Stealing from the Movies: Starship Troopers

By Corinth.

As the title states, this is taken from the movie and not the book. For my purposes, the book is ignored. When you finish reading this article, you will understand why and you might thank me for doing so. Read on at your own risk.

Step One, Pre-Production

Not every film you see is worthy of a full conversion. Sometimes, the film itself just isn't viable as an adventure. Most of the time, it sucks so bad that you never want to see it again unless it's part of a MST3K type of Bad Movie Night. However, there may be something in that film that struck you as useful for your purposes. (See enough B-movies and you develop this kind of eye.) Maybe it was a particular action sequence, or a stunt you never saw before. Whatever it was, it makes the film bearable enough for you to ride it out.

It's time to get some mileage out of that two hour torture session, and here's a walk-through about how to mine bad films for those precious good bits. For this outing I'll use a recent film that's doomed to be the first '90s film to hit Mystery Science Theater 3000: Starship Troopers. If you've seen the film, you'll see what I'm getting at. If you haven't, don't worry about spoilers because you're better off waiting for the second-rate theaters or home video/cable. (Get some friends if you see this film. You'll need the help.)

Before I scrub down and dress for surgery, I need to identify what I'm going after here. In this case, I'm looking for concepts and items that would relate well to our gray-suited goons from the future: The Architects of the Flesh. Some of this can be intangible, but most of the time you'll want tangible stuff from the film you're out to vivsect. That said, let's get into the operating room and rip this puppy wide open.

Step Two, Production

Besides the shower scene, the most incredible thing is the way this warped version of Federation society more-or-less blindly accepts Federation rule. We have some discontent, as shown by Rico's parents, but they aren't citizens and therefore have little say in things anyway. This is very similiar to life under Buro rule in 2056, and it wouldn't be hard to tack on the whole idea of "Service Earns Citizenship" to Buro policy. If you eliminate any possibility of service outside of military enlistment, but retain the all-volunteer aspect, then you create a group of highly-skilled (for mooks) fanatics that serve the Buro out of patriotism and a sense of duty instead of the usual power-hungry dupes. (If you want to play up the evil of the Buro, this is a damn good way to do it.) To really scare your players, make up some GMCs that are citizens and still possess a fanatical belief in the Buro. Play up the facist beliefs of the Buro's world-wide dictatorship, and you'll get your players willing and eager to re-enact the fall of the Third Reich all over Bonegal and Company.

If you want some style to the Buro's look, steal the Federation uniforms. Since the Buro already runs in a facist method, you might as well hammer the point home with all of the Nazi-like images. (Doogie Himmler serves very well in this regard.) From the grunts in the Mobile Infantry all the way up to the officers of Military Intelligence, they mirror the drab styles that the Buro prefers. (Only high-ranking officers, like Doogie Himmler, get the bells and whistles.) The same goes for the guns of the grunts as well. (Those battle rifles look big enough to be Blue Spears.) Sometimes, you have to wonder if someone involved in the project doesn't play Shadowfist...

For a good look at how the BuroMil operates, most of the film is worth a second screening. The drill instructors are vicious, direct and unforgiving. Most of what Sgt. Zim does would get a real DI court-marshalled right quick, despite the fact that no one who observes his "lessons" ever repeats the mistake. (He would make a good minor GMC, actually.) They stress basics, teamwork and the chain of command. This makes BuroMil mooks far more dangerous than an equivalent number of gangsters, bandits, etc. because they'd have high-quality training and the right gear to use it with. In every way, these guys are Imperial Stormtroopers and should be played that way. (Yes, this includes the use of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy genre convention.) Couple them with some super-soldiers and/or Abominations, and your PCs should be thinking "I think we're in for it now."

For the most part, there isn't any great need for air power or sea power on the scale of a full-fledge navy. Just the same, it should be touched upon because ships make great plot devices as well as set pieces. Need some ship designs to steal? You could do worse than steal Fleet ships from this film, and those fighters are sufficiently futuristic to be believable. The same applies to those landing craft. The film also has a great example of the Mook/Named Vehicle style of combat we love so much, in the form of the orbital bombardments over Klendathu and P. Again, since you wont be in the air or on the water much this isn't so useful a place to go idea-mining.

What is good are the Bugs, and they are a great place to go for ideas about SERU units and the monsters they hunt. As with the Aliens of the Fox film series, these folks favor great hordes of mooks surrounding a central Named GMC. Need to harry the PCs as they head into harm's way? Plasma bugs and tanker bugs are a good choice. You want to re-enact the Battle of Agincourt? Send in warrior bugs without support until the PCs run out of ammo or bodies. You want to scare the crap out of them? Hit and run with hoppers, warriors and tankers until the plasma bugs are in position. Need to kill off a GMC to advance the plot? Have a brain bug suck his skull clean. (For a good varient, put the brain under a Lotus sorceror and have him use them against Buro units chasing the PCs. The only thing worse than owing the Ascended a favor is owing the Lotus a favor...)

Finally, you can steal this from the film: an outline for making adventures of your own styled after cinematic war films. You'll want to keep the PCs in one unit and focus upon their missions, instead of jumping about like the film does, but it does do a good job of showing how it could be done.

Step Three, Post-Production

Alright, you've got all of these notes. What are you going to do with them? Store them someplace, and refer to them when you need them. Some won't have immediate utility, and others will show up in places you didn't imagine that they would. (For example, your Fleet notes may prove useful when your PCs need to storm and sink a British dreadnought in 1850.) Most of them, however, will go where intended. Try to get as much utility out of your notes as possible, regardless of what they are or where they came from. That conversion of Sgt. Zim may well be recycled as a Spetnaz platoon leader and again as a Roman Centurion, while those gameplay scribbles about the Mobile Infantry get used for the Imperial Guard and the Cardinal's Guards.

Remember, there are no original plots. There are only original presentations.

Last modified: February 21, 1998; please send comments to