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B-Movie Inspirations: Doors

I stumbled across a more recent movie in one of my streaming options called Doors. It had a recognizable face on the poster – Josh Peck – and it looked interesting. The trailer pretty much told the story and after watching it, I got a little more inspiration but honestly, you probably can get all the inspiration you need out of the trailer. It is a creepy sci-fi horror story with some apocalyptic as well as invasion themes, set in modern Earth.

The movie is basically four vignettes that focus on events during the epic and apocalyptic arrival of strange monoliths all over the world. Millions of mysterious alien portals, dubbed Doors by the populous, appear randomly throughout the planet. They vary in size and location but just sit there, looking ominous. The visual effects of the door coupled with some fantastic sound effects really make the Doors seem ominous and really freaky.

These Doors are held responsible for the disappearances of millions as people throughout the movie feel this sudden urge to go to to these doors. As soon as they do, they vanish. At first, you are not entirely sure where they go and I am not entirely sure they totally answered that question in the movie.

While the vignettes are interesting, the characters are somewhat formulaic and cardboard. What is most interesting is the Doors themselves and it is what I found most interesting through out the film. So my Inspiration will focus on the Doors and nothing else.

The first vignette – Day 01: Lockdown – is the story of a group of teens in high school about to take a test or something on the day of the arrival of these doors. It’s fairly tropey in it’s own way because this scenario can easily be played out in some zombie apocalypse story too. You encounter the first door in the movie which blocks the path of the teens’ only way out (I can’t imagine a high school with only one way out, but whatever). Here, we are introduced to the strange seduction powers of the door. Not only does it entice people to “come inside” but it also incites violence among the teens. It has this strange almost electronic growling sound as well as these tiny tendrils all along the surface that call to it’s victims.

In between each vignette, the audio of a podcaster overlays various scenes of empty cities and quiet streets. This gives you a little more story. Many millions of people are disappearing through the doors and the world is changing. We learn that some actually return after some time, changed in some way. It’s not clear how they return or when or how many, but it is clear they are not the same. Also scientists have been volunteering to go inside the Doors to study them, and they are dubbed Knockers.

The second story was the most disappointing and one I wish they had done more with. We follow a group of Knockers into a large door that has bisected a random mountain home. These three Knockers are suited up with pretty cool looking enviro-gear to protect them and they are given 12 minutes to go in and come back. They never tell you if any knockers have been successful in returning but it does seem like this was somewhat routine and maybe these three have done it before. I am not sure. Regardless, the group walks into the door and finds an artificial world built around their individual psychologies. It was kind of a lame trope to use, I feel. I did not care enough about these people to understand their individual angsts and troubles. Instead of really diving into the mysteries of the Doors, it just simply gives you sad stories of these three people you just met. And it does not appear they ever made it out.

The third and fourth stories really get into some of the nature of the Doors. First we have a secluded and ostracized scientist who is secretly studying the door. Through out the movie, through the exposition between vignettes that if one spots a Door, they must report it to authorities right away. This guy didn’t and instead, set up a series of electronic devices to try and talk with it. We find out through him or through some between vignette story-telling that each door is different in some way. For some reason, this guy believes that he can talk to this one. And as a matter of fact, he does do that very thing.

In his exchange with his Door, it mentions various intentions that the doors have. We Archive… We will Refresh All of You … This was the pivotal moment that I really found inspiring and pulled me into the mythos of these doors. The short conversations they have with the Door tells us they are alien from some far off world and have a somewhat nefarious purpose. But why? The answer to that question lead me down all kinds of ideas for an RPG adventure or campaign.

The final story takes place in the form of an online interview between a guy who I can only assume is the mysterious podcaster that has been entertaining us throughout the film and a guy who claims to have returned from one of the Doors and is a well known scientist. This gets really freaky and psychedelic as the interviewee appears to be a demented disciple of the doors, calling for everyone to enter. Meanwhile, the interviewer is mentally tortured and seems to be driven to find a door, leaving his house half-naked and in a strange trance.

What fascinated me about this movie was how they built up the mythos of the Doors. I think this easily could be the set up of some epic campaign – in any genre, for that matter. I used to run a RPG called Dark Conspiracy where this would fit perfectly. You can keep it localized for ease of play – making it world-wide may be a little too epic. These doors just appear all over the localized location and the players are asked to investigate. Maybe through some dreams or psychic visions, the players get the sense that these Doors are intelligent and have a purpose. The adventure is to find that purpose and stop it if it’s a threat.

What could they be? A plot by a evil wizard to teleport the people of a kingdom to another dimension in order to take over the land? A plot to capture people for alien experiments and return them as agents of some alien plot? Or maybe they alter their victims in a way to turn them into super-beaings, serving some evil mastermind’s plot. In Dark Conspiracy, I would probably make them portals into a twisted dimension with the intent of turning people into demon-like creatures in a strange mental form of terraforming the area for some psychic based monster (It makes sense if you know the game… sort of).

Either way, I found the Doors cool and I may use them in some one-shot or short campaign at some point.

B-Movie Inspirations: Star Quest 2

B-Movie Inspirations is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.

Welcome once again to B-Movie Inspirations where I go over a very bad movie and pull interesting RPG ideas out of them This month we are looking at Star Quest 2 from 1996 ( also known as Starquest 2 or Mind Breakers), a movie I think was intended to be a sequel to Star Quest but I think its predecessor tried to distance itself by renaming itself Terminal Voyage. I was not entirely sure it was a sequel after reading the description but after watching the trailer, I could see a loose connection. It may have been an idea someone threw together and later thought they could attach to the “Star Quest” franchise even they it probably wasn’t meant to be a franchise.

Up front, this movie has a lot of sexual scenes and not meant for children. This was kind of strange because they first one had none. It was like watching a late-night Showtime movie, and really was unnecessary. But it was the 90s, so what do you expect?

This one opens with the story of Eagle, a routine shuttle mission to Mars in some near future setting. The mission loses contact with Earth and is lost. This was kind of mission laughable in many ways. Of course the shuttle in a dead project, but it was also never intended to go to Mars. It can’t without a landing strip. Anyway, 90s nostalgia aside, the connection to the overall plot is revealed later and can be loosely connected to the first movie. In fact, in the flash of scenes telling this tale are familiar shots in the same hallways in the first movie. You can even catch a glimpse of the original caste.

We then switch to a scene all too familiar – the same ship from the first movie in the same shot as it flies by. Roger Coreman or his SFX crew must of rented out certain scenes to other productions companies or something.

This ship, however, is an alien ship – Omega 4 – being used to transport captures human subjects. Early in the movie we got flashes of alien Gray-looking creatures hovering over a surgical table, and people getting abducted while the Earth calls apart in multiple war scenes. This implies an abduction subplot along with a post-apocalypses subplot.

In the beginning, it is not really clear who is Human and who is alien at first because the aliens apparently can take over human bodies. We are introduced to the human captives first, in couples, which implies they were intentionally coupled up.

Lee the soldier from Roswell Research Labs (Adam Baldwin best known from Firefly) and his wife Susan who is a scientist (Kate Rodger). These two both worked in Roswell Research Labs on hibernation experiments that later connect to the plot of this movie and loosely to the first. It is implied that perhaps the same experiments displayed in the first movie were motivated by more than just a plan to reach out to the stars. Also, Lee has more secrets that he is even telling his wife, including the truth behind the disappeared Mars mission.

What is Roswell Research Labs? Another Area 51, maybe? It was definitely not the same lab as the one at the end of the first movie which looked like either San Francisco or New York City.

The next couple are soldiers from some unknown conflict on Earth – Cpl. Charles Devon (Duane Davis) and Cpl. Kelly (Jolie Jackunas). Kelly doesn’t last long in the movie but I am curious what the thought process was behind the aliens allowing Devon to keep his weapon – a tactical shotgun. It really is the only way everyone is able to escape in the end.

The third couple are Trit (Jerry Trimble) the tough street fighter type with martial arts skills and Jenna (Jeannie Millar) the stripper and seductress. These two are pretty much wildcards and do not play well with others.

The alien crew of the ship is made up of 4 human-disguised aliens and one android that pilots the ship. The first human-disguised alien they encounter is one that is being killed by the Evil-HAL eye weapon. Every room is equipped with an evil eye thing that looks like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It not only is a camera that watches over all of them but also a weapon that electrocutes the victim to dust. The first we see of this is rather early when an alien crewmember is killed in front of them.

The remainder of the crew are as follows: Father O’Neill (played by the venerable Robert Englund, Freddy Krueger himself), Carrie (Gretchen Palmer), and some uncredited (at least that I can find) bald guy. Father O’Neill present himself as another abducted human and sort of a guide to the ship, implying he had been there longer then the rest. In reality, he is the ship’s leader and commander. His second is Carrie but in reality she is a member of a faction that wants to stop this project, as is the bald guy. More on that later.

All three present themselves as fellow humans at first. But in truth they are alien hybrids with their own agendas. The group is eventually shown a video presumably produced by the aliens to explain the captives situation. In order to save humanity from itself, these aliens altruistically abducted prime samples from all walks of life to save humanity. More clips of war-torn Earth are shown (probably action scenes from some movie that no one remembers) and interlaced with these scenes is the face of a Gray-like alien.

Gray-like Alien

The plot kind of meanders after this around the conflict between the alien factions and the conflict between the humans. Baldie kills Kelly and this kicks off a who-done-it mystery. You learn that there are two types of aliens on board – for lack of better terms I will call them Loyalists and Rebels. The Loyalists – primarily Father O’Neill – wish not only save humanity but his own race in hopes they could cross breed into an alien-human hybrid that is stable and sustainable. The Rebels’ motivation are not entirely clear, but they are simply against the cross-breeding idea and the existence of this lab ship. Carrie and Baldie (as well as the other alien that was killed early on) are members of this Rebel faction that have secretly infiltrated the ship. Their plan is to covertly kill each human before the breeding experiments can happen.

Meanwhile, we meet the android that pilots the ship when the ship is attacked by lizard aliens in fighters (more scenes stolen from Battle Beyond the Stars.) Who are these aliens? Are they Rebels as well? Or are they an alien race that does not want this Gray-like alien to sustain it’s existence. Either way, there is a extended battle scene with the ship and several fighters that seems to go on a little too long. It did leave you wondering, however, who these fighters were and why did they want to destroy the ship.

This android also protects the bridge and prevents anyone from tampering with it. Not even the human-disguised aliens are allowed to change it’s course. Baldie is killed by the android when he recruits Trit to help him hijack the ship. Devon is killed after being seduced by Carrie and finding out she is an alien hybrid. This all spirals out of control when everyone starts shooting looking for a way off the ship. The Android is sucked out into space after a stray round shatters a porthole. Carrie kills Jenna in a very awkward seen. Trit is killed wrestling with Carrie, a shotgun volley killing them both. The Father is fatally shot and we are left with Lee and Susan alone on the ship. A final message from the aliens is played telling them they are being brought to alien world to begin the human race anew.

The movie overall is just not well put together, even though the story has potential. Between the cheap reused special effects and some of the silly sets, it was just not a good production. The characters are too busy having sex for me to really care about them – maybe less sex and a little more character building would help. When you place this movie together with the predecessor, it does however, create an interesting campaign idea.

This would probably work best in a sci-fi or near-future setting with alien conspiracies prevalent in the setting – a setting like Dark Conspiracy or Dark Matter. Aliens have contacted the governments of Earth to ask them to start prepping people for long hyper-sleep journey to another world the aliens wish the humans to populate. So humans are unwittingly abducted to be trained for this kind of thing – why abducted? I don’t know, because that is what aliens do? The first movie could happen in one scenario while the second movie can happen on board a ship in another situation. The aliens have ulterior motives, however, and there are some that don’t want it to happen. There are also other aliens that oppose the first and want all this to stop as well, even if it means destroying the planet. This opens a wide variety of aliens-among us scenarios that I think would be enjoyable.

As for a one-shot, this would be a simple alien abduction story with some hidden stories to discover behind the alien abductors, their allies and their enemies. Meanwhile, the humans can have their own conflicts, agendas, and secrets.

B-Movie Inspirations: Star Quest

B-Movie Inspirations is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.

Welcome back to another edition of B-Movie Inspirations. This time we are covering another sci-fi classic found on Tubi called Star Quest (also known as Terminal Voyage, 1995). I am pretty sure I have seen this movie on a Blockbuster shelf at one time but passed it up because of the cheesy name. The cover was unremarkable, the tag line was generic, I could not just make myself pay to see it. But now with the wonders of streaming some movies for free, I was able to watch it. I was not surprised that the movie over all was predictable and relatively cheesy but it also makes for an interesting idea for an RPG.

The movie opens to a very familiar scene of people waking up in sleep pods on a ship in space. The ship right away looks familiar and after some research, found that it was re-used model shots from Battle Beyond the Stars. Aboard the ship are seven multi-national crewmembers – Commander Hollis (Gregory McKinney) the American XO, Lt. Jammad the Arabian Officer (Alan Rachins), Becker the Brit and Government Mediator (Emma Sams), Reese the American Tough Guy (Steve Bauer), Zinovitz the Russian Engineer (Brenda Bakke), Granier the French Scientist and Botanist (Cliff De Young), and Han the Asian Doctor (Ming-Na Wen).

The group had been asleep a long time in route to some far off planet – 100 years it is later said. Much more of that is revealed later in a cliched background – Earth is headed to environmental disaster and they decide to send a sleeper ship to travel 200 light years to another possible replacement planet – Tryon. The group awakens from this sleep to find their captain dead – a mysterious pod malfunction. This puts Hollins in charge and Jammad second in command. Jammad is not well liked and this does cause some grumblings among the crew.

The movie proceeds like the plot of 10 Little Indians, but for only seven. First suspicion is thrown around about the captain dying, then the commander is found hanging from the ceiling from apparent suicide. This brings in new information as people read through the reports that the commander was browsing before his death – Earth is dead, after a big nuclear war.

This brings up an interesting point that I had to watch twice to catch. This crew was in hyper-sleep for a long period of time – 100 years or so. So to make sure their loved ones see them again, the loved ones are also in hibernation on Earth until they see each other again – perhaps as part of a second sleeper ship. In a sleeper ship situation, I think it would be more prudent to send the first mission full of unconnected people to avoid this kind of thing but that’s just me.

So the crew assumes all the hibernating family members are dead and all is lost. Humanity’s fate is left in their hands. Of course, the implication is that the commander found this all out and broke under the pressure. Following this, Jammad takes over with everyone suspecting him in the death of the commander. More individuals stories are told either through events on board or events in the holodeck-like VR rig they have on the ship. Han is a drug addict upset she left her husband and kids back on Earth. Zinovitz is an paranoid and angry Russian with a tragic past. Reese has a underground background that involved car chases with authorities but it is never elaborated on.

The next victim to mysteriously die is Jammad, connected to the VR. The plot thickens as Becker takes over command out of the blue. This creates further tension as most don’t trust the government agent. The four hatch a plan to take Backer into custody and take over the ship. This leads to the most predicable part of the movie.

Perhaps Emma Samms played her too stiff but I figured out that she was an android from the start. Her motivation to kill the crew was not quite clear but it was generally clichéd – all humans are flawed. There is a short fight between the four remaining crew and the obviously superior android. However, they are able to disable her and take her apart, interrogating her head while her other parts lay strewn about. However they did not plan on her remotely controlling her arm while they interrogated her, which in turn triggered the ship’s self destruct.

Realizing the escape pod can only take two – what kind of planning is that!? – Han already in a drugged-out stupor and Granier volunteer to stay behind. Nothing in the plot gave you the idea that these two would decide to stay (except maybe the drug use in Han) but that seemed out of the blue. If they wanted them to die, they could have died in the fight with the android. Zinovitz and Reese enter the escape pod only to reveal the final twist that was sort of predictable in out own way but still surprising the movie went there.

It turns out they never left the planet and were in a simulation the entire time. The ship was a fabrication with a bunker that appeared to be deep below the surface.

Love the classic DOS UI

Obviously the simulation went on too long as people died. The couple finds their way out and find out quickly why people did not stop the simulation in time to save lives – the world in fact was destroyed by Nuclear War.

For production value, the movie overall is pretty poor but not as bad as some. They reused special effects from other movies – namely Battle Beyond the Stars – and the sets were mediocre at best. At least it appeared somewhat like a space ship in places. They had a conference room, the sleeper pod room, a control room and some hallways. It wasn’t bad but they did appear to clearly made of wood. Typical low-budget 90s direct to video movie. The story was clichéd and mostly predictable but worth at least a casual watch to get some ideas. Alone, I don’t think I would have written about this movie but since there was a sequel that (unintentionally) added some depth to it, I decided to write about it.

This is a fairly straight forward RPG one-shot. People wake up from a long hibernation – it could be a magically induced hibernation in a fantasy setting, on board a sailing vessel in strange waters or another dimensional plane. You could even take it a step further and do like what they did in Dark Matter, where the crew has no memory of who they are.

The 10 Little Indians are a tough thing to attempt but can be done if you let players play more than one character. When one dies, they can take over another. Give each character a motivation, agenda and secret and let the players role play the entire story. The GM doesn’t really have to do much with a good group except interrupt occasionally to murder one of them.

The murderer could be the wolf in sheep’s clothing type story they presented here or something more. One can establish conflicts between the nations represented here and perhaps one sent an agent on a suicide mission. Or a radical terrorist group infiltrated the group to prevent finding a new world for humanity. The possibilities are endless.

B-Movie Inspirations: Moonbase

B-Movie Inspirations is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a big sci-fi fan. I will give just about any sci-fi movie a try if it looks like a good story even if the budget is low. I found one of those types of movies on Tubi which has become one of my go-to apps for streaming. There are so many movies on that app I have not seen – some of which I can’t finish because they are just that bad, and others take me a few days to get through.

Moonbase is a low budget sci-fi movie from 1997 that attempts to tell a good story despite it’s very low budget. It is obviously a direct to video movie that probably sat on more than one Blockbuster video shelf and was watched by many who were probably disappointed by the cerebral story. It is one of those dark future sci-fi movies born of the 1990s angst against corporate greed, environmentalism and greed.

The movie opens New Years Day, 2065, on a penal station L4 – a station I assume meant it was a Legrange Point station but they misnamed Liberation Point. A group of seven criminals, led by Carl Stark (Robert O’Reilly – best known for his role as Gowron on ST: TNG and ST DS9) and his girl Mina (Gretchen Palmer), plan an escape from the L4 station.

From an RPG character perspective, the Criminals included the following. Many were basically unnamed and at least one of them was killed early on – Long Haired Guy – because his usefulness had run out. Not sure why they even had him. The information he provided could have been provided in an other way but I guess he was a friend of the producer or something. For the most part, for reasons of an RPG party, the group can be chiseled to Stark, Mina and one or two thugs. The latter could be NPCs, if need be.

Stark’s Gang escapes the prison in a automated garbage pod which is implied to be headed to Moonbase, a waste disposal plant on the dark side of the Moon. Enter the new party members – the Disposal colony staff, which is made up of way more people than I thought would be needed for this job – six. I found it interesting that it was cheaper to dump trash on the dark side of the Moon rather than recycle as much as you can but that was the 1990s logic for you. Of course, later we find out that it includes toxic waste as well which comes into play later in the storyline.

John Russell (played by Scott Plank) and his crew of sanitation employees work in isolation. Made of several archetypes, you have the unwilling hero, the seasoned old man, the wise-cracking cool guy, and the annoying guy that everyone hates.

The last two do not even have to exist in an RPG party as they die unceremoniously early in the movie. For a movie, let alone an RPG party, this story has way too many characters and could have been simplified a little by dropping a couple of characters.

We learn that Russell has some backstory that has him on some self-imposed exile for reasons that only his seasoned co-worker Will (Stack Pierce) knows. This is later revealed in the movie and honestly does add to the story pretty well. Of the other crew, we know that Deckert (Kurt Fuller) wants to get back to Earth and feels the corporation owes him, Will has been here a long time, and Masani (Randy Vasquez) has a hologram projector for his alone-time in his cabin.

With plans to hijack a garbage shuttle back to Earth, Stark’s gang storm the base and take the crew hostage. These plans are disrupted when they learn that no shuttle would be coming to the the base. We have a scene in some generic galley kitchen where one bad guy is killed by Stark because he has outlasted his usefulness. A new plan had to be hatched.

Earlier in the movie, another plotline was teased in relation to the base’s owning corporation and the military. The corporation is WTI, which stands for something like Workman-Tabashi – they say it real quick, and I could barely make it out. Sound familiar? Weyland-Yutani anyone? Apparently an inspection team is being sent up by WTI for reasons and the crew must accommodate. The Starck’s gang decide to wait for an arriving inspection team, ambush them and take their shuttle home. This is really the crux of the movie – when three worlds collide, what happens? You have to stretch your belief a little to buy into the fact that these two events at this one place would happen over the same time span but in the chaos of life, I suppose anything is possible.

The inspection team is lead by Lt. Col. Caldecott (Billy Maddox) and mission specialist Dana Morgan (Jocelyn Seagrave) who happens to also be Russell’s ex-girlfriend, linked to that shadowy past event mentioned earlier (one more coincidence you have to buy into). Caldecott arrives with a pilot who dies early and 6 heavily armed soldiers. It doesn’t take long for a firefight to ensue between them and the gang. Stark’s gang flee into the labyrinth of passageways in the base interior.

The corporate marine team can be generic NPCs and depending on how you want to run things, you can make Caldecott and/or Morgan as an NPC as well.

It is later revealed the military team is here for more than just an inspection. The government, taking advantage of the sensor-dampening effects of the toxic waste dump the crew maintains, have hidden some Positronic Pulse Warheads in the area of the waste. These weapons apparently were banned by some treaty and where pretty nasty – wiped out part of Cuba, apparently. Caldecott’s team was to retrieve the warheads because their secret was leaked and there was a fear a minor power would try to steal them. They hatch a plan to defend the base against Stark’s gang while at the same time, retrieve the bombs.

Meanwhile, Deckert in a quest to return to Earth at any cost, seeks out Stark and his gang and in an act of betrayal, divulges Caldecott’s real mission. Stark and Mina decide to steal the inspection team’s shuttle and the warheads, hoping to sell them and be rich on Earth.

Secure in the Moonbase control room, Dana, John, Will and Masani manage to contact a rescue team, but as the ship descends toward the base, Deckert now in league with Stark and his gang, routes power to a surface tractor beam and crashes the ship. The criminals then ambush Caldecott’s team, killing them and seize the warheads. Russell rushes to lock Stark out but is too late and is captured.

In the shuttle, Masani and Morgan with the help of Will in the control room, are prepping it for escape. Morgan, however, insists they rescue Russell first. In their discussions about Russell, Will reveals to Morgan the secret he has held for years. Sometime ago, Russell took the blame for an ecological disaster that the company was going to pin on her. Permanent transfer to Moonbase was the penalty Russell paid. With new determination, Masani transfers base command functions to the shuttle so they can retreat there after getting Russell back.

The rescue attempt kicks off a series of action scenes as the movie closes into it’s final act. Will manages to pull Russell to safety but is killed in the process. Russell, Dana and Masani retreat to the shuttle bay but realize because of technical reasons, they can’t leave and need something too happen in the control room. Deckert, in his final moments of redemption, realizes that Stark intends to kill him and perhaps everyone else in his attempt to escape, flips the needed switch just as Stark shoots him.

More technical complications arise preventing the shuttle bay doors from opening. Apparently, the power routed to the surface tractor beam by Deckert earlier is now preventing the doors from functioning (and now we circle back to Deckert being a jerk again). Russell decides to venture out to the lunar surface to restore function to the shuttle bay. Stark, defeated and determined to kill everyone if he can’t leave the moon, arms a warhead and sets a timer to detonate.

Russell manages to get the bay doors functioning, but must battle Stark to get to the shuttle. Our surviving heroes manage to outsmart Stark with Masani’s hologram device and lifts off just as the warhead explodes wiping out the Moonbase and the entire garbage dump, in a final ironic message of weapons wiping out our garbage.

The production quality of this movie is terrible. The locations are very generic and not very inspiring. They are not very other-worldly and most places you can recognize as something in the modern day. The only place that looks remotely constructed is the control center. Even the exterior moon shots look like poorly lit night shots at some kind of quarry or construction site. The spacesuits are nothing but cheap HAZMAT suits that just hang on them like there is normal gravity. The suits the gang uses and the criminals use are even worse – they look like paintball masks and some weird body suit.

The reason I chose the movie to write about is because it is a complex story very suited for a cool one-shot RPG game. I like that it is basically a story about humans – no aliens. I feel it can fit in just about any setting but I envision this in some kind of Alien-like or Bladerunner-like setting. The Earth is struggling to deal with waste disposal and environmental disasters while wars continue to flare up between various national factions. There was some very subtle world-building in this movie that helped me really appreciate it.

For an RPG one shot, one can go the simple route and make on team the player characters while the other teams are NPCs, but I like the idea of conflicting motivations and agendas, so I would spread the player characters over all three groups and get them to roleplay them to the hilt. The plotline revolves around the nukes but they don’t have to be nukes – they could be bio weapons or some other treasure or plot device. The temptation for me would be to introduce some kind of alien creature or tech and while that deviates from what the movie is about, there is nothing wrong with going that route.

This is a story of 3 worlds colliding – chaotic world of insane criminals, the dreary lives of blue-collar workers and the strict no-nonsense world of the corporation/government. This can translated to just about anything. Switching this to fantasy would not be all that hard. The moon location could be an island. Space ships can be sailing ships. The treasure could be some kind of enchanted weapon. The challenge is the location. Everything would have to be laid out, the base and the labyrinth would have to be mapped out.

B-Movie Inspiration: Dark Side of the Moon

B-Movie Inspiration is a series of articles I write where I watch really bad movies and draw RPG inspiration from them.

Perusing my various streaming options, I stumbled on this gem of a B-movie from 1990 – The Dark Side of the Moon. No, this was not something inspired by the Pink Floyd album. This was a very very bad Alien knock-off that was really really hard to watch. It was more like a Walmart version of Event Horizon (1997). The acting was stilted and awkward, special effects and set design were low budget and because of that, the portrayal of space physics was lazy. While all that was bad, the premise was actually kind of interesting and could be a really good one shot tabletop RPG adventure in any near-future sci-fi setting.

The general plot places us in the year 2022 – where in-system space travel is not only common, but starships are big, bulky and have artificial gravity. The spaceship Spacecore 1 is on a mission to repair and retrieve nuclear-armed spy satellites and apparently one wondered around to the dark side of the moon. The best shot of Spacecore 1 I could find on the internet is shown below:

We are then briefly introduced to the crew of seven. The crew includes:

Flynn Harding (played by Robert “Starred In Every 80s show possible” Sampson), a tough, chain smoking bad-mouthed guy who is on-mission and all about the job. While he was alive in the movie, I felt the actor over played him and there was little back story that came out.

Giles Stewart (played by Will “Who?” Bledsoe), a dashing young pilot with a mullet who does not really seem to want to be there. He seems to be full of some kind of angst (it was the 90s, after all) and just mopes around until the end.

Paxton Warner (played Joe “Blade Runner’s Dr. Eldon Tyrell” Turkel, sadly his last role) is a strange science/engineering officer who always seems to have an ulterior motive.

Lesli (played Camilla “Why are you in this movie” More) is the ship’s android AI that does nothing in the movie but sit and state a few plot points. More on her later.

Philip Jennings (played by John “That other guy from Stargate the movie” Diehl) is the technician and token male chauvinist who is hitting on Alex all the time. This actor was so much better as Lieutenant Kawalsky in Stargate.

Alex McInny (played by Wendy “I’m here to show my boobs” MacDonald) is a crewman that has some engineering and tech skills, as well as some bio-med skills. However, other than a few minor over-acted scenes, she was there for one scene and one scene only (referenced in her nickname I gave her).

Dreyfuss Steiner (played by Alan “I’ve seen this guy before somewhere” Blumenfeld) is the ship’s doctor and one of the pivotal characters in the overall story in a very subtle way. In a rare creative moment, this character creates a very creepy scene.

In their search for a rogue nuclear sat on the dark side of the moon, the Spacecore 1 suffers inexplicable power failure and begins to tumble towards the Moon – specifically a point on the Moon called Centris B40. Due to the various failures, the crew realize that they have only 24 hours air and heat left. This is a strong bonus point for me because I like when they emphasize the dangers of space – lack of oxygen and frigid temperatures. The real nightmare however starts when an old space shuttle (Discovery 18) mysteriously appears and docks with them, bringing on board a mysterious malevolent entity that threatens them all.

Over time, the core plot is revealed linking the dark side of the moon, the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil himself. The first clue that it’s going in this direction is Centris B40 – the point on the dark side of the moon they are drifting towards. It’s shaped like a triangle on all the displays on the ship. (see below)

When the shuttle appears out of the shadows of the Moon, it is portrayed like a haunted ghost ship. They find one of the crew dead (body fully preserved, somehow) who turns out to be the source of the evil that haunts the shuttle. The evil entity somehow travels from one person to another, causing a triangular shaped gut wound in some of its victims. Anyone possessed ends up dead eventually. The entity – who reveals himself as the Devil – was trapped on the shuttle and was looking for a way back to Earth.

This movie is a real slow burn with some of the worst script writing I have ever heard. Everyone seemed to emphasize the wrong words or the wrong expressions, long pauses at awkward moments and just a general feeling that there was more story in each character then they were letting us know about. The set design was extremely low budget – I have seen better designs in old Doctor Who. The ship set design did not make any sense and the shuttle set made even less sense. Even though there was two ships from two different eras of space travel, I did not feel like there was any difference between the two. And even though they clearly showed the shuttle as a classic 1980s design, the set designer obviously had no clue what a real space shuttle interior looked like. I realize with a limited budget, there was not much they could do. However, I think the movie could have benefited from the sense of familiarity and difference between the two ships.

Interesting touches in the movie include the shuttle interior being cover in liquid water inside and in fact, there is a cargo bay that is full of water. It is implied that the water is from the Bermuda Triangle because this shuttle was lost over it during an emergency landing attempt in 1992. It kept from freezing by supernatural heat within the shuttle. We learn this because as they board it, they find the interior temperature was 106 degrees after 30 years dead in space. The shuttle serves two purpose. The creepiness factor as well as a last hope for our heroes to replenish energy and air. However, the one question I had was never answered – why does the shuttle have artificial gravity? I know. Low-budget. Zero G simulation is either done cheesy or really really expensive.

The characters were just awful. You would get better character development in a RPG one shot game. The captain is a card board cut out of a character who dies fairly early in the movie. Giles is the typical late 80s/early 90s hero character – the guy with the best hair is the hero. Paxton was just weird. Early on, he was doing weird stuff to make you think he was a betrayer or had some kind of plot behind him but it never manifested. Wasted opportunity. Jennings was probably one of the better characters but there was just something wrong with the way the actor was portraying him – he just seemed off. Alex spends most of the movie in a coma and only wakes up long enough to have a topless scene and then she is done. I really feel like that was a wasted character as well. Steiner was also one of the better characters and the one that reveals to the audience that the crew has been “infected” by the entity to the hero.

Finally there is Lesli. This character made absolute no sense to have. You could have just had a disembodied voice for the ship’s computer and be done with it. But no, the director thought it was a good idea to have a pretty lady in tight leather as the ship’s AI sit in a chair the entire movie and spout out plot points. STUPID!!! Who is this girl? The director’s girlfriend or something? Save yourself a little money by hiring one less actor, let one of the other female actor do the ship’s computer voice for a small fee. Then spend what you saved on better set designs! Again, it was another wasted opportunity.

This movie is like many movies – great idea that was poorly executed. What can you expect from Hollywood? Anyway, there is a lot an RPG GM can draw from this. The entire movie itself is a RPG one shot waiting to happen.

Dark Side of the Triangle

You can easily see the entire plot of this movie playing out in a RPG one shot. Sometime in the near future, a crew recovering lost military satellites finds itself wondering into the dark side of the moon where they begin to experience unexplained equipment failures. I would make the ship tangible with maps or picture or both and really emphasize the isolation and dangers of space. I prefer realism in my sci-fi. Space is damn scary by itself.

The ship would be something different from the one in the movie – something more practical and tangible (like from The Expanse ). Give it character, always having problems, giving the players something to work with at first when systems begin to fail. At first, it may seem like “ol’ Bessy” acting up again, but then too many things begin to happen at once, giving the crew a clue that something is really wrong.

You flesh out the crew better than this movie did and give each one a clear function. Allow the android to walk about and have a purpose. The Captain is a rough and tumble guy, perhaps former military that got dishonorably discharged because of a drinking problem. The pilot is a hot shot pilot hired by the company after his stint in prison for smuggling and illegal orbital racing. The scientists is new to the crew , volunteering to join this mission because of his secret agenda. He has theories about the dark side of the moon and wishes to gather evidence. Continue to flesh out each character and relate them to each other, giving them back story and agendas. There can be a betrayer if you want, but it has to make sense.

Then they stumble across a space shuttle. Today, this would have more impact in the story then in 1990, since they ceased the program. You can make up a shuttle or use one of the real ones. Perhaps the shuttle was actually lost towards the end of the program and this fact was covered up. Either way, give it a good back and haunting backgrounds. Unlike the movie, use the real floor plans and give it a realistic feel.

Other plot points from the movie:

  • At some point, they showed the shuttle cargo bay full of moon rock from Centris B40. While they did not make a direct link the supernatural story line, there could be. This could be another route to take so you don’t have to end up where the movie did.
  • The movie implied that there was a connection between the Triangle and the dark side of the moon. Was it some kind of supernatural star gate? Wormhole? Or a prison for the evil entity? There are many possibilities.
  • For the entity possession, I would remove the idea of the triangular gut wound, and keep it hidden. While they did that with some of the characters, I would make it more consistent.

Dark Side of the Moon for me was a very hard movie to watch but inspiring at the same time. Much of the inspiration came from what they did not do with their inspired idea and less from what they did, but still, it was a cool idea for an tabletop RPG adventure.

B-Movie Inspiration: Island of Terror

I was browsing social media when I ran across a picture posted to a group dedicated to the old sci-fi media magazine Starlog. 

It was a creature from some old movie that resembled a bulbous starfish with a single tentacle jutting out is front.  Immediately drawing me in, I had to do some research to find out where it came from.  This creature was a Silicate from a movie called Island of Terror,  a 1966 British horror film starring Peter Cushing, Edward Judd, and Carole Gray.  I am a huge fan of Peter Cushing movies and this was a good example of an imaginative gem that probably flew under the radar for many.


Most of the movie takes place on a remote island called Petrie’s Island, off the east coast of Ireland.  We learn in the first act that the island does not have phones to the mainland and limited means to reach it via boat.  It is a very isolated community of farmers and fisherman.  We first observe some scientists lead by oncology researcher Dr. Lawrence Phillips as they work on a cure for cancer in a secluded castle laboratory on the island.  It is during their conversations, these scientists mention their other co-workers in Japan – a plot plant for later.  Something catastrophic happens in the lab and it fades to black.  Later on the island, bodies begin to turn up.  They seemed to have died horrifically as every bone in their bodies was liquified.  The island’s physician – Dr Reginald Landers (Eddie Byrne) – ends up recruiting two London scientists – Dr Brian Stanley (Cushing) and Dr. David West (Judd) to help solve the mystery.  Along with them is the wealthy jetsetter Toni Merrill (Carole Gray).

Once back at Petrie’s Island,  the helicopter used to reach the island must return to the mainland for plot reasons, leaving the group effectively stranded on Petrie until the helicopter or a boat can return. West and Stanley learn of Dr. Phillips work, paying a visit to his lab. This reveals that Dr. Phillips and his colleagues are dead and boneless as the other bodies.  From Dr. Phillips’ research notes, the protagonists learn that in his quest to cure cancer, they may have accidentally created a new silicate based lifeform.

The creature now obliquely revealed, we begin to see more and more islanders killed.  In each case, we hear a strange alien sound and see a tentacle take out each. Eventually dubbed silicates by the heroes, we learn that they kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies as part of their feeding process. The silicates are very resilient and incredibly difficult to kill.  Landers fails to kill one at the castle with an axe when they first encounter them and later try to kill them as they approach the village, with bullets, gasoline bombs and dynamite with no effect.  Additionally, these creatures  divide like cells every few hours and the heroes determine there could be thousands or more on the island before too long.

In the scenes that follow, we see the creatures in the forests and in the fields, slowly crawling towards to the village seeking food. These scenes were pretty good considering the period, but I could imagine what they could do today with something like this.  In these shots, they may have been 4 or 5 on screen at one time but to really get the horror, I wanted to see dozens moving frantically seeking food.  As you can imagine for the period, they were like little slugs crawling along the ground at a very slow pace.  However, there were some cool moments as they revealed the creatures could climb trees and drop down on victims.

Finally, one silicate turns up dead, apparently after having ingested a dog that was contaminated by a rare isotope called Strontium-90 from Phillips’ lab.  This may have been vaguely implied at in the beginning, I am not sure.  It did seem out of nowhere to me.  The heroes hatch a plan to gather more of this isotope at the castle and contaminate a herd of cattle, setting a trap for the hundreds (look more like dozens) of silicates that are now on the island.  This in the long run  succeeds, of course, with a few harrowing moments among panicking townsfolk trapped in the town meeting hall while the creatures attack from all sides.

The story ends with evacuation and medical teams coming to the island and the heroes realizing how fortunate they were that this outbreak was confined to an island.  Planted earlier in the movie, this sets up an epilogue of the movie – a visit to the satellite programme in Japan.  The scientists there are attempting to duplicate Phillips’ work with the inevitable result.  It ends with a scientists entering a room, you hearing the familiar sound of the creature, and a scream.  Fade to black.

The theme of this story is a standard science gone wrong trope.  It’s one of my favorites to use in my sci-fi and pulp horror games.  These stories are born of man’s hubris and arrogance that he alone is master of the cosmos and science is the means to master it.  I am using this in my current con Reich Star campaign (Man in the High Castle meets The Expanse).  It also had a Lovecraftian feel to it, given the setting and the type of creature.  For budgetary reasons, these creatures were a little disappointing, but my mind simply goes to what they could have been with the right budget and today’s special effects.  Todays practical effects alone could make these things terrifying.  Adding in a little CGI, and these things could be awesome.  I love a good monster movie.  A monster movie with tentacles and you will have me watching from beginning to end.

I love the isolation aspect of this.  This can easily be “survive the night” type one-shot adventure in any horror, sci-fi or fantasy setting.  Some scientist or wizard messing around with the wrong things only to open a gate into another realms of strange creatures that devour your bones (or some other aspect of your body).  The inspirations are fairly obvious.  Any island or island-like locations would do.  In sci-fi, it could be an asteroid colony.  This is the perfect pulp horror story, easily insertable into a game like Call of Cthulhu.  In fantasy, it could be anywhere.  Isolation is quite common in fantasy.

The creature itself could be anything but I like the creepiness of this particular creature. I would even use the sound they used in the movie if I could isolate it on my phone.  I would add more tentacles just for effect.  I would also alter the mitosis process to add a little more horror to it but the ticking time-bombs aspect to that would remain.  It’s all a ready-made adventure waiting to be exploited in a role playing game setting.

The one thing I would change is probably the final solution as it seemed more coincidental than anything.

B-Movie Inspirations: The Drift (2016)

This is an award winning UK sci-fi space short film made Backyard Productions UK as part of the “Darkwave universe.”  Set in a world where rare crystals – called Starlight Crystals – make FTL flight possible, it shows that even with a low budget and actors working for free, you can still tell a damn good story.  I write about this because I really feel that this Darkwave setting REALLY needs to be written up as an RPG setting.  Someone really needs to approach these guys with the idea.

As explained the beginning of the film, something called the Darkwave is an event blamed for nearly all the Starlight Crystals not working.  ONly a small percentage of them still work.  This ends up leaving many ships in mid-flight stranded in the middle of space, decades if not centuries away from a colony using sublight engines.  Finally, a sci-fi movie that respects stellar distances.

Only a few fragments of working Starlight crystals exist, so only a few ships can travel limited FTL.  Apparently the distance and speed a crystal can travel is proportional to the size in some way.  Scavenger ships armed with these crystals travel from derelict to derelict – called Drifts – salvaging cargo, rescuing passengers where possible and salvaging crystal fragments.  Some have good intentions while others don’t.  The film introduces a Ministry ship named the Deliverance ( a ship that vaguely looks like the Firefly) and it’s salvage crew of eight scavengers.  The drop out of FTL asleep in hypersleep suits after a 5 month flight, near a couple of Drifts – a cargo ship and a passenger liner – that is apparently near the nebula where the Darkwave originated.

The characters are kind of cliched – hard-ass woman inspired by Ripley from Alien, the wise-cracking American pilot, the by-the-book perfectly British captain, the pair of rough and tumble blue-collar types that are underappreciated and do all the work, a wide-eyed kid who is bound to get in trouble, rookie corporate guy and so on.   Collectively, they come across as a cross between the crew of the Firefly and the crew of the Nostromo with some homages to the marines of the Sulaco.  They come across a starship graveyard of multiple wrecks and other debris.  Their systems apparently detected a crystal fragment and they are after it.

What follows is a series of events that are reminiscent of several claustrophobic space movies like Aliens, Pandorum, and the like.  There are survivors on the ship and they all have a dark story to tell.  It is a mad dash to recover a crystal on the ship that is apparently special.  A mole in the group wants the crystal for their own clandestined purposes while the rest just try to get out.  There are moments you can tell this is a shoe-string budget production while others are top-notch.   The hallways seem thrown together and poorly constructed at times, but the set of the Deliverance is very cool.  Overall, however, the story they tell is compelling and fantastically inspiring.

From an RPG point of view, this movie is more inspiring from a setting point of view than anything else. The story itself is tropey and cliched, but would serve as a great intro adventure into the settings.  This “Ministry” they work for needs to be fleshed out, as does the covert factions within that drove the mole character.  There would need to be an idea of what the universe was like before the Darkwave and what it is now.  Colonies are isolated now, with only a few fragments available to them, perhaps only able to reach out to other nearby systems.  Smaller stellar nations would form, space would factionalize and people would start blaming others for the Darkwave.  Perhaps a whole faith would rise out of the Darkwave, saying that humanity had reached too far.

Youtube is full of short sci-fi and fantasy films, some good and some not so good.  I found this one exceptionally imaginative and inspiring.  I hope I can find the time to flesh out a setting inspired by it.

B-Movie Inspirations: Blood Creek

Blood Creek, previously known as Creek and Town Creek, is a horror film directed by the famous (and infamous) Joel Schumacher, starring Michael Fassbender,  Dominic Purcell, and Henry Cavill.  Where else are you going to get Magneto, Heat Wave and Superman in one movie.  Written by David Kajganich, the film apparently had a limited theatrical release in 2009. I came across it in my streaming options, and it was highly recommended by a friends.  Dominic Purcell and Henry Cavill play brothers on a mission of revenge who become trapped in a harrowing occult experiment dating back to the Third Reich.  Yes, Nazis, Occult and Zombies in the same movie.  I am all in!

I would not qualify this as a B-Movie as much as a “under the radar” movie with limited release/straight to video production.  It has a great premise, a decent execution and so much potential for sequels.

In 1936, a Nazi professor named Richard Wirth (Fassbender) is sent to the West Virginia, US to be hosted by the Wollners, a farming family of German emigrants. The Wollners believe him to be a visiting scholar, but Wirth turns out to be a Nazi occultist who seeks a Viking runestone buried on their property.  He demonstrates occultic power on some dead animals, raising briefly from the dead, indicating a more sinister plan once he has tapped the full power of the runestone under their house.

Fast forward to modern day, the movie introduces Evan Marshall (Cavill) as a tired and hard-working paramedic who works 12 hour shifts, takes care of his invalid angry father and the children of missing brother.  Through several well-shot and interestingly scripted scenes, we learn a few things important to the story.  First, it’s Halloween and there is going to be a lunar eclipse that evening.  Secondly, the brother – Victor (Purcell) – is a war vet who disappeared sometime ago during a camping trip in rural West Virginia.

One evening, Evan is surprised when Victor suddenly appears. Victor explains that he has escaped some mysterious captors, and they quickly prepare to return for vengeance. The brothers arm up and head to the farm to confront what we learn is the Wollners, who have barely aged since 1936.  When they arrive to exact revenge,  the Wollners tell the tale of Wirth and his intentions.  Back in 1936, when Wirth revealed his intentions of occultic evil, the family bravely takes it upon themselves to save the world from this evil and trap him in their basement.  Using occultic runes they learned from his books, they bind and contain him on the property and out of the house.  Through rituals that requires frequent human sacrifices, they have been feeding him victims over the decades. Linked to Wirth, the family survive through the decades, operating as both captors and servants to Wirth, who they keep weakened and at bay.

Wirth then gets out of the cellar and begins his terror.  Wirth is now a zombie-like figure with occultic symbols carved into his gray hairless skin.  It is revealed throughout the story that Wirth has a plan to eventually awaken his third eye, which will mark the pinnacle of his power.  The fact that its Halloween night and a lunar eclipse works in there somewhere too.  Wirth’s terror includes killing and then subsequently raising horses and dogs into crazed zombie animals, as well as a few victims (reminiscent of Evil Dead).  Lots of blood and gore follows until things begin to fall apart.

I am going to avoid any further spoilers, but needless to say this movie ends with a occultic bang that is very satisfying.  By the end we learn that SS leader Himmler sent other Nazi agents to different locations throughout West Virginia. Evan finds a map that was under the farm and discovers that others like Wirth are at other farms. While Victor returns home to his family, Evan heads out to the other farms to stop the other Nazis, obviously setting up for sequels.  However, it ends with Victor ominously returning to the Wollner farm, now burned down, standing over the runestone, perhaps implying he is tempted by it’s power.

Not only is a cool self-contained adventure, it is a setup for a great campaign.    I fully plan to steal from this, advancing this into the future for a sci-fi adventure.  Imagine finding runestones on an asteroid! I can easily see this as a horror RPG adventure for something like Call of Cthulhu.  A group of players stumble across a bloodied young girl in the woods, with her back all shredded and sign restraints on her wrists.  They investigate her tale to find an old farm house with runes all over it.  What is to follow is a night of horror and death that would drive any party insane.

I highly recommend watching this movie for its inspiration (although I realize I might have spoiled it some).  It is very much worth a watch.


B-Movie Inspirations: The Dungeonmaster (1984)

Also known as Ragewar: The Challenges Of Excalibrate, I found this movie in an old article about old awful 80s fantasy films.  And this one was pretty awful. although it had great potential.  The article included several movies I had already reviewed so I decided to give this one a chance.  My research found that it was somewhat inspired by Disney’s Tron, but only mildly.  The studio changed the movie’s name from Ragewar: The Challenges Of Excalibrate to The Dungeonmaster in part because of the popularity of D&D at the time.  So obviously, I had to review it for RPG inspirations.

The movie stars Jeffrey Byron from Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn fame, as Paul, a computer geek with interesting and rather visionary talents.  The movie starts out in the 80s modern world where we see some of his computer skills and talents.  It is implied that he was “experimented on” by someone, giving him some very unique abilities to connect, diagnose and communicate with computers.  Before there was wireless, touch screens and Google Glass, this guy could use his glasses and watch to wirelessly connect to his home computer, diagnose computer problems, and change traffic signals at will.

We are then introduced to his girlfriend, a dancer named Gwen.  She and his AI personal computer Cal (short for X-CaliBR8) fight a battle for Paul’s attention.  One night while they slept, something weird happens that the movie does not clearly explain.  Paul and Gwen are somehow teleported to a Hellish realm by a mysterious devil-like figure named Mestema (played by the great Richard Moll).  Somehow, Cal the computer is connected to this but it’s not really explained how.  I am pretty sure the subtext is that computers are of the devil, though.  Having worked in computers for nearly 25 years, I can safely say that is not far from the truth.

Mestema (I really hate that name for a villain) sees Paul as a new challenge.  Although not clear in the movie, some of the text on the internet say that Mestema is a dark sorcerer bored with defeating all things magic and sees technology as the new threat.  There is a lot devil and Satan references and symbolism throughout.  Mestema plans to send Paul against seven challenges and if successful, he wins Gwen.  If he loses, Gwen remains with Mestema.  Reminiscent of Hercules and his twelve labors, Paul faces off against various beings and situations armed only with a portable version of his X-CaliBR8 mounted on a bracer.

This is where the movie really falls apart, however.  The story actually had so much potential.  It would not have blown the budget if they just had a little more imagination.  Instead, they settled on Paul’s laser-shooting wristband for most every solution.  Each challenge was a separate story that maybe lasted 10 minutes, and was written by a different person. Bold move in my opinion but in the end, the story fell short.

The segments were:

In Ice Gallery written by Rosemarie Turko, Paul and Gwen are placed separately in a frozen gallery of “criminals” or denizens of hell.  They include Bloody Mary, Jack the Ripper, the werewolf, the mummy, a unnamed Samurai, a Zombie, King Louis and of  course, the worse of the all – Albert Einstein???  I guess, in the 80s, he was deemed evil or hell-worthy because of his contribution to the bomb.  None of this really makes sense but you roll with it.  I got stuck on the movie-monsters in Hell, but whatever.  Something like the Nightmares of Hell would have made more sense.

Gwen begins to freeze up while Paul is trying to find her and a way out.  Mestema proceeds to turn the heat up and of course, all the figures begin to thaw out.  The two find each other and have to find a way out.  The end solution is surprisingly not technological, however, and very stupid in the end. This is one of many examples of a lost opportunity in writing and storytelling.  I thought the whole point was for technology to overcome magic but instead, it’s just some mysterious crystal being held by the un-thawed Einstein (why was he still frozen?).  Somehow, Cal knows that Paul needs to just throw this ice crystal, and everyone wins!  Yay!  It’s just stupid.

Why not use technology to defeat each creature in more ways than just Ask Cal?  I realize it was supposed to be short but the end solution made no sense.  I suppose because the crystal was in the hands of a man of science, that it is a metaphor for science defeating magic but I found that very weak.  It could have been a book or something closely related to knowledge and science.  Let the light of knowledge destroy all your nightmares. Or something like that.  If you needed to cut something out, take out the whole aspect of Gwen freezing (we already know it’s cold) and instead add her figuring some aspect out of the mystery.  Instead of making her yet another damsel in distress, make her a equal partner with Paul in figuring this challenge out.

Demons of the Dead, written by John Buechler, had Paul appear alone in another realm of Hell, ruled by a puppet-effect demon.  Paul faces off with a couple of zombies and then meets the puppet demon, Ratspit.  Paul must face his own death, according to the demon puppet.  How does that work out?  Paul staring down his own zombie-self and saying “Meh.”   Again, stupid and it has nothing to do with technology defeating Mestema or magic.

A redeeming moment in this scene is the line uttered by Paul  “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”  (partially borrowed from a Dr. Who episode) and I think this gets to the point of the encounter.  Paul is supposed to die at the hands of Mestema, resulting in zombie-Paul, but Paul realizes it is only a single possibility of many and rejects that reality altogether.  Although fairly imaginative and cerebral, the execution of this encounter is really poorly done.  Facing one’s own death needs to be more dramatic and meaningful. I think, once again, lack of budget killed the potential in this scene. And a realm of Hell should look more epic than something thrown together with hot-glue and discount Halloween decorations.

Of course, RPG scenes have need no budget and so this is how I would have done the scene.  Paul awakens from the teleportation effect on some kind of stone dais, the only light in a seemingly cavernous room shines on him like a spotlight.  The dais is just high enough that the a dozens of zombies surrounding him can not reach him.  This is the moment that he realizes that he could be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of zombies in a huge cavern.  Ratspit called himself the “caretaker of the dead” and controlled the “discarded husks that once contained the human souls.”  If so, then there would be millions in his realm.  However, cinematically, I would only show a few just his feet and imply there are thousands and maybe millions around him.

Somewhere above him, perhaps sitting on his thrown on some ledge in the cavern is Ratspit, who challenges him to face his own death.  At that moment, another dais raises out of the crowd of zombies.  Standing on it is his zombie-self.  It proceeds to walk over the crowd of zombies below him, using the heads as stepping stones.  During this time, perhaps Paul has flashes of future challenges and how he might die – death by the torture devices of the Heavy Metal band, death by the Slasher and death by the Stone Canyon Statue – all greweling and gory.  Meanwhile, Cal could be calculating the possibilities of each, somehow tapped into this vision. The zombie-Paul then reaches Paul’s dais and perhaps a combat ensues but Paul eventually rejects the death saying it is only one of many probabilities, sighting mathematically all other possibilities, tying it back to technology and science.

Heavy Metal written by Charles Band brought me back to my 80s metalhead days.  The great 80s hair-band WASP makes an appearance in this one.  Paul is sent to a modern heavy metal concert in some crowded dive. Gwen stands chained in some torture apparatus while WASP plays their song, The Tormentor.   The crowd is full of vicious big-haired fans trying to prevent him from getting on stage to save Gwen.   The lead singer Blackie Lawless, threatens Gwen with a machete.  After another awkward and poorly shot fight sequence between Paul and the band, Paul uses Cal to determine the solution was sound waves – blast the band and crowd with a massive burst of sound waves and they will be free.  Wow, Cal has better speakers than an iPhone!

Again, a missed opportunity.  They thought of hacking into traffic lights to allow Paul an uninterrupted jog as well as hacking into ATMs to get money (both in the beginning scenes of the movie) but they did not think of hacking into sound systems of a rock band.  Admittedly, they did not really identify the source of the sound; it just happens.  But I assumed it was from his Cal device and not the sound system.  Although this whole scene was a stupid excuse to get a WASP song in the movie, it had potential if they really wanted to explore it.  The producers truly failed on this one because the dive they found was so cramped and small.  I feel it would have been more successful on a big stage where Paul would have to climb up to save Gwen.  Budget problems, again!

Again, imagination has no budget.  I would have had this in an arena with various torture devices in the background on stage.  I would also tie this into Gwen interest in dancing and perhaps plug this early on.  I would have her as a dance girl in one of the devices, something she has been trying out for.  Due to plants earlier in the movie, Paul knows there will be an accident and realizes it will cause the death of Gwen.  He rushes to stop it but demon-things as well as stage security try to stop him while he climbs back stage and attempts to save his girlfriend.  He uses the sound system to stun the demon things and everyone else, so he can nab Gwen from the faulty torture device.

Stone Canyon Giant written by David Allen is my favorite of all of the challenges, primarily because it uses stop-motion and was probably the single most expensive challenge in the movie.  Paul is transported to another world and like in almost every case, he awaken in it groggie from partial unconsciousness.  While trying to awaken from whatever magic Mestema used to transport him, two grunting dwarves snatch up his wrist computer and run off.  Paul chases them down for a bit until he stumble across a temple with some kind of giant monkey god statue with a jewel in its forehead, sitting on a throne.  The dwarves apparently placed Cal on an altar in front of the statue.  He retrieves it only to awaken the giant statue that apparently shoots lasers from his jewel.  A short fighting chase ensues, where the dwarves annoy him while he tried to get a shot off at the statues, and it ends with Paul shooting the statue in the jewel.  Ouch!

While  simple, this told a lot of story and left you wanting more.  What were the dwarves?  Why did they feel the need to leave an offering? I enjoyed this challenge thoroughly and there is no wonder it was featured a lot in the trailer. I think the lost opportunity was with the dwarves.  Instead of making them just grunt, why not let them tell more story?  So much more potential here but finally a legitimate use of the Cal wrist computer.

Slasher written by Jeffrey Byron is a very tropy and predictable story but it still has its moments.  It seems out of place, however, after so many challenges based in fantasy worlds.  Paul again is transported to another world – this time the modern one where he is basically framed for a murder that is apparently part of a series by a serial killer.  As it turns out, somehow Cal figures out that Gwen is the likely next target and Paul has to save her.  Paul has to escape the police and hunt down the killer using Cal.  This would have been a much more meaningful challenge if (1) it was truly connected to the real world and (2) Gwen’s character wasn’t stupid in it.  Suddenly, Gwen has amnesia and is in the real world seeking a dancing gig.  Why?  See below for my comments on connecting it to the real world.

Cave Beast written by Peter Manoogian is perhaps one of the lamest of all the challenges but in part because I do not think some of the story came across well.  It is another lost opportunity.  Paul is teleported to a cave opening where he hears a female voice calling out.  He thinks it is a trap and resists going down into it, However the cries continue and he eventually gives in.  Somewhere hidden in the cave is some kind of demon-troll, throwing exploding crystals at him.  He uses Cal’s lasers to bring down the cave ceiling on the creature only to discover that it was an angel trapped inside the trolls body.  She implies that she somehow “transgressed and was banished to this cave” but nothing is explained.  She then vanishes, implying that she did not actually die.  This could have been expanded to something far greater.

We have already established that Mestema with demon and devil imagery.  Why not make this angel-person a trapped enemy of Mestema and with some act of compassion, Paul frees her from her cave prison.  And then, at a moment of dire need in the final battle, she appears to return the favor. Such a missed opportunity.

Desert Pursuit written by Ted Nicolaou rehashes Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn, by re-using the same vehicles in a similar post-apocalyptic setting.  Paul and Gwen find themselves in a aircraft graveyard, somehow implying a post apocalypse. They are attacked by desert figures in these aforementioned vehicles.  A chase ensues and the only value of this scene is Gwen finally shows she is more than a damsel in distress.  Otherwise, it is simply a sad excuse of a ending story and probably was not needed.  I guess they just needed a chase scene.

In between each segment is various encounters between Paul and Mestema, one of which involved them battling it out with virtually created dragons that really do not seem to do much.  This segment alone would be awesome if they had half the budget of today’s films of this nature.  In the end, it comes down to an awkward fist fight between Paul and Mestema where Paul ends up pushing him over a cliff into some lava that was only planted a few minutes earlier.

Also, throughout the movie, the Cal-bracer device has the ability to do all kind of things not possible in the 1980s but some are possible today, giving it a rather visionary subtext.  He uses it to track down Gwen in Slasher, for example, almost simulating GPS location.  At times, when convenient,. Cal also responds to voice commands, like Ceri.  He also accesses police files remotely.

He also uses it constantly as a weapon, shooting lasers at everything.  Most of his solutions involve shooting something out that wrist computer.  Unfortunately, the effect is shooting out perpendicular to his wrist rather than a much cooler effect of shooting parallel from his wrist.  I found that kind of stupid.  You tell me which one is cooler?

Or this?

Come on, there is no comparison.  Additionally, there are times that he uses voice commands, while at others, he has to tap the screen or press buttons to get the wrist weapon to operate, creating a frustrating delay factor.  There isn’t really any consistency with the weapon aspect of the wrist computer.   In the end, the wrist weapons was really the ultimate missed opportunity. Although they did use this idea at the end to save Paul from falling into the pit of lava with Mestema in materializing something for him to grab, it’s frustrating that they did not allow the wrist computer to materialize a technological based weapon or tool to help him in each challenge.

There were two challenges that take place in the real world.  This is another lost opportunity in story and in an RPG campaign, can make for a much more intense challenge.  If they had connected these two events to the real world in the beginning, perhaps planting news headlines or TV broadcasts of a “concert accident that kills a dancer girl” (see above) or a “serial killer on the loose,” then these challenges would have deeper meaning and more impact.  The bothered with a scene where Gwen is dancing with a bunch of nameless girls.  Why not connect one of them to the serial killer as a victim.  A boyfriend that comes and picks her up while Paul is there meeting Gwen (seen in a flashback).  Later, Paul sees her face as a victim in the newspaper and he begins to put together the pieces.  That’s a lot better than the way they handled it in the movie – “The paper you read is tomorrow’s headline…” and it’s Gwen’s face on the page.  That’s just stupid.

I realize that is a lot of detail for a bad movie, but there was a lot of story potential in it.

The 12 Labors: From an RPG point of view, a series of challenges is a common theme in any genre.  As mentioned, it goes as far back as Greek and Roman mythology.  Each challenge should have a solution, however, but the GM should not railroad them in that direction.  Leave clues for one way, but leave enough room for the players to come up with their own. Sometimes, the player can come up with better solution than you thought of.

B-Movie Inspirations: Without Warning (1980)

I saw this movie come across Facebook in the form of a throw-back movie poster and was intrigued.  Investigating it, I found that one website claims it was sited as the inspiration, in part, for Predator.  The trailer has some amazing actors – Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Larry Storch, and Kevin Peter Hall (the man behind the Predator mask himself).  I can see how it perhaps inspired the concepts.  However, the general execution of the movie is pretty bad, despite all the talent they brought in.  It was directed by Greydon Clark, mostly known for low-budget productions in the action/horror genres.

The movie generally centers around some small backwoods town that is secretly being terrorized by an alien entity that throws flying starfish-things to subdue its targets.  Many victims fall to this hunter, including a father-son team out on a hunting trip, a cub scout leader (played by Larry Storch) and a few teenagers out for a swim on the town’s lake.  Of course, the teenagers  get a warning from the old town crazy men (Jack Palance and Martin Landau) about going to the lake, but they don’t listen.

For the most part, we follow the cliche group of teenagers as they are picked off one by one by the alien flying starfish, but you never really see who is throwing them.  Landau plays Fred ‘Sarge’ Dobbs, a war veteran (one can only assume Vietnam but they never say) who suffers from a severe case of PTSD.  Unfortunately, Sarge is the only one that (at first) claims to have seen the alien and it’s jellyfish throwing stars.  And of course, no one believes him because he is the town crazy.  On the other hand, Palance plays Joe Taylor, the local gas station owner and hunting expert.  Taylor secretly knows about the alien and has been hunting it since it arrived.

It starts out like a classic 80s slasher film and turns into “the town fights back” in the end.  Sarge and Taylor play a big part in the final story at opposite sides. Sarge, going in and out of a PTSD rage, ends up accidentally shooting the town sheriff and thinking everyone is an alien, including the college kids.  Meanwhile, Taylor stalks around suspiciously and you are not sure his motivations.  At one point, he’s gallant by taking on Landau and disarming him, while at other times, he’s creepy and suspicious in ways that only Taylor could pull off.  In the end, he does reveal that he’s hunting the alien and felt that one town crazy was enough, so he kept it quiet.

The movie may center on the teenagers playing the cliche 80s victims (and that’s about it), but Taylor and Sarge steal the real show.  They are two sides of the same coin – one man driven crazy by his past who no one believes and the other a valiant secret hero.  Both want the alien dead for their own reasons.  Both know it is up to no good (although it is never really explained to the viewer). Landau and Palance are great in this movie.

Unfortunately, the alien not only killed just about everyone in the movie but the movie itself.  Its motivations are not quite clear.  Aside from some disjointed ranting by Sarge, you don’t really know what it is.  And once you see it, you just roll your eyes.  It is basically the same old tall gray alien you see, with a big gray head and gray skin.  It really looked like something out of Star Trek!

The flying jellyfish throwing stars got pretty old, pretty quick.  They could not come up with something else?  It seemed like a largely ineffective weapon.  It would land on a victim and extend tentacles out into the victim’s skin, and exude some kind of yellowish goo.  It never really tells you what it does to the victims but it shows a few of them kicked up in the shack later, some with eyeballs removed and others with big holes in their skulls.  You are never really told what the alien is doing to the victims other than killing them.  I guess we are just supposed to say “It’s alien, you won’t understand” or something.  Not even an anal probe?

From an RPG perspective, I drew a couple of things from this movie that I really liked.

Human Accomplice: For a while there, I thought they were going to go down a dark path and have one of the men (Sarge or Taylor) an accomplice with the alien.  Why?  Well, one would have to expand on the alien itself to have that happen but it can be easily worked out.  For instance, Sarge was driven so crazy by the alien that he saw him as his commanding officer, and being controlled telepathically (gray aliens always have telepathy, don’t they).

Alien Fugitive: Things would have to be reworked but I thought maybe the true killer was Sarge or Taylor and perhaps the alien was hunting the killer (for whatever reason).  One of the men could be an alien shapeshifter that is acting as a serial killer, using the stars to paralyze his prey to later take them to the shack (in the movie) and butcher them.  The alien is actually an enforcer hunting the shapeshifter down.

Showdown at the Bar: At one point, the teenagers end up at the town bar, with a number of the locals including Sarge and Taylor.  This could have turned into a cool siege storyline where the people seal themselves in the bar and fend off all the strange things the alien would throw at them.  Apparently, the alien was using some kind of organic tech (the throwing starfish) so a GM could up with other interesting organic tech things – hunting dogs, traps, and other interesting tidbits.

Just a Scout:  Stealing from Predator 2, the GM could make the single alien just a scout and that there are a number of them in some secret lair or hidden spaceship.

By far, the alien is the weakest point of this movie – a one-trick pony with very little background or motivation.  The GM would have to really flesh it out or use some other alien in its place.  I think it would be a challenge, though, to simply use what they give you and expand off it.