Saturday, December 28, 2013

[Obsolete Simulations Roundup] "It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show" -- A Retrospective Of B-Movie Roleplaying

Welcome boys and "ghouls" to another eerie episode of "The Midnight Mortuary." As always, I'm your horrific host, "Dr. Phil Mel DeHyde." Tonight's awful offering is that 1962 classic, "The Brain That Ate Des Moines." So sit back on the slab right here, let me get my autopsy tools, and we'll be back after this word from our sponsor!

For anyone who stayed up late on Saturday night to watch a piece of cinematic dreck on UHF hosted by the local station's horror host, have I got an RPG for you to check out. "It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show" by Stellar Games (abbreviated as LLLS from here on out) is role-playing in the world of cheesy, awful B-movies. Whereas other genres encourage the players to "play it straight," LLLS encourages (and rewards) cliched dialogue, insipid plotlines, and "acting appropriately stupid." ("The blood trail leads into the basement? Well, I can't wait for the others. I'll follow it alone.")

It's MST3K: The RPG, and it's a hoot. A sense of humor and an ability to "metagame" are vital for this RPG.

It's tough to discuss the basic gameplay of LLLS without initially addressing one bit of  inspired metagaming: The character you roll up is an ACTOR who is, in turn, cast in the role you'll be playing in the movie. So when you roll up your PC, you'd be rolling up the stats for Rip Studdington, well-known Hollywood B-list actor. But when you sit down at the table to play that night's adventure, your character, "Rip," could be cast in the role of Dr. Phil Horowitz, PhD, in "I Was A Teenage Gillman" or maybe General Buzz Howitzer in "The Thing From Uranus." Follow me thus far?

OK, the game's mechanics are very simple, using a set of d%s for almost all rolls. The PCs have four basic stats: Build (your strength), Brains (your smarts), Dexterity (your agility), and Looks (your good-looking-ness), and each is initially generated on 4d10 (giving you 4 to 40 for your stats). After rolling your stats, you then get to choose 20 Talents (aka Skills) on your sheet, and add 1d10 to the base score for each chosen one. If you want Archaeology, your'd add 1d10 to the base score (your Brains stat) to get the Talent score. And so on. And that's the general gist of your stats and scores -- with one exception: your Fame score.

As you recall, you're an actor playing a role. And regardless of what happens in the game, it's still "only a movie." So your Fame score actually comes into play in several optional ways:
  • Actors with the best Fame get the best roles, so your Director (GM) could let the PC with the highest Fame pick the role he wants to play, and so on until the PC with the lowest Fame score ends up playing one of the extras, "Old Coot, the banjo playing comic relief."
  • Actors can use their Fame as a degree of Luck, rolling versus it to see if they catch a lucky break on screen due to their "film presence."
  • The props (equipment) you start with hinges on your Fame score. So famous actors get their pick of the equipment trailer, whereas unfamous nobodies are assigned shoddy weapons, meager equipment, and non-functioning props. (Why won't this Geiger counter work?)
  • Famous actors are notoriously ego-centric. If you (as a player) don't like the way a scene is panning out, you can "Walk Off The Set." If you successfully roll versus your Fame score, you can have the Director "rewrite" the scene to your liking. Think the monster is too tough? Demand a rewrite so it turns out it's Old Man Jenkins in a rubber mask. But if you miss your Fame roll, the Director is perfectly within his rights to "punish" your prima-donna tantrum!
  • If the PCs decide to "burn" their Fame points, they can cause a "Film Break." The action "skips over" the fight or obstacle that was stymieing the party. ("Oh no! It's the Flying Brain from Arcurus! We don't have a chance!" ***BREAK*** "Wow! That was a tough fight! Good thing I happened to remember my Flying Brain Karate Training from my days in Tibet!"
  • Your Fame score is also a measurement of how unflappable you are, so anytime you're surprised or frightened, you roll against your Fame to see how you react.
Other metagaming gameplay that might surface: Calling for a "Stunt Double" brings in someone else to take damage for you during a fight or other injurious scene. (But once they've been beaten up, you're back on the set to take your own damage.) If you request to "Refresh Make-up" between scenes, you heal up a few points of damage. (It's amazing what a bit of flesh-tone base can cover up!) And, since you're an actor, you're not locked into any one genre. Your PC could be in a survival horror film one week, then fighting ninjas in a chop-socky epic the next, before trying to fight off invaders from Dimension Q the next.

The original rules (and two supplements) gave the Director four primary "movie sets" (or genres) with which to set their movies:
  • "The Late, Late, Late Show" -- The core setting of bad horror movies.
  • "Fortune Cookie Theatre" -- The world of badly dubbed martial arts movies.
  • "Sagebrush Cinema" -- The land of spaghetti westerns.
  • "Tyrannosaurus Tex" -- A bizarre cross-genre world of dinosaur-riding cowboys.
However, the original core rules gives you stats and advice on running bad slasher movies, bad Japanese monster movies, bad sci-fi invasion movies, and other B-grade cinema flotsam. Amongst the three books, there were also seven full movies (adventures) for you to run your actors through.
  • You'll THRILL to "The Invasion of the Undead Scuba-Diving Zombies at Bikini Beach"!
  • You'll GASP at "The Iron Fist of Shao-Lin vs. The Dragon Ninjas"!
  • You'll CHEER at "Showdown at Dry Gulch Station"!
  • You'll SWOON at "Tyrannosaurus Tex"!
  • You'll CHILL during "Bjorn on the Bayou"!
  • You'll CRINGE to "Mummy Dearest"!
  • You'll SCREAM during "Ga-May-Rah vs. The Space Asparagus"!
When your Actor loses enough "Survival Points," they're taken out of the movie and off-set. But if they are able to get to the end of the film, they'll be rewarded with more Fame points, better roles, better props, and the chance to better their stats and Talent scores. Inane dialogue, audience asides, fade-to-black, and character flashbacks are also discussed in the rules and encouraged. (And whenever the action gets interesting or right before a major reveal, be sure to cut to a commercial break. It'll drive your PCs nuts.)

When I run LLLS, I do one thing very differently: I'm not a big fan of the "GM as Director of a Movie" role. When I run LLLS, I see the GM in more of a "midnight movie horror host" role. That way, the GM can have a role of his own to play during the game! Ghoulardi, Zacherley,  Svengoolie, Vampira, and, of course, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, are good examples. (I'm partial to SCTV's "Count Floyd" as portrayed by Joe Flaherty though.) So if you ever game with me, you'll be under the leering eye of "Dr. Phil Mel DeHyde," host of "The Midnight Mortuary," airing at 1 a.m. on UHF Channel 62!

And here's a little something I've cobbled together for your own LLLS games. Nowadays, if you want to see modern-day B-movies, you can always turn on SyFy and see what they have up for grabs. ("Axe Giant," "Piranhaconda," and, of course, "Sharknado" are shining examples.) So, with that as inspiration, I hammered out this quick "SyFy Channel B-Movie Title Generator". Roll 2d10 (one for each column)  for your own SyFy B-movie title:
1. Shark       1. --nado
2. Piranha     2. --quake
3. Arachna     3. --mageddon
4. Ice            4. --alanche
5. Viper        5. --typhoon
6. Gator       6. --storm
7. Fire          7. --planet
8. Robo        8. --horror
9. Demon     9. --island
10. Dino      10. --swarm

"It Came From The Late, Late, Late Show" and its supplements are not available on PDF, but you can usually find copies on eBay and Amazon. In fact, Noble Knight now carries a "starter kit" of the first two books for $19.95. (One note:  There were originally three books released for the game -- the core rules and two supplements, pictured above -- that were later recombined into two larger books, pictured below. So you may have to do some checking as to which ones you're purchasing. The only difference I've found is that one of the adventures -- "Ga-May-Rah vs. The Space Asparagus" -- was dropped when the books were reduced from three volumes to two.) 

Well, my little ghoulunatics, I see that it's quitting time once again here at the mortuary. While I tidy up a bit after the autopsy of that rather gruesome cinematic offering, why don't you let yourselves out? Thanks again for your help in the mortuary and for keeping me company tonight, and stop back next week for "Return of The Radioactive Wombat"! Until we meet again, this is Dr. Phil Mel DeHyde saying, "Whether walking on two feet or brought in on four wheels, everyone eventually ends up here at The Midnight Mortuary!"


  1. I still have a copy of this. It made me think of Up All Night with Rhonda Shear.

  2. Aw yeah, I loved Rhonda (and later Gilbert Gottfried, as I recall).

  3. This sounds like a lot of fun. I like the idea of shifting the GM over to a Horror Host sort of role instead of a director. This seems like a really good game to run at conventions.


    ...makin' me wanna dig this one out and re-read it for fun...