Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Twilight Zone Sandbox… with Pirates

Earlier in the week, Talysman over at the Nine and Thirty Kingdoms mused how the old Twilight Zone episodes were like mini weird tales, featuring a strange or horrific twist at the end.  It got me to thinking how easy it would be to 'file off the serial numbers' and use the weird element from the episodes for a short game situation.

I've been spending a lot of time here thinking out loud about Arthur, and Britain, and Feudal Japan, but I never really stopped kicking around ideas for a Colonial or Caribbean themed game (Goblins of the Spanish Main?) with privateers or buccaneers in the 1600's, and I'm slowly building out notes for using it for a setting - I have a kick-off adventure for the campaign already outlined.  If I were to build a Caribbean saltbox/sandbox area, could some of the encounters use weird twists inspired by the excellent writing from The Twilight Zone?

So that was the experiment - I scanned only the first 10 or so episodes of The Twilight Zone season 1 (which I had watched earlier this year) and picked out a few where I got an immediate hit on an adventure hook to see if the idea would work as a weird vignette in a nautical sandbox.  Consider there are over 150 episodes to mine for inspiration!

Here are some ideas:

Mr Denton on Doomsday
This is the episode where the two gunfighters confront each other, and realize they're both using the same steady-hand / speed elixir from the snake oil salesman; there's also a theme of fate intervening.

Sandbox:  A patron is obsessed with finding an old hermit in the mountains of Hispaniola to learn the secret of finding the legendary crystal skull, lost oracle of the Maya.  The one-armed hermit offers dire warnings about seeking the relic and receiving its visions, but the group sets off for the Yucatan coast, avoiding Spanish forts to land on the deserted coast and hunt for the crumbling Mayan ruin.  The group guides the patron to the chamber of the skull, and the patron loses his hand in a gruesome way, just like the old hermit, a heavy price for consulting the pagan oracle.

Escape Clause
This one involved a hypochondriac guy who makes a deal with the devil for immortality, but then gets life in prison for the murder of his wife.

Sandbox:  A timid man who became immortal and then turns into a daredevil / thrill seeker makes for an interesting recurring character - he's long since bored and his death-wishes constantly endanger everyone around him.  He may start out like a 'normal man' sailor who always seems to come out of scrapes okay, no matter how dangerous the assignment for which he volunteered.  The only thing that frightens him is the prospect of captivity - life in jail, in fact.

The Lonely
A convict consigned to a distant planet falls in love with an android.  His rescuers shoot the android in the head when they come to get him.

Sandbox:  Marooning and madness are fantastic pirate themes.  This vignette involves finding a castaway that doesn't want to leave the island without his "wife", although the players can't find any evidence of her during the day.  Wifey only shows up in the dark of night, when it's time for her to feed - and she doesn't want her "husband" taken away from her, either.

Time Enough At Last
Poor Burgess Meredith is finally left alone with all those books, only his glasses break.

Sandbox:  This one made me think of the The Curse of the Black Pearl, that first Jack Sparrow movie - the theme involves wanting something really bad, paying a heavy price to get it, and then not being able to enjoy it once you have it through irony - like the pirates claiming the cursed Aztec gold.  I could riff off a similar theme around wish fulfillment.

Judgment Night
This was the u-boat captain who wakes up on board a merchant ship, and keeps relieving a u-boat attack from the other perspective.

Sandbox:  My first thought was to have an exploring group discover a careened ship, and a broad trail leading to a nearby fort where the crew has set up defenses; they urge the party to join them in the defense, because some horrible pirates will be attacking soon.  As clues pile up, the party realizes their fellow defenders were all vicious pirates themselves, now strangely humbled; perhaps only the pirates can see and experience the ghostly attackers?  I don’t know yet, just thinking out loud, but I like the thought of simulating what it would be like to get pulled into someone else's nightmare.  In fact, all of the defenders are phantoms.  The party spent the evening in the company of ghosts consigned to relive the hellish horrors they themselves inflicted on others, after they were cursed by a powerful Obeah woman murdered on their last raid.


  1. The immortality-as-a-curse sounds fun, I'll keep it in mind.
    I used the castaway and his wife variation already, where the wife was a wraith.
    I used wish fulfilment by a night hag:
    wish to be king: under the delusion that you're king.
    wish for gold: large block of gold falls on person.
    Thanks for the post.

  2. I agree that the immortality-as-a-curse sounds fun, but you'd have to be pretty careful to avoid it turning into an obvious Captain Jack Harkness.

    1. You're right about that. But if I draw inspiration from Twilight Zone or something else, I change it it so it isn't obvious.