Apropos of Nothing: Independence Day (movie) and RPG Inspiration

I led the post from yesterday with a quote from the movie Independence Day.

That naturally got me thinking about the movie, which I really think is one of the better popcorn movies out there. It’s a classic example of the explosions and victory school of film-making.

There are of course so many plot holes and implausibilities in this movie that one might just toss it in the bin along with Snakes on a Plane as essentially unwatchable (My wife and I were really looking forward to this one, for all the reasons you’d expect. Well, one reason: Sam Jackson saying “I want these MFing snakes off my MFing plane.” We tried . . . we did . . . to watch it, but had to turn it off when the snake bit the stacked woman in the restroom on the nipple).

Shall I toss off a few?

  • Will Smith had it right, in a way. Why come 90 billion light-years to start a fight. Unless their hyperdrive systems are so effortless in terms of energy input so as to make that journey trivially, there’s no reason to come and conquer Earth
  • Systematic city-by-city destruction using the wall-of-flame cannon, rather than, say, biological warfare or something. 
  • The power of the portable Apple computer. 

I’m sure there are tons more, and we can amuse ourselves in the comments endlessly.

Nonetheless, I loved the movie, and place it in the same category as, say “Broken Arrow” for “guilty pleasure movies,” that aren’t really terribly good but are a hell of a lot of fun

But, how about for gaming?

Just kinda winging it, we have an intro section where we get introduced to some of the characters, and that is probably not exactly perfect for gaming. I tried “the PCs meet each other bit by bit” once, and it was a nightmare. I had to resort to a total railroad “you guys all need to be in the same area, so go there” heavy hand of the GM moment. Not the best.

Then, of course, there’s the scene where the aliens are attacking, which is a nice “you survived the apocalypse” moment that provides both the actual apocalypse as well as some convenient opportunities to deprive the party of some gear, and some thrilling heroics.

Then there’s the finding of Area 51 and all of the old alien technology, which provides the inspiration for the big climax. We also have the inevitable “conventional methods will not impact the aliens” moments where proxies are killed and exposed to nuclear explosions to prove just how badass the PCs will have to be to pull this off.

Then there’s the planning montage, followed by the actual plan, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, and the final victory.

Assumptions and Genre

Welcome to Earth, motherf**ker

The tech assumptions are pretty straight-forward. The “good guys’ have access to military level hardware where needed (not that it does any good), decent command and control supplemented with Morse code. The bad guys have access to their exosuits, which seem to only provide environmental protection, since Will Smith was able to KO an alien by frackin’ punching him in the face. 

They have contragravity, FTL travel, and blasters. Apparently, however, they are regressed to TL7 or so in computer technology, which the PCs can take advantage of.

The genre is pretty clearly a cross between Action and Monster Hunters (or maybe just Monster Hunters: Bug Hunt). The PCs are all pretty damn capable and action-hero worthy. Plus, of course, one of them is the President of the United States. Who flies a jet into action. Hell, I’d vote for that guy.

What doesn’t work about this


I think that on several levels, this movie would fail as a direct translation to an RPG campaign. There aren’t really enough PCs with active roles (that’s typical of this type of movie; you really only get two or three characters in focus, usually a pair of dudes and a love interest or two as regrettable window dressing).

Also, too much of the movie is exposition and doesn’t really involve the PCs as the go-to party, and the situations are such that at least the players I’ve had would get themselves utterly killed. That first raid on the big mother ship that Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. partake in? Oh, yeah. TPK city (and when you think of it, this particular raid’s end was basically “Oh, one player bought Luck, the other Didn’t Get the Memo and gets to write up a new PC).

What works?


The general outline of the “plot” isn’t awful. The threat is detected, and the apocalypse can either happen on-screen as part of the first scene, or actually off-screen, and the PCs can be together from the get-go, but in a “too late to die stupidly” way.

The plotline can be stretched into a reasonable campaign, by avoiding the Deux ex Machina of the Area 51 already having most of the answers and a conveniently captured starfighter. The PCs can capture aliens, grab tech, set ambushes like some sort of mashup from Red Dawn meets Aliens.

The big climax might be different, but blowing up the bad guys just as their unleashing their superlaser does have a certain cache to it, one has to admit.

Parting Shot


I think the upshot of this is that I want to write Monster Hunters: Alien Invasion.

Seriously, other than the magic part, this is nearly tailor-made for this sort of high-action, popcorn cinema type of campaign. Certainly, you could play it with a Sidekicks level of PC, but that just means you buy that book, which is already conveniently provided for you. All the groundwork is done for you, and Aliens and Ultra-Tech substitute quite nicely for demons and magic in the role of plot obstacle.

Heck, I wonder if this is just Too Simple for e23, and should be reduced to Pyramid instead. If only I had a bunch of vacation time coming up . . .

3 thoughts on “Apropos of Nothing: Independence Day (movie) and RPG Inspiration

  1. I always felt a lot (but certainly not all) of the plot holes were filled by remembering that the script was a slightly tweaked rewrite of what would have been Stargate 2.

  2. For the starting situation, I've had some success with "you all happen to be in [small location] when [really obviously bad thing] happens" — if PCs are immediately disconnected from their support networks it can come together quite well — but it needs to be a major bad thing that forces them to work together rather than walking away, calling the cops, whatever.

  3. I always wanted to run a campaign set a few months/years after the movie events where the Earth has reverse engineered the FTL drive and goes out exploring.

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