May 182011

If you know me, you know that I am all about playing the character.  I like my characters like I like my muscle cars – lean, mean, and simply totally AWESOME.  Today I’m going to take one of my favorite characters of all time, and break him down into what makes him the perfect role model (RPG role model, that is).  I know it’s been a while since you’ve seen Snake Plissken escape from New York.  He did it several years ago, after World War III.  After reading this article, I just know that you’re going to click on Netflix, and flix it (I think I will, too).

For those of you who have never gotten the pleasure of watching the early John Carpenter film, let’s do a quick review.

  1. The entire island of Manhattan has been sealed off and turned into a giant, inmate-run prison.  “Once you go in, you don’t come out.”
  2. Snake Plissken is a former U.S. Army Lieutenant, serving under Special Forces Unit Black Light, with two Purple Hearts, and the youngest soldier to be decorated by the U.S. President for bravery during campaigns in World War III.  Snake then takes up a life of crime due to the government’s betrayal of some operation.
  3. Among his many illegal jobs, one of Snake’s partners gets captured, tortured, and killed, leading the rest of the criminal community thinking Snake has also been killed.
  4. World War III is coming to a close, and the President is heading to a summit in Air Force One.  His plane is hijacked by terrorists and flown into a large skyscraper in Manhattan.  The president manages to get into a survival/escape pod just before, and survives the crash.  Unfortunately, he quickly gets captured by the island’s prisoners.
  5. Just before this time, Snake gets caught and sentenced to life in prison in Manhattan.  However, he is offered a full pardon if he can get into the prison, and rescue the president and the president’s sensitive summit information.  As insurance, Snake is injected with tiny capsules that will explode within 24 hours, ensuring that he must make it back with the president and information.  Only then will the capsules be neutralized.
  6. Throughout the movie, Snakes makes friends, enemies, and dead people.  Some of the prisoners help him get the president out in the hopes that they will be allowed to leave the prison.  In the end, only Snake and the president make it out alive.
  7. When Snake asks the president how he feels about those people who died getting him out of the prison, the president gives a distracted, half-assed, insufficient response.  Snake then embarrasses the president by giving him the wrong cassette, then destroying the important summit information.

All right, now that you know the basics of the campaign that this character is taking part in, let’s start breaking down this villain into the pieces that make him a great player character.

  1. First of all, let’s define him.  Snake is the main character, and although he is a bad guy, we see him experience events that ultimately show us his good side.  Call him an anarchist, if you like, but understand that he still has his principles, maybe even a little bit of heart.
  2. Not every player character starts the game with a peachy, rosy group of acquaintances.  Snake begins the game with not one, but two major enemies.  ENEMIES.  Enemies create immediate conflict, which creates immediate story – good story.  That right there makes your character more rich, and gives the gamemaster plenty of fuel for his fire of a campaign.  Next time you make a character, consider giving him an enemy.
  3. Not just enemies, but Snake will (throughout the movie) run into people he knows.  Not necessarily friends, but not enemies, either.  These are people that he doesn’t exactly get along with, but still finds a way to get along.  Again, this little bit of conflict makes for a great story.
  4. Snake wears an eyepatch.  Annnnd that covers that.
  5. Snake has a tatoo of a snake, on his stomach, which presumably trails down…
  6. Snake doesn’t talk much – a little bit of the brooding, tough guy image goes a long way.
  7. He has a great backstory that helps explain his badassness.  He’s an ex-commando special forces hero.  That explains a lot about how he got his skills at the start of the campaign/story.
  8. Snake is a bad guy, forced into a situation that serves a greater good.
  9. Snake has a great quote… well, there is a great quote said about Snake as people meet him,  “You’re Snake Plissken?  I’ve heard of you… I heard you were dead.”
  10. Snake actually cares about good, decent people – people who are willing to put their lives on the line for what they believe in.  The inmates that help him and the president escape – he wants to see them live to the end.  Unfortunately, they don’t, but that is ultimately what forces him to put the president on the spot, to see if the president is worthy of the summit information.

The last point I’m going to mention is Transition.   A major theme in any story, one that makes most stories more interesting to watch or read, is that of a character’s transition.  What I mean by that is that the main character starts off in the story with some set of ideals, but then learns and grows as a result of the conflicts placed before him.  Snake begins our story as a bad guy forced into a situation he doesn’t want to be in, supposedly for the greater good.  Either Snake makes a clean transition and actually learns to be a good guy, or simply because of the story we see the good in him that was always there – it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that at the end of the campaign, we have gotten to know the real Snake Plissken, and he’s a character you’ve grown to love.

Charisma Keller

Charisma is a self-proclaimed Gran Tourismo champion, and swears that it’s official (or that it should be). She loves strength and beauty, so she usually tries to combine the two. Her characters are confident, humble, foolish, and heroic, and has named at least two of them after her favorite drink, the Lemon Drop. Oh yeah, her favorite muscle car would be the 67 GT-500E.

  3 Responses to “Snake Plissken – The Role Model”

  1. Great article about a great movie and great character.

  2. Nice breakdown of Snake. I was always a fan of the first movie (And a guilty pleasure fan of the second) and I’ve seen him be an inspiration on a couple of occasions at my various tables throughout the years. Especially in the cyberpunk genre. I just wish some of my players would look back on those times now-a-days and bring a little of that back.

    Oh, and by the way, GT-500 FTW 😀

  3. @ Geekbob

    I agree. There are so many bits of inspiration from back-in-the-day movies and shows. I ahve a friend who WILL NOT watch Star Wars IV – VI, simply because of the technology of the 70s and 80s, and because he’s lame!

    Also, GT-500 FTW – Yay-uh!

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