The Pulp Hack: Mini-review and custom Character Sheet

There’s a simple pulp RPG put out a few years ago by Scott Malthouse (creator of Romance of the Perilous Land) called the Pulp Hack. It’s an adaptation of the OSR Black Hack rule system to run 1930s pulp adventures.

The Rules

The Black Hack system is an OSR-based class and level system. Pulp Hack characters have the traditional STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS, CHA stats, and hit points.

Any action a player might take is resolved by selecting a stat and rolling a D20. If the player rolls under the stat, they succeed. For example, a character with a STR of 13 is trying to force open a tomb door. If they roll a 12 or less, they succeed.

Combat rolls are either STR or DEX rolls. GMs don’t roll for enemies. Only players roll to attack and to defend against attacks.

Some rolls can be rolled with advantage or disadvantage depending on the situation.

The Pulp Hack includes the following classes: Adventurer, Private Investigator, Masked Vigilante, Jungle Master, Mystic, Scientist. Each has special abilities, and a specific damage type.

When a character does damage to a foe, the specific weapon doesn’t matter. Each class has a specified damage die for both armed and unarmed attacks.

It’s been my experience that most Black Hack-based systems are quick and easy to run, and the Pulp Hack is no exception. Players usually pick up the system very quickly. However, I’m not 100% sure the whole OSR class/level system is the best fit for a pulp game, at least for longer campaigns. Most traditional pulp heroes don’t actually change or “level up” in the original stories. Doc Savage started and ended his run pretty much exactly the same. It’s still a fun little game, and worth looking at.

The Pulp Hack is short (only 20 pages), but clearly presented. GMs will have to provide all of the pulp setting background on their own. A short list of magic spells and foes is provided.

It’s currently only one dollar over on DriveThru, so it’s worth picking up.

Character Sheet

There’s no official character sheet for the Pulp Hack, so I’ve made my own. It’s pretty much an adaptation of the OneDice Pulp character sheet I recently made.

It’s two pages, fillable and will allow you to import a character image by clicking in the upper right hand corner. I’ve made both A4 and US letter versions.

I’ve added this to my list of custom character sheets over on my other RPG blog.

Raiders of the Lost Artifacts – Fillable Character Sheet

raidersRaiders of the Lost Artifacts (Drivethru, Lulu)  is a pulp archeology RPG from Night Owl Workshop. It uses Original D&D rules to replicate Indiana Jones style pulp adventures.

I’ve modified their character sheet to be fillable.





The Black Bat (Hollow Earth Expedition)

This is my third version of the Black Bat. This time I’ve statted up the Black Bat and friends using Hollow Earth Expedition. To match the pulp abilities of the Bat, I’ve given him a lot of extra experience for buying talents and skills.

Anthony Quinn, The Black Bat

Archetype: Vigilante Motivation: Justice
Body: 2 Charisma: 2
Dexterity: 4 Intelligence: 4
Strength: 2 Willpower: 3
Size: 0 Initiative: 8
Move: 6 Defense: 6
Perception: 7 Stun: 2

Style: Health: 5

Skill Base Levels Rating Average
Stealth 4 4 8 4
Athletics 2 2 4 2
Investigation 4 2 6 3
Crimes 4 2 7 3+
Intimidation 2 2 4 2
Firearms 4 2 6 3
Brawl 2 2 4 2
Bureaucracy 4 1 5 2+
Drive 4 1 5 2+
Science 4 1 5 2+
Chemistry 4 1 6 3


Dark Vision (Custom) – Can see in near total darkness, as if it were daylight. No darkness penalties.



Contacts (Law Enforcement): +4 Contact Bonus


Criminal (Under Suspicion from Sgt. McGrath)

Silk Kirby

Archetype: Criminal Motivation: Justice
Body: 1 Charisma: 4
Dexterity: 3 Intelligence: 3
Strength: 1 Willpower: 3
Size: 0 Initiative: 6
Move: 4 Defense: 4
Perception: 6 Stun: 1
Style: Health: 4
Skill Base Levels Rating Average
Stealth 3 5 8 4
Disguise 3 5 9 4+
Con 4 4 8 4
Streetwise 4 2 6 3
Larceny 3 1 4 2
Drive 3 1 4 2
Brawl 1 1 2 1
Firearms 1 1 1 1


Contacts (Criminal Underworld) +2


Criminal – Former Criminal

Jack “Butch” O’Leary

Archetype: Adventurer Motivation: Honor
Body: 4 Charisma: 1
Dexterity: 2 Intelligence: 1
Strength: 5 Willpower: 2
Size: 1 Initiative: 3
Move: 7 Defense: 5
Perception: 3 Stun: 5
Style: Health: 6
Skill Base Levels Rating Average
Brawl 5 5 10 5
Athletics 5 3 8 4
Intimidation 1 3 4 2
Drive 2 2 4 2
Melee 2 2 4 2


Staggering Blow

Carol Baldwin

Archetype: Adventurer Motivation: Love
Body: 1 Charisma: 6
Dexterity: 2 Intelligence: 3
Strength: 1 Willpower: 3
Size: 0 Initiative: 5
Move: 3 Defense: 3
Perception: 6 Stun: 1
Style: Health: 4
Skill Base Levels Rating Average
Con 6 1 7 3+
Diplomacy 6 3 9 4+
Empathy 6 3 9 4+
Investigation 3 3 6 3
Firearms 2 2 4 2
Drive 2 2 2 2



The Black Bat (OneDice)

This is a continuation of my post on the Black Bat. Here are the stats for the same characters in OneDice Pulp. Clearly we have a lot less detail to work with, but I think I’ve still managed to capture the essence of the characters.

Anthony Quinn – The Black Bat

Strong 2, Clever 2, Quick 3
Health 6, Defence 9, Move 30
Skills Sneaky 2, Shooting 1, Bruiser 2, Investigation 1
Talent Dark Vision

Silk Kirby

Strong 1, Clever 3, Quick 3
Health 3, Defence 9, Move 30
Skills Disguise 8, Shooting 1, Bruiser 1, Drive 1, Dodgy 1
Talent Doppleganger (+6 to disguise)

Jack “Butch” O’Leary

Strong 3, Clever 1, Quick 3
Health 9, Defence 9, Move 30
Skills Drive 2, Bruiser 4, Intimidate 2
Talent Martial Artist (+2 to Bruiser)

Carol Baldwin

Strong 1, Clever 3, Quick 3
Health 3, Defence 9, Move 30
Skills Investigation 1, Perception 1,  Negotiate 1, Sneaky 1, Psychology 1, Research 1
Talent Contacts

Next, I’m going to get a little ambitious and try to create the same characters in a more complex system – Hero Games’ Justice Inc.

The Black Bat (Spirit of the Century)

I’ve been trying to replicate some old pulp characters in various RPG systems. My main goal is to get familiar with a few game systems I’ve only had a chance to skim. My plan is to try creating the same characters in a few different systems.

It also gives me the excuse to read a little deeper into the pulp literature, especially some of the more obscure figures.

I’m going to start off with a character I like, along with the system I’m most familiar with:

The Black Bat, as generated in Spirit of the Century.

blackbatThe Black Bat is a somewhat obscure figure, despite the fact he had 60+ stories. He came a little later than some of the more famous heroes. He first appeared in Black Book Stories in 1939, and ran to 1953.

With his black costume, cape, and, obviously, the name, he seems very similar to Batman. His origin, however, is lot closer to the Batman villain Two-Face.

In the first story, “Brand of the Black Bat”, Anthony “Tony” Quinn is a successful, incorruptible district attorney. During the trial of a gangster, an assassin hurls acid in Quinn’s face, scarring his face and blinding him.

A mysterious woman offers him a secret operation to replace his eyes, and restore his sight. It succeeds, not only restoring his sight, but gives him the ability to see in the dark. He continues to pose as a blind man, donning the mask and cape to become what the second book – “Murder Calls the Black Bat” describes:

He had become a Nemesis, a dark blot of shadow soon feared by every man who lived by violence or by his wits, and now was a scourge of the underworld of crime.

Anthony Quinn – The Black Bat

Superb (5)   Stealth
Great (4)      Investigation, Alertness
Good (3)       Fists, Guns, Athletics
Fair (2)         Burglary, Contacting, Intimidation, Deceit
Average(1)   Drive, Resolve, Science, Endurance, Resources


  • In Plain Sight (SOTC 197)  SOTC: Spirit of the Century rule book
  • Master of Shadows (SOTC 197)
  • Shadowed Strike (SOTC 198)
  • Deadly Shadows (SOTC 198)
  • Uncanny Awareness (STOTC 410) STOTC: Strange Tales of the Century supplement
  • See in Dark (Unofficial Stunt – Darkness aspects can not be used against Quinn, can see normally in anything more than total darkness)


  • Fake Blind Man
  • Famous D.A.
  • War on Crime
  • Under Suspicion from Sgt. McGrath
  • Must protect his friends
  • Enemy of the Underworld
  • Marks criminals with the sign of the Bat.

Like many pulp heroes, the Bat has loyal companions. First, his loyal valet, and former con man Silk Kirby.

“And Silk had become invaluable to Quinn, since not only was he a reformed burglar whose loyalty to Tony Quinn now approached fanaticism, but he was also an ex-confidence man, glib as the best in that racket.”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated)  Altus Press.

Silk Kirby

Former Criminal, Tony’s Valet
Superb (5)    Deceit
Great (4)       Burglary, Alertness
Good (3)        Guns, Drive, Fists
Fair (2)          Stealth, Athletics, Contacting, Resolve
Average (1)   Investigation, Rapport, Intimidation, Sleight of Hand,


  • Clever Disguise (SOTC 135)
  • Mimicry (SOTC 135)
  • Master of Disguise (SOTC 136)
  • Criminal Mind (SOTC 129)
  • Hidden in Plain Sight (STOTC 422)


  • Criminal Past
  • Loyal to the Bat
  • Former Valet

He also had the aid of the bruiser Butch O’Leary. A brawny, but dim ex-boxer who was one of Quinn’s most loyal companions.

“…a tremendous hulk of a man who had attracted Tony Quinn’s notice during a bank robbery when Butch had leaped at a machine-gun armed thug who was in the act of mowing down a score of bystanders. Quinn had known at once that Butch was a man he could trust”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated) . Altus Press.

Jack “Butch” O’Leary

Superb (5)   Might
Great (4)     Endurance, Fists
Good(3)       Athletics, Resolve, Drive
Fair (2)        Alertness, Rapport, Weapons
Average (1)  Stealth, Empathy, Contacting


  • Brawler (SOTC 150)
  • Herculean Strength (SOTC 171)
  • One Hit to the Body (SOTC 146)
  • Mix it Up (SOTC 151)


  • Slow-witted
  • Strong as a Bull
  • Selfless Bravery
  • Former Boxer
  • Loyal to the Bat

The Bat’s last assistant and love interest was Carol Baldwin, the woman who arranged the operation to restore Tony Quinn’s sight. :

“She was Tony Quinn’s dream of feminine perfection come true. She, alone, had given him back his sight and restored his peace of mind. Her own father had been shot by a criminal. …. It was the healthy corneas from his eyes that had been transplanted in Tony Quinn’s. And her father’s dying wish had been that she in some way ally herself with forces that opposed crime. For this reason she had become Tony Quinn’s capable and trusted assistant.”

Daniels, Norman A.. The Black Bat Omnibus Volume 1 (Annotated)  Altus Press.

Carol Baldwin

Superb (5)    Rapport
Great (4)       Empathy, Investigation
Good (3)        Deceit, Resolve, Contacting
Fair (2)          Stealth, Athletics, Alertness,
Average(1)   Drive, Fists,  Guns


Popular Gal (SOTC 182)
Best Foot Forward (SOTC 181)
Five Minute Friends (SOTC 182)


  • War on Crime
  • Kidnapping Magnet
  • Murdered Policeman Father
  • Loyal to the Bat
  • Tony Quinn’s love interest

OneDice Pulp

I’ve been playing with the OneDice Pulp system by Cakebread & Walton

OneDice is a light, simple system in which everything that happens is resolved by a single roll of one six-sided die. (hence the name). There are a couple of OneDice books available for various genres.


I won’t go into too much detail on the rules, but they’re pretty light and can probably be picked up quickly.

Characters have 3 Abilities – Strong, Clever, and Quick (Weird is an additional choice for super-powered characters). You get 7 points to assign to each item.

Health, Defense, and Move are all calculated from the Abilities

There’s a list of skills. Players can assign 6 points to various skills.

There’s a list of talents – exceptional abilities – that the players can choose from.

Running the game is pretty simple – when undertaking the action, you roll a single six sided die and adds his appropriate ability score and skill level. If you equal or exceed the difficulty level of the task, you succeed. If you’re competing against someone else, your opponent will make a similar roll. The high value is the winner.

GM’s stuff

The GM’s section starts off with the standard “What is Pulp?” intro. It’s short, just a few pages, but does hit all of the high points of the pulp genre. It’s probably not great for people new to pulp, but it’s a decent overview.

The rest of the section contains more practical GM material, discussing how to set up hazards, assign experience, run chases, and a few other optional rules. There’s also a list of monsters and other opponents, and a list of 1930’s style vehicles.

Pulp Earth

The Pulp Earth chapter is list of possible settings for pulp games. Essentially it’s just a list of possible places and locations for adventures. All of the usual suspects are here – the South Seas, Antarctica, Lost Worlds, Hollow Earth, etc. Each location has a few sentences describing possible scenario ideas for each, none of it in any great detail. If you know pulp, nothing here is new, but it’s probably a good resource for newer GMs.

Pulp Skins

Most of the book is geared towards a 1930’s Hero Pulp style of game, but they do provide a few alternate worlds (“skins”, as the book put it). Each has a list of creatures, equipment, and some alternate rules. Note that all of these are short, only a few pages each.

There’s a Horror section with detailed Sanity Rules and a list of monsters.

There’s a Science Fiction section with some new skills and creatures. It aims to replicate Buck Rodgers\Flash Gordon style science fiction.

The Sword & Sorcery section – essentially just a list of monsters. It briefly names a few fictional kingdoms, but it’s nothing you couldn’t make up on the spot.


Basically, I’m favor of this book. It’s clearly written, and the rules, though very light, are pretty logical and easy to remember. Though none of the setting information is detailed in any way, there are a lot of stats for monsters, characters, and vehicles ready to go. I wouldn’t run a long term campaign with OneDice, but I think it’s great for quick games and one-shots.

One other plus for me – the book is small (6 x9″), and only 100 pages. It’s easy to throw it in a a bag and run it as a one shot. It’s also nice not to need any special dice.


Spirit of The Century (Part 4) – Pulp Advice

The last part of the Tips & Tricks chapter discusses a number of topics, all related to keeping a pulp tone in a game. It’s a little too wide-ranging to talk about in any detail, but some of the following ideas are discussed:

  • Keeping the action on a clock
  • Providing clues to players
  • Insuring everything is action-oriented
  • Proper use of clichés
  • Creating  deathtraps
  • Building mysteries
  • Framing scenes
  • Using montages and cut scenes

All of it is good well-thought advice to “Keep it Pulpy“, as they put it. Once again, this whole chapter makes the book a must buy, purely for this chapter.

Spirit of The Century (Part 3) – Pickup Games

The heart of the Spirit of the Century (SOTC) book, and I think the best reason to pick this up, is the chapter on how to run a pulp adventure. It’s geared to SOTC, but the ideas and advice would work in any pulp game. This chapter – “Tips and Tricks” – justifies the purchase of this book for any pulp GM.

It starts out describing how set up a Pickup Game – a quickly organized game, where you don’t know what adventure you’ll be running or how many players you’ll have beforehand. Then it describes the various approaches of running a Pickup Game. The following are just a summary of the approaches:

Structured Pickup Game

This method all of the story beats you’d find in a pulp adventure – Endangering the Characters, Certain Doom, Twists, etc. with a description and several examples of each. The idea is that the GM would create or improvise each of these things, and tie them all together at the end.

Aspected Pickup Game

In comparison, the Aspected Pickup game is a lot more loose. Instead of working out a plot beforehand, the GM sets up Decision Points – dramatic moments where the players are forced to make a choice. These would be based on the aspects of the characters. For example, if a character had a Secret Identity aspect, the GM might put the player in a position where they had to risk revealing their identity to save a friend from mortal peril. This method has the advantage of  pulling in players to the action. It will require a lot more improvisation on the part of the GM.

Dynamic Pickup Game

First, you set up the hook – the thing everyone in the story interested in. In movie fan lingo, they would call this a McGuffin. Next, you decide what NPCs are after the item, and what they’re willing to do to get it.

That’s it. They cover this in more detail, and tell you how to flesh out the plot, but that is the basic structure.

What do I use?

When I’ve run my SOTC games, I’ve generally been using a combination of Aspected and Dynamic styles. I usually have a few hooks and NPC’s prepared, but I also have scenes designed to test the players specific abilities and aspects. The first method – Structured, seems a little too railroad for my taste.


Spirit of The Century (Part 2) – The Background

The basic concept is that the players are all members of the Century Club, a global organization with chapters around the world. Publicly, it’s a group of rich adventurers and explorers. Secretly, it’s controlled by the Centurions, a group of exceptional individuals who here all born on January 1st, 1901. Most of the players are expected to be Centurions. The background hints at other, more powerful kinds of Centurions, and a mysterious ancient linage to the club itself, but the details are left to the GM.


Comic fans familiar with Warren Ellis’s work might have heard of this idea before. Many of his characters in his Authority and Planetary comics had the same trait. They were called Century Babies in his work, but the basic idea was similar. The pulp characters Ellis introduced in Planetary #1  are pretty much perfect Spirit of the Century characters.

The Century Club concept makes a good starting point for a pulp campaign. If you’re just starting out with pulp, I think I’d recommend it. I’ll admit, that though I’ve been running Spirit for the last few years, I’ve never used it. If you’ve got a good handle of the pulp archetypes and stories, it’s not absolutely necessary.

Spirit of the Century (Part 1) – Rules

My go-to system for pulp adventures is Evil Hat’s Spirit of the Century. It’s based on their FATE system.

sotc-220If you’re not used to FATE, it can be a big adjustment form more traditional role-playing games. It’s a much more narrative system, better suited to simulating genres and quick play than more mechanical systems.

The advantage to this is that it’s a lot easier to set up a quick encounter by using the aspects feature in FATE.

Aspects are just a quick means to describe a property of a place or person. This applies to everything in the game, including the PCs. Aspects can be  physical, mental, or just genre-based. Anything that would affect the story.

If i need a band of cultists quickly, I can just say they  have the aspects Fanatical Cultists, Protect Idol at All Costs, and Can only Fight in Packs. That’s all the information I need to run an encounter. (there are some other stats, but they’re quite simple to make up)

I can create a place quickly, by just listing a bunch of aspects – Shadowy Corners, Rickety Stairs, Crates of Weird Artifacts, etc.

I won’t go into details of how it all works, but the aspects aren’t just for flavor, they have an actual mechanical effect in the game. There’s a good intro at

The full Spirit of the Century rule set is at

The nice thing about SOTC is that it’s ridiculously easy to make up a scenario quickly. It’s specifically designed for “pick-up” play, so you can run a game with little preparation.

On the con side: FATE can take some getting used to, and it helps to have the special FATE dice, though ordinary six sided dice can be used.

SOTC is currently out of print as a paper version, but the PDF and E-book versions are still available.