Sunday 8 December 2013

Soundtrack Review: Dust and Mirrors – music for Night’s Black Agents

NBA CD front coverDust and Mirrors – music for Night’s Black Agents

By James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer, Thery Ehrlich and Chris J. Nairn.

Night’s Black Agents has already made a name for itself in roleplaying – it won two silver ENnie awards for Best Game and BestWriting, and was also nominated for Best Rules, Best Interior Art and Product of the Year. That’s pretty damn good going.

From the Pelgrane Press website:

"Night’s Black Agents brings the GUMSHOE engine to the spy thriller genre, combining the propulsive paranoia of movies like Ronin and The Bourne Identity with supernatural horror straight out of Bram Stoker. Investigation is crucial, but it never slows down the action, which explodes with expanded options for bone-crunching combat, high-tech tradecraft, and adrenaline-fueled chases.

Updating classic Gothic terrors for the postmodern age, Night’s Black Agents presents thoroughly modular monstrosity: GMs can build their own vampires, mashup their own minions, kitbash their own conspiracies to suit their personal sense of style and story. Rules options let you set the level of betrayal, grit, and action in your game. Riff from the worked examples or mix and match vampiric abilities, agendas, and assets for a completely custom sanguinary spy saga."


1. Main Theme – With its haunting piano and soft melody this is certainly a scene-setter but when the strings kick in and the energetic orchestral piece begins it feels like the opening credits to a TV show, and that works exceptionally well for a game that’s broken down into episodic adventures. I’d love to hear a longer version of this.

2. Stakeout – Another great mood piece that can sit on repeat and simply add to the atmosphere of the game. While the agents are investigating, researching and otherwise doing their job, this is a good piece to have on the background.

3. The Brief – Some peaceful music that serves as a great piece for those moments when there’s no pending conflict, no immediate danger, no dark shadow looming. If there’s a slim chance of a moment of calm during a game then here’s your chance to soothe things down a bit with this gentle piano-driven piece.

4. Infiltration – An excellent beat gives this a real-world special-ops feel, so when your players have got their blacksuit/infra-red goggles/grappling hooks/silenced ordnance mojo, on then slap this on repeat.

5. Ambient – This is a great piece of atmospheric music that you can out on repeat and leave in the background, with the beat of a modern-day spy thriller and classic Bond-style guitars, it’s good for the dramatic moments when things are about to get wild.

6. Manhunt – This has got some great energy and is very atmospheric, and works well when the players are under threat and have to make a hasty retreat or get somewhere fast. There’s a sense of urgency to this piece.

7. Suit Up – Characters about to go into the lion’s den, the vampire’s lair or just a place where there’s going to be a few fireworks? Then get them in the mood with this piece. Also works well as background music for general investigation, when things hot up a little.

8. Urban Parkour – Yes, you can imagine people leaping over rooftops to this music, but it works just as well as a chase or action piece.

9. Purging The Demon – This works well as action music and keeping it on repeat certainly adds to the atmosphere for those sequences when urgency is the key, even when it’s not just about shootouts and fistfights.

10. Heist – A high-energy piece perfect for moments of tense, nerve shredding action.

11. Conspyramid – There’s an eastern feel to this piece, both Middle-East and Far East, and even though the thought of two very different cultural sounds mingled might sound a little strange they sit together really well. A great piece that suits scenes where the agents are in the field as normal, everyday superspies.

12. Covert Ops – Sneaking around turns into threat, turns into confrontation. Another great mood piece that helps reflect urgency and pending problems.

13. The Great Escape – Need some action music? Here you go. If you’ve got a general fight, chase or other conflict on the go then this works exceptionally well.

14. Captured – A slow mood piece morphs into what can be used for a decent, fate-deciding action sequence.

15. An Eye For An Eye – More background music you can loop. It’s slow and eerie, perfect for creeping around a dark warehouse, or perusing forbidden texts.

16. Horror – It starts with strange, ethereal sounds and then moves into a dark, haunting theme that works well when you decide to introduce the bad guys, or have the players come across where they live and work. Very atmospheric and, while the music threatens but never quite climaxes into a great explosion of energy, it hints at something darker waiting in the wings. Using this to build the tension and then playing the track ‘Darkness’ when the threat is revealed works really well.

17. Darkness – This an excellent piece; want to reveal the bad guy, the nasties in the darkness or some other general badass that could result in a bad day for the adventurers? Then whack this on and crank up the volume. Superb.

18. Crawlers – Another mood piece that turns into an excellent piece you could easily use for dark action setpieces; fighting vamps, their minions or any other kind of conflict where the pressure is on.

19. Atonement – a very gentle, atmospheric piece that plays well post-adventure, giving the players time to wind down and reflect on what they’ve done. The piano adds an eerie melancholy to the atmosphere, which suits the game setting well.


The great thing about Dust and Mirrors is the fact that there’s plenty of choice of style and atmosphere on this album, with more than one track being suitable for different atmospheres in the game so that the themes don’t feel like they're being worn out or constantly repeated. Adding that each track is a decent length, this choice means that you can use the repeat function quite liberally without worrying about the music not suiting the mood or getting overly repetitive. I’ve used music in a few games where the atmosphere has been slightly coloured or even ruined by the wrong choice of music, or the action stalling while the GM quickly changes tracks. There are plenty of tracks here that work for both their intended theme and others besides, so you don’t have to be too concerned about interrupting the action to switch themes.

The music itself reflects both of the genres the game represents exceptionally well. The high-energy and action-orientated spy genre merges well with the dark, brooding danger of the horror in the world and you could quite easily use this music in a general spy- or special ops-themed game or a stand-alone horror one. I also think that the music would work exceptionally well in a cyberpunk setting – there are two tracks, ‘Heist’ and ‘Covert Ops’, that have the kind of musical atmosphere that I could see working well in a dark cyber-themed game.

The themes on this album have an excellent atmosphere to them that suit the Night’s Black Agents game perfectly. I’m incredibly impressed with this album, not just as a decent soundtrack for a great game but also as a great selection of music from some incredibly talented people. I can see this getting some serious airtime during my special ops-themed campaigns.

James Semple says - “I was delighted to be asked to write original music for Night’s Black Agents. The game is truly a masterpiece backed up by some incredible research and it just oozes atmosphere. Superspies vs Vampires? What’s not to like?

For this project I assembled a crack team of amazing composers who each brought something unique to the table. Everyone was very inspired by the source material and that really comes across. I consider myself honoured to be surrounded by so much talent here.

The music itself is made up of tracks which are each designed to work for specific situations but also can be played together as an album for a general mood of tension, action and horror. I hope this creates the perfect mood for your games!”

A great album with some great music that suits a great roleplaying game, and others besides. If, like me, you like to use music in your game to heighten the mood and set the atmosphere then this is highly recommended.

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