Edge of Inspiration: the War Rig

Having just seen Mad Max: Fury Road, I’m thinking – once again – about post-apocalyptic settings and scenarios. Fury Road has a lot in common with Max Max: the Road Warrior, and to a lesser extent with Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It’s that non-stop chase that fuels so much of the excitement in the movie.

At its heart, the war rig on which the characters fight is just a setting piece. In a movie, the setting only creates hazards or benefits when narratively convenient or to help move the plot forward. In a game, this may work the same, or the setting may create benefits or drawbacks that apply to all or most of the characters’ actions.

In the Mad Max movies, fighting on a moving vehicle – be it a train or a war rig – leads to plenty of complications. The vehicles in the movies are unstable platform when narratively useful, but in an RPG that is kind of a binary rather than a convenient plot device. In something like D&D, there are penalties for unstable platforms. It might be interesting to actually provide a bonus for those characters who have specific skills or other mechanical indicators that they are trained or better prepared for the difficulties than your average thug. Maybe allow Acrobatics to remove penalties equal to the character’s proficiency bonus. I’d probably due the same for a character with a sailing backstory (like the deck of a ship in choppy waters) or similar.

But that’s me.

For a game like Centurion or Nefertiti Overdrive, in which you can place Conditions on opponents, something like unbalanced, poor footing, or even falling down would work well with the setting. Otherwise, for a very abstract system like Nefertiti Overdrive, I wouldn’t be applying any penalties, but I would really try to have the players use this feature in their descriptions, and I would be using it when character’s fail as a nice excuse. In this sense, it works much the same as it does in the movie – it doesn’t really hinder the characters unless it is dramatic for it to do so.

In the end, I like situations like fighting on the back of a speeding train to add ambiance to an encounter rather than use it to penalize my players. I think this kind of setting detail can really help differentiate encounters and will let players exercise their imagination trying to weave it into the action.

You can learn more about Mad Max: Fury Road at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find out more about SEP’s games here.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.

Edge of Inspiration: the Black Fortress

Krull offered a lot more inspiration than just the Glaive – though that was mighty cool. The thing is, much of the objects of inspiration in Krull were themselves inspired by myth or other fantasy properties. Now the Beast’s teleporting castle probably was borrowed from some other source, but for me it belongs to Krull.

For those not in the know, the villain of Krull was called “the Beast” and he was kind of like Sauron (of the books) in that he was impressive yet absent. His Black Fortress would teleport to a different location each sunrise. From his Black Fortress he would send out his Black Riders . . . er Slayers to conquer the people of Krull (though that’s a good name for a barbarian, it’s the name of the planet).

Having a teleporting bad guy hideout helps with a few things. It makes the baddie extra mysterious and dangerous, considering he can appear anywhere and therefore nowhere is safe. Even if the PCs can gather an army big enough, there is no geographic focal point to attack. And if they do get in, where will they be when they get out.

But my favourite part about borrowing the idea of the Black Fortress are the quests on which the PCs can embark upon just to find the place. That’s most of the movie in Krull. And given that the Beast is an alien force, and his Slayers combine good old-fashioned fantasy terror knight with lasers, the quests might lead to more than just the next continent. This might be a good way to introduce magical interplanetary travel, or even inter-dimensional travel. If you are doing D&D, that could mean Spelljammer or Planescape.

Finally, when the PCs are triumphant, the Black Fortress might become the White Fortress, and become a teleporting base of operations that could take the PCs to distant realms or distant planets where they might find lands governed by completely different gods or magical systems.

Kind of better than capturing Barad-dur or Mount Doom.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.

You can read more about Krull on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read more about Spelljammer and Planescape at Wikipedia.

Edge of Inspiration: That Cutting Edge

Edge of Tomorrow provided a lot of inspiration, but I think we’ve done enough of that. I was thinking about talking about the movie Krull, because I think there’s a lot of inspiration there also. One piece of inspiration is that very special weapon – the Glaive. And then I thought: “wait, a weapon? Edge? Tee hee.”

So welcome to another Edge of Inspiration, but this time talking about the cutting edge – weapons. These are all weapons that provided a lot of inspiration to my gaming, most of which came very early in my gaming career.

Let’s start with the Glaive from Krull. This thing was cool because it was part ninja throwing star, part switchblade, and part guided missile. What’s not to love about that? I saw Krull before I started playing AD&D, but once I got the Player’s Handbook, I saw that the Glaive wasn’t a glaive, which is weird. Still, I of course had a character with exactly that weapon. When we went through the ICE Middle Earth sourcebook, the Court of Ardor, an enchanted axe became a very similar weapon for one of my character’s, lacking only the switchblade effect of the retracting blades.

And then there’s the Mindsword from Hawk the Slayer. That weapon had a very cool design, and among my group of gamers, became the standard image of a bastard sword – oh AD&D and your misappropriated naming conventions. There really wasn’t much to this sword except that it looked very light and had some kind of psychokinetic power. That was enough – given that Hawk the Slayer was my go-to RPG movie until the 13th Warrior came along – for the Mindsword to inspire many an imitation.

While it’s actually a rip-off a lightsabre, Thundarr the Barbarian’s Sunsword fit much better into D&D. We didn’t really know too much about lightsabre’s at the time, so the Sunsword’s wealth of abilities – cutting through anything, deflecting anything, having some kind of anti-magic effect – made it a much preferable weapon. And when one was to enter someplace without weapons, well, that’s just a decorative icon that looks like a hilt.

Finally, of course, there’s the Ranger’s bow from the D&D cartoon. All of the character’s had something magical, and while the Thief’s cloak of invisibility was cool – and may have actually been a cloak of immaterialness, if such a thing exists – it was that rockin’ fire-arrow launching bow that I ripped off. Again, like the Sunsword, such a magical bow could have a host of abilities, not just flaming arrows of flame.

These days, my RPG imagination is fired mostly by modern weapons, as my playing is mostly High Plains Samurai. Originally, my character – Mauser – had two Mauser C96s (Broomhandles) that were based on the .45 M1911A1s used by Orson Randall in the Immortal Iron Fist. Mauser channeled his Chi through them and he did so in very imaginative ways. The game has had a couple of re-skins, and now Mauser is a totally non-powered bounty hunter, who nonetheless has a special weapon – a Mare’s Leg, copied from the one carried by Steve McQueen’s character in Wanted: Dead or Alive. He’s also got a longarm – naturally a full length Winchester 1892.

I’ll bet you’ve each got a media property weapon that you’ve had your character use in some RPG or another. It’s one of the joys of games of the imagination.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.

You can read more about Krull on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read more about the Court of Ardor here.

You can read more about Hawk the Slayer on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can find one adaptation of the Mindsword here.

You can read more about Thundarr the Barbarian on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read more about the D&D cartoon on Wikipedia or IMDB.

You can read more about High Plains Samurai here.

You can read more about Orson Randall here.

You can read more about the awesome the Immoral Iron Fist here.

You can read more about the Mare’s Leg on Wikipedia.

You can read more about Wanted: Dead or Alive on Wikipedia or IMDB.

Edge of Inspiration: Armoured Up

There’s a lot of really cool stuff happening in Edge of Tomorrow, but the thing that caught my eye first was the power armour. It seemed very low-tech, like some of the rigs that have been proposed and even tested. Given that my game Starship Commandos also uses power armour, I think it’s evident I dig the idea.

But how do you use power armour in your game. What does it do?

It really depends on the system you are using. It might not even be noticeable, just another power/talent/feat that gives some advantages but doesn’t super-power the PC. In other games, it might amp up the character so much, she is far more powerful than characters without it.

For Starship Commandos it provided a series of benefits, and if one of these benefits applied to the situation at hand, the character gained a bonus die (best two dice added together against a target number). Without power armour, the characters weren’t defenceless, but they came to rely on their “harnesses” a lot, so when they lost access to those benefits – say, when someone triggered an EMP – they felt exceptionally vulnerable.

MJOLNIR Powered Assault Armor from Halo Nation

For a game like D&D, powered armour could basically be highly enchanted magical armour – giving AC bonuses as well as stat bonuses and perhaps some other benefits. In Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, power armour – like Iron Man’s – is simply the narrative framework for powers and does not necessarily make the character better or worse than any other character.

And, honestly, it’s not the mechanical benefits of power armour that intrigues me – it’s the aesthetics of it. Power armour just looks cool, whether it’s the armour from Edge of Tomorrow or something more like the suits in Halo.

You can read more about Edge of Tomorrow at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.

You can find out more about Marvel Heroic Roleplaying here.

You can find out more about Starship Commandos here.

Edge of Inspiration: Purposeful

Once again, let’s look at Edge of Tomorrow as inspiration for your game. I’m having a lot of fun doing this, so I think I might continue on with other movies. Suggestions are always welcome.

Okay, so you have time travel in your game similar to the involuntary time travel from Edge of Tomorrow – why is that? I’m not asking why it exists in the game world, I’m asking what purpose does it serve in your game. There were likely many design reasons for time travel in the movie, but the narrative purpose was to allow Cage to go from a coward to a hero through intense training over a long period of time. It was a training montage, but actually lasting one day . . . one day that occurred over and over again.

You can use this conceit as well. As discussed in earlier articles, this might be to train up characters or to change their intent or outlook. They might live the same event over and over again, unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to reach the preferred outcome, until they find a solution with which they are happy. This might be teaching them skills, or forcing them to examine their own motivations – which also happened in the movie. Cage didn’t just learn to become a warrior, he accepted self-sacrifice as necessary. He became willing to give it all to save the human race, something he had not accepted at the outset of the movie, in contrast to even the worst of the soldiers which appeared as supporting characters.

How else might you use involuntary time travel in a game? This might not be Groundhog Day, rather you might have the involuntary time travel move the character’s back or forward a set amount of time each time a character dies. It could be moving them back to the ultimate cause of the event that set the time travel in motion – maybe they all died during an epic confrontation with the being or power that initiated the jumps.

The time travel could also send them forward, jumping past events or situations on a road to a final confrontation. They might already be ready for the confrontation skill- and attitude-wise, but must leap over otherwise insurmountable barriers. Imagine your group faces a Balrog with no Gandalf in sight.

“Who’s turn is it?” asks Aragorn.

“Mine, I guess,” says Merry, reluctantly.

And Boromir cleaves off Merry’s head. BOOM. It’s a day later and they are in Lorien. Or, the fight the Balrog and someone dies. BOOM. Lorien.

In this case, it might almost be better as a total party kill triggers the jump. You might even go kind of videogame on this – if a character dies, there will be a jump, but the remaining characters need to complete the scene to trigger the jump. In the fight with the Balrog, even after Merry goes down in the fight, the fight continues until either everyone is dead OR the Balrog is overcome and this triggers the jump with dead characters brought back to life.

A kind of off-the-wall version of this would be fighting some kind of chronologically powered enemy and characters encounter periods of nul-time – time does not pass. The PCs, outside of time, are unaffected, but they cannot make progress – they are traversing time rather than geography to reach the opponent – and they must restart the movement of time by sacrificing one of their own. An interesting twist on this is having that PC permanently gone. A new PC needs to be created. You would need a lot of buy-in for that, and I think it works as a one-shot but nothing more.

I think time travel works best as it is used in the movie – as a method to allow characters to advance or otherwise learn and grow while experimenting with solutions to an apparently insolvable problem. This is much more a one-shot or single adventure rather than a campaign. I think this could wear thin relatively quickly.

You can read more about Edge of Tomorrow at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read my review of Edge of Tomorrow here.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.


Edge of Inspiration: On Time

Last time, I looked at the character arc of Edge of Tomorrow and it could apply to your game. What about the rest of it? What about the time travel?

Just to mention: I’m writing a few articles on Edge of Tomorrow not because I think it is a superlative movie (I think it’s a good sci-fi actioner, but it’s not ground-breaking or extraordinary). I’m writing about inspiration and Edge of Tomorrow because it is a movie I’ve seen recently. I can take a fair amount of inspiration out of almost any movie, novel, or comic, and this is just today’s example.

The time travel in Edge of Tomorrow is interesting because it isn’t voluntary. Much like Groundhog Day (the most common comparison), at a certain point time resets back to another point. In Edge of Tomorrow, it’s the main character’s death.

This is difficult to port into an RPG unless it is one-on-one gaming, or you are using a system with multiple inputs for the same character. My experience and knowledge is with games which have multiple players playing multiple protagonists, and this presents one specific problem for this scenario – is it the death of one, some, or all of the PCs that trigger the reset?

Looking at this, I would decide first whether this is one character’s arc with the others supporting that arc or is this a story arc, one that encompasses the whole group?

Having a single character as the lead with others providing support does not need to relegate the other PCs to secondary status in an RPG. It generally does in a movie, but we aren’t shooting a movie. While the other PCs might not be changing, they can be more active than the PC who is. The main character might be indecisive, hesitant, ignorant, or have any number of personality traits that could make the other PCs indispensable and more active. Each character could have a role to play, a task they must complete within their niche that helps the main character advance or change. These tasks could each require the assistance of the other PCs to move forward. Everyone can be involved even though they are moving through a single character’s arc.

If it is a single character that is important, it is that character’s death which triggers the reset. This creates an interesting conundrum – do all the PCs retain knowledge of what occurred before the reset or are they like Vrataski, who doesn’t retain memories but is aware of the system and so ready to immediately side with the main character following the reset. Either can honestly work and be fun.

If it is a group story, I would argue it is best that the death of any of the PCs triggers the reset. This means the player with the dead PC is re-engaged immediately and it doesn’t split up the group. This also follows the logic of the movie: the Omega alien is said to trigger a reset whenever any of multiple Alpha aliens are killed, and this would map to how it could be done in a group dynamic.

I think the conundrum of death triggering the reset is one of the easier problems to address in adapting concepts from Edge of Tomorrow to an RPG. A tougher one, for me, is why does a death trigger the reset. What is the purpose of time travel in the game? Let’s talk about that next.

You can read more about Edge of Tomorrow at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read my review of Edge of Tomorrow here.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.

Edge of Inspiration: Zero To Hero

Edge of Tomorrow not only has a great soundtrack, but elsewhere I reviewed the movie and gave it a pretty good rating. What more is there to say about it? What else, but how it can inspire your role-playing games.

There are a bunch of elements to Edge of Tomorrow and not all of them are going to work in your game. The first problems is taking the main character and changing him into a group of characters. Changing a main character into a group of characters isn’t difficult if the character has multiple facets – I like to use James Bond as an example. For Bond, he’s an expert, a talker, a tech, a gunner, and a fighter all rolled into one.* If you divide him up into his components, you have a good PC group with five different niches.

The character of “Cage” in Edge of Tomorrow really only has the talker part of that. He grows into a gunner and a fighter, but that is the point of the movie – his character arc to becoming a warrior in order to save the world. There is no point in dividing Cage up into multiple characters except you get multiple characters who are emphatically not soldiers.

And that can work. It’s a tough sell unless you do “fate” and “destiny” in your game – as these four or five characters, all of whom are not warriors, are destined to become warriors or otherwise save the world.

If that is all you are taking out of the movie, I think that works. Each of those characters can have a different skill which contributes to the group’s success. Cage’s growth isn’t just in skill – he learns to be selfless. This could be the crux of the change for the PCs. Instead of the talker becoming a warrior, the talker comes to believe in the cause, to be willing to place the community/nation/people/world before his or her own interests and then uses talk to move the plan closer to success. The group does not need to learn skills to succeed, they need to gain the will or interest to apply themselves to the mission.

The other characters can each have their own hurdles to overcome. If you are using more than just that character arc, the time travel aspect (the Groundhog Day part) could be how they learn, just as it is for Cage. It might not be the constant repetition of activities that teaches them, as it was for Cage, but seeing the results if they don’t band together, seeing what happens if they don’t embrace the cause. They might even be right to be cynical or otherwise justified in their previous disinterest, but the destruction of the status quo carries with it other consequences for the innocent the PCs aren’t willing to accept.

This is just one aspect of the movie that can help inspire your games, and there are others.

But that’s another story . . . or article.

* I’m using expert as a term for social sciences and current affairs knowledge as opposed to the tech, who deals with technology, while gunner is a warrior with weapons and fighter is a hand-to-hand combatant.

You can read more about Edge of Tomorrow at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can read my review of Edge of Tomorrow here.

You find more Edge of Inspiration articles here.