B-Movies RPG plot ideas: War of the Planets

Movie: War of the Planets (1977)

Ever since starting this series of entries, I have been researching other movies and seeing just how many movies I have not seen.  As it turns out, I have not seen a lot.  This one is public domain and I found it on www.bmovies.com.  It is one of those Italian sci-fi classics that has more of a 60s sci-fi feel than 70s.  I had to remember while watching this that this is the same time as Star Wars.  It really shows you just how much of a leap Star Wars was for sci-fi films.

War of the Planets, also known as Cosmos: War of the Planets, is a pretty bad movie.  It’s poorly shot, poorly acted and the special effects are pretty bad too.  The script is pretty bad as well, and I found myself MST3K’ing the movie while I watched.  The techno-babble was especially horrible. But given that, there is some interesting ideas that came out of it.

From IMDB.com

A strange signal arrives on the Earth disturbing all communications, while an UFO appears above the Antarctic sea. Captain Alex Hamilton is sent with his spaceship and crew to the space outside the Solar System to find the origin of that signal. They reach an unknown planet where a giant robot enslaved a whole population of humanoids by taking their psychic energies. The robot’s got his eyes on the Earth, too…

The IMDB entry does not do the plot justice because there are subtle subtexts that it does not mention.

First off, the most important aspect of this movie is that Earth’s society is united under one power – a computer called the Wiz (yes, like Wizard of Oz).  It seems that all Earth’s leaders turn to the Wiz for all its important decisions.  Even intimacy (at least between crew of the ship) is handled through a machine.  The movie starts out with a statement about how complacent the world society has become and presents you with an anti-hero, Hamilton, who hats that aspect of society.

The ship, MK-31, captained by Hamilton, sets out (somewhat unwillingly) to investigate a signal in an unknown parts of the galaxy.  Stellar distances is not considered in this movie and communication between ship and home base back on the Earth station Orion are instantaneous, but most movie goers overlook those things.  However, this continued to add to the feel of a 60s movie rather than one made in the era of Star Wars.

The planet they discover has many parallels to their Earth.  It was once ruled by a world-spanning robot-making computer system (a la Skynet), and something happened (“the big explosion”) to cause the collapse of society.  Now in its post apocalyptic period, the survivors like underground and are hunted by a killer robot.  The ships crew are recruited to destroy this menace.  They eventually face the world spanning computer who reveals he sent the original signal that attracted them to this world because he needed their help to fix his circuits. Of course, it is not a benevolent machine and plans to “rule the galaxy.”

Of course, the hero saves the day, and the machine and planet is destroyed.  As a last gasp of effort, the machine “possesses” one of the crew as they escape and they face that challenge down with the help of one surviving alien.

RPG Plot Ideas:

I realized after watching this and reading the summary on wikipedia (because I needed help understanding some of the plot …yes, it’s just that bad), that I had explored some of these types of plots before. There are some gems from this movie, regardless of how bad it is.

Approaching this from a plot element point of view, several of them can be translated to an RPG plot.

  1. The Computer: In sci-fi, this could be an alien computer or one created by a past empire long dead.  It could have a robot army or some other army that it controls.  In the movie, it tricks the heroes to fix it.    It may have some limitation that it needs the party’s help with, tricking the players into believing it is benevolent.  It may have more sinister intentions like the computer in the movie.  What I liked a lot (and have used before) was the “possession” aspect of the computer.  This can be carried through to create sequels once the party defeats the computer.  It finds a way to possess a character, ship or robot and manifest somewhere else.In fantasy, you can have a once great kingdom destroyed by war, that was once ruled by a powerful sorcerer.  The computer can be this sorcerer or some malevolent Sauron-like being trapped in some magic item, ruling over some wasted lands, using golems to do its bidding.
  2. The Killer Robot – Expanding off the element #1, the “Computer” element could have lost control of one robot or golem and one task the party must complete is defeating that robot/golem.
  3. Foreshadowing of Things to Come – This theme is through out the movie – a society dependent on computers and robots sees the results of over-dependence after discovering an alien post-apocalyptic world. Although hard to convey in an adventure, it can be an overall theme of a campaign.
  4. The post-apocalyptic aliens – I like the idea of a post-apocalypse that is not our own.  These aliens lived underground in compounds accessible only be teleport gates.  Cool idea.  Another aspect of these people are that they are telepathic.  That’s either a racial thing or something they develop due to mutations from the war.  Not very original but still an aspect that gives them a more alien feel.  They historically complacent and lazy because they were once dependent on robots and computers, which is something you can tie into the plot element #3.

This is by far one of the worst movies I have reviewed from an RPG stand-point. Despite that, however, there are some gems in there.

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