Thursday, October 25, 2012

Theremin Thursdays - Edgar Allan Poe in Music and Gaming

Considering that Halloween is less than a week away, a very fitting topic for a posting on Music and Gaming is certainly music inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and his wonderful stories.

There is, evidently, a VERY LARGE body of work that has been inspired by Poe, which shouldn't be too surprising considering how well his writing has stood up to time, and seems to have universal appeal.

The one contribution to Poe-esque music that we'll discuss here at Gaming with Chuck is the phenomenal album from Alan Parson's Project, Tales of Mystery and Imagination.  This album was first released in 1976, and was APP's first album.  And it is a great album.

The tracks on the album are these:
  1. A Dream within a Dream (instrumental)
  2. The Raven (my personal favorite)
  3. The Tell Tale Heart
  4. The Cask of Amontillado
  5. The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether
  6. The Fall of the House of Usher (in 5 tracks)
  7. To One in Paradise
There was a later, 1987, release of the album that featured fantastic narration from Orson Welles at the beginning of A Dream within a Dream, and the first track of The Fall of the House of Usher.

The favorite track on the album, here at Gaming with Chuck, is The Raven, based on Poe's classic 1845 poem.

The poem has a wonderfully eery feel to it, and really drips of all sorts of dark and supernatural tones and themes, but really, it comes down to a Raven that visits a grieving lover, and refuses to give him consolation about the state of his departed lover's soul in the after life.  Creepy enough, but it is in the delivery that Poe makes this story so impactful.

As a take-away for gaming, it shows (at least for role playing games) the reliance of imagery and language in order to set a mood/scene for players.  For a look at how artwork and language can set the mood, take a look at this video, of a book on the poem, being read by Christopher Walken.

But, this is a posting about music, and so we turn to the Alan Parson's Project rendition - a song if not exactly the poem, certainly borrowing many lines from it, and inspired by the basic idea.

Okay, so we have basically an awesome poem.  And an awesome song.  All by Edgar Allan Poe, but how has Poe affected and influenced gaming?

Well, one of the main ways, although this may be a little indirect, is that Poe was an incredible influence on H. P. Lovecraft, who has had a huge impact on gaming.  Robert Bloch (yes, the Robert Bloch that wrote the story used for the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho, amongst other horror tales) wrote a very interesting comparison of the two men.  Lovecraft was so influenced and respectful of Poe that he even wrote a poem concerning the earlier author, called "In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d"
Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arched high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

Lonely and sad, a specter glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, though his song
Peals down through time with a mysterious spell.
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know,
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.
Lovecraft's influences on 20th century pop culture and gaming have been great, and picking up in pace in recent years.  First, for gaming, there is the absolute classic role playing game, The Call of Cthulhu, from Chaosium. First released as a box set, written by Sandy Petersen back in 1981, the rules were based on the earlier Chaosium hit, RuneQuest.  The game (CoC) is still in print today, and one of the main authors is still Petersen (now joined by Lynn Willis).  This game produced sort of a gaming empire for Chaosium, although they weren't without financial problems over the year.  They always retained ownership, and kept in print, CoC, however. Over the year dozens and dozens of gaming supplements - new settings, adventures, supplemental rules, etc - were produced by Chaosium, and other (licensed) companies.  One of the most interesting was a setting called Dreamlands, which allowed players to play in a fantasy/horror realm, that is only reachable while in a dream state.  This was based on a sequence of Lovecraft stories, but could be said to be influenced by Poe's Dream within a Dream, amongst other things.

Some modern Lovecraft gaming influences must include the games from Fantasy Flight, including a Call of Cthulhu living card game (a card game, where periodic supplements are produced, to be added into the decks of cards the game is based on), as well as a fantastic board game, called Arkham Horror (AH).  AH was originally published by Chaosium, but it has been taken to new heights, including all sorts of marvelous add-ons and supplements, even including painted figures, etc.  Also from Fantasy Flight is the game Elder Sign, which is sort of a faster play, dice game of Arkham Horror.  AH itself feels like a roleplaying campaign, reduced to a 4-6 hour session.
Dunwich supplement for Arkham Horror, adding new board, cards, characters, etc.

But what about Poe? One of the direct links to gaming, for Poe, is Mystery Rummy #2 - "Murders in the Rue Morgue".  This is, of course, based on the excellent story by Poe.  If you have not read it, please, by all means - go read it now before finding out anything else about the game.  It is a detective story, an early example of the type of story referred to as a "locked room" story - where the murder takes place in such a way that there is little or no room for a logical explanation.  The story is very much worthwhile as a discovery, and the game features huge spoiler information.  A copy of the full (short) story can be found here.

Okay, there is a video review of the game online from the Dice Tower.

The game design comes from Mike Fitzgerald, who has done several different games in the series, and one related (but not in the US Game Systems published sequence of card games).  The relate done is Wyatt Earp, another excellent card game.

So there you have it - this week's Theremin Thursday - Music and Gaming article.  Fantastic music from Alan Parson's Project, based on Edgar Alan Poe.  Poe was a big influence on Lovecraft - who has been a phenomenal influence on gaming, and there is even a great little card game based directly on one of Poe's short stories.  Enjoy your gaming, and enjoy Halloween.

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