My supplement, Encounters: The Harrowed Hearts Club (available here through Steve Jackson Games as part of their GURPS system) combines tools and resources for GMs to design and populate detailed, realistic, and unique nightclubs/speakeasies/music venues, etc. The supplement’s second part contains four adventure seeds (encounters) reflecting a variety of genres, power levels, and historical periods. It also draws deeply upon my background as a music journalist and music historian. Read The Blind Mapmaker’s review of The Harrowed Hearts Club.
“It’s quite clear that Jon Black knows his stuff”
— The Blind Mapmaker
If ever a supplement begged for a playlist it’s the Harrowed Hearts Club. This post provides playlists appropriate to each of the supplement’s four encounters. The songs selected meet at least one of two criteria:
- They are appropriate to the encounter’s time period and musical milieu.
- They match the encounter’s theme or roleplaying style.
Priority, of course, was given to songs that met both criteria. A few of the songs selected are obscure (ask a music journalist for a playlist and this is what happens) but well worth tracking down.
Each playlist is accompanied by a short description of the encounter (These descriptions and other teasers are available from the free excerpts of the supplement available for download from Steve Jackson Games here) as well as commentary on the calculations and challenges that went into each playlist.
I. Jewels, Jezebels, and Jake Leg
A pulp encounter for low-level GURPS Action or similar campaigns. On the trail of stolen jewels hidden in the club, the party faces challenges, expected and unexpected, in finding the loot.
While stylistically distinctive, the music of the swing & big band jazz period remains accessible (indeed, often popular) among contemporary music fans. Putting together a playlist using only period music (with a little fudging, such as Luck Be a Lady) was relatively straight forward.
- In the Mood (Glen Miller)
- Harlem Nocturne (multiple credible versions available. While it’s anachronistic for this encounter, I’m partial to the Viscounts’ recording)
- Sing, Sing, Sing (Benny Goodman)
- Mack the Knife (Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra versions are all credible)
- As Time Goes By (Doolie Wilson is the most recognizable version, but plenty of other credible recordings exist)
- Choo Choo Ch’boogie (Louis Jordans)
- Minnie the Moocher (Cab Calloway)
- The Gal Looks Good (Scatman Crothers)
- Swing on a Star (Bing Crosby)
- Anything Goes (Cole Porter)
- Luck Be a Lady (Frank Sinatra)
II. The Lady With the Red Cameo
This encounter blends urban fantasy with Gothic elements. Meeting an unusual ghost, investigators have the tables turned when they are shifted back in time, confronting the worst disaster in the club’s history.
Unlike swing or big band, there aren’t many contemporary music fans who can sit down and listen to hours of ragtime (of course, having written that, I will now hear from all of them). The period songs I’ve included are weighted heavily in favor of instrumental numbers. Not only were the low-fidelity recording technologies of the time especially unkind to vocals but, in the absence of widespread electric amplification, vocal stylings of the day relied heavily on techniques such as vibrato which made voices audible in large venues but are rough on modern ears. For all those reasons, I’ve created a playlist blending period standards with more listenable thematically appropriate songs.
Some observers may note that perhaps the most obvious thematic match for the encounter, Howlin’ Wolf’s Natchez Burnin’, is absent. Upon reflection, I decided that including a song about an actual nightclub fire which killed 209 people would be inappropriate (read more about the Rhythm Club Fire here).
Also, I have tried to avoid using multiple songs by the same artist in a playlist. However, because Scott Joplin loomed so large in the period’s musical scene and because his rags are among the most approachable for contemporary listeners, that was simply not possible in this case.
- Maple Leaf Rag (Scott Joplin)
- The City Sleeps (MC 900 Ft. Jesus)
- The Charleston Rag (Eubie Black)
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (multiple versions)
- Topline Rag (Joseph Lamb)
- Heliotrope Bouquet (Scott Joplin/Louis Chavan)
- Hot Time in Old Town Tonight (Lots of recordings, I like the Bessie Smith’s)
- My Wild Irish Rose (Chancellor Olcott)
- The Band Played On (Guy Lombardo)
- Ta-ra-ra Book-de-ay (multiple versions)
III. The Deadly Chamber
Heroes discover that more than money is at stake when a backroom poker game adds macabre rules.
One of the joys of this playlist was the natural overlap between the underground music scenes dominating the Harrowed Hearts Club at this period and themes appropriate for the encounter, like gambling and gun violence.
- The Gambler (the original by Kenny Rogers is a classic, but covers by punk band Elmer or even an Indy Rock rendition by Smashing Pumpkins may be more atmospheric).
- My First Gun (Crooks)
- The Ace of Spades (Motörhead)
- Bullet in the Head (Rage Against the Machine)
- God is a Bullet (Concrete Blonde)
- Russian Roulette (Yngwie Malmsteen)
- These are People Who Died (Jim Carroll Band)
- You Never Should Have Opened that Door (The Ramones)
- Forward to Death (The Dead Kennedys)
- Pepper (The Butthole Surfers)
IV. Nobody Gets Out Alive
A night out takes a supernatural turn when patrons witness something they shouldn’t. Someone doesn’t want any survivors to tell the tale.
For this playlist, I tossed concerns about musical genre and time period out the window and had a field day picking out songs appropriate for a supernatural battle royale.
- Deadman’s Party (Oingo Bongo)
- I Walked With a Zombie (Roky Erickson)
- Haunted House (Juliet Tango)
- The Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett, and thanks to jsammallahti for tipping me off to the existence of an awesome Misfits cover!)
- Nemesis (Shriekback)
- Never Get Out of This World Alive (Hank Williams)
- Welcome to My Nightmare (Alice Cooper)
- I Put A Spell On You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
- Little Red Riding Hood (Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs)
- Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones’ original is definitive but Slovenian industrial band Laibach has an entire album of ultra-creepy covers of the song)