Adventure Design

6 Tips For Writing a Great Pulp Adventure – The Lost Jewels of Éire

March 2, 2020

Pulp RPGs are cursed!

I’m not an RPG historian, but I’m fairly positive that is a 100% true statement, at least for me. Every pulp RPG I excitedly purchased had an ill-fated ending. I was crushed when I realize the TSR Indiana Jones game only let you pick between seven characters to play. You better hope you weren’t stuck ordering the pizza when your friends picked characters, else you’d end up with… Jock Lindsey?

Then West End made a hero’s try, adapting the Torg rules to pulp action. A few decent adventure books later, they wobbled and changed game systems, and then ended the line altogether. White Wolf followed suit with Adventure!, but that game was woefully unsupported and (weirdly) tied into their whole sci-fi shared universe.

Even though pulp game system crash and burn faster than Launchpad McQuack, I find that writing fun, cliffhanging adventures is actually pretty easy. In fact, when newer GMs ask me what genre they should try when their group is getting bored of their standby, I usually recommend pulp action as a perfect intermission.

Pulp Secrets Revealed!

Here’s my secrets to a great pulp adventure:

  1. Begin with the ending. The best pulp adventures start at the finale of what feels like the last adventure. Give the PCs a priceless artifact, a villain hot on their heals, and a danger-filled set piece to overcome. Don’t bother explaining the background too much — I guarantee your players will fill in the blanks as they propel forward.
  2. Research and use real-world locations. While other genres like fantasy steal a lot from pulp serials (artifact hunts, trap-filled temples), actual pulp adventures can use something that fantasy adventures can’t — the real world. Google search terms like “world’s unsolved mysteries” or “earth’s strangest locations” and you’ll find dozens of stories and sites you’ve never heard of before.
  3. Remember that your villains are in their own pulp adventure. The over-the-top villains in pulp adventures need to be memorable. Give them signature moves and quirky shortcomings. Even when you use minor villains, every scene they are in should feel like the climax to their own adventure.
  4. Embrace vehicles. This is another pulp staple that other popular RPG genres rarely get to use. Every adventure should feature a plane, train, automobile, tank, or better yet — something unusual like a zeppelin, U-boat, or even a Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus.
  5. Timers are key to the genre. Pulp heroes are often racing against the clock. Whether it’s a literal time bomb, an escaping villain, or a loved one in danger of being kidnapped, add time elements to all of your big scenes.
  6. Be liberal with your hidden treasures. A good pulp adventure gives players an interesting McGuffin to hunt. A great pulp adventure gives players many McGuffins to find as they push on the edges of the main plot. Sprinkle secrets, hidden treasures, and cool discoveries just off the beaten path of your narrative. Let the players see those treasures and decide whether they are worth their time. If the heroes are forced to escape Shanghai through the sewers… place a heavy door off a side passage with an ancient inscription that mentions a long-lost sword. This technique gives players additional agency, rewards daredevils (especially if the clock is ticking already), and gives GMs more flexibility to use their villains in a creative way. “While you were playing with that sword, my friend, I sent my bodyguard to kidnap your daughter!”

I wrote The Lost of Jewels of Éire with the above tips in mind. To get started, I pretended like it was 1937 and wrote cheesy “ad copy” for the “back of the book.” My adventure outline looked like this:

Predjama – The Castle Built in a Cave
  • Race from the clutches of a furious crime boss, a priceless sword in your possession!
  • Explore the dangers of the Predjama Castle, the mysteries of Doonagore, and the opulence of the Golden Hall!
  • Stop the nefarious plot of Ludo Bocchi, his Gestapo agents, and a deadly U-boat monitoring your every move!
  • Discover priceless treasures along the way, including the Alexandrite Gem, the Lost Diadem of Catherine Howard, and the top-secret plans to a deadly Nazi weapon!

With that written, I felt like I had checked all my boxes: Real-world places I was excited to learn about, timers, vehicles, and hidden treasures along the way.

Download The Lost of Jewels of Éire for GURPS, Pulp Cthulhu, Broken Compass, and D6 Adventure here:

If you want to watch a video overview of the adventure, check out my YouTube channel!

Related: More pulp adventure in The Uncanny Curse of Sekhmet!

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  1. I am reading through this adventure and I am really liking it! As I go through I am making some notes.

    In your entry for the Anze’s Thugs you have them going for a backup SMG from the trunk of the Renault if things go south for them. The gun you have listed (Steyr M12) doesn’t seem to exist according to Wikipedia or GURPS High Tech. I substituted the Bergmann MP 18 developed by Germany for use in WWI and used by the Ottoman empire (found in High tech Pulp Guns vol 1, pg 31). If you don’t have this book then the GURPS WWIi core book states that the stats for the MP 38 can be used for the MP 18. Anze would likely be able to have a few of these war surpluses in stock from the 1920’s. It is also an intimidating weapon to pull out of the trunk of a car.

    I am also making a slight change to the loadout of the thugs. They will either have a small dagger or a set of brass knuckles. This is just for flavor and ambiance

    Anze himself will have a rather ornate Khanjar knife that was awarded to an officer of the Great War that he likely took in payment for some debt at some time. If the knife is recovered it could belong to someone that would very much appreciate having it back and this could lead to a prominent contact of some wealth and means for the PCs later.

    I’m also adding the detail that the car is a 1935 Renault Viva Grand Sport ACX3 (in a custom Cherry Wood red color)

  2. I love this detail you’re adding, especially the khanjar knife — what a great touch for a slightly-crazy gangster boss to have on him! I think I’ll add this detail in when I next update the adventure.

    I think that SMG was supposed to be a Steyr S1-100 from Pulp Guns, but it clearly got mangled somehow during the writing process. I like your replacement though, since it’s unreliable and makes those thugs a little less dangerous. Thanks for sending feedback!

    1. The Steyr S1-100 (MP 34) is a GREAT set piece for that scene. It has that gritty, gnarly look of violence about it. I think either choice is fantastic and even if the Steyr is used maybe the gangsters don’t keep their weapons too clean and the malfunction rating of the MP 18 could still be used to reduce the deadliness of the thugs. A fortunate jam in that gun fight could be a really nice touch to the whole scene.

  3. Very happy to see a D6 version. Look forward to throwing my “Raiders” group into it. Can’t wait to see more if you make them..! Thanks!

  4. I’ve been on a roll with your GURPS adventures recently. (I’m not GMing a primary campaign right now, which leaves me more time to run one-shots.) I ran this one over the course of a few sessions with two middle-school-aged players. They each ran two characters. This was the first time they’d played any RPG that wasn’t in the “fantasy” genre (and the first time I’ve run an adventure with guns since… the ’90s). After the first sequence in the caves, one of them blurted out, “This feels like a movie!” We ended the final session in a tense firefight at the Irish castle. We need to wait a few weeks before we can get together again to complete the finale.

    I am so impressed with the attention to detail that you include in these adventures. I hope to run them all over the coming years. Thank you!

    1. I think “this feels like a movie” is the best compliment a GM can get. Congrats! And fortunately, if your players beg for more, there’s two other pulp adventures to pick from here 🙂

  5. Hey, thanks for this. I just unleashed this on a bunch of newbie TTRPG players (using Beoken Compass) and they had a lot of fun with it. It took them a bit long to get out of the cave (them being newbies and all, though they did finally manage to do it by throwing the portcullis key off the wooden walkway to distract the thugs, which I thought was inventive) so overall they were busy for five hours and that’s with rushing the ending, but that was probably to be expected with such new players.
    The Vienna Music Hall scenes I had my doubts about going into it but it went very well and, yes, the cobra was thrown around which was great fun.
    So overall: great success. Thanks for an enjoyable afternoon!

  6. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. Definitely think if I were to try running this again as a one-session adventure, I’d shorten the cave section a bit to make sure the ending has the proper time. But glad you had fun!

  7. I ran this adventure using Savage Worlds Adventure Edition. Took three sessions, we had a good time. Thank you for publishing this!

    1. Glad you enjoyed! Savage Worlds is the least familiar of the systems I have played for me, so I’m especially glad it seemed to work ok!

  8. Hi there, i’m wondering how difficult this adventure would be to translate to DnD5e. I’m a first time GM and am really only just familiar with that system. it seems like CoC would be the closest system but i feel like i want the rush when players hit those nat20s/1s.
    If theres any resources or someone could point me in the right direction it would be much appreciated.
    Love all this work it’s immense and i can’t wait to run it !

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