Advice on pulp RPG systems

Toadmaster

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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.
This guy!


Justice Inc is great, not only one of the best pulp games ever, but I think one of the best examples of the HERO system.

It works well for a whole range of pulp, from low powered supers like Doc Savage or The Phantom, to lost world (cowboys vs dinosaurs action) and doing "modern pulp" like the Mummy or Indiana Jones would be no problem. As it was a 3rd ed product it is much less complicated than 5E.


I played a lot of MSPE for pulp style games, but the lethality is an issue. The main way to reduce it is don't have a bunch of automatic weapons blasting away at the PCs. You can always use NPCs that graduated from the Storm Trooper academy which is not really out of place.
 
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Toadmaster

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I may end up with HEX for normal pulp things like Indiana Jones and Savage Worlds for playing games like The Shadow. Back when I bought Magic World (2014 or 2015 I think) I came close to buying Savage Worlds instead. I went with Magic World because it did gritty better than Savage Worlds (which is most of my games), it wasn't swingy, and it was compatible with years worth or BRP stuff. Ultimately I would probably prefer to pupl up BRP but I am not sure how.
I am along time fan of BRP, but if "pulp" equals over the top, near indestructible PCs, I've never found a way to make that really work in BRP. Luck points help, but I find them a little distracting and PCs are still pretty vulnerable to a bad roll of the dice.
 

Mankcam

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Call of Cthulhu is easily adapted to a more rollicking style, even if one doesnt have the Pulp Cthulhu sourcebook (although this is a great add-on).

Call of Cthulhu works really well 'low-pulp' game, but if wanting a bit more cinematic handwaviness I would go for Two-Fisted Tales or Fate Core

Two-Fisted Tales perfectly runs pulp RAW. Simple character structure, as well as game play.
Very pulpy 1930s, it portrays Detective Noir through to Rollicking Adventure era, it is really made for it all under one cover, no legwork. Could easily be stretched to cover a wider range of time periods with ease. One of the best pulp systems you'll ever buy, and it's all contained in one volume.

However I still prefer to use the Fate Core rulebook (it's generic) and adjust it to particular genres - it runs most genres very well, but seems particularly suited to Pulp.

With Fate Core I have run several pulp games, such as a rollicking Arabian Nights game, a Comtemporary Action Flick game (2010s) and a classic Thrilling Adventures game (1930s), and it is a perfect fit.

For the Fate Core game set in the 1930s Pulp Adventure era, I often use several other rpg books for inspiration: Adventure! (Storyteller), Spirit of the Century (FATE 3E), and Thrilling Tales (Savage Worlds). The later is the most useful, I highly recommend it for inspiration.

The earlier Fate 3 rules were good for it's pulpy 1920s/1930s setting, Spirit of the Century, but I find the next edition of Fate, Fate Core, to be much less clunky, and overall a much better version of the Fate system.

Fate Core hums really well as an engine for Pulp Adventure!
 
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Silverlion

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Here is the thing--while SOTC is very much "pulp action/adventure," it was an easy shift to use it for a space pulp setting. A friend ran it, I was an alien martial artist, who ran a fighting school, on the moon he OWNED. (Wealth Beyond Avarice? Base background?) I think it came from there, could have been Adventure! It's been a long long while, and I'm pretty sure either game would have worked there.

I mean I can recommend space pulp/sci fi pulp (Rocket Age using the Vortex System), Atomic Robo for SF not quite space going.

I'd probably use Cinematic Unisystem these days for some pulp genres.

Pulp horror, is the basis in many ways for Lovecraft's Yog-Sothery universe, so are others of the time. Call of Cthulhu works well for the investigators doing the wrap up/discovery phase before/after "bad stuff" happens (Look, if bad stuff has happened, usually its too late, so no point in Rping the end of the universe as we know it, unless its slow descent into madness you want for it. Or "we stopped the bad stuff, barely.")

I'm odd, in that I think the PC's in COC, were the investigator telling part of the story, and the cult-breakers--not the guy who died laughing. But there are lots of good games for Yog-Sothery, beyond COC too. Mind you, I'm old school for that, but I don't plan on running it myself these days. I've got my own horror ideas to pursue.

I might use this: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/96123/Macabre-Tales-rulebook or this: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/196326/Stories-from-the-Grave For various types of pulpy horror, mind you the latter seems to fit the late era age of horror comics before the CCA smashed 'em.

A lot really depends on the type of pulp. I've seen a near perfect write up of using Adventure! for Star Wars back when it first came out. Some of the vehicle things works so well on freighter or fighter ships.

So its kind of "Yes, you may have to do work to run pulps SF with X" but a lot of it is reasonably adaptable. In various games I mentioned.

As for fantasy pulp? Argh. So many possible ways to do it. I mean there is a Conan Game (several over the years) and John Carter game (which is fantasy/space pulp/sword & planet.) Though Conan is way crunchiest of the two sharing sort of the same system (2d20), while I think Solomon Kane is Savage Worlds (which is likely why I never picked it up. I do not find Savage Worlds "fast" in anyway.

Conan and similar pulp fantasy characters might work well using Mythras/BRP/COC seriously, though. Especially is you use COC magic's as a basis. Not sure about other characters of that era, like Jirel of Joiry, but I've not got to reading that yet.
 

cranebump

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Oh, it’s plenty useful, as shown by cranebump’s reply:


Nothing in the settings of any Pulp Hero require a Narrative RPG to simulate. All the narrative elements simulate is that you’re authoring a story, if for some reason, you wish to add that to your Roleplaying. That, again, has nothing to do with any genre. Many of these elements that are supposedly needed for Pulp Games aren’t. They’re only necessary if you’re viewing things from the idea of Roleplaying inside a story with a specific literary genre.
My point was that systems dedicated specifically (or near-adjacent) to stereotypical, high adventure pulp, as it Is often interpreted today, tend to have mechanism built in to empower its cinematic nature. Your counter is, “but you don’t need those.” Okay, well, who said anyone did? I thought we were just making recommendations here. This second comment (on the heels of the previous one) seems like you want to turn this into a pissing contest between “story/not story” games. I hope not, because, man, is that the energizer bunny of discussions.
 

The Butcher

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My point was that systems dedicated specifically (or near-adjacent) to stereotypical, high adventure pulp, as it Is often interpreted today, tend to have mechanism built in to empower its cinematic nature. Your counter is, “but you don’t need those.” Okay, well, who said anyone did? I thought we were just making recommendations here. This second comment (on the heels of the previous one) seems like you want to turn this into a pissing contest between “story/not story” games. I hope not, because, man, is that the energizer bunny of discussions.
This canard ends up rearing its head most of the time, given enough time and post count.

At the heart of protagonism mechanics is the old conundrum: are the heroes remarkable because they survive impossible odds, or do they survive impossible odds because they’re remarkable?

Once the GM answers this one, it’s a simple matter to set the discussion aside. At least as far as a recommendation thread is concerned.

For those unsure, I suggest experimenting with both types of system — or even with the same system, modified towards either end of the spectrum.
 

CRKrueger

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My point was that systems dedicated specifically (or near-adjacent) to stereotypical, high adventure pulp, as it Is often interpreted today, tend to have mechanism built in to empower its cinematic nature. Your counter is, “but you don’t need those.” Okay, well, who said anyone did? I thought we were just making recommendations here. This second comment (on the heels of the previous one) seems like you want to turn this into a pissing contest between “story/not story” games. I hope not, because, man, is that the energizer bunny of discussions.
I'm not trying to turn it into a pissing match, I'm just pointing out that the narrative framework is not the only way to view a Pulp RPG, and many of these recommendations or requirements given thus far assume that framework. Usually, that's enough to be classified as an attack.

It all comes down to...what do you mean when you say "Pulp" and what are you trying to emulate? Let's take a classic Pulp Hero, Conan. He can be, and is, defeated in his stories, even suffering mortal wounds once that required magical healing to survive. He always wears the best armor he can get, and even flees when it makes sense to do so.

Conan's successes come from two places.
1. In setting. Conan is from a barbaric people, which in Howard's setting means that he is stronger, hardier, more agile, and psychologically tougher than civilized men, although he is not as socially adept (although he improves later). His survival, stealth, athletic, and combat skills are exceptional. In his society they need to be to survive, and he is an exceptional example of his culture and ethnicity.
2. Out of setting. Conan is a literary protagonist, and so can succeed whenever Howard chooses, no matter the odds. He won't die until Howard wants him to, and if Howard wrote Conan's end, it would probably be epic. There is nothing specific to Conan about this, every literary character ever written shares this trait.

If you want to emulate the In-Setting elements of Conan or other Howard heroes, there's nothing that requires OOC, 3rd person, meta, or narrative control mechanics. Conan can be built organically within most systems to function roughly how you would expect Conan to function.

If you want to emulate the elements of Conan that come from Literary Protagonism, then you're going to want some form of player authorship, requiring some form of Narrative Control mechanics. Which is fine, but doesn't really emulate Pulp specifically, as any literary genre can be emulated in this way.

So what do you mean by "Pulp"? It seems like some are simply using it to mean speed, emulating the breakneck pace of Pulp Fiction or Swashbuckler Films. That's a different type of emulation all together.

So define Pulp first, then tell us how the system emulates it.
 

CRKrueger

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But, as @The Butcher pointed out, all the OP wanted was games with schticks. :shade:

DCC has Mighty Deeds of Arms, which let the player come up with their own stunts and if you want it, there are supplements with lists of Mighty Deed options broken down by weapon.

Dragon Age/Generic AGE has a stunt mechanism that allows players to do stunts with many types of actions, even social.

For Pulp, whether it's Sword and Sorcery or Men's Adventure, Barbarians of Lemuria and Dogs of War allow the use of Hero Points to boost Criticals into having special effects. It's also one of the best systems for representing a Thief/Warrior/Pirate/Mercenary/General/King career other than pure skill system.

All of these games are also fairly light and fast.
 

TristramEvans

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The biggest mistake I find many modern RPGs make when attempting to adapt/emulate genres is to hardwire cliches associated with the genre into the rules, essentially misundertsanding what genre actually means at a fundamental level.
 

Chris Brady

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It all comes down to...what do you mean when you say "Pulp" and what are you trying to emulate? Let's take a classic Pulp Hero, Conan. He can be, and is, defeated in his stories, even suffering mortal wounds once that required magical healing to survive. He always wears the best armor he can get, and even flees when it makes sense to do so.

So what do you mean by "Pulp"? It seems like some are simply using it to mean speed, emulating the breakneck pace of Pulp Fiction or Swashbuckler Films. That's a different type of emulation all together.

So define Pulp first, then tell us how the system emulates it.
These are VERY valid questions: Puritan hero Solomon Kane is very very different than the Barbarian Conan of Cimmeria, which is different than two fisted Boxing hero Mike Brennon, not only in time period which sets tone, but the type of adventures these characters had within them.

(By the way, all of these are from the SAME Author for those who don't know. Which is likely one of y'all. :wink:)
 

AsenRG

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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?
I have positive impressions from Two-Fisted Tales, but it was the previous edition. I'm not sure what changes have been incorporated in the second edition:smile:.
 

AsenRG

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The biggest mistake I find many modern RPGs make when attempting to adapt/emulate genres is to hardwire cliches associated with the genre into the rules, essentially misundertsanding what genre actually means at a fundamental level.
You mean my genre rules for "medicine doesn't work like that, but it makes for drama without lots of research" for emulating medical shows weren't what was called for:tongue:?
 

cranebump

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I'm not trying to turn it into a pissing match, I'm just pointing out that the narrative framework is not the only way to view a Pulp RPG,

So define Pulp first, then tell us how the system emulates it.
I got that. Just seemed like you were really pushing the obvious...twice.:-)

That's a fair point. And why I qualified my statement to include modern conceptions of high adventure pulp, Indiana Jones/Mummy stuff. Bottom line: I agree with you. You have to define the feel you're looking for (or elements). Then it becomes easier to make stronger recs.

Now, I still think we can all have a pissing contest. Should we go for distance, duration, or "strength of spray?":-)
 

cranebump

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The biggest mistake I find many modern RPGs make when attempting to adapt/emulate genres is to hardwire cliches associated with the genre into the rules, essentially misundertsanding what genre actually means at a fundamental level.
Couple questions. First, are you saying that there's only one way to view/understand genre? If so, what is it?

Second, don't most genre RPGs, old or new, come hardwired with a set of inherent cliches anyway, if only to serve as a form of shorthand as to what you're about to play? How do modern "genre emulation" RPGS differ significantly from OD&D, a "Fantasy" setting (which obviously has its own cliches hardwired right in)?
 

Chris Brady

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Couple questions. First, are you saying that there's only one way to view/understand genre? If so, what is it?
Answering for myself, there isn't but the game itself needs to know what it's trying to emulate. Pulp is broad genre, but it does have a few things that tie together. Larger than life heroes, or situations, mooks (even if in the Horror Pulps, those are the protagonists) that can go down with one hitter quitters, melodrama...

Anything else beyond that is flavouring for the soup.

Second, don't most genre RPGs, old or new, come hardwired with a set of inherent cliches anyway, if only to serve as a form of shorthand as to what you're about to play? How do modern "genre emulation" RPGS differ significantly from OD&D, a "Fantasy" setting (which obviously has its own cliches hardwired right in)?
In my opinion, the best ones do.
 

TristramEvans

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Couple questions. First, are you saying that there's only one way to view/understand genre? If so, what is it?
Kind of, insofar as there is a definition. What I'm saying though is that I find many people (many game designers in particular) mistake a collection of cliches for a "genre".

Second, don't most genre RPGs, old or new, come hardwired with a set of inherent cliches anyway, if only to serve as a form of shorthand as to what you're about to play? How do modern "genre emulation" RPGS differ significantly from OD&D, a "Fantasy" setting (which obviously has its own cliches hardwired right in)?
Well, as to the latter, OD&D isn't a genre game. The only genre D&D has ever emulated is itself. But since I thoroughly dislike D&D in every iteration of the game, I'm not interested in debating comparisons to it.

As to the former, there is a distinct difference between modelling the world a genre takes place in and restricting player agency so their choices are restricted to recreating the cliches or tropes of a genre, which is what I'm criticizing.
 

3rik

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I have positive impressions from Two-Fisted Tales, but it was the previous edition. I'm not sure what changes have been incorporated in the second edition:smile:.
Precis Intermedia said:
Changes from the Revised Edition include:
  • Streamlined rules
  • Consistent ability Adds for determining derived attributes, such as Resistance, number of cards, and Background Points
  • Gritty and Escapist are the base power levels, with Fantastic, Legendary, and Mythic for Super-Heroic levels
  • Golden Age superpowers
  • Higher damage scale
  • Some checks use random target numbers, while Credit Rolls can be used to randomly select one character to come up with a great idea, find a clue, or piece together a puzzle
  • New combat options
  • Character development has been greatly streamlined
  • New character templates for alternate settings
Requires two or more 10-sided dice and a standard deck of playing cards.
 

CRKrueger

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I got that. Just seemed like you were really pushing the obvious...twice.:-)

That's a fair point. And why I qualified my statement to include modern conceptions of high adventure pulp, Indiana Jones/Mummy stuff. Bottom line: I agree with you. You have to define the feel you're looking for (or elements). Then it becomes easier to make stronger recs.

Now, I still think we can all have a pissing contest. Should we go for distance, duration, or "strength of spray?":-)
Total Volume and/or Accuracy.
 

Black Leaf

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This is insightful... Hollow Earth Expedition uses Ubiquity (spic?) correct? RIght now I am considering buying two books despite saying I would get one. I am doing my research but HEX and Savage Worlds are leading. Part of HEX's appeal is the setting that comes with it.
If the setting appeals HEX is great. A lot of decent material for the Hollow Earth and the campaign start pretty much writes itself, from "let's get a drilling machine and get to the Hollow Earth" to "whoops, we fell down the Bermuda Triangle and need to survive and maybe escape".

The only thing about it is that the Ubiquity system really does polarise people as you've seen already. I'm fine with it, but a significant number really hate the "one roll determines damage and hitting" thing. You can find a decent rundown of the system here that should hopefully determine if it's for you - https://geekorthodoxy.com/2019/07/31/ubiquity-the-best-rpg-system-you-arent-using/

For supplements, assuming a Hollow Earth game, Mysteries of the Hollow Earth is near essential. Secrets of the Surface World is nice but not a must have. Revelations of Mars is a good read but not useful if you aren't going to Mars. Perils of the Surface World is a scenario book so only worth having if you aren't writing your own adventures. Personally I never liked the published scenarios as much as the setting but YMMV.
 

cranebump

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Kind of, insofar as there is a definition. What I'm saying though is that I find many people (many game designers in particular) mistake a collection of cliches for a "genre".
I would think they’d consider them attributes or hallmarks rather than cliches. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with having an identifiable reference point. It ensures your audience knows what to expect.

Well, as to the latter, OD&D isn't a genre game. The only genre D&D has ever emulated is itself. But since I thoroughly dislike D&D in every iteration of the game, I'm not interested in debating comparisons to it.
I’d offer here that D&D is based at least in part on various fantasy tropes (or, I guess, cliches). I feel like the emulation is represented by such things as it’s race/class selections. I mentioned this one since it’s about as plain Jane and “unmodern” as you can get. I figured it might make a fair contrast. I haven’t actually played any version of D&D in at least 5 years (maybe more).

As to the former, there is a distinct difference between modelling the world a genre takes place in and restricting player agency so their choices are restricted to recreating the cliches or tropes of a genre, which is what I'm criticizing.
You’ll have to be more specific about what you mean here. In particular illustrating why trope recreation in order to exemplify the traits of the genre the game is meant to emulate is such a bad thing. This strikes me as criticism of mechanics you don’t like on the basis that designers are ignorant of the idea of genre, which seems a bit of overkill. Maybe that’s not it, but that’s how I’m reading it.
 

Black Leaf

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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?
This is a very off the wall suggestion, but have you considered Tales from the Floating Vagabond? Because the schticks there do the totally over the top things you're suggesting. From the Roy Rogers effect (ignore all modifiers for movement and cover as you bounce your bullet off the wall behind, the beer glass and into your opponent) to the Errol Flynn effect (there is always something you can swing from, whether it's a vine or a chandelier).

It's not what's normally described as pulp, but roaming round the universe punching Space Nazis and avoiding Temperance campaigners feels pretty pulp to me.
 

Spellslinging Sellsword

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This is a very off the wall suggestion, but have you considered Tales from the Floating Vagabond? Because the schticks there do the totally over the top things you're suggesting. From the Roy Rogers effect (ignore all modifiers for movement and cover as you bounce your bullet off the wall behind, the beer glass and into your opponent) to the Errol Flynn effect (there is always something you can swing from, whether it's a vine or a chandelier).

It's not what's normally described as pulp, but roaming round the universe punching Space Nazis and avoiding Temperance campaigners feels pretty pulp to me.
I agree. :grin:

Third, you said "schtick" so nothing is more schticky than Tales from the Floating Vagabond!
 

AsenRG

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(List of changes)
Yeah, I've read the list, but some of those sound a bit vague. "Streamlined rules"...the first edition seemed streamlined enough to me. "New combat options"...how many and do they add something that was actually called for:grin:?
In other words, I don't know what the actual changes are until I've read the new rules. Which is exactly what I said, too.

I might get the second edition at some point, mind you. But it's on my long list. Probably behind a print copy of Aquelarre, or somewhere close:devil:!
 

TristramEvans

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I would think they’d consider them attributes or hallmarks rather than cliches. I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with having an identifiable reference point. It ensures your audience knows what to expect.

I’d offer here that D&D is based at least in part on various fantasy tropes (or, I guess, cliches). I feel like the emulation is represented by such things as it’s race/class selections. I mentioned this one since it’s about as plain Jane and “unmodern” as you can get. I figured it might make a fair contrast. I haven’t actually played any version of D&D in at least 5 years (maybe more).

You’ll have to be more specific about what you mean here. In particular illustrating why trope recreation in order to exemplify the traits of the genre the game is meant to emulate is such a bad thing. This strikes me as criticism of mechanics you don’t like on the basis that designers are ignorant of the idea of genre, which seems a bit of overkill. Maybe that’s not it, but that’s how I’m reading it.

Well, just to clear this up...

The definition of a Trope:
TVTropes said:
A trope is a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognize. Tropes are the means by which a story is told by anyone who has a story to tell. We collect them, for the fun involved.

Tropes are not the same thing as cliches. They may be brand new but seem trite and hackneyed; they may be thousands of years old but seem fresh and new. They are not bad, they are not good; tropes are tools that the creator of a work of art uses to express their ideas to the audience. It's pretty much impossible to create a story without tropes.

Likewise character archetypes are not cliches. Classes in D&D are not cliches (but they may be RPG cliches in the umpteenth fantasy RPG)

Cliches accumulate in a genre when people immitate original works. To define a genre by cliches associated with it is to take the lowest-common-denominator creatively-bankrupt attempts to jump on a bandwagon as definitive works.
 

CRKrueger

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@cranebump, here’s an example of what @TristramEvans is talking about.

Take Sword and Sorcery. Two of the seminal authors are Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber. Their heroes, Conan and The Twain, frequently are rich one night, and a few nights later penniless after a debauch to shame Bacchus himself.

This becomes mechanised as an Ale and Whores rule, where as soon as you hit civilization after an adventure, you blow half your money immediately in a huge debauch.

It takes an aspect of the genre, simply meant to foster the In Media Res nature of the stories and turns it into a cliche because authors are mistaking a surface trapping as a key trope.
 

Nobby-W

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This is a very off the wall suggestion, but have you considered Tales from the Floating Vagabond? Because the schticks there do the totally over the top things you're suggesting. From the Roy Rogers effect (ignore all modifiers for movement and cover as you bounce your bullet off the wall behind, the beer glass and into your opponent) to the Errol Flynn effect (there is always something you can swing from, whether it's a vine or a chandelier).

It's not what's normally described as pulp, but roaming round the universe punching Space Nazis and avoiding Temperance campaigners feels pretty pulp to me.
Plus, they have Bikini Babes with Machineguns - what more could you want?

In practice, it has one or two funny bits but most of the humour came across as a bit forced. In spite of my clowning around here, IMO less is more when it comes to putting humour into a RPG. It's very easy to overdo it and spoil the effect.
 

Black Leaf

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Plus, they have Bikini Babes with Machineguns - what more could you want?

In practice, it has one or two funny bits but most of the humour came across as a bit forced. In spite of my clowning around here, IMO less is more when it comes to putting humour into a RPG. It's very easy to overdo it and spoil the effect.
We had a really good time with it when I was 17, but on the flipside we did generally play it after taking LSD at which point stuff like the ceiling was hilarious.
 

Black Leaf

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Likewise character archetypes are not cliches. Classes in D&D are not cliches (but they may be RPG cliches in the umpteenth fantasy RPG)

Cliches accumulate in a genre when people immitate original works. To define a genre by cliches associated with it is to take the lowest-common-denominator creatively-bankrupt attempts to jump on a bandwagon as definitive works.
Depends on which class I think. The D&D Monk pretty much is a collection of cliches. The Paladin is borderline. As, tbh, is most races-as-class.

@cranebump, here’s an example of what @TristramEvans is talking about.

Take Sword and Sorcery. Two of the seminal authors are Robert E. Howard and Fritz Lieber. Their heroes, Conan and The Twain, frequently are rich one night, and a few nights later penniless after a debauch to shame Bacchus himself.

This becomes mechanised as an Ale and Whores rule, where as soon as you hit civilization after an adventure, you blow half your money immediately in a huge debauch.

It takes an aspect of the genre, simply meant to foster the In Media Res nature of the stories and turns it into a cliche because authors are mistaking a surface trapping as a key trope.
Where would something like Toon's ability to ignore the laws of gravity if you're stupid enough or Feng Shui's mook rules fit in? Tropes or cliches?
 

cranebump

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@cranebump, here’s an example of what @TristramEvans is talking about.

It takes an aspect of the genre, simply meant to foster the In Media Res nature of the stories and turns it into a cliche because authors are mistaking a surface trapping as a key trope.
Right. Or...

...they're incorporating the typical nature of those tales mechanically. Is it Barbarians of Lemuria where you have to explain how you blew all your earnings (thereby gaining XP or something)? Trying to recall...

In any case, I'm assuming said "cliche" is to ensure players understand why they're wandering and to reward them for playing into the genre trappings. Because you and I both know that, if you don't do that, someone will want to hoard everything, and turn that type of setting into an empire building campaign. I'm not saying it's the way everyone wants to or should do it. I'm saying that criticism of that specific way of doing things is a jab at mechanics/style, rather than an overarching swipe at "designers not understanding genre, therefore making bad games." I don't think they don't understand. I think they just choose to represent the features, that's all. I don't really have a dog in this fight, other than designers are entitled to present the setting elements in whatever they want. Their interpretation of "Swords & Sorcery," etc. is just as valid as mine. It all comes down to whether I want their elements at my table, is all. If I don't, I don't need to concoct a meta-argument that the issue is their lack of understanding of the concept of genre. That's just expanding the scope of the discussion beyond where it needs to be, imho.

Thanks for the response. Much appreciated.
 
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cranebump

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Well, just to clear this up...

The definition of a Trope:


Likewise character archetypes are not cliches. Classes in D&D are not cliches (but they may be RPG cliches in the umpteenth fantasy RPG)

Cliches accumulate in a genre when people immitate original works. To define a genre by cliches associated with it is to take the lowest-common-denominator creatively-bankrupt attempts to jump on a bandwagon as definitive works.
Okay, then, let's substitute "tropes" for "features" or "aspects" instead. I still don't see what your issue is with how designers choose to represent the features. Your argument is it makes them less...creative? My counter to that would be that the features are shortcuts to enabling audience understanding of what your system is designed to do. If it's an attempt to simulate commonly-accepted features in a way the designer thinks accentuates those features, their understanding on what genre "truly" is is moot. All they're concerned with is making their design do what they want it to do. If it does that, my own reservations about their "true" understanding of [insert genre here] are moot as well. What it comes down to is whether their approach is something I'm in tune with. If it is, I could care less that they took college literature classes (which I did, and have near-completely eschewed in my older years as mostly impractical bullshit).*

*my observation about me; no shot at you.

Interesting discussion, anyway. Thanks for the clarification on tropes. I will attempt to use that correctly in the future.

Cheers,
CB
 

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Depends on which class I think. The D&D Monk pretty much is a collection of cliches. The Paladin is borderline. As, tbh, is most races-as-class.
You're right about the Monk, but look at it as a class, it's pretty rigid in it's scope. Punch people in the Face for Justice, often with Asian flavouring. It has no real wiggle room beyond that basic trope.

But look at the Fighter. It's one of the most common archetypes in story telling, it's the man with a weapon, carving out his future. The thing is, the Fighter is one of the most open classes, giving the player multiple ways of being that Archetype. Knight, Mercenary, Peasant Boy, Hero, Villain Swordsman, Axe-Man, Archer, Swashbuckler, Armoured 'Tank'. All options on how to make your fighting man achieve their 'goal'.

Each of the basic archetypes, except for the Cleric (maybe) are basic methods of how to achieve the 'goal'. A wizard takes the scholarly route, thinking the way through problems. Fighters are the straight forward type, either in thought or action. And the Rogue/Thief is the sneaky one, thinking around or avoiding or just attacking the issue from an unexpected direction.
Where would something like Toon's ability to ignore the laws of gravity if you're stupid enough or Feng Shui's mook rules fit in? Tropes or cliches?
Tropes. If you say 'Hong Kong Action Movie in the vein of The Killer' to someone who knows, will imagine goons falling over like tenpins, twin gun usage, tragic moments, these are EXPECTED and actually DESIRED. HOW you get those, that's often unique to the movie.

Cliches are overused moments and things are repeated without variation, which often jar with the rest of the story.
 

TristramEvans

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Okay, then, let's substitute "tropes" for "features" or "aspects" instead.
Huh? Those aren't synonyms, so why are we substituting in those terms? I think that's just going to muddy the waters too much, and cause misunderstandings/misinterpretations.

Anyways, I'll try to explain my PoV in-depth as best I can.

I think it's important, upfront, to keep in mind that I am not criticizing games for emulating genres (in fact most of my favourite RPGs are Genre Games; the only other type of RPG that I like as much are Culture Games). I am criticizing games where the designer enforces cliches associated with genres at the expense of player agency.

So, let's talk about horror films. I love horror films. Even bad ones - maybe even especially bad ones because, let's face it, most of them aren't good by any conventional metrics. There are lots of reasons I like horror films so much - I have a natural inclination/attraction to the dark side of human nature, especially as expressed through the metaphoric language of fairy tales (the overwhelming vast majority of horror films are, thematically and structurally, essentially fairy tales); I enjoy the exploration of the two primal human impulses that echo throughot and inform all of human psychology - desire and fear, or, more simply put, sex and death; and I like trangressive narratives that explore subjects taboo in civilized society and push the boundaries of acceptible behaviour (we accept extreme behaviour only when juxtoposed in fiction by extreme situations).

But as much, or more than any of these, I like the freedom that the horror genre has, which no other genre in film universally enjoys. Meaning a horror movie can be anything - a science fiction tale, a fantasy, a romance. It is not confined to any Hollywood expectation of narrative structure. It does not need to "play it safe" and reproduce stock storylines or storybeats that some executives are convinced are part of a formula for success. It doesn't need to star "Big Names", it doesn't require socially acceptable protagonist/hero figures. It doesn't need to have a happy ending - or any ending at all. You can do whatever you want in a horror film just so long as it's suitably dark to be generally considered or sold as a horror film.

Consider, if you will, the following plot synopsis:

"A suspected child molestor escapes justice through a legal technicality and is lynched by the parents of a community who burn him alive, only for him to make a deal with Otherworldly creatures to gain the power to enter and shape the dreams of others, using this ability to get revenge on the children of the people who murdered him"

"A group of highly aggressive aliens escapes confinement on a space prison, stealing a spaceship and making their way to earth, where they are pursued by shapeshifting bounty hunters hired by galactic authorities"

"A civil war doctor invents a means of travelling to another dimension where he is enlisted to return to earth to steal dead bodies which are reanimated as Jawas to serve as undead slaves, haunting the nightmares of a boy with latent psychic powers whom the man plans to groom as his successor"

"Two young boys accidentally open a portal to Hell in the backtyard of a suburban home by reciting words from a grimoire reproduced on a heavy metal album cover"

"An insurance fraud investigator is hired by a Book Publisher to find an author that has disappeared only to discover that the author has been rewriting reality through the words of his book after being contacted by extradimensional gods"

Those plots are simulatenously: 1) balls to the wall bananapants insane and 2) descriptions of some of the most popular/well-regarded films in the horror genre released in my lifetime.

Now, let's look at some of the cliches associated with the horror genre. Actually, one of the best ways to do this is look at a deliberately deconstructive work, so let's use Godard and Whedon's 2011 film Cabin in the Woods.

You have four archetypal characters : The Jock, the Whore, the Fool, and the Virgin. Look at how we are introduced to these characters - The Jock is an extremely intelligent, well-educated, caring and considerate fellow. The Whore is sexually conservative in a long-term monogamous relationship. The Virgin is getting over an illicit affair with a professor. And the Fool is perceptive, aware, and cunning (a good case is made that the reason the plan in the film ultimately fails is that they confused the Virgin with the Fool and vice versa, but that's unimportant to this point).

Now, because the shadow organization is orchestrating events in order to recreate a cliched horror film plot, they employ behaviour-altering drugs to get these diverse and fleshed-out personalities to conform to the actions expected of the character archetypes they represent.

The Jock becomes stupid, aggressive and jerky. The Whore starts acting overly flirtatious and excessively lustful in inappropriate situations. The Virgin screams alot and runs around. But the Fool, because he evades the drugs (by way of using his own secret stash of drugs), defies expectations, and throws a monkeywrench in the whole operation.

Obviously there's a lot more to the film, but it can probably be summed up well in the scene where, just after strange things start happening, the characters go to investigate and, with a fresh application of behaviour-altering gas, decide to "split up and look around" (to which the Fool, immune to the drugs, is the only one to sensibly question this). This cliche was so well known that 20 years earlier it was lampooned in Scream. We all know the reason the cliche came into existence - it makes it easy for film-makers to perpetrate interesting individual deaths. But it stands out as a cliche because it's so artificial.

That artificiality is an important aspect of horror movie cliches - just as in Cabin in the Woods, characters in horror films followiing a cliched plot don't act like "normal" people - meaning the audience (or, most of the audience, optimistically). The Whore has to inappropriately strip and want sex in the middle of the creepy woods, generally minutes (scenes) after discovering someone/something is killing people in the vicinity, etc. Cabin gives us super-gas as a pseudo-scientific explanation of the cliche; most horror films of the last half century don't offer any such rationalization.

Now, let's say I were to create an RPG wherein I wish to emulate the Horror genre. And say I decide the best way to emulate horror films would be to mechanize the cliches associated with it. And for illustration's sake, let's say I happened to compile a list of cliches somewhat identical to that utilized in Cabin in the Woods.

...are you seeing where I am going with this? (This post is already getting really long, so I don't want to go into detail of everything self-evident)

The players are, through the rules, forced to act artificially to fulfill the needs of the clices to recreate the "atypical plot".

Now, at this point does the game represent the horror genre? (go ahead and reread the various plot synopsis quoted above)

...OR, are they being forced to recreate the most inspid, unimaginative, post-Halloween slasher copycats made by lazy film-makers where characters act artificially in service to the plot?

And "forced" is the relevant word here, going hand in hand with artificiality. Because a player's choices are constrained to artifical behaviours, this directly interferes/impedes the act of role-playing, and deliberately removes the element of RPGs that sets them apart from every other form of entertainment.

So, at this point, no doubt, one may be asking "why this hypothetical situation? Why not specify the games where this plays out analogously to your complaints?" Well, originally I did. The reason this response took so long is because I spent an afternoon writing up a very specific example of another genre dear to my heart (superheroes) and compared it to how cliches associated with superhero comicbooks were translated into a particular modern game system. But then I erased all that and started over with this example regarding the horror genre. Because, let's be honest, ultimately all that's going to do is engender hurt feelings from fans of said game, and probably some aggressive emotion-driven responses in defense, during which the entire point of this post would be lost.

I think it's enough for me to say that, over the last twenty years, as more narrative-based game mechanics have enter the vogue in RPG design, I began noticing the situation I'm criticizing here often enough that it to this day stands out to me as something that 1) happens frequently enough to warrant a mention of it as a trend, and 2) anyone who groks what I've written in this post should very easily be able to identify it in games on their own and come to their own conclusions regarding.

That said, this trend, more than anything else, is why I shy away from new ostensibly genre games that advertise themselves as containing "story-driven mechanics" with extreme prejudice.
 

TristramEvans

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Where would something like Toon's ability to ignore the laws of gravity if you're stupid enough or Feng Shui's mook rules fit in? Tropes or cliches?

I've never played either of those games, but from the outside, the former seems to be an example of a character ability or consequence of the reality of the gameworld set in that reality, so doesn't in anyway affect player choice.

As for the latter example, well, I personally hate "mook" rules, but for entirely different reasons than the criticisms I've heretofor expressed regarding mechanics enforcing genre cliches (in fact, pretty much the exact opposite, as I think mook rules are an utter failure at emulating the genre convention they are meant to represent). To my perception, the existence of "mooks" in media are there to show just how badass a character is - "normal" people/combatants simply don't stand a chance against them, they can, as larger than life Heroes, cut through swathes of ordinary opponents. What mook rules do, of those that I've encountered (again, I'm not familiar with Feng Shui), is rob the characters of this by artificially depowering opponents so that they are inconsequential. In other words, the characters themselves aren't allowed to be powerful, the opponents are just made simplistically easy to defeat. I can't imagine how any player is satisfied by this, it's like beating a baby at chess. That doesn't make me feel like Luzhin, it makes me feel like a kid dumping water on an anthill.
 

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I'd disagree about Mook rules, in part. The mooks arent ever the only bad guys, and the challenge is really embodied by the named villains. So yeah, mooks are there to make the PCs seem badass but in a way that can be very satisfying to players playing a game that works to emulate certain genre conventions. My best example would be Dumas style swashbuckling, which does have the literary equivalent of mooks. Can mooks be done badly? Sure. But I think they have a place in the right game.
 

TristramEvans

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I'd disagree about Mook rules, in part. The mooks arent ever the only bad guys, and the challenge is really embodied by the named villains. So yeah, mooks are there to make the PCs seem badass but in a way that can be very satisfying to players playing a game that works to emulate certain genre conventions. My best example would be Dumas style swashbuckling, which does have the literary equivalent of mooks. Can mooks be done badly? Sure. But I think they have a place in the right game.

I'm not saying mooks shouldn't exist, I'm saying that they should be mooks because the Heroes are awesome, not because the mooks are turned into human confetti by the rules.
 

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I'm not saying mooks shouldn't exist, I'm saying that they should be mooks because the Heroes are awesome, not because the mooks are turned into human confetti.
Ok, I can get on board with that.
 

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I've never played either of those games, but from the outside, the former seems to be an example of a character ability or consequence of the reality of the gameworld set in that reality, so doesn't in anyway affect player choice.

As for the latter example, well, I personally hate "mook" rules, but for entirely different reasons than the criticisms I've heretofor expressed regarding mechanics enforcing genre cliches (in fact, pretty much the exact opposite, as I think mook rules are an utter failure at emulating the genre convention they are meant to represent). To my perception, the existence of "mooks" in media are there to show just how badass a character is - "normal" people/combatants simply don't stand a chance against them, they can, as larger than life Heroes, cut through swathes of ordinary opponents. What mook rules do, of those that I've encountered (again, I'm not familiar with Feng Shui), is rob the characters of this by artificially depowering opponents so that they are inconsequential. In other words, the characters themselves aren't allowed to be powerful, the opponents are just made simplistically easy to defeat. I can't imagine how any player is satisfied by this, it's like beating a baby at chess. That doesn't make me feel like Luzhin, it makes me feel like a kid dumping water on an anthill.
Well, depends on how you look at the gameworld:grin:!

If you see it as "everyone that's not extremely capable and having "the spark of greatness" is a mook, even trained combatants", then it works. Your characters are just low-level supers/pulp heroes.

And amusingly, that's the explanation I came up with when running Savage Worlds. Which goes with Pulp like hands and gloves. And it applies to Exalted as well, where the characters start as low-level supers and aim to progress up in the ratings.

However, if "everyone who isn't plot-relevant" is a mook, but wouldn't be if he was to suddenly become plot-relevant...well, your first problem is that you have a plot, of course:thumbsup:.
But after that, yes, I can confrm that it's about as satisfying as pouring water on an anthill:shade:!
 
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