Monday, November 04, 2013

Sub-Genres of Pulp Fiction

 http://www.thepulp.net/wp-content/images/argosy-first-pulp.jpg

When folks think about Pulp--especially in a role playing aspect--they tend to think of things in the style of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, P.I., Indiana Jones, or Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (if you'll forgive the modern references).  They think of The Shadow, of Doc Savage, of The Rocketeer. The common conception of Pulp in a role playing sense is either noir-esque gritty detectives, masked psychics using the secrets of the orient to track down mysterious criminals, or two-fisted action-adventure.

There are, however, many more types of stories that fit into the Pulp mold than these. Remember that as a rule, "Pulp" refers to the popular fiction magazines that reached the zenith of popularity between the 1930's and 1950's. However, the history of pulp can be traced all the way back to the dime novels of the Old West and the penny dreadfuls of Victorian England. In general, the pulps were named because of the cheaply-produced paper upon which they were printed, and refer to any sort of raw fiction designed to appeal to the masses rather than the literary elite.

That leaves a lot of room for a lot of different types of stories, and a wide variety of writing skill levels and style. The Doc Savage books, for example, are generally written to be easy to read and digest. They consist of short, choppy sentences with a journalistic vocabulary and stories that tend to be pretty black and white. On the other end of the spectrum, works by H.P. Lovecraft are full of flowery prose, fifty-cent words, and heavy concepts of nihilism and cosmic horror.  Somewhere in the middle lies the work of Robert E. Howard, who is generally thought by scholars to have been a masterful wordsmith, who could produce fiction that was exciting, stories with pretty heavy philosophical concepts underlying the fast-paced events, and do so without writing down to his readers while still maintaining a base level of comprehension.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a massive fan of Howard's work. And there's a very good reason why any Amazing Adventures GM should look into it. Howard, you see, while he is known for Conan the Barbarian, wrote in almost every sub-genre of pulp you can think of, from detective stories to Oriental stories to swords and sorcery to weird westerns and cosmic horror to swashbuckling adventure.

Red bordered magazine cover; the central illustration shows a man holding a supine woman 

This latter is one of my favorites, and a genre to which I think Amazing Adventures is well-suited. The stories of Solomon Kane, which take place in the same general era as the Golden Age of Piracy and the swashbuckling tales of the D'Argagnan Romances are set in a period that is rife with possibilities for pulp adventuring. Many of the character classes (excepting, possibly, the Gadgeteer) are well-suited to adventuring in this period with little more than flavor-based adjustments. Pirates, for example, could be Hooligans with the Sailor background and maritime-related knowledges. Constables and Privateers could be modeled after the Gumshoe (the latter also using appropriate backgrounds and knowledges). The future planned sourcebook for AA will have new classes specifically geared towards this type of play (the Duelist, Soldier, Acrobat, etc.) but in the meanwhile, a bit of creative, "outside the box" thinking can yield a pretty broad range of archetypes for swashbuckling adventure.

8015 Castle Keepers Guide 

You would need to cook up your own naval combat rules (which will also be included in the sourcebook), but these can easily be modified from your favorite open license source--AA is uniquely compatible with almost every edition of "That Famous Game," and all of the clones of it. Indeed, running a swashbuckling game in AA could easily be accomplished by importing appropriate classes from Castles & Crusades; rules for black powder firearms are, I believe, included in the Castle Keeper's Guide and combining the two sources could yield a rollicking fun game.

Anyway, just a few thoughts to get your juices going for a Monday morning.

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