Tuesday, 18 October 2016

'This is a nightmare.' 'For all of us.'

Jeremy Saultier’s recent punk horror thriller Green Room is a fucking excellent movie and I urge you to see it. It’s urgent, it’s nasty, it’s clever, it’s funny, it’s chaotic: it sits in the present vein of grimy claustrocinema along with 10 Cloverfield Lane and It Follows (this post won’t spoil anything about any of these movies that you can’t learn from the trailers). In Green Room, a struggling four-piece punk band takes a gig in a tiny backwoods venue in the Pacific North-West only to discover that it’s a Neo-Nazi enclave. Naturally they want to play the gig as fast as possible and get the fuck out: naturally, when they blunder back into the venue’s beat-up green room after the show to grab their stuff and get back to civilization, they instead witness a murder. Suddenly, the skinhead owners don’t want them leaving…

What follows is a siege, complicated initially by the fact that the four of them are stuck in the green room not only with the body but with several other living people: potential enemies, potential allies, potential hostages. And meanwhile, outside, the leader of the enclave (Patrick Stewart!) is assembling his booted troops and his (literal) attack dogs…

Automatically makes all Charisma saving throws.
Can you guess what it is yet? Green Room is a module. The idea of the party-as-band is ancient, of course, including much slightly tendentious stuff about what instrument is what party role, but the movie avoids any of that kind of thing and also adds an ally who you could run as an NPC or a 5th party member. It breaks down beautifully into sessions, too: the initial set-up, the small-scale, interpersonal crisis inside the room as everything goes to fuck, the siege of the place as it escalates and the trapped party explores its rapidly narrowing list of options, and then the eventual, desperate breakout.

I won’t go into further detail, because, spoilers, and it would be more helpful to just watch the movie, which is a pretty fun way of doing 90 minutes of prep and will give you a clear idea of the shape of the building, the enivornment, the stakes, the numbers, the available gear, the NPCs. Reskin to taste: you could obviously happily run this with a mildly comical tone (as tends to arise when the party has to get up on stage and take a performance check) and wedge it into your regular campaign wherein the party is roped into performing in a remote, humans-only settlement, or indeed a remote orcish encampment, or a cult complex: or indeed an asteroid rest-station where they don’t like off-rockers poking around their weirdly lucrative mining concern.

But watch the film and see if you don’t want instead to run it as a one-off all-night gore-fest, one where you can do a lot of damage to the party and make the stakes high without derailing an existing campaign too far. It’s punker that way, a 2-minute 3-chord 4-piece track instead of the lengthy prog album that is a fantasy RPG campaign. You don’t need any magic, even, any fantasy at all: find a system you like, hand out character sheets, get fucking playing, and then screen the film at the end and see who did better.

Can you do better than this lot?