I’m starting my blog officially by looking at THACO: The Movie. The films’ website thacothemovie.com, describes it like this:
THACO is a comedy by Bill Stiteler about three thirtysomething roleplaying nerds who spend game night waiting for their perpetually late friend to show up. The trio spend the day analysing the effect that fantasy and geekery have altered their lives and never quite getting around to playing the games they enjoy.
Originally a one act play by Stiteler, It was made into a fifty minute film in 2007.
The movie opens with a man in a cloak introducing us to the World of RPGs. This is Aaron, whose absence from the rest of the film is the whole reason it exists. What is he doing to hold up the game? Laundry. He goes through the worst types of players you’ll meet when you play. Munchkins – Kill-crazy anthill-boilers who would sell their mother if it let them “win” the game. Rules-Lawyers, who will spend all night arguing with the DM over some minutia in the rules. And loophole experts. RPGs contain a lot of rules, clarifications to those rules, and various errata. I once knew a man that using only a halfling, a gauntlet, and a few conflictingly-worded luck feats, could do an infinite amount of damage with a punch. One tap from this guy would rip a whole in space-time.
When we finally get to the film proper, We meet Duck and Bill. Duck has lost his super-special-lucky four-sided die. He reasons that as a fighter, who can use all weapons, he should, you know, carry all weapons, even ones he doesn’t need, like a dagger.
While looking around for his precious, he comes across something he never thought he would see. a dog-eared copy of GURPS. Now GURPS might seem like good fun, what with it’s do-it-yourself approach to a game system and super expansive character creation, but before you know it, you’re huddled up in the corner talking to a blueberry muffin and wondering “Just where did I go wrong?”…
He knows what I mean….
Duck uses his find to get a new d4 as hush money. They travel outside (or as a title card calls it “Adventures Aboveground”) to the local gaming store, There they meet one of the missing members of their group, Jon. Jon figured, if the game was at noon, and it’s 1 o’ clock now, he’d have at least an hour before Aaron showed up. As someone who has run a few games In my time, this thinking isn’t that unwarranted. Also, Neil Gaiman is there.
He probably doesn’t know why either….
They go for coffee after Neil gets them thrown from the store, and discuss the dark days of gaming, when poor, defenseless gamers were being used by Satan and Chick Tracts roamed the land, and how Mazes and Monsters is a far out game (and probably not a movie I’m going to cover, but If I get enough requests, maybe I’ll consider it).
They return to the basement, and further shoot the shit about the psychosis of young gamers. I would totally want a cock ring of magic missile.
Then there’s a really cool little scene where Duck tries to sneak through Jon’s character’s stuff, and has to do it in the style of an old-school text adventure.
I’d make an “eaten by a grue” joke, but they already did….ummmm….can he get ye flask? Yeah, that’s a joke….
Then the next title card is “Belief Systems”. Duck refuses to convert from AD&D 2nd Edition to 3rd. I understand the dilemma. After playing both, I’m glad 3.5 and Pathfinder are things that exist. Things are quickly smoothed over as Jon tells him that he can play a Drow Monk thanks to class restrictions being lifted.
You can also play as one of these, if you’re so inclined. But that’s another story…
The REAL clincher is that they removed THAC0. While some gamers would mourn the loss, and some would say “good riddance”. Duck is PISSED. The culture shock is too much. When he compares it to GURPS, the table is silenced. The conversation is dropped.
They discuss switching systems. Cthulhu is too predictable ( I too have had a character’s dead relative give them a mansion, only for strange occurrences to take place). Shadowrun is too much like…Quake…Okay…GURPS is laughed away. No Superhero game is balanced enough. Vampire is a little…queer….
For the life of me I have no idea what they mean…..
The next title card “Conflict Resolution”, leads to an argument. Bill’s adventure was apparently written on cling wrap, because his players saw right through it. He thought he was being clever, and this revelation causes him to hide under the table. They assure him they are still having fun (DMs need their ego stroked occasionally, it’s necessary for our mental well-being), and they go back to the table, only to be interrupted by the on;y thing a DM fears more than running out of plot hooks. THE CELL PHONE! Seriously, if I can get real-talk on you for a sec, the number one rule of ANY RPG after “the DM is always right, as long as it helps the story” is “NO CELL PHONES AT THE TABLE”. It’s hard enough to keep players involved as it is without someone’s girlfriend texting them…
If Hitler, Satan, and Carrot Top Had a baby, This would still be worse:
The next title card “Encumbrance Penalties” is an interesting treatise on the comsumerist culture of gamers and geeks in general. Jon imagines himself as one of the Junk Women from Labyrinth, and this scares him enough to sell all of this nerd swag. As an opponent of the “buy-more” geek culture, I think this is honestly a pretty inspiring moment.
Finally, the man who started it all, Aaron shows up, just as everyone was getting ready to pack it in for the day. He muses on what gaming does for him, and how he can hang out with his best friends and do cool stuff. Duck then attempts to kill his character.
The movie ends and the credits roll with a rap, presumably by Duck.
All-in all, I really liked this flick. It’s a pretty realistic look into a bunch of geeks sitting around the table talking about stuff. If you spend any amount of time in a local game store, you’ll probably see three or four people just like the main characters in this film (but probably with longer hair).
Portrayal of RPGs – 5/5
This movie doesn’t try to play fast and loose with RPGs. There are actually a lot of jokes that people unfamiliar with certain games would not find quite as funny.
The Plot – 4/5
A lot of gamers would have given up and gone home long before Aaron could have returned to the film. Everything else isn’t so much a cohesive plot but a series of events strung together by title cards. This isn’t trying to be a grand story, just a peek at a group of nerds, and it achieves this really well.
If you want to check it out, you can get the DVD on Amazon or the entire movie is available for watching here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOgtY7vMeDo on Bill Stiteler’s youtube channel. Let ’em know I sent you!
In case you want more, I’ll try to have another review of one of the films on my list by next Sunday the 5th.