We’ve all been there. The group enter a new town and head straight for the tavern. You’ve got the basics down – how many rooms it has, how much a drink costs, what the bartender is called, maybe even some plot hooks to sprinkle through the conversations the players are about to have. You’re good to go; all you need to do is set the scene.
GM: As you push through the doors the chill wind swoops in for a minute, making candles flutter in the sharp breeze. Those close to the door pull their cloaks tight and throw dirty looks your way, though they lose interest once the last of you are inside and the door is closed again. Nobody else even notices you enter – the place is lively and loud, packed with people drinking and dancing to the music coming from a group of travelling musicians in the corner. You-
Steve: What song are they playing?
If your group is anything like mine, they pick up on the tiniest details and interrogate them to death, forcing you to do a ton of work on the spot that will likely never get referenced again. Personally I enjoy making this kind of stuff up on the fly (and I try to keep good notes, so that it can come up again – travelling bards and performers are incredible world-building tools, and now that I’ve mentioned that I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to write about it in more depth quite soon). Some people aren’t great at it, though, and that’s just fine. That’s what I’m here for.
Without any further ado, here are 6 random songs the bard in the corner of the tavern could be singing when the players arrive:
- The Ballad of the Sticky Gnome. “Don’t let him touch your pots or pans / And never let him spy your clams / Don’t take a penny from his hands / Don’t ask him where he’s been!” Loud, boisterous, and rude, this one is always a favourite. Save it for late in your set and watch the drunks lap it up!
- If I Had A Battleaxe. “If I had a battleaxe / I’d rage in the morning / I’d rage in the evening / All over your face.” Know your audience with this one. If passions are running high, you might have a brawl on your hands. Plenty of publicans have banned this one.
- The Wreck of The Ubra Utsira. “With no load but a horde two thousand orcs strong / and a captain more vicious than shrewd / The course was false set, the rocks loomed and were met / And that foul ship and crew were a bone to be chewed.” It’s hard to have sympathy for orcs, but the tale of the invasion force that perished when the Ubra Utsira beached itself on a spit of rock home to a rot* of ghouls has become legend. This one is somber and melancholy.
- Tiger’s Jar. “Yesterday a mage came out to wonder / trapped a rakshasa inside a jar / Fearless when the glass began to thunder / Torn apart when prey began to snarl.” At once mocking and cautionary, the story of an arrogant mage who tried to enslave a creature far more powerful than himself takes a different tone dependent on the audience being played to.
- Where Have All The Dryads Gone? “Where have all the dryads gone, long time ago? / Where have all the dryads gone? / Young men have plucked them, every one / Oh when will they ever learn?” A delicate, heartbreaking plea for a return to the simpler, more magical past, before adventurers tore up the countryside murdering anything that doesn’t resemble a playable race.
- My Blank Pages. “Crimson flames tied round my fingers, rollin’ high and mighty traps / Pounced with fire on flamin’ foes using magic as my axe / “You’ll never see the sun,” said I, power in my brow / Ah, but I must rest again, and read before lights out.”** A gentle mockery of book-learnin’ wizards, always having to stop and study before they can blast people again. Probably written by a sorcerer who fancied himself a comedian.
* Yes, that’s the collective noun – a rot of ghouls. I’ll fight anyone who tells me otherwise.
** Obviously a few of these are adapted from real folk songs. This last one is a mangling of the first verse of Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages. You should go and read the actual lyrics to that verse, because they’re practically perfect as a fantasy folk song as they are.