Ahoy there! Matthew here, with a blog post about our upcoming B-Movie sci-fi game, They Came From Beneath The Sea! This game is all about the thrills of the cinema, whether it be special effects, death-defying stunts, awful one-liners, or horrible monsters. They Came From has a rose-tinted view of the era in which it’s set, viewing the 1950s through a Happy Days meets Stepford Wives lens. There’s always a record playing on the jukebox, the guys all drive hotrods, and milkshakes only cost a silver dollar a piece.
Now the preamble is out of the way, I wanted to share a little bit of the chapter aimed at Directors (or GMs, Guides, Storyguides, or Storytellers, as they’re otherwise known). This part is called The Director’s Chair, and it handles different ways of framing your B-Movie extravaganza! Do excuse the page XX’s…
The Director’s Chair
While Directors come with many ambitions, they are as much of a player as the others at the table. Just like the players, who get to enhance their characters as they gain experience through play (see p. XX), Directors in They Came From Beneath The Sea! get to alter their games with a few fun features they should advertise before the game commences.
If the Director decides the story they’re running is equivalent to a low budget movie, they should go out of their way to describe the shoddiness of the sets, costumes, weapons, and acting. Directors of this type should play their supporting characters in stilted or hammy ways, implying washed-up actors pulled in off the lot are the cast of this feature. Monsters should seem less threatening in their description, or have their actions only rarely described. When the low budget Centopus devours its prey, the camera cuts away to the faces of the characters. You never see the full action in a low budget movie.
Consider restricting your plots to a handful of areas, or repeating descriptions for multiple locations using the same, slightly adjusted set. If you want to get truly meta, insert deleted scenes where transitions might otherwise happen. In games on the low budget setting, the highlight reel is more important than the car journey from A to B.
Directors should consider awarding Experience points (see p. XX) to players whenever they act in a hammy or amateurish way, when they describe their characters falling through scenery (or making it wobble) at a dramatic moment, or when harm dealt to an alien seems to do more damage to the costume than the alien itself.
Big budget movies barely scrape by under the B-Movie banner, but plenty of blockbusters have flopped, to later be incarcerated to the bargain bin of a supermarket somewhere. This is your story. Directors should insert characters based on famous movie actors and lovingly describe the effects and visuals surrounding alien attacks. Liberally apply explosions after every gunshot, even when a bullet hits something innocuous like a telegraph pole. Boom — up it goes, the victim of a movie with too high a budget.
In games based on big budget movies, action takes precedent over subtle dialogue. Incongruous styles edge in, such as a martial arts contest between the sheriff and the intruding special agent, a cheerleader who works as a costumed vigilante at night, or the giant monsters when humanoid-sized threats will do.
Directors should consider awarding Experience points (see p. XX, if we’ve not made that clear) to players whenever their characters cause an explosion, when they suborn dialogue in favor of fists, or when they accomplish an award-winning scene (see p. XX) that makes the rest of the players applaud.
Art movies are, by their nature, often B-features. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for a confused crowd to stumble away from the French art feature preceding their monster movie, wondering why in hell that skeleton was smoking that cigarette for 45 minutes, and what the voiceover was rattling on about. A game of They Came From Beneath The Sea! with an artistic flair should give scenes over to introspective character moments, inexplicable alien movements, and political and philosophical declarations during the story that bear little relevance to the action. Only in the hours after the game ends will the players start thinking “so the Prefecture of the Pod was an Anarcho-Syndicalist commune after all…?”
No player group wants to walk away from a game utterly confused, but a teased mystery or a montage of events following or running adjacent to the story that seem to bear no relevance, can serve to pique interest or amuse. Consider freeze-framing at the end of a session to explain what happens to each character present. The players may be a little bewildered when they find out Dino, the local circus strongman, was a communist all along, but they may see this as part of the madness of They Came From.
Directors should consider awarding Experience points to players whenever they stand or move away from the group to perform a soliloquy, when their characters make a stunning political or philosophical revelation, or when the characters do something completely incongruous to the rest of the plot.
Exploitation movies existed in one form or other since cinema began and were almost always B-Movies. To those unfamiliar with the term, exploitation in a cinematic sense is creating a movie of a genre or containing content designed to shock or spread controversy. They Came From Beneath The Sea! can enter the realms of exploitation very simply: by exploring the politics of the time through a sympathetic lens.
The sad fact is, the 1950s were no picnic for minorities in America or much of Europe. Any game focusing on the struggles of the persecuted could be described as an exploitation feature and should be finely measured to not wade into the realms of offense and ridicule. Careful highlighting of issues of the time, framed within a hamfisted alien invasion setting, is a perfect example of how minorities struggle beneath a tide of violence. It’s not advised this course is pursued entirely for comic effect, unless the humor is “punching up” against the persecutor.
Of course, exploitation also covers the realm of gore, needless violence, and sex. All these things happened to limited degrees in 1950s cinema (more prevalent in European features than American), but an inventive Director may wish to re-engineer They Came From into a splatterfest of green goo and pink guts.
Directors should consider awarding Experience points to players whenever they get the better of “the Man,” when they achieve a poignant goal for a persecuted group (including aliens, potentially), or when they do something completely out-of-seeming with the light-hearted B-Movie sci-fi genre.
Some directors (not Directors — you’re all lovely!) are complete jerks. Another word for them would be perfectionists, but it’s rare for actors to experience heavy-handed direction and feel “well, he’s just a perfectionist” when being made to experience take 98 of scene 12.
Directors should definitely advertise they’re playing the role of a tyrant before gameplay starts, as this is the style of story designed to punish characters. Never punish the players but do punish the characters. Make the characters go through the mill, have the aliens deal more damage than usual, cut off glib moments or award-winning scenes with an extra or supporting character walking across the location: do what you must to bring the best out of the characters.
What purpose does such a role serve other than to be the aforementioned arsehole? The Director should have a goal in mind, a Rubicon to cross, an achievement for characters to attain. Once the characters reach this goal, the tyrant should shower them with rewards. They’ve made it! They want Experiences? They have them! They want alien tech? They have it in the next adventure? It’s a fine line to walk, and not for brand new Directors, but consider it a trial by fire for all participants who want a tougher game.
Interested in learning more? Keep up to date with this project and our upcoming Kickstarter by following the Monday Meeting Notes.