Bright is better…

…better than Shadowrun.

Let me explain. Today, I watched Bright for the second time. And I’m fairly confident I’ll be watching it many more times. After the first time, I said, ‘It’s the quintessential Shadowrun movie’ – but I was wrong.

In Shadowrun, you have elves, orks, trolls and a slew of other fantasy races. You have magic, lots of it. And you have cyberpunk. And you get ‘scientific’ explanations for them, UGE and goblinization, and you can take college study courses for magic. Shadowrun, especially in its first two incarnations, is our world, but 30+ years in the future, plus cyberpunk.

In Bright, you also have elves, orks and other fantasy races. Even centaurs. AND Bright takes place in modern-day Los Angeles. Modern day, NOT future. Bright is not science fiction. Bright is our world + fantasy races + magic (more on that in a minute), but without cyberpunk. Bright is as dystopian as modern day L.A. or any big city in the West. It’s a contemporary dystopian setting.

And it’s exactly this lack of same old, same old cyberpunk that makes Bright so refreshing. Something about that movie that also speaks to me is its deliberate lack of everyday magic. Compare this to Shadowrun, where magic is ubiquitous, and sometimes very powerful. In Bright, magic is like a nuclear bomb: terrifying and dangerous – and to use it, you need a magic wand. Magic wands are indestructible and can only be wielded by… brights. Brights are people who are magically gifted. Elves have that gift, other races have it, as well. And only a handful of humans. Others, non-brights, can use wands, too. But if they dare and grab one, they are killed, annihilated by the sheer force of magic.

This makes magic rare and exotic. It turns the old fantasy roleplaying game trope of “magic can be (easily) controlled” on its head. In Shadowrun, magic is a tool, just like weaponry and ‘decking’ (netrunning). In Bright, magic truly is uncontrollable, at least for 99 percent of the population.

In Shadowrun (at least in the first and second editions), we get glimpses of elven history, like for instance in the ‘Harlequin’ adventures. They show that elves indeed are much more than simple genetic deviations, and have been on Earth for probably hundreds if not thousands of years.

But in Bright, and this is what excites me so much, the races have been living together for thousands of years, and that’s common knowledge. They even fought against The Dark Lord two thousands years ago, and defeated him. Orks and elves have their own language (and, derived from this fact, I assume the other races do have one, as well), with their own alphabets. We see street signs and graffiti in orkish (Bodzvokhan) we see billboards with fancy writing in elvish (Övüsi). Shadowrun tells us there is Sperethiel (elvish) and Or’zet (orkish), but there’s no living culture around that. It feels, to me at least, like something that got tacked on later to add some mythological depth. In Bright, it’s deeply ingrained in the setting.

One thing that always felt funny was the racial tensions between elves and orks in Shadowrun. The setting description, in the first and second editions, did not have enough and satisfying information to explain and justify this. The players I had as a referee always took their setting knowledge of bog-standard fantasy and simply transfered it to Shadowrun: elves don’t get along with dwarves and orks, for instance. Those tensions felt imported from other genres, by the players, not the game’s authors.

In Bright, racial tensions are a reality from the beginning. We see ork neighborhoods, ork gangs, barely middle-class. And we see military checkpoints at the entry and exit points to Elftown. Bright plays with the old fantasy tropes, and brilliantly so. Orks are ugly, green-skinned, heavy-set and have tusks. And because they look brutish, they live in brutish conditions, just like their relatives in Middle Earth. The elves, on the other hand, look elegant, frail even, and like not-quite-of-this-world. Of course, they’re living the good live, and of course, they’re the schemers, the ones that can’t be trusted.

Orks in Bright have to be ‘blooded’ to be fully accepted into their kin. They have to show how courageous they are, how fearless and fierce. Orks filing off their tusks are shunned and have no right to be among their kin. This is all pure fantasy genre, and Bright is not ashamed to use those well-known and well working tropes. And, maybe surprisingly, it clicks.

And the myths of the races are just… perfect. The Fogteeth orks still worship the Dark Lord. And Jirak, an unblooded ork, created the Shield of Light, two thousand years ago, uniting the nine races in their fight against the Dark Lord.

All of this – ALL of this – brings me to a conclusion: In FKR, our aim is to play worlds, not rules. That said, I’ll referee Bright next. Not system XYZ, not Shadowrun-without-cyberpunks. No system. I’ll referee a world called Bright.

Let’s look at some images.

An elf. Badass bitch, dangerous AF.
A look into the Elf District.
There probably isn’t a single poorly-dressed elf in the world.
Elf District.
Fairies are pests in Bright.
Ah! A bright and a wand.
Jirak, the unblooded ork who saved the world as we know it.
Well. Elves. What can I say.
Meet the boys.

2 thoughts on “Bright is better…

  1. This is a fantastic film and deserved far more credit than it got. I’m still holding out hope for a sequel! I’ve always thought it would make a great rpg. Check out a game called Mega city mage punk by Bjorn Warmedal, very bright influenced and very fkr!

    Liked by 1 person

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