Stealing the Hell Outta HE-MAN!

Monday , 3, April 2017 20 Comments

Not a real movie.

Good Game Masters write their own stuff; great GM’s STEAL. SO LET’S TALK STEALING!

He-Man is what you’d get if you crossed Conan with Shazaam (aka DC’s Captain Marvel): a muscled, superhero barbarian that a muscled, but mild-mannered Prince Adam turns into thanks to a magic sword. The main character of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, his animated adventures were (like so many 80’s cartoons) thinly-disguised advertisements for a line of toys. Which isn’t to say they were bad.

Which isn’t to say they were notably good, either. As a kid I loved it, but as an adult its flaws are glaring. That said, the show, while not being awesome itself, is a great source of awesome.

He-Man’s world, Eternia, is what you’d get if Jack Vance had written sword and sorcery for Stan Lee in the 1970’s. An alien planet, it’s stuffed from stem to stern with magic, high technology, and a bunch of superheroes / villains.

The very first episode is about a wizard trying to summon a mated pair of comets. He accidentally destroys one, and the survivor turns bitter and evil. Skeletor summons the vengeful Cosmic Comet to use its power to conquer Eternia. The heroes defeat the plot by creating a good comet from pieces of the evil one.

That is Pulp as HELL.

Every single episode is stuffed to overflowing with a dozen or more such ideas, any one of which you could use to spice up a tabletop RPG campaign.

As an example, Ep. 7 (“The Curse of the Spellstone”) has (SPOILER ALERT) a weather-control satellite; the Spellstone, which Evil-Lyn uses to wrest control of the satellite away from Man-at-Arms; the Region of Flame (a place where streams and lakes have lava flowing in them, not water); its inhabited by the Fire People (a fierce and xenophobic race), said Fire People looking like like faceless red spectres w/ red spectral weapons (that are nonetheless material); a ruddy-skinned, six-tentacled monster that lives in the lava and is vulnerable to electricity; levitating robots w/ clawed hands; a pit trap that dumps the heroes into a cavern, then drops a river on their heads; and the Creeping Horac.

The Creeping Horac was the worst punishment handed out in ancient times. It’s a motile oily, black goo, sporting a number of black tendrils. In olden days, criminals were locked inside their homes, and the Horac was released. It would overgrow the house, then rapidly fill the inside, killing the criminal. (GRIM!, especially considering this is a children’s cartoon.) TELL me that’s not a Vancian (or Howardian or Lovecraftian) monster.

ALL OF THIS HAPPENS IN ONE SINGLE EPISODE.

“The Time Corridor” (Episode 8), is an otherwise mediocre episode that nonetheless includes (among other things) the Time Corridor, allowing travel back in time; the Window of Time, which allows people to see the past; a spell to trap someone for all time; and is capped off by the entire cast traveling back to a sort of Savage Age of Eternia. This Savage Age introduces three new monsters: the dragosaur (a dragon-dinosaur), a carnivorous and tendrilled purple plant, and a giant maroon beetle with scorpion claws and a horn in the center of its head. Lesson? Even BAD episodes had nearly a dozen eminently stealable ideas.

Skeletor: NOT a good guy. Good work ethic, though.

“The Dragon Invasion“—Episode 9—highlights some of the better qualities of Skeletor (left). Turns out, he’s the hands-on kind of Evil Overlord, a lead-from-the-front bad guy, not afraid to get into the mud and do some real work, really get his hands dirty (not like those lazy Emperor Ming-style Evil Overlords who stay at home stuffing their faces with bon-bons, sending their minions out one by one to get killed by the Plucky-but-Naive Hero). In the beginning of the episode he’s out stealing some dragon eggs. Sure Beast Man is pulling the cart with the eggs, but Skeletor’s right there stealing them, and even has to fight off the momma dragon who attacks the cart. Skull-man’s got a work ethic, is all I’m saying.

This episode features (in part): the Dragon Pearl (we find out later it magnifies magic by 100 times); a floating antigrav cart; a stasis ray; a plotting henchman, in the form of Beast Man; a fantastic growth serum, which grows full sized dragons from eggs in just under a minute; the Mystic Mountains and Swamp of Slime; a space portal which allows Skeletor to teleport all over Eternia; an unnamed shining bonds spell cast by the sorceress of Greyskull; and a shining barrier spell which prevents anyone from entering Grayskull while Skeletor does his thing.

Once again, I’m not trying to sell you on the series as a series. The animation isn’t up to modern expectations, and adults will likely have a hard time watching. I AM telling you that if you want to throw your players a curve ball, you could do worse than to pull up Netflix (it’s available for streaming) and watch an episode or two, stealing whatever bits catch your fancy.

This is PRECISELY how Gary Gygax created Dungeons & Dragons—Gygax stole from EVERYBODY. He could have filled an entire dungeon with stuff culled from just the first few episodes of this series, they’re that full of imaginative elements and sheer awesome weirdness. Follow his example—you are guaranteed to find something your players have never even thought of, that will really freak them out.

And isn’t that what Game Mastering is all about?


Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.

20 Comments
  • Cameron says:

    In this spirit, Encounter Critical from a few years back was kind of a spoof of old school D&D, and kind of not a spoof.

    https://www.rpg.net/reviews/archive/16/16068.phtml

  • Emery E Calame says:

    HeMan was in a lot of ways a retread of a previous show called Blackstar about a Buck Rogers style lost astronaut who crashes on a planet and comes into possession of half of the Power Sword, the other half of which is wielded by the dread overlord, named Overlord. Blackstar is allied to the big headed blue skinned Sorceress Mara, the blue skinned shape changer Klone, and several goofy little dudes called Trobbits who fall down a lot. Blackstar’s flying dragon mount Walock shows up in He-Man with a different color scheme.

    • Scott Nebel says:

      Agreed! While there are some Blackstarr easter eggs in He-man, I recently revisited Tarzan and other filmation series to find some nearly identical story lines, progressively getting better with each retread ☺️

  • RevRighteous says:

    I have the exact same opinion about the He-man series: can’t really recommend it, but man is it chock full of great stuff. I personally love it even with all it’s glaring flaws. A real shame it has never been re-imagined/re-used effectively. The re-make in the 2000’s was ok. It dropped the o1980’s all-pervading cheese, but threw out the baby with the bathwater and lost the original’s otherworldly spark and pure adventure heroism.

    • David says:

      I agree, I really wanted to like the re-make and it had some improvements but it couldn’t maintain my interest. I still have fond memories of the original He-Man with all the gonzo

  • Rigel Kent says:

    “the show, while not being awesome”

    He-Man not awesome? NOT AWESOME?! How dare you!!!

  • Hooc Ott says:

    Post 1980 Saturday morning and after school cartoons were weird.

    The thing that gets me about it is the micro generations that all this GOOD STUFF produced.

    Emery E Calame above mentions Blackstar and I imagine if he wrote this article it would have been about that.

    If I had written it it would be about Thunddarr the Barbarian.

    Someone else would claim full on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon or maybe even that one with the cat men.

    God help any one who chooses Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

    We all have our favorite. The thing is the reason why is because of our ages.

    We are all 80s kids separated by only a handful of years yet we all got different “The ONE” favorite pulpy SFF cartoon to claim.

    I don’t think 90s kids got that. It is Pokemon all the way down. They are legion. And it ain’t even really pulp.

    What the heck happened?!?!?

    Why the sudden disappearance of all this?

    • Pat D. says:

      I watched all of those except for Blackstar, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen.

      “Why the sudden disappearance of all this?”

      My guess is it got cheaper to dub Japanese shows than to make new ones.

    • Andy says:

      One that stands out in my mind wasn’t even a cartoon (it did have one or two video games), probably because it was too weird, but an action figure line called the Power Lords, which was designed by Wayne Barlowe.

      The hero lived in a volcano and looked like a cross between Adam Warlock and Molasar from Michael Mann’s film version of The Keep.

    • As an 80s-90s kid, “The ONE” show for me was Exosquad, a 2 season space opera from 1993 about genetically engineered Martians conquering Earth and humanity fighting back. With mechs.

  • “(not like those lazy Emperor Ming-style Evil Overlords who stay at home stuffing their faces with bon-bons, sending their minions out one by one to get killed by the Plucky-but-Naive Hero)”

    This Ming…?

    http://www.scifiwright.com/2017/04/picture-of-the-day/

    • John E. Boyle says:

      Ming gets a bad rap, in my opinion. I think I’m influenced by my parents though; they loved Flash Gordon.

  • “Emery E Calame above mentions Blackstar and I imagine if he wrote this article it would have been about that. If I had written it it would be about Thunddarr the Barbarian.Someone else would claim full on Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon or maybe even that one with the cat men.”

    No love for PIRATES OF DARK WATER? Noy Jitat! It was as freaky (and as imaginative) as anything I read in Elric or Heavy Metal.

    • Pat D. says:

      It’s a damn shame that show never got completed (something that plagues American animation in general). Has there been a comic continuation or anything for it?

    • Emmett Fitz-Hume says:

      I loved Pirates of Darkwater! I was 12 and all I knew was a sailing ship that could become a glider was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

      I was also a fan of the Thundercats/Silverhawks/Tigersharks Axis of cartoons.

  • J. D. Brink says:

    1. I about pooped my pants when I saw that movie poster with those names on it. Then I saw the caption and was terribly disappointed.

    2. I agree that going back to that show as an adult, wow, not as cool as when I was a kid. But I think (as stated above by others) that the creativity that was planted and nutured by the 80s is a unique event in time. These poor kids nowadays will not have what we (now aging) folks had.

    3. As a DM, I steal the shit out of some stuff! And the players enjoy it because they recognize things, get a vague sense of what to expect (while simultaneously being wary of what I might change about it), and it’s easier for them to remember and wrap their heads around. Stealing for games is the best!

  • Ingot9455 says:

    For more He-Man fun, try googling up the ‘He-Man Series Bible.’

    The project landed in the lap of a fellow who dashed it out in a burst of creativity. Only some of the ideas were used but it has that same flavor.

  • […] Daddy Warpig has a great post looking at He-Man and its pulp story ideas. […]

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