So, you want to play a pulp genre game?

One of the genres that have seen quite a lot of renewed interest in recent times is the pulp genre. That statement is true and not true at the same time. Why? It’s true because you hear a lot more talk about pulp games or games with pulp elements but if you look a bit closer, you notice that there has always been a strong pulp influence in gaming even if you didn’t call it that way.

Phantom Detective 36So, what is Pulp anyway?
Pulp magazines were inexpensive fiction magazines  that were widely published from the 1920s through the 1950s. Pulp magazines featured stories from many genres including fantasy/sword and sorcery, science fiction, detective/mystery, horror/occult, western and many more. Noteable writers that have written “pulp stories” include Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Arthur C. Clarke, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Mark Twain and H. G. Wells. 
So the pulp genre is much bigger than most of us would believe. I think most people cringe when authors like Isaac Asimov or Mark Twain are called  “pulp authors”, including me, but that’s what they wrote. And the pulp genre is probably defined more by its format and not the quality of writing. A recurring element were brightly colored covers with motives that more often than not featured a scantily clad damsel in distress. 

Pulp in roleplaying
When we look at the list of authors that wrote pulp stories, we notice that a lot of games could be called pulp genre games.  But usually we limit the pulp genre to games inspired by the more blatant features of this broad genre.  Usually pulp genre games copy the artwork style from magazines like Amazing Stores or Phantom Detective even down to the price tag. The classic pulp genre roleplaying game focusses on fantastic stories, two-fisted no-nonsense characters and epic vistas. Especially Exile Game Studio’s Hollow World Expedition and Evil Hat Productions’ Spirit of the Century come to mind. So why seems there be a heightened interest in this genre recently?

For one the pulp genre was always one of the favorite gaming genres even when we didn’t call it that way. Even D&D or Traveller have been strongly influenced by pulp magazines. Since H.P. Lovecraft’s stories appeared in pulp magazines, too, even horror games like Call of Cthulhu are in fact pulp games although almost all features I listed before are missing. Another factor is the internet. In earlier times most people just didn’t know what was out there. I know groups who played D&D ad infinitum without ever knowing that there were other games, other worlds, other genres out there. The internet changed a lot of that. And people are getting tired of the same old game again and again.
And it seems the old pulp stories are old enough now to feel fresh and vibrant again! 

So, what are your favorite pulp games? As always I love to read your comments, so please speak your mind using the comment section below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

6 thoughts on “So, you want to play a pulp genre game?”

    1. I haven't tried any of those, although they look very interesting indeed. My current plan is to run a pulp campaign using D6 Adventure, but I'll have to ask my players what they think about it first.
      I once leafed through the Hollow Earth Expedition core book at a local store and I have to admit that's a good looking book.

  1. Call of Cthuhlhu using BRP. Makes a great pulp game. My last session had a player holding a 3 day long street party in New Orleans to keep a trumpet player busy, and when on the final night he was abuducted by gangsters there was a running gunfight with one player jumping onto the side of the car and attempting to punch out the driver, the person hosting the event having one of his security staff throw him a rifle with which he then shot out two tires of the car, too a bullet dropping him to 3 HP (Would have been a majour wound in BRP but we where still on the pure CoC rules) and then shooting the gun out of the crooks hands, before shooting out the 3rd tire. The rest of the part was giving chase through the screaming crowds on a motorbike, bicicle and taxi. ("Follow that car!" "The one with the guy with the gun leaning out the window" "YES" *CRASH" "Nevermind")
    .-= Canageek´s last blog ..A History of Below =-.

  2. Two Fisted Tales is a really neat little game, very easy to play and get into. However, lately I;m really grooving on Savage Worlds with Adamant's "Thrilling Tales" supplement. I really like the way the SW rules seem geared towards wild, dramatic action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.