Genres and Sensibilities
Laying the Foundations
Researching the fifty-two cinema serials produced over 100, 000 words of notes, thoughts, observations and comments (not to mention a fair amount of incredulity at the serials themselves!). From these, the team began capturing as much of the flavour of pulp as possible.
In what came to be known as ‘that meeting’, initial work focused on identifying and naming 7TV: Pulp’s genres and its core archetypes. As Steven Kenny recalls, ‘I think none of us will ever forget that mammoth first session when we were hashing out the initial profiles!’ Liam Kelly remembers it fondly:
My favourite memory is of the longest meeting we ever had. The whole team spent over four hours trying our best to name all the profiles and genres. The feeling of a breakthrough when it all just clicked into place was fantastic.
Liam’s ‘all’ might just be a little bit of a rose-tinted exaggeration. In truth, it took another fourteen months for everything to truly click into place. Nevertheless, ‘that meeting’ in December 2017 – an epic brainstorming session – was a breakthrough, laying the basic foundations for the game.
Having rejected westerns, historical escapades and air adventure serials, the team could consolidate the selected serials’ content around a handful of key genres. These ensured 7TV: Pulp could be organised to allow the most freedom and creativity to players. The genres identified were also informed by Karl’s earlier development work: a pulp programme guide dating back to 2016 and an aborted 7TV supplement called 7c Adventures: Two-fisted Wargaming in the Thrilling World of Pulp from 2012.
Two of the joys of playing 7TV derive from its scope and flexibility. Its genre and profile structure allows for combinations and recombinations of casts that support dynamic and imaginative gameplay. With this in mind, the development team settled on six genres:
- Amazing Tales – for skirmishes on fantastic alien worlds featuring space adventurers, weird science, deranged inventors and gadgeteers. All aboard that homemade rocketship for a trip to the stars!
- Crimebusters – for gritty stories of law and order agents, hardboiled detectives, down-at-heel gumshoes and masked vigilantes. Crush out that cigarette, down the last of the bourbon and venture out into those mean streets.
- Gangland Stories – for those with a criminal inclination, a genre that offers criminal empires, kingpins, violent mobsters and shady dealings in abandoned warehouses. Just fill ’em full of lead, ya goons!
- Mystery Theatre – for fiendish masterminds, crazed surgeons and totalitarian maniacs bent on world domination. Crush them! Crush them all!
- Thrilling Adventures – for far-flung expeditions to lost cities or forgotten catacombs in search of mysterious artefacts and fabulous treasures. Grab your hat, your whip and that unlikely service revolver!
- Weird Menace – for mad scientists and Unspeakable Things From Beyond. There’s more in that book bound in human skin, but it could drive you mad.
With these finalised quite early in Pulp’s development, the team started naming key profiles and distributing them across the six genres in ways that maintained the flexibility of 7TV itself and encouraged some of the crazier crossovers found in the serials and pulp fiction of the period and later productions.
Heroes and Villains, Stars and Co-stars
The team began by naming the twenty-four Heroic and Villainous Star and Co-star archetypes. It’s a tribute to the development team’s generosity and collaborative skills that, with one or two exceptions, no one can now remember who named what. Some of the names – like Bill Bulloch’s Space Ace – leapt out immediately; others took significantly longer. Tough though it was, Callum France notes how ‘The gruelling round-table discussions we worked through when inventing names and rules for the profiles were some of the most enjoyable moments of the design process.’ The enjoyment came from the sense the team had of really starting to build the game, of exercising imagination and creativity. Finishing watching the serials probably helped, too.
The first archetypes defined were:
- Crusading Crimefighter
- Cynical PI – later renamed Cynical Gumshoe
- Intrepid Adventurer
- Jungle Paragon
- Occult Investigator
- Space Ace
- Amateur Sleuth
- Covert Operative
- Eccentric Inventor
- Grizzled Veteran – later renamed Rugged Veteran
- Renegade Royal
- Stalwart Sidekick
- Alien Tyrant
- Degenerate Monarch
- Diabolical Fiend
- Eldritch Horror
- Heartless Warmonger
- Kingpin of Crime
- Deviant Doctor
- Femme Fatale
- Frenzied Fanatic – later renamed Unholy Cardinal
- Hulking Henchman
- Ruthless Lieutenant
- Twisted Sycophant
Early in 2019, and following excited comments about the possibilities of 7TV: Pulp on the 7TV Productions Facebook page, the team came to an important realisation: no one could play Mummy-type adventures! This oversight gave everyone the opportunity to revisit the Stars and Co-stars and make sure there were no other omissions. This led to the creation of:
- the Costumed Champion, for those early superhero-styled adventures;
- the Spiritual Custodian, a stalwart defender of goodness;
- an Ancient Evil, an undead horror returning from time’s abyss;
- and the Corrupt Official, the perennial archetype for compromised government employees everywhere.
In naming the Stars and Co-stars the team tried to encapsulate the ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’ of pulp within 7TV’s naming conventions of (mostly) pithy adjective + noun. Capturing the serials’ naïve and even fairy-tale like distinction between good and evil was paramount. The heroes had to be virtuous (in fact, ‘Virtuous Defender’ was an early suggestion, rightly rejected, for what eventually became the Costumed Champion) and the villains irredeemably vile.
Other sensibilities were scrupulously rejected. Hollywood’s pulp cinema serials are products of their time and, as such, express attitudes that should have no place the modern world. The design team were adamant that the stereotyping found in pulp was avoided. This was made easier by the fact that the archetype profiles are blank slates, open to interpretation in terms of race and gender. Karl was keen to develop a range of miniatures that gave many of the active roles to female figures – hence the rather marvellous Crusading Crimefighter, Intrepid Adventurer and Renegade Royal models. Villains, too, though sometimes women in the pulps, were more often than not men. Again, Karl led the design work, drawing on more modern pulp sources for the Unholy Cardinal and the Degenerate Monarch miniatures.
Although several pulp serials include slavery, the team were united in not wishing to trivialise the practice of slavery by including it in a non-historical tabletop game. When the Extras were developed, the less specific term ‘Thrall’ was employed to represent characters under another’s power. ‘Thrall’ is, in effect, a much better term, suggesting downtrodden, indentured workers forced to labour in hidden cities, alien mines and extradimensional pits. In other words, it played perfectly to the flexibility integral to 7TV.
A Cast of Thousands – Naming the Extras
The process of naming the extras highlighted how much contemporary film and television draws from pulp archetypes for its heroic forces. Army personnel, police officers and undercover agents are cornerstones of pulp, just as they remain central to so much popular culture. Comic characters and grubby, sidekick engineers also feature quite prominently. Naming the Heroic Extras was therefore comparatively simple.
The Villainous Extras posed a much greater challenge and offered more opportunities for creativity. Perhaps for this reason, the Villainous Extras underwent a continuous process of expansion. The first cast list contained nineteen Villainous Extra archetypes; the final version has thirty-five. Each addition expanded the possibilities of 7TV: Pulp further. The final additions – undertaken by Eve Lewis, Conor Dyer, Isabel Tyldesley, Raphael Moore and Jake Litherland – increased the Lovecraftian aspects of the game, drawing on pulp magazine weird fiction rather than cinema serials. The Production Code meant studios were reluctant to produce horror serials and risk the interference of the censor, especially given the chapter plays’ target audiences. The new profiles included Fishfolk, Fractal Hounds, Flying Fungi and Spectral Striders. Peter revisited the original Beastman profile, splitting it into three types – the Mutt, the Howler and the Snarler – for stories involving Deviant Doctors intent on vivisecting a new species into existence.
Over the game’s development, the Neutral Extras list grew from twenty-seven to thirty-four. None provoked more debate than the Mudman, named and renamed continuously for almost four months, as the team wrangled over how best to allude to the mineral-type men of several serials and comic strips. ‘Mudman’ – perhaps appropriately – stuck in the end.
Each addition to the Extras list broadened 7TV: Pulp’s horizons. From Priests and Acolytes to Newshounds, Obsessive Collectors, Deckhands, Tribesmen and Nomads, the Extras consolidated the richness of Pulp. Not all of the profiles made the cut, however. Several were rejected, including Castaway, Devoted Offspring, Handmaiden and Squealer. They were replaced with far more interesting archetypes, though, with far more entertaining and tactically challenging Special Effects.
But that’s another story…
See ‘Square Jaws, Evil Sneers, Piano Wires and Plywood : 7TV: Pulp’s Star Qualities and Special Effects’, Chapter Seven of the 7TV: Pulp Design Blog