Sunday, April 24, 2011

Murder Ballad

Happy Easter to everyone that celebrates it. :)

Now, on to darker topics....

In the world of the City, sometimes even songs can’t be trusted.

A man in a bar hears a bluesman sing a traditional ballad about a betrayal and the grim things that followed, and he goes and shoots his business partner. A housewife listens to an old record that spins a tale of woe about a wayward man and a woman’s revenge, and serves up a rat poison dinner to her husband.

What thaumaturgists know as a murder ballad is a malevolent alien presence which can hide within traditional songs recounting a murder. The exact song which conveys the entity or infection varies--perhaps even from one day to the next--but it may be that target individuals are somehow “marked” ahead of the performance and the song is chosen to maximize the chance of influence. What the entity ultimately desires is to induce the target to commit violent murder.

The performers who act as conduits for the ballads are called Murder Balladeers. At first, they’re unaware that they’re carriers of virulent murderousness, but over time the horrible true becomes clear. Early on they may turn to alcohol or drugs to escape the guilt, but eventually most either become corrupted willing participants or else take their own lives.

There are some stories that Murder Balladeers develop other music-based magical abilities over the time they carry the malefic influence, but this has not been verified.

Murder Ballad
Target is someone with angry or resentful feelings toward another--but not typically murderous feelings. The narrative of the song played will have elements that can vaguely relate to the target's present situation. A failed saving throw means the target’s anger and resentment will suddenly grow, and the target will attempt to murder object of his or her anger within whatever time frame is feasible (typically 24 hours). While the target is emotional, he or she is not without reason, so the attack will be as planful and calculated as the time permits. If the target is restrained or prevented from completing the attack for at least an hour, he or she receives a second saving throw. After 24 hours--or after a completed murder--the whole experience will seem dream-like to the target.  

Dispel magic cast during the song's performance will negate the murder ballad's effect, and protection from evil or the like will bar its influence.


Aaron E. Steele said...

Love the Murder Ballad. That would be an awesome hook for a city/wilderness adventure!

Happy Easter!

scottsz said...

Shades of Palahniuk's 'Culling Song' from Lullaby?

Happy Easter!

James said...


Von said...

I'd been holding out for a Nick Cave reference. Shame. Still a neat idea, though.

Srith of the Scrolls said...

I like it. Very creepy and sinister. I think it could be adapted to a fantasy campaign too. Perhaps a traveling entertainer leaves a trail of death with his songs in every town he stops at, but can't help it. Good stuff.

ze bulette said...

"Say, this new White Album isn't infected is it?"

Creepy stuff Trey, I like. Of course it's something we've probably all noticed and suspected at one time or another - nice that someone finally documented the phenomenon!

This post made me think of this old blues song right away, although it doesn't 100% fit. Then I thought of the more arcane "The Top Chick's Silver Chord" which nails it for me.

So what artists or specific songs did you have in mind when you wrote this up?

Trey said...

@Paladin - Thanks, that was my thought, too.

@scottsz - I plead ignorance to any Palahniuk besides Fight Club (through the film) and Diary, but you've intrigued me.

@James and @Von - Thanks.

@Elbuagnin - Thanks, though I think this is a fantasy campaign. ;) I assume you mean medieval fantasy, though?

@ze_bulette - Nice! I was thinking of perhaps the most frequently recorded of murder ballads "Stagger Lee" (or "Stagolee," "Stack-a-Lee," Stackerlee," etc.), but "Cocaine Blues" is another good one.

The Happy Whisk said...

Hi Trey. Popped in to wish you a yummy and relaxing day off.

Srith of the Scrolls said...

Yep, you're right. I meant medieval or renaissance--anything of that ilk.

Trey said...

Thanks, Whisk! I hope you and Tim have a great day, too.

Telecanter said...

Awesome. Love me some Dock Boggs.

"Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, you're guessin' about right / I dug on your grave two-thirds of last night"

And in that ballad the murderer goes on to hang himself too.

Trey said...

That's another great one--and I should have remembered it too, since I used a pic of Dock Boggs.

christian said...

Sometimes when I'm stuck in hellish L.A. traffic and I'm listening to Slayer and screaming my head off, well, that's kind of close to a murder ballad. ;)

Trey said...

Ha! Yeah, I can see that.

Unknown said...

Ah, an excuse to run an adventure based on a song lyric... haven't done that since high school. :)

(And which song from Nick Cave's oeuvre should I start with?)

Trey said...

Well, It's not a murder ballad, but sticking with the Nick Cave theme you raised the other day you could go with "red right hand." ;)