Friday, 8 July 2011

Get to da chopper! Bad movies can make good scenarios

Sick at home today and trying to inspire myself. I always seem to get a bit depressed when I'm ill - purely clinical, I'm sure, but not helped by the current July weather here in the British Isles. Still, to take my mind off things, I watched Aliens vs Predator 2 Requiem, which, while being a rubbish film (1/5 on Rotten Tomatoes), still inspires with ideas about a possible RPG scenario.



Both the Aliens and Predator series are full of excellent plot seeds for RPG games, not just horror or sci fi, although these jump readily to mind, but even the swords and sorcery genre. What I like about them is their focus on a tight-knit team that is battling to survive in isolated circumstances. In the case of the early Aliens films, this was outer space, and you don't really get much more isolated than that. In Predator, it was the rain forests of South America. In the latter case, the humans were on a black ops mission on the wrong side of the Colombian border (this was back in the days before Colombia was firmly stuffed into Uncle Sam's back pocket).

The objective in Predator turns from one of fulfilling a mission - retrieving some downed CIA operatives is the ostensible goal - to just staying alive as team members get picked off. Such scenarios, in an RPG sense, are more useful for those one to two session games, rather than a lengthy campaign.

The Aliens vs Predator series has the Predators focusing on hunting Aliens, with humans getting in the way. The first movie featured an excavation of an ancient alien temple under the Antarctic ice (Mountains of Madness, anyone?) In the second in the series, the Predator is on the trail of an Alien that has hatched out of another Predator. Mmmmm. Nasty. And it's on the loose in Smallville, CO.

The poor humans in this scenario are caught between a rock and a hard place. The Predator seems to focus on bringing down the Big Bad while covering up evidence of his presence in Colorado - blowing up a downed Predator ship, for example. Other Aliens hatch all over the place, and are soon tearing up the town and slaughtering all and sundry (including an entire ward of new born babies and pregnant mothers). I think the best piece of dialogue in the whole exercise has to be two survivors in a tank, arguing whether they go to the rendezvous point to be picked up by the National Guard, or head to the hospital to escape on its rescue chopper:

Character A (an ex-Army female): "I don't think we can trust the Colonel."

Character B (incredulous): "Why not? Do you think our government would lie to us?"

All other characters in the tank then look at B with expressions of incredulity on their faces. A nice moment.

Of course, the other high point is when one survivor says to his brother - "Get to the chopper!" reprising the famous quote from the Gubernator in the original film. They had to get it in there somehow, and I'm glad they did.

So, who wins in this sorry escapade? The town loses, because it gets flattened with a tactical nuclear weapon. The Aliens lose, because they all die. The good guys escape, but one loses her husband and another his girlfriend, so they're probably traumatised for life and permanently interned in the little side block at Gitmo where they put all the people who have had close encounters of the third kind (I made that last but up). But still, they're probably all down to about 25 SAN each, eh?

The government wins, because they quash the alien menace at the relatively small cost of a Colorado National Guard platoon and one tactical nuclear weapon, AND get one of the Predator's toys, a ray gun, to add to their toy box (probably in Warehouse 23 next to the Ark of the Covenant).

As an RPG game, though, it would actually be more fun than as a film to watch. You can start the characters off as ordinary citizens in a normal, hum-drum town or settlement, just going about their dailies. The Aliens don't storm in on day one - they start nibbling at the edges of the town, picking off a hunter here, a deputy there, perhaps some vagrants for tea. People go missing. Maybe one or more PCs are charged with finding them. Then a body crops up, skinned alive and suspended 50 ft off the ground in a forest. Things start to get weirder. The fear and paranoia would be starting to build now.

Watching the film, I imagined it as an RPG scenario, and indeed one character did not catch a glimpse of any Aliens until right near the end. He always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on every occasion. There's a lot of action off camera - an entire platoon of National Guard gets wiped out in 30 seconds by Aliens - but as a GM this would be easy to wing. You can imagine hopes in the party being raised when they hear help is on the way, only for the reinforcements to get slaughtered.

In games like this, the PCs should be able to pick up other survivors and NPCs who can assist them. If they've got some personality, this will help. It also allows the bad guys to kill them off in gory manner. Savage Worlds, as a game system, is of particular value here, as its use of Extras lets the PCs add NPCs to the party without too much drag factor being added to the game.

Ultimately, their objective has to be to get out alive, with the real prospect of a total party kill (TPK) in the offing. Obstacles to this can be natural - a fast-flowing river, trackless forest - or enemy (bad dudes block the way out and the group discovers the hard way that a toe-to-toe confrontation won't work).

It might also be useful to add extra pre-gen PCs later in the plot, particularly if a PC dies early on in the adventure. This also allows for the injection of new characters who perhaps may have agendas of their own.

Finally, there is an additional, somewhat overlooked scenario here, of the PCs as alien hunters themselves coming to Earth to cover up one of their comrades' bungles - unleashing a dangerous species into another ecosystem (you can imagine the Galactic Council would yank their licenses for that one, maybe a stiff fine too?) Their job is to get down their to Colorado, or Siberia, or Derbyshire, and finish off the aliens before they do too much damage, AND cover up any evidence they were there. Now THAT would be a cool game. They would, of course, have a decent budget to buy lots of cool sci fi kit, and maybe a nuke of their own as a last resort (although it would need to be big and cumbersome, not a wrist-watch like the original Predator had!)

I can sense I'm going to write up something along these lines in the not too distance future, once I've got my book finished. In the meantime I'm going to go look for some Paracetamol.

2 comments:

  1. Re: Derbyshire - can't envision the same sense of panic there. Plus those farmers can be tough and are used to dealing phlegmatically with dangerous critters.

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  2. There are elements of this kind of play in 3: 16: Carnage Amongst the Stars, but you're still playing the good guys -- or at least the humans -- there. I'm sure there's room for a You Play the Aliens type game.

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