Roleplaying In A

Review: The Road

In General, Setting on March 9, 2010 at 8:00 am

There are two parts to this review: the basic review and the bits usable in a game. The second part will contain spoilers. I’ll include a warning between them.

The Road: Director John Hillcoat (who’s done some other stuff but nothing I’d ever heard of before): Writers Cormac McCarthy (he wrote the book) and Joe Penhall (who’s also worked on stuff I’d never heard of before). Starring Viggo Mortensen and a kid I never heard of before.

And the very first impression you get is that other than Viggo Mortensen, these are a bunch of nobodies. This film will either rock or really, really suck.

This movie will become a classic. It is that good. Most post-apocalyptic movies turn into disaster flicks. I like disaster flicks but The Road deals with very real survival issues in a world gone very dead. Not just how to get food, stay warm or be healthy but the gritty realities of dealing with other human beings in that same environment.

Summary A father and his son walk alone through burned America…. It is cold enough to crack stones, and, when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the warmer south… They have nothing: just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless cannibalistic bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a rusting shopping cart of scavenged food–and each other. IMDB

The Man (the main characters are never named) wrestles constantly with feelings of abandonment by the Mother, his fierce love for the Boy and his awesome distrust of everyone else left alive. These come into conflict as the Boy misses mom and wants to be one of the Good Guys. Without ever hearing it said, you can feel the Man’s anger at his dead wife. and he tries hard to stay Good without exposing them to danger.

The portrayal a dead and dying world was excellent. There were times you saw living plants but not often and it never detracted from the desolation and death that was literally everywhere. No living trees, no animals even by accident, very few people.

It may not have been entirely realistic. The movie takes place 6-8 years after the End. I don’t know if humans could have survived that long in a world without plants or livestock, subsisting on just scrounged canned food or cannibalism, but the story is so powerful that the science becomes very secondary.

There was one real “wtf?” moment near the end where you find yourself asking how or why that happened and it’s not explained well. It was big enough for me to subtract one star and give The Road 4 out of 5 stars. When I think back on the movie, it intrudes.

Anyone who runs a survival game needs to see this movie. Everyone else should see this movie.


Things GMs can learn from The Road

Show, Don’t Tell The Man never really expresses his latent anger at the Mother for walking off into the wilderness to die but over time, throughout a variety of cut-scenes inserted into the film, you feel it. He feels abandoned, if she’d really loved them she’d have kept fighting.

Resources Affect Story They start with 2 bullets in the pistol, use one, find a flare gun. food is scarce and finding a cache has a huge effect. Even finding water makes a difference to them. What they have and how much of it they have constantly affects the story. You expect that in a film like this but it’s true of other genres as well just starkly pointed in a post-apocalyptic setting. How they treat the world around them changes drastically based on their assets.

Perception Checks Matter The Man sees a shiney new lock but fails to understand the significance in a world where everything else is broken and dirty. So when the inhabitants of the house return, he and the Boy are taken completely by surprise and barely escape with their lives.

Information Matters Another time while in the bomb shelter, they have everything they need but argue over what they hear. The Man decides to leave based on his interpretation while the Boy is angry and unhappy. Not only do the checks themselves matter, but how characters interpret the information they are given can make a huge difference in their reactions.

Alignment Matters Not all game systems have alignment, but how the characters treat the other human beings around them is constantly affected by their own self-perceptions of Good. The Boy especially has a child’s ideals and constantly goads his father to be better than his wont.

Explanations Matter At the end, the Boy is found by another family who wants to help. they say they’ve been following the Boy and the Man. You never find out why they bothered, or why they didn’t make themselves known earlier and my mind won’t quit trying to rationalize it. Find ways to get this information to your players or they may be distracted by the seeming incongruities of the setting and story.

Go, see the movie. You won’t regret it.

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  1. What are your inspirations? Have you ever read Damnation Ally?

  2. Yes. I’ve also read Alas Babylon and A Canticle for Leibowitz. Canticle is my favorite in that genre.

  3. I’ve not read Alas Babylon, but A Canticle for Leibowitz is one of my all time favourite books. I keep meaning to haul out my Dad’s copy of Daybreak 2000 (aka Star Man’s Son) and reread it as I read it when very young.

    Day of the Triffids is another PA book I love. I find too few PA games go back to the literature, most are based on Gamma World or Fallout, with the occasional Mad Max thrown in. While those are all fine it gets rather incestuous after a while.

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