Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Retro Old School Campaign Set Up With Ray Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans

There's something to be said for going back to the source material when your looking for ideas. In this case we went back to 1981's Clash of the Titans which stars  Harry HamlinJudi BowkerBurgess MeredithMaggie Smith and Laurence Olivier. "The film features the final work of stop motion visual effects artist Ray Harryhausen. It was released on June 12, 1981 and grossed $41 million at the North American box office."

Sneaking into the Warner Theater on a Saturday afternoon through the side back entrance enabled me and my crew of miscreants to see this film. It was hugely influential on a generation of film goers in the Eighties. Especially gamers, for a time it seemed that you couldn't throw a rock and not hit ten different old school  campaigns all centered around Greek mythology.
The basic plot centers around Argos the land  that Perseus lands in after Zeus's jealous wife Hera sets him down in but there was far more going on around the plot of the film;
"King Acrisius of Argos imprisons his daughter Danaë, jealous of her attracting suitors. When the god Zeus impregnates her, Acrisius banishes his daughter and his newborn grandson Perseus to sea in a wooden chest. In retribution, Zeus kills Acrisius and orders Poseidon to release the last of the Titans, a gigantic sea monster called the Kraken, to destroy Argos. Meanwhile, Danaë and Perseus safely float to the island of Seriphos where Perseus grows to adulthood.
Calibos was always a favorite villain of mine warped by the curse of Zeus into something far more and far less then a man. Calibos has been and continues to be my primer for playing divine curses on NPC's. Even
in this film there is something of the fickle & the undercurrent of the chaotic nature of the Greek Harryhausen gods.

" Calibos, son of the sea goddess Thetis, is a young man engaged to marry Princess Andromeda, the daughter of Queen Cassiopeia and heir to the rich city of Joppa; but for committing several atrocities against Zeus, including hunting and destroying Zeus's sacred flying horses (excepting only Pegasus), Zeus transforms Calibos into a monstrous deformed creature with one hoof, goat-like horns, and a long tail. This left Calibos an outcast where he lived in the swamp. In revenge, Thetis transports an adult Perseus from Seriphos to an abandoned amphitheatre in Joppa, where he is befriended by an elderly poet named Ammon and learns that Andromeda is under a curse and cannot marry unless her suitor successfully answers a riddle whose failures are burned at the stake. In order to aid his son, Zeus sends Perseus a god-crafted helmet from Athena which makes its wearer invisible, a magical sword from Aphrodite, and a shield from Hera. Perseus, wearing the helmet, captures Pegasus and follows Calibos' giant vulture that is carrying Andromeda to learn the next riddle. Perseus is nearly killed by Calibos but manages to sever one of Calibos' hands, losing his helmet in the process."

There are a couple of things to keep in mind for an old school dungeon master looking at Clash of the Titans:
  1. The hero & his party of adventurers & hirelings go on a few side quests before achieving their goals. 
  2. Scattered all throughout Clash of the Titans are the remains of the world before the gods. This is something that echoes throughout the film. The feeling that there was 'a world before'. The Kraken itself can be considered a part of this.
  3. The prison of Medusa at the edge of the Underworld is pure dungeon crawl & has many classic elements of an old school adventure including a guardian monster in the form of the two headed dog Dioskilos.
  4. There are other echoes of earlier Greek mythology films such as Jason and the Argonauts from 1963. 
  5. Burgess Meredith as Ammon is a perfect pure bard, sage, and councilor NPC & his performance makes an excellent reference for old school DM's 
  6. The interaction between the gods and humans in '81's Clash of the Titans is fickle at best and downright dangerous at worst. This sort of interaction might be typical for human and god interactions. 
  7. There is treasure just sitting around several of the picture's adventure locations and this could lead a party of adventurers to follow the trails blazed by Perseus and co.   
  8. The Kraken isn't the only monster that the gods have imprisoned. There's a bunch of horrors implied by the film but never seen. 
  9. There isn't much back story given to the Stygian Witches but its clear that their very dangerous. Could a relative of  the PC's have been one of their victims? This might make for a good side quest. 
  10. The gods make several references to the moves of other humans on their chess board. Could these be the PC's interfering in the plans of the gods? 

"Perseus seeks a way to defeat the Kraken, while Pegasus is captured by Calibos and his men. Zeus commands Athena to give Perseus her owl Bubo; but she orders Hephaestus to build a golden replica of Bubo instead, who leads Perseus to the Stygian Witches. By taking their magic eye Perseus forces them to reveal that the only way to defeat the Kraken is by using the head of Medusa, who lives on an island in the River Styx at the edge of the Underworld. The next day, the group continues on their journey without Andromeda and Ammon, who return to Joppa."
The Kraken comes to claim Andromeda.
"On the Gorgon's island with three soldiers by his side, Perseus fights Medusa's guardian, a two-headed dog named Dioskilos, who kills one of his companions but Perseus intervenes in the nick of time and kills the beast. Perseus leads his two remaining allies into the Gorgon's lair. His two other companions die on encounter with Medusa herself; she shoots one of the soldiers with an arrow and turns the other to stone. Perseus uses the reflective underside of his shield to deceive Medusa, decapitates her, and collects her head; but the shield is dissolved by her caustic blood. As Perseus and his party set to return, Calibos enters their camp, forces Bubo into the water, scares the horses away, and punctures the cloak carrying Medusa's head, causing her blood to spill and produce three giant scorpions called Scorpiochs. The scorpions attack and Thallo is able to kill one of them, but he and his fighting companion are both killed by Calibos himself. Perseus slays the other two scorpions and thereafter kills Calibos and grieves Thallo's death."

The scorpion scene still creeps me out but its indicative of the fact that the mortals are playing with the materials, items, & events of the Greek gods. This is one big entertainment for those same gods something again implied in '63's 'Jason & the Argonauts' film. In fact there's always been deep connections between Clash of the Titans & Jason & The Argonauts.
Is the whole set up with the Kraken simply another entertainment in a long line of such events of the gods? Both pictures imply this very thing.

There's this feeling to both pictures that there's far more going on then we the audience are seeing. There have been other heroes & adventures that we are not even aware of. These films imply a history and deep backstory that one gets from a Harryhausen film. I'm not waxing lyrical here or clouded by nostalgia. These were films with weight to them and mythological backgrounds to them for old school campaigns. An early look into Clash of the Titans can be found in Starlog issue #38 which has a really solid article on the film.

So the Kraken is defeated & all ends well for Joppa. Well not exactly you've still got the gods plotting their next move on the city state & then there are the families of the poor bastards that went with Perseus.  This is where the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st edition Deities & Demigods book comes in. Almost but not quite everything is stated up in this book except the Kraken.

I know that your thinking that surely you can't plug this into Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea? Can you? Well actually you can. The heroes & some background elements were placed in the constellations by Zeus himself. What if there's shadows of these NPC's in the stellar namesakes. Could there be a quest in the making between the Outer Darkness of the night between the stars? I have a feeling of something along those lines. 

For now keep em rolling!  Clash of the Titans remains an old favorite of mine and millions out there.  A perfect game night film and perhaps set up for your old school campaigns?

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