It Came from Toronto After Dark: Redline

These It Came from the DVR articles are going to be a little bit different.  As an early Christmas present to myself, I picked up a festival pass to the Toronto After Dark film festival.  So the first difference is that these are new movies, on the big screen, instead of old ones and niche programming on the small screen.  The second difference is that these are going to be short.  I’ve got eighteen films to see in seven days (as well as dressing up for the annual zombie walk), so I’m not going to have a whole lot of time to write, and I want post these while the blood is still fresh.
Toronto After Dark is a horror and genre film festival oozing with gobs of monster and rpg inspiration, but most of the films it 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.


Redline is the animated magnum opus of writer and character designer Katsuhito Ishii, better known in the west as the man responsible for the animated sequences of Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Set in the far flung future, the film follows racecar driver ‘sweet’ JP as he works to qualify for the titular race and move past his days of throwing competitions for the mob.  The redline grand prix is deadly, there are no rules and contestants vehicles frequently sport missiles and other weaponry.  Because of the collateral damage it causes, redline is held on a different planet each race, the location kept secret until days before the meet.

This Is Your Brain.  This Is Your Brain on Redline.

Wow.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to make this screening, as it happened smack in the middle of the zombie walk, but I cheated a little (transforming into a fast zombie for a few blocks), and I’m really glad I made it.
I used to be a huge fan of anime, but over the years I’ve sort of drifted away, and haven’t been as zealous keeping up with the latest series and movies.  Redline re-ignited my interest and reminded me of the best of what the genre has to offer.
First of all, it’s absolutely beautiful to look at.  The highly detailed, hyper-stylized world is full of lurid colors that match perfectly with the high adrenaline story being told (‘high adrenaline’ isn’t quite a strong enough descriptor – more like ‘crank fuelled heart attack’).  If you can, see it on the big screen (or at least a big TV) and turn up the volume (the soundtrack was appropriately ‘high energy’).  We’ve all heard about seizure inducing anime before, but Redline was the first time I actually thought it could happen.
One more note about the animation.  It’s all hand drawn.  That means no computer generated vehicles.  Honestly, the movie is worth seeing just for that alone (seeing CGI and classical animation jammed together is one of my pet peeves – like a grain of sand in your eye).
Because they share a similar subject matter and medium, the obvious comparison for this film is the classic Speed Racer series, but I think a much better analog is the original Roger Corman classic, Death Race 2000.  Both films feature a dystopian future where the race is seen as a way to transcend an oppressive regime, both are light on plot but heavy on the interplay between larger than life racers with tricked out gimmicky cars, and (most importantly) both films share the same sense of fun.  The main difference being that Redline pulls off stuff Corman wouldn’t have thought of in his wildest dreams.
Yes, Redline is ridiculous, but the movie keeps on pushing until it becomes sublimely ridiculous.  I counted at least four moments during the screening when the whole crowd burst out into spontaneous applause, and I can’t remember the last time I ever saw that during an animated feature.
There isn’t a boring racer in the pack (which is an achievement for any racing movie): bosozoku inspired JP, a cyborg that’s a part of the car, a pair of magical (yes, magical) pop stars that ride in their anthropomorphic vehicle’s boobs, a pair of bounty hunters (one of whom looks exactly like Zoltar from Battle of the Planets) – the most vanilla of all the drivers is love interest Sonoshee and her nickname is ‘cherry-boy hunter’!
Redline is highly recommended, not just for anime fans, but really anyone who wants to see how you can do gonzo right.

RPG Goodness

There is a lot of inspiration crammed into Redline’s 102 minutes.  Character concepts, crazy names (my favorite: a Godzilla sized bio-weapon codenamed ‘Funky Boy’), and interesting weapons (the Zoltar-esque bounty hunter has a siege sized grappling gun that tethers his vehicle to faster ones with a chain).  All are prime fodder for the rpg table, but the core of Redline is the race, an element that isn’t featured in too many tabletop rpg adventures, despite it being a staple of the action/adventure genre.
Adding a race into D&D is a perfect opportunity to make a skill challenge.  I know there are mixed feelings about skill challenges for 4e, but it’s a subsystem that I think is robust enough to both represent a wide variety of activities and also survive judicious tweaking (making it a kind of ‘mini-game’, at the risk of using a dreaded video game term and giving the 4e haters some ammunition).
I should note this skill challenge is a bit different than most, in that it includes a random table and isn’t resolved by the traditional successes vs. failures format (by its nature a race is a competition between individuals).  I thought adding some random mayhem into the challenge would be fun and would reflect the craziness of the film.

The Great Race

“It only happens once a decade – a race so dangerous that simply surviving to reach the finish line is a goal worthy of glory.  There are no overseers.  There are no rules.  There is only speed and the blood of the fallen on the dusty road.”

Setup: First, determine the enemy racers.  These should equal the number and level of the PCs participating in the race (higher level monsters can be used for a harder challenge, and the number of enemy racers can be decreased if an elite or solo monster is used, or increased if minions are included).
Second, determine the length of the race.  Short races are 5 rounds, long races are 10 rounds, and grueling endurance matches are 15 rounds (expect most racers not to finish).
Level: Award XP equal to the value of the monsters used as enemy racers.  In long races add additional XP equal to a single monster of the party’s level.  In endurance matches add additional XP equal to a pair of monsters of the party’s level.
Running the Challenge: During the first round of the race, roll initiative as normal.  In subsequent rounds initiative order is determined by track position, with pole position (1st place) acting first.  Using miniatures to determine track position is helpful, but remember, the position on the track is an abstract way of determining where the racers are, not an accurate measure of distance in squares.
Each round, roll on the random event table to set the tone for that leg of the race.  Effects from the random event table are applied to racers at the start of their turn.
During their turn, a racer can either advance, block, attack, or recover.
To advance, a racer attempts a moderate skill check.  Success indicates the racer has moved up 1 position.  Racers who fail this check do not move.  If the racer is attempting to move into a position with an enemy blocking creature, the skill check is instead hard.  Appropriate skills to advance include (but are not limited to): Acrobatics, Athletics, and Nature (In Gamma World use Str/Con, Dex/Int, and Mechanics checks instead).
Racers can use their turn to block.  This makes it more difficult for other racers to enter their position, but also makes it difficult to avoid enemy attacks.  Any creature actively blocking grants combat advantage.
A racer can try and attack his opponents to eliminate the competition or settle a personal grudge.  A creature can make a melee attack against a racer in the same position, a close attack against a racer in the same or an adjacent position, or a ranged/area attack against a racer one position distant or an adjacent position.
Finally, a racer can take their turn to recover.  This allows a racer to take a second wind (allowing the racer to spend a healing surge and granting a +2 bonus to defenses for the round).  Unlike the previous actions, a racer can only recover once a race.
At the end of the final round of the race, the racer in the pole position wins.  In the event of a tie, all racers in the pole position make a final skill check to advance, and the racer with the highest score wins.
Since the PCs will likely be working together, don’t have the monster racers attack one another (it would become too easy), but don’t have them cooperate in coordinated group attacks either (unless you divide the monster racers into ‘teams’, in which case each team will work together as much as possible).
Optional: If you want the race to be more involved, include the mounts and vehicles for each racer (especially if one or more of the PCs has the mounted combat feat).  In this case, close and area attacks affect both racer and mount, while melee and ranged attacks affect either the racer or the mount.
If a racer uses an action point they are able to take two different actions during their turn (but not two of the same action).

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