RPG Movies For Game Masters
Interested in movies for game master and RPG inspiration?
Today you’re in luck! Below is a list of movies submitted by RPT readers as perfect for GMs to watch and get ideas from.
The List: RPG Movies For Game Masters
Must-watches for any viking campaign. Gritty combat with pseudo-fantasy elements. Also good for a primeval, low-magic campaign. If you liked Braveheart, Apocalypto, etc., then you will like these.
24 (TV series)
A movie that shows the power of the church in every day life. It is about how Saint Thomas More refused to proclaim that King Henry VIII had the right to divorce his wife. Henry, who had recently been named Defender of the Faith by the pope, had been refused a divorce by the Vatican. Henry then demanded every one of his nobles proclaim he had the right to defy Rome and divorce his wife. Sir Thomas stuck to his religious guns and refused, and was executed for his troubles. He was subsequently canonized by the pope.
Alice in Wonderland
Alien vs. Predator
Watch the Marines and their close quarter tactics. Watch the aliens make their hide checks. Learn that the only way to be sure is to nuke them from orbit.
As a sharp contrast to Stargate, the heroes are pawns in a cold war between aliens who likely inspired the stories of angels and demons. Watch this series to better play the parts of Gods and Devils who walk in the world of men, but who seem strangely afraid to act from the coruage of their convictions– and to see what might happen if, at last, they did.
Band of Brothers (DVD series)
Another movie that shows the power of the church in every day life. This is the story of Thomas Beckett, a rambunctious scallywag and drinking buddy of his king. But when the king posted his friend to the position of the head of the Church of England, thinking Beckett would be a certain political ally, Beckett suddenly discovered his faith, and defied his king’s non-religious ambitions repeatedly.
I just saw it and I think it’s a great add for DMs. It’s good for character generation, combat description, and encounter ideas. Plus the 3-D is worth checking out. http://gamers.deadgentlemen.com/,The Gamers,A comedy RPG that takes a fun stab at RPGs.
Black Hawk Down
A good example of world building. The setting is lush and a good representation of a dark future.
Another BBC late 1970s series that had some interesting sci-fi elements.
Brotherhood of the Wolf
Watch this for the tone of the campaign. Buffy is at once comic– darkly funny– and quite serious about its subject matter; any campaign that can imitate this tone will be a hit. Also note that characters of various power levels are employed to good effect, probably some tips can be gleaned for the GM struggling with similar characters.
The first five minutes of parkour show what DC 30 jump and tumble checks really look like.
A great British film Noir style thriller about a bunch of gangsters in Brighton all trying to screw each other over. Every performance is great, but Eddie Izzard, funniest man alive, is almost Harlequinesque as the camp bookie who sings pop tunes as he beats up the unfortunate hero, John Hannah. Looking for a primer on street life or the Rogue class at its best, I suggest this movie. Twists and double-crosses, ingenious stings and intricate plots abound.
Clash of the Titans
It has a plethora of ideas for small unit missions and combat situations. I have used situations from the series in many of my campaigns with a military background. The Longest Day: There are so many story arcs and adventure beginnings that can be taken from the film.
The way the plot develops is very much like an RPG. It offers several lessons.
- Start with backstory (bad guy killed my family/village). Conan doesn’t know who it was but has a clue (serpent and sun/moon emblem).
- Don’t reveal the bad guy up front. Leave some mystery.
- Have hooks to bring characters into the adventure.
- Story driven character generation. “I’m strong as hell cause I spent 10 years on the Wheel of Pain. The years spent in the fighting pit make me a warrior. Being a barbarian ex- slave makes me poor and ignorant.”
- Get the party together. Conan encounters a witch who has a future party member as prisoner. Then he runs into another party member during his first adventure.
- Having a patron NPC push the plot along. King Osric offers treasures beyond imagination to bring back his daughter.
- Advance the plot even when characters fail. i.e. Conan’s capture and crucifixion on the Tree of Woe.
- Use exciting terrains for combats. i.e. The Orgy Room (humongous vat of green, part-human stew to dump down stairs on a bunch of mooks, how awesome is that?) and Battle on the Mounds.
- Climax that affects the world – the party’s actions matter.
- Finally, music, and how much it enhances and dictates mood. Basil Poledouris was a master we can learn a lot from.
(If you want examples of the best action and combat descriptions, read Robert E. Howard, author of Conan stories among many others.)
Crime is King
A perfect “troubled mentor-student relationship” movie for PCs with mentors or with dependents. Excellent for development of relationships after they’ve been established. Most PCs have Little Jimmy running around and getting kidnapped; this movie can show a GM how to make Little Jimmy not just a 20-point disadvantage, but a driving force behind the plot of the game. Making enemies for the mentor, stealing his gear, exposing him to his greatest foes, even rescuing (or attempting to rescue) the PC when his efforts lead him into too much danger. Or, for NPC mentors, their inoxerable knowing-better, pursuit of and protection of the PCs from threats too great for them to handle, and their eventual exit, giving the PCs further motivation to take on the foe they (hopefully) now have the skills to challenge.
A group of kids are thrown into a world where they must search for a way home, armed with magic weapons that an evil tyrant lusts for.
Watch “Dark Crystal” if you wish to introduce a new, strange world to the PC’s without explanation. Little is explained to the young hero, beyond how important it is that he succeed– but never how or why: he must piece that out as he runs from place to place. Prophecies, events thousands of years in the making, and many other staples of the fantasy genre have a unique and central role to play in this classic.
Deep Blue Sea
Both the originals from BBC and the modern day versions.
Obviously as a Brit I can’t miss this movie because it looks as though it was designed specifically for role-players (especially those in the World of Darkness). The quickly diminishing heroes react like all most any group of us role-players in such situations, and besides that its a great Beer and Pizza movie. Like Alien, it uses the haunted house premise perfectly. Stick the protagonists somewhere they can’t just walk out of (and in the modern era, can’t get a mobile phone signal) and then set something they are unprepared to battle against them. Under stress each character gets to shine and all sorts of different skill packages can become useful.
Enemy at the Gates
Escape From New York
Snake Plissken is the best anti-hero around.
“Homicide detective John Hobbes witnesses the execution of serial killer Edgar Reese. Soon after the execution the killings start again, and they are very similar to Reese’s style.” I normally don’t like psychopath movies but it provided a interesting premise and problem-solving situation — how to stop a being that can take possession of people, jumping from person-to-person at the moment of its current host’s demise. It was dark but intriguing.
I hope that its not too cold where you’re at and that the rest of your week is good.
Fastlane (TV series)
Black and white, by F.W. Murnau. The amazing special effects(for a silent era film) inspired me to make props and use whatever I have around the house to enhance my game. Things don’t have to be perfect, they just have to evoke an emotion – fear, amazement, greed, compassion.
Final Destination 1+2
Final Fantasy VII Advent Children
A bitter captain on the losing side of the last war, a tough-as-nails soldier first mate, the comic relief pilot/navigator, the none-too-bright weapons specialist, the mechanic with a heart of gold, the holy man with a secret past, the aristocratic prostitute and the healer that’s hiding his psychic sister from the government.
A large sized party with their own base of operations aiming to misbehave. Heist of the week, and character backstories rich enough for in-group interaction and to build whole storylines from.
You can easily bring this over to any role-playing game or genre, and once again its a perfect fit for Eberron, complete with Last War and airships with cool fire effects.
Costume, sets and dialog. Description!
Be fantastical and occasionally over-the-top (regardless of genre – extremes and archetypes are memorable). Colors, textures. Think about the mood you wish to convey.
Be thematic. Guys from forestland dress like Erol Flynn in all greens. Hawkmen use feathers and furs. Good guys wear orange casual cloths. Bad guys, expensive designer suits. If it wears a uniform it is a mook.
Themes help players build up “knowledge” of your world. Your descriptions will build on each other, so eventually just a few words will bring forth vivid and detailed images in players’ minds. This also lets you drop cool clues, such as a bit of torn green cloth that will immediately inform the players forest dudes were here.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Castle assaults, how dirty/brutal life was in medieval times. From IMDB: “A band of medieval mercenaries take revenge on a noble lord, who decides not to pay them, by kidnapping the betrothed of the noble’s son.”
Full Metal Jacket
Gangs of New York
What’s a D&D campaign without at least one murder mystery? I’m sure you’ve probably done a whole weekly about murder mystery movies before, but I didn’t see a link to a past article like you had for the swashbuckling flicks.
I can’t suggest any one great mystery movie. And writing a mystery for a D&D game is a totally different beast, but it never hurts to get some inspiration.
Ghost in the Shell
This is perhaps the most important movie from the perspective of the curses or supernatural character. The lead characters first change comes with puberty and the fear of change itself is wonderfully portrayed. This film does a good job of using the rigors of adulthood as a Pseudonym for the Rite of Passage era in a characters life, whether they be Garou awakening to life as a Werewolf or a psychic learning of their mutant abilities which will forever set them apart from others.
pretty faithful depiction of life in the Roman army and as a gladiatorial slave. Good intro to Roman politics under the emperors. Good costumes and sets for descriptions.
Add some realism to your low level play.
Although it’s a B-grade movie, it plays out like a standard RPG adventure with specific scenes and setups that can spark ideas for your campaign. This has the legendary Jack Palance (as the character of Vultan) who has a pact with a demon’s healing stone and turns on his younger brother out of jealousy. The interesting thing is that they introduce a dwarf, elf, giant and sorceress to as a new party to help protect a nunnery. You won’t forget the elf’s bowmanship either!
“Preparing for combat.” Or, if you please, “winning before you start fighting.” The titular character wins his battles by choosing the time and place for them. He chooses the location, which gives him an advantage, but more than that he prepares his enemies with manipulation and psychology before he fights them- or he gets other people to kill them for him. Hero, like many other Jet Li movies, also includes a radical reinterpretation of the story, right at the end; the evil master becomes the dupe, the heartless mercenary becomes the noble warrior. If nothing else, you should get your players to watch it so that they understand what an incredible difference motivation makes to someone’s actions.
Double-crossing double-crossed double-crossers. An excellent example of how PCs with radically different goals and alignments can work together because of circumstances or temporary alignment of sub-goals. Also has excellent examples of how to exit long-running PCs with dignity and give them a tearful send-off, and to get the other PCs engaged in their living as something besides spectators. One more thing; the use of colour in the film will blow your mind. Using colour to set mood or indicate allegiance is a real useful technique (see Avatar: The Last Airbender for more examples), and Flying Daggers does a superlative job of it.
Hunt For Red October
Lots of tension and on cable almost every other night.
Ice Age 1+2
Imperium der W?lfe
this is how a family or team of supers works, has a great villain with several kinds of underlings and traps that test and train the supers.
great action scenes (chases, fights, and races), wonderful secondary characters on which to base NPCs, good basic plots to adapt for a game or campaign. The pacing in these movies is excellent and provides a good example for GMs as to how to keep the momentum going. The music is also perfect for action scenes.
Into The Blue
Once or twice, when players are happy with themselves for defeating a big bad and are healing and searching for loot, have the “dead” big bad arise and get a surprise round on the party. Then start combat anew. The big bad keeps rising from apparent death until the party figures out the key to its true destruction.
Jurassic Park 1-3
Based Warsaw 1944, it is not really a WWII movie. For the purposes of fantasy DMs, it’s about getting lost, going crazy, dying in sewers/dungeons. If dungeon/sewers aren’t where your players spend 1/2 their time and you want to make the one time they enter one memorable, this movie will help.
Plots and battle ideas. You are soldiers to a foreign king and must do his bidding to earn your freedom. Your small group is sent on a rescue mission to an ungrateful and uncooperative man, and must outwit an overwhelming force to gain his safety. A great battle against the large force is waged on an ice-covered lake, which is used creatively to win the battle. The soundtrack makes for great gaming background music as well.
Last Man Standing
Lawrence of Arabia
Mission Impossible 2
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
A modern day Indiana Jones. A Heist. Puzzles. Secret Passages. A secret treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence? If you can’t use that, I can’t help you. I can’t wait to port that directly into my Eberron campaign onto the original Galifar code, or even the Treaty of Thronehold. What better way to send the party on a “red-line-on-the-map” treasure hunt visiting every country on the globe.
Have an enemy that can’t be defeated by normal combat. Get your players thinking beyond their swords and fireballs.
No Way Out
Starring kevin costner – a good bit of double/triple cross.
Series of movies featuring Jet Li as Wong Fei Hung, famous Chinese hero. These probably aren’t so useful fortraditional fantasy, but great for Asian fantasy, though. These are good action movies that everyone who doesn’t hate Hong Kong martial arts action movies should see.
Plots. Especially plots with moral consequences/decisions. One anti-lesson: Star Trek NextGen. Dues ex machina – don’t use it.
Must-watches for any viking campaign. Gritty combat with pseudo-fantasy elements. Also good for a primeval, low-magic campaign. If you liked Braveheart, Apocalypto, etc., then you will like these.
Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3
Planet of the Apes (all movies)
The heady mix of Old world glamour with a twentieth century twist is the perfect mood piece for games of Changeling: the Dreaming. Along with Neverwhere this movie is the one I watch most to get in the mood for Changeling. But the not quite true to history historical era (slightly echoes in a Knights tale as well) can also be food for thought in fantasy games. Warhammer’s pseudo-European setting and 7th Sea’s world could benefit from this movies irreverent version of the past. Additionally, it is a great movie to watch both for rogues (the heroes are highwaymen) and for early forms of justice and law keeping.
Required watching. It has the best player character death mechanic evar! “He’s only mostly dead, quite different than all dead.”
One innocent man, one mastermind with a plan to free him, and a handful of other inmates, some extremely dangerous, forced together to escape their cells guards, escape the guards, escape the traps and escape the prison itself. And that’s just season one.
Once you make it out, you have to deal with life on the run, the guilty conscience of the criminals you helped escape, former prison guards out for revenge and federal agents. And that’s just season two.
You might wind up in a foreign country, in an even worse prison before. But with some familiar faces….possibly even some of those who have been hunting you. Now you have to break out again, but this time you don’t already have a master plan.
The TV show does an amazing job of mimicking a D&D campaign. Just when you have everything planned out, something goes wrong and you’re faced with a bigger problem. Plus alignment questions and cliffhangers almost every episode.
To keep the “easy fit for Eberron” theme going, you can start with a local prison and build up to the inescapable Dreadhold. Or start with Dreadhold, and find something even worse on Xen’drik, Argonnessen or the planes.
Vanzan and his bunch of Gung ho Dragon Hunters make a perfect gang of Monster hunters. If half the players are survivor villagers and half are mercenary or wandering freebooters as in this movie, the tension for a good story is already present. The same set up work in modern horror, fantasy or science fiction.
Reign of Fire – why the heck to stay away from dragons: they are big, they are bad, they breathe fire; also good plot for introducing dragon or dragons into a fantasy game ? twist on the ?dragon destroys the village? idea.
You asked for swashbuckling Films? Rob Roy is a damn good one. The final sword fight is both entertaining and realistic, and often lauded as the best ever filmed. The two combatants actually take and show the effects of damage. Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, Tim Roth and John Hurt all giving a very passable Scottish Highlands during the time of the upheavals.
It’s a three-season television series from Britain (starring Michael Praed as Robin), first released in the 80’s. It’s full of plot-ideas, gloomy castles, a mysterious, godlike being, a huge forest, peasant-villages and ofcourse a lot of battle with the unfortunate men who have the lethal job of working for the sheriff of Nottingham. Some slightly over-the-top characters make this a worthwile addition to a GM’s DVD collection. (Plus: right now, here in the Netherlands at least, the series is dead-cheap: three seasons of about 12 50-minute-episodes each for about 20 euros = about 15 dollars).
Shichinin no samurai (aka the magnificent seven),Yojimbo (aka A Fistful of Dollars) & Rashomon, By Akira Kurosawa
These are great stories, as proven by the many remakes and transliterations, especially into spaghetti westerns. What I’ve learned most from Kurosawa is personality, emotion. Any of his characters make excellent NPCs. He shows how to convey their personality through action, dress, mannerisms, facial expressions, and camera angle.
When I do NPCs now, I try to think back to these movies and use facial expressions, large arm/hand movements, stand up straight, slouch, stare players in the eye, ignore players, cast eyes down despondently, etc.
Rashomon is great for learning that, even if you described something one way (i.e. as the characters saw it), it is not necessary to forever be held to that if plot/fun requires changes. Use sparingly though, and only if neutral/positive for characters.
(1960 with Mr. Douglas) ? excellent presentation of life as a slave in Rome, good descriptive potential for battling ancient armies, the horrors of hand to hand combat en masse, and the legal aspects of slavery (which a lot of GMs use as often as Nazis for ?instant bad guy?).
Star Wars 1-6
The premise is ancient races spread civilization/magic, false gods enslave man, one group of men rebel and now fight against the false gods for the freedom of all men. That is an awesome campaign right there. You could keep the multiple planet thing, or use multiple planes, or replace “planet” with “nation” and stay on one world.
Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s quote: “Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To add SG-1’s concept to your preferred genre, just use the ideas of portals, portals require addresses (keys), and that through portals are exciting adventures and technology (magic). If your players can resist that, they are comatose. This would also be great for a campaign of loosely connected one-shot sessions.
Many of the cultures SG-1 encounters are perfect for fantasy. Egyptian, Cretian, Greek, Scandinavian, European Medieval. I’ve used sets and costumes from the show to enhance/improve my descriptions. The Ori are awesome medieval culture/villains. I’ve used a couple puzzles (obscured slightly so players would not recognize) featured on shows.
Many of the show plots are excellent fodder for adventures. Watching entire seasons show how to weave sub-plots/side- plots into larger campaign plots, and how to have an “on the edge of your seat” cliff hanger.
Stargate is a good demonstration of the military campaign. Characters belong to, are beholden to, or are commanded by some organization. But, they have a lot of freedom to act how they please as long as they get the missions and objectives completed.
SG-l also shows you how to handle things when characters get out of line. Star Trek Deep Space Nine is another good source of this.
While its not the greatest piece of writing on TV the Aliens powers to manifest thought certainly mirror the effects of Chimestry / illusion magic. The reactions of the victims after the event is worth remembering as well. An interesting primer on certain supernatural abilities.
A good representation of the Church at its darkest as well as some ideas for Church sanctioned ‘operatives’. Even if you are unable to accept the true crimes of mother Church in the real world, you will probably accept that they are this bad in the World of Darkness or other modern horror games. But then you have the lone faithful man facing the things his church does not accept. He could be a part of earths catholic church or any number of fantasy or Sci fi religions and the way he faces the supernatural are the same. The soundtrack Album is also perfect for the World of Darkness and other horror games.
A British movie which, while lacking the pulp fiction mood of the Brendon Fraiser epic still rocks as an Egyptian-bad-guy-back-from-the-dead Schick! The cameo by Christopher Lee is a nod towards the old hammer movies and Jason Scott Lee in the lead role helped bring in the American finances no doubt by the real gem is still Sean Pertwee’s loony toons act! Nice twists, some great moody rollercoaster rides and not too shabby special FX for the bad guy either.
Here is a great martial arts flick that gives an experience-progression feeling learning various melee attack techniques.
While this movie is a tad too Arty and suffers from trying to be two good films at the same time, it does make a good reference for the other side of the Vampire nature. A philosophy student is turned into a vampire because she lacks the strength to resist and sinks into a spiral of inhumanity and detachment. Through it all she attempts to find Justification (a path of Enlightenment) through the teachings of others and through an undead guru but in the end falls once more into the comfort of bloodlust before eventually finding balance through Faith, or perhaps her own understanding of the nature of evil. Replace the state of Vampirism with that of a cultist of the old ones or being enthralled by a succubus and its still got some great themes to purloin.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Da Vinci Code
The Dragon Slayer
Provides plots, characters, flavor, and general feel for what fantasy adventure is all about. [Comment from Johnn: this entry will be a bit controversial, I suspect. Best read a range of user reviews before spending your money, to properly set your expectation levels. ]
I’ve always liked to play the cleric. It’s one of those classes you either love or hate to play, and I’m on the former side. While watching this movie I realized it was a lovely situation in which to roleplay a cleric.
If I’m not mistaken, there is an Exorcist prestige for clerics in D&D. It has specific spells to banish a demon that possesses someone, which should make the game straightforward.
What if a more powerful demon requires a longer ritual, though? Weeks, maybe months? Can you imagine a fight that takes this long, slowly wearing both combatants down? And your opponent is inside a little girl. A little, helpless one. How far would you go to drive the demon off? (Remember Emily Rose?)
It gets interesting on the psychological side too. Suppose you get a good roleplayer invited to play both the possessed and possessor. One that makes the child’s cry face as convincingly as the devil’s snarls, curses, and lies. How does your cleric player handle it?
It can also be applied as a metaphor. Your quest is to destroy some evil, and protect something pure. However, the evil is inside your object of protection. How do you attack the problem?
It is said that a western is just a set in which to tell any kind of story, and this is the case with this movie. I’d suggest the good and the ugly be played by PCs, and the bad and his band by NPCs.
The story is about a treasure and its three parts, with characters knowing just half (or thinking they know half) of the information to reach it. Talking, persuasion, and intimidation skills are used more than fighting.
There is a war, a bridge to be destroyed, a huge cemetery, information to be collected everywhere, and a monastery to be visited. At one point, characters use disguise to enroll inthe army.
This is not only a movie to create an adventure, it is meant to be a whole campaign.
With Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones, this is a great movie if you want inspiration for high-level druids and rangers, sneaky traps, and other cool outdoor fight scenes.
The Last Unicorn
Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Katherine Hepburn, and a few others. This movie is indispensable if you are running a political intrigue game. There is more skullduggery, devious manoeuvring, and back-stabbing than even Machiavelli could ask for. It’s also one of the finest movies ever made.
The Lion King
The Lord of the Rings 1-3
One of the best pair of action movies ever: great villain, solid heroes, cheerable supporting characters who are actually smart enough to live through what is some of the best horror moments in a monster film. Great mix of action (especially chase scenes), romance, gaslight environment, horror, and comedy (very quotable lines). Character development is believable and fun to watch, villain is fun to hate, but has understandable and even sympathetic reasons for what he does.
The Prince of Egypt
Think of Sean Connery as an NPC guide to a dungeon crawl with incinerator flames.
Some interesting plot turns, environments and a tricked-out 3-bladed sword. There are more political motivations of a ‘hidden demon’ that has been infiltrating behind the ranks.
The Ten Commandments
The version with Gene Kelly as D’artagnan. Yes, Gene Kelly the dancer. Aside from being the only version I’ve seen that really shows what a scoundrel D’artagnan was, it has some amazing choreography of the fight scenes, largely because of Kelly’s abilities as a dancer.
The scene near the beginning of the movie where the cardinal’s guards interrupt D’artagnan’s duel with Athos, Porthos and Aramis is what all swashbuckling fights should be. Kelly skips around his opponent, climbs atop a monument to hide, and then reaches down to swat the guard on the butt (a classic use of Tagging, for all you 7th Sea players), and leaps back and forth across a little pond to lead his opponent on a merry chase during the duel. And he does it all with a smile on his face that makes him look like a kid having the time of his life at the circus. Absolutely classic.
This Sci-Fi series (259 episodes) is aimed at kids but it is in fact one of the best written things TV has seen in years, even though the introduction of Technology based stories has been a bit hard to swallow. Basically, for those of you who haven’t seen it, the Tribe is set in a world after a virus wipes out all the adults and the kids struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic city. Gangs form, new weird religions bringing false hope, new plagues left by the old world and mad dogs all threaten the young and the meek who have inherited the world. The entire concept of politics from a teenagers point of view works well for Changeling, Cyberpunk: Cybergeneration or any Zombie or post apocalyptic game.
both of these movies have twists that make them utterly fantastic; they also have characters that are just short of completely irredeemable, but understandable and sympathetic for all that. The backplot is complex, but the way it is revealed makes perfect sense, and what you see is not really what?s going on. Great for story ideas and how to weave multiple plots, PCs and NPCs together, also good for NPC concepts and histories.
Really good chase/gauntlet ideas.
The Wedding Crashers
The Wizard of Oz
BBC series about a small team within the Government set up to combat Vampires. Although it only ran to 5 episodes and did the extremely Hollywood concept of wooden bullets, it was still a nice show. A perfect guide for Conspiracy X or mortals in the World of Darkness.
You want emotion? Passion? Angst? nuff said!! You want a quioxite quest through insane landscapes and the need to solve illogical puzzles? this is the primer for that journey.
“A reluctant dwarf must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen.”
Xena (TV Series)
Young Sherlock Holmes
Many movies are based on this character. Zatoichi is a great source for plots, unique combat terrains/situations, and to lesser extent, NPCs.
What to learn here is that fear, hopelessness, and impending doom are great fun. Throw out the idea of level appropriate encounters – boring.
Instead, tell players they may encounter things they cannot defeat (this is important for game systems like D&D where players expect to be able to defeat everything they encounter). Then, occasionally slam them with overpowered foes.
Be sure there are ways out of encounter. Don’t set out to kill them, but don’t prevent their deaths either. Truly leave character fates in the players’ hands. The feel you’re after is that mere survival is victory.
More in line with zombie movies, have them face easy foes they defeat without problem. But make sure there are _a lot_ of these foes, an endless amount that never stops coming. Forcing high level characters to retreat from “wimpy” monsters, such as orcs, is a change of pace and challenges players in a different way than tougher and tougher monsters do.