Friday, June 8, 2018

Movie Review: Ravagers (1979)

I had originally intended for this to be one of my "80's TV Thursday" posts, as I had recalled this being a made-for-TV movie from the early 80's that I saw precisely one time right around the time that I had learned about the Gamma World role-playing game. But, as it turns out, it was actually a theatrical release from 1979, so it qualifies as neither "80's" nor "TV."

Back in the early 1980's, after I learned about Gamma World, I had gotten onto a huge post-apocalyptic kick and this movie was right up my alley. I stumbled across it after seeing a small ad in our TV Guide, and had to watch it by myself because no one else in my family was interested. Thankfully I remember that my parents were out that night (doing, of all things, square-dancing) and my sister was studying so I didn't have to fight anybody over the TV.

"Ravagers" is based on a book from 1965 called Path to Savagery, which sadly hasn't seen a lot of reprints so it's quite expensive on Amazon right now. The novel is, however, highly reviewed, with only 5-star reviews. 

The movie, unfortunately, didn't receive much critical acclaim, being somewhat praised for its sense of aesthetics but receiving less enthusiasm for its acting and story. It has a large cast, including some pretty heavy-hitters from the time, including Richard Harris, Ernest Borgnine, Ann Turkel, and Art Carney; combining the salaries of the cast and the production designs, it couldn't have been an inexpensive movie to make. 

"Ravagers" is a post-nuclear holocaust movie in which the survivors do their best to protect themselves from the dangers of the world, which mainly comes in the form of wild humans called "ravagers." Opposing the ravagers are other groups of survivors, generally divided into a group called "Flockers," who are relatively primitive and not well organized to defend themselves, and another unnamed group that live on an old naval vessel off the coast for protection, are well-armed, organized, and much cleaner than most humans of the era.

The point-of-view character is a loner, living with his wife, trying to find a place they can settle down in peace, and scavenging for small comforts like old cans of food. The film focuses on his journey as he is attacked by Ravagers, makes his escape, kills one in revenge, and then makes his way across the countryside, interacting with other survivors, all while being followed by the Ravagers.

Honestly, the plot of the movie is very thin and extremely slow-paced, and the characters are very one-note with no personality. The main villain of the movie has maybe one or two lines of dialogue at most, and is so unmemorable that I can't recall his name. His fellow Ravagers are even worse. The fight scenes are also poorly choreographed, especially by today's standards.

The main character, Falk, comes across the ruins
of the Alabama Space & Rocket Center. 
I had very vague memories of seeing this on TV as a kid, and had never seen it offered on video or DVD, but discovered that it's available for streaming on Amazon, so I watched it yesterday, and can say that pretty much the only thing this movie has to offer is its landscapes and set designs. There are a variety of different locations, but the one that really sparks the imagination for a post-apocalyptic type game is an old, abandoned space port, which was shot on location at the Alabama Space & Rocket Center Museum. In particular, the back of the museum, which holds a bunch of rockets, was aged for the movie, so you have old, rusted rockets poking up from the landscape and the effect is suitably creepy and nostalgic at the same time. Those scenes, along with the huge matte painting of a destroyed cityscape shown at the beginning of the movie during the credits, definitely fit within the design aesthetics of 1st Edition Gamma World.
The opening credits backdrop. The destroyed city reminds
me of the cover of 1st Edition Gamma World. 

Other than the set designs, there is little to offer from the movie for players of post-apocalyptic role-playing games. The different cultures of the survivors are barely fleshed out; the cryptic alliances as described in the Gamma World rule-book offer much more role-playing opportunities than the Ravagers, Flockers, and Loners as portrayed in the movie. My understanding from reading the reviews of the novel upon which the movie was based is that the book has much more detail, and is more creative, in the description of the different post-apocalyptic cultures.

However, on the note of role-playing games, I did stat up the three main characters from the movie, as well as a band of Ravagers, way back when I was a kid as part of my encounter tables for Gamma World, and a few years ago, I updated them to the Mutant Future rules here on my blog. I changed the names to "Wanderers" and "Pillagers" to avoid copyright infringement.

Does anyone else remember this movie? What were you thoughts? Did you try to incorporate any of the elements into your post-apocalyptic role-playing games?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "You Know - Extended Mix" by Herald, Gee
Drinking: Coffee

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Dreamer Class for B/X - Labyrinth Lord

Image © 2017 Boom! Studios 

I came up with this idea a few weeks ago while reading a comic book called Lucy Dreaming, about a young girl going through puberty who starts to experience some very odd quirks, including her pupils turning gold-colored, and having very vivid dreams in which she is a hero, warrior-princess, leading a revolution in a dream world. In her dreams, she realizes that she’s dreaming and can’t figure out why she can’t simply wake up, but as time goes on, she learns to use her dream powers rather than be afraid of them. Another interesting idea from the series is that every time she visits the dream world, while her overall “role” stays the same, her appearance changes, as does the landscape of the dream world itself. She also begins to be able to recognize other dreamers in the waking world, and beings to realize that what’s happening to her isn’t just the result of changes happening due to puberty (which is a funny thing that happens in the first issue of the comic). As an aside, I highly recommend this comic, especially to younger teenaged girls and their parents.

Right after reading that comic, I was also reading Dark Nights: Metal by DC Comics, and Sandman (aka “Dream”) makes a brief appearance in that story as well. This all got me to thinking about doing something with dreams in an RPG setting.

This class relies a lot upon the DM to create a “dream plane” or equivalent for the campaign setting, to allow the dreamer character to make use of his or her powers. By using the dreamer’s powers in a clever manner, the DM can drop hints about future plot points in the campaign, but of course needs to be careful to balance the rest of the players so that the dreamer character doesn’t completely take over the direction of the game. It's designed for the Labyrinth Lord game but could be used for a variety of old-school games with a few tweaks. 

I'd love comments on the class, as it's mainly just off-the-cuff and I haven't playtested it or anything. It's really more of an idea and creative expression at this point. In particular, many of the abilities the dreamer has while in the dream world scale with level, which I know is not consistent with most B/X or Labyrinth Lord games, but I couldn't figure out how best to show the dreamer getting better over time without scaling them. 

·        Requirements: None
·        Prime Requisite: WIS
·        Hit Dice: 1d6; +1 after 9th level
·        Maximum Level: None

Dreamers are a special class that have the ability to travel to the dream world, or plane, each night while sleeping. While in the dream world, the dreamer has special abilities, and upon awakening, is able to retain some of those abilities in the real world. The nature of the abilities retained depends upon the dreams had while in the dream world, so the abilities will vary from day to day.

Dreamers can use any one-handed weapon, but due to their need for free movement to cast spells, they cannot use any metal armor.  Dreamers are also able to use any magic weapon (as long as that weapon is allowed by the class) and magic armor (non-metal), and any other magic item that has powers related to divination or dreaming (e.g., all crystal balls, etc.). Dreamers save and attack as clerics, and use the illusionist experience and level progression table (from the Labyrinth Lord AEC) as shown below.

Hit Dice (1d6)
+1 hp only*
+2 hp only*
+3 hp only*
+4 hp only*
+5 hp only*
+6 hp only*
+7 hp only*
+8 hp only*
+9 hp only*
+10 hp only*
+11 hp only*

Each night, the dreamer’s consciousness travels to the dream world, and the dreamer is lucid during this time. While in the dream world, the dreamer has control over his or her actions and has a limited ability to direct the narrative that is happening. The dreamer needs eight hours of uninterrupted rest to lucid dream, and this time also counts as normal rest (e.g., for recovery of hit points, etc.). While in the dream world, the dreamer has the following powers:

  • Attacks as a fighter of the same level (as opposed to using the cleric attack matrix while in the waking world)
  • Adds +1 / +5% to all rolls made in the dream world as a result of his or her mastery of the dream realm. This bonus increases to +2 / +10% at 6th level and to +3 / +15% at 12th level
  • Wields a “dream weapon,” the primary weapon used by the dreamer in the dream world counts as magic while in the dream world (e.g., provides light for seeing and can damage foes that can only be damaged by magic weapons, etc.). The dream weapon counts as +1 at first level, and increase to +2 at 5th level, +3 at 10th level, +4 at 15th level, and +5 at 20th level. At 10th, 15th, and 20th levels, the dreamer may also assign other qualities to the weapon (one each per level, such as “flame tongue” or “frost brand”). The magical bonuses and special abilities on the dream weapon do not function in the waking world. Also, the bonuses do not “stack” with any bonuses that the dreamer’s weapon already has (e.g., if a 5th level dreamer wields a +2 sword normally in the waking world, it does not become a +4 dream sword in the dream world).
  • Able to transport companions to the dream world. Beginning at 3rd level, the dreamer may bring up to three companions with him or her to the dream world, and keep them lucid while they are there. The dreamer’s companions retain the benefits of a full night’s rest while with the dreamer in the dream world (e.g., for spell recovery and memorization, hit point recovery, etc.).  
  • Inspires allies, beginning at 5th level. As a natural leader in the dream world, three times a day, the dreamer is able to provide a bonus of +2 / +10% to a roll, to one of his or her allies while they are in the dream world.

Upon returning from the dream world, each morning the dreamer is able to retain a small portion of the powers that he or she has while in the dream world. The dream world is constantly changing and very chaotic, so the actual powers the dreamer gains each morning while shift from day to day. The DM can work with the player to choose which powers best fit based on the adventures had in the dream world the night before, or the player can just roll on the following table.

Percent Roll
Power Name
01 – 25%
Dream Warrior
+1 to attack rolls and damage. Increase by +1 at 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th levels.
26 – 50%
Dream World
Gains spell ability as a magic-user of the same level; dream time from the night before counts as spell preparation/memorization time.
51% - 75%
Dream Infiltrator
Gains thief abilities as a thief of the same level.
76% - 100%
Future Sight
Gains limited ability to see future events based on events that happened in the dream world.

From 1st through 5th level, takes the form of either an automatic hit during combat, or an automatic successful saving throw, once per day.

From 5th through 10th level, this is the equivalent of casting an Augury spell with the dreamer’s level being used as the caster level for the basis of success.

From 11th – 15th, this is the equivalent of a Locate Object spell.

From 16th – 20th level, this is the equivalent of a Commune spell, but the dreamer is not seeking knowledge from divine powers but rather relying on his or her knowledge gained in the dream world.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Drink's On Me" by Jazzinuf
Drinking: coffee
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