May 13, 2013

Harryhausen and the Giants of Hari Ragat

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I came home from a long assignment to the sad news of Ray Harryhausen’s death. It was no big surprise, of course – the man was born in 1920 – but it marks the passing of yet another giant of F&SF. We’ve had to say farewell to quite a few of them in the last decade or so, so it’s a good time to reflect on how much we gamers and writers of the genre owe to those giants.

A lot has already been said about Harryhausen and his works, specially his fantasy collaborations with producer Charles Schneer. My imagination was permanently stamped with images of dancing goddesses, battling skeletons and rampaging unnatural beasties thanks to these two, as the Sinbad movies were a staple of my childhood. With so much already said, I guess the best way for me to personally give tribute to this great creator is to acknowledge how much he’s influenced my game designs, particularly for Hari Ragat.

Indeed, when I think of fighting giants in Hari Ragat I think of this particular sequence from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. The choreography of this fight scene is simply amazing, specially in the light of the very primitive technology available to its makers, by today’s CGI-wiz standards. Here’s a clip of the scene:

Harryhausen also had a fondness for multiple heads as well as arms, as seen in this pic from Jason and the Argonauts:

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Harryhausen’s visualizations work  specially well for introducing players to HR because many giants and monsters in my milieu are multi-armed or multi-headed.  In the terms of my Vivid rules system, multiple limbs or jaws count as an Advantage. You’ll have to think of how to counter this advantage, or a Raksasa with multiple arms like Harryhausen’s Kali may have as much as a dozen dice to roll against your three or four!

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Another iconic Harryhausen scene that has significantly affected my game design is this one from the 7th Voyage of Sinbad, where Sinbad and his crew use a specially constructed ballista to shoot a dragon. My main takeaway from this scene: you do not just use swords or spears against a creature as badass as a dragon. Taking down something so huge and powerful should require special preparation and methods.

While ballistas could be constructed in the HR milieu – there’s historical precedent in the balatik crossbow traps used to take boar and buffalo in parts of the pre-colonial Philippines – there are also other methods for dealing with very big prey.  Our heroes could take a leaf from REH’s Valley of the Worm, and hunt down a special poison to use on their spears and darts; or make like Odysseus and sharpen a log into a stake for putting out a cyclops’ eye; or use a maritime people’s familiarity with nets and ropes to render a giant helpless. 

You don’t just roll to hit something like a dragon! As of now, the scale rules in Vivid allow me to rule that normal attacks do no damage vs. very large creatures, so there’s a real push for players to find alternative ways of fighting.

But the greatest gift Ray Harryhausen left to fans like me is something that I don’t think I can reproduce with rules. It’s a vision, a taste for mythic story elements and exotic, magical pageantry that all combine to evoke that most magical of feelings – a sense of wonder. It’s the reason I play RPGs, the reason I read F&SF, the reason I write. It’s even part of why I’m a photographer. Thanks, Mr. Harryhausen.

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