Game Day: Return to Weird Pulp

I’ve wanted to run a weird pulp RPG campaign ever since Chaosium announced their ill-fated Pulp Cthulhu: Reckless Adventures in the 1930s source book back around 2000. It was supposed to be a d20-statted sourcebook for Wizards of the Coast’s Call of Cthulhu d20, and it seemed like a natural fit for my Dungeons & Dragons- and Call of Cthulhu-loving group.

Unfortunately Pulp Cthulhu never came to pass, and although CoC d20 still has a place on my bookshelf, that 1930s cultist-smashing campaign didn’t happen.

We took another crack at the weird pulp genre after GenCon 2007, when we discovered the Savage Worlds Explorer Edition. We ran a Weird Pulp adventure (see “Mashing the Weird Pulp”, “Launching into the Weird”) but enthusiasm petered out after that adventure. There were a lot of reasons for that: we were gearing up for a D&D 4th Edition playtest campaign, only about half the players in our group were into Savage Worlds, and our first Weird Pulp session showed just how little we knew about the game.

True to our d20 form, most players had taken a rank or two (d4 or d6) in a bunch of skills. This meant that while they had a reasonable chance of succeeding at a variety of tasks, they weren’t actually good at anything. Throw in a car chase with the old-style chase rules, unstable platform modifiers, and bad die rolls, and our momentum was killed.

Six years later we’ve resurrected the idea with another Savage Worlds playtest. It follows on the heels of our recent Numenera playtest, which involved tales of the weird that take place a billion years from now. The goal is to play a few sessions of Weird Pulp and then decide what we want to do next: more Savage Worlds, more Numenra, or something else entirely.

Putting aside the future for the moment, we’ve got a lot of advantages going into this section Weird Pulp stint with Savage Worlds.

We know more. We’ve played a fair amount of Savage Worlds over the last few years, including games at Origins in 2009 and a few adventures I ran at our local MEPACon convention. I ran a Savage Worlds-powered Day After Ragnarok lunchtime campaign for two years, and that helped me get a much better grasp on the rules.

For example, we now know that novice Savage Worlds characters work best when they have one or two exceptional skills. It’s still worthwhile to buy some single rank skills, but if your character concept is that you’re a damn good driver, then you better have a d8 or d10 in Driving. We also know not to use the old chase rules; the new ones in Savage Worlds Deluxe work much better.

We have better rules. Savage Worlds Explorer Edition was a fantastic book — only $9.99 yet packed with all the rules you needed to play. That said, it was a bit uneven. It worked great if you were playing with someone who already knew Savage Worlds but it left a lot of questions for newbies. Savage Worlds Deluxe, which expands on the basic rules, does a much better job of explaining the edge cases and the thinking behind the rules. The kicker is those deluxe rules are now available in the Explorer Edition format and even better, the price point is still $9.99.

We have more books. You can easily run a Savage Worlds game with just the core rule book … but it’s nice to have a few more options. In addition to Savage Worlds Deluxe we plan on drawing from the Horror Companion, which is packed with all mannor of monsters, and Weird War II, which has stats for period appropriate weapons and vehicles.

We have a solid setup. Our heroes are intrepid recruits of the Wardens, a secretive global organization that protects humanity from the secrets it was not meant to know. The campaign draws inspiration from Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Indiana Jones, and the old pulp thrillers of the 1930s.

We’re all in. We’ve come a long way since the Edition Wars. After concluding our Pathfinder-powered Second Darkness campaign, we were already to take a break from d20 and try something new. We settled on two somethings: Numenera and Savage Worlds.

As for what happens after the playtest … we’ll see. I expect (or rather, I hope) that we’ll run a playtest campaign for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition when it drops in August, but we’ve got months before we need to think about that. I could easily see us playing Weird Pulp through the summer or maybe switching out the pulp genre for a super heroes one. I could also see us going back to Numenera for a while; they’d all be good options.

It’s a good place to be and I’m looking forward to the test drive, no matter where it takes us.

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