Monday, April 2, 2012

Pulp Cthulhu Inspirations

Pulp Cthulhu: Reckless Adventures in the 1930's jumps into the decade of pulp adventure! Enter a time when the world changes. Economic despair brings a nation low, while an eldritch shift in the fabric of reality unleashes dark horrors, and tempts heroes. Join in as secret societies and occult leagues battle against horrific creatures in a timeless struggle for existence.

Pulp Cthulhu expands upon the [Call of Cthulhu] setting and rules system, allowing for fast-paced, cinematic game play. It provides rules for insane scientists, reanimators, mentalists, gadgeteers, professor-sorcerers, supernatural detectives and much more...
--From Chaosium's Pulp Cthulhu blurb

Chaosium has been talking about Pulp Cthulhu for nearly 10 years - I remember hearing about it back when Cthulhu d20 was released, and I seem to recall an early version was even supposed to be a dual-stat product (BRP and d20).  That's a long time ago.

As I'm working through the background for our upcoming Trail of Cthulhu campaign, I realize the game is already going to be heavy on the pulp side of things - the characters will be a bit more stalwart than the nervous, sensitive types in Lovecraft's bleaker stories; the struggles will be a bit more real-world and physical than philosophical and dread-inspiring cosmic nihilism.

Note:  Ultimately I would like to run a campaign that features Lovecraft's bleaker themes, but I think it's something we'd either build up to, or run some one-shots in the Purist mode first - Trail has quite a few excellent Purist one-shots I'll be reviewing in the near future.  But a pulp campaign is a safe start for D&D gamers on their first foray into Cthulhu gaming.

I recently re-read Stunning Eldritch Tales, and it struck me how much two-fisted pulp action is already in some of the Trail of Cthulhu books - you've got sinister Nazi and Japanese agents, vicious Chinese triads and gangsters, jaunts to deserted islands, and weird science.  There's even a masked crime fighter like the Shadow, or the Green Hornet, in one of the investigations.

I'm working through the Dramatis Personae for the campaign, and we've  got plans to make player characters in a couple of weeks.

I've been thinking about pulling out my Mignola Lobster Johnson stories for some extra inspiration.  So here's the question for the readers - what's your favorite bit of pulp inspiration?  It could be a film, a comic, or even a gaming supplement or book.  Thanks!


  1. The key source for me is the Indiana Jones trilogy. They may not be the best examples of pulp storytelling, but they're a good, immediate starting point to capture the feel of the genre.

  2. Lobster Johnson is spot-on for this. The Lobster himself strikes a perfect mix of pulp avenger/ultraviolent creep. The current story "The Burning Hand" features a great Weird Detective story with supernatural antagonists. Less overt than the previous stories, and thereby more unsettling.

    Sandman Mystery Theater is my other go-to pulp comic resource for this sort of thing. The original Batman stories are also genuinely bizarre by today's standards.

  3. Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone stories are good. Though it's set in the modern day, the early issues at least of John Constantine: Hellblazer do some nice occult detective stuff.

    Of course, some of REH's modern stories have two-fisted confrontations with weird menaces.

  4. _Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life_ by Philip Jose Farmer.

  5. Lately I've been becoming a big fan of the Atomic Robo comics put out by Red 5 Comics. Even though the timeline jumps around a lot, it spends quite a bit of time in the 30s and 40s - and there's even a Lovecraftian storyline (Volume 3: The Shadow From Beyond Time). And even when it's not the "correct" pulp period, it's still pretty pulpy straight through.

  6. I often aim for purist but it ends up going a bit pulpy. Pulp's fun and can make for a good brake pad or breathing spot between the more psychologically intense purist games.