Monday, April 23, 2012

Adventuring Can Make You Crazy

This is a bit of a ramble, but bear with me.  There's a point to all this.

So, this past weekend, Nicole and I did a double-feature of 200 Motels and Lisztomania, largely because she hadn't seen them and sometimes you just need to watch psychedelic, surrealistic rock operas.

200 Motels is Frank Zappa's first foray into film, and it depicts life on the road.  The premise of the film is neatly summarized by the phrase, "Touring can make you crazy," and the title comes from FZ's estimation that he and the Mothers of Invention stayed in roughly 200 motels in their first five years of touring.  The film can be seen as a documentary of sorts, and the plot (as much as it has one) depicts the band going nuts in small-town America (the fictional Centerville, "a real nice place to raise your kids up").

The last time I watched 200 Motels, I was a significantly younger man, and I was still firmly entrenched in the World of Darkness and other horror games.  Watching it now, with a firm grounding in D&D, it changes the movie.

How's this for a game: replace each reference to "the band" or "pop group" or whatever with "adventuring party."  Suddenly, you have a bunch of mid-level adventurers (not too big that they're fighting gods, but not so small that nobody's ever heard of them) in a small town, trying to relax and spend gold between jobs.

For that matter, you could even adapt the movie with minimal alterations.  Their patron has an agent who is snooping around, trying to keep tabs on them (and possibly trying to make a little money on the side by publishing their adventures in book form; he's listening to them as they recount their adventures and incorporating the stuff into his book).  A mysterious figure, posing as an agent of the king — who may or may not be the Devil himself (I'm fairly confident that Rance Muhammitz still subconsciously informs my portrayals of Nyarlathotep) — is also hanging around, trying to tempt them into offering up their immortal souls.  Another entity is trying to tempt one of them into leaving the group on the pretense that he's big enough to strike out on his own (and then he won't have to share the gold and XP).  And all this is set amidst the backdrop of famous adventurers in a small town, as they have to deal with groupies and angry townsfolk.  You could easily use this in a small town, like, say, Pembrooktonshire, possibly leading to a setup like the Fiasco Playset "Dragon Slayers."

If you happen to be up for it, you can watch the whole movie below.  It's roughly an hour and forty minutes, and it contains cursing and nudity if that sort of thing bothers you.


Lisztomania is a different creature altogether.  It still deals with the challenges of fame and traveling rock musicians, but like a lot of British humor, it has a heavy basis in history and the liberal arts.  In this case, Lisztomania is a loose biography of Franz Liszt (in fact, a large primary reference is Marie d'Agoult's Nélida, her fictitious work which forms an unofficial biography of Liszt) and the title refers to the "Lisztomania" or "Liszt fever" of the 1840s — young women would scream and go into hysterics at his concerts, a practice still noted with Elvis and the Beatles and the various boy bands and pop stars thereafter.  In this case, the film portrays him as the first pop star, and depicts him making music and having lurid affairs across Europe.  It falls apart in the second half — Richard Wagner takes over Germany as some sort of Nazi/vampire/undead golem and Liszt returns from the afterlife to kill him with a heavenly jet plane — but the basic portrayal of the free-wheeling bard should be fairly familiar to D&D players.  Plus, I feel the movie's anachronisms hit in the Samurai Champloo vein where most D&D games reside: primarily medieval Europe, but with other elements included as per the Rule of Cool.

Besides, Liszt totally multiclasses into cleric later in life, both in the film and in real life.

The movie is below, and like 200 Motels, runs about an hour and forty minutes and contains cursing and nudity, if that sort of thing bothers you.

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