Blood Rain (Hyeol-eui-noo, 혈의 누) 2005; dir. Dae-seung Kim; (IMDB.com)
As an Appendix K reader, I’m going to assume you’re familiar with the trope of the adventuring party who arrives at the random village in the wilderness only to discover that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong there. After all, it’s been a staple scenario concept in adventure gaming since the start, with Gary Gygax’s adventure module The Village of Hommlet (“T1”) serving as a kind of ur-text for such adventures. Indeed, the trope has even come up earlier in this Appendix K series, in the discussion of the comedic film Garoojigi.
If you’re interested in running a more serious scenario in a fantastical Korean milieu, it’s worth checking out director Dae-seung Kim’s 2005 film Blood Rain (Hyeol-eui-noo). It’s essentially South Korea’s answer to the The Name of the Rose—the 1986 film adaptation, if not the book—and features a “puzzle-box” mystery set in a remote community with a religious theme, rumors of the supernatural, and plenty of secrets to be uncovered.
First, a word of warning: the film isn’t for the faint of heart, nor is it for those who are strongly turned off by gore or brutality.
Blood Rain deals with a (relatively) affluent island community with a thriving industry centered on its paper production, for which the method and recipe are closely guarded secrets. Not the only secrets the village has, as it turns out: when an investigator is sent to investigate an apparent case of arson—the royal paper tribute has been burned—it is quickly discovered that a murder has also occurred, followed in the ensuing days by more murders and the uncovering of much darker secrets, shrouded by what seems like an entire village with something to hide—individually and collectively—and terrifying rumors about a vengeful ghost being responsible for the deaths.
The film deals with several unusual and serious themes: the oppressive classism that characterized social relations during the late Joseon Dynasty, but also brutal religious intolerance, in the form of bloody institutionalized persecution of Catholics throughout the kingdom in the 19th century. (In this, it’s an interesting inversion of The Village of Hommlet: instead of an unfamiliar, heterodox religion being the problem in the scenario, it’s actually just a scapegoat behind which the true nature of the crimes is hidden.) Not every group will be eager to tackle such themes, but for those who are interested, the film is a good model for how such issues could affect a small village and would continue reverberate through its collective life for many years.
Setting aside these serious matters, the film has much to offer. Besides starting with an extended and lively depiction of a shamanic kutt (ceremony), the first forty minutes of the film provide a sort of masterclass in how to present the populace of a village in a way that gives every individual of note a characteristic personality and at least one personal secret. The development of the serving woman at the local drinking house, for example, is brilliant, funny, surprising, but rings true, and the clever way the shaman’s apparent charlatanry turns out to be a misunderstanding crucial to solving the case is simply brilliant. The film also makes use of one more type of surprise: the shocking revelation of a secret about someone important to the protagonist, or what in game terms would be an NPC from the player character’s background. In a Korean cultural context, family ties and mentorships tend to play a particularly large role in characters’ identity, so the uncovering of surprises in the background of, say, a player character’s parent or honored teacher can be a really powerful way of presenting a player with a challenging dramatic dilemma.
Finally, the film is full of clever and dangerous traps, many of which are sprung manually by the trap’s builder who is hiding in the room where the investigator is trying to track down a clue. It’s easy to imagine players frantically rolling Dexterity saving throws to avoid being crushed, torn apart, or hurled headfirst into walls by the many utterly horrible traps in this film.
That said, the plot is rather intricate , and because of its complexity it would be difficult (and inadvisable) to try directly recreate the film’s mystery scenario as a satisfying RPG adventure. If you wanted to attempt it, you’d need to simplify the mystery, and would be well advised to consider Justin Alexander’s advice on structuring investigative scenarios. Still, it’s an inspiring film for anyone interested in a grim and gritty take on the small, troubled village trope so common in fantasy adventure gaming.
The Koryo Hall of Adventures draws on Korean history and culture, as well as the experience of living in Korea, and not all players and Game Masters are familiar with this cultural background. Appendix K, named as a riff on Gary Gygax’s now-celebrated “Appendix N,” attempts to provide a list of references to help better visualize this campaign setting. In this series, Gord Sellar covers movies, television series, books, music, and other works that offer inspiration, adventure seeds, ideas, helpful visuals, and more.