Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Gaming and the Kung Fu Gorillas

A lot of the movies I watch are just flat out terrible.  My current GM Patty was recently reminded of a rather notorious movie I have spoken of semi-fondly in the past that contained *two* Kung Fu practicing gorillas.  Well, at least two actors in terrible gorilla costumes in any event.  She seemed aghast that I spend so much time on bad cinema. I cannot deny that the movie is beyond bad. But what I can tell you is that I glean a lot of good plot elements from bad movies.  Maybe not this one, but some.  The movie in question is Bruce Lee The Invincible.  Watch if you dare.

In truth a lot of my influences, gaming and life, are decidedly low brow.  I grew up sneaking around my parents so that I could watch professional wrestling and Kung Fu Theater.  The Saturday Night Creature Feature and the Late Late Show rounded out my early pop cultural education.  Many gamers grew up on Tolkein and Star Wars.  My influences run more toward Edgar Rice Burroughs and Hammer Films.  In my early post college years, I didn't have cable, so I wore out the video stores and watched every crappy movie they had to offer.  A number of those films had the occasional good idea in them, irrespective of their low budget, bad acting, and poor production.  I have re-purposed many of the best of those ideas in the games I run over the years.  Often, I will watch a crappy movie, knowing that it is crappy, just to find that one good idea that I hope it contains.

As a result, I came upon quite a few gems in the rock pile.  A number of those were the earliest Hong Kong imports.  On a pop cultural level, I was ahead of the curve on the Asian film boom of the 1990s.  Many of the best Hong Kong films really do not deserve to be mentioned in the poor company of much of what I have watched.  The Hong Kong Cinema of the late 80s and 90s was always colorful, often inventive, and regularly absolutely nuts.  Really what better source of cool game ideas could you want?

HK Cinema was such a fertile ground for gaming that Robin Laws turned his inestimable talent toward making  a game that used those gonzo cinema conventions as game conceits.  Feng Shui was the result.  It is quite unlike many other games of the time, because it encourages the characters to be larger than life action heroes instead of deeply nuanced characters.  The PCs regularly engage in big set piece fights for no other reason than that would be a really cool thing to do.  To give you an example of the aesthetic, but one of my favorite source books for the game is entitled Blowing Up Hong Kong!

The Game incorporates an intriguing back story.  There are sites of mystical power spaced throughout the world, but concentrated in Hong Kong that serve both as foci for  mystical power and portals to travel between key time periods, the present, and the Netherworld.  Various groups from each of the time periods use the portals to travel through time in an effort to find more of the portals and control them.  If any group is able to control enough of the portals, they might be able to find a way to make their time/dimension extend into the other dimensions.  In the base story line of the game, the players are members of the Dragons, a ragtag bunch of heroes from the present timeline who are interested in controlling enough of the portals to prevent any of the other factions from gaining preeminence.

Now this story is compelling enough, but if I ever got to run a Feng Shui campaign, I would like to add my own wrinkle, one that incorporates the plot of a b-movie I saw a little over a decade ago.  The movie in question is Hong Kong 97 , a 1994 film that is not great, but is decidedly better than the Kung Fu Gorilla movie.  In 1997 in real life history, Britain's 99 year lease on the island of Hong Kong expired  and government of the island reverted to China.  At the time, this caused a great amount of anxiety for Hong Kong's citizens.  Hong Kong 97 tells the story of British corporate spy who assassinates a member of the Chinese takeover delegation and then struggles to escape the island before the takeover can be completed.

My campaign idea is this:  the players are all in Hong Kong about a year before the takeover.  They have no idea about the Feng Shui sites on the island, but are dragged into the conflict when a dangerous entity from one of the other times breaks into a public place and begins killing folks indiscriminately.  Gradually, the PCs learn about the shadow war for the power sites, and the dire implications of what will happen if some other time controls enough of them.  What is worse, the Communist Chinese are very aware of the power sites they are about to inherit and plan to use them for their own sinister purposes.  Can our intrepid heroes keep the other timelines at bay, while simultaneously preventing the bad actors of their own world from controlling these sites of power?  As the time for the handover gets closer, can they figure out a way to shut down the sites and escape Hong Kong in time to escape the retribution of the new Chinese regime?


  1. do you write the plot ideas that you get from the movies down, or do you have a memory..

    1. I work from memory, which is an admittedly faulty way to do things. My master list of movies that I have seen has topped 5500 now, so I can only imagine that what has been lost is magnitudes greater than what I remember. The best ideas stay with me until I get a chance to use them, good ideas often get recycled immediately for use in whatever game I am running at the time. Occasionally, like in this entry, I remember something from a movie that I say years ago and put it to use. One of the secondary motivators for this blogging exercise is to record some of what I consider my better ideas so that I can access them when the time to run a new game rolls around.