Episode 67: Deceleration Trauma is Not Your Friend

This month, Mike and Roger indulge in crass commercialism, consider players who don’t turn up reliably, look at high-powered games and how to keep them interesting, and delve into the pulps and what gaming can learn from them.

We mentioned:

Delta Green at the Bundle of Holding (until 3 July), Eclipse Phase at the Bundle of Holding (and the older offer revived, both until 9 July), our tip jar, Mission: Impossible, Ars Magica, Ken and Robin Talk About Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition, Night’s Black Agents, Traveller, HeroQuest, Nyambe: African Adventures, The Grognard Files, Pendragon, Doc Savage, Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu (GUMSHOE system), John Buchan, Dennis Wheatley, Mantan Moreland, Rochester, Are We the Baddies?, GURPS Cliffhangers, Savage Worlds, Roger’s review of Psycho, Forgotten Futures, The Adventures of Indiana Jones (TSR), The World of Indiana Jones (West End Games), Heroes of Rura-Tonga, Tales of the Gold Monkey, Atomic Robo comic and RPG, John Carter of Mars, and GURPS Mars.

In case you missed it, here’s our tip jar again.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com.

(We do get free access to the Bundle of Holding contents, but this happens whether or not we plug them.)


I entirely agree about D&D tending to scale everything up equally as characters advance in level, so fights between ogres and and 4th level adventurers feel oddly similar to those between goblins and a 1st level party. (But then, I ran the campaign Roger mentioned.) I had the feeling that this became a little too obvious when the rules were cleaned up for third edition; previously, it had been obfuscated behind all those messy game mechanics. On the other hand, I never saw this as a problem in supers-style games, because the heroes there are qualitatively as well as quantitatively superior to ordinary “1st level” people — they can fly, or read minds, or walk through walls. The power fantasy is sustainable even if the opposition are even tougher.

Regarding pulp RPGs — Hero System had Justice, Inc. back in 1984, and Pulp Hero much more recently. I’ve not looked at the latter, but the former was written by people (Aaron Allston, Steve Peterson, and Mike Stackpole) who seemed to grasp the pulp feel quite well. One of its two supplements, Lands of Mystery, by Allston, about lost world adventures, is regarded as a minor classic, I think correctly.

Completism also requires a mention of FGU’s Daredevils.

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The impression I got reading about D&D3 and later was not just that the monster bonuses went up in lockstep with PC bonuses (which I agree with Phil got more obvious then but had been present in some sense all along); it was that DMs were encouraged to build encounters explicitly on the basis of party levels to be a minor challenge, major challenge, or whatever. Fights seemed to be meant always to be winnable (with effort). I’m sufficiently old-school to feel that some fights should be Too Hard, or at least too hard right now (and recognisable as such).

I actually have a friend who owns the Masterbook Indiana Jones game. It was basically just generic pulp with stats for the movie characters. I think they did a sourcebook for each of the three movies out at the time. My big problem with it was that Masterbook did one extremely stupid thing - it took the bonus chart, which was designed to put an open-at-one-end bell curve onto a single exploding d20 roll, and used it almost without modification for 2 exploding d10s.

There is at least one straight up pulp sourcebook for Savage Worlds (almost typed ‘Savage Words’ - that would be a niche game for sure!): Thrilling Tales 2nd edition by Gareth-Michael Skarka (which may give readers pause given his mishandling of the Far West Kickstarter and the Buckaroo Banzai preorder).

I’m surprised you didn’t mention Spirit of the Century, the first game to use the FATE 3rd edition rules that eventually evolved into Fate Core. The supplement Strange Tales of the Century has a large catalog of pulps featuring female and non-white protagonists; unfortunately, it doesn’t offer much help in tracking down those stories.

I’m pretty sure that Gygax at least was heavily influenced by the pulps - he even put out a John Carter wargame about the same time as Dungeons & Dragons. The Burroughs estate got on him faster than the Tolkien estate, as I understand it.

On the subject of TSR, when their early-90s Buck Rogers XXXVC game wasn’t selling they did another one with a minimalist system that was based directly on the original comic strips - which I would argue were very pulpy at first.

The monster stats don’t have to go up in lockstep with the PCs in 3rd edition, it’s just that a monster with a certain number of hit dice has the same rules for raising their skills (and attack bonuses) as a PC or NPC of that level. Since a 1 hit die monster is usually not considered an equal threat to a 1st level PC, boss monsters will often have slightly better numerical stats than their PC opponents.

@MrTim - I’ve never played Spirit of the Century, nor seen anyone playing it. (I think I had a vague idea it was a superhero game.) As you’ve heard, I don’t really get on with FATE, but I’ll give it a look.

Huh. For some reason I had it in my head that you were a Gutter Skypes listener. SotC was one of their standbys for quite a while.

For those occasions when you need to finish a session on time, whether a player is missing or not, there’s the handy Table of Despair posted by Korgoth on the ODD74 forum a few years ago. Intended for adventures into the underworlds of Tékumel, but I’m sure it can be adapted…

The Table of Despair

Directive: Roll a ten sided polyhedron and weep, mortal.

Lachrymose Catalogue of Results:

1-4: Thy flesh is consumed by underworld denizens!

5: Thou art lost to time and space.

6-8: Naked and bereft dost thou escape the nightmare below.

9-0: Thou emergeth unscathed!

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…or so you think. Later, as you mull over your experiences…

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The author of Heroes of Rura-Tonga, Peter Schweighofer, also contributed to a sort-of third Indiana Jones game, Indiana Jones Adventures. It was a scenario supplement produced late in the line of the West End Games Indy RPG, but it gave rules for playing with the D6 System (as used in Star Wars) instead of MasterBook, which is what they should have done in the first place.

The Buck Rogers game mentioned by MrTim was Buck Rogers High Adventure Cliffhangers and it’s actually pretty good. It’s also faithful to its pulp roots, inasmuch as it’s horribly racist to the Chinese.

I found the probabilities in the d6 system a bit wonky, but I’m not really a fan of dice pools anyway. Seemed to work all right for Star Wars (shut up Eric Wujcik, we know you were bitter about your version not being published) but I never felt much temptation to use it for anything else.

“Thou emergest….” The -eth suffix is third person.

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Hey, don’t shooteth the messenger.


I actually had a look at SotC when it was new and shiny. I’m afraid it convinced me never to use FATE for anything. This was partly because of the artificial narrative framework for defining character traits, which would have forced me to try to think of specific types of things instead of having them emerge from my working out the character concept; and also partly because they had changed the dice roll system from FUDGE’s symmetrical (three bad and three good results) to asymmetrical (two bad and four good), and I didn’t like the way that looked. There were other things I didn’t like, I think, but those were the ones that really put me off.

Now I’ve used FUDGE twice, once for a covert supers campaign inspired by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Planetary, and the Wold Newton corpus, and once for a Discworl campaign. I was quite happy with the results. If the Atomic Robo sourcebook had been in FUDGE rather than FATE I would have bought it long since.


Indeed, I used FUDGE in the pre-FATE days during my transition from Rolemaster-for-everything to my current state of “GURPS unless there’s a compelling reason to use something else”. I quite liked it and I’d be happy to use it again. But when I read FATE books I just bounce off the system; it looks as though it needs so much GM judgment that I might as well go systemless. It is likely that I’m wrong, but I think I need to play a FATE game with an expert GM.

Bill, I’m not sure what you mean about the asymmetrical dice rolling system. The result chart is asymmetrical because a result is a die roll plus a skill, and skills almost never go below zero. The actual dice rolled are still 4dF. I can totally see where you’re coming from on the forced-narrative character creation; it’s toned down in most later versions of Fate, sometimes to the point of nonexistence.

Roger, I think what it requires is a different kind of GM judgement. It also requires a certain player mindset that I find somewhat lacking amongst those of us with gray in our beards. Somewhat weirdly, the one player I have who really took to the system when I ran SotC is the most mechanics-oriented, least role-playey member of my group.

As an addendum, I really think that listening to actual play recordings helped solidify my understanding of Fate. If only I could’ve gotten my whole group to listen to a few.

Any recommendations of such recordings?

The aforementioned Gutter Skypes (www.anim5.com/IDDFOS/TGS/) and their spinoff Monkeys Took My Jetpack (mtmjetpack.com) are mostly rules-averse narrativists, but they really have a knack for fun to listen to games. I also think their rules-averseness makes the learning process easier to follow.

Role Playing Public Radio Actual Play (actualplay.roleplayingpublicradio.com) has a Fate game called Base Raiders that Ross Payton of RPPR playtested with the group and still occasionally runs games in. They’re a little less rules averse, but they are a bit inconsistent with the rules and they’re using a slightly quirky version of Fate.

The Sunday Skypers (sunday-skypers.podbean.com) occasionally do a light version of Fate called Fate Accelerated. They mostly know the rules, so there’s less explanation on the podcast.

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FUDGE had Fair, which you could figure as a typical outcome for someone who knew the basics of how to do something; three higher levels, Good, Great, and Superb; and three lower levels, Mediocre, Poor, and Terrible. In terms of skills, I could figure Mediocre as a hobbyist or a neophyte; Poor as someone who had no training and was trying to take it; and Terrible as someone who had both no training and an innate lack of talent (like me driving a car).

FATE had only two levels below Fair, which didn’t give me as much differentiation as I wanted. And it had four levels above Fair, and I couldn’t really convince myself that all four meant different things. So each side felt unbalanced.