FAL Review: Mutant Chronicles the Movie

I have now watched the Mutant Chronicles movie, and it was great fun. It feels weird to see some of the concepts I had a part in creating being made into a feature length movie. Weird but cool, of course.

Note that this review contains spoilers of the Mutant Chronicles movie. If you don’t want to have the ending spoiled, just read to the end of this paragraph and no further; to sum it up the movie is a run of the mill sci-fi action horror adventure (how’s that for covering genre bases?) with predictable plot development and wooden acting. Nothing more, nothing less. If you find enjoyment in movies like Dark Side of the Moon, Split Second and Pitch Black, this could be a movie for you. There are also throwbacks to Aliens and The Matrix, but compared to those luminaries, Mutant Chronicles falls rather short.

The visuals are mostly grey and drab, to good effect. The only colour to stand out in stark relief is red, as in blood red, making the cinematography vaguely reminiscent of that found in Sin City. I did love the steampunk aspects of the movie, from the large artillery guns on the battlefields to the impossibly constructed space ships carrying our heroes into the fray.

The plot is predictable and takes a lot of inspiration from the narrative structures of video games and roleplaying games; a group of hard-ass soldiers are assembled to carry out a mission to save mankind, and after a lot of one-liners and gratitious violence one of them survives and saves mankind.

The overarching themes are heroism and sacrifice. These themes carry the most weight in the scenes picturing refugees trying to get off Earth before it is run over by the mutants, and in the unflinching heroism of the NPCs … erm … secondary characters, or whatever they’re called in movie lingo. Sure, the main characters are heroic and all that, but that’s to be expected. I feel it to be one of the strengths of the movie that it lets other characters shine … before they are killed, as often is the case.

As one of the principal writers of the original Mutant Chronicles roleplaying game, I have mixed feelings about the movie. I think that it is a solid offering for a B-grade sci-fi flick, reminiscent of the movies that was part of my growing up. At the same time it ignores a lot of the powerful imagery and plot mechanics present in the source material. The Dark Legion is only represented by some kind of machine and a bunch of identical mutants, and the diversity of the legion’s threat to mankind, both from within and without, is ignored. It also feels like a wasted opportunity not to use the first encounter background from the game, and instead invent a much weaker plot vehicle to move the film along.

The tone and graphics are spot on, even though I feel that the Mutant Chronicles setting also contains polished steel, neon and plastics to a greater extent than what is shown in the move. As it is now, the film focuses too heavily on the WWI inspiration inherent in the setting, and not enough on the sci-fi tropes that also make up the background. One thing I really liked was the inclusion of religion, faith and belief, although I feel that this could have been explored much more intricately; after all, in the Mutant Chronicles setting, divine power is a reality. Or at least, mystical power is …

To sum it up, the setting of the movie is only inspired by some of the basic ideas of the roleplaying game, but the result is still entertaining to those who find enjoyment in strong visuals and steampunk imagery. Fans of one-liner plots with dodgy acting will love it!


FAL Review: The WFRP Companion

I remember one of my first moments of going “wow, this is so cool” in relation to roleplaying supplements. It was after seeing and thumbing through The Call of Cthulhu Companion for the first time. After that, I was sold on the Companion format. Rolemaster used Companions to great effect, and my own first steps as a game writer I dubbed The Unofficial Cyberpunk Companion. I did one for WFRP as well. So basically, I love Companions, and their eclectic mix of stuff that can be both enormously useful and mind-numbingly useless. But it’s the mix that’s the thing for me, the chance to read many different views on the game in question fills me with anticipation. So it comes as no surprise that I really like The WFRP Companion. I’ll be up front about that, and about the fact that I’m a sucker for the concept. The physical book is a softbound tome, it clocks in at 128 pages and it’s black and white. This is in my mind a very good format for a Companion product, to underscore its premise of “here are some stuff that might be cool for your game, but also some stuff you might not like”. In the pages of the book we find an abundance background, new careers, new rules and new NPCs.

The book contains the following material, arranged in the order appearing in the following list:

  • Credits (1 page) – Of note is the bunch of writers involved. The Companion is a result of an open call for submissions that Black Industries put out, and those who frequented the BI forums recognise many of the names from there.
  • Table of Contents (1 page)
  • Introduction (1 page) – a background to the contents in the same style as the introductions in the other books.
  • A Guide to the Known World, by Owen Barnes (7 pages) – covering what’s outside the Empire.
  • Freaks, Thieves and Travelling Folk, by Andrew Peregrine (8 pages) – a detailed look at the life of carnival folk.
  • Life and Death on the Reik, by Andrew Law (9 pages) – harking back to the information given in Death on the Reik, this is an expose of life on the greatest river in the Empire. Contains four new careers, Stevedore, Foreman, Wrecker and Riverwarden.
  • Advanced Trade and Commerce, by Jude Hornborg and Dan White (17 pages) – An extensive piece covering most aspects of trade in the Empire. A very nice mix of rules and background material.
  • Star Signs and their Meanings, by Kevin Hamilton with Robert J. Schwalb (7 pages) – instructions on how to use star signs in your campaign.
  • Medicine in the Empire, by Steve Darlington (8 pages) – is there a doctor in the house? If not, use this article to inflict medicine on the hapless adventurers.
  • Social Conflict and Advanced Criminal Trials, by Jude Hornborg (10 pages) – put your social skills to use, you uncouth adventuring scum! Provides a basis for clashes of wit instead of steel.
  • Sartosa, City of Pirates, by Eric Cagle (7 pages) – care for change of focus in your campaign? Send your characters to Sartosa. Enough information to get you going is presented here.
  • Tobaro: City of Sirens, City of Fools, by Andrew Kenrick (8 pages) – An exposé of the city of Tobaro in Tilea. Contains one new career, Deepwatcher.
  • The Cult of Illumination, by Brian Clements(5 pages) – a cult to drop into your own campaign.
  • Pub Crawling, by Jody Macgregor (6 pages) – a bunch of Inns to visit.
  • Bring Up the Guns! The Imperial Gunnery School of Nuln, by Bill Bodden (7 pages) – A look at the Gunnery School, with maps and a new career, Artillerist.
  • Gugnir’s Blackpowder Shop, by Eric Cagle (4 pages) – meet Gugnir. He makes and sells gunpowder.
  • Perilous Beasts, by Andrew Law and Jody Macgregor (17 pages) – a few classics and some new faces presented in the same format as The Old World Bestiary: Amoebae, Behemoth, Bloodsedges, Bog Octopi, Chameleoleeches, Doppelgangers, Mermaids, Naiads, Patchwork Men, Promethean, Reik Eels, Spites, Stirpikes, Tendrophilus Fungus, Tree Kin, Triton. Phew, quite a bunch of critters there.
  • Index (1 page)
The best, most interesting and useful articles are Freaks, Thieves and Travelling Folk; Life and Death on the Reik; Advanced Trade and Commerce; and Social Conflict and Advanced Criminal Trials. The rest of the pieces are well written and contains many fun and interesting ideas, but their utility is not as great for my campaign as the others.

Given the hit and miss of the usefulness of the articles, I think the price of the book is a bit steep. For some the mix has been a turn off, but for me the format makes The WFRP Companion an exciting book, and provides me with plenty of inspiration for my game. So with the above in mind, I highly recommend it, but also caution that you check it out as much as you can before purchasing it.


FAL Review: Le Pacte des Loups

Year: 2001

Genres: Horror, Action, Historical drama.

Main cast: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Emilie Dequenne.

Director: Christophe Gans.

Writers: Christophe Gans, Stéphane Cabel.

Length: 137 minutes.

Le Pacte des Loups (aka The Brotherhood of the Wolf) is a strange mix of historical drama, Arthur Conan Doylesque horror and Hong Kong action. It is the epitome of a roleplaying movie, and the style, pace and plot is reminiscent of the common setup of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay adventures. The basic plot concerns a beast that is holding the countyside of french Gévaudan in thrall. The premise has some basis in history, since there actually exists a legend of a beast of Gévaudan in real life. But apart from that nugget of historical accuracy, the rest is made up. The movie builds on the legend and introduces to the mix the main protagonists, biologist and writer Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Bihan), and his american indian companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) to solve the mystery of the beast. They are tasked with hunting down the beast and bringing security to Gévaudan and its people. This straight-forward adventure is complicated by local and national politics, a love story, secret societies, conspiracies and a dose of forbidden lust.

The pacing is sometimes awkward, and long dialogues are interspersed with violent action scenes to quicken the blood. The martial arts scenes came as some surprise to me. Mani turns out to be an accomplished warrior using some kind of martial arts to great effect, although I think that the inclusion of this element is the weakest part of the overall structure of the film. At the time leading up to the release, much was made of the beast itself and the special effects used to bring it to life. Now the effects look a bit dated, but the director did the right thing and never let the camera rest on the monster for longer times, preferring close-ups of details instead of full-figure exposition. At the times the monster is in full view, it is always moving so there is no time to dwell on the details. Well done.

To best enjoy Le Pacte des Loups you must view it without any expectations on historical logic. The movie is a fun and beatutiful action roller-coaster, with anachronistic elements. No more, no less. As an added bonus, the plot can easily adapted to serve as elements in your next fantasy horror adventure. I highly recommend it.