Thursday 26 February 2015

Review - 'Of Bone and Thunder' by Chris Evans

Inline image 1Publisher: Titan Books

Reviewed by Richard Williams

'Of Bone and Thunder' was recommended to me with the words "it's like Lord of the Rings meets Full Metal Jacket". That's a recommendation that I can't very well ignore and so it was with many high expectations that I read this book. And, despite my doubts, it largely managed to live up to those expectations.

Firstly, let me just dispel the notion that this is at all like Lord of the Rings. It simply isn't. Not in tone, style, level of high fantasy or in scope. Not that I hold this against the author since, as far as I know, he isn't the one that made the comparison. Also, let's be honest, when was the last time you heard that so-and-so was the new Tolkien and actually found that to be the case? pretty much never. Nonetheless this is a well written, engaging and enjoyable book.

As to the second part, being like Full Metal Jacket, this one is right on the money. Or, at least, the comparison to a movie about the Vietnam war. This is not accidental but entirely the author's intention and I have to say that it works really well and he has done a fantastic job of finding fantasy equivalents for well known elements of that terrible conflict. There is the close intensity of jungle warfare where you never see your enemy unless you're lucky enough to kill them, the drug addiction, problems of racial integration, the assassination of the nation's leader, a wonderful take on napalm in the form of dragon fire and even manages to include the dark machinations of a powerful covert government agency called the Dark Rangers (read: CIA). Readers who know their history will enjoying spotting the references but even those who think they might, maybe, have heard of the Vietnam war will still enjoy this entertaining tale of war at it's most pointless and harrowing.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed was the characterisation, especially the way Chris Evans managed to really capture the lingo of the soldiers. Their own way of cursing, nicknames for the enemy and the terrain and they reflexive way they respond to certain words or phrases that only the initiated would understand. Having said that I do feel that some of the characters came across as a bit two dimensional, although that could well because there are a lot of them. Even some who had really juicy character hooks, such as one with a drug habit, seemed to have their problems solved a little too easily, almost inconsequentially.

There's a lot of action in this book and a few unexpected deaths, which always adds a decent bit of suspense, and the use of magic as a military weapon is nicely handled.

Overall I found this to be a highly enjoyable, well paced and nicely imagined story and I hope the author sets more stories in this universe. After all, the Vietnam war went on a long time, so there's no reason why this couldn't.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Review - The Art Of Total War

by Martin Robinson
Inline image 1Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

Some art books are overly wordy and I'm not a fan of that. When I buy an art book I want to see art and any words on the page had better be brief and to the point. A little something about what the picture is about, maybe what the artist was striving for and whether they felt they pulled it off. So when I opened The Art of Total War and saw several pages of writing I considered just giving it a miss. But I'm glad I didn't because it transpired to be a fairly succinct history of the Total War franchise that was actually quite interesting. Something that was mentioned that I particularly latched on to (aside from a mention that they are working on Total War: Warhammer) was a thought on how games have come along graphically and now any game looking to gain an audience had better make sure it looks good. Back when Total War began the armies were just a cluster of pixels darting around the screen, now the battles are comprised of thousands of individuals, near enough, that need to be clearly discernible when a player zooms in to see his samurai take on gun toting soldiers.

The result is a need for the artwork you find in this book. Much as first person shooters now need to have a movie style art department to plan out their every 'scene', so too the makers of real time strategy games. What is interesting about this development is the direction that Creative Assembly have taken towards their concept art. There are a lot of very nice 'mood pieces' in this book which wouldn't look out of place on a gallery wall. These pieces don't represent anything that actually happens in the game, no specific event or action, but are merely designed to convey a certain point, such as the scale of a battle or the lighting. Such pieces can be found throughout the book and they are a treat.

Other work includes the designs for soldiers, their armour and general appearance, as well as buildings. The games loading screens now show artwork and those pieces that are used can be found here too. In the case of Shogun 2 and Empire the art is really of a very high quality and is nice to sit and appreciate.

The book is organised into sections by game title and its sequel. So chapter one is all about Shogun 1&2 but the art is almost exclusively from the second game due to the state of concept art at the time that the first Shogun game was created. This applies to the chapter on Medieval 1&2 with most of the earlier games art being CG renders that were, at the time, cutting edge but which now look painfully dated. There isn't a lot of that stuff, just a few pieces to show how things have come along. Rome and all it's expansions gets good coverage as do the Empire games with a good amount of the key art pieces that were used for marketing purposes.

There is more CG work, from the modern games, than I like. I'm very much a 2D art fan but I know others feel differently on that score so I can't hold it against Titan Books for featuring it so heavily. What I do mind, however, is that on a several occasions some of the best art pieces have been printed at the size of thumbnails and crammed onto a single page. Had they done this with the CG material then I wouldn't be so bothered but I can see that most of the pictures are very nice and frankly I want to see them in all their glory. Bit of a misstep in my opinion, but there we are.

It would have been nice to see some artwork from Spartan: Total Warrior, which gets a mention in the history of Total War at the start, but there is nothing from that game. There is, however, art from the upcoming Total War Battles: Kingdoms, another game designed for tablets and other mobile devices in the same vein as Total War Battles. Total War Arena, the pending game focusing on multiplayer skirmishes, also gets a brief showing.

In conclusion I would say that this book has a good selection of art with a nice emphasis on key art and mood pieces. True, I would have preferred less CG work and lots more sketches but on the whole this is a very nice book which conforms to Titan Books very capable way of putting these things together. The descriptive text could have been a little better on most of the pages but, as I said before, if it's a case of having words or art then I choose the art. I also only saw a handful of references to the artists that produced the work and, as I've mentioned before, I personally like to know who is responsible for the art I'm enjoying. All in all I highly recommend The Art of Total War to collectors of concept art books but for others who are less enthusiastic about such things I would say it's not such a necessary purchase and suggest holding off until you've had a chance to flick through it first.

Sunday 8 February 2015

Review - Battlefield 4 (Xbox 360)

Inline image 2Battlefield 4 - Standard Edition

Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Dice
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Reviewed by Richard Williams

So I finally got around to playing Battlefield 4. I saw it going cheap in a shop and I fancied playing a mindless shooter for a bit. Because you do, sometimes, don't you. Sometimes you just want something that's no more taxing than 'shoot the bad guys as they pop up', like one of those arcade games that people old enough to remember them love so much. I saw the price and thought to myself "oh, that's cheap" and bought it.

All I can say now is 'thank God for trade-ins'. Because despite the low price I still managed to pay too much for this game which is, in my humble opinion, playable. And that's about as nice a comment I can make about it. It works. Mostly. There was a very annoying instance when I died because a wall I tried to hide behind didn't really seem to exist. I could walk right through it and, just for giggles, the enemy could see right through it and shoot me. And there was the aggravating instance of my Jeep in the first level blowing up and killing me, for no reason whatsoever, repeatedly. Reloading the checkpoint took me to the moment about ten seconds before the explosion (so I know I wasn't just being an idiot and making the same mistake over and over again) so after a half a dozen checkpoint reloads I had to restart the whole level. Which, given that it was level one, meant restarting the whole game and going through the intro cut scene again.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: stop putting in cut scenes and end credits which can't be skipped. Just stop it, god damn you. In fact anything which isn't gameplay should, by law, have an option to skip it. Assassin's Creed Rogue, I'm not only looking at you but glaring with an intensity that should make you blush with shame. Seriously, if you don't know what I mean, ask anyone who has played the game to completion. Credits that run for about 20 minutes, which can not be skipped, and if you think 'oh yeah? Well I'll just turn it off and restart' then think again, because the save point is right before the credits roll and you've just got to start from scratch all over again.

Wait, what am I reviewing again? oh, yeah, Battlefield 4, right.

So what's wrong with it? Firstly I would say the overall story. It's uninspired and, frankly, kinda stupid. Also, it never really takes the time to explain itself so I'm still not entirely sure what I was fighting for. Basically you start the game running hell-for-leather out of Baku with some vital intel which absolutely has to be got back to the US because the Chinese and Russians are up to some naughty stuff. OK, it's just a shooter so what the heck, it doesn't have to be Shakespeare. It's just that the game then seems to run a course that has just about nothing to do with anything. Suddenly you're getting a VIP out of China then attacks happen and then you're defending a ship and then you're going behind enemy lines for something I don't even remember then you're getting captured and sent to some remote mountain place, because why the feck not, I guess, and by the end of the game you're defending a ship in the Suez canal because, hey, you've got to end it somewhere I guess. It seemed to me that, much as I thought about Call of Duty Ghosts, there wasn't really a story behind the game. The creators just wanted to make a whole load of interesting multiplayer levels and then tried to string together a story that connects the locations. Except I don't think Battlefield 4 levels would be much fun in multiplayer. I don't know, I don't really do multiplayer because I'm old (32, so ancient, really) and there's only so many times I can be shot dead by kids dotted all over the world who have dedicated their lives to the mastery of a fast trigger finger.

So yeah, the story is pretty dodgy. But not only is it a dodgy story, it's told in a dodgy way. I got the strong impression from this game that it wanted to be a movie. Again, welcome to the modern world of video games. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare spawned a whole new approach to FPS games that resulted in some fantastic cinematic game play and stories. I don't have a problem with games being cinematic. But just as you have good films and bad films, you now have good cinematic games and bad cinematic games. And Battlefield 4 is a Michael Bay kind of game. Which, depending on whether you're old enough to have hair on your balls, is either a great thing or a terrible thing. Speaking as a venerable ancient I say it sucks the aforementioned hairy balls. You get the feeling that nobody enjoys a Michael Bay movie more than Michael Bay. And I'm going to stop myself there before I go off on yet another tangent. Suffice to say that this game feels like it's trying to be a bad movie.

Another couple of quick negatives. While it's not on a par with Metal Gear Solid for standing around watching people talking this game does, nonetheless, have you standing around while some scripted piece of whatever goes ahead. I got so bored of this that whenever it started to happen I would start doing laps of whatever room/space I happened to be in.

NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: Let the gamers play the GOD DAMNED GAME!

Sorry, I'll try to stop doing that. I'm not Angry Joe.

What makes this problem even worse is that your character is supposed to be in charge of the team but all you end up doing is watching everyone else talk about what to do and making decisions. Call of Duty got around this quite nicely by either having you play a mission solo or, as perfectly demonstrated in the ghillie suit mission in Modern Warfare 1, having a superior officer there with you calling the shots and telling you what to do. In Battlefield 4 I just feel like a really bad NCO who is happy to watch his troops scream obscenities at each other and do what they feel like. This problem is even highlighted in the game when one of the characters is talking about another behind his back about how wrong it was to make a call because 'that was your call sarge'. Well shit, I would have made it had there been a way of doing so built into the game. But there isn't so I guess I'll just go run some more laps while you all play out your scripted BS.

Also the characters are all just a bit too over the top and while I'm not a member of the US navy I've got a strong suspicion that captains of aircraft carriers don't freely toss around the F word with their crew. I don't know but I've been led to believe that you have to demonstrate quite a high degree of professionalism and restraint before they let you have that kind of authority. But I could well be wrong about that. Worse than over the top, the characters are also quite thoroughly clich├ęd. The Chinese woman who had to endure her village being burnt to the ground by government forces, the US soldier with a nickname which is slowly explained over several conversations (by which time I solidly do not give a toss), the two team members who don't trust each other and are at each others throats every five seconds but who eventually become bestest buds, the CO who bravely sacrifices himself in just about the most stoic, heroic and god damned square jawed way possible. Ok, that last one was kind of cool and I wished they'd kept that guy around because a) he seemed like a decent character and b) I wouldn't have felt like a waste of space sergeant who might as well have stood around with his thumb up his ass while everyone else decided the course of the mission.

On which note I also want to point out that, having decided what to do for me, the characters then feel the need to constantly shout at me what to do. This is annoying, especially when nine times out of ten the instruction is incredibly vague such as "DO IT! DO IT NOW!". Sometimes it's fairly obvious what they're talking about but other times I'm standing around (and sometimes getting killed in the process) thinking 'do what?!'.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler:
Not long after starting the game I looked at the achievements list to see if there's anything I should be looking out for. I noticed that there were a couple of different achievements based on which character you choose to sacrifice at the end of the game. At the time I had only met the one character but, since the other name was female, and I like to think of myself as a bit of a gent, I said to my team mate (AKA the television) "sorry chap, looks like you don't make it". By the end of the game, and the big decision, my only regret was that I couldn't sacrifice both characters. Plus, screw you game creators. The one choice I do actually get to make and it's which person gets to die? Because I'm supposed to care for these characters now? I chose the one I happened to be looking at after they got through their 'it's got to be me' 'no it's got to be me' 'no, I won't let you sacrifice yourself' etc etc I don't care let me kill one of you and go make a cup of tea.

On top of all these quite specific problems there is the fact that the action manages to only be kind of gripping, the sections where you control a vehicle mostly left me wanting to just walk it (and indeed I did go into a tank battle on foot with some RPGs as a preference) and the level designs felt deeply uninspired. While I'm sure this game must look very impressive on the Xbox One on the 360 it... well... didn't. It was OK. Had some nice detail.

Right... something nice to say to end the review. Hmmm... let me see. Oh, yeah! Did I mention that I didn't pay a lot of money for it? That was good.

Friday 6 February 2015

Review - Kick-Ass 3

Inline image 1By Mark Millar (Author) and John Romita Jr. (artist)

Released by Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

I firstly want to echo the words of Jeff Wadlow when he said in his introduction to Kick-Ass 3: "The end of KICK-ASS?!?! What kind of demon-semen are those two ass clowns mainlining? Why would they end KICK-ASS?"

Because this sadly is the end of Kick-Ass and I too am something of a fan (I even liked the movies). But what an ending. Full of all the usual high-octane blood-splattery, sharp wit and outright profanity that the readers of Mark Millar have come to expect, this is the send-off that Kick-Ass needed. But is it a perfect send-off?

Not exactly. Kick-Ass, frankly, should have died a half a dozen times during the course of this third installation to the series. When will bad guys, especially super tough, hard as nails, mean as a starved dog, killers, learn to just shoot people when they catch them? This consideration goes double when talking about Hit-Girl. They know she is a near unstoppable killing machine that delights in taking on impossible odds and staggering numbers of villains yet they don't just kill her when they have the (several) opportunities to do so. This isn't a major complaint, just something that I wish wouldn't come up so often.

There's also the fact that there are a handful of interesting characters introduced in this book, with the potential to have a real impact on the direction of the storyline, but who are very much underused. They are introduced, throw a minor spanner in the works, then just seem to tail off.

Also, and it has to be said, the direction sometimes feels a little wayward. I don't want to give too much away but sometimes the heroes still just come across as pathetic. By this point in the story you hope for something a little more spectacular.

But that's about all that bugged me. What did KICK-ASS 3 get right? well, just about everything else. Hit-Girl in particular is a treat and we get to see more about her back story and get to see just how damaged she is. While Hit-Girl is undoubtedly the toughest character here (and possibly in comics ever) I can't help but feel that she is really a very tragic character and I'm left feeling sorry for her. When she's not maiming all holy-hell out of mobsters, bent cops and perverts in general, that is. If Hit-Girl went to Gotham they could close Arkham and all sleep safer.

As for Kick-Ass himself? His character story is nicely rounded out. It might not be the ending you expect, but it should be an ending you like. We get to see him mature, despite having all manner of violence done to him, and become something like normal.

The art style retains the cartoonish look, not surprisingly since it's still John Romita Jr. doing the honours, which was something that I took a while to get used to but which I've come to like. I still think some of the characters look as though they've had extreme facial reconstruction which has left the skin pulled taught back towards the base of the skull but overall it's a good solid look.

Overall I found this to be a very enjoyable and engaging read and I think that fans of the other books in the series will feel their beloved characters have been treated well. Recommended.

Unless you hate violence, nudity, swearing and scenes of a sexual nature. Yeah, there's a lot of that.

- Richard Williams

Sunday 1 February 2015

Review - 13th Age Soundtrack

Soundtrack coverMusic by James Semple, Marie-Anne Fischer, Thery Ehrlich, Chris Nairn, Tristan Noon.

Released through Pelgrane Press

I like to think that I know something about soundtracks. I grew up with them on my favourite films, favourite TV shows and favourite games. I have a collection of 300-plus soundtracks covering every genre, from the cinema classics to the modern blockbusters, from the first faltering bleeping notes to the great gaming scores. By their nature, scores are written to suit the mood and atmosphere of the product being created. Soundtracks, if done correctly, can highlight the impact of the moment and invoke waves of emotion and memory when listened to again outside of the product they’re designed for.

This makes them difficult to use when running a game. I like to use music in my sessions as I feel it adds to the atmosphere, and as my games are generally cinematic in their construction I like to have soundtracks that suit. If I’m gaming in a licensed world that already has a score associated with it then so much the better; the music itself will enhance the mood. However, if I use music that the players recognise in a setting that does not have a dedicated score then it can ruin the session somewhat. The players tend to associate the tracks with the product it was written for and not with the game I’m trying to run, and that can be distracting.

You’d think it would make sense to have music written specifically for a game setting, but this in itself is a difficult thing to do. The mood of a game setting is decided by the gaming group’s style, so if the music is too dark for a light-hearted game, and vice versa, then the atmosphere is lost straight away. Gaming is subjective and so the music can’t always capture the feeling the GM is trying to invoke, even more so if the music is written specifically for that setting.

Alternatively, the composers of such music could create something that not only suits the themes of the game itself, but mix up the content so that there’s something that everyone can use; mystical, light-hearted, fast-paced, thunderous… if there’s something for everyone, then the soundtrack is going to be useful in whole or in part.

And this is what the 13th Age soundtrack does – it delivers an overall theme that suits the atmosphere of the 13th Age setting and rules as well as offers a large number of different themes and styles that you can use to enhance the atmosphere of your game. In fact, there’s 30 tracks here of varying lengths and styles, and each one can be used to play and create by.

There’s a lot of tracks on this so let me talk about how the music will help you in your game. First off, let me be blunt – if, like me, you’re a lover of music in your game then this soundtrack is fantastic whether you intend to use it in a 13th Age game or not. The themes stand out and once the group hears them during their first few games then they’ll forever associate the music with the sessions, up to a point where an evening’s play will feel peculiar without having the music playing in the background. Let me explain why that is.

There are tracks on here that evoke atmosphere in any given location; there’s music for creeping through dark and dangerous dungeons (‘Exploration’) to visiting great cities (‘Starport’), and plenty of material in between. There’s music to inspire the players to travel the lands (‘Dreams of a Lost Age’) and make them feel like they’re in over their heads (‘The Demon Coast’).

It’s an amazing selection of music and I can’t see any gaming group not getting something out of it. More than anything, it’s unique; there are no movies, shows or games that have this music so the player’s will not have heard any of it before and will always equate it with their 13th Age games, or whatever ongoing RPG setting they’re gaming in. If that’s not perfect for a gaming group then I don’t know what is.

My favourite tracks are:

‘Dreams of a Lost Age’ – The 13th Age Theme is excellent and I’ll play it when I’m setting up the game so that everyone knows where they’ll be for the evening, almost like an overture, but this is the music I’ll use to start the game proper. It feels epic yet personal, and as the game is primarily about the individual characters at the gaming table it’s nice to have something less bombastic to bring the players into the session.

‘Crusader’ – This is an amazing piece that I’ll use for epic battles. Chase or one of the Escalation loops is great for personal fights and encounters, but when I want great expansive battles with hundreds of combatants, or when I’m narrating the scene regarding a castle siege or a cavalry charge, this is the track I’ll use.

‘Escalation Loop’ – These are great as they reflect the ever growing intensity of the escalation die in the game, which raises the tension and excitement. As the encounter progresses the music becomes more intense and driven, and that works well when used in a fight (especially when the combat isn’t going in the PCs favour!).

‘Exploration’ – This a fantastic track and really enhances the atmosphere of a dungeon delve, or a trek through ruins, or just wandering into a deep, dark forest where you know you shouldn’t be. It’s creepy – really creepy – and when used sparingly, especially when the players know that where they’re going is dangerous and deadly, it can be truly effective.

‘Tales From Around the Fire’ – The absolute perfect downtime/tavern/camping music. It’s a light, folksy piece that’ll suit pretty much any tavern or inn as the players take a break from the epic adventuring they’ll no doubt be inspired to do by the rest of the tracks. Left on loop in the background it makes for some very atmospheric music, especially when the PCs are visiting a town, a marketplace or village, and even more so when there is no immediate threat… or when you want the players to let their guard down.

As well as locations and atmospheric music, the tracks cover the great Icons in the game and this in itself gives a level of atmosphere I’ve not experienced before in a session. Using the music of the Archmage, for example; it’s an airy, mystical theme that glides from gentle into ominous, but it starts with a thunderclap. That sound alone is enough to merit a huge scene of introduction and when played, the players will know straight away who’s presence they’re in. Every great character in any movie or TV show has their own theme, and this soundtrack gives an Icon character an iconic piece of music. I listened to each of the tracks as I read the Icon’s entry in the core rulebook, and each one suits wonderfully.

And that, at the end of the day, is what this soundtrack does – it delivers iconic music that not only suits the epic atmosphere of 13th Age but is so varied it contains a style of music that will suit most games in pretty much any fantasy setting. Left on loop in the background it’s perfect for any gaming session and has enough variety to help enhance the atmosphere of many playing styles.

The team of composers and performers on this album have done a sterling job on this soundtrack and they should be commended; I’ve got a few game-centric soundtracks and this is, by far, the best one yet. If you’re looking for an album that’ll help to take your games up a notch, or if you feel that your games are missing that little something that’ll take it to the next level, then this album is an absolute must.

On top of all of that, it’s just a great album filled with solid, wonderfully crafted music. It’s a soundtrack waiting for a movie to be put to it.

Very highly recommended to players of any epic RPG.

From the Pelgrane Press website, where you'll also find some samples of the music: Track Listing

1. 13th Age
Prophecies fail. Demons invade, living dungeons rip towards the surface and the Empire’s protectors falter. A sweeping anthem for the heroes who will save the world, or die trying.

2. Archmage
He has preserved the Empire for centuries and created astonishing new lands. He has also threatened the fabric of reality with experiments you’d have to be brilliant or hugely arrogant to attempt.

3. Crusader
He’s the armored fist of the dark gods, crusading against demons — but happy to stomp out virtue or innocence if they’re stupid enough to get in his way.

4. Diabolist
Unlike the demons she controls, the Diabolist doesn’t necessary want to destroy the universe. She wants to play with it, as a tiger plays with a troupe of monkeys. Those who dance best may not be eaten.

5. Dwarf King
The Dwarf King remembers when his kingdom in the deeps was the mightiest in all creation. Forced towards the surface by elven treachery, he guards the Empire from threats such as the orcs while calculating how to claim the Empire for his own. Or maybe he’s content to mine the treasures of the earth, and build great things that his ancestors would have coveted. Maybe.

6. Elf Queen
Once upon a time, the Elf Queen united the dark elves, wood elves, and high elves as one people. Now she is the only thing they have in common.

7. Emperor
The ruler of the Dragon Empire holds his Empire together with armies, magic, force of will, tolerably wise rule, and grand squadrons of dragons. You may not agree with him, but you’re not going to mistake him for someone who does things halfway.

8. Great Gold Wyrm
This great gold dragon is the champion of the oppressed and those who fight for justice. Unfortunately the Wyrm is stuck holding the gates of the hells shut against the demons, so the Wyrm’s champions must do its work in the world.

9. High Druid
She is the champion of the resurgent Wild, and the spiritual and magical leader of spirits of nature and the elements that were chained by the Emperor and Archmage but are now working themselves free.

10. Lich King
The Lich King is the not-quite-insane lord of the undead, a fallen tyrant who plans to conquer the Dragon Empire. He mostly understands that ruling a kingdom is not the same as destroying it.

11. Orc Lord
The leader of the hordes. An apocalyptic icon of war, disease, and endings that could be worse than death.

12. Priestess
The gods are distant but she hears all the gods of light and speaks for those who please her. Part oracle, part mystic, and part metaphysical engineer, since she created the Cathedral, an ever-expanding temple with rooms or entire wings for each of the faiths she favors.

13. The Three
Three ancient dragons cooperate to become one of the dominant evils of the world. The red dragon embodies fury, the black masters stealth and betrayal, and the blue has used sorcery to become a legally appointed governor of the Empire as well as an evil mastermind!

14. The Eyes of the Stone Thief
The Stone Thief is a terrible centuries-old living dungeon that cuts through the earth, surfacing to swallow people and places that the heroes love.

15. Tales Around the Fire
For the rare moments when nothing is trying to kill you.

16. Exploration
Descending into the ruined temple. Opening the gates of the living dungeon. Moving in the dark down a corridor that might be made of stone, but then why is the stone breathing? Wind from up ahead, but it’s not the wind from the surface. Welcome to the underworld.

17. The Demon Coast
Coastlines can be bad business on the Midland Sea, home to all the evil things forced out of the ocean by the Empire’s magic. The coast just north of the Abyss is even worse, hit by tides of evil from both directions.

18. The Fangs
The rivers that feed into the Midland Sea are dangerous places and this is the worst of the bunch, fast moving forks of water populated by sahuagin and sea devils and other creatures forced out of the Midland Sea by the Blessed Emperor. Another great tune for ramping up the tension.

19. High Dock
There aren’t any actual docks in these rolling western hills, and the name may or may not be a joke. For magical reasons no one understands, all the flying realms of the Empire eventually drop low and bump up against the hills or take out big chunks of the terrain in terrible skidding ‘landings.’ Eventually the realms lift off again. If you want to hitch a ride into the overworld, head to the High Dock and take your chances.

20. Omen
This island started small. It’s growing like a cancer in the center of the Midland Sea, bulking up the worst way possible as living dungeon after living dungeon tear up to the surface, depositing their payloads of monstrous weirdness. On the bright side, there’s nobody competing for space on the beach, you should be able to catch a good thirty minutes of sun before the monsters smell you.

21. Starport
The stars come to this mountain for repair and refitting. What does this mean, you ask? We don’t know — we left it open for each game table to decide for themselves.

22. Dreams of a Lost Age
Every culture in the world has its own version of this song. The world is ancient, all have lost things they would have wanted to preserve. They summon the dreams in song.

23. Chase Music
Who is chasing who? Doesn’t matter. Put it on loop to cue frantic backward glances, quick changes of direction, and short cuts that lead to greater peril.

24-30. Escalation 0 through Escalation 6
You can use this music to accompany the escalation die, starting at 0 and topping off at 6; or loop the low levels for relatively normal situations, then switch to high levels when power makes the air hum.