Wednesday, 5 March 2014

White Whales (Part One)

I suppose every GM has their list. The games that they've always wanted to run, the ones that keep drawing them back, taunting them, because they've never been able to run them. At least, not to their satisfaction.

Up until a few years ago, I had a few more things on my list of GMing "White Whales" -- including a post-apocalyptic game, a Victorian adventure, and a Shadowrun game. I've been lucky enough to run those games and finish them to my own satisfaction, but I've still got a number of games that I've never managed to conquer. 

Let me tell you about them, faithful reader, then we can cry into our beers together and curse the churlish indifference of players (and the fact that there are never enough hours in the day, it seems). 

The thing at the top of my list is not a game, it's a genre. 


Oh, how I love pulp. I love the era of men wearing fedoras and hot jazz and cars with rumble seats. I love heroes that solve their problems with science, a cocky grin, and a good right cross. I love villains who relish a dastardly plot, a doomsday device ticking down to zero, hapless victims tied to railroad tracks, and a smug moustache-twirling monologue. I love gangsters with weird deformities and mad scientists with dodgy robots and I love rocket packs carrying the hero to the rescue. I love spunky reporters and men of mystery and dashing pilots and two-fisted academics. I love zeppelins and domino masks and Nazi-punching, oh yes.

"But," the pedants wheeze, "that isn't what the pulps were. Your intelligent apes and mole machines are revisionist heres--"

*BIFF* "That's all for you, palooka. Give my regards to your dentist." 

I've been trying to get a pulp game to fly for almost a decade. I thrilled to the pulse-pounding pages of White Wolf's ADVENTURE!, rallied to the fated flag of SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY, and longed to join the HOLLOW EARTH EXPEDITION. Sure, I've run successful short subjects, but never that big, satisfying multi-reel epic you need a big bucket of popcorn for. I have glimpsed the glory of MASKS OF NYARLATHOTEP, but been forced to turn away before my face was properly melted. 

I love the purity of the genre, which has equal time for heroes that solve problems with blazing .45's and scientific messiahs who rarely kill and dream of an earthly utopia. I love the atmosphere of the era, the fashion, the big cars with running boards and the Art Deco towers. I love the optimism and the sense of exploration, as bold men and women began to fill in the few uncharted places on the map and scientists began to build the modern world we know. 

I love Indiana Jones and The Rocketeer and Doc Savage, the menacing Shadow, the rollicking Phantom, and the mysterious Green Hornet and Kato. They're calling my name.

Pass me my fedora, will ya? 


  1. Damn, Bill. I'm sold. Let's make this our next game. I'm serious. I'm all over this stuff.

    We could put some thought into a more specific campaign frame ("pulp!" is a great start, but a few more specifics - urban noir crimefighters? globe-trotting archaeologists? two-fisted science vs. weird menaces? - might give people a bit to grab hold of). And we could set the tone dial just a single notch less gonzo/wacky than some of the pulp oneshots we've done (the better to reward some of the emo-drama play our group does so well). But really, I don't see why we couldn't or shouldn't do this. Why is this a white whale?

    A mid-century pulp game, pitched at somewhere around the same level of epic-ness, weird-ness, and action-to-drama ratio as Sunset Empire? Sounds like a home run to me.

  2. *wipes tear from eye* Ah, ya big lug.

    I don't know that we could talk the rest of the group into it, but as you can see, it's something I have a lot of love for. We can certainly talk about it.