Fantasy Films 101.05 1983's "Krull"
You either love it or hate it, but either way, if you were alive in the '80s you've heard of Krull. Despite being a critical flop in a year of critical flops (Return of the Jedi, anyone?), the movie spawned a video game and an arcade game, kick-started the career of James Horner and gave a lot of role-players plenty of ammunition for their games.
In a year which saw the release of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, it's not surprising that Krull was also marketed around the world as Dungeons of Krull, Dragons of Krull and, if imdb.com can be believed, Dungeons and Dragons. All this despite there not being a single dungeon or dragon in the entire movie. Of course, Krull was also known as Krull: Invaders of the Black Fortress, and there most certainly is a Black Fortress - in fact, it's the driving force behind the entire plot, and the key element in any role-playing game using this movie for a storyline.
If you take a quick glance at the movie, you might easily pass it off as science-fiction fare. But delve deeper into the mythology, and you'll find the reason the new Dungeon Master's Guide has rules on energy weapons - "fantasy" need not exclude sci-fi elements (Dune proving the flipside of the same argument). However, the science elements are merely there as a sort of high-tech magic, particularly since the wizards in the story aren't very wizardly. In the words of Arthur C. Clarke, "The science of any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Nuff said.
Our story begins on the planet Krull, under invasion from a hideous beast called, um, the Beast, and his army of slayers, called, erm, Slayers. Ok, but hang on, it gets better. The only possible way to defeat this army is for two warring nations to join forces, and the only way to join two nations is with a marriage. Which is where Prince Colwyn (Ken Marshall) and Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) come in. The kids are all set to tie the knot in some bizarre flame ceremony when the Slayers break down the door and carry the princess off.
Oh sure, there's a battle, but not even the combined force of both kingdoms can stop them. Which makes you question the importance of the marriage, but I digress.
Both kings are killed, leaving Colwyn in charge of a kingdom under siege. Luckily, the wise seer Ynyr (Freddie Jones) shows up the following morning, prophecy in hand, and plays Merlin to Colwyn's Arthur, convincing him that he must rescue the captured Lyssa with the help of a magical weapon called Excalibur. I mean, the Glaive, a 5-bladed ninja star from hell that can be controlled with the power of the weirding way or something.
Of course, now that they have the magical weapon, they need a band of knights... except in this case, all the warriors have been killed by the Slayers, so Colwyn has to settle for rogues and thieves and half-assed wizards. Each of the party's additions has something to add to their overall strength, if only one more person to catch a lance in the back, saving Colwyn for the final battle. Leading the band of rogues is Torquil (Alun Armstrong), but the most interesting of them all is Kegan, a thief with a woman in every port. Why interesting? Because he's played by none other than Qui-Gon Jinn himself, Liam Neeson, in his very first American film appearance.
The non-rogues among the party are actually pretty unique as film heroes go, and include: Ergo (David Battley), a shapeshifting wizard; Rell(Bernard Bresslaw) the Cyclops who can see into the future... but only as far as his own death; the Emerald Seer (John Welsh) and his apprentice Titch (Graham McGrath).
The Seer is at first the one to solve the party's main problem, which is finding the dang Black Fortress. Seems every sunrise, the fortress shifts location, which makes it difficult to assault. The Seer can find it, but he needs to be in a special location first. Of course, en route, he's killed and replaced by a doppleganger-like thing called a Changeling, so that line of attack is shot all to hell. Luckily, Ynyr had a fling with this lady way back when, and she just so happens to be the Widow of the Web now (played by Francesca Annis). The details of their dalliance are unimportant - what's key is that Ynyr gets the intel he needs, and Corwyn can at last track down the Black Fortress.
Oh yeah - it's like on the other side of the continent.
Rounding up some Fire-Mares (which are the only creatures fast enough to make the trip), the guys all gallop off like mad. Upon arriving, half of them immediately die in battle, Colwyn breaks in, rescues the beauty from the Beast, and they all live happily ever after.
If it sounds dumb, that's because it is. Sorta. Because even while the plot has holes large enough to drive the Titanic through, there's a lot to like about this film, not the least of which is the great score by James Horner, who would go on, of course, to score some of the biggest films in Hollywood history.
Making this scenario part of your own fantasy world's history is actually pretty simple. There are only a few key elements to take note of:
- A young hero. Prince Colwyn. Nuff said about that.
- A damsel in distress. Princess Lyssa. She really gets short shrift here. The whole Beauty and the Beast thing was done much better in Legend (which we'll discuss in a few weeks). Amusingly, this virginal princess would go on to be a Playboy Playmate. Go figure.
- A motley band of companions. You've got your wizard, your seer, your band of rogues and thieves, your ancient wise man, your Cyclops warrior... what more could a hero ask for? Oh yeah, how about...
- An ancient magical item. Aside from the 3-bladed sword in Sword and the Sorcerer, I think the Glaive is, hands-down, the coolest weapon thing in the history of fantasy films. Even Xena's got something similar, and that's high praise.
- Wicked evil bad guys. OK, so they're fodder. Slayers, Changelings, the Beast, whatever. They're stormtroopers in black suits, and they're going to die by the hundreds. Makes you wonder why the planet fears them so much, or why there are such...
- Unbeatable odds. One of the neat things about this film is the fact that the good guys go down faster than dominoes in a foot-long rally. It's pretty easy to pick out the red shirts, but even so, who would think that the Cyclops would bite it, or that the Emerald Seer would kick it so soon after we meet him? Makes you wonder if that legend about the prince saving the world is true. (Of course it is, silly).
How can you integrate this into your campaign world? Interestingly enough, someone else has gone to great lengths to do such a thing, and the results are right here. It's actually pretty thorough... too much so, if you ask me. But then, I'm always one for personalization over mimicry, and so I won't go into insane detail about every plot detail and setting. All you need are the basics:
- From out of nowhere (space, another dimension, hell), an immense fortress (or tower, or cube, or whatever) shows up and minions begin pouring out, wreaking havoc. An assault on the fortress seems a good idea... except the darn thing keeps moving around. It'll take magic to find it.
- Magic will be hard to find. In the world of Krull, wizards are apparently inept and scarce, which makes them in high demand when situations like this come along. If wizards are more plentiful in your campaign world, perhaps the things from the tower are hunting them down, one by one. This would certainly make them disappear one way or another, whether through genocide or mass exodus.
- Get all the help you can get, because everyone's head is on the rack. Do the players think that wise sage they picked up will be a suitable addition to the party? Oops, he just got killed. Better have three or four wizards, just to be sure.
To be honest, that's all there is to it. The weapon is certainly not anything special, since while it's neat and all, it's not what actually kills the Beast in the end (love does, or a fireball, one or the other). Or perhaps it's only a magical weapon that will work, or magic of any sort... which would explain why wizards are being hunted down. Or perhaps the magic is being drained from the world... wizards are becoming inept, weapons are becoming mundane, etc. In this case, it would take a true artifact to stand up to such power.
Wedding or not, prince or not, damsel or not, the true fun of this plotline is the "invaders from otherwhere" concept. Your wonderful little campaign world can be turned on its head overnight, with everything the characters know being wiped away or altered forever. With magic scarce, friends few and far between, and the standing armies decimated, it will be up to a small band of heroes to gather what resources they can and save the world. And if that's not what role-playing is all about, I don't know what is.
Next week, another great way to wreck your players' world. Except this time, it's not invaders from outside but apathy inside which threatens all existence, the details all hidden in a little book titled The Neverending Story.