Posted on August 1, 2008 by Flames
Only the brave men and women of The Century Club stand between villainy and humanity, and they’re not going down without a fight.
‘‘Spirit of the Century: A Pulp Pickup Roleplaying Game’’ by Evil Hat Productions is a fast-paced, character-driven RPG that seeks to capture the feel of the old, over-the-top dime-store novels where the pulp genre first flourished.
Characters can range from machine-gun wielding dilettantes to two-fisted mystery men to brilliant (or mad) scientists or spiritual seekers of truth. The pulp genre encompasses characters like The Shadow, The Phantom, Doc Savage, Indiana Jones and stories like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Journey to the Center of the Earth.
SotC is very character and narrative focused. In fact, character creation is as much a part of the experience as the game itself. Players build their characters while detailing their histories, including their childhood, what they did during World War II and the character’s first novel. This also allows players to tie their characters together as each takes a turn guest starring in other characters’ novels.
Characters are defined using Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Fate Points. Most characters have about 10 Aspects, which can be words or phrases used to describe something about the character’s personality, their abilities or events surrounding them. Aspects can be both good and bad, and half the fun is finding new ways to apply an aspect to a situation. For example, the Aspect ‘‘Self Destructive’’ could be used to compel a character to do something foolish, but it also could be used by a player to gain a bonus when attempting a foolhardy manuever.
Aspects can be used to gain a bonus in a scene or to get another roll of the dice, which often can mean the difference between success and failure. Aspects also can be ‘‘compelled’’ by other characters, players or the game master (the person running the game), and scenes and places can have Aspects, such as ‘‘Dark’’ or ‘‘On Fire,’’ that can be tapped by players for an in-game effect.
Stunts are a lot like Aspects, but are usually based off a character’s skills and are very powerful in a specific situation. For example, a character that has a high Pilot skill might choose the stunt ‘‘Barnstormer,’’ which allows them to fly their plane through an area that might otherwise be considered too narrow or to complete a maneuver beyond the plane’s normal capabilities.
The ‘‘fuel’’ of the game is Fate. Fate points are used to power Aspects and Stunts, and are represented by small coins or tokens. Players can earn Fate points by doing things that are in line with their Aspects, or when a game master wants to force a character to do something. Again, going with the ‘‘Self Destructive’’ Aspect example, a game master might offer a player a Fate point to do something that puts their character in harm’s way. If the player refuses, he or she would pay a Fate point to ignore the Aspect for that scene.
SotC excels at what it sets out to do: to capture the fun and feel of the pulp genre. The game is quick to learn and can be played on the fly, but is deep enough that you can find new and different things to try each time you sit down to play. The Aspects are open to a lot of interpretation, and it is incredibly fun to figure out new ways to apply an Aspect, sometimes taking something that might appear on the surface to be a weakness and using it instead as a strength.
The authors spend a lot of time giving guidance on how to capture the feel of the pulp genre and how to get the most out of the game. There are tons of helpful tips and tricks throughout the book. One of my favorites is ‘‘Send in the ninjas,’’ where the authors suggest, if things get too slow or players are too hesitant in a scene, to throw another group of bad guys into the mix. Though in some games that might seem silly or might actually bog things down, in pulp it fits perfectly and works brilliantly.
SotC is very quickly becoming one of my favorite roleplaying games, and I cannot recommend it enough to both seasoned and casual players. It also is an excellent introduction to roleplaying because it is fairly rules-light, gives a lot of freedom to both players and game masters and includes excellent advice for running both one-shot games and longer campaigns.
Review by Michael Erb
Staff Writer – The Parkersburg News and Sentinel – www.newsandsentinel.com
Look for more Evil Hat Productions RPGs at the Flames Rising RPGNow Shop.