Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Alien Stalkers

So last night I had the chance to watch the latest “Predator” movie, Predators…a welcome distraction from Monday Night Football (and the halftime “low lights” of Sunday’s Seahawks game), and something I’d been wanting to watch for awhile.

It was pretty good, which is to say, ‘I enjoyed it,’ even though reviewing it this morning I can’t help but think a lot of it is fairly silly/ridiculous…like the premise, or the samurai swordfight, or Adrian “Action Hero” Brody accomplishing something the Governator couldn’t do in his prime (namely, taking a predator down in hand-to-hand combat…yeah, right). But Monday night is not a night for heavy mental lifting (hell, professional sports are pretty silly when you think about ‘em, too) so it was fine.

[and by the way…why do I give a silly movie like Predators a pass as “entertainment” and not the recent bullshit Clash of the Titans? Because Predators is its OWN mythology and CotT is NOT. No kid is going to go to class and think the “sorcerer alien tree-people” are part of Greek mythology…or any classic/ancient folklore…after watching Predators, because it is its own story. There are plenty of other things wrong with CotT that I could rant about (again), but I’ll leave it at that]

Anyway, I like the Predator films...all of ‘em. For whatever reason, they just strike the right chord of sci-fi, violence, and action for me…such a simple idea, really. “Alien hunter hunts most dangerous game – man – who shows he can be fairly ingenious when put to the test.” The predator alien I find completely badass (which I imagine is true for a lot of the films’ target demographic, hence the ability of the franchise to make money off suckers like me), and a great example of how CGI is no replacement for some old school FX (rubber costumes, animatronic puppetry, etc.). The thing is so visceral, ya’ know?

I’ve done write-ups for the Predator and/or its weapons in a variety of different RPGs over the years…though notably NOT in B/X (maybe later today…). Generally, the system such an antagonist feels most comfortable in is Palladium, itself a system lent towards over-the-top cheesy action/scifi/violence. In fact, I was struck once again (last night) with how readily the Revised Recon system could be used for a one-off Predator game…if only I could find a way to merge Heroes Unlimited or Rifts with R.R. withOUT losing the simplified, streamlined Recon system. Definitely, Revised Recon has the best (in my opinion) system for any mercenary-themed game, unlike other RPGs with soldier/merc elements (Twilight 2000, Albedo, BattleTech, Rifts Mercenaries, Cyberpunk, ShadowRun, Traveller, etc.).

On the other hand, Predator is much more low scale (or what superhero RPGs call “mean streets” level) than what would use for your average sci-fi RPG. Sure, you can rig up a pretty fair copy of the predator alien for a game like Star Frontiers or Traveller, but it just doesn’t carry the same weight of menace. In a game where PCs have access to high-powered weaponry and spacecraft, a big monster with a cloaking device “ain’t no big thang.” You might as well have a normal human with some commando skills, a stealth suit, and a big-ass knife…THAT would be just as scary/threatening, if not more so, than the standard premise of the films.

As for my space opera RPG? There is no “Predator-esque” monster planned for inclusion. Why not? Because there’s nothing “space opera” about Predator! Sure, there are a few pieces of high technology that function in mysterious (read “unexplained by real world physics/logic”) fashion. And, yes, the alien is a humanoid of the rubber suit variety, which is a staple of much space opera fiction.

However, in space opera there’s generally some communication/interaction with the alien species, and generally as peers or intellectual equals (regardless of whether there is egotism and prejudice/racism between species). At least with regard to the treatment of HUMANS, I can’t think of a space opera film, book, etc. where one sentient life-form considers another sentient life-form nothing more than sport to be hunted. In terms of the space opera genre, the original predator alien would be the equivalent of a serial killer…and as the subsequent sequels have established the predators as a species to have the same predilection/values (i.e. they are all “hunters”)…well, such a species is a little too anti-social to fit into the normal intergalactic society found in space opera.

Do you grok my meaning? There may be hated rivalries in the space opera universe (say, between traldaran slavers and wookies or between vulcans and romulans)…hatreds so intense that these species will attack each other on sight with intent to kill. But stalking and hunting another sentient as if they were deer? Going on “safari” into another species’ city? That type of behavior AS A SPECIES in not acceptable in the “galactic community” of space opera. An planet that tried THAT kind of thing would get exterminated faster than you could say “Alderaan.”

So…no predator. That’s a different game.

Not that the whole “Predator-thing” is particularly conducive to an RPG scenario anyway (most players are not interested in having their PCs hunted down and killed one-by-one, right?). Maybe in a Call of Cthulhu game with a “modern day” setting…think of all the insanity points lost for finding skinned bodies and decapitation trophies!

; )


  1. if you do go the B/X space opera route, please don't define the alien cultures too much. That was what prevented our group from ever playing Star Frontiers...it was built around the author's "universe," (which we found pretty uninspiring) and wasn't much good for anything else (at least not for 11 year olds...I'm sure more savvy gamers could adapt the rules to whatever they liked). We never even got far enough to notice the lack of space flight rules.

  2. Two thoughts:

    1) I could see a more "liberal" kind of Galactic Federation -- more on the Star Trek end than the Warhammer 40,000 -- placing a quarantine on the predators, crippling their ability to leave their planet, but not exterminating them, despite their belligerence. This planet would make for a nice "beware the natives" location on a space-based game's map.

    2) I could see a predator working quite well in a D&D game, like Barrier Peaks gone very wrong. It would make for a nice spoiler in a long-term game, or a fun one-off.

  3. @ Iron Goat: Way ahead of you...i.e. we're on the same page.
    ; )

    @ Kelvin: Ditto on #2...if you think about the "Predator mythology," the aliens have hunted the Earth since prehistoric times. Might as well have one or two show up in a D&D/pseudo-medieval world.
    : )

  4. Okay, here's a sick idea for getting Predators into Space Opera. Suppose the Preds exist, and have good weapon and stealth tech, but their capacity for space travel remains very limited. They haven't left their own planet, or at least not their own star system.Maybe they're actually quite primitive and unaware of other sentient life. In fact, most of the galaxy is unaware of their existence. They only ones who have discovered them are whoever happens to be the adversary of the setting - the Klingons, the Dominion, the Centauri, the Sathar, the Red Lectroids - whoever.

    The Bad Guys harvest the population for its best hunter-warriors, pack 'em in cryo-freeze, and thaw 'em out when they meet someone they really, really hate... or when they want to make a particular space station, colony, or planet largely uninhabitable. If the Preds are indeed a primitive race, they may consider themselves 'chosen by the gods,' waking each day to find a new 'happy hunting ground' that has been set before them, totally unaware that that they are hunting anything more than clever monkeys with sticks - or battling demons?

    So yeah, weaponized Predators. Their stealth gear confounds even scifi sensor systems, their blades cut through high-tech armor, their blasts ignore force fields, have a blast. And of course, it's possible for PCs to attempt communication, but the hunters don't expect communication to be possible, so the PCs will have to be very good and very obvious to get anywhere with it. If the predators learn that these creatures really are intelligent, well, maybe they'll be inducted into civilization? Maybe the PCs will help them find their homeworld and try to free it from the bad guys' grip?

    Maybe those left behind have developed culturally and technologically but regard all aliens as invaders, abductors, and a threat to their way of life, but still defend themselves through the exploits of individual hunter-warriors rather than through tank maneuvers and anti-aircraft guns.

  5. I haven't seen all of the Predator movies, but despite their reprehensible practice of hunting other intelligent humanoids, it is clear that the Predators must have an advanced culture, or else they couldn't have acquired all of their impressive technology.

    For the purposes of the film series (at least the installments I've seen), the Predators are uncommunicative ciphers, but wouldn't it be interesting to break through that wall, to communicate with them, to visit their societies?

    Whether broached in the format of movies, comic books, or RPGs, this is clearly a project for someone who knows and loves the Predator series more than I, but if undertaken, it would allow Predator to fit into a space opera genre.

    On the other hand, I like combining things that don't fit. One of the things that made Barrier Peaks so fun was the surprise collision of fantasy and sci-fi. I love the idea of Star Trek's do-gooders having to deal with an antisocial species like the Predators. It would be fun to see Jedi Knights cope with Tribbles, to see how a D&D world might respond to a War of the Worlds-type invasion, and to see Boot Hill heroes take on Lovecraftian monsters.