Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Burrowers

Ah, the modern use of the internet. One of the people I follow on Twitter mentioned that the Burrowers was worth a viewing, and it was indeed. Not a modern masterpiece of Western Horror but filled with some interesting ideas.

Some of these ideas are not new mind you. Looking at the first one where man is often responsible for his own plight. This was true when I was a young man watching reruns of movies like Them and Food of the Gods, to the Burrowers. In the former movies, it was often man's entry into the Atomic Age that caused natured to rebel against man and to spew forth giagantic and horrific monstrosities.

In these cases, its easy to see why man is responsible. Often these are thinly disguised lectures about the dangers of things man does not and perhaps was not meant to know. In fantasy settings, this is often replicated with some type of fantasy holocaust. Eberron has its Mournlands, the Forgotten Realms has Thay, now a land of the undead. There were several sights in the Forgotten Realms that because sources of Wild Magic during the Time of Troubles, the recent Spellplauge has added its own areas of unrest, and the examples flow from there.

These magical regions of chaos are usedful when creating new monsters, when providing a location for monsters, or for providing a safehouse that only a madman would use. In Eberron, the Lord of Blades has picked his home quite well.

In the Burrowers on the other hand, prior to all of this atomic age stuff, man was still doing bad things. In this case, the Burrowers, used to feast on the buffalo. Western settlers are responsible for the destruction of vast herds during their settling period and well, in this case, the Burrowers still have to eat. Next up on the food chain? Why man of course.

Another problem that is brought to light here, is that man often thinks he knows more than he does. In this case, those who investigate the Burrowers, by proxy of a missing family, think that it's a native attack and kidnapping which leads to the creation of the party of rescuers. There are small signs at first that things are not what they appear to be, but these go unheeded.

In this case, the casting of stones, the thinking that the Native Americas are to blame, leads to several gun fights with the Natives as well as casualties on the 'heroe's side. In a role playing game, this might be done through the use of red herrings. In this case, it's easier to ignore the tell tale signs that something different is about than it is to think that something unknown and unknowable is out there.

The ignorance is eventually lifted when the party encounters the Burrowers. These are some strange creatures that move about on all fours and use a poison that could be similiar to spider venom in that it essentially makes people easier to eat as it turns them... soft after a period of several days. Depending on the dosage, the individual may become completely paralized. In Dungeons and Dragons 4e, this might be represented with something like a disease track where after missing so many saves, essentially you're finished. Might start with Dazed, then Stunned, then Stunned and Immobilized. Not a good thing but in a system that features magic cure alls, not as bad as it would be in a historical setting.

In many adventurers though, the players are not allowed to stay in ignorance. The lifting of ignorance can be brought about by several means. One of those found most often in Call of Cthulhu games includes research into tomes, papers, recordings, and interviews with people who may be knowledable about the situation. In this case, the information comes through in bits from several natives that try to warn the search party away from the Burrowers and to go back to their homes.

The interesting thing here though, is the addition of the language barrier. When there is a language barrier and only a few characters can speak with the knowledge base, they are now on a different level of power. If that is the Dungeon Master's intent, he should go with it, providing the answers to any questions in written form only to those who understand the language being spoken. In some instances, such as the movie, where the one of the searchers is essentially finished from poiosning, he keeps that secret hoping that he can find a cure.

Another twist on things is the use of bait. In one scene, two of the characters wake up and realize that their leader has left the fire growing untended which makes them an easy target in the darkness. Latter on this circle is carried around as that leader is then poisoned and left for bait for the burrowers. It's a tactic used in the post apocalyptic Tooth and Nail as well. By poisoning a food source, the players can gain an edge up against thier enemies and the GM shouldn't hold that smart thinking against them.

The movie ends of a down note though as the last surviving character learns that his own guide to killing the Burrowers and his allies, have died under circumstances best described as embarrisngly stupid which leads us back to point one where man brings a lot of the pain he suffers in this movies upon himself.

In the end, The Burrowers showcases what could very well be a group of standard adventurers, each of them men with weapons enough to kill a dozen men over, meeting something of the supernatural and the horror of things man was not meant to know.