Originally posted on UK Role Players: http://www.ukroleplayers.com/reviews/thrilling-tales/
Thrilling Tales is a 256 page, 8.5"x5.5" paperback, pulp supplement for Savage Worlds published by Adamant Entertainment. It is available in both print ($24.95/£14.99 from Cubicle 7) and PDF ($14.95/£9.67 from DriveThruRPG and other PDF stores). This review is of the print version.
The front and back covers are full-colour with evocative artwork of the genre, while the interior is black and white. Each page has a background that makes the pages appear to be from a dog-eared book, matching the cover (which hass fake creases and rips printed on the edges) and the layout is, for the most part, double-columned. The interior art comprises a mixture of, what looks to be, newly commissioned art, original art from the era, and photographs. It is all appropriate and adds to the general pulp feel very well. The content is split up into eleven chapters: Pulp Adventure; A Timeline of the 1930s; Characters; Equipment; Pulp Gaming Rules; Pulp Villains; Pulp Villains - The Nazis; Pulp Villains - The Thugee; Pulp Villains - Perils of the Orient; Adventure Generator; and The Crimson Emperor (a "Plot Point" campaign).
The Pulp Adventure chapter takes up 11 pages and starts with a short piece of fiction before delving into a brief history of pulp and the different genres within it.
A Timeline of the 1930s covers, over 5 pages, brief bullet-points of major events occurring in that decade. Any one of these could easily be used as the backdrop to an adventure - or even part of the adventure itself and serves as a good starting point for further research should the reader require it.
In the Characters chapter, comprising 47 pages, we are provided with 18 archetypes that players may wish to follow when creating their characters (ranging from Ace Reporter, through G-Man and Mad Scientist, to Trusted Sidekick). Each contains a short piece of fiction fitting the archetype as well as suggested skills, edges, and hindrances. While it appears that these are aimed at players, GMs will find them useful as well when it comes to creating their villainous NPCs (indeed, some of the archetypes aren't ones that players (as heroes) are likely to follow anyway (such as Mastermind and Mobster). Character creation rules follow this, although as this is a licenced Savage Worlds product, this is limited to stating that they follow the rules written in the Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition except for starting rank - Thrilling Tales characters start, at the minimum, at Seasoned rank and may be higher depending on the number of players and the type of game being run. As you would expect, there are some new Hindrances and Edges that fit the setting (such as Glass Jaw (which gives you a penalty to soak rolls) and Deus Ex Machina (which allows you to spend a Bennie to escape death - in keeping with the cliffhangers from the serials of old)).
Equipment provides 17 pages of statistics and information on a range of 1930s weapons and vehicles (including a zeppelin and U-Boat!) - the vast majority of which are accompanied by photographs depicting the actual items.
The Pulp Gaming Rules chapter provides in 6 pages, rules additions and amendments to better fit a pulp adventure. These include changes to the way incapacitation works, introducing stunts (whereby the player can make things, voluntarily, more difficult for their character in exchange for the chance to gain more Bennies) and story declarations (whereby players can spend a Benny to try and declare certain thins about the setting and story), adding in two more layers of NPC (Henchmen (who are Extras but with a Wild Die) and Mooks (who are Extras but without edges or hindrances and who always go "down" after being successfully damaged - no Shaken for them!), and, my personal favourite, Gloating (whereby the villain, once he has captured the players, must make a check or blurt out his entire plan).
The Pulp Villains chapter, and the following three chapters, covers the type of opposition you can throw at players in a pulp game. The first chapter provides four different villains with suitable adventure hooks for each. The following chapters go into greater detail about the quintessential pulp villains: Nazis; the Thugee; and the Orient. The real world history of each group is provided with enough detail to enable GMs to use them in their games whilst also providing sample NPCs (from Mook level and up) and interesting adventure hooks.
In the Adventure Generator chapter you will find 15 pages that provide an easy to use generator for adventures - for just that time when you're asked to run a game at short notice.
Finally, we have The Crimson Emperor, the "Plot Point" campaign. Unfortunately, it's not a Plot Point campaign in the same sense as those found in the likes of 50 Fathoms, but five linked scenarios which are nicely put together and will provide for quite a few nights entertainment.
So, that's the overview of the book, but how good is it?
Thrilling Tales is a very good genre book for Savage Worlds. There are some minor typos and editing errors (the most noticable of which is a hangover from it's d20 origins) but these do not detract from the content. Indeed, if I had to say something negative about the book, the only thing I can find is that the naming of The Crimson Emperor as a Plot Point campaign. This is just me nit-picking though and I really like Thrilling Tales. It's size is a big plus and I've found myself wishing more companies would print books at this size.
The game mechanics additions are balanced and complement the gaming style aimed for perfectly, while the pictures of the vast majority of equipment make it easy to visualise things. Likewise, the historical information on the various villain groups presented helps to ground things in reality - even if you do decide to add in weird science later ;)
My favourite part of Thrilling Tales though is the Adventure Generator. It's something so simple, yet so detailed. Throw a few options together, add five minutes of thinking and you have an adventure for a session or two. Perfect.
Overall, Thrilling Tales is one of the best Savage Worlds settings I've read so far and I'm looking forward to being able to use it in the future.