Fantasy Films 101.01 1980's "Hawk the Slayer"


What makes a good role-playing adventure? The same things that make a good fantasy film. Maybe "good" is a strong word to describe this first installment of Fantasy Films 101, but "fun" is certainly acceptable. Hawk the Slayer is a ton of fun at a party, and a great place to rip off a plotline for a night of slaying bad guys.

There is, perhaps, no better place to draw inspiration for your own game adventures than from fantasy films. After all, you already have villains in place, you already know who attacks whom at what point, and you know how the story will end. Watch with a pen and some graph paper and you've even got all the maps you need for the entire gaming session.

Of course, the risk you run by taking adventure ideas from films is that your players will have seen the movie, and will figure out what's supposed to happen. There are a few possible ways to deal with this. One is to simply go for the ride and have fun - who cares if the players know what to do? Part of the fun of it will be acting out the ridiculousness of the real film. Or, if you're more sadistic (like myself), you can always change a few key elements from the plot, just enough to make the story work differently than the players will be assuming. Turn those cute little ferrets into demonic familiars, and never again will your players assume that all will be as it was in the film.

As I mentioned in a previous column, the 1980s are chock full of great fantasy films from which to draw inspiration for your gaming sessions. And as suggested by Mr. WJ Walton, Hawk the Slayer seems the perfect place to start our retrospective. After all, it was released in 1980, the year I was personally introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, and it features a character named Gort. What more could you ask for?

Here's the gist:

Our hero Hawk (played by John Terry, better known to most genre film buffs as Felix Leiter from the 1987 Bond film The Living Daylights) has his father and fiancee die horribly at the hands of "The Dark One", his evil brother Voltan. No, not Voltron, Voltan. Voltan is played by Jack Palance, and if you don't know who Jack Palance is then you probably live in a cave. Suffice to say that there's nobody better suited to play a bad guy than Jack Palance.

Anyway, Mr. Hawk sets out on your typical hero's quest to gather companions who can help him in his battle against his brother Voltan. Because obviously if Voltan could take out his father and fiancee without Hawk stopping him, Voltan's pretty badass.

Did I mention that Voltan has captured the Abbess (Annette Crosbie)? He's also running around the countryside with his army doing bad stuff. There's never really any good reason given for his doing these bad things. It's just because he's evil.

I won't get into a review of the film (the acting is awful, the set atrocious, etc), but will instead focus on ways to turn this film into an adventure all your own. Of course, the best way to do this is to rent the film for yourself, but if you don't have the $3 and video rental card, here are the important elements:

  • Wicked evil bad guy - Voltan. He's got a nasty helmet and he wears black and he talks like Jack Palance. There's nothing scarier than that. Vocal intonation is one of the best ways to get across a character, and Mr. Palance is pretty easy to mimic after a few minutes' practice. Plus he can do one-handed push-ups. How evil is that?
  • A young hero. This is always the trickiest part of adapting film to adventure, since one of the characters is tagged with the duty of being "the hero" and the other characters are relegated to supporting roles. One solution is simply to have the hero be an NPC gathering the PCs as his companions. The other is to acknowledge that the hero is usually pretty wimpy and the supporting cast get all the good lines.
  • An ancient weapon. In this case, Hawk's father bequeaths unto him the "Sword of Power" which uses an "Elfin Mindstone" as its source of power. Obviously, you could turn this into just about any magical weapon against evil, but this is generic enough to be used just about anywhere, and a sword is always a good central plot element (as later movies will prove again and again).
  • A captured princess. Or Abbess, as the case may be. Of course, she's beautiful and rich and all that, so there's plenty of incentive for rescuing her, unless your band of heroes are all celibate and wealthy. Which is unlikely at best.
  • A motley band of companions. There's a roguish halfling, a big apish guy with a hammer, a wise wizard, and an android-like elfin archer with some nifty quickdraw action.
  • Unbeatable odds. Which will be beaten, natch. It never fails, but somehow the band of odd rebel companions will find a way to beat the entire imperial army by dropping a proton torpedo down the single unshielded duct, blowing the Death Star to smithereens. (Oops, sorry. Wrong movie. The black-cloaked bad guy, young hero, sword of power, captured princess and motley group of roguish companions confused me. BTW, Star Wars came out in 1977, in case you're wondering about who copied from whom.)

The rest is pretty simple, and will have you wondering why you never came up with adventure ideas this easily before. The hero (or heroes) encounter an evil force and must gather supplies/recruits/beer before they will be strong enough to take him on. Once all the elements are in place, it all boils over into a direct conflict between good and evil. The bad guy is vanquished, the princess is rescued, the heroes are rewarded, roll credits.

However, it's also pretty easy to build in some more complexities:

  • As the heroes are gathering strength, so is the bad guy. If they don't act quickly, they'll wind up in even worse trouble than they are now.
  • The magical weapon that can defeat the bad guy is running out of power (Curse those Elfin batteries. Shoulda used Energizer). If the heroes don't hurry, their only chance will be gone.
  • The "bad guy" is really doing good for the land, cleaning it up by killing and imprisoning the rogues, thieves and outcast wizards in order to make it safe for everyone. Of course, the "heroes" fall into this category, and aren't keen on being imprisoned for the sake of the peasantry. I leave the intricacies of alignment to you to figure out.

Hawk the Slayer is not at all the best of the 1980s fantasy films, but it is a good indication of the basic plot that most follow, and an easy way to crank out a one-nighter for your adventurers. Next time, I'll move on into the glorious year of 1981, which features some heavy hitters that many argue are among the best fantasy films ever made.

I vote for Dark Crystal. I've always been a fan of that one. I had this book on the Making of Dark Crystal, but it has since made itself invisible, much to my chagrin. Wonderful movie.

Dark Crystal, definitely. Conan has so little to offer in comparision; Arnie showing off anabolic muscle, sword-swinging and doing the occasional grunt.

definitely dark crystal. so many more rp avenues to explore.

I gotta agree with the current voting and say Dark Crystal. However, I was thinking about the movies you listed originally. I don't Yellowbeard was in there. I know you were trying to centre on Fantasy, but you just can't leave out Yellowbeard when you are talking about movies with RP potential from the 80's.

I saw this film when I was a kid, and loved it -I was a bit obssessed to be honest! I wrote to ITC the production company, and they arranged to forward mail to Ray Charleson (Crow, the elf). The letter was bounced 4 times, apparently, and several months later, I got a package out of the blue from Ray. This was a BIG THING to a D&D loving kid! He sent me a 'Hawk...' Production T-shirt (which I can't bring myself to get rid of, to this day) a pic of himself in civvies, and an AMAZING b&w publicity shot of him as Crow, sitting cross legged, hed bowed, with his bow on his lap, on a carved stone plinth -its years since I've seen the movie , but I think its where he's using those elven ears to listen out for the bad guys approach? I still have that somewhere..

FYI, according to his letter, Ray was an american, who'd lived in the UK for years, and had a joinery business while not acting... He's turned up in a couple of programs - bit parts - over the past 20 years, on UK tv...

All these films are excellent. The music to all is astounding. The soundtrack to Hawk was elusive but I think I mananged to find most of it off napster. Excellent stuff. The Conan soundtrack is mind-blowing. Basil Poledouris' score is worth seeking out from your nearest record shop.

You missed out a few other fantasy films of note; The Time Bandits, Highlander (the first, and only the first film), Excalibur, Brazil, Adventures of Baron Munchausen... etc, etc...

Right wel can't think of anything exciting to write so I think that'lll do for now.

Hawk The Slayer - beautiful film! Any movie than can successfullt cast Bernard Bresslaw as a giant has got a tonne of panache!! And fabulous music - Ennio Morricone for the Sword and Sorcery nation! Anybody know where I can buy/download a copy of the original film soundtrack? Would be much obliged! Also would love to get a copy of the film on DVD... search has proved fruitless so far. Anybody remember Krull..? Have fun people.

Great rgp flick. Last seen as a rerun on HBO in the early 80's, this movie is sorely missed. It needs to be re-released on DVD asap.

I watched this film as a kid and loved it. Crow the Elven archer is awesome. I took up archery because of him. Didn't last long though. Aparently in the new Lord of the Rings adaptation by Peter Jackson, Legolas will also fire his arrows at superhuman speed. Who's ripping off who? ;)

Um, that guy WAS Jack Pallance. Oh the humanity!

does anyone knows if there is a HTS soundtrack available ? It is the only good stuff of the movie

"... that old witch is HOT ..."

You can find the soundtrack to HAWK the SLAYER at I was so excited when I received my copy -- the music is awesome!!! Wish the composer (also the film's director) was still around to write more. Crow rules!

tks a lot Teo, I will try.

Hawk the Slayer was good Sunday-afternoon fun, but it wasn't a very good movie. It suffered from the "plot coupon" trap that plagues so much fantasy fic. This is when each plot point feeds to the next plot point, but no overall picture is developed simultaneously.

In finding good inspiration for stories and structure, there is no need to use fantasy films as a model. The grammar of storytelling extends to other genres as well. D&D games lend themselves well to action pics in general. I recommend these resources:

The Nine Act/ Two Goal Structure:
(this is a particularly good one that attacks the single goal structure used in Hawk the Slayer)

The 36 Dramatic Situations:

"To the Ends of Time" was one of my favorites. The flying war ships at the beginning show what the so-called "Final Fantasy" movie should have had in it to make it a Final Fantasy movie. Ever hear of Final Fantasy II? (Cecil and his Flying air ship squadron) Or maybe Final Fantasy III? (Setzer Gabbianni's airship/casino)Anyway, the song at the beginning (Same title as the film) is one of the most beautiful fantasy movie songs i've ever heard (the best being "Neverending Story"). Also I liked "The Land of Faraway". especially the background artwork.

Does anyone remember a Fantasy tv show from the 80's similer to "Halk the Slayer". It came out a few years after halk. I belive it was centered around a swordsman and a strong warrior.

In one of the Eps. they had to fight an invisible dragon.

I wish I could rember more. The show was on air for a season or less.

Any hints would be helpful. Thanks