B-Movie Inspiration: Dark Space (2013)

Sci-fi is my thing, I make no bones about it.  I love a good story of group of people exploring the unknown, finding alien monsters, and learning that the universe is much bigger than they thought.  Browsing Netflix, I found yet another unexpected gem of a movie – Dark Space.   It is a low budget sci-fi thriller that starts out like a bad sci-fi version of a Spring Break movie that turns into a great story that could be an awesome RPG one shot or campaign.

It starts out by introducing two of the protagonists – two 20-something party animals looking to rent a shuttle on a Spring Break trip to a planet called Centauri V. You learn later that they are a part of a party of six – three guys and three girls.  I am guessing we are supposed to believe these people are college age but most look a little older.  The first act is primarily the party on the shuttle while autopilot guides the shuttle along the route to their destination.  The whole scene is sort of surreal if you think about it, because you can totally see something like this happening one day.

Things go badly when the stoned and drunk partiers decide to tinker with the speed restrictor on the shuttle.  They end up going way off course and down what looks like a wormhole.  In the process, the shuttle is severely damaged, and if they don’t land, they are going to die.  Fortunate for them the planet they ended up orbiting was habitable and temperate enough for them.

Landing on the alien world that remarkably looks like the Canadian mountains, they quickly find themselves caught between primitive “alien gorillas” and a unnamed corporate faction looking to wipe out said “alien gorillas.”  Realizing this is basically a Prime Directive violation on steroids, the group attempts to fix their shuttle and escape.  One by one, the hapless victims are taken out through one means or another until two women (Girl Power!) survive, fight back a little and get away.

For those that don’t get the reference…

In the fictional universe of Star Trek, the Prime Directive is the guiding principle of the United Federation of Planets. The Prime Directive, used in four of the five Star Trek-based series, prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations. This conceptual law applies particularly to civilizations which are below a certain threshold of technological, scientific and cultural development; preventing starship crews from using their superior technology to impose their own values or ideals on them. Since its introduction in the first season of the original Star Trek series, it has served as the focus of numerous episodes of the various series. As time travel became a recurring feature in the franchise, the concept was expanded as a Temporal Prime Directive, prohibiting those under its orders from interfering in historical events.

Apparently something is so valuable on that planet (which they never really identify) that a big bad corporation would commit genocide on an alien species. Pretty simple plot but it makes for a pretty good low budget movie.   The CGI is pretty cheesey but the armor costumes used by the corporates was pretty cool looking.  I would not mind stat’ing that out for an RPG.

There are a couple of inspirational approaches I get from this movie for an RPG adventure.

(1) Unsuspecting explorers stumble on a corporate or governmental plot.   It does not have to be genocide.  It could be experimentation of some kind, like cloning or genetic manipulation.  It works best on world or location that is tucked away or otherwise unknown to the “authorities”.  This can even be used in fantasy genre, translated to a obscure island or underground location few know about.

Scale the operation to the character’s abilities.  A GM does not want to present too big of a challenge to the players but also do not make it too easy.

(2) Corporate or Governmental faction committing some heinous crime for the sake of a rare resource or secret.  Why would a corporation commit genocide against a primitive people to clear a planet?  I would imagine that it would take a lot of resources to do that.  This is a question I asked throughout the movie and never got an answer to my full satisfaction.  This question alone can lead to a sequel, I think.  What secrets or valuable resources does this planet or location hold.  Are habitable worlds just that rare?  Or is their a rare resource on the world?  Or is there something more mystic like ancient ruins that hold an alien secret?

The Prime Directive can be at the core of any campaign in just about any genre and violating it in some way can lead to great adventure.

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