Glen Hallstrom 7 of the Best

Glen Hallstrom’s 7 of the Best

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Written by Glen Hallstrom

Hi folks. Okay, let me say first off, I consider all genres when creating things, especially game scenarios. My games work best as a cinematic adventure. Film has always been my first love before RPGs and my works always have a cinematic feel anyway (and let me tell you, it was hard to nail it down to seven.)

It has an atmosphere to it that set the stage for others like it – bleak yet fascinating. Ridley Scott took Phillip K. Dick’s original novel, turned it around and brought a dreamy texture to this tale of what it means to be not-quite-human in a human world. Topping it is Harrison Ford’s weary detective and Rutger Hauer’s wonderful performance as the leader of the “skin jobs.” This is the film I thought about when I used to play Cyberpunk 2020 or Gamma World (at least the more populous areas.)


This is the film THE MATRIX wishes it was. This is a one-of-a-kind film that manages to keep the audience guessing until the slap-in-the-face climax. Alex Proyas gave us such a unique sci-fi/noir world, I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it in an RPG ever since (came close with Mutants and Masterminds,) but Mr. Hand has turned up in a few of my D&D games (usually as a necromancer.)



Now, since I had to pick just one of my favorites of a director I like, I picked one that represents their work as far as fantasy/sci-fi goes. When I think of tabletop fantasy, I think of the work of Terry Gilliam, especially this film. I love the steampunk-ish feel to his work and the filigrees and details he puts into them. His fantasy work is the epitome of the genre for me. Plus the casting is great, especially John Neville as The Baron himself.


I’m a sucker for a good pirate film (CAPTAIN BLOOD, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, et. al.) and one of my favorite adaptions of a classic story is this 1950 Disney film. Sonofagun if they didn’t come out with another great take on this yarn, a rollicking classical tale getting the Wellsian/Vernian treatment. It didn’t use the book’s prose (it’s Disney, natch) but it still has the feeling and spirit of Stevenson’s tale (the plot is surprisingly faithful to the story.) And, yes, this is as close to a Spelljammer movie as we’re ever going to see, dammit. BTW, note to Bruce Heard: I think of this when I think of Calidar.

Orson Welles takes The Bard’s works (mostly Henry IV, Henry V and some of The Merry Wives of Windsor,) chops ’em up and gives us The Life And Times of Sir John Falstaff (played by Welles, of course.) Many fine florid performances but Welles’ Falstaff and Keith Baxter as Prince Hal are the standouts. Their relationship is what everything revolves around. There’s some grand D&D fodder in this film. Mistress Quickly’s tavern should be the prototype of the Typical RPG Tavern and the Battle of Shrewsbury is a magnificent centerpiece. Don’t let the Shakespeare scare you away, it’s a must watch for any Dungeon Master.

Now so far I kept pretty close to the sci-fi/fantasy genre but I always come back to this one as my favorite film. Seedy L.A., corrupt businessmen, the feeling of something rotten just below the surface, it’s all there in one of my favorite genres, the Detective Noir, plus it’s easily adaptable to any other genre of RPG where shady dealings and Machiavellian goings-on are the standard. Transfer it to a fantasy world or a city in space and it’s right at home (some of the characters, such as Noah Cross I’ve plopped down into Mystara and didn’t miss a beat – “Forget it Jake, it’s Specularum”).

Honorable Mentions:

This minor Welles film is worth a look for its interesting photography (I love his camera work), the great dialogue and intriguing plot, about a secretive millionaire who says he has amnesia and hires a “petty adventurer” to do a confidential report about his past to uncover any indiscretions that the U.S. government might dig up while he is negotiating a land deal with them. Or DOES he have amnesia? The film may be a bit disjointed but I managed to adapt it into a campaign for one of my BECMI games.


I always tell neophyte DMs to look at Westerns for inspiration/plot/etc. Because I get a lot of inspiration from them, especially Spaghetti Westerns and this is one of the culmination of that genre. The idea of a ruthless West populated by normal folks with gunslinging demigods wandering around (heh, the PCs) really resonates with me. And Morricone’s score – at times lyrical, bombastic, sweeping and majestic – compliments it all the way (he’s the best argument – along with Poledouris’ score for CONAN THE BARBARIAN  – to use music in RPGs.) Sergio Leone‘s version of the West, the weathered buildings, unshaven men and operatic feel I like use in a D&D game – and my art (everything I draw building-wise has a ramshackle look to it.)

Almost like a coda to GB&U, it’s every bit as sweeping and grand. The opening is a classic , as are a lot of other scenes. The casting (Bronson, Robards, Cardinale) is spot-on and only Leone would have the cojones to cast Henry Fonda as the bad guy.




I love Bogie and Powell, but to me Robert Mitchum will always be Phillip Marlowe. He nails the world-weary detective right down to his flat feet.

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    John Enfield

    Mr. Arkadin sounds interesting. I’ll have to look that one up. It does indeed sound like a good plot for an RPG. Orson Welles was ahead of his time when it came to directing films. If things had worked out better for him when it came to budgets, studio support etc, his films would look more polished and would probably have more than Citizen Kane in the AFI top 100 movies list. I agree that Westerns make good inspiration for RPGs. The mythos of many Spagetti Westerns especially really fits into any fantasy RPG setting. I’ve used the plot from Pale Rider more than once to good success.

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    Christopher Bishop

    I loved the man with no name trilogy. Some of the best times watching cinema with my old man were spent with eastwood flicks. Blade runner was awesome because it broke so many boundaries in film and in society. It was very unapologetic look of a dystopian world visually and I do not think a better job could have been done bringing it to life. Orson Welles was a man ahead of his time. He had a literary eye for camera shots and knew how to make the camera, the actor’s gestures and background tell as much of the story as the actual dialogue. Chinatown is an oft overlook piece of noir that never received the credit it deserved. Loved your list!!

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