Archive for the ‘Pulp’ Category

Twin Peaks Soap Opera

I just finished watching all of Twin Peaks. I also watched the Twin Peaks movie “Fire Walk With Me”, which disappointed me in the same way as the Matrix sequels, explaining mysteries that were better left unexplained. When I finally get back to Call of Cthulhu or some other Pulp RPG, Twin Peaks (the TV show) is going to be my template. Twin Peaks made me understand how important soap opera elements are in my favorite stories. I never thought of myself as a soaps fan, but after watching Twin Peaks I looked up Soap Opera Digest, and found that their editors are tracking the latest developments on Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Lost, even Stargate: Atlantis!

I then discovered Soap, the Soap Opera RPG. It is diceless and involves plot tokens, which again pushes me away from CoC and more in the direction of Pulp RPGs I’ve mentioned before like Savage Worlds and Spirit of the Century.


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That’s what pulp king Robert E. Howard writes in this collection, The Black Stranger and Other American Tales. I just finished this short story collection and the gems are the amazing Weird West and Old South ghost stories. The Western stories bring in Howard’s love of American Indians, and really make the tales vivid.

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five_fistsI just finished The Five Fists of Science. by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders. It’s an entertaining story, like  a Steampunk Ghost Busters by E.L. Doctorow. It’s a comic adventure about Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla stopping J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie from summoning a Cthulhu-thing to destroy New York City. Personally, I prefer historical fiction to leave the actual figures in the background and invent fictional main characters. Like in this book, Thomas Edison goes on a hunt for the Yeti in Tibet, which has nothing to do with either the story or the historical Edison. If it hadn’t been Edison, I would have thought it was just an interesting sidebar. The Batman book Detective No. 27 was more my style, with an old-timey Bruce Wayne as the main figure and Teddy Roosevelt and others making appearances lasting just a few panels.

The writing and art are pretty good, and it’s a quick read. Actually, now that I count it, it’s actually 100 pages long! — it just wasn’t very memorable. It’s mainly inspired me to find more pulp science fiction.

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Another Pulp RPG

2ft_revI haven’t reviewed it yet, but my post from a few days ago about “motivation systems” could have included this new system called Two-Fisted Tales: The Pulp RPG that uses “schticks” and “defects” to influence roleplaying. For instance the addiction defect makes an alcoholic character who hasn’t had a drink get shaky hands and can’t shoot as well. But his schtick could be that  he’s incredibly convincing when telling lies.

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The Grinch as Conan

grinch_santaI just discovered the excellent The Cimmerian, apparently the blog about pulp king Robert E. Howard. For Christmas, they have rewritten Dr. Suess’s Grinch in the style of a Conan the Barbarian tale. It’s pitch perfect.

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indiana_jones1I saw Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull this week, and now I REALLY want to buy the Hollow Earth Expedition pulp RPG.

I love the motivation system in HEX — something I feel is missing from Call of Cthulhu. A preset motivation system turns your character into a stereotype, which is a good thing, especially for beginning role-players. By exagerating characters’ personalities, players can better focus on how the character would react instead of how they would react.

About a month ago, unaware of motivation systems, I asked all my CoC players to describe their characters’ personal philosophies and their hopes and fears so we could use them for better story-telling, but I didn’t know how to actually integrate it into the game. This is where motivation systems help. They incentivize roleplaying by rewarding players with points for acting out two or so positive and negative traits for their character.  These traits can be fatal flaws that always trip up the characters or irresistable urges that guide the characters’ actions in a story. Active role-players are rewarded by the Keeper with “drama points” that can be used later to improve die roll results (allowing impossible but thrilling events) or even to allow a player to briefly redirect the story. For example, a player might volunteer to have his stereotypically clumsy character trip and drop the golden idol at a key moment in exchange for ‘drama points’ he could use later in the game to jump a motorcycle over a canyon. Both events add plenty of drama!

Motivation systems seem to be the current pulp RPG zeitgeist, because the pulpy Trail of Cthulhu and the upcoming Pulp Cthulhu both use motivation systems to improve role-playing and pulp-style action. Based on reading about the three games, I think HEX captures pulp action the best. Besides using a clear motivation system, it also replaces precentage die rolls with a series of coin tosses that keep the math low and the action high.

The main reason I won’t buy HEX right away is I don’t want to make my players switch game systems. I have high hopes for Pulp Cthulhu, but if needs be, I plan to graft a motivation system into our game for better role-playing.

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