Musician skill

Recently I was designing a bard-like guard and did not find a Musician skill. Considering the presence of songs at least in the Winter, Black Axe and Baldwin the Brave and Other Tales books, I was baffled by such discovery.

So here is my Musician skill description.

MUSICIAN
A musician is able to sing or play musical instruments, causing strong impressions on an audience. A musician also is capable of writing songs for himself or for other to play alone or in groups. Improvisation is also part of what musicians can do.

A well writen and well performed song can be used, if the GM allows, to affect a mouse or other animals emotions and course of action, in a similar way that Speaker does as long as the audience can listen to the song properly (it cannot affect aquatic animals). Call for a Musician against Will test when a music is being played to such ends. If a Musician wants to, for instance, put an animal to sleep or lure it, roll Musician versus the animal’s Nature.

Factors for Musician:
Task: play or sing, compose a new piece, improvise
Voices or Instruments: 2 to 4, 5 to 7, 7 to 10, more than 10
Purpose: tell a tale, dance, influence.
Audience: more than 10 mice, insects, animals with feathers, animals with fur, scaly animals.

Suggested help for Musician
Woodworkers can create instruments but they may need to be supplied with strings or skins by Weavers.
Millers can provide musicians with paper, while Entomologists may provide them with inks.
At last, Scribes or Speakers may help with the song lyrics.

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Based on my own experiences as a musician and what I know about the music of the era that Mouse Guard emulates, I would go with something more like this for the factors:

Performance: A song or dance, liturgical music, court music
Composition: A folk song or dance, a ballad or chant, polyphony
Voices: The ensemble (one voice to a part), the duet, the virtuosic solo
Audience: A huge crowd, beasts of feather, beasts of fur, scaly beasts, beasts of water

My reasons:

  • It’s only recently that improvisation has become a bit of a vaunted thing; Musicians in the high medieval period were expected to be able to conjure the correct melodic line based on nothing but a bassline or shorthand, their knowledge of tradition and their own virtuosity. Bards had to be able to conjure poetry and music out of seemingly thin air.

  • Because of the reliance on tradition, shorthand and the performer’s skill, or on the transmission of folk music by ear or by rote, composition doesn’t ever approach the complexity of classical era orchestral arrangement. More voices isn’t much more difficult either, since the polyphony follows from the fundamentals of the piece or can be delegated to the performer.

  • Playing a piece alone isn’t that hard (although it might be anxiety inducing), and neither is playing in a large group. It’s when you’ve got to coordinate with someone else while any mistake would stand out that’s difficult! You can hide many sins in a choir, but you can’t hide anything in a duet.

  • Now, if you’re alone and trying to do some technical stuff, that’s hard. Drum solos are hard.

  • Playing music to a roomful of mice isn’t really harder than playing it to a few, but playing to a great crowd requires projection!

  • Music is a kind of communication and Loremouse has convenient factors for communicating with non-mice.

  • Aquatic animals like music too.

  • Since swaying an audience or other beasts with music is already a versus test, we don’t need to double weight with basic factors.

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Hi!

Thank you for so much insight and informative feedback. After thinking for a while, I really liked your factors list and would probably use it on future games.

Also, I learned a few things from your comments since I am no musician myself. I’m still to search more about aquatic animals appreciation of music though. That one really got me curious.

Could you please elaborate on what you meant by “polyphony” and “the ensemble”?

Yeah, polyphony (many + sound) is a composition where each voice is doing something special. It’s the beginnings of thinking of music in terms of harmony (how each part relates to the others at the same time) rather than in terms voice leading and counterpoint (how each part must be structured to give a “correct” melody). This isn’t to say that if you are composing for four voices, you are composing polyphony; Liturgic chant might be sung by a choir, but it’s not usually polyphonic—the parts are all bound together by strict rules. A duet though I would count as polyphony.

An ensemble (put together) is a small group of musicians where each part is usually only played by one or two musicians. I put it in the factors because it requires each part to be done right or it will stand out.

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From my experience playing medieval and Renaissance music, the difficulty has much more to do with the style of piece than strictly the ensemble playing it. A dance is typically simple no matter how many players on each part, but you can hide some sins (as you say) with multiple players on each part. However, trying to play complex polyphony is obviously going to be difficult but is much easier with one to a part than with multiple players on each part. The voices themselves stand out from each other, so the harder part is trying to play a complex line in unison with others. For these purposes, I’d probably ignore the ensemble or mesh it with the type of piece (eg, separate factors for one-to-a-part polyphony and large ensemble polyphony).

As for the music’s complexity, I guess if we’re talking about the 12th century it never gets too complex, but by the 14th and 15th centuries, some of the music is incredibly complex. It’s in a different way than classical orchestral music, of course, but certainly no less complex (and some a good bit more, I’d say).

I’m probably being nitpicky, though. I think the factors you came up with are generally good.

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I very glad you picked these nits. I’ve never played much medieval music, so your perspective is very valuable to me. Thank you!

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So, here is the TL; DR; for the musician skill

MUSICIAN
A musician is able to sing or play musical instruments, causing strong impressions on an audience. A musician is also capable of writing songs for himself or for other to play alone or in groups.

A well writen and well performed song can be used, if the GM allows, to affect a mouse or other animals emotions and course of action, in a similar way that Speaker does as long as the audience can listen to the song properly. Call for a Musician against Will test when a music is being played to such ends. If a Musician wants to, for instance, put an animal to sleep or lure it, roll Musician versus the animal’s Nature.

Factors for Musician:
Performance: A song or dance, liturgical music, court music
Composition: A folk song or dance, a ballad or chant, polyphony
Voices: The ensemble (one voice to a part), the duet, the virtuosic solo
Audience: A huge crowd, beasts of feather, beasts of fur, scaly beasts, beasts of water

Suggested help for Musician
Woodworkers can create instruments but they may need to be supplied with strings or skins by Weavers.
Millers can provide musicians with paper, while Entomologists may provide them with inks.
Scribes or Speakers may help with the song lyrics.