Dungeons & Dive Bars: A Music Industry Role Playing Game
Photo: JessyLou D'Aprile of Louography
Welcome, dear adventurer, to the Land Of Music! A mystical and mysterious land where you are one of HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of musicians are battling the beasts of poverty, hunger, debt, poor credit, rocky relationships and bad business practices, all in the name of someday succeeding. And EVERYONE can succeed, if your ambitions are humble enough!
Work together as a tight-knit community of like-minds, or against the other players as cutthroat, solipsistic prima donnas to achieve (and maintain) a Living Wage! Will your class be acoustic, or electronic? Will you incessantly play concerts or will you be a mysterious hermit who records one insanely good album every decade? Will you live in the quaint charm of Smalltownsbergville, the populous but unfashionable Middle City, or the overwhelming bustle of Mecha-Metropolis? The path towards achieving a Living Wage is yours to choose!
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CHAPTER 1: MUSICAL TAXONOMY, or CHARACTER CREATION; CHOOSING AND CHANGING YOUR RACE AND CLASS [Skip]
CHAPTER 2: HOW TO SURVIVE, or HEALTH, NOTORIETY, BANK ACCOUNT & THE WILL TO CONTINUE [Skip]
CHAPTER 3: SEX, DRUGS & VINTAGE TUBE AMPS, or YOUR ITEMS & EQUIPMENT
CHAPTER 4: HOW TO PLAY THE GAME, or THE MANY STAGES OF SUCCESS
Now that you’ve chosen your race, and you’ve learned about the counters that can either keep you alive or threaten your adventure’s continuation, you’re ready to actually play the game!
STAGE 1: BOOKING
The first stage of your turn is the Booking Stage. You may choose to roll a six-sided die: If you get a 6, congratulations! You got booked at a venue. You will lose no Will To Continue points this stage. At the end of your fifth turn, you will have an extra Performance Stage (See chapter 7). If you get a 5 on your Booking roll, you receive a polite decline and lose only 1 Will To Continue point this turn. I mean, at least they cared enough to respond! If you roll 1-4, you receive no response and lose 3 Will To Continue points because of a creeping, gnawing doubt of self-worth.
If you choose not to roll for Booking, you may proceed directly into Free Time.
STAGE 2: FREE TIME
Free Time is when you may cast creativity spells such as Practice Old Material and Write New Material, or promotions spells like Distribute Posters and Update Web Presence; you may purchase new Equipment; you may use an Item in your hand; or you may engage in an Activity such as Busking (acoustic races only), or Work A Day-Job. There are 15 units of Free Time, and each activity takes up a different amount of time. If one exceeds the Free Time limit, your character is losing sleep and deducts 2 points of health for each hour over the limit. Watch the clock, kids! You got to take care of yourselves.
Some actions taken in Free Time, like Promotional Spells, can be collaborative. You may ask for the assistance of other players! Those players can contribute their roll bonuses or items to the action. But on that player’s next turn, they will subtract an amount of Free Time equal to half of the original action’s time suck. Helping other people is hard work, so do it for love or do it with a contractual obligation!
STAGE 3: CHAOS CARD
When you have spent all of your free time, draw a card from the Chaos pile and follow its instructions. It may be a Fortune Card, where good networking gets you a connection at a booking agency, record label or PR firm; or a friend offers you an awesome gig or an invitation to join on a more successful act’s regional tour; a talented photographer offers you a session for cheap or free; or an online post goes viral, increasing your Notoriety. When these things happen, it’s an amazing feeling of elation, and it helps you justify your choice to pursue this strange career.
The card you draw may also be a Tragedy Card, where you get injured and require an expensive hospital visit; you may lose your government benefits due to filing error, or become evicted; get a pill slipped into your drink at a bar; lose a gig due to venue closure; break an important piece of equipment; lose an important connection due to a bad blood; accidentally write a Christmas song, or otherwise get screwed over by life.
Your character’s life is a life of near-complete uncertainty. Good luck with that!
STAGE 4: PERFORMANCE STAGE
See chapter 7. This gets complicated.
STAGE 5: THE LIVING WAGE
If, at the end of your turn, you have increased the value in your bank account by at least 50% after receiving deductions for your housing, travel expenses and food costs, you get a Credit token. If you fail to do so, you lose a Credit token. These are important for achieving a status of Living Wage, though each Primary Virtue you choose will have different requirements. For example, the Rebellion and Artistic Merit virtues limit the amount of Day-Job hours can be used in a single turn while giving boosts to Creativity Spells. The virtue of Materialism helps in acquiring money, but losses of Credit tokens also deduct more points from your Will To Continue. Just like real life!
THE 3 CORE SKILL TREES
Performance Stages are exciting and challenging, and if you play your cards successfully and roll the right dice, you get a big boost to Notoriety and Will To Continue. However, the time, money and effort it takes to ensure a successful Performance Stage also make it nigh impossible to also ensure a Living Wage (this is called The Performer’s Conundrum). Also, between Notoriety levels 3 and 10, booking too many shows in any given city risks overdrawing one’s community of fans. Remember: You are competing for time and attention against TV, movies, books, blogs, vlogs, podcasts and every other concert that’s happening on the same night. So, no pressure.
Luckily, there are three skill trees common to all races and classes that can help with this conundrum and put some extra money in your Bank Account gauge, and get you that much closer to Living Wage status and VICTORY!
THE CORE SKILL TREES ARE AS FOLLOWS
TOURING: Take this show on the road! In this skill tree, you level up passive traits that improve your ability to book at venues that have never heard of you and don’t care what you do, your logistical planning and Budgeting Spells, and Spells of Self-Promotion. No single concert can make a living wage, but if you have a string of them on the road, you can might just enough money to support you while your body recovers from inevitable exhaustion that follows a tour!
LICENSING: Want to hear your songs at the movies, on a popular TV series, or in commercials? Level up your Licensing skills! Spells in this skill tree increase the odds of making money without ever leaving home. Writing proposals and scanning contracts for Traps are prominent in this tree, and your odds of making a Living Wage are higher for those who put their focus here, though many skills are incompatible with characters that select Artistic Merit as a primary virtue.
THEATRICS: Your audience will pay more for your show if you give them more for their money. So make your show more of an elaborate performance, with characters, costumes, orchestras, video artists, and more! It is important to note, however, that without hiring a Stage Manager minion, the upper-tier theatrical skills can add too many Stress tokens to your character, which hurt your Will To Continue.
Develop these skill trees individually, or become a jack-of-all-trades, either way, these abilities will help you in times of need and in times of plenty. Be mindful of your choices. Have at least some semblance of a plan. The skills you attain will only help you if you know what you want out of them.
WHAT IS WINNING?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? How can one quantify success? For the sake of this game, it’s acquiring five Credit tokens. That’s it.
But what about real life? Is it when one is finally able to make ends meet strictly through doing what we love? Or when one receives a sufficient number of awards and accolades? Or is it when one’s degree of fame reaches a certain precipitous point? Life, unlike a game, doesn’t end suddenly with a glorious success or a monstrous failure; life just ends. Success and failure are subjective assessments of value for specific moments within a vast network of actions and reactions. Rather than ask, “Have I won,” you should ask yourself, “Am I satisfied with what I have achieved? And what more do I want out of this work?”
But those are hard questions to ask. For now, just stick to the five Credit tokens.
The Land of Music is a strange place. You may find yourself in strange situations, opening for eating competitions, playing mood music for sex parties (in which you are not allowed to participate), and other circumstances too strange for words. It can be easy to spend so much time promoting, emailing and otherwise working on the business end of things that you forget to create the art that you’re supposed to be promoting. Never stop casting Practice Spells. Never stop casting Writing Spells. Never stop reaching higher for more ambitious quests, because seeking challenges will make you stronger. You will level up quicker, you will unlock bonus levels, you will become better. You will be that much more deserving of the Notoriety levels you’re after.
Next chapter: ARTIST GRANTS & SUBSIDIES IN THE USA, or HOW TO GET UNEMPLOYMENT AND FOODSTAMPS
Aaron J. Shay (Level 2 Notoriety)
Class: Songwriter & Performer
Primary Virtue: Crowd-Pleaser
Secondary Virtue: Artistic Merit
Items: Ukulele, Banjo, A Nice Hat
Aaron J. Shay is a writer and performer from Seattle, WA, who writes and records music under his own name and with the scrappy street folk trio The Mongrel Jews. When not performing music, Mr. Shay writes fantastical fiction, a few blogs about what it's like to be an ambitious performer in the online age, and the occasional, exceptional tweet. For more information, check out aaronjshay.net.