Triple feature (1 of 3): Poltergeist (2015)

It was Thursday, and this week that was my "night out". Jen and I alternate... one watches the kid, and one goes off and does his or her thing. A "night out" doesn't always mean out per se, and sometimes one of us uses our night out as a night in; working on a craft, or game, or whatever. And quite often my night out is when the gang comes over for RPGs or board games.

But this night, was a masturdating night. I headed to the multiplex with my bag full of snacks:

  • Flask of Kahlua for the movie coffee (combined with their French Vanilla creamers = decadent)
  • Half-eaten bag of some Trader Joe's flavored popcorn that Jen hadn't liked
  • Bag of Japanese sweet and salty crunchy snack with seaweed in it
  • Block of Srircha chocolate, recently delivered from a Think Geek order
  • Some Lego chocolate bricks
  • Flask of port, to go with the desserts (normally saved for movie #2)

Ready! On the menu for tonight, three movies. Keep in mind I was just coming off of a very excellent Strategicon last weekend, so of course I was looking at the whole thing through the eyes of a role playing gamer. And so I give you: three movie reviews by a gamer.

Poltergeist (2015)

It didn't get very high ratings, and most reviews were comparing it to the original, with the original winning the fight. So obviously I was a little worried going in. I really think it was pretty good. The characters played their roles well, and I didn't feel like any of them overwhelmed the others... each played their part, and if you look at the movie from the aspect of trying to figure out what is going on, there are very few obvious holes in the story, and it gels well.

[SPOILERS AHEAD] It seems like the story is really about the house being in a position that makes it a meeting place for a combination of intersecting powers.Imagine a house built on a graveyard. The developers said they'd move the bodies, but instead only moved the tombstones. There is a tree on the house property that is so old it's been there before ANY of these homes, and there seems to be something angry, or otherwise unusual, about it. And of course there are massive electric poles right behind the back yard which are humming with energy. All these intersect, and cause... something? Great setting for a horror game.

I watched the family in the movie, and decided if I ran this as an RPG, I'd go with Dread, and use the following PC choices (where each would have a standard Dread leading-questionnaire):

  • The parent lost their job so they need to move into an "affordable" house, and this is the only one available in the price range.
  • The teenager is a fan of parapsychologists TV shows. 
  • The lead parapsychologists looks for these haunting and such for a living, however also used to be married to the famous parapsychologist on TV. Your relationship with them isn't bad, and the ex-spouse is the one you call for help when you're out of your league.
  • The parapsychologists assistant just graduated from high-school, and instead of college is hoping to make a name here. More scientifically-driven, they have found that all the events thus far can be solved by looking at things from a logical standpoint.
  • The kid is closest in age to the youngest daughter, and due to the kid's young age, and therefore sensitivity, gets to experience the house's weirdness first, and first-hand, before the others. Questionnaire should definitely define things like what their favorite electronic-based toy that they dig out prior to unpacking. Also something that keeps them up at night (in the movie they use the clowns, but it could be anything, really).

The main NPCs, mainly because they can all drive the plot forward, would be:

  • The spouse helps move the story along, can be put in danger or killed, or otherwise freak out, not believe in the weirdness, etc.
  • The youngest daughter talks "to herself" at appropriate times and acts weird (i.e. is able to communicate with the poltergeist), and gets captured by the poltergeist later in the game (maybe after some failed attempts, depending on how the PCs react to things; e.g. in the movie the the kid (her older brother) runs away at some point to get his parents and tells her not to move, and is really too scared to help her... beautiful time to have her captured. If he tried to save her, that'd require some serious guys, and some serious block pulls.
  • The famous parapsychologist from TV gets to be knowledgeable and helps provide some key information to the PCs. They also seems to know what they are talking about, but also do something unscientific and generally weird. I think this can best be defined by the lead parapsychologist PC or the teenager PC questionnaire.
  • The poltergeist, which is really a bunch of angry dead souls who are able to communicate to our world via the electric emanations, but are only really able to communicate with those that have less formed brains (the youngest of a group). Their goal is to try and convince the youngest daughter to come into a portal, with the intent of then trying to follow her out of it, to escape this deathly world they're in. 

Additionally, any of the player (PCs) can be NPCs if you have less than 5 players. What's perfect is you can borrow their general motivations or attitudes from the movie.

I've got more thoughts on this one, but in general you can follow some of the same plot threads as the movie. You can start with the family just moved in. 

  • You'd want to introduce the parapsychologists early, maybe by setting up a pre-story of having them getting a call from the prior owners, but not getting too far before those prior owners took off, or disappeared (can be part of the questionnaire).
  • There are certain things that would work well, like revealing that the real estate agent neglect to mention the people disappearing (it's not technically a death so no need to legally mention that, right?), or the graveyard (technically it was "moved"). These things can be revealed by other PCs via questionnaire items (or NPCs if no one chose those roles).
  • You can bring in the TV parapsychologist either if he is called, or for another reason (maybe he's felt a disturbance and knows everyone here is our of their league). The TV parapsychologist can know some things, but you should leave room for doubt on his authenticity and knowledge, and you can make him purposefully wrong on some things to flavor that.
  • Definitely only the youngest should be able to more easily navigate the world of the dead (as in the movie) without massive block pulls... the older the PC, the more constant they need to pull to prevent going absolutely mad by the onslaught of the disturbed souls of the damned.

The more I've been thinking about this, the more I'd love to run it. Obviously it'd be good if people haven't seen the movie. If it takes a long time to get my shit together, it shouldn't matter, because by then people won't even know what I'm playing off of (as long as I don't call the game "poltergeist"). Work in progress...

Coming next: Mad Max: Fury Road