Researching for a Pulp Cthulhu Game
After a lot of discussion (sometimes with other people and not just me talking to myself) it looks like our next game will be a Pulp Cthulhu game, set in the early 1930's - far enough in that the effects of the Great Depression are being felt but not so far as to make World War II be right around the corner.
I've limited experience with pulp gaming in the 1930's - my group did a few one-shots using the Thrilling Adventures minigame from Dungeon/Polyhedron magazine in the early 2000's. My recollection is it was a lot of fun, with some larger than life battles with evil Nazis.
I think part of the reason I've shied away from the 1930's is that giant border that is September 1, 1939, marking the outbreak of World War II (though those living in China might prefer a much earlier date). One could perhaps stretch the era to December of 1941, as the USA was supposedly a neutral power up until that point, but for all intents and purposes it was an ally of the UK.
Does pulp have to end with World War II? Probably not - after all, larger than life adventures can take place in any era. For example, I could see using the rules in Pulp Cthulhu to run a modern-day game in the style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I actually like the image of Buffy for a Pulp Cthulhu sort of game, with heroes who are extraordinarily gifted but face foes beyond their abilities, forcing them to be smart. At the end of the day, I still want the game to feel like Call of Cthulhu - yes, our heroes are quite a bit tougher, but Cthulhu can still kick all their asses.
What makes for good inspiration? I'm not planning on doing a ton of homework, given I have real homework in my grad school classes. But I might review some of the books and films I've made use of in the past, primarily for my own entertainment. Off the top of my head, some of the resources I really enjoy that shape my views of the genre and era include:
- The Indiana Jones movies.
- King Kong - especially the original version. While the Peter Jackson version was massively bloated, it did result in an awesome reference book called The World of Kong : A Natural History of Skull Island. I could easily see an expedition from the Miskatonic University ending up at a place like that.
- It's Superman by Tom De Haven - a retelling of the origin of Superman, restoring him to his native Great Depression-era origins. His power level is definitely over the top for a pulp game, but it's a nice take on the era and his version of Lex Luthor would make for a worthy pulp villain.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon - a tale of the creators of superheroes, going from the 1930's to the 1950's.
- Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy - exactly what it says on the tin, a great overview of the era from the American perspective.
- The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s by Piers Brendon - another good overview of the era, this time with a more international perspective, showing us the world falling apart.
- All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren - a novel of southern politics in the 1920's and 30's.
- Third Reich Trilogy by Richard Evans - three books which show the Nazis rising up, being in power, and taking Germany to war.
- Memories of my grandfather. Though he died shortly before the turn of the century, my grandfather was a lifelong New Yorker who lived through this era. Through his tales, often told in snippets or anecdotes, the New York City of decades past was a real place inhabited by real people.
Oddly, as far as the pulps themselves are concerned, I enjoy the occasional reading of them but I'm far from an expert on them. I really wish the Doc Savage and Shadow stories from the era were available in a legal electronic form.
Image from Pulp Cthulhu p. 89