Ray Harryhausen Tribute

ray harryhausen-medusa

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So, others have been able to address in greater detail and with more value the influence Ray Harryhausen and his films had on the development of D&D, both the original game and the thousands of referees and dungeon masters that have implemented it, so I will not reinvent the wheel.

Instead, I will speak as a relative newcomer.  You see, I grew up at an unfortunate time where Harryhausen’s stuff was old, but not yet classic (at least, not viewed as classic enough to have wide exposure despite its age).  So other than some background noise and glimpses, I didn’t really get into his stuff until well after computer generated graphics had seized Hollywood visual effects.  (And what a loss! “7th Voyage of Sinbad” is pure D&D gold!)

Immediately, though, I could appreciate the fundamental realness of the creatures.  Sure, their movements were slightly unnatural, and sure, it was sometimes clear that they had been inserted into the shot, but there was never the flat fakeness of CG to cope with.  Something that the guy in charge of the “bigatures” from the Lord of the Rings movies said in one of the behind the scenes specials really stuck with me.  He talked about how despite all the advances in CG, there’s just something about real light bouncing off of real objects and into a camera (even if it’s then digitized) that CG just can’t beat.  Maybe someday, but right now, even if your eyes can tell something is a model, they can also tell that it’s a real thing.  That’s one of my favorite things about the LOTR movies, that they used real models wherever possible.

And I think that’s why Harryhausen’s stuff holds up so well.  Even if the film itself looks dated, the stop-motion critters continue to look like tangible, and even if it’s clear that they were shaped by human hands, it is clear in the same way that an impressionist painting or a Duhrer sketch are clearly not photographs, but were filtered through an individual’s mind and creativity.  And I think that’s why the Harryhausen creations have more sticking power than even creative and well done CG – that analog artisticness is appealing.

So, Mr. Harryhausen, I am sad to see you go.  But thank you for making your creativity tangible and sharing it with so many.  It’s an inspiration.

I’ve taken some inspiration from Zak S.’s use of random Thor elements or random Tolkien elements, and come up with 100 cool adventure hooks/things of interest based off of Harryhausen’s movies.  This would make excellent fodder for a “Wavecrawl” type setting, but I’ve tried to keep most generic enough to be useful wherever, but specific enough to inspire referees.


D100 List of Random Harryhausenisms

  • 1.     A selfish and duplicitous wizard in need of help to retrieve a powerful magic item

  • 2.     A Cyclops who sinks ships with thrown boulders and hoards their treasure

  • 3.     An arranged marriage to stave off war between two kingdoms

  • 4.     A magician’s entertainment goes horribly wrong and angers the queen

  • 5.     A princess under an enchantment used as leverage against the players

  • 6.     An angry father blames his daughter’s transformation on a political rival, rather than the true culprit

  • 7.     The shell of a Roc’s egg is a necessary ingredient in some vital potion

  • 8.     A ship’s crew that mutinies at a time of great danger!

  • 9.     Screaming demons that drive sailors mad in dangerous water

  • 10.  Shoals that are swarming with hungry sea serpents

  • 11.  A cylcops’ lair full of treasure and places to imprison unwary explorers

  • 12.  A river of wine that proves irresistible to hirelings

  • 13.  A genie enslaved against his will who knows how to be freed, but needs help

  • 14.  A two headed roc and its young

  • 15.  Idiotic hirelings that make a poor decision because they are hungry or thirsty

  • 16.  A wizard’s lair with vicious guardian beast

  • 17.  An ally of convenience double crosses the players

  • 18.  A wizard’s skeleton champion bodyguard

  • 19.  A river of molten lava blocking escape

  • 20.  Lots of Cyclopes

  • 21.  Multiple dangerous beasts that are hostile to not only the players, but each other

  • 22.  A beast unexpectedly kills its own master, whether by turning on him or falling on him

  • 23.  A pair of foreign hunters looking for exotic animals to capture live and display for profit

  • 24.  An enormous performing ape goes on a rampage after being provoked

  • 25.  An ancient beast, awakened from millennia of slumber by magical experimentation

  • 26.  A rampaging monster destroys shipping on its way to a crowded city

  • 27.  A creature whose blood spreads a terrible disease

  • 28.  A one-of-a-kind weapon necessary to stop a terrible threat

  • 29.  Mysterious disappearances off the coast

  • 30.  A powerful navy halts all shipping to investigate a number of ships sinking

  • 31.  A massive tentacled creature from the deep attacks coastal landmarks

  • 32.  A surgeon that is depressed with his lot in life and seeks adventure

  • 33.  A mad giant king that keeps a life sized “doll house” of people and animals

  • 34.  A trial by alligator

  • 35.  Desperate men plot an escape from a prisoner of war camp

  • 36.  An island covered in lush jungle, boiling geysers, and erupting volcanos

  • 37.  A monstrous crab

  • 38.  A shipwrecked noble lady and her daughter

  • 39.  A chest with ancient, powerful magic items washed ashore

  • 40.  A giant, flightless bird

  • 41.  A giant hive full of giant bees

  • 42.  Pirates waiting in ambush

  • 43.  A mysterious underwater king with access to miraculous devices

  • 44.  A sunken ship raised from the deeps

  • 45.  A king who has seized power in a coup

  • 46.  A king that orders children slain to thwart a prophecy has angered a god

  • 47.  A king arranging a suicidal quest for a rival

  • 48.  A contest to join a prestigious crew

  • 49.  A truly excellent ship, said to have been crafted in part by the gods

  • 50.  A treasure hoard guarded by a massive bronze statue with a fatal weakness – a plug on the back of its heel

  • 51.  An adventurer who has wasted the last of his divine favor

  • 52.  A prophet tortured daily by harpies

  • 53.  A strait between rocks that crush ships between them

  • 54.  An amulet that will summon the aid of the gods – once.

  • 55.  A king who offers a feast but plans imprisonment

  • 56.  A princess who becomes enamored with a prisoner and helps him escape

  • 57.  A divine relic guarded by a hydra

  • 58.  Hydra’s teeth that will produce regenerating skeletal warriors when sown

  • 59.  An underground city of intelligent insects  with no prior contact with surface dwellers

  • 60.  A savage land whose only law is lust

  • 61.  A harsh desert filled with giant lizards, ape men, and giant spiders

  • 62.  A massive sea turtle attacks a primitive village with a beautiful chief

  • 63.  A child trapped in a tree by a ravening monster

  • 64.  Warring tribes united by the destruction of their homelands seek a new home

  • 65.  A tribe of gypsies steals a valuable animal to end a curse

  • 66.  A gypsy seeks to free a beast from a lost age that is on display for amusement

  • 67.  A mysterious golden tablet dropped by a flying creature that brings strange dreams

  • 68.  A vizier with a golden masks holds one piece to a puzzle that will unlock a map to a powerful artifact

  • 69.  A black robed magician with homunculi servants seeks the map to a lost land

  • 70.  A wealthy merchant seeks someone to make a man of his lazy, no-good son

  • 71.  A rival animates a figurehead to attack its crew

  • 72.  A wizard gains the allegiance of a primitive group by impressing them with a small act of magic

  • 73.  A magic fountain guarded by a good griffin and an evil Cyclops centaur

  • 74.  A prize of youth, a shield of darkness, and a crown of untold riches

  • 75.  A city under curfew because packs of ghouls roam the streets at night

  • 76.  A priest turned into a baboon by his stepmother so that his half brother might ascend the throne

  • 77.  An alchemist hermit who holds the secret to unlock a curse

  • 78.  A witch and her son pursue their enemies in a ship powered by a brass golem in the shape of a minotaur

  • 79.  An ice tunnel to a hidden pyramid

  • 80.  A vicious giant walrus guards the frozen passage to an ancient land

  • 81.  A huge face-shaped stone gate

  • 82.  A massive troglodyte that knows a hidden path

  • 83.  A witch transfers her consciousness into a frozen saber toothed tiger when desperate

  • 84.  A princess imprisoned by her father to keep suitors away is visited by an amorous god

  • 85.  A mother and infant son afloat at sea in a wooden coffin

  • 86.  A city destroyed by tidal wave due to the wrath of the gods

  • 87.  A once fair kingdom transformed into a nearly lifeless swamp

  • 88.  A prince punished with a hideous transformation for slaying sacred animals

  • 89.  A princess who cannot marry unless a riddle is correctly answered. Those who try and fail are burned at the stake

  • 90.  A magical sword and shield, and a helm that grants invisibility

  • 91.  An arrogant queen who draws the gods ire when she compares the beauty of her daughter to a goddess

  • 92.  A city threatened with destruction if they do not sacrifice a beautiful maiden

  • 93.  A group of three witches that share one eye among them

  • 94.  A monster that can only be defeated by the baleful gaze of another monster

  • 95.  Giant scorpions that sprout from a monster’s blood

  • 96.  A canister filled with a mysterious glob that hatches a fast growing creature

  • 97.  A dangerous creature is held seemingly securely by sages studying it

  • 98.  A man and his wife bear news of a dangerous attack, but lack evidence

  • 99.  A group of creatures appears dangerous because of a lack of communication, but actually seeks an audience with a man of learning

  • 100. A new magical weapon allows a beleaguered people to fight back against a superior foe 

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