Stealing From the Movies: The Seven Samurai

By Corinth.

If you're going to steal from the movies, steal from the outstanding ones. This film is one of the best ever made. Directed by the legendary Japanese filmaker Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune (as Kiyuchiro), this 1954 black-and-white film classic was so powerful that Hollywood converted into a western -- The Magnificent Seven. This film's premise is so simple that it became the template for all future films of its ilk; it established a meme that resonates strongly to this very day. It's incredibly easy to convert it from Kurosawa's feudal Japanese original into damn near anything else. (Besides the Western, I've seen it remade as a Middle-Earth legend, a Car Wars campaign, a Star Wars adventure, a Twilight 2000 campaign, many AD&D outings and (the most inventive one) a demented Vampire story.) It was only a matter of time before someone converted it into Feng Shui.

Because of the incredible flexibility this movie possesses, conversion itself is no challenge at all. Instead, the challenge resides in the details. Therefore, this outing will function as an example of just how to achieve a seamless adaptation of this film into your campaign. Once more, I will use my campaign as an example. That said, let's get into the thick of it. Into the breach!

Step One: Pre-Production

The Seven Samurai tells the tale of a group of warriors hired by a bunch of desperate peasants to defend their village against a group of vicious bandits. At this point, I need to convert this simple premise into contemporary terms and create one or more threads to the Secret War. (Of course, the Secret War connection is just an option, but I prefer it that way.) Specifically, I need a village to defend and a group of bandits to attack it. I'll deal with the heroes later, once these details are resolved.

Currently, my campaign centers around the Eating Counter in 1996 Hong Kong. By the time I get to run this adventure, my players (and the PCs) will want a change of scenery. I don't want to send them too far afield, but I want them far from Hong Kong. Because of its proximity, I'll set the bulk of the adventure well within the mainland. The villian is a corrupt bureaucrat, who's in cahoots with his friend the local garrison commander. Together, they force the peasants to grow opium which is refined into heroin. They sell it to various crime syndicates, which they put away in those famous Swiss bank accounts. (If they need arms, they bribe the right people in Beijing.) One of the younger peasants, an orphan with nothing to lose, is the one who hooks the PCs into making the trip.

Good! I've converted the setting, the villains, the village and the circumstance of their oppression. Now, I need a Secret War angle to all of this. I don't need a strong or blatant one, but it needs to be there. A couple of factions that just aren't right for this particular arrangment are the Guiding Hand, the Jammers and the Monarchs. The Lotus wouldn't be hard to work in, but because they feature prominently in my campaign I'll pass on them. (They'll want a change of villians to beat upon as well.) This leaves the Ascended and the Architects. I don't picture either of my villians as the upwardly-mobile types that the Jade Wheel and the Pledged prefer; I see these two as bitter and calious bastards who aren't popular with their superiors and know they're not going to get anywhere in society. They're hungry for power, which makes them perfect dupes for the Architects. I'll introduce an attache from Hong Kong and give my villians some simple Arcanowave Devices -- that's enough to achieve the goal.

Let's review. I have two antagonists, a villiage that they oppress, a literal army of mooks who do the oppressing, a tenuous Secret War connection and a good hook for the PCs to get involved. I seem to have all of the bases covered, so let's go to the next step and deal with structuring the plot.

Step Two: Production

I'll begin in Hong Kong, away from the Eating Counter. As a long-time James Bond fan, I've grown fond of the Pointless Action Scene at the start of an adventure. (It's not always pointless, but it feels that way.) This time, I'll use this scene to introduce the GMC that hooks the PCs into returning with him to his villiage deep in the mainland. Exactly how? Right now I think he'll witness the PCs swiftly pound an ill-meaning group of thugs into the gutter, which prompts him to approach them after the fight. This may change, as it depends upon the exact circumstances of the PCs when I unleash this one upon them.

When the movie begins, the party leader has to hire most of his men. I won't have to deal with this because all of my PCs are already together, but I might want to play out the gathering process anyway. In that case, it's a simple matter of playing out some short scenes that cater to each PC. (For example, the Magic Cop and the Ninja might find the Old Master in a bar enlightening some mooks with his fist.) After the group gets gathered, the GMC leads them back to his villiage and the real fun begins. (Play out the travelling sequence at your discretion.)

Exactly how you deal with the fight over the village is up to you. The general structure resembles the stereotypical A-Team plot: walk into town, meet the mooks, smash the mooks, meet the villian, smash the villian. This is boring, so you'll want to flesh it out. (Since my drunken Old Master now has the Sifu schtick, I'll probably have him teach the peasants Kung Fu while the others concentrate on other affairs.) This could include fortifying the village, a pre-emptive strike against the villians, some investigation of the backstory and many others. However, what it comes down to is that the PCs (with the help of the newly-trained villagers) must fight off the villians and their mooks while preventing the destruction of the village itself and avoiding severe peasant casualties. This is a daunting task indeed, and one worthy of heroes like the PCs. As with the film, one or more could easily die through the course of the adventure and no one but the grateful villagers (and the surviving PCs) would ever know.

Step Three: Post-Production

My villians need names, as will the GMC that hooks them into the story. They, the mooks and the villagers all need stats. I don't need them right now, as I'm not crafting a con module, but they should be there when I get to running this adventure. I should also keep my options open should something happen that require changes in my adventure plan. (PC fatalities, metagame events, new information -- such as in a subsequent Feng Shui supplement -- I want or need to assimiliate, etc. are all good examples.) I make a practice of leaving myself plenty of room to manuever and improvise, so this shouldn't present any problems.

For stylistic reasons, I should also invent a proper name for this adventure. (If nothing else, I'll need it when I post the results as "Just Another Field Report (x).") It really sucks to have a cool adventure tarnished by a lame title, so I must be careful. I should also look out for an opportunity to incorporate one or more of the PCs' melodramatic hooks. This will make the game more fun and add a subplot for me to work with.

Last modified: September 11th, 1997; please send comments to