Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Western Terror

S. Craig Zahler's Bone Tomahawk is a film that plays out like a DnD One-Shot. A kidnapped woman, a group volunteers to go after her, a journey into the wilderness to the Troglodytes' base, and the resolution by combat with no quarter asked and none given. Here are a few things from the movie I'd like to bring into my next game session.

The Hook


There's a lot to love about the scene of the Native American guide who helps the party locate the Troglodytes' base. There's a weird power-dynamic between the Indian Expert and the White Settlers. Behind that tension, all his passive-aggressive answers build-up the mystery and danger of the mission:
  • What kind of tribe doesn't have a name? One that doesn't have a language
  • You'll take us to them? I won't. Cause you're an Indian? Cause I don't want to get killed
  • Well what are they? Troglodytes
  • What do they look like? A man like you would not distinguish them from Indians, even though they're something else entirely
  • You'll show us where they're at? You'll be killed if you enter their territory
  • How many do you think there are? It doesn't matter. You don't have a chance against any number of them

The Journey

One of my favorite recurring western themes is the journey through the wilderness. The party must travel over long barren wilderness to reach their destination. As DM I usually drag this out a bit, with random encounter rolls, and lots of questions about the party's camp preparations. I especially enjoy playing out the tension, will they get attacked at night. What I'd like to add is the effect of the journey/weather. Some constitution checks for men and their mounts to leave the party not at their best when they arrive.

The Terror of the Bow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFPZzWrHyvs

The ambush by the Troglodytes is great. The party is sneaking around, trying to scout out the enemy base, when out of nowhere, arrows. The attack is so silent and understated, it takes the audience a couple seconds to process what just happened.


TPK

DM's who provide real dangerous challenges for the PCs must occasionally deal with Total Party Kills, when the entire adventuring party gets wiped out in one combat. One option is to roll up a new party of characters who are friends or relatives of the old one. Bone Tomahawk uses the classic trope of "Knocked Unconscious then Wake Up in a Cage". This works if you are using a system which distinguishes between death and unconscious characters.

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