Monday, March 29, 2010

Harryhausen is Old School

Over the last couple of weeks, my wife and I have been very lucky to have the opportunity to see some of Ray Harryhausen's movies on a big screen at the local micro-cinema, the Trylon, in South Minneapolis.  It's a very nice micro-cinema, with an art gallery out front and they make real popcorn with real butter, not the regurg-o-matic crap that they fob off on you at the macro-plexes.

We were able to see Jason and the Argonauts, Twenty Million Miles to Earth (Yay Ymir!), and The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.  You can get a quick overview of these and the other Harryhausen classics that the wonderful people of the Take Up folks ran as part of their Titans. Will. Clash. series at this blog here.

Jason and the Argonauts.  This is the classic skeleton fight-scene.

It just doesn't get any more Old School than that!

Talos, the Harpies, the Hydra -- just the Jason and the Argonauts movie alone has some amazingly cool monsters in it that have left an indelible mark on so very many little kids who watched this stuff on late night tv, or whatever.  The influence of Harryhausen on OD&D could be a book unto itself.  Just compare Talos with the Iron Golem.  You can find your way from there. 

If you take a good look at the Ymir from Twenty Million Miles to Earth, all it needs is to have more of a beak/less of a snout, and a boney-club on the end of his tail and you've got a very well-done Shen from Empire of the Petal Throne, another Old School game. 

What I find kind of weird is that the RPG monster-makers seem to have overlooked the 4-armed snake-lady, guard-dragon, and two-headed roc from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.  Everyone remembers the cyclopes...you know the guy: he's the one-eyed giant with a horn on his forehead and looks like he's at least partially related to a satyr.  That Cyclops is absolutely one of the best versions out there, a real classic.

You can see the 4-armed snake-lady towards the end of this clip:

Now that's a cool spell for a villain, or anyone else to use!  Not exactly the best attack in the books, I grant you, but awfully useful for beguiling a local potentate, currying favor, or trying to get a ship weaseled out of the Caliph.  Of course, that would require a game in which you were doing that sort of thing from time to time.  After watching these movies, why wouldn't you want to run a game like that?

Sure, this stuff might not compare all that favorably against Avatar's 3-D mega-smurfs, and yes, it does look fairly cheesy by current standards, but keep in mind when these movies were produced and that this is still some of the best of the best when it comes to stop-motion-animation.  Harryhausen is Old School.  And I for one think that is very cool.

In regard to the 4-armed snake-lady mentioned above, I was perhaps too brief and not clear in my intention.  I see some serious potential in a spell-crafted entity that has heightened DEX & CHAR, even if it costs them a penalty in say WIS, INT or even STR, especially when that creature serves their master as a potential assassin, concubine or whatever, especially since the spell-caster can have them revert back to a human form later on--possibly with no memory of the perfidious or foul deeds that they might have done in the alternate form.  When you add in a hypnotic/charm ability, four arms that might be able to strike or use weapons (probably light ones), and a constriction-attack tail...possibly a bite...you get a lot of utility from this spell and the subsequent critter created by it.  Making it so that the subject loses their memories afterwards makes this a sorcerous equivalent to a plastic gun--it'll get places that otherwise you'd never be able to reach.   So no, I don't see this as a yuan-ti or a Type V demon.  Though, there is a chance that the ritual used to convert this person might have lingering after-effects.  There could be a period of time during which stress might trigger a reversion to the serpent-taur form, or in a more wicked variant the ritual might so pollute and taint the victim's cells that they end up spawning what amounts to yuan-ti...but you'd need to call them something else as last time I looked the yuan-ti are not in the SRD.  Maybe this ritual is used on male devotees of a cult that summons Type V demons so that they might mate with them and produce demonically-descended heroes and champions for the cult.  Hmmmm...that could get interesting.  Gross, but interesting from a DM viewpoint.


  1. I agree completely. I did an homage to Harryhausen's more swashbuckling fantasy films on my blog a couple of weeks ago. Good stuff, definitely--I wished they'd all come out on blu-ray.

  2. Giant monsters, dinosaurs and the like have been consistently described with overt Harryhausen-esque qualities in my games

  3. Great movies!
    What I find kind of weird is that the RPG monster-makers seem to have overlooked the 4-armed snake-lady, guard-dragon, and two-headed roc from The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad.
    I always thought the four-armed snake-lady was the basis for the Type V (Marilith) demons.

  4. Type V/Marilith, maybe...but what I'm looking at is a more basic 4-armed serpent-person that isn't necessarily other-planar or saddled with the baggage of beng a "demon," if you get what I mean. Also her arms are like snakes or tentacles, and that in itself makes her very interesting in terms of combat, thievery, etc. Then there is the whole 'being produced by a weird form of polymorph spell' that is eminently un-doable. So, yeah, there is a resemblance to the Type V, but I still thinnk that she deserves her own entry...which I might just have to write up later.

  5. errmm..yuan-ti?

  6. Uuuhhh, how about no. No works for me. See my edit above. Besides, the yuan-ti are hardly the only serpent-derived critter in mythology or even gaming lore.

    What I most like about this creature in particular is that it is directly tied to a ritual and is used as a pawn that reverts abck to human, but possibly with some bonus side-effects to make the ritual that much more wicked and perfidious.

  7. NetherWerks, the Trylon is my new favorite cinema in the Twin Cities. I own all of the fantasy films but hadn't seen his sci-fi ones so I was ecstatic to see them for the first time on the "bigish" screen there!

    I couldn't resist seeing Sinbad this past Sunday though--so I still went to that one too.

    Great blog btw--That makes 4 local bloggers in our area!

  8. Hi Jay. Glad to hear someone else likes the Trylon too! Great place. Thanks for the nice words. Nice to know that I'm not the only Minnesotan caught-up in this stuff.


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