Table Top Pulp, Pt. the Second

Clan Dave got the heck out of dodge before the sky fell, this past weekend. We’d decided to make a family pilgrimage of sorts, to attend LTUE and visit a number of family of choice in the general area (and along the path of travel). Well, we left just before the western side of Washington enjoyed something like a foot of snowfall. Goodness. Travel was, in general, quite pleasant. The littles are great travelers, and Mrs. Dave and I have long enjoyed road trips. The company is excellent, after all. Still, there was the day out of Portland, wherein we had to deal with poor roads (I have … theories) and poor drivers. And Mrs. Dave has been feeling distinctly out of sorts since we arrived, which is a concern. Still, there’s writing to do.

Last week, I swamped you all with a present tense campaign diary for my fledgling gaming group. We’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition, and just starting out, so roughly, our characters can be taken out by an irate house cat, let alone a rodent of unusual size. At least, that’s the way things were the last time I played D&D, um, three editions back, I think.

Games have a rhythm to them. Characters fight, expend resources, and then have to spend time resting and regaining resources. Push to hard, and you end up with dead characters. While mortality can be less of an issue in a fantasy game, there are still costs to be paid, and especially early on, you can’t be certain of finding, buying, or stealing the price of resurrection. And getting a deity by the short hairs is … fraught. And next to impossible at first level.

So you play a little cautious. Well, unless you’re Markon, who trusts in his scales and maille, and who also used wisdom as his dump stat. And then you rest up and do it all again. This creates a fairly natural pace of fight/rest, fight/rest, fight/rest, level up, repeat, which serves well to break up the hours of play. Literally hours: we started, I realized I couldn’t stay in the kitchen with child noise, and adjourned to the office, and then suddenly it was full dark, and I hadn’t made dinner. Amazing flow, which I’ll talk about if I have time. Back to pace: it’s also an increasing one, in intensity, if not in speed. The player characters increase in power as they gain experience and vanquish foes, and they take on ever more powerful monsters and villains. Natural progression is handy that way.

That’s the “normal” way to play D&D. There exist any number of supplements out there to subvert, invert, or turn that inside out. I’m quite certain some of our readers could easily write a treatise on them. The reason the Rules as Written work, and why the supplements work just as well, is they rest on a framework of numbers. Power is relative in such games, and every number ties back to every other number in a neat way. Other games aren’t mathematically neat, and they have different philosophies and play styles, and consequently a different natural pace. A table top game that pursues other ends is going to look different, after all.

With pulp story, we see a similar progression. Gain power>fight greater villains>repeat. There may actually be an end, or you might just have the Man of Bronze and similar series. The best series that nobody finishes, from a television standpoint, is likely Dragonball Z. The characters literally power up to fight stronger villains, to power up to fight even stronger villains. On the other hand, it makes sense. That is to say, it’s a progression the average child can grasp easily. If you pursue such a feel for your projects, please, please, throw in some twists to the formula. Basic pulp can be so stultifyingly formulaic as to become quickly boring in a way that interactive table top RPGs almost never do. If you’re going to go that route, I suggest a tight timeframe. Give yourself a trilogy of that kind of work, and then move on. There’s more to dig into with this, but I’m stopping here for today. I’m already behind schedule, so I’ll leave you with this question: do you prefer straight-up pulp, or pulp with a twist?


  1. “…do you prefer straight-up pulp, or pulp with a twist?”

    Doc Savage is a fun read, straight-up.

    Add some twist, that’s essentially what I’m trying to do. Got my accidental heroes, add some fabulous robot girlfriends and lippy combat spiders, stir in world-destroying threat, heat and SERVE! Hell yeah.

    Now If I could just -finish- this thing…

  2. I would note that the some of the Chinese authors working in certain genres can spin out a good power growth based serial for quite a long time. They do this partly because they know how to use the genre conventions they have developed, and partly because they know how to mix up the variations on the formula.

    1. I will note that in a long enough series, you need to be episodic — make stories that are units in themselves. It’s an observation as old as Aristotle that if it’s too big, you can’t take it in.

    1. No, you’re doing it wrong. Cthulhu meets orbiting Bussard ramjet. Hilarity ensues when the First Squid learns the Kzinti Lesson. That’s a lotta calimari!

      A little twist with your pulp. Elder Gods suck, humans rock, go us!

  3. I don’t play D&D myself, but I noticed my local library got a full set of 5th edition source books recently. They seem to be pretty popular.

  4. I really liked the Fantasy Grounds software – as a player. Apparently it’s got some DM issues.

    1. My on-line group has been using it for 10 years, and we really like it. Yes, there have been issues, but FG has been very good about addressing them.

Comments are closed.