Sometimes when we are driving, showering or quietly meditating on a mountain top we are struck with a magical beam of original and inspiring ideas for our next session. For the other vast majority of the time, I find inspiration in books, comics, television, video games and movies. This week on the Campaign Trail I look at 3 movie plots to
borrow steal for your next adventure. Whether your run your adventure as an obvious homage or you hide your inspiration well, these movies from a variety of genres should fit your fantasy tabletop RPG game well.
1) Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
also see Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Star Wars is set in space, but it draws on mythic fantasy and follows the hero’s journey. This is a universal concept that will work well in any fantasy game. Star Wars, like many fantasy stories also has a small adventuring party doing all of the important stuff, with many of the typical adventuring roles being well represented with a wizard, paladin, rogue, a 7 foot tall barbarian and whatever the droids are. If you look at The Force Awakens, they play around with the roles a bit, but you really end up with a similar group.
Star Wars plays out with the adventurers quickly getting involved in galactic level events as they rescue a princess, deliver plans showing a weakness in the fortress and participate in a climactic final assault. This is a plot that works well if you want to run a lower level adventure for players looking to battle a tyrannical overlord who is building a powerful artifact to expand and solidify his domain over a group of good people. You can even reveal that the overlord (Vader) was reporting to an even bigger evil guy (Emperor) in a far off land.
A good match for running a Star Wars like adventure is the hard to find/pricey 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Kit adventure Heroes of the Harkenwold set in the Nentir Vale. In this adventure, the heroes battle the tyrannical Iron Circle as rebels, with a climactic final showdown set in a large keep they need to inflitrate. It has a real Robin Hood/Star Wars feel and is worth checking out.
Don’t feel to bad about borrowing from Star Wars, it borrows heavily from many movies too.
2) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I love this movie! These “superheros” actually work well as Dungeon & Dragons adventurers, and I even created D&D characters for all of them. The upcoming D&D movie set in the Forgotten Realms, has been promoted as having a Guardians of the Galaxy feel. The basic premise of GotG involves a space pirate forming an uneasy alliance with a group of alien misfits who are on the run after stealing a powerful artifact.
It also plays out like a D&D table with players who created their PCs without the benefit of a session zero, resulting in a party with a dancing Bard pirate, awakened animal genius, min-maxed treant, a gimmick fighter/barbarian focused on personal revenge subplot, and an assassin with a backstory that fits the world and is well thought out. It even has a railroaded plot that the players take on as their own by the end after playing selfishly for the first half of the adventure. Look hard at this movie for ideas if you want an adventure where your heroes escape from prison, travel to a variety of locations, and learn to work together to stop the bad guy in the end. They even have a really cool ship that avoids having an entire crew in the way, just like Star Wars.
If you like the idea of running an adventure similar to this movie, look to Out of the Abyss for ideas, it starts with a prison break and hops around the Underdark (including some ship travel on an underground lake) on the way to stopping some serious trouble at the end.
3) The Magnificent Seven (1960/2016)
also see Seven Samurai (1956) and A Bugs Life (1998)
This movie’s premise involves Mexican peasants being threatened by banditos who seek the aid of seven gunfighters to help them defend their village. This movie is a remake of the Seven Samurai, which had a near identical premise. This premise can work really well as an adventure. If you haven’t adapted The Magnificent Seven/The Seven Samurai into an adventure, you should really consider it.
To run an adventure inspired by this movie premise, you should have the peasants go out and try to recruit the PCs. The PCs should arrive well ahead of the return of the bandits, so they have time to plan and interact with the villagers. If they go along with the hook, they’ll get a chance to set up defenses and teach peasants how to kill bad guy. The adventure finishes up with a huge climactic battle to save the village.
As an alternative, you could swap them out the bandits for monsters that come each year for some kind of tribute (see A Bug’s Life). You might even want to try jumping out of fantasy to try a Weird West or Samurai campaign. In my Adventure Time campaign, I had the spaghetti supply disappear and the players went to check out the desert village source of the food. They arrived and found the spaghetti farmers (yep) were having to give the noodles to a gang of bandits. And yes, I called the adventure “Spaghetti Western”.
You might find your players are restless, don’t think much of the peasants as warriors and want to take the fight to the bandits. In a game that I was a player in, we had a month to set-up, but we decided to set up an ambush far outside of town, down the road. We still had a chance to interact with the village and did what we could to strengthen it. If you want to try to prevent the players rushing off to fight the bandits head-on:
- remind the players about the massive number of bandits
- emphasize the unique features that make the village a good place to make a stand
If your players set-up defenses and train the villagers to fight… you’ll need to eventually run a massive fight with up to 40 enemies on each side.
- You can set-up a massive battle with terrain and lots of tokens, maybe even trying out the playtest mass combat system
- You can go more narrative and focus on the actions of the heroes defending key points and facing off against the biggest threats that emerge
The movie also spends a bunch of time establishing the team, which is harder to do in an adventure. What has worked for me is to start the adventure/campaign by having each player introduce their PC with a vignette (a short portrait scene of the character), establishing where they are and what they are doing. The vignette might end with the team leader entering the scene to recruit them (this works well for heists too).
This is just a start, there are tons of movies out there, so get watching those movies and dazzle your players next game night. I hope this list helped you get a few ideas for your next adventure. I might look at more ideas from books, comics, television or video games in the future.
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