Gamifying Music Creation

As a musician who’s getting really excited about tabletop gaming, I’ve been brainstorming ways to gamify music creation - using dice or cards to determine melody, rhythm, tempo etc. Also ways to influence more abstract ideas - tone, texture, etc.

I know of Eno’s Oblique Strategies as a more broad tool, and I know that experimental composers have used dice games to create scores, but I’m wondering if there are any newer ideas coming from folks in the TTRPG space.

Have any of you played around with musical games? Point crawls to determine song structure? Dice to create textural/sonic rules for a piece?

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I’m working on a board game with music / being a rock band as the main theme.

It was based on Band Campaign by the guys over at Head To Table:

Here’s the original reddit post I made a year ago - probably the best high-level context:

Happy to discuss and hear more ideas!

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I’m super-interested in this design space. Right now I’m semi-designing a solo PbtA game of composing poetry, with general moves to get you started, and revision moves to take things in a different direction, plus playbooks that are sort of inspired by specific famous poets. Obviously not quite the same thing, but in a similar vein.

I’m also starting to try to learn to play improv piano (my girlfriend is a great comedy musical improviser), and musical improv games have a lot of interesting elements to draw from as well (I pulled some tips out of music improv books for a Weird Al larp that I wrote as part of zinequest that involves writing parody lyrics to songs before you get together to play the game).

The only game I’ve ever played that actually involved making music so far tho was Scherzando! which I playtested at Metatopia a couple years ago and is very fun, tho it’s intended for non-musicians so the music that gets made is um, more textural and avant garde, let’s say?

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On the ttrpg side, @RichRogers ran High Strung for us a few years ago. It was about gigging, writing songs, and actually doing musical performances. It had a rich and detailed set of mechanics for doing the show, based on the designers years as a performer. It had a lot of good stuff, but felt like it needed another iteration or two.

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this sounds awesome!

I’m also curious about that Scherzando game, downloading the One Shot podcast AP of it right now.

Did some brainstorming about the kinds of things I’d like to elaborate on (some of it relates specific to electronic music):

Oracle Cards/Dice Options

  • Scales
  • Individual Notes
  • Rhythms (either predefined or doing multiple rolls for euclidean patterns)
  • Chords within a scale
  • Descriptors (sparse, mellow, staccato, swarming, reversal) - I really like the idea of making a tarot deck of abstracted musical concepts.
  • Roles (bass, rhythm, melody, texture)

Point Crawl for song structure

  • connect things that are related to help natural flow OR disparate elements for variety?

Multiplayer Games

  • Passing bars back and forth (player 1 makes 1st half of melody, player 2 makes 2nd half)
  • Could also do this as an Exquisite Corpse, picking a common scale or just using the same quantized sequencer.
  • Adding layers to a common drone
  • MIDI > Instruments > FX where each person makes a MIDI part, passes their file to the next person in the circle, then moves to the next step (like drafting in card games)
  • Sequence > Tone > Amplitude Modulation > Timbral Modulation (same as above)
  • Telephone - one person describes a song or song idea, the next person makes something based on that, could keep going through mutations then compare or add them into a single song.
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Starting from the other end, you could look at what kinds of “games” exist in the music world. There aren’t too many in European music history, but there are a few. Here are two examples:

  • Puzzle canons (from medieval and renaissance times; the canons were written in a clever way which asked the reader to puzzle out how to make it into a piece of music - find the right bar and beat to start the second and third voice, and you get a functional fugue or canon.)

  • Composers or improvisers using random or arbitrary input to build their creations upon. Or hiding content in clever ways - like the compose who used a motif which spelled “BACH” in a long work, something you’d onl figure out by careful study.

In the world of free, improvised music, there are often explicit “improv games” for groups and musicians to play. A quick google search will find many; they often won’t be recognizable as games to someone outside that scene, however: they won’t have victory conditions, for example. But that shouldn’t be a shocker to RPG gamers!

One of the most famous music “games” is a composition called “Cobra”:

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