Movies for Gamers #13: Tales from Earthsea

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

Earthsea, written by Ursula Le Guin is one of my longtime favorite book series. They are so rich in atmosphere, dreamy depth and an own sense of reality that I can still almost reach out and touch that world. I figure that more people have that feeling.

And try to put it into film. Tales from Earthsea is a Manga-like animated feature, almost two hours long, by Goro Miyazaki. And it does feature hero Ged from the books. And it does feature the Dragons. It features Arren. And it loosely follows the third book – The Farthest Shore. Very loosely.

To me it's not the same feel. It's not even really close. But you know what? It's okay. Because Tales from Earthsea works well enough on its own. It captures some of the elements of the books, and blends them into something new. Something that also sometimes feels chillingly real. To me, anyhow.

“Once Man and Dragon were one. Man chose Land and Sea. Dragon chose Wind and Fire.”

See it as the Manga version. Not Le Guin's version. Then figure that you can probably do a better version of Earthsea yourself. Better than Miyazaki. Or at least one that's also good.

Alright, with that out of the way, can we use the movie in our games? Yes, I think so. One of the nice touches is heroes who are not what they seem. A young woman is in fact a dragon, an old man is the strongest wizard around - and he can change into a bird, their main antagonist is also a dragon - an almost undead one. But at the beginning they look like normal people.

Imagine giving each of your players a character like that, without telling the others. And you also give them a reason not to reveal their true nature straight away. They're supposed to be dangerous, dark secrets. I've seen this kind of secrets work beautifully in practice, giving a new feel to the game. Giving all players something to chew on while it's not their turn. Plan their next actions while not telling their secrets. Use your dragon powers to save your friends, or use them only in a hidden way, to avoid being spotted by your arch-enemy? Tell your party members that you have just been stalked by your dark shadow self, or wait until you can solve your problem - to avoid being cast out?

Have a look at Tales from Earthsea, and see what I mean.

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