Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dark•Heritage first adventure

This last weekend it was my birthday, and as a "treat" to myself, I watched one of my favorite old movies, the light-hearted adventure romp Hatari! with John Wayne, Bruce Cabot, Elsa Martinelli, Hardy Krüger, Red Buttons, and more. I've included a youtube clip of the trailer for reference, since I don't think this movie is all that well remembered and chances are most of you two or three readers that might find this post haven't actually ever seen that movie anyway.

The movie is about Momella Game; a group of esoteric and eclectic adventerous sorts of folks who hang around in Africa at the very end of the 1950s catching animals for zoos and circuses. In particular zoos; Elsa Martinelli's character's whole reason for being in the show is that a zoo in Switzerland who is buying most of the animals that Momella will catch this season wants photographic, documentary evidence of the catching.

So, John Wayne and Co. get in some beat up old pickup trucks and army surplus jeeps and drive around the countryside of what was then Tanganyika chasing wild animals (in footage that you can't film today, due to animal rights groups worrying that the animals might get tired from running or something.) Most of the action takes place on the Serengeti between Kilimanjaro and the Ngorongoro crater, with a few brief stops in Arusha, and plenty of time spent in their ranch house headquarters. Howard Hawks directs a meandering, almost plot-less script by Leigh Brackett that's focused on providing amusing ensemble vignettes between the characters and creating comic set-ups, interspersed with wild scenes of chases on the savana, including several where the characters are in very real danger; from rhinos, from crocodiles, and more.

While the easy-going, comic tone of Hatari! is not at all what I want for my game, I was immediately struck by inspiration while watching this movie; this concept; the idea of chasing around after wild animals, quickly rose to the top of my list of "cool things I can have my characters do when I start running" and so I've decided to change the set-up of my first homebrewed "module." Rather than taking place in the urban environs of a Tarush Noptii city, surrounded by the hushed human populace of a kingdom ruled by vampires, I'm going to move a bit to the northwest (keep in mind that my setting is in the southern hemisphere, so going north gets more tropical, not less so), to the Untash tribelands, where a local margrave is housing the PCs on his fortified ranch, and wants animals captured for his menagerie which he will then show off to his more urbane collegues in the south as curiosities from the northern marches.

I envision the Untash tribelands as being not unlike the Texas/Comancheria frontier during the Republic of Texas years; desperate treaties negotiated with the Untash last for a few months before deadly raids lead to the murder, rape, torture and abduction of southerners; mostly isolated farming and ranching families, but the Untash show clearly that they are both capable and willing of taking on fortified stockades and well-guarded caravans. This, in turn, leads to retaliation by poorly organized posses and specialized groups of bounty hunters and tribesmen hunters; not unlike a fantasy version of the fledgeling Texas rangers.

So I can start the game with tasking the group with hunting and capturing (without serious harm) a sabertooth or other large and dangerous wild animal (I like sabertooths in particular because I can follow the evidence that suggest that they were pack hunters to make them even more dangerous.) While out on the plains, they can come across the recent wreckage of a caravan, where a dying man tells them that a number of the margrave's important expected guests have been captured by Untash raiders, and that there's a sizeable reward/ransom waiting for anyone who can bring them back without harm. That should give the PCs sufficient motivation to follow after them in pursuit.

After allowing them to fight Untash patrols and other dangers, they can find the captives. They can also find that the Untash--or at least a splinter group of them--are up to much more than they bargained for, having turned to demon worship and human sacrifice and cannibalism. After this, my ideas start to get a little vague, but I'd like to have some clues that point towards Tarush Noptii, so that the PCs have sufficient incentive to go that way next. I'm, as always, reluctant to plan too far ahead, because I like the PCs themselves to start driving the game after it's been running for a session or two, rather than have me do so. But realistically, my group is mostly used to playing prewritten, published adventures, so I need to provide them at least sufficiently intriguing hooks, if not actual canned adventures, so that they can feel like they're doing "what they're supposed to be doing" in the game. So as we advance from there, I'll work on coming up with some clues that I can use to make Tarush Noptii sound interesting and important, and give them some possible leads of things to do there that they'll enjoy playing through. And in the meantime, I get to start the campaign off in an area that empasizes some of it's departures from "standard" fantasy by doing something that feels like it's more from an old fashioned Western than a fantasy set-up.

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