Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Inspiration: Thel

Today's inspiration comes from the 1985 TV series Otherworld.  The protagonists are the Sterlings, a nuclear family from Southern California – husband Hal, wife June, teen-aged son Trace, teen-age daughter Gina, and pre-adolescent son Smith.  The Sterlings are visiting Egypt in the pilot episode.  On the day of a rare planetary alignment, they hire a guide to take them into the Great Pyramid.  The guide attempts to extort money from them.  Because they refuse, the guide extinguishes his lantern, abandoning the family in darkness near “the Chamber of Ordeal.”  They inadvertently enter into a “mysterious vortex” and arrive in another world (although they do not realize it at first).

The Sterlings spend hours walking through a desert before finding a road.  The first person they meet is Nuveen Kroll, a 'Kommander' (thus spelled) in the Zone Troopers.  Fortunately, Kroll (like everyone else on Thel) speaks a language indistinguishable from English.  Unfortunately, Kroll is an arrogant jerk and attempts to arrest the Sterlings since they are in a 'forbidden zone' and lack identification papers.  A scuffle ensues and Kroll is rendered unconscious.  The Sterlings leave Kroll and take his vehicle and a crystalline phallic symbol of authority.  They soon abandon the vehicle because they don't know how to control it.  Eventually, they find an inhabited area called Sarlax.

Our protagonists assume they will not be treated favorably if they claim to have gone through a vortex and overpowered some kind of authority figure and stole his possessions.  (This is just the sort of thing player characters would do, only they would do it intentionally.)  So, the family doesn't mention their problems to anyone.  In another instance of good fortune, they fall in with a group of 'new' people.  Playing along, they are assigned vocations and a residence.

After living in Sarlax for a couple of days, the family obtains some information.  Sarlax is one of seventy-seven distinct 'provinces' separated by forbidden zones.  Each province is 'different' but they all more-or-less acknowledge the authority of the city/province of Imar.  This is the result of a series of Unification Wars.

Also, throughout Thel, there are obelisks.  (See the image above.)  Legend has it that – long ago – people from other worlds would come to Thel and follow the trail of the obelisks to Imar.  When they returned to their worlds, “they became kings and sorcerers.”

It turns out that all of the residents of Sarlax are androids, but they have souls.  Androids operate the all-important mines because humans can't tolerate 'Sarlax radiation' for more than a few days.

The family also finds out that the crystal they took from Kroll is a “Class One Access Key.”  It offers “practically unlimited access to power sources, locked doors, information banks, travel...anything.”  As one might expect, Kroll wants it back.  Thus, the Sterlings acquire their very own Inspector Javert/Gerard.  Not only does he pursue the protagonists as a matter of pride, but they have an object he needs to recover.

Thus, the protagonists are subject to what I call a goal/goad motivation.  Their goal (returning home) is to be accomplished by following the 'obelisk trail' to Imar, but there is also the goad of the pursuer.  Theoretically, one can gradually attain a goal or even forgo it altogether; the goad makes this impossible.  If the draw isn't enough, there's the push.  In Otherworld, the fact that the location of the goal happens to be the seat of power of the goad makes things more interesting.

Each week, the Sterlings find themselves in a new province – usually ripe with social allegory.  With Kroll's access key, they are able to establish identities and gain funds.  Any given episode might start with the Sterlings struggling through a forbidden zone or domestically ensconced in a province hardly discernible from a Reagan-era suburb.

The series lasted for only eight episodes.  Some parts were clever, some parts were quirky, and some parts were both.  However similar Thel might seem to Earth, it is a different place.  Frequently, a difference might only be seen or mentioned in passing – taunting the imagination of the viewers.  The ironically named 'Unification Wars' were important, history-shaping events.  The fourth such war occurred hundreds of years ago and included the “Black Mirror Campaign.”  Yet one of the Unification Wars was so recent that Kroll is a veteran.  The differences aren't limited to historical/sociological deviations; the laws of physics don't always conform to 'Earth' reality.  For instance, in “Village of the Motorpigs,” there is a 'photo-comet' that emits light but not heat.

Iconography of the
Church of Artificial Intelligence


  1. I remember watching that show. In fact, I remember it coming on just after finishing a role-playing session. I'd love to watch it again.

  2. thanks for this - reminded of 70s show about dimension travelers lasted only a few episodes - some characters psychic

    starmaidens on utube worth a look too

    1. You are speaking of The Fantastic Journey, which was awesome. It is perhaps more akin to how a 'genuine' RPG campaign would play out. Plus, it had Roddy McDowall and a cat.

      Star Maidens is good, as long as you're not expecting modern production values.