Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Night of the Death Cult
Fantasy Horror Scenario
Classic and cult horror films are a lonely pleasure of mine; almost no one among my family or friends appreciates them, and my fiancé doesn't care for horror of any kind (except for yours truly), so I usually watch them alone with a glass of wine and some cheap compilation discs. I have loved these kind of films since childhood, and confess an especial fondness for sixties and seventies Italian and Spanish creep cinema. It was while watching the Night of the Death Cult (properly titled Night of the Seagulls at the Internet Movie Database) that I realized what a great one to three session scenario for a Dungeons and Dragons game that the movie would make.
The above movie still is actually from the Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971), the forerunner to Night of the Death Cult (1975), and apparently there are other loosely related films featuring these same skeletal Knights Templars who, by means of ancient pagan blood rites, prolong their existence from medieval times until the 1970's in the Old World countryside near the ruins of an ancient keep and sleepy nameless villages. Silent, slow moving, shrouded in black hermetic robes and bearing ancient swords, these monsters look every part St. Tolkien's Nazgul.
The films can only be loosely related because there is little real plot in Tombs and there is no story connection between the features...it seems it was more a matter of getting as many movies as possible out of these costumes and the spooky shooting environs. In terms of art (I use the world liberally), the real magic of the films for me is the very surreal and horrifying images of the undead knights venturing forth from crumbling crypts across the misty moors or upon lonely moonlit shores. Usually filmed at night and with slow motion, they do leave an impression on the midnight movie watcher. Both films contain some cheap gore and mild nudity, although Tombs is much more sexually charged and is as much meant to be erotica as horror. Both are the work of Amando de Ossorio. Both are to be valued for their atmospheric dream like palettes rather than any ingenious scripting, acting, or production values, especially since the versions I watched were dubbed very badly.
Why do I want to run a scenario based on Night of the Death Cult? Because, it has everything a good D&D game wants!
A young doctor and his wife travel into the Spanish country side to take over the practice of an elderly village doctor who has abruptly closed shop and wants to get the hell out of town. He is friendly to them as he departs but full of cryptic warnings. Upon arriving, the couple find a sea side village out of time where the people are as mysterious and impregnable as the ruins of the forbidding keep which lies not far from town. No one wishes to talk or have anything to do with the newcomers and the puzzled newlyweds are told frankly to go away...but of course, they don't listen, not least because the idealistic physician feels he has a duty to the backward place to bring medical care. They are befriended by a strange young woman, native to the village, whom they take in as a servant and also by the hapless village idiot, a mentally deranged but harmless and pitiable middle aged man with the demeanor of a young child and who suffers perpetual cruelty from the hard hearted village folk.
The couple is warned that they are restricted by a curfew applying only to them and cautioned not to travel abroad by night for any reason. But being awakened by tolling bells and mysterious choral singing, they look out their window to see a procession of black garbed men and women leading a young girl in a white robe towards the crashing shore of the sea. Compelled to sneak out and watch, they realize the girl is the focus of some pagan rite which they cannot fathom as they witness her being chained to a rocky outcropping at the edge of the shore. Then, the baleful apparitions of the rotting warriors appear galloping from the shores near the old keep who arrive to retrieve the screaming girl and spirit her away to a cryptic fate. Thus begin the chain of events which will lead to the inexorable doom of most in the film...
I think the clever DM is already seeing all of the wonderful material here for a short round of games.
There are literally tons of adventure props and interesting moments for any D&D session. Angry villagers, supplicants beating on the door at night begging refuge, the old keep with it's dungeons below and the grotesque stone image of a terrifying elder god from lands far over the sea. All kinds of little mysteries that grow and branch out of the same underlying pathos of the old settlement and it's ghastly pact with the lords of the ancient keep, who appear to have been the feudal lords of old and who still exact expensive tribute in the coin of tender virgins. Designing the keep as a dungeon would be great fun, as would laying out the village and placing some areas of interest there, such as an old cave. One could even follow the exact plot of the movie--having a cleric hear of a priest of their faith abandoning their parish and traveling there to inquire as to the welfare of its people. Or you could simply have the party become lost and happen upon the village.
You have only to watch the film all the way through to outline the essential elements of the adventure. It is not complex at all and would lend itself well to a brief episode between campaigns of for those game nights when for whatever reason you are not able to run your usual game. Of course the final showdown is with the evil undead order. A good trail into the adventure would be the party being told not to leave their quarters but then hearing and seeing the ritual march--what D&D player will not break the curfew? You don't even have to have a detailed structure--just a series of related episodes and encounters that grow more and more menacing until the adventurers find themselves completely on the outs with the townsfolk, who have no love for their spectral masters but don't wish to suffer their ancient curses and threats of final destruction.
Sounds like a game just in time for Halloween....