Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Review: Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition for Savage Worlds

Savage Worlds 1930's Pulp Fiction
If you ever enjoyed the two-fisted treasure hunting of Indiana Jones, the high-flying action of Dave Stephens' The Rocketeer, the globe trotting exploits of Doc Savage, the extra-planetary adventures of Flash Gordon, or the gritty mob busting of The Untouchables then you've enjoyed a story set in the pulp era. Pulp is not a genre unto itself. In the strictest sense, pulp was the medium used to present stories during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The pulps reached their height during the 1930s as great change swept across the globe. Gandhi's fasting and Hitler's rising occurred as synchronous events. It was the time between World Wars with the world growing steadily smaller thanks to air travel, automobiles, radio, and an increased literacy rate.

Pulp fiction fed a hungry and growing audience a steady diet of adventure, intrigue, and action. Good was good and bad was bad. Even some bad guys were really good guys if given half a chance. The hero never died in pulp adventures. But then again, neither did the villain. The stories, plots, heroes, and villains are great RPG fodder as players and GM recreate some of their favorite settings from movies, books, and TV. Adamant Entertainment produces a Savage supplement titled Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition to add to their extensive line of Thrilling Tales products.

The Settings
The Savaged Thrilling Tales targets the 1930s providing a timeline of the decade to give a canvas for adventure. The pulp genres covered within the book include:
  • Crime Fighting
  • Air Hero
  • Foreign Adventure
  • Espionage
  • Horror
  • Weird Menace
  • Spicy
  • Jungle Stories
  • Science Fiction
  • Western
  • Lost Worlds
Thrilling Tales discusses each with at least a half page treatment detailing the types of heroes, villains, settings, and adventures typical of that genre.

Character Creation
The book has a rich section devoted to character creation. The author suggests creating a specialized character who's skills and abilities don't overlap with others in the group. Thrilling Tales advises the would be player to describe their character in a single sentence. If you can't describe him thoroughly in once sentence then trim the concept down until you can. To give the flavor of a pulp hero, make him or her a focused specialist rather than well rounded.

Pulp heroes and villains typically fall into one of the archetypes listed below.
  • Ace Reporter
  • Air Ace
  • Big Game Hunter
  • Boxer
  • Femme Fatal
  • Fortune Hunter
  • G-Man
  • Gumshoe
  • Gun Moll
  • Mad Scientist
  • Man of Mystery
  • Mastermind
  • Mesmerist
  • Mobster
  • Noble Savage
  • Paragon
  • Rocket Ranger
  • Trusted Sidekick
Thrilling Tales character creation follows the normal flow of Savage Worlds but you start at a higher rank than normal. Tales suggests the rank based on the number of players and the campaign style.

As usual for such supplements, Thrilling Tales includes
  • five new hindrances such as Glass Jaw and Cocky
  • 18 new edges such as Brilliant Scientist, Charmer, and Dirty Fighter
  • and a slew of weapons and vehicles from the 1930s.

New Rules
To reflect the even-larger-than-life exploits of a pulp action hero, Thrilling Tales adds a few extra setting rules. Much like the Slipstream setting, characters never die. They may become incapacitated but they don't die unless the player and GM decide the character is going to die. Even then, they're likely to come back after some miraculous event. If you think that's unbalanced take heart; villains don't die either.

Heroes have more bennies than usual in this setting. Better said, they are rewarded with bennies more often for performing daring stunts like jumping from one speeding car to another. The use of bennies is also expanded. A bennie can be used for a Story Declaration to alter the plot a bit in the character's favor. As an example, a player spending a bennie can alter the story so a he knows someone in a foreign city. The GM must agree to the declaration but this rule allows the character to have more say in the game environment.

Thrilling Tales adds two additional character types to Wild Card and Extra: Henchman and Mook. A henchman is a high level lieutenant of a Wild Card villain with the ability to use wild dice but with no bennies or wound points. Mooks are actually a step below Extras having limited trait scores, skill list, and skip shaken on their way to incapacitation. Mooks gladly give their lives in the service of their master or cause.

The book contains an extensive section on villains. It includes three distinct groups (Nazi, Thugee, and Oriental) along with a grab bag of others. The villains section is the largest single section of the book containing around 80 pages of pulpy goodness (or badness depending on how you look at it). The writeups are detailed and provide hooks into any ongoing adventures.

Adventure Generator
I'll start by saying I'm not fan of adventure generators but this one is fairly well thought out. It provides plot points rather than stats and is a good place to get started if you're stuck. It includes ten tables to help specify villain type, villain plan, the adventure hook, supporting characters, action sequences, plot twists, and locations. It's nothing I would use but I can see its value.

The supplement contains a five part adventure stretching over 70 pages titled The Crimson Emperor. The adventure is suitable for Reporters, Mystery Men, G-men, and Gum Shoes. You can play each of the five parts individually or sew them together as one lengthy campaign. There's not a map to be found but each chapter has a black and white pulp magazine cover depicting the chapter setting.

Comparison with the Pulp Toolkit Supplements
Pinnacle Entertainment released the Pulp GM's Toolkit and Pulp Gear Toolkit covering most of the setting rules found in Thrilling Tales. Some of the optional toolkit rules become non-optional with Thrilling Tales. The toolkit has more of everything (archetypes, gear, edges, hindrances, etc.) but lacks the detailed treatment found in Thrilling Tales. The toolkit also doesn't contain any adventures, pre-generated villains, or time lines. When making a decision which to purchase the choice is between quantity (toolkit) vs. depth (Thrilling Tales).

The toolkit doesn't take itself too seriously adopting a Fast, Furious, and Fun writing style. Thrilling Tales takes a more somber approach at times coming off as a high-handed (e.g. Pulp is NOT a genre). Neither work is extreme in its style. I state it here in case you have a preference.

Nits to Pick
The covers of Thrilling Tales products raised the expectation of lots of old pulp artwork inside. I was greatly disappointed to find it absent. In places, the artwork is horrid using obscure movie stills or posters, converted to black and white, then fuzzed up a bit. It detracted from the overall quality of the book. Likewise the images used in the gear section seemed out of place. They were sharp, modern, and anachronistic in a pulp supplement.

Thrilling Tales 2nd Edition from Adamant Entertainment is an excellent pulp resource thick with villains, adventure, gear, and plot ideas. In many ways it is a subset of Pinnacle Entertainment's Savage Worlds Pulp GM's Toolkit and Pulp Gear Toolkit with more depth. I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of the archetypes and the multiple nefarious evil-doers presented in Thrilling Tales. To me, its the best reason to purchase the product.

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