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numtini

Pulp Playthrough

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numtini

I was ordered to start burning my vacation days or lose them, so last Friday for Roll20con, I ran a one shot adventure, Waiting for the Hurricane, one of the sample scenarios for Pulp Cthulhu. It definitely gave me some perspectives on both the Pulp Rules and 7E in general.

 

Warning. There will be spoilers for Waiting for the Hurricane and overall, this might be a bit rambling. It was also not the optimal test play as I was dealing with running my first game on Roll20, not to mention the first time I've GM'd in quite a long while.

 

First observation is "Ouch, I should have read the combat rules a few more dozen times." For CoC, I've always tended to play loose on combat rules since combat is short, deadly, and rare. Pulp is big on combat and given that people in pulp can take multiple shots, combat takes longer in general. A lot of questions about range, aiming, and so on came up that I had either botched or didn't have the answers for. I wish I'd spent more time familiarizing myself with the combat rules rather than seat-of-the-pants'ing it. I also really wish I'd set up a sheet with miniatures (in roll20 terms tokens) and played it out more tactically, which I would never bother to do with straight CoC

 

Second observation is that this particular scenario left me feeling wanting because there was a lot of action, but not a lot of investigation. I knew that going in, but I wasn't quite ready for how “off†it felt to me personally when actually played out. I may run this again and if I did, I'd probably add a scene or two that allows more investigatory options and run it over two sessions instead of trying to cram it into one. 

 

A big surprise was that chases just plain didn't happen. There's a spot in the scenario where the players come across a contact being chased by cultists. It's pretty obviously meant to be a place to demonstrate the chase rules, but my players had a different idea. They went "Indiana Jones and the Swordsman" and instead of joining the chase, they just stood back and shot the cultists down. I think that shows one of the issues with Pulp: as violence becomes a more survivable solution, it becomes a more common one. I knew the scenario was heavy on combat, but I really underestimated what a change it would make to the experience in general.

 

Firearms were their solution to melee combat as well. Players had a tendency to pull a gun and just shoot people at point blank range, even if it meant shooting into melee with a penalty die. (Granted, easier as I'd juiced the premades with high combat skills since the scenario called for them.) If I ran an official pulp campaign, I might make some house rules about shooting into combat. It seems like the chance of hitting a PC on a fumble just is too rare and it didn't feel realistic enough for my tastes, all the more because they were frequently using shotguns.

 

In terms of damage, Pulp gives you a 1d4 on first aid rather than 7Es single point. That's a pretty huge difference, especially in a scenario like Hurricane where there's multiple combats with what are essentially mooks. I know some people think 7E is less deadly somehow, but between the 1 point first aid and major wounds (ignored for PCs in Pulp) 7E is really harsh. With the Pulp rules, between luck and the extra PC hit points and better healing, it felt like you could mix it up with the minions, which I think was fun.

 

On the 7E front, shooting into melee requires a penalty die and despite my reservations about the outcome, it worked fine as a mechanic. OTOH, it's built into the Roll20 character sheet so bookkeeping is a little easier than it would be in a tabletop game. Likewise, for doubters of 7E, in the few brawling fights, the oppositional system worked a treat. It was quick and functional and I think it gives a better feeling of mixing it up than the old style straight BRP did.

 

I seeded a wide variety of "pulp talents." The players used them, but they didn't stand out as defining the character in the way I, personally, would have liked. That's something I can say for the pulp archetype as well. Players still seemed to define their characters primarily by occupation, not archetype. 

 

I think both archetype and talents are something that might become more noticeable in a longer term campaign where a particular character would be the "go to person" for something or there was more time to establish personalities, but in a one shot having a bonus die on a know or charm roll was sort of ho-hum. If I was doing this again, I'd spend more time playing those up with more description and attention than just the mechanic of the roll.

 

I went into the optional talents as well. I seeded a psychic, but scenario passed without a real chance for her to use her power (I had a spot picked out for her particular talent to shine, but it got glossed over and I didn't push her towards it because we were running out of time). I gave another character a weird science "electric shock gun" and we had a lot of fun with that. It was basically a taser. An instant KO on humans with some damage, but the attempted balance was it only had two shots until it needed to be plugged into an electric socket to recharge. He used it with great discretion and it really was some fun, if a bit overpowered. More to the point, it defined the character as the crazy professor with the weird electric gun.

 

Honestly, that "definition" of the character as something "pulpy" was what I think was missing from both the archetypes and talents and if this was beta rather than release, I might suggest considering reworking to push the stereotype thing more. That may be my taste though. I'm more of the "radio dramas" than "detective novel" style of pulp.

 

I've been saving the best for last and at the last, lies death. The death and dying changes for pulp were a place where I think the pulp rules really shone in our playing. 

 

We had someone unwisely charge a character who pulled out a shotgun. Even with double HP, shotguns at close range are deadly and he found himself with a large hole in his chest and invoked the "spend all your luck to survive" rule. I'd put a definite seal of approval on the option. In nihilistic straight CoC, meaningless death is fine, but this wasn't, plot-wise, a great time to die for a "pulp" scenario and it let the character stick around for the climax where he died again in a Blaze of Glory.

 

Ah, the Blaze of Glory! That there's the ticket. I absolutely love this rule. For those who don't have the rules, Pulp lets you choose to die in a blaze of glory, giving you a last action with a bonus die. 

 

The scenario involves saving a city by disrupting a cult ritual, but at that point a Big Bad arrives and the mass slaughter begins. The first character to be dismembered used his blaze of glory to use his electro-shock gun on the building sized Big Bad as he was being killed. The Big Bad being the size of a house, this did not have much effect, but distraction is one of the suggested uses for the BoG, so I ruled it distracted the critter enough to allow another character to set off the dynamite which successfully "won" the scenario by stopping the ritual. Alas, it also meant the one setting it off died in the explosion, which was sort of a bonus blaze of glory death. 

 

The Big Bad wasn't finished though and when another character was attacked and impaled on the critters claws and lifted up into the air, it was one of two characters carrying the dynamite and they used their BoG to light it all and and go out Gorman and Vasquez style, blowing themselves up and hurting the Big Bad sufficiently to drive it into retreat.

 

While it's quite possible to "win" by subverting the ritual, there was absolutely no way I can imagine driving off the Big Bad in straight CoC. The blaze of glory was the only way they were able to achieve that and particularly for a tournament scenario, it gave a really memorable conclusion that allowed two characters to live, one of whom was still sane. Did I mention I LOVE this rule?

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Tony Williams

Nice write up and very interesting seeing the rules put into real play.

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yronimoswhateley

Thank you very much for your write-up on Pulp Cthulhu!  I really appreciate the insight you put into it.  I've not had an opportunity to play through it myself, and I've been curious to see how it plays out.

 

It sounds like the "Blaze of Glory" might be something that could be worked into standard CoC to great positive effect, without unbalancing the game or losing its more "nihilistic" feel.  What do you think? 

 

Did you notice anything in the pulp rules that seemed to you like they might have fit into "normal" Call of Cthulhu well without pushing it over-the-top into two-fisted hack-n-slash Pulp?  (Sounds like the beefed-up characters definitely pushed it over that top!)

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numtini

I don't know about the BoG and the regular game. It's a great rule, but it does add a heroic element that I'm not sure is really appropriate for nihilistic cthulhu.

 

As to power in combat, the characters were definitely combat oriented. That was the scenario and for a one shot, I wanted people to survive to the end.

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VladOlaru

I know it's an old topic but I've just bought the Pulp Cthulhu rulebook and planning to start with exactly this scenario. This really is helpful for me since I've just read the Pulp Cthulhu rules once and I struggle to remember everything it adds. I'll remember to have another look(or two) on the combat rules before anything.

 

Hope my runthrough turns out as good as yours did!

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yronimoswhateley

Let us know how it goes, VladOlaru, and welcome to YSDC!

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