Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Barsoom and Pulp Revolution on Inappropriate Characters

Inappropriate Characters is a new youtube series on tabletop games featuring some of the guys from the scene that are most likely to take flack from the culture police. Appendix N and the Pulp Revolution get mentioned in the inaugural segment during the Barsoom discussion– it’s at the 20 minute mark and runs for about ten minutes if you want to catch that. But hey… why not live large, put on a pot of coffee, and kick back with the whole thing? It’s a good show!

One of the points that come up is that Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom stories are the gold standard for science fantasy adventure within the PulpRev™. That’s not quite how I’d put it.

Coming at this from a historical angle, if you do a survey of fantasy and science fiction from over the course of the 20th century, what you’re going to see just how tremendously influential Edgar Rice Burroughs was. It’s astonishing. There is a sixty year period where Edgar Rice Burroughs set the tone to such an extent, that he was basically the model for how fantasy and science fiction should be done. Look even at the second wave authors like Jack Vance, Leigh Brackett, Michael Moorcock, and many others– they all going their careers off the ground by emulating Burroughs.

In 1973 when Gary Gygax sat down to write the introduction to the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons, this is what he said:

These rules are strictly fantasy. Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS and DRAGONS to their taste. But those whose imaginations know no bounds will find that these rules are the answer to their prayers.

It’s no accident that Burroughs is the first fantasy author to be mentioned there. It’s also no accident that you see Burrough’s mark on each of the most enduring comic book, tabletop gaming, and Hollywood blockbuster franchises.

The idea of the Pulp Revolution isn’t so much to– as the RPGPundit puts it– set up Burroughs as some kind of sacred cow. The point is to embrace the reality of what people genuinely find to be the most inspiring and thrilling from across science fiction and fantasy history. (Hint: it isn’t “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”.) And the point is to extend the range of your creative palette by taking a look back at what actually worked back in those dark ages before 1980. There’s so much social and political pressure against doing just that, this has become a bizarrely subversive act.

But it’s also a lot of fun.

If you’d like an example of how this is all playing out, I would point you to Cirsova Magazine issue number five, which has a story by Schuyler Hernstrom that just picked up a Planetary Award. Check it out!

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6 responses to “Barsoom and Pulp Revolution on Inappropriate Characters

  1. Venger Satanis May 12, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for blogging about the Inappropriate Characters show! So, what are the top 3 things that, in your view, the pulprev movement would like to preserve in the face of cultural whitewashing or revisionist history?

    • jeffro May 12, 2018 at 2:19 pm

      Thrills, wonder, and romance are the big three. When you guys discuss the Barsoom game, you mention how the creators struggle with that last one. They just… can’t… go there. Not even with the most over the top, wide open, full throttle, mega-pulpy franchise in history.

      One thing to watch for in media and story-telling is the general inability of people to pass what I call the Jeffro Test. Even the more anti-sjw series like the recent Cobra Kai have to kowtow to the party line on this. I definitely agree with what GrimJim was saying on the show: to alter these things in a venerable property is tacky and inauthentic.

      If you’re going to go down the old school pulp fantasy path… my advice is to regress harder. That means letting the heroes be likable and heroic, it means having evil that is truly evil rather than letting them do the Officer Krupke routine… and it means depicting beautiful women in danger and having the guy get the girl in the end.

  2. L. Beau Macaroni May 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    “…those dark ages before 1980.”

    Hell, let’s be wild, and go all they way back to the atavistic time before 1960!
    Or we could even join ERB and Lord Dunsany in the primitive era before Armistice Day, 1918.

    • jeffro May 13, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      SJW’s can’t read anything written before 1980.

      Me? Can’t recommend anything after 1940!

      • JD Cowan May 14, 2018 at 3:10 pm

        I’ve noticed a large difference between pre-1940 and post-1940 in just about everything I’ve read from the era. It’s surprising that no one appeared to notice the shift back then.

      • L. Beau Macaroni May 15, 2018 at 1:09 am

        Heh. Still, I thought that The Illustrated Man (1951) had its moments…

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