Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Magic in the Pulps

Doctor Faustus and Mephistopheles


Hey, all. Jason here again with another article expounding on some of the design decisions and options available in Amazing Adventures. One of the most common questions I receive from people is, "Why is there a spell-slinging Arcanist in Amazing Adventures? What's the pulp rationale for that type of character?" This is a strong and valid question with a somewhat involved answer. The first, most simple answer is that not all pulp is in the vein of Doc Savage. It's not all two-fisted adventure. There are many genres and sub-genres that fall within the overarching umbrella of "pulp." It incorporates fantasy, westerns, horror stories, science fiction, the works.

Yes, it also incorporates comic books, which were printed on the same cheap pulp paper as the pulp magazines were, back in the day. Many heroes of the golden age of comics, such as Batman, are very much pulp heroes. By the 1960s heroes such as DC's Zatanna and Marvel's Doctor Strange were mainstays in comics, and both are spell-slinging arcanists.

The fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard was rife with books of magical power and the men who plied those arcane spells. Lovecraft's Whateley clan, for example, are certainly arcanists of some power, as is the eponymous Witch of his "Dreams in the Witch House." In the current Second Printing the optional concept of tying Sanity to spell casting was introduced to better mimic this, an idea that was even further expanded in the Companion, which allows for swords-and-sorcery necromancers in the style of Howard, Carter, Clark Ashton Smith and their contemporaries and later adherents.

The classic pulp villain Fu Manchu could be argued to be an arcanist, as he certainly trafficked with supernatural elements.

Naturally, the genre of fantasy known by some as "Modern Pulp" is rife with examples of spellcasting heroes. Harry Dresden is probably the most famous of these, but the Urban Fantasy/Supernatural Romances of Kelley Armstrong are also full of witches and sorcerers.

In the end, the addition of magic in Amazing Adventures accomplished several things:

  1. 1. It allows for easily creating villainous spellcasters in the Lovecraftian and Supernatural Detective role.  
  2. It allows for the "toolkit" mentality that AA is designed to fill--not only by allowing magically inclined characters, but the spell effects themselves become a vital and really easy solution to the Gadgeteer system and to the super powers rules outlined in the Companion. 
  3. Quite simply, it's fun. And in the end, none of this is about, "is this realistic to the pulps?" It's about, "What would be fun to play?"
As always, if you don't think a spell caster fits into your game, don't allow them. Remember, AA is designed to provide you the tools to run whatever kind of game you want to run, and magic isn't for everyone's game.

As always, if you've got any questions or thoughts I'm glad to hear them in the comments below, over at the Troll Lord forums or on our Facebook page! Until next time...game on!

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