Advice on pulp RPG systems

Ronnie Sanford

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Hi all,

I have recently gained an interest in pulp RPGs and have read about several including Pulp Cthulhu, Two Fisted Tails, Adventure! And Hollow Earth Expedition. I want to buy one (just one) that can do pulp where the characters have some type of schtick. An example might be Indiana Jones and his whip, but it could be a nearly foolproof talent with knives, swords, trick shooting, etc. And I should be clear I am not looking just for the normal rules to use a sword or knife or even a whip (Because my favorite BRP does that); I am looking for rules to do over the top things with swords, knifes, whips, etc.…

How is this kind of thing handled in pulp games? Which are best for doing what I am describing? Which are best in general?
 

Fenris-77

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My two favorite Pulp games are Atomic Robo and Spirit of the Century. As it happens both are FATE games, which is odd, because I'm not really a huge FATE booster (outside of the Dresden Files). However, those are both great games, and I like some of the narrative flex when I'm, doing pulp, because I'm usually not looking for mechanical grit at all. If I had to pick a system to run Pulp in, it would probably be PbtA of some flavour because I think the mechanical results and teleos of PbtA match that of Pulp storytelling very well.
 

Trippy

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While there were a few self identified pulp games in the 1980s, including some applications of Call of Cthulhu and the poorly received Indiana Jones RPG, there was a big hiatus throughout the 1990s where that style of play took a big back seat to the more cynical urban fantasies that were prevalent at the time.
Indeed, I think there was a big shift from ‘punk’ to ‘pulp’ in the early 2000s with the final release of White Wolf’s Trinity series of games - Adventure!

Adventure! was an overtly ‘pulp’ game set in the 1920s but able to work in any follow decade too, owing to its timeline established in the previous games in the series (Aberrant and Aeon/Trinity). The design and format of the book was that of an actual pulp novel (smaller than a typical book of the time). Rules wise, it was a modified version of the Storyteller system, although they did include dramatic editing in the form of Inspiration points. I think the tonal shift could also go back to the influence of Robin Laws’ Feng Shui, but that is speculation on my part.

Following on from that, you cannot forget Savage Worlds!, a generic game but also having the tone of a pulp style game and, in time, the format of a pulp sized core book too. Fate had a couple of editions before it released Spirit of The Century - now considered the third edition of Fate rules - which arguably became the definitive pulp game of the 2000s. That said, pulp became very popular in the 2000s, so there were lots of games released. The popularity may have had something to do with 9/11 possibly, where audiences had a yearning for more positive, black and white morality away from the more pessimistic, morally ambiguous games of the previous decade.

When Call of Cthulhu 7E rolled round, I think there was a conscious and conspicuous move to ‘pulp’ up the rules too, which informed many of the rules changes. Of course, H.P. Lovecraft’s writings were from 1920s pulp journals, so in that sense it was appropriate. However, in games, ‘pulp’ has come to specifically mean a romantic action genre, whereas actual pulp novella included a variety of genres including more grittier thrillers (which is referenced in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, of course). For me, gaming ‘pulp’ is really a low level supers game, so games like Champions or Mutants & Masterminds also fits the bill on one level.
 
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Ronnie Sanford

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I have heard good things about Spirit of the Century and Fate in general. The reason I didn't mention it however if because I have always played simulationist games and have no experience with more narrative driven games. Maybe I should reconsider.
 

Trippy

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I have heard good things about Spirit of the Century and Fate in general. The reason I didn't mention it however if because I have always played simulationist games and have no experience with more narrative driven games. Maybe I should reconsider.
Personally, I wouldn’t get too wound up on the ‘narrative’ debate, and just take the game on its individual worth. For me, the mechanics of Spirit of The Century just builds on the idea presented in Adventure! (dramatic editing). It does suit the genre, in this case.
 

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Pulp Cthulhu
I should note that this one requires the core CoC book as I remember, so "just one" might be a barrier here. maybe not.

How is this kind of thing handled in pulp games? Which are best for doing what I am describing? Which are best in general?
Mooks/rabble are one way to do things - at least it makes character look more effective.

Cortex Prime would have you create an asset to use or impose a complication. It's pretty generic, but I think it does it pretty well. You'd probably have a Signature Asset (Indy's whip) to assist in this.

In Mythras, I would definitely be using special effects for this space, and characters would have higher than average skill. I'd do broad combat styles with cool traits. The whip is easy - it allows Entangle, which is a Grip, at a very long range, even into low missile ranges (3m seems about average). Gripping allows you to be able to trip, pull, immobilize, disarm, etc.

Let me ask you this - what do you consider over the top? There is a pretty far gap between wrapping a whip around a branch swinging tarzan style and blocking the occasional .38 cal with your sword.
 

Raleel

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Hah, I took the under on 10 posts before someone mentioned Mythras. No offense to fans, but I would rather stick a fork in my eye than use it to run pulp.
and none taken. when looking for tips on running Pulp, I looked in Pulp Cthulhu on how to make that go with Mythras, as I was thinking "this is going to be too deadly".

It would be a hard choice between Cortex and Mythras for me, as I really think that Cortex's pacing is very pulp friendly, and it lacks the exploding die of SW. Cortex's pacing feels very "fail fail fail pull out big success at the end". It also has mook rules, an action variant that aligns well, and plenty of flexibility.
 

Ronnie Sanford

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Personally, I wouldn’t get too wound up on the ‘narrative’ debate, and just take the game on its individual worth. For me, the mechanics of Spirit of The Century just builds on the idea presented in Adventure! (dramatic editing). It does suit the genre, in this case.
Thanks! What do you mean by dramatic editing?
 

Ronnie Sanford

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Let me ask you this - what do you consider over the top? There is a pretty far gap between wrapping a whip around a branch swinging tarzan style and blocking the occasional .38 cal with your sword.
Well I guess it’s all relative but it’s closer to stopping a bullet with a sword or shooting a gun where the bullet bounces off three things before hitting a target.
 

Trippy

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Thanks! What do you mean by dramatic editing?
In Adventure! it amounted to a pool of points that could be spent on making adjustments on plot or scene details. It wasn’t original to it - the James Bond 007 rpg did it previously. However, it was a type of mechanic that became popular in the 2000s.
 

Ronnie Sanford

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In Adventure! it amounted to a pool of points that could be spent on making adjustments on plot or scene details. It wasn’t original to it - the James Bond 007 rpg did it previously. However, it was a type of mechanic that became popular in the 2000s.
Thanks!
 

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For Pulp, I'd run whatever setting in either Savage Worlds or Genesys, as I find both systems get that "competent adventurers handling odd events" feel right. I tend to lean towards Genesys these days, but that's probably bias from running a lot of Star Wars.
 

Savage Schemer

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I absolutely love Hollow Earth Expedition. It's one of my favorite games for any genre. However, you should know that it's likely more gritty than you're thinking when you think "pulp".

If your idea of pulp skews closer to something just shy of street level supers (as mine often is), then I'd have to agree with Spirit of the Century or Savage Worlds. I've personally also used the Achtung! Cthulhu build of PDQ to run pulp games - though that's the wrong era by default.

Mythras with the Mythras Companion actually works very well for pulpy games. Using that supplement and making extensive use of the rabbler and underlings rules really goes a long way. I don't use it all the time myself only because Mythras's combat is a bit more involved than I typically want in a game.

I've also successfully repurposed John Carter of Mars for such a game. I think that works because the Barsoom stories were literally pulp era tales to begin with.
 

Ronnie Sanford

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I absolutely love Hollow Earth Expedition. It's one of my favorite games for any genre. However, you should know that it's likely more gritty than you're thinking when you think "pulp".

If your idea of pulp skews closer to something just shy of street level supers (as mine often is), then I'd have to agree with Spirit of the Century or Savage Worlds. I've personally also used the Achtung! Cthulhu build of PDQ to run pulp games - though that's the wrong era by default.

Mythras with the Mythras Companion actually works very well for pulpy games. Using that supplement and making extensive use of the rabbler and underlings rules really goes a long way. I don't use it all the time myself only because Mythras's combat is a bit more involved than I typically want in a game.

I've also successfully repurposed John Carter of Mars for such a game. I think that works because the Barsoom stories were literally pulp era tales to begin with.
Very helpful, thanks! Do you know anything about two fisted tales?
 

zarion

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I loves me some Hollow Earth Expedition!

I also think that Mythras can do that as mentioned upthread, so there! Not that it would be my first choice as my go to for pulp is HEX. Then again I haven't had much luck getting pulp on the table, so what the hell do I know.

I also agree that Cortex might be a good fit, I know Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is by far my favorite Supers system because it's the only one that allows heroes of such varying degrees of power to run side-by-side without the more powerful overshadowing the less powerful.
 

Brock Savage

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Savage Worlds and Barbarians of Lemuria/Everywhen are the obvious choices, having been built for pulp from the ground up.

Hah, I took the under on 10 posts before someone mentioned Mythras. No offense to fans, but I would rather stick a fork in my eye than use it to run pulp.
Yea man, I agree. No offense to the Mythras fans but it's like the exact opposite of what I am looking for in a pulp system LOL.
 

Voros

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For pulp sf I'd recommend Strange Stars from Hydra Cooperative.

142933.jpg



For what most would more readily recognize as pulp adventures there's also Hydra's Weird Adventures.

eye-of-the-beholder.jpg

 

James Gillen

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There is of course Pulp HERO (Hero System 5th Edition) - although the power creation system seems to be a bit technical for some people, it offers exactly what you need if you want characters to have a signature "shtick", a Psychic Power, or whatever. It also introduced the concept of Heroic Action Points (HAPs) which are somewhere between Luck dice and what Adventure! called "dramatic editing."

JG
 

Silverlion

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For pulp sf I'd recommend Strange Stars from Hydra Cooperative.

View attachment 25242



That is so much a variant of the Star Frontiers cover it screams it. I've got it on my wish list--not sure what system I'd use, since isn't the setting agnostic (and I'm moved away from Fate these days, except FAE) Alas I only got one gaming gift, a gift card that I couldn't quite extend as far as I'd like on drivethru. Good friend behind it though, so bless 'em. Oh I might use Spectrum Games Retro-Star 1970's TV space opera game. It works pretty well for pulp. Hrms.

As for systems, I really like Two Fisted Tales, Adventure, and Spirit of the Century (despite my moving away from Fate its a solid game.) A lot depends on what you expect for it. All three of those work well for what you want, thought SOTC is probably the ideal here, though I love all three enough to recommend them, depending on your interest and playstyle.
 
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ORtrail

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What? No one suggested Daredevils by FGU? Okay, it's a messy system, but there are a number of adventure collections for it that are easy to convert to other systems and you might find them worth having.

 

Voros

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That is so much a variant of the Star Frontiers cover it screams it. I've got it on my wish list--not sure what system I'd use, since isn't the setting agnostic (and I'm moved away from Fate these days, except FAE) Alas I only got one gaming gift, a gift card that I couldn't quite extend as far as I'd like on drivethru. Good friend behind it though, so bless 'em. Oh I might use Spectrum Games Retro-Star 1970's TV space opera game. It works pretty well for pulp. Hrms.

As for systems, I really like Two Fisted Tales, Adventure, and Spirit of the Century (despite my moving away from Fate its a solid game.) A lot depends on what you expect for it. All three of those work well for what you want, thought SOTC is probably the ideal here, though I love all three enough to recommend them, depending on your interest and playstyle.
Should have mentioned there are a system agnotic, OSR and Fate versions.
 

James Gillen

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What? No one suggested Daredevils by FGU? Okay, it's a messy system, but there are a number of adventure collections for it that are easy to convert to other systems and you might find them worth having.

That's not bad, but I wasn't sure there was a print of it. It was all I could do to find the original box set.

JG
 

finarvyn

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You might take a look at Amazing Adventures. There are two versions out -- the C&C one and the 5E D&D one.

The C&C version of Amazing Adventures was written specifically as a pulp RPG. Class names and the general feel just ooze pulp. The C&C one also has the advantage of having a lot of source material out. (Quite a few modules, core rulebook, companion book, book of monsters.) It's also compatible with other C&C products so you can mix and match rules as desired. TLG also has a steampunk rulebook called Victorious which isn't technically for Amazing Adventures but fits quite well.

The 5E version of Amazing Adventures converts the style of the game to more of a "universal" RPG than specifically a pulp one, but much of the pulp flavor of the C&C version shows through. The 5E version is compatible with other 5E products, if that is your thing. Not as much product support yet for this one.

Amazing Adventures is pretty cool as a game, no matter which version you might choose. Jason Vey is a huge Robert E Howard fan and has written some great essays in the A.A. Companion book on how to make your game more like REH's stories.
 

Fenris-77

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I find that the feel of pulp, for me, has more to do with the mechanics than in a lot of other genres. I don't want crunch at all, even D20 is probably more than I'm looking for. I also do want some significant narrative input from the players. Note I didn't say control, but some mechanics that foster player involvement in building the narrative would be my preference. PbtA is my choice there because it does such a good job modelling the She succeeds ... but wait! Now this... format that characterize a lot of pulp stories.
 

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CRKrueger

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Hah, I took the under on 10 posts before someone mentioned Mythras. No offense to fans, but I would rather stick a fork in my eye than use it to run pulp.
No worries, I’d rather shove a chainsaw up my ass then use PbtA for...anything, really.

Then again if mechanised genre is your thing for whatever reason, Mythras has Mook Rules, Pulp Hero Rules, Social Combat Rules, etc. all the 3rd person, OOC mechanics you gotta have to add to your Roleplaying. :devil:
 

Gringnr

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Justice, Inc., if you like Hero System stuff. It's a fun read and it's by Allston and Stackpole, how can you go wrong? Very well researched, it oozes atmosphere. OOP tho I think PDF is available on DTRPG. Can't remember how well it would fulfill the "schtick" you're after.

If you'd rather something lighter, and you want a relatively inexpensive hardcopy, there's Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes, also by Michael Stackpole. It uses a modified version of the T&T 5th ediiton rules, so that's either a feature or a big depending on your feels about T&T. Its stunting system should cover the "tricks" you want to try.

I can't speak for anyone else, but of I were to run a pulp game, it'd be one of those two.
 

Fenris-77

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No worries, I’d rather shove a chainsaw up my ass then use PbtA for...anything, really.

Then again if mechanised genre is your thing for whatever reason, Mythras has Mook Rules, Pulp Hero Rules, Social Combat Rules, etc. all the 3rd person, OOC mechanics you gotta have to add to your Roleplaying. :devil:
What it doesn't have is the core PbtA mechanic, which is what I'd want for Pulp. To each his own, sir. More generally, I wouldn't use a system based on percentages for anything I'm running, they just don't tend to be my thing. I don't mind playing them (I'm playing Mythras now) but I wouldn't chose to run them.
 

CRKrueger

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What it doesn't have is the core PbtA mechanic, which is what I'd want for Pulp. To each his own, sir. More generally, I wouldn't use a system based on percentages for anything I'm running, they just don't tend to be my thing. I don't mind playing them (I'm playing Mythras now) but I wouldn't chose to run them.
Yeah, my tolerance as a player is much greater than as a GM.
 

Ronin

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I absolutely love Hollow Earth Expedition. It's one of my favorite games for any genre. However, you should know that it's likely more gritty than you're thinking when you think "pulp".

If your idea of pulp skews closer to something just shy of street level supers (as mine often is), then I'd have to agree with Spirit of the Century or Savage Worlds. I've personally also used the Achtung! Cthulhu build of PDQ to run pulp games - though that's the wrong era by default.

Mythras with the Mythras Companion actually works very well for pulpy games. Using that supplement and making extensive use of the rabbler and underlings rules really goes a long way. I don't use it all the time myself only because Mythras's combat is a bit more involved than I typically want in a game.

I've also successfully repurposed John Carter of Mars for such a game. I think that works because the Barsoom stories were literally pulp era tales to begin with.
We played Hollow Earth Expedition for a bit. Beautiful books, great setting. Some of the rules were a bit sketchy. If I remember correctly, (This was some time ago. So if I'm wrong about this, please correct me.) damage factors into the "to hit" roll. So the bigger weapon always does more damage and hits more often. It was wonky.
 
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