Burst of Insight—Homebrew Your Own Cinematic Universe Campaign

As fans of [insert your favorite franchise], we often geek out together about various elements of each installment. We obsess over small details and grow attached to characters and storylines. As gamers, we often do that with published settings and even homebrew games if they last long enough. But, it’s rare get that level of detail and engagement with a homebrew campaign while it’s still in its infancy. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a decade old and one of the hottest topics in current pop culture. All of Hollywood seems to be studying the MCU trying to copy its success. As Gamers, we too can copy from the MCU to create immersive campaigns your players are already engaged with.

The MCU works because while all of its movies are comic book movies they are often something else. Ant-man is a heist. Guardians of the Galaxy is space-opera or galactic fantasy. Winter Soldier is an espionage thriller.  So with that in mind, don’t be afraid mix your Pathfinder and Starfinder campaigns with other genres for an adventure or two. Imagine your fantasy party planning a con or a heist or your galactic heroes roughing it on a colonial homestead defending the locals from the tyranny of a local bandit-prince.

Or you can go a step further and build a campaign around your favorite movies.

Origin of an Idea

Not too long ago I read an article in which Ridley Scott the director of Alien and Blade Runner felt that the earth Ellen Ripley, and the crew of the Nostromo were trying to return home to in Alien was the very earth that Rick Deckard was hunting replicants in. (Now, I can’t find the original article now but there are sever good ones out there if you google Blade Runner and Alien, One from Den of Geek has a TL;DR video that’s summarizes it all nicely.) Anyway, all this got me to thinking about creating my own head-cannon cinematic universe based around these films to possibly use as a foundation for a Starfinder Campaign.

Early Planning

To date, I have not run this campaign but I thought I’d share the rough timeline with you. Note: I ignore some actual cannon film connections and alter some dates to make this work but…eh…who cares? Also not every film or T.V. series on this list is what I’d consider good but each adds something worthwhile to the overall universe. So starting from Bladerunner and Alien I began to consider other movies and TV series that shared elements I’d like to include. The single-season Almost Human felt like a reasonable pre-Bladerunner era. Then, the other night as I was watching the second season of Westworld I noticed that not only does the storyline fit nicely but that some of the stonework in the “real world” architecture looked like the stonework in Deckard’s apartment. And that cinched it. Westworld started as a good fit now it was inescapable.

So while I pondered TV I decided to add Fringe. Fringe introduced weird “fringe science” including parallel worlds and mental powers. Elements that could certainly be spun to fit the fantasy needs of a Starfinder game. Now that’s a lot of non-space background, so I wanted to dig in and look for plausible space movies. Event Horizon and Pandorum are good horror companions to Alien and Aliens as is the original Pitch Black. Event Horizon also nicely ties back into Fringe in an odd way. The titular starship in Event Horizon used a drive that opened a rift in the space-time continuum. A rift that let a hostile entity from a parallel universe take over the ship. If that’s not fringe science then I’m Walter Bishop. We can add all of these films to the possible list.

Alien Life

Hudson: Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bug-hunt?
Gorman: All we know is that there is still is no contact with the colony and that a xenomorph may be involved.
Frost: Excuse me, sir, a what?
Gorman: A xenomorph.
Hicks: It’s a bug-hunt.

Well, given that exchange it’s pretty clear our colonial marines have had altercations with extra-terrestrials and since Jame’s Cameron’s Avatar looks so much like his Aliens we’ll mark that as an easy addition to our setting canon. And the “bughunt” line brings to mind Starship Troopers so I’ll pencil that movie in too. Now Aliens versus Predator makes a lot of people happy so while I’m less disposed to wrangle any of the predator films into my setting I might be convinced it just won’t be the AVP movies. I’d rather stick with the originals or 2010’s Predators. So all of those can go in the hopper as well.

So the preliminary backdrop of our campaign is (in setting chronological order which may ignore in movie dating) Predator, Fringe, Predators, West World, Event Horizon, Starship Troopers, Blade Runner, Alien, Pitchblack, Pandorum, Bladerunner 2049, and Avatar. Maybe we’ll have a couple movie nights and revise this list as a group.

Did I miss a movie you think I should include? What movies would you pick for your own cinematic universe campaign? Leave us a comment.

Burst of Insight

Andrew Marlowe

placed in the Top 16 of RPG Superstar in 2012 and 2014, one of the few contestants to get that far in the competition twice. Since then, he has contributed to many Paizo and third party Pathfinder products, including one of the network’s favourite releases in the Pathfinder Player Companion line, the Dirty Tactics Toolbox. Every other Tuesday, he will be sharing his Burst of Insight, with design tips for would-be game designers from a decorated freelancer.

1 Comment

  1. It’s an interesting idea but I’m not sure if it would work as intended, because I’m not sure if your premise is correct. In my mind, the MCU works because of the clever built-up over several movies and years. We learned to care about the characters and when we geek out about certain details then we do so why we got invested in the universe beforehand. And especially for comic book fans, that investment started even before the MCU was a thing at all. So in this respect, our investment in that universe has built up over several years, similar to our investment in a setting we spent a lot of time in.
    Also, if you think about it, the storyline that now gets finished with Infinity war already started with the first Iron man Movie, and we’re probably much more invested in the MCU than we were in the beginning when we didn’t even know that this franchise would develop the way it did.

    So while creating a setting out of all those movies might be a lot of fun, I wonder if the players will be equally invested into that setting just because they know the movies. Now I have to admit that I never played a Star Wars or a Middle-earth based game, so I don’t know if being heavily invested in a franchise would have a positive effect on a game in that setting. What I do know is that I’m really invested into the Realms (and Eberron), but again, that has developed over year-long playing in those settings, and I’m not sure if there is a short-cut to that investment I have 30 years after my first contact with Abeir-Toril.

    Again, I like the basic idea very much and am kinda doing the same at the moment, when I’m planning a “Forgotten Realms reinvented” setting that is based on the Grey Box, but will probably include quite some locations, plots and adventure ideas from other settings if I can make them fit my version of the Realms