Saturday, December 21, 2013
Prodigal Son: A Bit More Homework
As I’ve been reading over my Prodigal Son posts, thinking about the upcoming push to start a regular roleplaying game, I thought I’d turn again to inspirational movies. One of my favorite games, one that I very much want to run, is the medieval fantasy game (one of the few fantasy settings I like) Ars Magica. Ars Magica, typically, takes place in medieval Europe, often around 1200 or so, but in a version less tied to history than to myth, less how it was and more how people imagined it was, ‘Mythic Europe.’ Forests full of fairies, dragons in the mountains, angels & demons, ghosts, and of course, wizards. The game is about wizards; a secret society of magic users who live throughout Europe, studying, experimenting, and increasing their powers. There are three levels of player characters in the game. Magi (wizards) are primary, Companions are secondary, and Grogs are tertiary. While Magi are the main focus of the game, companions are also fully realized characters with goals and histories. Grogs are medieval equivalents of ‘red-shirts’ from Star Trek, rarely becoming more than background players. Countless movies set in the medieval world have been made, but few that capture the essence of the atmosphere I most connect to the game. What follows is a list of a few of the best Ars Magica films.
10. Brave: Merida, with a few twists, could make an excellent companion. In a world dominated by men, adventurous women can become more profound, more inspiring, and more interesting. While Mythic Europe, especially within the world of magi and the Order of Hermes may not be as misogynist as the middle ages actually were, it’s hardly an enlightened world. There's some good magic and the setting looks amazing. (See also; How to Train Your Dragon).
9. A Field in England: Not even close to the correct era, this film is a perfect representation of the life and times of grogs. Ignorant, earthy, and slightly cracked, these AWOL soldiers go through a strange, mushroom laced adventure in magic and madness. While it might be more extreme in tone than I would go for in a game, I think it captures the right mindset for grogs when they’re not under the watchful eye of a magus. (See also; Marketa Lazarova).
8. Beowulf: A weird visualization of the myth, Beowulf embraces the crazy adventure and magical mayhem that is the undercurrent of Ars Magica’s Mythic Europe. One could imagine this story being told around camp fires, inspiring young, adventurous folk to travel north, to seek their fortunes in strange and haunted lands. (See also; The 13th Warrior).
7. Brothers Grimm: While set many centuries later than Ars Magica, this movie captures the more fanciful and mysterious vision of Mythic Europe I’m inclined to attempt. (See also; Snow White: A Tale of Terror).
6. Ladyhawke: Getting past the absolutely awful music (or at least, absolutely inappropriate), this romantic tale is full of charm and magic. A young thief finds the secret of a beautiful woman and a taciturn knight, and the curse that keeps them apart. Etienne and Isabeau could easily be companions or a companion and an NPC. Phillipe would also make a solid companion character. (See also, The Princess Bride).
5. Kingdom of Heaven (Director’s Cut): A sprawling epic of the Crusades, this film features various political and religious elements, while also taking us from backwoods village to the urban centers of the Holy Land. Characters, plots, histories, and events to inspire abound. (See also; El Cid).
4. Excalibur: The ultimate, high fantasy telling of the story of King Arthur, this wild and operatic film is pure magic. Like Beowulf, it feels like the mythological base for Mythic Europe, a fundamental part of the cultural language of the people who live there. If this isn’t what happened, it’s what people may have imagined happened. (See also; The Fool of the World and his Flying Ship).
3. The Virgin Spring: A simple tale of lost innocence, a horrible crime, revenge, and a wrestling with faith. The stark but somehow charming life of a landed man and his family is depicted in this film. It’s idyllic, until it’s soiled. The look and feel of the film capture Mythic Europe, including the danger posed by strangers in the wood. (See also; The Reckoning).
2. The Seventh Seal: The disillusionment of Crusaders returning from the wars clashes with the consuming shadow of the Black Death in this haunting and surreal tale of life and death. The knight and his squire would make obvious choices for companion character inspirations. But there are plenty of other interesting characters in this film. And the manifestation of Death feels very much like something one might face. (See also; Valhalla Rising).
1. The Name of the Rose: While this film deals with the clergy and the Church, it doesn’t take much to turn the priests and monks into Magi and the monastery into a covenant. William might very well be a Quaesitor, sent to investigate some crime against the Order. Gritty and ugly, it’s also mysterious and oddly beautiful. This film is kind of a must for Ars Magica players. (See also; The Advocate).
There are also several TV series that are worthy of seeing. The 80s version of Robin Hood, Robin of Sherwood, the recent series Vikings, The Storyteller, and the Cadfael mysteries. And there are other movies, perhaps not as good or as spot on, that might do for a watch. Solomon Kane, Erik the Viking, Dragonheart, The Last Legion, Season of the Witch, and others have plenty of fun ideas.