempo this time…

Young Folks (Peter Bjorn and John). I used this tune just as the Players were starting the fifth session, getting right into a new fight. Some of the mysteries of their own pasts have been solved and they’ve overcome deadly dangers. While their biggest challenge still looms ahead, now they’re a united team that’s going to beat back their enemies together.

It’s an upbeat, whimsical tune that’s also a conversation. The lyrics perfectly fit their new mindset. A sample:

If I told you things I did before, told you how I used to be
Would you go along with someone like me
If you knew my story word for word, had all of my history
Would you go along with someone like me

I did before and had my share, it didn’t lead nowhere
I would go along with someone like you
It doesn’t matter what you did, who you were hanging with
We could stick around and see this night through

Jump into the Fire. More high-energy up-tempo goodness with a bit of a retro feel (since our vampires are quite retro all by themselves). It emphasizes the Sysiphean nature of the quest they have ahead of them, and poses an existential challenge to these vampires: can they free themselves from those who seek to manipulate them? Can they find some semblance of happiness together?

You can climb a mountain
You can swim the sea
You can jump into the fire
But you’ll never be free
You can shake me up
Or I can break you down
Whoa-o-o-o-, whoa-o-o-o-
We can make each other happy…

Immigrant Song. Our heroes are sailing off (from Canada!) to a distant land to wage war. They’re bringing the fight to the tyrannical enemy that has just revealed himself, and they’re going to f*ck him up to make the world safe for democracy (or maybe just for vampires):

Ah, ah,
We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!

Continuing in that vein, we followed up with Sabotage, Seven Nation Army and Rocking in the Free World.

The Players soon see action, kicking ass and taking names. Next up…

Under My Thumb and Sympathy for the Devil. Close to the final battle, the Players learn that a key ally who turned out to be manipulating them was actually still a pretty good ally — if a little mentally unstable thanks to her split personalities. Ultimately, she was trying to protect them out of love (the burning with eternal desire kind, the fiercely maternal kind and a little of the Platonic on the side — yeah, it was pretty messed up). Ultimately, she screwed up, but it was the thought that counted — so as her intentions became clear, I threw in some other tunes to describe that, like mood-setting Secret Garden and the very apt Private Universe, whose lyrics pretty well describe LUCILLE’s melancholic inner turmoil:

No time no place to talk about the weather
The promise of love is hard to ignore
You said the chance wasn’t getting any better
Labour of love is ours to endure
The highest branch on the apple tree
It was my favourite place to be
I could hear them braking free
But they could not see me
I will run for shelter
Endless summer lift the curse
It feels like nothing matters
In our private universe

Next, our heroes faced deadly danger and a final revelation. As the threat became imminent, I turned on Don Abandon’s Alice from 28 Days Later — a perfect acoustic horror tune of rising tension that explodes.

After the battle, I close with Make Your Own Kind of Music, emphasizing the idea that the characters are now pretty much the last ones standing and finally able to choose their own path — even if that means splitting up to deal with their individual personal goals (as when MYCROFT  took his cue to leave with the treasure while the others were deciding not to murder each other for some strange reason).

You’re gonna be knowing
The loneliest kind of lonely,
It may be rough goin’,
Just to do your thing’s the hardest thing to do.
But you’ve gotta make your own music
Sing your own special song,
Make your own kind of music even if nobody else sings along.

And now we come to the haunting finale, wrapping up with How It Ends (DeVotchKa). Sweet.

Thanks again to the Players who made this game so much fun. As you might have figured out from the thought I put into the soundtrack alone, I devoted a lot of time and planning to this campaign. By the end of it, my brain was pretty much bled dry.

Now I’m ready to go again.

We leave the Savage World of Darkness behind and enter the Savage World of World War Two — the kind of scenario where the villains don’t have to be vampires to make your blood run cold.

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