Five for Friday: Mining Movies for RPG Experiences

Norm Hensley asked a whopper of a question:

Ever since your interview on the Redphonezone I’ve wondered what your top ten all time favorite movies would be. Wanna talk about them and why? Or how about the top ten best movies for roleplaying game inspiration? Or how about both?

I’m something of a cinephile. I love movies and when I’m not reading, writing, or video gaming (or sometimes even when I am), I’m likely to be watching a movie. I don’t get out to the theaters as much, preferring my own creature comforts, but with modern amenities, I keep up fairly well. Today, I’m going to answer this question, in part. It’s such a large thing, it’s like saying “list your favorite foods”, “why”, and “how they inspire chefs”. Thanks, Norm. Now let’s begin.

I’ve been avoiding it, but I’m going to throw together a quick list, right now, of good movies for RPG. This may not be my all time top ten, but we’ll start with five good movies to mine for plot structure, source material, or something. Ready? I’m going to go at the speed of typing, so hold on!

Movie: Hawk the Slayer

Genre: High Fantasy

Why: This movie exudes the early days of D&D and other RPGs, which makes sense as it came out contemporaneously. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the folks who worked on it didn’t sling a die around. It’s a classic fantasy world and it has the motley crew element that is near and dear to me. More importantly, it has that gritty feel to everything, and feels like some adventures I’ve played which were thrown together somewhat on the fly. Everything is crazy, zany, and over-the-top, plus it has Jack Palance as a bad guy. How awesome is that?

Movie: Brazil

Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Why: Besides having Terry Gilliam direct, this movie works on so many levels. It has strange, Kafkaesque elements rolling around in a not-so-subtle fashion. There is an obvious blending of a lot of genre stuff, and the plot is quite brilliant. We even have a bit of Robert De Niro. This movie can instruct how to misdirect and build atmosphere. I could gush on and on about this one, but I won’t, aside from mentioning it is probably one of my top ten favorite movies (which is a fluctuating list, depending upon my mood).

Movie: Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Genre: Space Opera (we aren’t going to debate this)

Why: C’mon, it’s Star Wars. Right? When I saw this, all the sci-fi we’d been fed which was decent (or half-decent) was Star Trek and that was structured in a very traditional fashion. Here, we have larger-than-life themes resonating because, again, we have the ragtag heroes figuring out what they’re doing and then using their teamwork to beat (or at least beat back), the evil Empire. We all should be so lucky to create an iconic villain half as memorable as Darth Vader (or Lord Vader, if you’re nasty).

Movie: Se7en

Genre: Suspense/Thriller

Why: This movie came out of nowhere and said, “You like buddy movies? Well, let me give you one for the record books” and grabbed us by the throat, shook us around and let those doubters know Brad Pitt can act. It didn’t hurt that the “retiring detective with his last case” was none other than Morgan Freeman. It turns all the conceits sideways and throws in a hefty helping of symbolism on such a visceral level that even a drug-addled dropout could fathom the deeper meaning. This movie makes you hurt as it moves towards its inexorable end. This movie shows us how horrific real horror can be. We don’t just need blood splatter and hatchet wielding hockey fans. If you can evoke half the dread this movie does in your game, I’m there!

Movie: Bladerunner

Genre: Cyberpunk

Why: When this movie came out, cyberpunk wasn’t even a word yet (or if it was, it was not in common parlance). I know when it was written by Phillip K. Dick, it certainly didn’t exist, but that’s what it is. You can say it’s a detective movie and you’re right. You can say it’s a sociological examination of racism and you wouldn’t be wrong either. Whatever flavor you call this ice cream, it’s delicious, goes down smooth, and doesn’t leave you with a headache. It makes you want to know more about the world. Ridley Scott made this movie and it stars Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer and has a really good cast of other people as well. People debate whether or not it should have a voice over. You know what? I like both versions and am glad they’re both out in the wild and doubly thankful they didn’t add CGI to any later editions to make us feel the world more. This is an excellent example of painting a world in broad strokes and leaving a number of elements to the audience’s imagination. Lesson to learn? Detail the essential, allude to the rest, and wrap it up in caramel gloom that you can’t peel off your teeth for hours.

That was a lot of fun. If you feel like adding to this list, post your comments below. Just use the same structure I’ve done above. Relate why it’s good, but as importantly, relate why it is good for the game.

Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!








1 Note on “Five for Friday: Mining Movies for RPG Experiences”

  1. Nice list Sean. I’d like to add a couple if that’s OK with you…

    Movie: The Thing (1982)

    Genre: Horror/Suspense

    Why: This is, hands down, my favourite movie of all time. Most people just think of it as a horror movie in which Rob Bottin and Stan Winston went overboard on the special effects and make-up. Don’t you believe it; this is a supreme movie of suspense that creates massive paranoia and distrust. Twelve men cut off from the rest of the world and no-one knows who is human and who is not. The acting is great and the continuity holds up very well on close inspection. I actually ran this as a game for my group in England many years ago and we had a lot of fun and a lot of in-fighting (which was the idea). The prequel is coming out in October (fingers crossed they do a good job) but I recommend the John Carpenter movie to everyone and, yes, no CGI and the effects still hold up today.

    Movie: Ronin

    Genre: Action/Thriller

    Why: One of John Frankenheimer’s last movies and a bloody good one at that. Unfortunately it isn’t given as much credit as it should get but, from an RPG perspective, this movie has it all. Gun fights, car chases (oh, what wonderful car chases), mystery, intrigue, double-crossing and more gun fights and more car chases; all this for a case that you never find out what is inside! I still use the James Bond RPG by Victory Games and, along with the James Bond movies, this is right up there for RPG inspiration. It also has a great cast including Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgård, Michael Lonsdale, Jonathan Pryce, Natascha McElhone and, for the Third Watch fans amongst us, Skipp Sudduth. Seriously, if you’re looking for inspiration in a modern setting, you should watch this movie.

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