MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

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Keeper Dan
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MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Keeper Dan » Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:39 pm

This week’s show dredges up an old debate in the Call of Cthulhu community – between the "pulp" and "purist" styles of play. We also preview another proposed 7th Edition rule; changes in the Luck stat and how it might be used in the game. Then, we’ll visit the Special Collections vault and crack open a copy of the Theosophist bestseller – The Book of Dzyan.

The plugin that gives the download link seems to have stopped working, so here is a direct link to the file.

Campus Crier

Voting for the Celia’s Celia giveaway is closed, and we’re announcing Mythos Babies as a clear winner! Congratulations, Ian MacLean (Nvision on the forum) for your incredibly awesome and pro-quality entry. This is truly an unforgettable image.

Note: the hosts did not know the winner of the contest at recording time, as it was before the last day of voting.

Thanks very much to the runners-up who submitted “Welcome to Leng” and “Cthulhu Family.” Both of those entries were very much in the spirit of the contest and both suggest a pretty sinister backstory.

We mention the MU Radio station, where you can stream a constant shuffle of our content or pick out individual elements.

Another push for help with our CrowdTilt fundraiser for server costs and better sound equipment.

And a big thank you to Hugh for his generous donation! Thanks also to Andy Y from the AIE and AIE Podcast for his contribution.

We also thank our new sponsor, Audible.com, which will help lots with the aforementioned costs. There’s plenty of great Lovecraftian and horror content on there for us to recommend, so it seems like a great fit. If you sign up, you get a free book out of the deal and we get a kickback that we will use to boost show quality. Go buy all of the things.

We answer an email from Tyler asking whether BRP could be used to bring the worlds of the Dresden Files and Call of Cthulhu. A resounding “yes!” and tips for how to make it work.

We hear a voice mail message from Doctor Domino, who provides some insight into the identity of The Whisperer in the Darkness. Thanks for the feedback!

Seventh Edition Segment

As we continue our survey of new 7E rules, in this week's installment we discuss how Luck is derived and spent. We don’t want to publish anything concrete in print about any of these rules, so you'll just have to listen to the show!

Our Miskatonic University History Lecture Series this week is a field trip to “Brazil’s Alien City.”

Side Topic: Special Collections

Then, down in the moldering basement of the Orne Library's Special Collections, we find a copy of the Book of Dzyan, a text that Theosophical movement founder Helana Blavatsky claimed she’d read in Tibet.

Lovecraft mentioned this book in only two of his stories, The Haunter of the Dark and a collaboration with William Lumley called The Diary of Alonso Typer.

We mention many possible tie-ins, including Venus, Atlantis, The Continent of Mu, Lemuria, Leng and the Dreamlands.

Keeper Murf mentions that Theosophy figures prominently in the beginning of Masks of Nyarlathotep, which concerns the Eye of Amara Society that has connections to the movement.

And we play an excerpt from the first episode of a new interview series, “Inside the Cultist Circle.”

Keeper Dan invokes Hot Fuzz, a British horror-comedy that explores some cult-related paranoia.

Main Topic: Pulp vs. Purist

For the main topic this week, we chat about the differences between what has come to be known as the pulp and purist flavors of Lovecraftian gaming.

We would also love to hear your ideas for topics for us to talk about. Send us a note directly, or go to the Campus forum with your ideas!

Here is the discussion thread on the Campus forum, and this is the discussion thread for this podcast posted on the Yog-Sothoth forums.
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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Keeper Jon » Mon Nov 26, 2012 5:26 pm

Great show! Wish I could've been there!

And the out-takes at the end are hilarious!!! :cthulhudance:

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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Eibon » Tue Nov 27, 2012 10:49 am

Keeper Dan wrote:Side Topic: Special Collections

Then, down in the moldering basement of the Orne Library's Special Collections, we find a copy of the Book of Dzyan, a text that Theosophical movement founder Helana Blavatsky claimed she’d read in Tibet.

Lovecraft mentioned this book in only two of his stories, The Haunter of the Dark and a collaboration with William Lumley called The Diary of Alonso Typer.

We mention many possible tie-ins, including Venus, Atlantis, The Continent of Mu, Lemuria, Leng and the Dreamlands.

Keeper Murf mentions that Theosophy figures prominently in the beginning of Masks of Nyarlathotep, which concerns the Eye of Amara Society that has connections to the movement.
I believe Lovecraft was familiar with Theosophy before he met Lumley (he mentions the cult in "The Call of Cthulhu"), but it was Lumley and E. Hoffmann Price who pushed the details at him around 1935. Bob Price did an article which as all the info in it, which you might find useful is you want to pursue this:
http://crypt-of-cthulhu.com/lovecrafttheosophy.htm

The Eye of Amara Society is mentioned in Masks and there's a local branch (I assume its related) detailed in Arkham Unvieled.

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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:07 pm

Eibon wrote:I believe Lovecraft was familiar with Theosophy before he met Lumley (he mentions the cult in "The Call of Cthulhu"), but it was Lumley and E. Hoffmann Price who pushed the details at him around 1935. Bob Price did an article which as all the info in it, which you might find useful is you want to pursue this:
http://crypt-of-cthulhu.com/lovecrafttheosophy.htm

The Eye of Amara Society is mentioned in Masks and there's a local branch (I assume its related) detailed in Arkham Unvieled.
Excellent additional scholarship, Eibon. Love the Price article! This is roughly what I was trying to get at as far as HPL's passing awareness of Theosophy in his early work, but the article really tells the whole story. I got it only sort of right, which means I got it mostly wrong. Man, there's so much in this article to draw game and plot inspiration from.

I also regret failing to mention the apparent Clark Ashton Smith reference in the Keepers Handbook that ties the book of Dzyan to informants from Venus, who we learn in "A Voyage to Sfanomoë" might have originated from Atlantis.

I've never run or played in Masks (sob), so was without any footing when Murf mentioned the Theosophy connection in the show. Good call on the references in "Call of Cthulhu," which are clearly fictionalized but informed...
Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. -HPL, "Call of Cthulhu"
and this...
A dispatch from California describes a theosophist colony as donning white robes en masse for some "glorious fulfiment" which never arrives, whilst items from India speak guardedly of serious native unrest toward the end of March 22-23. -HPL, "Call of Cthulhu"
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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Nvision » Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:09 pm

Excellent show, guys! I particularly enjoyed your discussion of the Pulp vs. Purist direction and how various elements reinforce those atmospheres. When I began to run the game I had all intention of running it in hardcore purist style. My players were open to anything, most of them new to roleplaying in general, so I was all set for a series of dark, bleak scenarios. However, mainly through a series of ludicrously polar die rolls (consistent epic failures for antagonists, impales all 'round for investigators) it quickly became much more pulpy in nature. Now we have a fairly mixed game, with moments of both pulp and purist flavour intermingled as the pacing requires it. At time it even borders on camp, especially since the addition of faux spiritualist-cum-con artist, "Kubla Tigré." (That needs to be in bold type, in reference to his manner of introducing himself to every NPC with a flourish and a proffered hand)

I'd love to hear how others run their games and if there's any mixing of styles. If you play a straight-up game, one way or the other, how to you keep that feel?

Finally, please keep the edited-out highlights at the end of you podcasts! They're great listening and also give a glimpse of how much more work goes into each episode outside of what makes the final show.

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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Keeper Dan » Thu Nov 29, 2012 10:45 pm

Thanks!
To be honest, I haven't listened to the finished edit. I left the editing to Murph and Chad for this one.

I've found that most games end up being a mix of styles. I like to run games as if they were TV shows. Some episodes (sessions) are serious and dire, while others are humorous and all adventure. I try to take a Whedonesque approach to my stories, which is geared to this kind of mix and a fairly large cast. While my games to tend to have more pulp episodes than purist, I'd think it would get to be old hat if everything were only one style. Moderation is a good thing, even if you have a preferred direction.
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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by WiseWolf » Fri Nov 30, 2012 7:55 pm

I agree with Dan completely. A pure "Purist" or "Pulpy" game sometimes is not as exciting as one with a bit of both worlds.

BTW, I heard the podcast you recommended, Dan, Ken and Robin talk about Stuff, great recommendation, and they address the theosophical topic on #6 I think. Very interesting stuff.

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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Scriven » Fri Nov 30, 2012 8:20 pm

I think all three of you arrived at some very good working guidelines for measuring one's position on the purist-to-pulp continuum -- and I do think it's a continuum, as opposed to mutually exclusive styles of play. I've become less concerned about labeling my games one or the other. I suspect that I fall more on the pulp end of things than the purist, though perhaps for slightly different reasons than some of those discussed here. I certainly agree that mood is the better barometer, not necessarily the amount of Mythos injected into the story. However, as as Indiana Jones came up several times during the discussion of pulp qualities, I'll throw my own two cents.

I've always been a big, big Raiders of the Lost Ark fan, and for a long time I'd tried to figure out what it was about that movie's narrative structure that really drew me in -- beyond the obvious thrill-a-minute aspect, that is. It finally occurred to me that, despite the fact that the story is over-the-top in its thrills and chills, it doles out its element of the fantastic and supernatural in very, very minute doses. And until we actually see evidence of the otherworldly power of the Ark well into the film, we have every reason to agree with Indy that he's simply after an artifact of incredible historical significance, not an actual God-powered (potential) superweapon. The truth, when it comes, is cataclysmic and mind-blowing, even though it's been alluded to throughout the film. This is where Raiders succeeds and its sequels -- particularly Temple of Doom and (dare I say it?) Crystal Skull largely fail. The supernatural/fantastic elements of the story keep getting pushed into the foreground so that by the time the big reveal needs to happen, the audience greets it with a justifiable "meh."

This has informed my own philosophy of scenario design from D&D to CoC -- my feeling is, the more you hit your players over the head with the fantastic/supernatural elements of the story, the less impressed they're going to be when the gloves finally come off and they get a good look at the powers they're bumping up against. That's not to say that a Keeper can't pepper his or her scenarios with the fantastic or horrific throughout, but I do believe that overseasoning can dull the palate. It just so happens that I tend to rely on pulpish tropes to give momentum to longer, sustained adventures so I don't have to continually bludgeon players with the fantastic/horrific in order to keep the game going. To go back to Raiders for a moment, that story really shows how you can combine the best elements of pulp and purist -- lots of action, suspense and intrigue to carry the bulk of the story, subtle hints of something fantastic and otherworldly in the wings, and then a rapidly-accelerating supernatural climax that culminates in a "Holy Shit!" moment. You can't have that kind of narrative progression/pacing all the time, and sometimes your players are going to want something a little less subtle in terms of Mythos/supernatural content, but for me I think it works more often than not.

Sorry for the rambling, incoherent soapboxing.

Great episode, gentlemen. Keep 'em coming.
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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Dr. Gerard » Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:18 pm

mjmedwick wrote:My feeling is, the more you hit your players over the head with the fantastic/supernatural elements of the story, the less impressed they're going to be when the gloves finally come off and they get a good look at the powers they're bumping up against. That's not to say that a Keeper can't pepper his or her scenarios with the fantastic or horrific throughout, but I do believe that overseasoning can dull the palate.
Totally agree. I'm fine with playing games that are heavy on Mythos, but I prefer to have supernatural elements dribble out slowly, and even then mostly in the evidence stream rather than in direct confrontation.

Seeing a whole disgorged cow in the woods makes you wonder what sort of horror could swallow a cow. A crop circle excites the imagination (well, several decades ago it might have anyway) because you have to wonder how and why it was done. I think in scenario design that one should focus more on making better footprints than in making better...um...Bigfoots. (Bigfeets?)

I've been thinking more about various spectra in horror taste. There are so many dials to adjust. We talked about Lethality, you've brought up Use of Mythos...there's Use of Gore, there's Chance vs. Narrative approaches, there's Magic vs. Science, there's Subterranean vs. Cosmic, there's Verisimilitude in Combat, Social Verisimilitude, PC Fragility, Clue Generosity, Moral Contrast (grays vs. black/white)...so many more.

I think because of all these dials, the Pulp-Purist question is easily muddied. Is it a useful way to describe play styles at all? When someone says they like to play in the Pulp style -- do we really know what they mean? Purist, on the other hand, is a pretty loaded term. It sounds elitist, and somehow fundamentalist.
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Re: MUP 19- Smooth or Pulpy?

Post by Keeper Dan » Sat Dec 01, 2012 12:32 am

Yeah, it kinda does sound that way. And the only reason we really used the term Purist in the first place is because of Trail of Cthulhu. I do think their use is justified, though. It's an interpretation of HLPs stories that varies as little as possible. While he had a few that could be adventure stories, most were showing the protagonist descend into a state of understanding of things that there was no escape from once learned. Most of HPLs stories come down to "Ignorance is bliss". I don't see too many RPGs being able to really simulate this kind of story without it being a dour and depressing series of hours that most wouldn't want to repeat. Even in the most purist game there's more adventure than any of HPLs works, except, maybe Dream Quest.

mjmedwick, I like your conclusion about Raiders. I think you're right, too. That film had Indy being a skeptic of the Ark's power for most of the movie, and this was after his experience with the stones in Temple of Doom (remember, that's a prequel).
For a shorter campaign, using non-supernatural elements works fine, but I could see it being more tricky in a longer campaign. It's not like the characters un-learn that they faced Deep Ones and a mad sorcerer living in a basement. If I had those experiences and were still able to function, I'd probably start looking for weird stuff behind every shrub. After that innocence is broke, there's no fixing it unless you kill off the characters and bring in new ones.
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