A proto-pulp fantasy film set in a stunningly stylized 19th Century Paris, Vidocq follows the investigation into the death of the legendary criminal-turned-crime fighter, Eugène François Vidocq. A historical figure, the real Vidocq was a reformed criminal, a deadly duelist, a rake and a spy who became a leading member of the Paris police, the founder of the worlds first detective agency, a best-selling writer and a father of modern criminology.
Which is to say that Vidocq’s life was already the stuff of pulp literature before Pitof’s unabashedly fantastic film.
“Ok,” you might say, “the movie sounds good,” but what is there for a klepto GM to steal? Well, besides instantly wanting to run Cthulhu by Gaslight or Space: 1889, GMs can find inspiration in the film’s:
Visuals and Locales
Visually, Vidocq is unbelievably lush. Every costume choice feels correct for the period while telling you about the character draped beneath it. Every set evokes a mood and a sense of a world in motion.
From Vidoq’s ‘bat-cave’ to the climatic fight in the cramped glass factory (as well as the brothel, opium den and crowded warrens of Paris in between) the film paints a setting that can be liberally stolen for any urban campaign.
Premise and Characters
Structurally, the film borrows the Citizen Kane framework: a journalist investigates the death of a great man, with each interview triggering a flashback of the great man’s last days. There are twists a-plenty and neither Vidocq’s associates nor the journalist are particularly reliable, but at the end of the day the plot is framed in this conventional manner. Normally, I wouldn’t recommend stealing the Citizen Kane plot, but Vidocq provides a solid way to use it as a hook for GMs .
Ths lies in the double mystery that the film hangs on: the investigation into
Vidocq’s death and the string of murders Vidocq was investigating at the time.
This can work as a neatly lifted plot for three reasons.
1) Heavy Lifting
Normally, one would just point the PCs in the direction of the string of murders being committed by a mastermind, serial killer and/or cultists. But by having the PCs look into the death or disappearance Vidocq (or the “Detective”) the heavy lifting of the detective work is already done. Every step the PCs take to look into the Detective’s fate should result in them finding the results of the Detective’s findings on the murders. In short, a trail has been blazed and it is up to the PCs to decide how to react to it; which can be useful if your party lacks a Sherlock who can reliably solve impossible crimes.
2) Hornet’s Nest
Moreover, because the Detective has already ‘solved’ the mystery—and been struck down for their trouble—the hornets’ nest is well and truly stirred. This establishes that a) the antagonists are not above bumping off investigators and b) they are likely already actively trying to find out what the Detective knew so they can cover their tracks. This should provide plenty of chase, fight and follow scenes for you to use.
3) Col. Mustard and Co.
Finally, the investigation into the death of the Detective should immediately lead to the Detective’s associates and the conclusion that the Detective’s death may have been an inside job. This veers off of the Vidocq plot a bit, but it does provide the opportunity to introduce a number of NPCs whose motives can be questioned, whose information may be unreliable and who may be in league with the antagonists.
Here as well I would steal from Vidocq without hesitation. From the charming courtesan and the stuff chief of police to the mourning sidekick or even the mysterious mirror-masked ‘Alchemist’ himself; the film offers a wide range of figures to cut and paste into an investigative milieu.
So take a risk, read some subtitles and watch Vidocq. I think you’ll be impressed enough to wonder how it is that the director went on to direct Catwoman…