Square Jaws, Evil Sneers, Piano Wires and Plywood: 7TV: Pulp’s Star Qualities and Special Effects
Naming the six pulp genres and the first one hundred-plus archetype profiles in December 2017 provided the design team with a framework for capturing the flavour of the cinema serials. However, the team knew that the essence of pulp characters – its square-jawed heroes, outlandish villains and often grotesque extras – could only really be evoked through the naming and design of the archetypes’ Star Qualities and Special Effects.
Just as the 7TV core game embodied the tone of the spy-fi films and tv shows of the 1960s and 1970s, so 7TV: Pulp would have to encapsulate the spirit of 1930s and 1940s pulp. This would require stepping away from many of the SQs and SFX of 7TV: Inch High Spy-Fi and developing an almost entirely new suite of characteristics. Some of the existing SFX – 2 Man Team, Aquatic, Aware, Block, Fly, Lucky and the other, more generic Special Effects – would remain. Others, like You’re Nicked, could be renamed as something more appropriate to the time, in this case It’s a Raid!. A few, including Shield and Snap Shot, could be revised to iron-out some of the ambiguities in the original versions. Most SFX, however, would be new, and most profiles would feature at least one original SFX. Of course, all of the Star Qualities would be specific to 7TV: Pulp.
Once this decision was taken, the team began the long and involved process of developing twenty-eight new Star Qualities and a hundred and twenty plus new Special Effects. It was a process that would take over twelve months from start to finish, with minor tweaks being made well into 2019.
It’s Not All Fun and Games
The process of developing the SQs and SFX for Pulp was both demanding and rewarding. Lucy recalls, ‘The highlight [of designing 7TV: Pulp] has got to be creating the profiles as we’ve tried to really capture the essence of pulp in each of them and I think we all did a great job at achieving that.’ Jake concurs: ‘Personal highlights from the project were the marathon meetings in which we named, statted and devised initial special rules for all of our original profiles.’ Jai remains a little more sceptical: ‘Working with the group was fantastic, but I won’t miss long, long hours of working with profiles and making them playable, or going over and tweaking new rules.’
The team learned quite quickly that there was an art to writing Star Qualities and Special Effects. That art brought together the need for clarity, brevity and flavour. And it took practice. Lots of practice. Most profiles went through two or three major drafts. Many of these went through further minor revisions during playtesting. This meant that there were almost 1000 profiles worked-up and reworked to produce the final 137 archetypes included in the 7TV: Pulp boxed set.
For all their challenges, 7TV‘s system of SQs and SFX is excellent for allowing designers a great deal of creative latitude. Conor Dwyer reflects:
Coming into the project for its second year, the terms Star Quality and Special Effects had no contextual meaning for me. It took me a while to understand what they were and how they operate within 7TV. Once I caught on, they turned out to be some of the most interesting parts. I helped create some of the SQs and SFX and love the freedom they open up, seeing how much they alter one game from another. These are the features of the profile cards that make 7TV: Pulp great. Of course, they caused us a lot of hassle throughout the development as once one thing was added, it broke and unbalanced something else and numerous revisions were done on practically all of the SQs and SFX to make them work, but that’s what makes them more exciting to play! They’re wild and unique and spice up every new game.
Strong Right Hooks and Sinister Moustaches: Star Qualities
Although no specific processes were established for developing the SQs – in itself something of an oversight that might have saved development time – it became apparent quite quickly that the core trait of each character type would need to be identified first. Going back to the serials themselves and reviewing the research was essential. SQs provide one chance – and only one chance – to evoke the main characteristic of each pulp archetype. After distilling that characteristic out from the serials, the next task would be to configure it in game terms, describe it unambiguously and briefly, and then make sure it worked. A combination of research, reflection, discussion and playtesting (sometimes nearly to destruction) eventually produced quintessentially pulp Star Qualities, including:
Jungle Paragon – Call of the Wild ✪✪
This model can summon a Greater Animal Companion for one turn. Place the animal in base contact with this model.
Kingpin of Crime – Fill ’Em Full o’Lead ✪✪
All friendly models within 6” of the Kingpin can make two shoot attacks this turn.
Diabolical Fiend – Network of Evil ✪✪
If this model passes a Mind test friendly models within 6” can move an additional 4”.
Corrupt Official – Paid Off ✪
No enemy Extra models in 6” may activate until this model is next on screen.
Twisted Sycophant – Sly Mover ✪
When this model makes a shoot attack, the target is always considered as being attacked from the rear and therefore disadvantaged.
Stalwart Sidekick – That Was Close ✪
When you draw a Cliffhanger card, if the effect is undesirable you may activate this Star Quality, negate the card’s effects and discard it.
Some pulp personalities were simply too big to be contained by a single Star Quality and the team opted for an alternative approach. Ancient Evil was a case in point. An archetype intended to represent horrors rising from the sands of Egypt, the crypts of Eastern Europe or the isolated villages of rural England, Ancient Evil required something a little more…malevolent:
Immortal Power ✪✪ (Ancient Evil)
Special Action. If this model passes a Spirit statistic test, choose one of the following effects:
- Beast Form
For one turn, this model gains the Fearsome special effects and all strike rolls gain Deadly.
- Nerve-Shattering Shock
Immediately place the 3” blast template over this model. All opposing models touched by the template gain the Stunned status.
For one turn, this model may ignore movement penalties for rough ground or obstacles. It can move up to 8″ with a single Move action. It can move over other models but must end each move action clear of the bases of any other models.
In playtesting, the new SQs proved both tactically varied and a tremendous amount of fun, adding pace and unpredictability to gameplay. Skirmishes were enhanced further by the range of new SFX.
It Won’t Look Like an Iguana When I’m Finished: Special Effects
The new SFX developed for 7TV: Pulp allowed the design team to enrich the pulp experience by consolidating the pulp flavour of the SQ. In some cases – notably the Stars and Co-stars – the SFX rounded off the characters, confirming their archetypal nature and making them more dynamic. The Jungle Paragon, for example, has both:
- King of the Swingers ✪
Special Action. This model can move up to 6” without incurring movement penalties for rough ground or obstacles. It can move over other models but must end clear of the bases of any other models. Any opposing models that this model moves over cannot make free strikes.
- Ululating Cry
Animal Companions within 6” can add one extra dice to their Strike rolls for free.
For the Extras, SFX allowed the team to pinpoint their defining qualities in much the same way as the SQs had for the Stars and Co-stars. Great care was taken with many of the Extras profiles to ensure the pulp quality of the game was unmistakable, even amongst the lesser profiles. At least one SFX for each Extra was intended to evoke its quintessential nature. Hence:
Beastman Mutt – On the Scent
This model can be set up anywhere on the table, as long as it is no further than 12” from another friendly model. Beastmen Mutts are placed after all other models, including Spies. Opposing models cannot make strikes against a model with this special effect in their first turn of a serial.
Comic Relief – Bumbling Buffoon
Before moving, this model must pass a Mind test. If successful, it may move normally. Gain ✪. However, if the test is failed it may only move up to half its maximum move distance.
Protoplasmic Terror – Slither
This model can move through water, wooded or rough terrain as if it were clear ground and climb vertical surfaces without penalty. It is not subject to falls or push backs.
Spectral Strider – Mind Eater
Special Action. Once per turn, the Spectral Strider may attempt to consume the mind of a Dominated model. If this model is within base contact with a Dominated model, make an opposed Mind test. If the Spectral Strider wins, the Dominated model loses 1 Health and this model recovers 1 lost Health up to its starting value.
Balancing the SQs, the SFX and their interactions within individual profiles, genres and likely casts was the first step to ensuring 7TV: Pulp worked. Once that was done, the profiles had to be balanced across genres and against other casts. It was not always straightforward.
If at first…
Not all of the profiles worked first time. Or second. Or third. The most problematic by far was the Eldritch Horror Villainous Star, which massacred everything in sight when it was playtested on the first three occasions. Five versions later and it was no longer the 7TV equivalent of an atom bomb. It may have lost some of its sanity-shredding abyssal horror in the process, but at least it can now be overcome. It is perhaps appropriate that the Eldritch Horror was the biggest nightmare of all in the development of the 7TV: Pulp profiles…
While team members were developing and revising the profiles for the alpha testing scheduled for April 2018, they were also working on how to build the narrative structures and conventions of the pulp serials into the 7TV framework. We all thought this would be relatively straightforward. It wasn’t, but it did make the team realise that adding a new Status could transform 7TV: Pulp into something altogether different from previous iterations of the game.
See ‘The Five Pillars of Pulp’, Chapter Eight of the 7TV: Pulp Design Blog.