Top Movies For Game Masters
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #386
Here is the first draft of the Top Game Master Movies List, based on reader submissions and my own picks. Movies are not listed in any particular order. A quick check on IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes will get you ratings and movie information.
Thanks to the following for contributing their movie recommendations and comments:
Thorsten Hunsicker, John Gallagher, Dave Schaefer, Jamie Rivers, Norman J. Harman Jr., Lluis Fe, Michael Lee, Kate Manchester, Darryl Hodgson, Monstah
Additional submissions are always welcome, as well as extra reasons you might have to watch certain movies, from a GM’s perspective – having notes on what to look out for makes this movies list more valuable to GMs.
Top Game Master Movies List
With Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones, this is a great movie if you want inspiration for high-level druids and rangers, sneaky traps, and other cool outdoor fight scenes.
Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Katherine Hepburn, and a few others. This movie is indispensable if you are running a political intrigue game. There is more skullduggery, devious manoeuvring, and back stabbing than even Machiavelli could ask for. It’s also one of the finest movies ever made.
A movie that shows the power of the church in every day life. It is about how Saint Thomas More refused to proclaim that King Henry VIII had the right to divorce his wife. Henry, who had recently been named Defender of the Faith by the pope, had been refused a divorce by the Vatican. Henry then demanded every one of his nobles proclaim he had the right to defy Rome and divorce his wife. Sir Thomas stuck to his religious guns and refused, and was executed for his troubles. He was subsequently canonized by the pope.
Another movie that shows the power of the church in everyday life. This is the story of Thomas Beckett, a rambunctious scallywag and drinking buddy of his king. But when the king posted his friend to the position of the head of the Church of England, thinking Beckett would be a certain political ally, Beckett suddenly discovered his faith, and defied his king’s non-religious ambitions repeatedly.
The version with Gene Kelly as D’artagnan. Yes, Gene Kelly the dancer. Aside from being the only version I’ve seen that really shows what a scoundrel D’artagnan was, it has some amazing choreography of the fight scenes, largely because of Kelly’s abilities as a dancer.
The scene near the beginning of the movie where the cardinal’s guards interrupt D’artagnan’s duel with Athos, Porthos and Aramis is what all swashbuckling fights should be. Kelly skips around his opponent, climbs atop a monument to hide, and then reaches down to swat the guard on the butt (a classic use of Tagging, for all you 7th Sea players), and leaps back and forth across a little pond to lead his opponent on a merry chase during the duel. And he does it all with a smile on his face that makes him look like a kid having the time of his life at the circus. Absolutely classic.
I just saw it and I think it’s a great add for DMs. It’s good for character generation, combat description, and encounter ideas. Plus the 3-D is worth checking out.
A comedy RPG that takes a fun stab at RPGs.
Provides plots, characters, flavor, and general feel for what fantasy adventure is all about.[Comment from Johnn: this entry will be a bit controversial, I suspect. Best read a range of user reviews before spending your money, to properly set your expectation levels. 🙂 ]
Required watching. It has the best player character death mechanic evar! “He’s only mostly dead, quite different than all dead.” 🙂
Based Warsaw 1944, it is not really a WWII movie. For the purposes of fantasy DMs, it’s about getting lost, going crazy, dying in sewers/dungeons. If dungeon/sewers aren’t where your players spend ½ their time and you want to make the one time they enter one memorable, this movie will help.
Shichinin no samurai (aka the magnificent seven)
Yojimbo (aka A Fistful of Dollars)
By Akira Kurosawa
These are great stories, as proven by the many remakes and transliterations, especially into spaghetti westerns. What I’ve learned most from Kurosawa is personality, emotion. Any of his characters make excellent NPCs. He shows how to convey their personality through action, dress, mannerisms, facial expressions, and camera angle.
When I do NPCs now, I try to think back to these movies and use facial expressions, large arm/hand movements, stand up straight, slouch, stare players in the eye, ignore players, cast eyes down despondently, etc.
Rashomon is great for learning that, even if you described something one way (i.e. as the characters saw it), it is not necessary to forever be held to that if plot/fun requires changes. Use sparingly though, and only if neutral/positive for characters.
Many movies are based on this character. Zatoichi is a great source for plots, unique combat terrains/situations, and to lesser extent, NPCs.
Series of movies featuring Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung, famous Chinese hero. These probably aren’t so useful for traditional fantasy, but great for Asian fantasy, though. These are good action movies that everyone who doesn’t hate Hong Kong martial arts action movies should see.
Black and white, by F.W. Murnau. The amazing special effects (for a silent era film) inspired me to make props and use whatever I have around the house to enhance my game. Things don’t have to be perfect, they just have to evoke an emotion – fear, amazement, greed, compassion.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Castle assaults, how dirty/brutal life was in medieval times. From IMDB: “A band of medieval mercenaries take revenge on a noble lord, who decides not to pay them, by kidnapping the betrothed of the noble’s son.”
The way the plot develops is very much like an RPG. It offers several lessons.
- Start with backstory (bad guy killed my family/village). Conan doesn’t know who it was but has a clue (serpent and sun/moon emblem).
- Don’t reveal the bad guy up front. Leave some mystery.
- Have hooks to bring characters into the adventure.
- Story driven character generation. “I’m strong as hell because I spent 10 years on the Wheel of Pain. The years spent in the fighting pit make me a warrior. Being a barbarian ex- slave makes me poor and ignorant.”
- Get the party together. Conan encounters a witch who has a future party member as prisoner. Then he runs into another party member during his first adventure.
- Having a patron NPC push the plot along. King Osric offers treasures beyond imagination to bring back his daughter.
- Advance the plot even when characters fail. i.e. Conan’s capture and crucifixion on the Tree of Woe.
- Use exciting terrains for combats. i.e. The Orgy Room (humongous vat of green, part-human stew to dump down stairs on a bunch of mooks, how awesome is that?) and Battle on the Mounds.
- Climax that affects the world – the party’s actions matter.
- Finally, music, and how much it enhances and dictates mood. Basil Poledouris was a master we can learn a lot from.
(If you want examples of the best action and combat descriptions, read Robert E. Howard, author of Conan stories among many others.)
The premise is ancient races spread civilization/magic, false gods enslave man, one group of men rebel and now fight against the false gods for the freedom of all men. That is an awesome campaign right there. You could keep the multiple planet thing, or use multiple planes, or replace “planet” with “nation” and stay on one world.
Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s quote: “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To add SG-1’s concept to your preferred genre, just use the ideas of portals, portals require addresses (keys), and that through portals are exciting adventures and technology (magic). If your players can resist that, they are comatose. This would also be great for a campaign of loosely connected one-shot sessions.
Many of the cultures SG-1 encounters are perfect for fantasy. Egyptian, Cretian, Greek, Scandinavian, European Medieval. I’ve used sets and costumes from the show to enhance/improve my descriptions. The Ori are awesome medieval culture/villains. I’ve used a couple puzzles (obscured slightly so players would not recognize) featured on shows.
Many of the show plots are excellent fodder for adventures. Watching entire seasons show how to weave sub-plots/side- plots into larger campaign plots, and how to have an “on the edge of your seat” cliff hanger.
Stargate is a good demonstration of the military campaign. Characters belong to, are beholden to, or are commanded by some organization. But, they have a lot of freedom to act how they please as long as they get the missions and objectives completed.
SG-l also shows you how to handle things when characters get out of line. Star Trek Deep Space Nine is another good source of this.
Zombie movies, any
What to learn here is that fear, hopelessness, and impending doom are great fun. Throw out the idea of level appropriate encounters – boring.
Instead, tell players they may encounter things they cannot defeat (this is important for game systems like D&D where players expect to be able to defeat everything they encounter). Then, occasionally slam them with overpowered foes.
Be sure there are ways out of encounter. Don’t set out to kill them, but don’t prevent their deaths either. Truly leave character fates in the players’ hands. The feel you’re after is that mere survival is victory.
More in line with zombie movies, have them face easy foes they defeat without problem. But make sure there are _a lot_ of these foes, an endless amount that never stops coming. Forcing high level characters to retreat from “wimpy” monsters, such as orcs, is a change of pace and challenges players in a different way than tougher and tougher monsters do.
Once or twice, when players are happy with themselves for defeating a big bad and are healing and searching for loot, have the “dead” big bad arise and get a surprise round on the party. Then start combat anew. The big bad keeps rising from apparent death until the party figures out the key to its true destruction.
Have an enemy that can’t be defeated by normal combat. Get your players thinking beyond their swords and fireballs.
Costume, sets and dialog. Description!
Be fantastical and occasionally over-the-top (regardless of genre – extremes and archetypes are memorable). Colors, textures. Think about the mood you wish to convey.
Be thematic. Guys from forestland dress like Erol Flynn in all greens. Hawkmen use feathers and furs. Good guys wear orange casual cloths. Bad guys, expensive designer suits. If it wears a uniform it is a mook.
Themes help players build up “knowledge” of your world. Your descriptions will build on each other, so eventually just a few words will bring forth vivid and detailed images in players’ minds. This also lets you drop cool clues, such as a bit of torn green cloth that will immediately inform the players forest dudes were here.
Plots. Especially plots with moral consequences/decisions.
One anti-lesson: Star Trek NextGen. Dues ex machina – don’t use it.
It is said that a western is just a set in which to tell any kind of story, and this is the case with this movie. I’d suggest the good and the ugly be played by PCs, and the bad and his band by NPCs.
The story is about a treasure and its three parts, with characters knowing just half (or thinking they know half) of the information to reach it. Talking, persuasion, and intimidation skills are used more than fighting.
There is a war, a bridge to be destroyed, a huge cemetery, information to be collected everywhere, and a monastery to be visited. At one point, characters use disguise to enroll in the army.
This is not only a movie to create an adventure, it is meant to be a whole campaign.
Must-watches for any viking campaign. Gritty combat with pseudo-fantasy elements. Also good for a primeval, low-magic campaign. If you liked Braveheart, Apocalypto, etc., then you will like these.
A good example of world building. The setting is lush and a good representation of a dark future.
Plots and battle ideas. You are soldiers to a foreign king and must do his bidding to earn your freedom. Your small group is sent on a rescue mission to an ungrateful and uncooperative man, and must outwit an overwhelming force to gain his safety. A great battle against the large force is waged on an ice covered lake, which is used creatively to win the battle. The soundtrack makes for great gaming background music as well.
I’ve always liked to play the cleric. It’s one of those classes you either love or hate to play, and I’m on the former side. While watching this movie I realized it was a lovely situation in which to roleplay a cleric.
If I’m not mistaken, there is an Exorcist prestige for clerics in D&D. It has specific spells to banish a demon that possesses someone, which should make the game straightforward.
What if a more powerful demon requires a longer ritual, though? Weeks, maybe months? Can you imagine a fight that takes this long, slowly wearing both combatants down? And your opponent is inside a little girl. A little, helpless one. How far would you go to drive the demon off? (Remember Emily Rose?)
It gets interesting on the psychological side too. Suppose you get a good roleplayer invited to play both the possessed and possessor. One that makes the child’s cry face as convincingly as the devil’s snarls, curses, and lies. How does your cleric player handle it?
It can also be applied as a metaphor. Your quest is to destroy some evil, and protect something pure. However, the evil is inside your object of protection. How do you attack the problem?
Watch the Marines and their close quarter tactics. Watch the aliens make their hide checks. Learn that the only way to be sure is to nuke them from orbit.
Think of Sean Connery as an NPC guide to a dungeon crawl with incinerator flames.
The first five minutes of Foucan (a French martial art) show what DC 30 jump and tumble checks really look like.
Add some realism to your low level play.
Movies Nominated As Good But Needing GM Commentary
The following is a list of movies recommended by readers (thanks!) that need comments on why GMs should watch them, or what elements are inspirational for GMs. If you have any comments on one of more of these movies, please shoot me an e-mail.
- Smokin Aces
- Transporter 1+2
- Mr. & Mrs. Smith
- Mission Impossible 2
- Fastlane (TV series)
- Indiana Jones
- The Mummy 1+2
- Jurassic Park 1-3
- Into The Blue
- Young Sherlock Holmes
- Tomb Raider
- Deep Blue Sea
- Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3
- The Da Vinci Code
The movies provide ideas for plots, characters, flavor, and general feel for what fantasy adventure is all about.
- The Lord of the Rings 1-3
- Harry Potter
- Brotherhood of the Wolf
- Dark Crystal
- The Last Unicorn
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- The Dragon Slayer
- The Hobbit
- Alice in Wonderland (watch a couple different of these)
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
- Planet of the Apes (all movies)
- Arabian Nights
- The Odyssey
- Xena (TV Series)
- Hercules(TV Series)
- Star Wars 1-6
- Alien vs. Predator
- Reign of Fire
- Pitch Black
- Mad Max
- Total Recall
- 6th Day
- Butterfly Effect
- American Psycho
- Imperium der Wölfe
- Purpurnen Flüsse
- Wild Things
- 24 (TV series)
- The Game
- Under Suspicion
- Original Sin
- 8 Mile
- Layer Cake
- The Usual Suspects
- Crime is King
- Oceans 11+12
- Last Man Standing
- Pulp Fiction
- Reservoir Dogs
- Training Day
- Pearl Harbour
- Gangs of New York
- Ben Hur
- Lawrence of Arabia
- The Ten Commandments
- Spartacus (1960 with Mr. Douglas)
- Ghost in the Shell
- Ice Age 1+2
- Finding Nemo
- The Prince of Egypt
- The Lion King
- Final Fantasy
- Final Fantasy VII Advent Children
- Princess Mononoke
- Black Hawk Down
- Full Metal Jacket
- Enemy at the Gates
- Rambo 1-3
- Band of Brothers (DVD series)
- Sin City
- X-Men 1-3
- Batman Begins
- Tomb Raider
- Spiderman 1-3
- The Wedding Crashers
- Analyze That
- Traumschiff Surprise
- Four Rooms
- Resident Evil
- Saw 1-3
- 13 Ghosts
- Underworld 1+2
- Final Destination 1+2
- Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
- House of flying Daggers
A Brief Word From Johnn
Hopefully you were able to GM a game or two over the holidays. If doing more gaming is on your mind, make it a resolution to GM in 2008. Craft a plan, starting with your ideal situation, such as gaming twice a month with good friends. Then figure out how to make that happen, and start taking action.
Check out these tips, 9 Ways To Recruit New Players:
Volume 7: 5 Room Dungeons Ready For Download
The seventh volume of 5 Room Dungeons contest entries is now ready for download.
Featured in this volume:
- Of Pines and Roses by valadaar
- The Tomb of Agellar by Dragonlordmax
- Deserted Island by Nik Palmer
- Henge of Ascension by Nik Palmer
- Taking Sides by Uri Lifshitz
Download (PDF 1.0 MB) – 5 Room Dungeons Vol07
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
Interactive Projected Gaming Using A Wii
From Marcus and Jeremy
Here is a tutorial on how to use a computer, a Wiimote, and a digital projector to create a low-cost, multi-touch whiteboard. Perfect for tabletop mapping!
The person’s website is here, but it’s getting a lot of traffic these days and times out often: Johnny Chung Lee – Project Wii
Wilderness Encounter Generator
I wrote a small utility for OpenOffice Calc that generates overland (wilderness) encounters. It calculates how many days it would take, the distance, and how far a party would see on a terrain.
One of the best features, it also calculates if it’s a hostile or benign encounter. For the benign encounter, I used the 120 benign encounters from Roleplaying Tips:
I roll randomly for them (I repeated some, since not all of them were suited for all terrains).
Or from RoleplayingTips.com: 383 Overland Encounters
You can download the readme.txt in the address bellow
Or from RoleplayingTips.com: 386 Overland Encounter Text
Here is a sample of the results sheet in the address below
I posted all changes that I made to the sheet in the thread
NPC Cards Generator – Excel
From Ingo Djan
This NPC generator is based on a table created by a fan and published by this e-zine, I created a random Excel table that I would like to share with other fans.
Download from RoleplayingTips.com (Excel, 86KB): 386 NPC Generator
World Building Tips
From Jheridiah Anderson
World building can be hard. What kind of races, what kind of classes, what kind of rules and restrictions? Furthermore, what are the laws of nature? What kind of nations exist on your world? Who rules them? What kind of government do they use? All of a sudden, this is a freaking huge task!
Plus, you have real life to con end with. Worry not, I might have some things to ease the stress of your problems.
- You could always go with the regular races (elves, dwarves, humans, etc.). But if this is a little boring and your players are in want of new races, try twisting the races a bit. For example, have a short, stocky race of people called relds who value honor.
Then, to distinguish between dwarves and relds, give your people an outstanding characteristic. For instance, my relds are socialists. They redistribute relden gold to all relds.
In this way, the race becomes mine, not just dwarves of another name.
- Try the above technique with character and NPC classes. Then, create a couple of your own to give a little spice. For instance, the relds, being socialists, have two classes called collectors and distributors.
Collectors move from town to town, city to city, encountering other relds everywhere. They carry a large woven basket. Other relds whom they meet (who are an honor- bound people) give money they do not need. The collectors return to the relden capital, depositing all of the collected gold in the treasury. This is their class, and many opportunities for adventure are present, what with all the traveling. In turn, distributors move about the world giving out the collected gold to relds in need.
- The laws of nature. The laws on Earth say what comes up, must come down, an object in motion will stay in motion unless an outside force acts on it, an object at rest will stay at rest unless an outside force acts on it.
You need not necessarily live by these rules. If there is no gravity, okay. Create some other force, such as a vacuum-like core in the center of the world that keeps everyone’s feet on the ground. Hey, you could even have people age faster as the vacuum is constantly trying to suck their body underground, and they must constantly fight against that force to stay above. Just a thought, but think about tinkering with the laws of nature.
- Nations. If you want some good ideas, look in a political science book (you can find some at your library, you heathen). Also, some good reading includes Hobbes’ Leviathan, John Locke’s essays on man, as well as his Social Contract, and Plato’s Republic. Here, you can get ideas as to different ways a nation might be set up besides the ways nations run off of today.
- So now you know your nations, but where are they? Drawing a map is a good start. First, put everything that needs to be in a certain place where it needs to be. Then, just take any other map, put it under your paper, and trace the designs, moving both paper and the map below as you go. Once you have a bunch of almost-shapes covering your map, fill in the blanks and connect the dots. This gives you a pretty good, random throw.