Thrilling Tales is a line of pulp role playing adventures and supplements by Adamant Entertainment. Although originally published as a series of pdf’s for D20 Modern, Adamant has compiled the material, converted it for use with the Savage Worlds system, and released it as a print product, and it is this version which shall be reviewed here. The Savage World’s system is well known for it’s pulpy, high action feel, and it seems a perfect fit for the larger than life adventures of characters such as Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Spider, and The Shadow.
The physical book itself is immediately notable for two things; it’s size, a rather small digest-like book, and it’s cover. Adamant wisely choose to license the artwork from the original “Justice Inc.” game, Hero Game’s pulp rpg from the eighties. It’s truly a dynamic piece of art, and you really can’t do much better for a pulp game. As soon as I saw that piece of art on the cover, I had to order it!
The 256 page book begins with a brief snippet of fiction detailing an adventure of the Green Falcon, a masked man of mystery, as he confronts the villainous Dr. Sin. Although I usually don’t like fiction in my rpg’s, the passage is brief and well done, and definitely helps set the mood of the genre. This is followed by a short introduction, which details the history of the pulps, and the many types of stories one could find within their pages. Crime Fighting, Lost Worlds, Air Hero, Jungle Stories and more are each given a paragraph to give a hint of the variety and excitement pulp stories have to offer. The next chapter is a time line of the 1930’s, which lists some of the big historical events that occurred between 1930 and 1939. This section is brief, but definitely includes enough highlights for GM’s to add some historical flavor to their games. I do wish the time line covered parts of the 20’s and 40’s as well, since I feel those eras could also fit well in a pulp game.
Next we get a chapter on making pulp style characters for Savage Worlds, and it is here that the book really begins to shine. Quite a few pulp archetypes are described, along with suggestions on how to build them using Savage Worlds Skills, Edges and Hindrances. Each archetype also gets a half page or so of fiction, and most are also illustrated using great period art from pulp magazines. This section is extremely complete, and includes such classic pulp characters as The Ace Reporter, The Fortune Hunter, The Noble Savage, The Femme Fatale, The Rocket Range, and many others. Of course, players are free to build any sort of character they please, but these archetypes go a long way to showing what types of characters were popular in pulp stories. Of course, Doc Savage and The Shadow were no rookie adventures. They began their sagas as supremely competent heroes, and characters in Thrilling Tales also start out more experienced than normal Savage World characters. In most cases, Thrilling Tales heroes begin at the rank of Seasoned, and have 6 advances to raise their abilities, skills, and buy edges with. The Character section finishes off with a selection of new hindrances and edges, including Savage (for jungle lords such as Tarzan), and Trademark Vehicle (so the Flying Ace can get his plane!) All the new character material feels fun, balanced, and appropriate.
The next chapter details pulp era weapons and vehicles. The real treat here is that each item is illustrated with a vintage lack and white photograph. It really makes the period come alive, and I think this section will be an aid to both GM and players alike, and help them to visualize the time period. The weapon selection is decent, and includes the necessary Lugers and Mausers for your evil Nazi officers to wield. The vehicles cover a wide range of transportation needs, from British roadsters to mighty zeppelins. It should be noted that only real world gear is covered in this section. If you want ray guns and mole machines, you’ll have to build them using the Weird Science rules from the Savage World’s core book.
Next comes a short section with some special pulp style rules, including the interesting fact that in a pulp setting, heroes and major villains do not “die.” You may be seriously hurt, or knocked unconscious, but you won’t be permanently out of action. A new incapacitation table is included, to represent the short term effects of damage in this setting. Some guidelines for using bennies to make minor story declarations, and rules for henchmen and mooks are also included here.
The game includes a fairly large section on villains, which details four complete master villains (two of which seem rather similar, but the others are a nice mix.) Three villainous groups are also presented, including the ever present Nazis, the Thugee death cult, and the perils of the orient (for Fu Manchu type masterminds.) Each of these sections includes tons of detail and history, and should give GM’s plenty of ideas for adventures.
The book comes to an end with a five chapter serial adventure, “The Crimson Emperor.” This is a nice adventure that I definitely think would be fun to run, but it would be tricky to work in certain characters, as it really seems geared to detective, crime fighter types. Still, it has enough plot twists, evil villains, and weird science gadgets to fill multiple evenings with pulp adventure! I particularly like the pulp cover art that opens each section.
Also worthy of note is a series of random adventure generation tables, to generate pulpy scenarios. These are based on the writing formula used by master pulp author Lester Dent (creator of Doc Savage) and they are a blast to use! The crazy, anything goes nature of pulp stories really allows you to generate some fun, over the top action scenarios. Roll a few dice, stat out your NPC’s, and assign a suitably melodramatic name to the adventure, and your work is halfway done!
Pulp has always been popular with gamers, and “Thrilling Tales” for Savage Worlds is a great way to get your fix. I really can’t recommend it enough if you have any interest in this style of gaming. Everything about the book, from the digest size to the classic pulp art, to the period black and white photos just immerses you in the setting and time period. There were a few areas that I wish were covered in more detail, such as a bestiary and weird gadgets, but there is still a ton of information here, and GM’s should have no problem running a pulp game using just this, and the Savage Worlds Explorer’s edition core.