What inspires your gaming? Where do you find the emotions, mental imagery, and words to design your games and/or write your rpg adventures? This question came about as my wife and I were discussing April being National Poetry Month. This month I am focusing my weekly posts on creative works that have inspired my gaming over the years. Last week was Music, while this week we close out the month with Films.
Let’s start with this: I love cinema. I go to the movie theater regularly and own a large collection of movies that I rewatch often. The experience, the visuals, the emotions, the characters, and the story all capture my attention. From B-Movies to thought-provoking science fiction, from over-the-top action films to tear-jerking dramas, from fantastical to historical, I enjoy them all. So it is no surprise that films have had a huge impact on my gaming over the years. For this post, I am going to focus on specific films that have truly inspired and impacted how I view my gaming, especially roleplaying.
We will begin with one of my favorite genres of literature, films, and gaming…fantasy. Definitely this has inspired my gaming the most because fantasy gaming is my primary joy. So many great movies, low budget and high cinema, each adding their fantasy elements into my mind and my storytelling. But there have be four that have directly impacted my gaming and my view of certain fantasy tropes. Willow and Legend will forever be the genesis for how I play brownies and gnomes in my campaigns. From their mannerisms, to voices, to culture, those side characters in those movies had a lasting impression and set the tone for those races in my worlds. Conan the Barbarian, though admittedly not the greatest of movies, began my love of barbarian characters and lower magic sword and sorcery campaigns. Every so often I set aside our typical high fantasy campaigns to run a series of lower magic, barbarian adventures, all because of seeing Conan long ago and then reading other stories in the genre. I have saved my favorite fantasy movie for last, Ladyhawke. Everything about that movie has entered my fantasy storytelling and gaming. From the noble and chivalrous knight, to the corrupt leadership, to the mystical curse, to goodhearted rogues, to fallen priests and redeemed priests, to dark prisons, to amazing vistas, to animal companions, and to character-focused storytelling and more. I encourage anyone new to fantasy roleplaying or writing fantasy stories to watch Ladyhawke and be inspired. Two non-movies I want to mention as well had a huge impact on me. First up, I grew up watching Thundarr the Barbarian. Everything about that cartoon fascinated me as a kid. The mashup of fantasy, science fiction, and post-apocalyptic world really started me down that path of loving all three of those genres. Elements of Thundarr sneak into so many of my games from playing barbarians, to forgotten technology found in fantasy worlds, to a love of all post-apocalyptic stories, games, and movies. Another non-movie is the anime series Record of Lodoss War. Still my favorite anime of all time, the pure fantasy storyline that was heavily influenced by an RPG campaign is obvious when you watch it. To this day, I often play my dwarves and mages very much like Gim and Slayn because of the impact of their character development had on me.
Science fiction has been more of a board game area for me, less roleplaying. I occasionally run or plan in a science fiction RPG, but not as often as I do fantasy games. That said, there are some science fiction movies that have really inspired my passion for science fiction. The three movies that really have inspired the most of my science fiction gaming have been Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Alien. Star Wars is obvious, as it has inspired my playing of the various Star Wars rpgs and board games over the years. Blade Runner has had so much inspiration and impact on my life, not just gaming. The imagery, the music, the world building, the story…I could go on and on. From the perspective of this, Blade Runner set the standard for how I run cyberpunk rpgs and my passion for cyberpunk-inspired board games. Alien (and its follow up Aliens) really inspired my passion for Space Marines and those dark, gritty science fiction stories and games. Two other movies have have very unique and special inspirations. Many people have never seen Outland, but its view of a gritty space station really has inspired how I run more hard science fiction games and has made appearances in my cyberpunk games that have space travel elements as well. As I have stated here and in other posts, I love post-apocalyptic stories and imagery, thus Mad Max: Road Warrior (and the modern Mad Max: Fury Road) deeply inspired my passion for post-apoc gaming and stories. I have so many board games and RPGs set in that genre. Some non-movie inspiration as well are three TV series that still inspire my gaming today which include Buck Rogers, Firefly, and Farscape. Each of those series really set tones for various science fiction games I have run over the years.
Superhero movies are difficult for me. The modern day Marvel movies and some of the DC movies definitely have some inspiration, but back in the 80s and 90s when I was heavily into superhero gaming, those movies did not exist. Thus, the movie that inspired my superhero gaming the most was the original Superman. The soundtrack, the visuals, and the story nearly overwhelmed this young fan of comic books. I had grown up watching Super Friends and reading comics but never could visualize a superhero in the real world. Then along came Superman which changed everything. I really believe a man could fly, stop bullets, and lift vehicles with ease. That movie alone was my inspiration for the longest time. It wasn’t until the X-Men cartoon came out that I really had anything else beyond comic books that inspired my superhero gaming. Today, there is so much visual inspiration that modern superhero gamers have lots of references.
Next up, I just want to mention some of my favorite action films that have inspired my gaming and storytelling over the years. Each of these movies brings its own unique elements to my gaming, many of which have directly inspired particular adventures and even campaigns. I find inspiration from the over-the-top action of movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Adventures of Baron Munchausen, to the pulp adventures of Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Flash Gordon, to the great martial combat in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to the more modern and future action of Escape from New York and True Lies. The TV show I want to mention here is A-Team. The group dynamics, comedy, and non-deadly combat of that show has inspired so many crazy nights of adventure in many games.
I have one more movie that I want to mention which is very specific in its inspiration. When I was interested in running Legend of the Five Rings I was seeking inspiration, and a friend recommended the Seven Samurai movie. I didn’t know what to expect when I sat down with that black and white movie, but the impact has been lifelong. Not only was I moved by the film itself, but it really inspired my L5R campaign and changed the way I look at storytelling adventuring parties and giving each character time to shine.
What films come to mind when you think about your gaming hobby? Have certain movies or tv shows had a significant influence on your games?