Sometimes you run across a movie on NetFlix and you wonder if it could have been a show pilot. I found one of these gems and it was called Parallels. It sounded like a remake of Sliders with a little The Lost Room thrown in. It is a movie that approaches a subject in sci-fi that is always challenging – alternate worlds. Very few shows or movies do it right. Comic books seem to do it pretty well, and now shows based on those comics are pulling it off. The subject really deserves a series and not a single movie. Parallels was meant to be a show, but was never picked up. To recoup their losses it was released as a movie.
What is interesting about the show is that since they did not continue the story (and there is so much potential for it), I believe it could be a great RPG series of adventures. This was a well made pilot but I think it was too ambitious. Which is probably why it never got bought as a series. And probably why Sliders ended up the way they did – awful. Every world is different in some way or another which makes for endless possibilities. There were certain axioms though that they characters had to abide by, that made for some very interesting possibilities.
We are first introduced to a three young characters – two are brother and sister and the other is a friend they grew up with. They all have their scarred pasts – the brother is a cage fighter (Ronan Carver), the sister is a highly intelligent prodigy that missed her opportunity for college because of tragedy (Beatrix Carver) and the friend is a recently graduated lawyer (Harold) who happens to have been holding a torch for the sister since they were old enough to remember. All three fulfilling three major roles in a party – the warrior, the skill user and the diplomat.
We find out the father of the siblings, named Alex, sent out messages to his kids calling them home and indicating it was important. They arrive at home to find him missing as well as a long string of interesting and mysterious clues. One clue is a futuristic looking ball that lights up when a button is pressed. Other clues lead the Ronan and Beatrix to a mysterious abandoned building. Along the way, they pick up their childhood friend Harold and their adventures begin.
Core to the plot is this mysterious building. As they unwitting party discovers, it has the ability to travel from one reality to another. While inside, they pick up a new companion, a mysterious woman named Polly who pops out of nowhere and seems to know more about the building then one should. The building travels from one world to another every 36 hours, but only spatially and not temporally. It is not a time machine or a TARDIS. It also never changes location – always the same city or relative location on the planet. No one knows who built it. All over the walls are notes about various Earths – which ones are dangerous, which ones are safe, etc. Of course, no one is really sure what they mean because they do not know from what perspective they were written and they have no idea which Earth is which. Unless the building has a pattern? This was never really clarified but it sounds like it might have been if the series continued.
The movie has them travel to two worlds – one devastated by nuclear war and one that has about 20 years advancement of technology. They are told that all they have to do is wait 36 hours and the building will move on to the next world. That tells me they don’t really have to go anywhere, right? Well, I suppose to survive, they have to find ways to eat, etc. There is a ton of things to consider and they touch on a few of them brilliantly – the parallel selves of each of the main characters, how they pay for things in different worlds, and dealing with people they know but may not know them.
There is a lot of unanswered questions in this film that had my mind wandering. You can tell there was a lot of story left untold, to be left to more episodes. Unfortunately, like I said, it was probably too ambitious. These questions left a lot of opportunity for story and anytime a RPG GM sees opportunity for story, he sees adventure
At some point, they are told that the building is from something called the Core World – a place of highly advanced humans. You later find out that Alex and their dead mother are from there or at least it is implied. Are these the ultimate humans? Core humans? Is there something special about them? Are they immortal? Do they have super powers?
Also along the way, when they were able, the siblings visited the equivalent of their home in each world to find more clues left behind by their dad. This was also an interesting aspect. An RPG GM in this situation would use this to create encounters for the adventurers and gave them a reason to leave the building. But what is the likelihood a parallel world would have the same street plan as the one they are from? And the same houses were built on those streets? How would they know? Some sort of plot device or convention would have to be established.
At the very end, you find out there are 3 different versions of Polly living in the building. Why? Are they from 3 different realities or just triplets? Are they Core Worlders? What is there agenda? They did not seem to have any kind of interest in anything related to the main characters however, when their father came on to the scene at the end, she seemed to fear him.
If you watch the credits, there are several potential worlds they never explored. A world where the water levels were high enough to make whatever city they were in seem like Venice, Italy and another one that had the water levels much higher (global warming world?). A world where everything else around it is ancient ruins, as if the ancient Romans built a city on that location but that was the last civilization to exist on the planet. Also there was a world where the city is actively engaged in some kind of war, with air raid spotlights and AA guns firing around it.
I tried running a game where the players were travelling from one parallel universe to another. I can tell you from that experience it is a lot of work for a GM. You are basically creating a whole new setting each trip they make. It might be a good idea to not only have the whole thoroughly fleshed out, but also contain the scope the players will see so that you don’t have to have it so thoroughly fleshed out. I compounded the work I needed to do by attempting it in a space opera setting – Babylon 5 setting, to be exact. I found it overwhelmingly difficult and too much work.
For a RPG campaign, the GM should map put each parallel universe beforehand, or at least the ones that are important to the story arche. More will come along or pop up as you play, I am sure but at least in this way, the harder work is done. Then decide what aspects you want the players to encounter while at the same time what aspects you want in the background. In a world where the Axis powers won World War II, do they encounter the Nippon Empire or the Nazis? One or the other will be in the background, most likely.
It is a challenge to use alternate realities in an RPG setting but it can be really fun if done right. Obviously, the TV execs decision to not buy into this show tells you that it risky business in the world of TV, as well. But it can be so rewarding, I think. I challenge you as a fellow RPG GM to give it a try.