Role Playing Game to Movie Matchups

Pen and paper RPGs have always had a strong relationship with movies. Play in some games (and with some gamemasters) tends to embody a heightened cinematic style. Most role playing games are influenced by at least a few cult movies, and some even state their influences openly. Then of course players often draw heavily on characters in books and movies for their own in-game persona, or when visualizing specific scenes.

One of the best uses of these rpg-to-movie tie-ins is to quickly communicate the style of a game to a new, or prospective, player. Relating a game to movies that share its themes can give the player an instant feel for what the world can be like, and immediately conjure images of cool characters and scenes that they will enjoy reenacting or using for inspiration.

Without further ado, a list of my favorite role playing game to movie matchups:

Shadowrun

  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Strange Days
  • Cyber City Oedo 808
  • Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
  • Reservoir Dogs

I tend to imagine the games I run in Shadowrun as Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels meets Strange Days meets Reservoir Dogs meets Cyber City Oedo 808. Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels typifies some of the low-life cast that runners deal with on a regular basis; sure, some runner teams might be after the glitz and glam, but many more will be on the streets, surviving at the lower end of the spectrum, and this is where I think it gets interesting.

Ghost in the Shell does a decent job of showcasing cyberware, and gets into some of the philosophical questions that can be encountered in Shadowrun, such as the dividing line between man and machine, the nature of a humanity being overtaken by cybernetic modification.

Strange Days does not only a fantastic job of envisioning what in Shadowrun is known as simsense, but also tells a tale of a city on the brink of racial war, something that Shadowrun extrapolates into human-metahuman tensions. Particularly anti- ork and troll sentiment and the ongoing struggle for society to adapt to these new breeds of humans, along with Dwarves and Elves, not to mention magically active individuals.

Changeling: the Dreaming

  • Labyrinth
  • The Breakfast Club
  • The Faculty
  • Donnie Darko
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Mirrormask

Like most White Wolf games, Changeling is rife with evocative tropes and settings. To me the time of adolescence seems the most interesting to explore in the game, full of opportunities where fantasy and reality can mix while characters are developing their own identities. This context feels like a perfect match for the machinations of the fae to play out amidst the mundane turmoil of high school.

Some of my favorite high school movies like The Breakfast Club, The Faculty, and Donnie Darko stand in for the mundane (and not-so-mundane) aspects. Labyrinth bridges the mundane to some of the most enchantingly realized faerie-type dream worlds on film, suitable inspiration for any Changeling player. Pan’s Labyrinth takes a step further into danger and cruelty, on both sides of the looking glass. Mirrormask offers even more splendid visuals and faerie dreams of the world from which to draw amazing ideas.

RoleMaster

  • Lord of the Rings
  • Willow
  • The Dark Crystal
  • Dungeons & Dragons [the movie]

RoleMaster has more in common with the universally applicable fantasy of GURPS than D&D, and frequently lands on the side of being more general than some of its competitors. Yet the rules style, spell descriptions, magic items, creatures, and classes all serve up a little of their own flavor which is mixed with art that points to a great fantasy adventure. Even when there is no pre-defined world in which it takes place.

Much of the game’s heritage is linked to Lord of the Rings, as I.C.E. used the Tolkien license to produce the Middle Earth Role Playing System, a slightly watered down RoleMaster steeped in the trappings of the legendary fellowship and its fantastic world.

Other fantasy pictures, from Willow through The Dark Crystal and even the slightly sour Dungeons & Dragons movie, provide ample staging for a fun romp for those looking to try fantasy role playing outside of the d20 consortium.

Vampire: the Masquerade

  • Underworld
  • Devil’s Advocate

While Vampire draws on Anne Rice-style monsters of the night, the modern setting and focus on political intrigue make for poor comparisons to highly recognizable vampire movies like Interview with a Vampire or Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The comic book action of the Blade movies (and let’s be clear, I’m talking of two movies, the third does not exist) is also a poor match for the game. While the first movie briefly referred to the existence of vampire clans, the focus on martial arts action would translate better to a video game than the plotting and political maneuvering present in a true-to-form Vampire role playing session. Though it is worth noting that Blade did capture some of the friction between staid, traditional elder vampires and the brash, rebellious youthful generations.

Underworld scored closer to the mark while offering up some tasty visual representations of modern vampire living, at least of one particular style. Devil’s Advocate, though clearly not a “vampire movie” in the traditional sense, portrays characters in places of power exerting influence for their own, admittedly evil, gains. With the touch of supernatural already blended into the mix, it would not be hard to imagine vampires in these roles.

Though not a movie, the short-lived Kindred tv series came closest to depicting the world of Vampire: the Masquerade, for the obvious reason that it was based on the game. It played upon the screen more as a vampire soap opera (with the aid of Mr. Spelling), which I think is more accurate than any movie has been thus far. I personally tend to favor an approach that contains a bit more grit, but nonetheless Kindred succeeded in illustrating what it might be like for a vampire prince trying to keep control over his kind in a large city, even if he was made to be a more sympathetic character than seems likely for the average undead prince.

I’m sure that I missed many fruitful role-playing-game-to-movie connections. I also know that I’ve selected merely a handful of the role playing games out there that might benefit from such treatment. Feel free to send any suggestions my way, and enjoy your own cinematic storytelling experiences!