The tools a character has to do their job can make the difference between success and failure. Equipment is a colorful part of the pulp era, and is often a critical component of a character’s concept – after all, who’s going to read about Gerald Carter and his Mechanical Aide if hie doesn't have a robot companion?
State of the Art
While the pulp era lacks certain modern conveniences we take for granted – cellular phones, computers, ATM machines and so on – there are many items that we might consider modern, which are in common use in the pulp era.
Day to day
These items have been around long enough that no one even bats an eye at them anymore. If expensive or fancy, a particular item might draw notice, but the simple existence of these items is common and well known.
|Air conditioning||Electric burglar alarm||Refrigerators|
|Contact lenses||Neon Lamp||Submarines|
These are the newest, most cutting edge technologies. They’re excellent topic of conversation and may well draw attention.
|Automatic pilot||Gas mask||Hamburger|
|Band aids||Lie detector||Soda in a can|
Soon to Come
These technologies are just around the corner, at least for most of the world. These are exactly the sorts of things that heroes of science are likely to have prototypes of.
|Rotary dial phone||1923|
Dollars and Cents
In the 1920s, the average income for an American was a little bit over $1200. A dollar can go a decent distance. Pulp heroes are usually a bit better off than the norm, as that is part of what frees them up to pursue their heroic interests.
Now, despite the fact that the actual resource system is pretty abstract, sometimes people are more comfortable when things have actual dollar values attached. As such, the yardstick for prices is shown here.
|Terrible||Under a Buck||roll of film, a candy bar, cigarettes, a movie ticket, a book, cheap meal, bed for a night in a flophouse, a quick cab ride|
|Poor||Under 5 Bucks||A night in a hotel, hand tool, common medicine, decent clothes, backpack, knife, alarm clock, flashlight, cab ride across town|
|Mediocre||Under 20 Bucks||Nice clothes, one night in an excellent hotel or a month in a fleabag apartment, first aid kit, lantern, revolver, small tent, hunting rifle, lockpicks, one stick of dynamite|
|Average||Under 50 Bucks||Fancy clothes, rental of an office or apartment for a month, bicycle, safecracking tools, semi-automatic pistol|
|Fair||Under 100||Military rifle, nice apartment for a month, portable typewriter|
|Good||Under 500||Machine gun, motorcycle, truck|
|Great||Under 1000||Small house, Model T Ford car|
|Superb||Under 10,000||Sports car, wooden plane, large house|
|Fantastic||Under 100,000||Airplane, personal railroad car, mansion|
|Epic||Under 1,000,000||Small company, office building|
|Legendary||Money is no object||Personal island, zeppelin|
Vehicles have two main attributes, their top speed and their stress capacity. This is noted simply as: Model T (car), Average, ❏ ❏ ❏ . This is a Model T, and its vehicle type is a car (shocking). It has Average speed, and three boxes of stress capacity (the amount of damage it can sustain before being taken out).
The type of a vehicle is mostly relevant to understand the value of its speed – the speed value is not absolute, but rather indicative of how fast the vehicle is for the type of vehicle it is. The Model T’s average speed is much faster than, say, a person’s average speed, but slower than the speed of an Gadgets average plane. Speed comes into play for simple contests of which vehicle is faster (roll speed vs. speed, modified by respective ride or drive skills as appropriate) but for anything more complex, the chase rules (see page XX) may be more appropriate.
Vehicle technology has not advanced far enough yet that the car vastly outstrips other means of transportation. This means that it’s entirely possible that you may have a mixed group of vehicles, animals and people on foot and need to keep a sense of how fast they are, relatively speaking. In a quick sprint (which is more about acceleration than speed) no modifiers are appropriate. In a short run, a person on foot is at -2 against a bike or horse and -4 against a car, while the person on the bike or horse is at -2 against a car. Over longer distance, skills hardly even matter – the faster base vehicle wins.
One thing to remember about the vehicles of the era is that they came in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The 1922 Cadillac Suburban was designed to seat 7 people, so having a vehicle that can hold a whole group is entirely reasonable.
|Vehicle (Example)||Speed||Stress Cap.||Cost|
|Car (Model T Ford)||Average||❏ ❏ ❏||Great|
|Luxury car (Cadillac Model 61)||Good||❏ ❏ ❏||Superb|
|Hot Rod (Ford T-Bucket)||Great||❏ ❏||Great|
|Limousine (Heine Velox V-12 limousine)||Fair||❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏||Superb|
|Truck (Mack Truck)||Average||❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏ ❏||Good|
|Simple Cycle (Neracar Motor-cycle)||Good||❏||Good|
|Serious Motorcycle (Harley Davidson Big Chief)||Great||❏||Great|
The prices for guns are pretty simple to figure out, but sometimes you want to be able to drop the name of the shooting iron you’re carrying around. By and large, different types of guns don’t have any game rules effect, but when you’re picking a weapon to suit a character’s style, these distinctions might come in handy.
There are just two game effects of “category”, here:
Pistols, most machine guns, and other handguns generally only have an effective range of up to two zones, while rifles should be able to reach up to three or four zones away easily.
The kind of gun someone carries will at the least limit the kind of descriptions they can make about what they’re doing, based on the GM’s sense of what’s feasible. This very simply means that, say, someone might be able to talk more easily about laying down a spray of cover fire with a machine gun in hand, than if they had a singleshot revolver. In terms of game rules, this may have the strongest effect on what sorts of maneuvers the GM allows.
|Practical, “line of duty” Revolvers||Mediocre||Colt Detective
Colt Police Positive
Smith & Wesson Model 10
Webley Mk III
|Hunting Rifles||Average||Mauser Special
Remington Model 30
|Military Rifles||Fair||Arisaka Type 44
|Big Honkin’ Revolvers||Mediocre||Colt Peacemaker
S&W Model 1917
|Submachine Guns||Good||Beretta Model 1918
Thompson M1-A1 (The good old Tommy Gun – do you really need anything else?)
|Semi-Automatic Pistols||Average||Beretta 1915
Mauser Model 1910
Walther Model 8
|Machine Guns||Good||Browning M1917 (Heavy)
Vickers Mk I (Heavy)
Explosives should be introduced carefully and meditatively into your game. They can radically alter how a session will go. Make sure to read up on how they operate (example) before considering any purchase or provisioning of them in your game.
It’s important to note that most any explosive which you can readily throw or use in combat is going to have an area of 1 zone. Larger explosives can be acquired, but they are usually reserved for villainous schemes. Dynamites’s cheap cost here is due to its wide availability, and is a bit of an anomaly.
|Nitroglycerine (Bottle)||Fantastic||1||Great||Hair Trigger|
Assume that the baseline bomb has an area of 1 zone, a force of Fantastic, a complexity of Good and cost of Good. Increasing area by one zone, or force or complexity by one step, increases the cost by one. These prices only reflect large, stationary bombs; mobility and portability will each cost extra.
Outside of the modern conveniences of death such as guns and bombs, it’s entirely feasible that characters – particularly those playing around with artifacts – are going to come across, design, and make use of archaic weapons – in other words, knives and swords, or their equivalent. Rather than go to the level of detail as provided with guns (above), simply use these guidelines for cost:
Engineers are capable of improving or customizing all manner of devices. Of course, they’re also capable of causing otherwise innocuous devices to explode messily, so one needs to be careful. Rather than using the Resources skill to buy items, they retreat into their workshops and use the tools and materials they have there to invent and build those items using the Engineering skill.
Building something from scratch is based off a difficulty equal to the cost of the item in question (see Spending Money). For example, building a revolver from scratch is a Mediocre difficulty, due to the gun’s Mediocre cost. It also requires appropriate tools, supplies and time. Tools and supplies are measured by the quality of the engineer’s workshop, which must be at least as high as the item quality (which is equal to the cost). To build a gun (Mediocre cost and, thus, Mediocre item quality), the character must have a Mediocre or better workshop.
Building something is time consuming, taking at least a day per level of item quality over Mediocre (minimum of one day), so it’s assumed that characters will only be building things that they can’t buy or acquire otherwise. More often, it’s assumed they will skip the time to build the base item, and instead start with something that already exists and then improve it.
The device can now do something else of roughly the same scope. A car might also be able to be a boat, for example, or a gun might be able to shoot a grappling hook. Alternately, it may be able to do something normal but do it exceptionally well (so that a technology works like it does in the movies rather than real life).
Alternate Usage †
A device may be given a point of armor, meaning that any time it is hit for one point of stress, the damage does not roll up even if that box is already checked off (it does not prevent the stress, just the roll-up).
Speculative Science †
This is mostly only applicable to explosives. A bomb with a hair trigger has no delay – it blows up as soon as it’s thrown. The bad news is that Hair Triggers can be a bit tricky, and there’s a chance of it blowing up in your hand. Failing the throw means that it explodes at the thrower’s feet! Also, if a character carrying a hair trigger device takes any physical stress or consequences, he must roll a die, and on a -, it explodes.
The inverse of miniaturization: Sometimes you just need something to be BIG! This improvement is used to alter an item for circumstances when size will truly matter, such as a weapon that can’t possibly damage its intended mega-monster target without being very large, or a car that’s actually house-sized and able to transport a huge number of passengers.
Special Effect †
A specific improvement, granting a +2 bonus to some fairly specific use for the thing. A car, for example, might get a +2 in a swamp or a +2 on the straightaway.
† - Requires that the engineer also have a “Weird Science” stunt or co-inventor (see Weird Science) to justify the effect.
To improve an item (rather than create it from scratch), start with the base difficulty to create the device based on the item quality, as before.
Next, determine how many improvements you want to make. Each improvement increases the difficulty (and required workshop quality) by one. Each improvement takes approximately 8 hours to implement.
If the player is willing to increase total time to improve the item by one increment on the time table, he gains a +1 bonus to the roll; increasing it again results in a +2 bonus, and so forth. This bonus doesn’t reduce the requirements for the workshop, however; that’s still based on the quality of the item (and thus the difficulty target). The player may also reduce the time spent; if less total time is spent improving the item, each step faster on the time table imposes a -1 penalty to the roll.
Equipment that characters make can be expected to last for the duration of a single adventure, but is assumed to be lost, deconstructed or otherwise removed from play between adventures. Failure on the roll is subject to the rules for “taking your time” (page XX) in order to retroactively succeed.
Characters are able to buy personal gadgets as stunts (see Personal Gadget stunt). Gadgets bought this way generally start from a baseline item of any sort, with three improvements applied. Cost factors are set aside since the gadget is getting “paid for” in terms of stunts. Alternately, the player can take multiple devices and spread those three improvements among them. The GM and player may work together to create new improvements that fit the concept of the gadget.
Personal gadgets can be taken away, destroyed or lost over the course of an adventure unless the character also has an aspect for the gadget. However, the GM should assume that the character recovers or replaces the device between adventures. If the character has an aspect for the gadget, the GM may, at his discretion, allow the player to invoke the gadget’s aspect to make a declaration that he’s recovered the device fortuitously during the course of play. Gadgets that are tied to aspects in this way become central to the character’s story and, as such, should never be taken away from the character for too long.
Personal gadgets can use improvements which require weird science. If the player does not have the Weird Science stunt, he must apply “Uses Weird Science” (at the cost of one improvement) before applying the weird improvements themselves (so a device may have two weird improvements for a total cost of three improvements).
Personal gadgets can also use improvements which require mad science, subject to much stronger GM scrutiny. If the player does not have the Mad Science stunt, he must apply “Uses Mad Science” (at the cost of two improvements) before applying mad science improvements.
Characters can also take unspecified gadgets as stunts. This is useful for characters who are likely to carry around a variety of gadgets and need to pull out just the right thing for the occasion. These sorts of gadgets are called universal gadgets.
When a character begins an adventure, his gadget doesn’t need to be defined. Instead, at the point where he decides he needs it, he reveals the device, which can have two improvements. If a character has multiple stunts, they can combine them to make one gadget with many improvements. Once the character has declared the gadget, he has it for the rest of the adventure.
If the character wishes to introduce something a little more dramatic, he may instead introduce a wonderful toy.
Those Wonderful Toys: Gadgets as Effects
Sometimes a gadget is a “fast forward” button that, when used, effectively allows the characters to skip to the end of a scene, perhaps by being exactly the right thing to get past a lock, or releasing gas at just the right time to incapacitate the guards.
Instead of pulling out a device with improvements, an unspecified gadget can be used for a specific effect, which is usually enough to simply bypass any challenge, or at least radically redefine it. This is a one-shot effect, trading off a more potent effect for being able to use it only once. These effects are always subject to GM veto.
Buying Gadgets Outright
While the prices for normal items can be found elsewhere, sometimes a particularly rich individual is interested in purchasing something a little bit more custom for himself. Buying an item with upgrades requires two things: finding someone willing to sell, and shelling out the cash.
The difficulty for finding a seller is a Contacting contest with a difficulty equal to the difficulty of improving the item. This will take one day, +1 day per upgrade. Shifts generated on the Contacting roll may be spent to reduce the timeframe as usual (four shifts make it just half an hour).
Once a seller has been found, the base price of the item is equal to the cost of the base item, +2 per upgrade.
Upgraded devices which are purchased have the same limitations as those built in the workshop, which is to say that they do not last between adventures.
Some Sample Gadgets
This classic for assassins is a wristwatch which includes a long cord that is drawn out at the nub. A stylish and deadly addition to one’s wardrobe.
Base cost: Average (Gentleman’s Watch)
Item Quality/Cost: Fair
This sophisticated device is normally used to communicate over radio waves, but can be used to connect to almost any communication system, as well as jam communications.
Base Cost: Average (Radio)
Miniaturization: Radio kit now fits on the wrist
Special Effect: Jamming
Futurization: Having this “hack” is a bit far future, but quirky enough to be interesting
Item Quality/Cost: Great
Belt-Buckle Grappling Hook
A small hook and a length of thin but super-strong cord is exactly the sort of thing a gentleman might want to have on hand while falling out of a lady’s 17th story balcony.
Base Cost: Mediocre (Rope & Hook)
Upgrade: Concealable - +2 to difficulty to spot.
Item Quality/Cost: Fair
These ninja staples are great for throwing on the ground and making a fast exit. There’s a flash of light and a cloud of black smoke (which improves Stealth, see page XX)
Base Cost: Mediocre (Regular Smoke Bomb)
Additional Capability (works like in the movies)
Upgrade: Run away (+2 to stealth rolls as the character runs)
Item Quality/Cost: Fair
<Sample Legendary Personal Gadget>
<Sample Fantastic Gadget - Group Transport>
Artifacts are devices that work on different principals than traditional science. Artifacts use many of the same rules as gadgets, but with a few exceptions. Visually, artifacts are rarely subtle – they are covered in arcane runes and mystical carvings, and their use is definitely likely to raise eyebrows.
Making and Improving Artifacts
The base quality of an artifact is at least Good, reflecting the strange and curious materials such things must be made from. An artifact may be upgraded with many of the same upgrades as gadgets, excepting futurization or hair trigger.
This does not actually do anything, except it makes whatever else the artifact does into a magical effect. There are situations where this will be quite useful, such as when the GM throws in some zombies who can’t be permanently killed without magic.
The GM should consider what restrictions he puts on this – an artificer should also be a holy man of some sort, like a priest. This is very much like the Arcane modifier, except the things that respond to it may be a little different.
An artifact can use effects that would normally require Weird Science without an appropriate stunt, but it means that there is a potential complication. It may mean that Elder Things are tied into it, or it may have bizarre side effects. For example, the artifact version of “conscious” might mean the artifact has a quirky personality, or it might have the potential to become truly self aware and a danger to all those around it.
Personal Artifacts and Rare Artifacts
Personal artifacts (page XX) function pretty much the same way as personal gadgets, and effectively use the same rules. However, artifacts can use weird science or mad science improvements without an appropriate stunt (and without the additional cost that’s applied to gadgets), but such effects are subject to complications (see above).
Multiple personal artifact stunts can’t be combined into the same artifact – for that, you need a rare artifact. Rare artifacts work like universal gadgets, in that they can be defined on the fly, but they have three improvements instead of two and a guarantee that they fall under the “potential complication” effect from above. This is reinforced by the idea that, when the character reveals a rare artifact, he may take a temporary aspect to represent the complication (see the Rare Artifact stunt).