Tabletop Review: Astounding Adventures (Basic Roleplaying)

Astounding Adventures (Basic Roleplaying)
Publisher: Chaosium
Cost: $20.95 (Physical)/$11.52 (PDF)
Page Count: 116
Release Date: 6/10/2013 (Physical)/09/11/2013 (PDF)/4/10/2014 (DriveThruRPG)
Get it Here: Chaosium or DriveThruRPG.com

Usually I review stuff right when it comes out, but Astounding Adventures has been out for almost a year now. I didn’t get a review copy when it first was released, but I DID get one about a week ago when Chaosium ported Astounding Adventures over to Drivethrurpg.com. Better late than never, I guess, ESPECIALLY since I have wanted to take a look at this BRP supplement for some time. Thankfully April’s been a real lull in terms of interesting releases, so I can cover this one in a timely manner for its DriveThruRPG.com debut.

Astounding Adventures IS a supplement for Basic Roleplaying, so you’ll need to core rulebook to make proper use of that. That said, because BRP and Call of Cthulhu are about 95% the same, you can probably get away with owning the core rulebook for that game and the two will work together almost seamlessly. This is true not only because of the rules, but because both use the CoC sanity statistic and because the time periods are very similar (CoC is generally set in the 1920s while Astounding Adventures takes place in the 1930s). The general difference between CoC and AA is that Call of Cthulhu has you dealing the machination of Lovecraftia based antagonists while Astounding Adventures lets you encounter those as well as any other pulp based villainy from that era. As such, you can’t go wrong with owning either Call of Cthulhu or Basic Roleplaying to make use of this supplement, but you DO need one or the other.

Astounding Adventures is a tribute/homage to the old pulp magazines of the 1930s. Weird Tales. Amazing Stories. Dime Detective. You’ve heard the names even if you haven’t read them. The emphasis is on action packed adventures where heroes are chiseled, brave and true and villains are as strange as they are evil (also usually foreign to American soil). Characters are a bit more two-dimensional than in other forms of literature, and things tend to be pretty black or white on the morality scale. Astounding Adventures also takes after the cinematic version of pulp. Do you remember those serials you sometimes saw on TV or before a shorter episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000? Well, the game lets you replicate those as well by having cliffhangers and a constant rise of action. As an aside, doing a pulp cinema style campaign also lets you play the game in short regular bursts instead of the usual long 4-8 hour sessions tabletop RPGs are known for. Play for two hours, end the session on a “same bat-time, same bat-channel” note and it will be a very different feel that the general gaming stereotype.

One of the great things about Astounding Adventures is that you can do any form of pulp with it. Want to run a campaign where you fight robot Nazis? You can! Want to deal with a cabal of Chinese sorcerers? You can! Want to deal with Lovecraftian beasties or play heroes like The Phantom or The Shadow? You can! Want to mix them all together? You can! All of these possibilities are thought of and discussed within the Astounding Adventures supplement. It might sound weird to do a pulp mash-up but remember, Defenders of the Earth was based on such a concept and it was a successful cartoon for a few years.

It’s also worth mentioning that all the narratives in Astounding Adventures use the same three characters and the core antagonist. So over the course of the book as you learn things like mechanics, character creation and the rest, you’ll thrill to the exploits of Rex Stone and his pilot Dottie Blaze as they seek an ancient Egyptian treasure. This is very well done and it’s rare you see an entire book stick with the same in-game narrative from beginning to end. Just a nice touch that deserves mentioning.

Much of Astounding Adventures is a condensed version of Basic Roleplaying. You’re given the slightly different character creation system for this game, a list of powers and resources (characters get one or the other), a tone of information about the pulp era, tips for the Keeper on how to run a Pulp game and how it should stand out from other tabletop settings, and a ton of equipment and potential enemies. You’re even give a random adventure generator which is quite amusing to fiddle with. I wouldn’t recommend using it for all your Astounding Adventures games, but who knows – rolling a few dice and checking the results might get your imagination flowing.

There are also three premade adventures to read and/or use. Each of the adventures looks at a different version of pulp. They don’t really string together well because of the different tone and atmosphere in each adventure, but they all make great one-shots that a Keeper can use to test the waters with. “The Perils of Sumatra!” have characters in a race against time AND the Third Reich to find the Staff of Lost Souls. This wielder of this powerful artifact can unleash overwhelming fear upon its enemies…or they might go stark raving mad. It depends. Either way, such an item is too powerful to let the Ratzis get their mitts on it, right? So it’s up to the PCs to deal with enemies, traps and an ancient mummy – all to keep the world safe from Hitler!

“The Dynamo of Doom” is less “Indiana Jones” and more in line with the sci-fi pulp pieces of the era. Here a mad scientist plans to hold a town hostage with his Telecution Helmet. Thanks to a case of mistaken identity the PCs are made aware of this threat. Can they stop the Doll Faced Man and his Metal Men in time? This is a pretty straightforward adventure but it captures the feel of those old pulp serials nicely. The final adventure is “The God of the Airwaves” and this is a Weird Tales style piece that should make Call of Cthulhu fans happy. It’s the Golden Age of radio and no show is more popular in the locale where the PCs reside than “The Night Watchman.” Unfortunately the show turns old to be a way for a cultist to brainwash listeners AND help summon an ancient and nearly forgotten deity into our plane of existence. Can the PCs stop the cultist or will they be overwhelmed by the dark forces plaguing their fair city?

Across the board, Astounding Adventures is simply fantastic. I’m actually surprised this hasn’t been done before for BRP, but I’m glad it exists now. This is a fine supplement to your CoC or BRP game (or just the mechanics) and Astounding Adventures is as much fun to read as it is to play. Going digital might be your best bet since it costs half as much as a print copy. The book is well laid out, easy to follow, concise and contains everything you need to play a pulp based BRP game except the core BRP rules themselves. If you’re a fan of Chaosium’s rules set, you should definitely consider picking up Astounding Adventures. it’s a great twist on an old classic and with the upcoming Horror on the Orient Express remake getting a two fisted pulp option added to , this will be the perfect book to get you in that mindset!

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