Looking to run a 1930s pulp game -- best system for the job?


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I would like to run a 1930s pulp rpg campaign -- in movie terms, think Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Phantom, and The Mummy.

What would be the best (rules-light, preferred) game system for running it?

My first thought is Call of Cthulu, but I do not know if there is anything else out there that would work better.

Any thoughts would be appreciated!


Savage Worlds system would be a good choice, it's easy to learn, fast paced, and rules light. That would be my pick for pulp campaign.


Thanks, I had a look over at their site. Savage Worlds core?


Ah, looks like Deadlands: Noir is just the ticket! Does one need to purchase the SW core rules as well? It doesn't really say on the site if Deadlands is a supplement or its own game using the same engine...


Call of cuthulu rules would work.

Any more details on this game. Rocketeer, old school batman?


Yes you'll need the core rules from savage worlds core.


FATE Core

Spirit of the century.


GURPS

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

If you're going to use Savage Worlds, take a look at the Thrilling Tales range from Adamant Entertainment (make sure it is the Savage Worlds version and not the d20 version).

The good news is that Adamant currently have a sale on PDFs - all at $1.99!!! At that price it is worth it for the setting information and scenario campaign.

Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition (i.e. the Savage Worlds version)

Thrilling Tales 2e wrote:

Grab your fedora and your ivory-handled .45s and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime as Thrilling Tales unleashes the pulse-pounding excitement of the pulp magazines and cliffhanger serials of the 1930s and 40s into the Savage Worlds rules system!

This exhaustive guide to the genre features a timeline of the 1930s, information on pulp-era weapons & vehicles, a guide to pulp villains including Nazis, the Thugee and Perils of the Orient, a Random Adventure Generator, and a complete fifteen-chapter Plot Point serial campaign, The Crimson Emperor!

There are also loads of scenarios that are worth reading for inspiration if nothing else.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Maps Subscriber
Zombieneighbours wrote:

FATE Core

Spirit of the century.

These are also good choices!


Adventure! literally is a 1930s pulp RPG so it seems like an obvious candidate if you can find a copy.


I second the recommendation for Spirit of the Century. It's a great system for pulp. I particularly love the character generation method. If I'm remembering correctly, the players actually write down the titles and synopses of pulp novels their characters would've starred in, then pass the piece of paper to the next player, who elaborates and adds themselves as "supporting cast". It's wacky as all get out.


Hollow Earth Expedition is a new option that deals very specifically with 30s pulp adventures.


Slaunyeh wrote:
Adventure! literally is a 1930s pulp RPG so it seems like an obvious candidate if you can find a copy.

I didn't suggest adventure! for one main reason. It is very hard to get a physical version of these days.


DigitalMage wrote:
Zombieneighbours wrote:

FATE Core

Spirit of the century.

These are also good choices!

They are essentially the same choice.

Spirit is of cause a slightly more tailored pulp experience, but fate is also a great option, and is more stream lined.

Shadow Lodge

Yeah, I'd go with Savage Worlds or SotC/Fate Core.


I know you said "rules light," - and the HERO system has a rep for being anything but - but if you can find it, grab an old copy of Justice Inc. It's an Allston/Peterson/Stackpole book, and is solid gold for purposes of Pulp-genre games. It's got a ton of good data in it.


Thanks so much for all the input! Leaning towards Deadlands: Noir. Going to get a copy of SW Core and give it a read.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'd go with either Savage Worlds or GURPS.

Shadow Lodge

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I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P


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Thanks for all the input, guys!

I got a copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe and Thrilling Adventures. Will give them a read through over the next few days/weeks.


Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Not a GURPS defender per se, but I have played some of it. Some of the settings and campaign books are neat, and I think it's intended that you choose a setting book, perhaps two, and use those and the core rules for all the crunch of a campaign. That said, these attempts to play have generally ended before we got to the campaign stage.


Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Ah, a fellow initiate of the "gurps skeptic league".


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Sissyl wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Not a GURPS defender per se, but I have played some of it. Some of the settings and campaign books are neat, and I think it's intended that you choose a setting book, perhaps two, and use those and the core rules for all the crunch of a campaign. That said, these attempts to play have generally ended before we got to the campaign stage.

Ah, but Sissyl.

I have never seen actual evidence that you have played GURPS, nor have i met you. In fact, I have no real verifiable way of knowing that you EVEN EXIST. You might, for all I know be a sock puppet account, that has been put in place and nurtured to give "credablity" to your claims to have played Gurps, by that shadowy internet conspiracy which propagates the myth of GURPS.


Sissyl wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Not a GURPS defender per se, but I have played some of it. Some of the settings and campaign books are neat, and I think it's intended that you choose a setting book, perhaps two, and use those and the core rules for all the crunch of a campaign. That said, these attempts to play have generally ended before we got to the campaign stage.

Ah, but Sissyl.

I have never seen actual evidence that you have played GURPS, nor have i met you. In fact, I have no real verifiable way of knowing that you EVEN EXIST. You might, for all I know be a sock puppet account, that has been put in place and nurtured to give "credibility" to your claims to have played Gurps, by that shadowy internet conspiracy which propagates the myth of GURPS.

Liberty's Edge

Zombieneighbours wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Sissyl wrote:
Not a GURPS defender per se, but I have played some of it. Some of the settings and campaign books are neat, and I think it's intended that you choose a setting book, perhaps two, and use those and the core rules for all the crunch of a campaign. That said, these attempts to play have generally ended before we got to the campaign stage.
Kthulhu wrote:

Ah, but Sissyl.

I have never seen actual evidence that you have played GURPS, nor have i met you. In fact, I have no real verifiable way of knowing that you EVEN EXIST. You might, for all I know be a sock puppet account, that has been put in place and nurtured to give "credablity" to your claims to have played Gurps, by that shadowy internet conspiracy which propagates the myth of GURPS.

I suspect that someone has been playing GURPS Illuminati.

Back on topic however, I would recommend against Call of Cthulhu because, in my opinion it doesn't do pulp very well at all. The system is designed for dark investigation where characters can and will die very easily.

If you are looking for something rules light that will hold up to the rigors of a combat or adventure based game I also recommend GURPS. It's a decent system and very rules light. Alternatively, if you don't mind doing your own world building, World of Darkness is a pretty bulletproof game system and is very rules light and adaptable.


I'd second the option for Fate Core. Brilliant game, and if I recall correctly, the PDF version is Pay What You Want or possibly even free, so you can check it out cheap and buy a copy if you think it'll work.

Fate Accelerated may also be worth a look, it's an even more streamlined/simplified version of Fate Core.

Shadow Lodge

Actually, Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, and the Fate System Toolkit are all Pay What You Want.

Liberty's Edge

Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Last GURPs player I saw in real life was in 1990 - In Guru's cafe at Waikato University in New Zealand. Of course they may have gone extinct over the last 23-4 years. I perhaps should have taken a photo?


Stefan Hill wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Last GURPs player I saw in real life was in 1990 - In Guru's cafe at Waikato University in New Zealand. Of course they may have gone extinct over the last 23-4 years. I perhaps should have taken a photo?

I'm a GURPS player. I don't particularly like the system, but the parts of GURPS that I hate (character building in particular) are taken care of by the GM, so I was happy enough to join in. I don't think I'd ever run my own game in it though.

Silver Crusade

Stefan Hill wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Last GURPs player I saw in real life was in 1990 - In Guru's cafe at Waikato University in New Zealand. Of course they may have gone extinct over the last 23-4 years. I perhaps should have taken a photo?

I think if no-one was playing it then surely it wouldn't survive?


It's a conspiracy! One cooked up by the bunnies and burrows...


FallofCamelot wrote:
Stefan Hill wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Last GURPs player I saw in real life was in 1990 - In Guru's cafe at Waikato University in New Zealand. Of course they may have gone extinct over the last 23-4 years. I perhaps should have taken a photo?
I think if no-one was playing it then surely it wouldn't survive?

Not if success is measured in "people believing it is real" and there are enough people willing to financially contribute to the massive and eleborate practical joke that is GURPS. It is no coincidence that the insides of those rare few physical copies, that you might find out in the wild, make little to no sense on a cursery investigations. They are I suspect, all precedually generated works, with no author per say, which are put out as physicial artifacts to support the supposed existance of GURPS. I suspect that it is infact an early example of crowdfunding.


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I own several GURPS 3rd/4th Edition works. I have, in fact, played in two, count them!, sessions of GURPS Supers. One run in an office on a Saturday, and the other at a convention.

I have generated and run two, again, count them!, sessions of a GURPS Space adventure.

Having done all of these things, I can honestly say that I still don't believe anyone actually plays GURPS.

Oh, you might try to play GURPS. You may even want to play GURPS.

But you won't. Not for real.

You'll make a character, and you'll sit there wondering what exactly the difference between Passive Defense and Active Defense are. And you'll wonder if Armor ever enters into anything, and why there's such a dramatic uptick in point costs and you'll marvel at how it literally provides you such a horrendous entry-barrier to being anything other than Captain Average.

You'll ask yourself "What do I do with all these points?" and then be baffled as they vanish into the simple task of making sure you can actually shoot your gun without harming yourself.

And, finally, as the darkness closes in around you, you'll reach out, grasping, begging for an explanation to the eternal question of why... why... why does every character in the game have the "Odious Personal Habits" Disadvantage.

Spoiler:
And then you'll go play HERO or Savage Worlds.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Kthulhu wrote:

I'm still not convinced that GURPS is an actual thing. I've never met anyone in real life who actually plays it, and nobody that I've met knows anyone who plays it either. And looking at available books for the system does nothing to make me want to play it...it seems like sourcebook overload...like every time you wanted to play a character that was even somewhat different than your last one, you would need to buy another sourcebook or three.

That being said, I'm sure that the nebulous GURPS defenders will now appear.

Just ask yourself...have you ever met any of the GUPRS defenders in real life? Or do you know anyone who has? :P

Um... I played GURPS pretty much exclusively for about 10 years (from the mid-'90s through the mid-aughts). Five separate campaigns, covering different genres...

A GURPS X-Files game. My character was FBI Special Agent Debra Crawford, a former clinical psychologist who'd become a profiler. (Personal highlight: We met the real St. Nicholas.)

"Project Condor": A GURPS Illuminati/World of Darkness/Cthulhu game. My character was a former CIA field operative who'd become a mmember of the secret government Project Condor, which investigated international conspiracies. We ended up allying ourselves with a coven of vampires to prevent the Bavarian Illuminati from making first contact with extraterrestials who wanted to use the Earth as a blood sacrifice to summon Hastur the Unspeakable. (Personal highlight: I pistol-whipped a mime.)

A GURPS: Star Trek game. I played Captain Alex Cromwell of the Excelsior-class USS Essex, on a five-year mission to explore the galaxy. This one was kind of short-lived, and we only played five sessions. (Personal highlight: I set the ship's auto-destruct sequence!)

"Barogen 3039": A GURPS: Space Opera game. Set in a homebrewed scifi universe that combined elements of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Babylon 5, I played a member of the Esoteric Order of Knights Templars, who were basically the Catholic Jedi Knights. (Personal highlight: A lightsabre duel with a black-clad enemy who revealed herself to be my character's mother!)

"Summer of '65": A GURPS: Old West game. The PCs were members of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, tasked with defending the Union in general and President Lincoln in particular while the American Civil War raged around us. My character was a Harvard-educated African-American man from Boston. (Personal highlight: Shooting a Confederate assassin in the Oval Office in front of President Lincoln!)

I attempted to run a GURPS: Fantasy game in my homebrewed game world, but the game folded after one session. Honestly, the GURPS magic system leaves a bit to be desired. OGL 3.5 / PFRPG do fantasy better.

I also played in several GURPS one-shots over the years, including a game where the PCs were space pirates; a game set in 1987 where the PCs were a traveling rock band that solved mysteries; and a steampunk game set in Victorian London.

So, yeah, GURPS is indeed "a thing."

Now that my Pathfinder group appears to have permanently disbanded halfway through "Rise of the Runelords," I am very seriously considering starting up a GURPS Steampunk campaign.

I will agree, though, that it's not as popular as it used to be.


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Trail of Cthulhu by Pelgrane press is built to take place in the 30s. Looks good to me.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

As an addendum to my earlier suggestions, you may want to take a look at Evil Hat Publishing's Strange Tales of the Century for background material. Here is the blurb:

TRAVEL THE GLOBE... UNCOVER HIDDEN EVILS... THEN PUNCH THEM!

Join superstar pulp historian Jess Nevins as he takes you on a wild tour through the early decades of the Spirit of the Century world... and our own!

Inside this book you’ll find the condensed history of the world, 1935-1951, with story hooks for high-flying global adventure at every turn.

Across the world and through the years, you’ll discover a rogue’s gallery of pulp hero archetypes ripe for populating your own worlds of imagination — from the Brain in a Jar to the Übermensch and everything in between.

Then round it out with dozens of new stunts to add to your Spirit of the Century or Fate Core games.

Wheels up, folks—it’s time to tell your own strange tale ... of adventure!

Scarab Sages

I've played GURPS 3E for pretty much all of the 90s. It is a very good universal system with the most realistic combat system of any game I've played.

I've played a Shadowrun/Cuthulupunk game that was fantastic, as well as several Supers and Fantasy games. Played a really great urban fantasy game using the Voodoo book, and a Steampunk game where we were airship pirates.

The default magic system isn't my favorite, but I LOVE it's Psionics and ritual magic systems. However, the default magic system is just fine for low-fantasy.

It's a very easy system to run and learn, it's only real problem is the complexity of character creation.

I'm still a fan, and would love to play it again.


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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Mutants and Masterminds at PL6 or 7 I found emulates the more fantastic pulps (Doc Savage, The Spider) pretty well.


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G.U.R.P.S. is only slightly more complicated than Pathfinder.


I would also recommend Savage Worlds. It's also a very, very easy system to do a kitchen sink setting in.


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jemstone wrote:

I own several GURPS 3rd/4th Edition works. I have, in fact, played in two, count them!, sessions of GURPS Supers. One run in an office on a Saturday, and the other at a convention.

I have generated and run two, again, count them!, sessions of a GURPS Space adventure.

Having done all of these things, I can honestly say that I still don't believe anyone actually plays GURPS.

Oh, you might try to play GURPS. You may even want to play GURPS.

But you won't. Not for real.

You'll make a character, and you'll sit there wondering what exactly the difference between Passive Defense and Active Defense are. And you'll wonder if Armor ever enters into anything, and why there's such a dramatic uptick in point costs and you'll marvel at how it literally provides you such a horrendous entry-barrier to being anything other than Captain Average.

You'll ask yourself "What do I do with all these points?" and then be baffled as they vanish into the simple task of making sure you can actually shoot your gun without harming yourself.

And, finally, as the darkness closes in around you, you'll reach out, grasping, begging for an explanation to the eternal question of why... why... why does every character in the game have the "Odious Personal Habits" Disadvantage.

** spoiler omitted **

This sounds exactly like my experience with GURPS when I let a friend talk me into trying it nearly 20 years ago. I walked away with no regrets and never looked back.

On topic, I find the World of Darkness system to be very diverse and perfect for making the kind of very flawed, beleiveable characters that belong in a Pulp setting. One thing you should know it that combat is tacked on to the skill system that is at the core of the game and does not flow as well as a dedicated combat system would. (Much like the skill system in Pathfinder is tacked on to the combat system and does not flow as well as the Wod skill system.)

Shadow Lodge

True 20 is an awesome system for things like this.

Dark Archive

Library Thing tells me I have 71 GURPS books. However, I've never played it and never met anybody who has. I would like to play it though!

GURPS Cliffhangers is the Pulp supplement, I believe.

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