In the Spirit of Party Building

So, the other night I was watching the Mummy and the Mummy Returns. I was expressing to Jennifer how much I would love to play a game of pulp heroic action. I’ve never really been in a good, long-running pulp game. Many years ago a friend of mine ran a short-lived Masterbook game using the Indiana Jones setting and I got to spend a little time as a pulp mystery man. It was immense fun, but it didn’t last very long. I realized as I thought about it that I didn’t really know what system I’d use for this sort of game. I had toyed with using Hero System or GURPS at one point when I thought about this years ago… after all, GURPS had even created a sourcebook for this style of play.

Looking at the systems I’d consider using now, I looked into several, including White Wolf’s Adventure and even considered using Warhammer Fantasy 2E’s core system and just rewriting some careers. I also remembered someone telling me a about a game called Spirit of the Century. So, I read a little bit about and I then went out and got myself a copy. I realized two things very quickly. The first is that I really, really don’t like the system. I knew this already because John Wick used a system based on SotC in Houses of the Blooded. I don’t like the Aspect system, with its tags and compels one bit. That said, the second thing I found was much more exciting.

In the past, I’ve written about the struggle of making characters in games be connected right from character creation. Spirit of the Century has the coolest way to do this ever. I’m serious. Without going into too much detail, the way it makes connections between characters is by having each player go through several phases of building their aspects and traits. After each player goes through two phases describing their childhood and what they were doing during the Great War, they write about their adventures.

Each player has to write a Novel title for their character and a short blurb about what happened in that pulp novel. Then the players work together to guest star in each other’s adventures. This is amazing. Not only does every PC start with a really fun set of background adventures, but they have built-in connections which are not only narrative, but mechanically meaningful.

My first thought when reading this was how to adapt it superhero games. Each character could have their own “solo series” and could write up a signature adventure from their character’s past, even an origin story, and then the other superheroes could guest star. After all, team-up books are always so much fun. And then you could build the superhero team from there. The Justice League is a team, but most of the main members have their own solo books as well.

Even more exciting, Jennifer and I have been brainstorming ways to turn this into a workable method to use with D&D parties. I don’t know exactly how it would work yet, but we’ve had some ideas. I’ll try to write about those in the next few days.

Thanks for reading.


13 responses

  1. I think that’s an amazing idea. And not only because I like pulp either. It makes the players thing of what their characters have done and are good at and it makes the other players relate to each other. Brilliant!

    1. I agree, I love pulp too. I was thinking about superheroes more – and instead of the Great War portion of the phases, you could cover the hero’s origin story, and then the guest stars could start with the solo series… and it makes me want to play superheroes…

  2. It’s nice because role-play heavy players will have fun with it, but it also give the non-role-play heavy players an incentive to go a little bit farther than they usually do. It also gives the GM have a pool of game ideas (characters, places) that his players helped created.

    The important point would be making sure the mechanical perks are not too powerful that they unbalance the game – but still be ‘neat’ enough that they are worth it for the players.

  3. For a pulp style game, have you looked into d20 Modern? Or maybe even a low-powered Mutants and Masterminds (Super Hero) game? I’ve ran a similar style game using both systems, and I have to say that both worked rather well. I found that in the d20 Modern, there were more skill options for the players, but it felt like the advancement was “forced”.

    In terms of M&M, the skills were limited more, but I determined how and when they advanced in the game (if at all – M&M uses a Power Level system). We did agree that for the Pulp game, M&M worked a lot better, but this might not be the same for your group. Just throwing out some suggestions to you.

    I’ve played HERO….ugh….took like four hours to make one character. And then, after I made him, I didn’t feel like making any more after that. But your idea sounds very interesting and I hope you get the chance to run it!

  4. @Jennybeth

    Yeah, I like the idea of doing one-off cards similar to those awarded in RPGA play. This could be an easy way of creating simple incentives for 4E D&D characters.


    Thanks for reading, and the suggestions. D20 Modern is a decent system, but I agree that a class/level system may not be the best for pulp play.

    Low power M&M may work well, especially if you want a decent amount of possible supernatural elements, cultists and such. About the only thing I don’t like with M&M is that it doesn’t handle mundane equipment very well… otherwise, I think M&M could be good… I hadn’t considered it, thanks.

    I like HERO (and I used to like GURPS even more) but character creation can be intimidating for even experienced gamers.

  5. I’m a little late to comment on this post, but I think that that idea could be fairly simple to apply to any game you want. Even a minis game like Battletech could use this “novel” idea (ha ha ha punacious)


    Battletech might be awesome for that. A really pulpy, eighties “futuristic” game. I mean, yeah, it’s a little more complicated because you have giant robots, but you don’t even really have to use the battletech world. You could be like Voltron or Zoids (it’s a good show, RG, don’t be such a meanface) or even power rangers and just use the system, or you could be in the Battletech universe and still have over the top characters. Han Solo could be a GREAT pilot in Battletech. Cheesy lines and such abound!

    Or am I completely off base here?

  6. I also like how I always get a pretty green square *wagwagwag*

  7. The only real problem with Battletech (that I see) as being a “pulp” style game is that the focus is more on giant murder robots and heavy, heavy politics-of-war. Pulp is an almost consequence-free genre and has a very optimistic outlook. I love Battletech, but it is not these things…

    The interesting thing about the universe of Battletech fiction really is that when it’s good — it’s character-driven, when it’s bad — it’s plot-driven. Pulp actually tends to be at it’s best when it’s plot-driven, but with exciting, memorable characters.

    I wonder if that is a difficulty in running pulp-style games?

    As far as the idea of benefits for story and the way SotC sets up that dynamic, I think it could be applied to any game… that’s the genius of it, right?

  8. “I like HERO (and I used to like GURPS even more) but character creation can be intimidating for even experienced gamers.”

    Just out of curiosity, is this because you no longer like GURPS as much, or because your appreciation for HERO has grown? And why?

  9. Sorry,

    I was not very clear. What I meant was that I used to like those types of universal systems that tried to do every genre. I don’t have the patience or love for these systems I used to. I haven’t looked at HERO since, probably two editions ago. I haven’t played GURPS since about 2000.

    So, it’s not a love of one or the other, it’s mostly that I don’t want that kind of exhaustive, one-system-does-it-all anymore.

  10. I dunno, I think they definitely have their place. I’m bout to use GURPS for a pbem (assuming I get it off the ground) because I’m familiar enough with it and I know I can get it to do what I want.

  11. […] I tried out Spirit of the Century a little while back. It’s not my thing, but it has that nifty party building mechanic that is so awesome. I love it when a party comes […]

  12. cauldronofevil | Reply

    You found something worthwhile in Spirit of the Century? Ugh! 😉

    I love superhero RPGs. The best way I’ve seen to get a party together from the beginning is “Crisis at Crusader Citadel”. Basically the beginning heroes are ‘auditioning’ for the Justice League, but find out that the Justice League has been kidnapped and you must rescue them. The great thing about this is that even if the heroes fail miserably, they’ve been through the fire together and they now have people ‘keeping an eye on them’ whether they succeed or fail.

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