Monday, October 25, 2010

Horror Movies to Play - Dog Soldiers

This last week of October leading up to and including Halloween this Sunday gives us an opportunity to focus on the best two things about Shocktober - scary movies and horror role-playing. We've done other Movies to play articles which you can find here, but the basic premise is that we review a movie based on its playability as a role-playing scenario to use as a GM and enjoy as a player. We also focus on what system or systems might be best to run the movie as a game. So sit back, pop the popcorn, and keep coming back for more horror movies all week while we finish out Shocktober 2010 with a bang!

Today I'm reviewing Dog Soldiers, an indie British horror film. Keep Reading for all the gory details!

Dog Soldiers is the story of a small British army unit out on a training mission they'd all rather not have to drudge through that goes terribly, horribly awry. This is a bit of understatement as they run into the remains of the special forces unit assigned to hunt them down as part of the training exercise.

You see, the unit doesn't get a chance to hunt the normal soldiers because they are (almost ) completely obliterated by... something. The only exception is the unit's commander - Captain Ryan - a man who begins the film already on bad terms with the army unit's second-in-command Private Cooper. Cooper, played as a total bad ass by Rome's Kevin McKidd. Cooper attempted to get into Ryan's special forces unit but couldn't pass the final test.

Things quickly go from bad to worse as the thing(s) that killed Ryan's unit and left him wounded and bloody begin hunting the army unit down. Eventually the unit, with a little help from local zoologist Megan, makes it to a large farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere. As the werewolves besiege the house, the unit has to put up the best defense possible. Ammunition is at a premium, and each monster alone could arguably take out the whole unit. Not compelling enough for you? The unit appears to not quite be alone in the house...

If I didn't know better, I would think that Dog Soldiers began as someone's World of Darkness mortals game using the Dogs of War supplement. There are some aspects that just scream "gamey" when you see the film. The first one - and one I'd stretch out just a little longer than the movie does - is that the army unit is on a training mission, and being on a training mission means that they don'thave live ammo. Their guns are full of blanks making them glorified clubs to use against the werewolves. In the movie the unit discovers the remains of the special forces unit pretty early on. It's an awesome moment since the special forces unit brought a small armory with them. This could be a big payoff moment for the players.

Essentially I see this movie ran over two game sessions. The first one includes the characters bickering and shooting the shit as they're working just to get through one horrible weekend in the backwoods of Scotland. I would pepper this with moments where a wild animal is seen following them and may even attack the group at one point. It'd only be one werewolf throughout the first session, and it would overall be a survivable fight considering it's only one monster and it's still a nice-sized group of soldiers.

Session one would end with the players discovering the special forces camp, destroyed save for Captain Ryan and his huge arsenal. Like I said above, the players would get a huge relief and reward for surviving that long and probably start to feel invincible.

This is when the werewolf's family comes into play.

Session two opens with not one, not two, but at least five werewolves chasing the players to the house. This session would be much more action-oriented, and the vast majority would take place in the house. At least Captain Ryan would be turning into a werewolf throughout the session and maybe one or two of the PC's as well. It would be all about conserving ammo and improvising defenses.

The other great thing about the movie is how likable and easily indentifiable the army unit characters are. You've got your joker, your sports fanatic, your gun-loving psycho, the sgt. in charge, and of course the supremely competent Private Cooper. It would be insanely easy to make pre-gen characters for your players stealing directly from the movie. I also really like the locale of Scotland. It's the perfect mix of familiar and alien for most American players and should work to put everyone a little more on edge.

The movie, apart from being a very playable RPG adventureis really well put together. It's a tight story that never gets slow and can be unrelenting at times. There's just enough subplot throughout the film to make it more than just another bland low-budget horror film while still offering some spectacular explosions and werewolf fighting action. Someone boxes a werewolf in this movie - have you ever heard of a movie offering something more characteristically "player-charactery" than that? I didn't think so. Go play it!


  1. I love love love Dog Soldiers. I was thinking of running an Inception-styled Nightmare on Elm Street game for Dread, but I should try Dog Soldiers instead.

    Awesome article.

  2. Thanks! I just couldn't help but think about how great each part of the movie would be from the viewpoint of a GM the whole way through. If you end up running a dread game with Dog Soldiers I'd love to read about it!

  3. It's an Army movie WITH werewolves, NOT a werewolf movie WITH army guys.

  4. Very good movie, would be good for wargaming.

  5. @Louis Porter Jr. - Of course, my mistake :)

    @The Angry Lurker - I'm thinking AE-WWII would actually be able to replicate it very well. It'd make a very fun board game concept if nothing else.


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