Toronto After Dark is here, and once again I find myself skulking in the spider haunted shadows of the Bloor Cinema, madly scribbling down profane ideas birthed by the weird and wonderful sights revealed on the silver screen…
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration (if you’re in the GTA Oct. 18-26 be sure to check it out). Many of the films the festival showcases won’t see wide release – so in addition to extracting some rpg goodness from each movie, I’ll also give them a bit of a critique, so fellow gamers can know what they need to track down and what to avoid. I’ll try and keep spoilers to an absolute minimum.
Roleplaying games helped foster an unhealthy love of monsters which hooked me at an early age to genre films, that in turn help to inform my tabletop games (in a weird kind of feedback loop). This ongoing series of articles takes these influences and mashes them together to create a strange hybrid I call It Came from the DVR (although I seem to be in the theatre more often than in front of the television, but I’m not complaining – they have better snacks).
College student Lloyd and his slacker roommates are on the cusp of losing their financial aid, all thanks to a failing grade in the dastardly Derek’s English Lit. class. Taking advantage of their misfortune to further his own twisted goals, Derek offers the trio a deal: they can pass the course if they agree to join Derek’s LARPing (Live action Roleplaying) league. With the help of the sage owner of the local game store, a beautiful martial artist and a full complement of foam weaponry, Lloyd must navigate this new world and put an end to the dark forces of the evil Derek.
These are the Lines You Will Hear at Game Tables for the Next Year
Lloyd the Conqueror isn’t perfect, but at its worst, its heart is in the right place, and at its best it will have you laughing your ass off.
I’m not a LARPer myself, but given that I write a blog about rpg monsters, I’m no stranger to nerdly pursuits, so I know how ridiculous my passions can appear to the outsider. Even given the natural rivalry between tabletop and live-action role-players I didn’t want to see Lloyd kick sand in the face of my brothers in arms. A few cheap shots aside, I was impressed with how writer/director Michael Peterson handled the subject matter. Hanging out with your friends and pretending to be an elf (whether dressed up or gathered around a kitchen table) is inherently absurd and rather than just pointing and laughing, the film runs with it wholeheartedly, taking it to its ridiculous extremes (and no one’s better at laughing at themselves than nerds).
Lloyd is the typical nice guy hero, familiar to anyone who’s ever seen an 80’s comedy, trying to grow as a person and get laid in the process. That journey provides a solid framework and gives the film’s secondary characters a chance to shine. Derek, the villain, played by Mike Smith (familiar to fellow Canucks as Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys) is suitably mustache twirling and over the top. He’s got some great lines, but the true comedic gold of the film is concentrated in comedian Brian Posehn’s character, the wise game store owner who takes Lloyd under his wing and acts as Yoda to his Luke (though anyone who’s seen the film should know better than to compare ‘epic fantasy’ to Star Wars). Posehn delivers classic lines in trademark deadpan style. I wish the rest of my gaming group had been at the screening because they are not going to know what I am talking about when I repeat Posehn’s jokes ad nauseam at our next session. Harland Williams is also hilarious in a scene stealing cameo role as a Vulcan (completely unscripted according the Q&A after the screening).
The problem is that these guys are so funny Lloyd’s roommates end up seeming dull and flat. As Lloyd’s comic foils these characters are wasted and I hate to say I spent most of their screen time awaiting the return of Smith, Posehn and Williams (the unicorn was pretty awesome too). It might just be the gamer in me, but I also wanted to see a little more of the imaginary setting the LARPers adventures were set in (there’s a pretty sweet looking map of the city in full old-school style during the opening credits). There’s a lot of random banter but you never really get the impression of how the world hangs together as a whole (now I’m absolutely sure that’s the kind of thing only a gamer would worry about).
The big action sequences are suitably silly and fun, simultaneously mixing the melodrama of high adventure with the absurdity of throwing little tinfoil balls at people. The thing that’s most surprising about Lloyd though, is that it made the whole hobby seem like a blast… I came that close to reconsidering my opinion about running around in the woods with foam swords (I didn’t change my mind, but I doubt any movie would).
Lloyd the Conqueror is recommended for a night of shameless nerding out. It’s a must see for rpg players of all stripes – you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t get the reference when someone in your group asks for the ‘1000-sided die’.
There’s more for gamers to take away from Lloyd the Conqueror than just a boatload of in-jokes. At its heart, the film is about a group of friends getting together and bonding while playing let’s pretend. Amidst the edition wars, simulationist vs. gamist arguments, and sandbox vs. adventure path debates it’s easy to forget that, and I’m happy Lloyd the Conqueror is there to remind me why I’m so passionate about this hobby after so many years. It may sound corny, but the friends I have made through gaming have been the strongest and longest lasting in my life. At the risk of waxing poetic, I think that we reveal a lot about ourselves when we pretend to be other people (there’s a Shakespeare quote in there somewhere).
One of the things I’ve always loved about D&D is how much the game has supported that ‘anything you can imagine’ attitude. Like Lloyd the Conqueror, Gary Gygax fully embraced the absurd nature of the game when he created D&D, but always presented it as-is rather than as a joke (since really, the entire game could be taken as a joke). Sometimes the results stayed in the realm of the absurd, such as the pair of adventures based on the writing of Lewis Carol (Dungeonland and The Land beyond the Magic Mirror). What I find really interesting are the other times, when the absurd became canon and a ‘serious’ part of the game. The thoul is such a case, one of my favorite monsters from B/X D&D. The name first appeared in the ‘little brown books’ of OD&D as an entry in the monster table, but wasn’t given a detailed write up. The reason for this is simple, it was a typo. However, fans of the game demanded to know more about the creature, and rather than admit the mistake a new monster was invented for the game (a magical crossbreed of hobgoblin, troll and ghoul). It is in that spirit that I present the krakentroll, born of a few lines of throwaway dialogue from the film but never pictured (at least I don’t think it was – it’s hard to tell with the LARP costumes). I’m pretty sure the word ‘kraken’ was used to invoke the otherworldly and give the monster a Nordic flavor, not actually associate it with the giant squid monster of the same name… but where’s the fun in that?
Lumbering monstrosities with rows of shark-like teeth and barbed tentacles for arms, krakentrolls are creatures of insatiable hunger and capacity for violence. Krakentrolls share the regenerative power and strength of common trolls, but are possessed of a wicked intelligence. Tribes of their lesser brethren often gather to worship a Krakentroll as a living god, scouring the land for tributes of meat.
Nature DC 20:
The first krakentrolls were created in the aftermath of the battle between the gods Deep Sashelas and Panzuriel. When the elven deity severed Panzuriel’s foot, his troll soldiers, overcome by hunger, descended on the limb and devoured it. The deific flesh reacted with the troll’s natural regeneration and twisted them into new, more powerful forms.
Although they have many aquatic features, krakentrolls are just as comfortable on the land as they are underwater.
Nature DC 25: Elder krakentrolls are rumored to have the power to invoke Panzuriel and call down vengeful storms capable of capsizing ships.
Krakentrolls in Combat
Krakentrolls are deceptively intelligent, using strategy far beyond what one would expect from a troll. Their favorite tactic is to distract enemies with a savage mob of followers while the krakentroll lies in wait. Once their foe’s resources have been depleted, the krakentroll wades into combat, destroying leaders and healers first to prevent its prey from mounting a counterattack.