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Roleplaying in the world of 1930’s pulp adventure is the subject of this blog and this entry in particular introduces the topic, explaining a few terms and presenting you with an “Invitation to adventure”.
If that doesn’t sound like a pretentious title for a first post I don’t know what does.
Still, this is a blog in which I hope to explore some ideas around my favorite hobby. This hobby is, according to the tagline anyway, role playing in the world of 1930’s pulp adventure.
If you don’t know what role playing is then I will attempt to explain it as best I can. Sadly, role playing is one of those terms that, to the uninitiated, conjures up images of people with poor social skills getting dressed up in strange costumes and engaging in embarrassing and weird, reality avoiding activities. If that’s your notion of the role playing hobby then I’m not sure that what I am going to say is likely to change your mind much. Perhaps it would be best if you tuned out right now. However, if you do think it would be worthwhile figuring out what this sub-culture of “gamers” are actually about (if only to dispel the stereotype) then read on.
I don’t hold out much hope of creating a useful definition. Over a lot of years, and with various groups of gamers, the question of how to explain role playing to those who have not experienced it (without sounding like you are from the moon) has arisen. I’ve never yet heard it done to my satisfaction. So, with that disclaimer made, here goes…
Role playing games are a form of collaborative storytelling. Role playing is a very broad hobby and comes in a variety of flavours but the following is generally true. One player (generally) takes on the responsibility for outlining the story’s events and locations. The other players take on the “roles” of the story’s protagonists. The first player (often called the game master or GM) presents various situations to the other players (usually referred to as the player characters or PCs) who then respond with various actions and activities. The success or otherwise of these activities are often determined with the roll of a dice (in some cases several dice). At the end of a typical gaming session the participants will have participated in a collaborative story – one they have helped shape by their choices and activities.
That probably didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Role playing tends to be something you don’t really “get” until you participate. It doesn’t involve dressing up (though there are groups that do dress up – and a form of role-playing called the LARP or Live Action Role Playing that involves costumes and real locations) and those who participate do actually know the difference between fiction and reality. That said, if you think that role playing is a structured form of the child’s game of “let’s pretend” designed for adults, you are not far wrong and if that seems a little bit weird, well, I can’t say I blame you for thinking so. Role playing games do involve you getting in touch with the “kid” within and if you have no imagination then it is definitely not for you.
What about pulp adventure? Well, that takes a little explaining too. Back in the 1930’s before television and comic books there existed a form of literature known as the penny-dreadful; monthly stories churned out by the truckload, often with little literary merit, for as little as 10 cents a magazine. These stories were full of derring-do, lantern jawed adventurers, cheesy villains with super-weapons, bizarrely (sp?) imaginative plotlines and embarrassingly gaudy dialogue. Unlike the superheroes of the comic book age, the main characters did not tend to have super powers. Instead, they were superhuman in the sense that they were human beings at the top of their game, they were Indiana Jones type adventurers with remarkable gifts (or simple good luck) that helped them to succeed month after month against the most ridiculous of odds. Characters like Doc Savage, the Shadow, Secret Agent X, The Phantom Detective, G8 and his flying Aces, the Spider, and the Avenger were among the most popular and the roster of authors included names such as Lester Dent, HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Seabury Quinn, Walter B Gibson, Robert J Hogan, Sax Rhomer and Norvell Page.
My guilty secret is that cheesy adventure stories with plot-holes by the bazillion really appeal to me – at least they do if they involve loads of genre-mashing elements combined in ridiculously creative ways.
I’m the kind of person who finds the idea of “alien invaders supplying the Nazis with trained dinosaur cavalry while masquerading as ancient gods in order to send expeditions to Atlantis in search of zero-point energy that will open a gateway to the realms within the hollow earth thus unleashing a zombie apocalypse while opposed by a small handful of adventurers and explorers” more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Who am I? Well I am a father of two little boys with a wife who tolerates my weirder interests and a day job that interferes with the life of the imagination.
If you haven’t yet been put off by all that was above then I invite you to join me as I post my thoughts and experiments around “pulp role playing”.