Smoke, Mirrors & Faerie Dust #4

Copyright ©1998 By Joseph Teller

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Surface Mail: 266 Western Ave Cambridge Mass 02139

Personal Notes:

We're dealing with a sudden boom of membership in our local gaming group, which has exploded from about five regular and one irregular member to potentially nine regulars and two irregulars (the dust hasn't cleared yet). The advantage of this is that it means I have the potential of actually playing a bit more often, and possibly getting one or two of the new players who are also GMs to actually run the type of games I like using my mechanics. Up until now my alternatives in the group has been a TFOS (Teenagers From Outer Space) Joke Game and a Pendragon Game (which just isn't my cup of tea, since we're pretty much stuck with Knights vs Magic Using Enemies and Hordes of Nasties, instead of the court intrigues I was hoping for and designed my character to deal with). If the group stays this big we may have to split it in two, as our living room has trouble if everyone actually makes a game together, and most GMs have trouble with groups larger than 6 players.

This has caused one problem I've yet to get a grasp on as a GM over time, how to handle schedules and the regular absences of players. Too many of my players are missing about half the sessions (only myself and Kiralee have actually managed to make every session in the past 3 months). It plays havoc with plotting....

The Great Pulp Heroes : A Mini-Review

I came across this as part of my ongoing research for a Pulp style world setting for Shadow Bindings, and would like to share with folks my opinion of this book. The Great Pulp Heroes is by Don Hutchison, and published by Mosaic Press (ISBN 0-88962-585-9). I got my copy from Amazon Books, which has been expanding the number of small press offerings it carries in recent months (a trend I hope continues as some of the best material that's published is made by small press sources).

All but three of the fourteen chapters are devoted to specific characters of the pulp period, starting out with the well known ones, such as The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider and slipping on to the lesser known heroes like the Black Bat and the Green Ghost. It aims specifically at the action/adventure titles, and ignores the pure detective titles and most of the science fiction pulps (except Captain Future) and spends as much time looking in depth at the writers who created the pulp hero phenomena as it does the characters themselves.

The author obviously knows the stories and the history of the period and adds much to the book by his personal insight and encounters with the pulps (and the occasional memories from conversations with some of the authors of the series books), showing both the good and bad side of the 'golden treadmill' that many of the pulps became for their writers. It pushes aside the stereotype of the starving pulp writer in the depression and shows the truth, but also shows why so many of the successful pulp writers resented the success that they found in the field (Very few actually were able to publish under their own real names).

The descriptions of the characters, their adventures and the style of the authors leaps up from the page as you read the book, and its hard to stop in any of the chapters in the middle because of the wonderful way each chapter flows from the page. There is also plenty of Black and White artwork from the pulps and some inspired by the pulps to add to the experience as you read.

This is one of three books I picked up for my research, and has proved the most valuable in understanding the genre and the history behind it, and I heartily recommend it to anyone interested in finding out more about the Pulps and the people that wrote for them.

Discussion Request:

I'm busy wrestling with a general problem in my newly expanded gaming group that goes a bit beyond the schedule problems I mentioned in my personal section that I hope folks here might have some feedback on. How do you deal with players who can't seem to play serious characters? I have two players who constantly break up the mood of my game setting by making silly remarks or bad jokes during the sessions and disrupting the mood horribly all the way thru. I'm running my Night Watch 1950s Horror/Fantasy Setting which is intended to have a high level of horror and paranoia overhanging the situations, and although they haven't directly interfered with the plots, the mood has often gone from where I expect it to be to campy and at times silly because of these two players. I think its also helping to increase the amount of player schedule drift that we are having - as the other players are not seeing the game as 'serious' and thus aren't worried about missing a session. I'm currently considering some life-and-death situations to try to swing the mood back, or allowing harm to come to a PC when a player just doesn't bother to show up (not the same as having them contact me ahead of time that they won't make a session because of other life commitments interfere - that's perfectly acceptable to me, but to not bother showing with no real explanation is annoying). Any ideas would be appreciated.

I have considered changing campaigns for a bit and let them work the silliness out in a silly setting, but so far that hasn't helped when we took a break and ran a silly (TFOS) game for a few weeks. I'd prefer not to bounce the players (I'd feel rather obnoxious to have to bounce someone for having fun) but I do find this a rather new problem (I've had an occasional silly player, but usually they don't disrupt everything, but instead pick up on the mood of the rest of the group and keep it to the sidelines. This pair seem to feed off each others silliness, playing a warped version of 'can you top this').

Comments on #278:

(If I fail to write a comment, please don't feel that your zine was not read and enjoyed, its just that I didn't have anything specific to add that I thought would be of value to the readers).

Lee Gold: Kiralee, Cindy & I will be attending Arisia this year as well, and Rich Staats has emailed me that he will also be going. Its back in the City this year and accessible to those of us who depend on public transportation.//Sidenote about a previous discussion on Shield Walls: I recently was quite frustrated when I discovered that in a session of Pendragon we were playing in (the Arthurian RPG from Chaosium) evidently has no rules for applying a Shield wall or other true military tactics - very annoying when running a character who has very few personal combat skills but has a fairly high skill in combat tactics and intrigue when they get their chance to actually use their battle tactics and the GM finds nothing on the subject or how to apply it and decides all they can do is totally ignore a critical success tactics roll to organize a shield wall and its affects on the combat. (All the combatants were on foot in the situation).

S. Isaac Dealey: I finally got a copy of Paradigm off of your website and will be going thru it, but its certainly a major change from the previous version. I have concept problems off the top with a system without attributes, but I'll withhold judgement until I have a look at how you managed to achieve this and remain effective.

Spike Y. Jones: It took a while to give up on IR, and our frustration with the events there (and a number of other deadlines) delayed my return to A&E (I was an A&E reader back during the 80s but took a very long hiatus because I was moving around too often for some years there - now we own a nice stable condo and should be here for years to come as we have a 30 year mortgage to pay off). All attempts to communicate with Peter Maranci in the past year have failed, and when last we spoke with him he had no intention of passing on the mantle of the publication to someone else (actually Mark Swanson didn't pass it on to Peter when The Wild Hunt ceased publishing). We discussed the possibility on the IR mailing list of starting a new APA and came to the conclusion that there wasn't enough interest - several folks had dropped out in the silence, one had gone to work for Steve Jackson Games, Several others were overwhelmed with work schedules and our household just didn't want the responsibility (we were producing about 20% of the content in the last few issues, and handling much of the advertising efforts).