Friday, October 4, 2019

Another World. Another Time, In An Age of Wonder

I've held off talking about this for as long as I could. I didn't want to spoil anything, giving ample time for everyone who might read this post to see the series, but I can wait no longer. The Three Sisters and Three Brothers have all aligned and time of the Great Conjunction is at hand.

Mother Aughra listens to the Song of Thra, its Breath, the pulsing of its Heart...The Crystal of Truth. It is time. Time to discuss...

I want to talk a little about what the original Dark Crystal film meant to me, have a brief discussion about the Netflix series itself, and then how to use it all to create a RPG since, um, I am Adam Dickstein and this is what I do.

I'm terribly sorry, are you new here? If you are, just know if I like something a lot and it inspires in me a bunch of cool and interesting ideas, then I going to want to game it. It's pretty much as simple as that. If you're not new to the Barking Alien blog, this should come as no shock. 

I have a lot to say on this subject so this may be the first of few posts. Three maybe?

Let's begin...

The world of The Dark Crystal was first introduced to our own world in 1982 as a theatrical film written and directed by Jim Henson, the multi-talented creative genius behind the Muppets. The movie was co-directed by accomplished and brilliant actor, director, producer, and puppeteer Frank Oz, with a screenplay by Emmy Award winning screenwriter and film director David Odell, both of whom were also veterans of the Muppet Show. 

I was 13 years old when The Dark Crystal came out. It was a very difficult time in my personal life and although I was very excited for the movie and I loved the film, I now realize there was so much going on when it came out it didn't resonate with me quite the way it should have.

I mean, here was a movie about a world both fantastic and alien, created by my hero, with art and designs by one of my all time favorite illustrators, Brian Froud, and I loved it only until the next spectacle of 80s movie magic came along. 

Let's face it, it wasn't the greatest movie of all time. It was an incredible world, full of very interesting beings and ideas, but as a film its narrative was slow and choppy, its plot simple and at the same time somewhat vague. It conveyed its mood and atmosphere well but it left us wishing we'd gotten to know its characters and their universe much better than we had.

All that stayed with me. 

I found myself sketching pictures of the evil Skeksis and the urRu Mystics on my notebook at school. I introduced a version of the Garthim into our D&D games. All the while there was one thing in particular I couldn't stop thinking about. Something I heard Jim Henson himself say on an HBO special about the making of The Dark Crystal (which I now think I enjoyed more than the movie). 

Henson, in what seemed a casual, almost throwaway line said, "I imagined a three-dimensional, three sided object...".

He was talking about the world of Thra, the planet on which the Dark Crystal took place. Come again? A three-dimensional, three sided object? 'That's impossible', I thought, and as with every other time in my life that I have thought that, I now had to figure out how it could be. 

I watched the movie a few more times on VHS tape. I bought and practically devoured the book, The World of the Dark Crystal, and did whatever I could to get more information on the universe in which the film took place. There was sadly little beyond the aforementioned book but WOW, what a book.

Time passed...

In 2007, American manga distributor and publisher TokyoPop put out Legends of the Dark Crystal, a prequel to the original film set several hundreds of years beforehand. While much of it would be retconned in the new canon that would come later, it was the first new Dark Crystal material of the 21st century and in its own way may have gotten the ball rolling for the works to follow. 

Those works include the amazing, The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths, a three volume series of graphic novels by various creatives including new material by Brian Froud himself. The series introduces a few new characters including the intriguing Raunip, the 'Son of Aughra'*. Set much earlier in the history of Thra, both before and during the coming of the UrSkeks, the series is quite impressive and definitely informs elements of the next wave of stories. 

A sequel to the original film was once planned but eventually abandoned as a theatrical feature. The tale lived on as a comic book series entitled, The Power of the Dark Crystal. I will be honest, while it had some neat concepts, I generally didn't love the direction they took the story in. I don't keep this one in my head canon when thinking about The Dark Crystal. 

It was around this time that...or was it slightly before? Somewhat after?...I do know that it was in 2011 that Archaia Entertainment, publisher of Creation Myths and The Power of the Dark Crystal, announced plans for an officially licensed role-playing game. The Dark Crystal RPG was mentioned by press release at the August 2011 Gen Con gaming convention, intending to publish it later the following year. Like its Origins Award-winning Mouse Guard game, The Dark Crystal would be designed by Luke Crane and utilize mechanics similar to that of Mouse Guard and its precursor, The Burning Wheel.

Some of you may have heard about this or even seen my mention of it here on this blog. What you might not know as I've never mentioned it in an open forum is that I almost worked on it. A mutual friend of Burning Wheel creator Luke Crane and myself was a key supporter of the old RECESS gaming events and as legend has it, either Luke as him if he knew the guy who ran the Muppets based games at the event or my buddy mentioned me to Crane as a possible good source of Dark Crystal knowledge. 

Whatever the case, I eagerly awaited what might come of such a promising lineage and interesting collaboration. Unfortunately, nothing is what it amounted to, at least in regards to my involvement. Why I was never connected further on the subject and what became of the project I couldn't say. Only Mother Aughra's eye can see that far across time and space. 

That brings us to 2013, and The Dark Crystal Author's Quest. The Jim Henson Company, in association with Grosset and Dunlap (a divison of Penguin Group USA), held a contest to write a new Dark Crystal novel. Yes, I submitted something. No it wasn't chosen. Instead, the extremely talented J.M. Lee won the contest and his submissions manifested as not one but four books, a series of Young Adult novels that I absolutely adore. These film prequel novels define the new and current canon of Thra, the Gelflings, the Skeksis and UrRu, and much more. 

You see, these novels were the template and resource material for the Netflix series, Age of Resistance. 

Finally, the real meat of the Peachberry! The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Netflix Series! In my opinion it was absolutely Dzenpo! That's Podling for Awesome! What? You all don't speak Podling?** Tsk tsk. 

This post is already getting long so I will address the new streaming series in greater detail in a follow-up post. What I will say is that in a post on January 9th of 2012 in which I discuss the Creation Myth series, I mention how I would love to run a game in The Dark Crystal universe but that it seems like it would be very difficult. My main issue with it simply being we didn't know enough and at the end of the film - SPOILERS - there are no Skeksis, no UrRu, no Garthim, and but two Gelflings on all of Thra! 

Talk about your closed settings! The remaining Gelflings lived happily ever after, alone essentially, the end. No ifs, ands, or buts as far as we can tell. 

Now having read the novels, having seen this show...WOW! Not only is gaming in Thra's 'past' more viable than ever, I am beginning to see a host of possibilities for Thra's future! I could easily run a campaign in the post-film era of The Crystal of Truth!

OK, I need to organize my thoughts for the next posts. I hope you all take a look at The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and when you do, please share your thoughts on it with me and all of us here at Barking Alien.

For now, I am going to sit by the hearth fire, roast me some Merkeep, a little glow moss on the side, and grab a glass of warm Nebrie milk to wash it all down. 

See you soon,

Barking Alien

*Raunip's name is dropped as an Easter Egg in Age of Resistance. Two characters are going to have a duel at 'Raunip's Pass'. I didn't notice it the first time I watched the series but caught it on second viewing. 

**There are a number of videos on Youtube and Twitter wherein Hup, the Podling character from Age of Resistance teaches the viewer how to say words or phrases in Podling. Adorable!

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