Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The True D&D Movie or ‘How I learned to love the Ethergaunts’


My girlfriend recently gave to me the DVD version of Krull (yes, I’m a luck guy). I know that we’re not talking about a great epic or landmark of fantasy (or action) cinematographic history, but I always loved Krull. It has that elusive combination of naïveté and originality that I find lacking in today’s blockbusters (and low-budget productions too, because its seems that everybody believes that FXs are a perfect replacement for good acting and script). Krull’s protagonist shares some of the traits above, which I greatly prefer over the wrathful and angst-ridden characters played these days by actors like Sam Worthington.

Krull also has a rare and wonderful mixture of fantasy and science fiction (almost like Hawkmoon or Dying Earth), practically gone today from mainstream literature and cinema. Even the medieval and archaic elements of the world of Krull have a modern and clean aspect, reminding me of another abandoned franchise – Masters of the Universe.


Krull is not just another extravagant movie from the 80’s. The film has a good cast (for its genre and time), descent special effects and intriguing elements – specially the alien villain and its Lovecraftian minions. In fantasy terms, Krull offers quite a few outstanding ideas and hooks for any campaign: the teleporting Black Fortress, doomed cyclops, fire mares, the Glaive (terrible name)… even a marriage is given a new meaning in the film’s mini mythology.

One interesting bit about Krull was that it may have been the debut of the D&D franchise on the big screen (and what introduction that’d have been). Ok, I read that on Wikipedia. Ok, the actual Krull entry doesn’t have that information anymore. What can I say? Let me dream a little. In my opinion, Krull captures a lot of what makes D&D adventures unique – specially the party interaction.

Having expressed my feelings about this great movie, it’s time to talk about a D&D monster that never really inspired me: the Ethergaunts, from the Fiend Folio of the 3rd Edition. I just didn’t knew what to do with them…

 
…until I saw Krull again, a few months ago. The Ethergaunts are – of course! – the Slayers, servants of the Beast of the Black Fortress.

 
In my Pathfinder campaign, the heroes were leading a little army of the Silvery Principalities, determined to reopen the passage to the untamed west lands. Blocking their way to the Red Savannas was the Valley of the Soulless – a planar nexus created by a cabal of spellcasters aligned with Yog-Sothoth (I always use a bit of Cthulhu in my games).

Actually, the Valley was the result of one of players’ character – an ex-member of the Cthulhu cabal – trying to escape to the Material Plane. As a potent planar nexus, it had a huge concentration of vortex and gates from various dimensions, all meeting in an alien landscape full of weird fungi and alien life-forms. In another words: the Valley of the Soulless was my way of introducing a sandbox Old School-like scenario to my until them event-driven campaign.

During the party’s exploration of the Valley, they met with all kinds of strange characters and locations; from a lost mansion of Earth’s New England (the resting place of a copy of the Book of Eibon) to the white deserts of the Plain of Glittering Stones (from the Black Company novels). The region was my first serious “kitchen sink” attempt since a few Planescape one-shots, more than 10 years ago.

One of the explored scenarios was a destroyed city inspired in Conan’s Hyborian Age (and the Carcosa setting of Geoffrey McKinney). The city once belonged to a decadent culture of Blue Men, worshippers of a Howardian monster-god, that were suddenly attacked by a rival city-state of Yellow Men, using strange artifacts and in league with tall and alien creatures From Beyond (guess who?).

In the scenario’s climax encounter, after defeating both the ruined city’s god and the Yellow Men (and their Ethergaunt allies), the party was able to acquire a few pieces of the aliens’ technology – the "etherlances" (imagine spears that can generate energy blades or shoot small darts of force).

Most of my players only read Salvatore or Tolkien and have extremely traditional views about fantasy settings. Much to my surprise (and relief), they loved the weird vistas of the Valley of the Soulless, choosing the events of the ruined city as their favorite part of the adventure. The whole scenario was also a great fun to run, encouraging me to try new sandboxes settings in the future.

What can I say? Thank you, Krull!