Category Archives: Diesel Pulp

Tech Noir Setting Rules

Tech Noir is a genre that mixes the tropes, themes, and archetypical characters and stories of noir and hard boiled fiction with science-fiction technology and aesthetics. It’s the genre of stories about illegal psychics on the run from a government that wants to put them in internment camps and the one ex-psy-cop who can help them escape; or a missing microchip that can hack any computer and the detective hired by corrupt cops to find it since it’s believed to be somewhere in Neon Town; or the billionaire inheritor of a megacorporation who wants to know why her parents were killed in an aircar accident, and doesn’t know who to trust so she turns to outsiders to solve the crime.

The Starfinder Roleplaying Game isn’t specifically designed to emulate Tech Noir, but if everyone in a group is willing to give the tropes a try, there’s only a few things that need to be adjusted for it to do the job quite well.

Gear

Tech Noir isn’t about killing monsters or taking their stuff, though both those things can happen. It’s about investigating, surviving, exploring themes, and earning experience points. The GM ignores wealth per level, and “treasure” may be as little as 5 credits a day plus expenses. Instead, you get to pick gear at every character level, with some gear getting special rules on how its recovered or recharged.

“Gear,” in this context, is anything that would go in the equipment chapter of the Starfinder Core Ruleook, so cybernetics and such count. You can even take “services” as gear, in which case they count as contacts (and treat “item level” as the npc contact level), but you have to go to them for help (no more often than once per game session)—they aren’t cohorts.

This equipment has a minimum item level of 1, but even at first level it’s important to know which gear fills which slot (since recharge/reuse rules are different).

Armor has no environmental protections, and always looks like typical clothing. Mostly suits and trenchcoats.

*You get one piece of gear of your level+1 or less. If it uses charges or batteries you never run out of supplies for it, though you do need to take time to reload normally, and you can’t use those supplies for any other equipment. If you lose this, it is restored or replaced within 24 hours or as soon as you get back to your base of operations.

*You also get one pieces of gear of your level or less. If it uses charges or batteries you get one spare every time you hit your home base. If you lose this, it is restored or replaced as soon as you get back to your base of operations (but not more often than once per 2 days.)

*You get two pieces of gear of your level -1 or less. If it uses charges or batteries you get one spare every time you hit your home base, no more than once per game session. If you lose these, they are restored or replaced near the beginning of the next game session.

*You get four pieces of gear of your level -3 or less. If you lose these, you’re out of luck until you gain a new character level.

*If you are 5th level or higher, you get four pieces of gear of your level -4 or less. If you lose these, you’re out of luck until you gain a new character level.

Adventures

Tech noir adventures are much more likely to be mysteries than jungle exploration, first contact with new alien species, or raids into ancient dungeons—though tech noir CAN tell those stories, with an additional mystery/drama subplot.

In the first or second session of a new tech noir adventure, the GM should make clear why the mystery or complication of the adventure is. After each successful encounter, the GM must give the PCs a lead. No skill check is needed for this (though additional clues may be available with successful skill checks). The lead is, at minimum, a way to get to another encounter related to the mystery or complication, which in turn leads to another, and so on. After 13 successful encounters, the mystery or complication is solved (by shooting the bad guy and finding his diaries explaining everything, if nothing else). Noir detectives and agents often fumble about most of the story, getting jumped by foes they’ve never met and finding allies suddenly getting cagey for no good reason. By tenaciously pulling through, the noir protagonist eventually uncovers the truth. A tech noir adventure should be set up the same way.

Example of Tech Noir in Fiction
Akira
Blade Runner
Blade Runner 2049
Brazil
Dark City
Dredd
Gattica
Ghost in the Shell (anime)
Metropolis
Minority Report
Soylent Green

Source of Inspiration
Shadowrun—all forms of this RPG are well suited to draw ideas for magic-infused tech noir.
Garrett Files Series. These books by Glen Cook have no tech, but they combine noir with fantasy in a way that should be inspirational for anyone looking to create Starfinder Noir adventures.

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Rosie’s Rebels

And now, at least for a moment, a change of pace.

When you are the storyteller, you get to decide what the story is.

Inspired by WWII slang, here’s an idea for a WWII pulp heroes team.

The German Ubermensch and the ‘31s (results of Japan’s Unit 731) had the Allies on the run by mid-1943. While espionage efforts managed to bring back some of the super-science being used to create those soldiers, results were nearly always incomplete. The US felt an invasion of the home country was inevitable, and grew desperate. Experiments had to be carried out, dangerous human experiments, but it was considered unacceptable to risk fighting men (even minority fighting men) that were desperately needed on the front.

Thus, women were asked to volunteer to be injected with unknown agents, exposed to strange radiations, and fed experimental chemicals. Most survived, but the overall casualty rate was still higher than a typical combat unit. In time, the knowledge gained helped turn the tide of war. But before that, many of the woman with the most exceptional test reactions were sent to fight on the front lines, despite the bias against their gender. Anecdotally, this was a result of the First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt, being told by a general that the United States would not send women to the front lines no matter how dire the desperation, and her calmly replying by asking he he felt the Nazi’s would miantain that policy once they took over.

Thus the first Special Troopers section was born, as the decorated unit of “Rosie’s Rebels.”

BAM—A seven-foot amazon of a woman and a marine, BAM was able to bounce attacks from small arms off her skin and throw a jeep, or even tip over a tank. While the “BAM Process” was one of the eventually successes of the experimental programs, no soldier given the “perfected” version was as strong or tough as BAM herself.

Cast-Iron—Already a brilliant engineer, Cast-Iron created a personal heavy combat armor during her downtime between sessions of experimental injections. Unfortunately she was so much smarter than anyone else that no one could understand how she built it, maintained it, or kept it running. In the end, only Cast-Iron ever used her infantry armor suit.

Eight Ball—People who meant Eight Ball harm always came to bad ends. No one was ever sure if this was a ’31-induced power, or if she was just naturally lucky, or if it was a string of amazing coincidences.

Gibson—Gibson could hear, and somehow send by thought, radio waves. She was also a spectacular tactician and soldier. While the official military account claimed her military prowess was a result of the same radiation that gave her radiopathy, history suggests she was simply overlocked for her combat and leadership qualities until she had a power. Leader of Rosie’s Rebels until the end of the war.

Gold Star—Despite dying during experimentation, Gold Star showed up for duty the next day. Though she seemed no more resilient to damage than a typical 38-year-old mother of three, her body and belongings always disappeared within a few hours, and she would wander in by the next day, along with her gear. Also a rated marksman and sniper.

Heat Wave—The recipient of a unique ability that was never duplicated in further experiments, Heat Wave caused flammable fuel near her to not be expended when it created fire (even to run an engine). Early on she simply had a neverending flamethrower and extended the range of any vehicle she sat over the fuel tank of, but near the end of the war her ability to produce combustion without expending mass was used to also give her a personal flight platform.

Retread—A veteran of the nursing corps during the Great War, Retread could temporarily access the memories and skills of the recently deceased… including Gold Star.

Sky Scout—Could inexplicable see her position from roughly 100 to 1,000 feet up if she closed her eyes. Also a pacifist Seventh Day Adventist and Rosie’s Rebels unofficial chaplain.

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Campaign Elements: The Wolf’s Head

Sometimes a campaign really needs a mastermind criminal with a vast organization at his disposal. Preferably someone with extensive resources, but who also prefer to keep a low profile. Such crime bosses may serve as foils, contacts, patrons, nemesis, or just background elements the GM and players can work off of as stories develop.

Of course, it helps if such master criminals and crime groups are cool and enigmatic.

So this is an idea of one option to fill that element. It focuses on the master criminal, the Wolf’s Head, and touches lightly on the organization, the Crime Guild. These descriptions are kept intentionally broad. A GM should be able to easily adapt the Wolf’s Head and Crime Guild to any genre, any game system, and any world or time frame. They can be pastiches for Lex Luthor and LexCrop, Moriarty and his Network, the Godfather and the Five Families, or Jabba the Hutt and his scum and villainy. Alternatively, a GM can use this as a starting point to build a whole new kind of organized crime group.

The Wolf’s Head

The Wolf’s Head is a mastermind villain and organizer of all forms of outlawry. He or she holds the highest position in the Crime Guild, a combination of organized crime cartel and training-ground for talented individuals. Each Wolf’s Head carries the position’s official scepter of office, a long cane with a silver wolf’s head and the words caput gerat lupinum (“may his be a wolf’s head” in Latin) engraved around the base of the head of the cane.

The Wolf’s Head traces its origin back to writ’s of outlawry in early English common law (or any older nation in worlds lacking England). An outlaw was literally being “cast out of the law,” no longer subject to the protections a person received from the law and thus able to be treated as a wolf. The write included the words caput gerat lupinum, and in many cases was considered the most serious possible sentence.

According to Crime Guild history, one of the earliest people declared an outlaw under this system build a vast network of outlaws, and took the first Wolf’s Head title. Over the centuries that organization has come in contact with, and absorbed, the thousands of organized crime groups from every continent, nation, and ethnicity, forming the massive, worldwide Crime Guild. While the goals of the Crime Guild vary somewhat, they tend to remain institutional – focused on earning and protecting money, influence, and power and building a large cadre of loyal agents. Many guilders are important members of other groups, ranging from crime families to law enforcement agencies, but some few work directly for the Crime Guild. These generally answer directly to the Wolf’s Head, and through them the Wolf’s Head is free to pursue any goals he or she desires, as long as the Crime Guild on the whole continues to grow and prosper.

The holder of the Wolf’s Head title changes periodically, and apparently at random to outside observers. Each Wolf’s Head must nominate one Alder of Crime every 3 years (though killed alders need not be replaced). Each Alder is able to secretly vote to “retire” the current Wolf’s Head (though they can change this vote at any time). Such votes are kept with several ArchNumbers (Numbers being living cogitators who keep all the Crime Guild’s records, and ArchNumbers being senior examples). The Wolf’s Head also ranks the alders, from best to worst, and gives that information only to the ArchNumbers (and can change the rankings at any time).

If at any point 2/3 or more of the current Alders have voted to retire the current leader, the Numbers inform the entire Crime Guild. At that point all Alders try to kill the Wolf’s Head. If they succeed within 30 days (also known as the Hunter’s Moon, as the alders hunt the ultimate wolf), then whichever alder still alive that was highest ranked by the previous Wolf’s Head becomes the new Wolf’s Head. If not, the current Wolf’s Head retains the position, and the ArchNumbers ensure every alder that voted to retire him is killed (to cull those who mistakenly thought it was time to change leaders).

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Pulp Hero Names

I love pulp heroes.

I love coming up with hero names and ideas.

You see where this is going.

It’s TOUGH to come up with a pulp or even golden age hero name that have the classic pulp feel, don’t suck, and comic fans don’t recognize as being from something else.

So no promises on these, and I may use them myself someday, but here are some pulp-era hero names I’ve not found in use in comics or pulp stories and that don’t seem to be trademarked… along with the concepts I personally used them with.

Armor Man
Nothing Can Hurt Him. Nothing Can Stop Him. Nothing But The Truth.
Armor Man is one of the great heroes of the later Pacific Theater campaign, using his fully covering custom Automatic Rotary Manual Operation Rig, and it’s amazing defensive properties of green steel construction, to save the lives of thousands of marines during the island-hopping fighting. Everyone knows that, and everyone knows (despite never having seen him, and only hearing his mechanically amplified voice) he’s a rich and famous industrialist, likely of New England decent, likely Hardwick Steele, who the press often call “Hard Steel.”
But Armor Man isn’t Hard Steel. Or of New England descent. Or a man.
Instead she is Tomoko “Tom” Hajiro, a genius and courageous warrior whose family was interned during WWII by the US government for their Japanese heritage. Though Hajiro managed to avoid the camps as a result of traveling when the orders came down, she was unable to interest the U.S government in any inventions by a woman or an Asian-American. Wishing to help defeat the evil of fascism, Hakiro turned to Hardwick Steel, the fairly deplorable man who bought her family’s property when they discovered that if it was stored with the government, the US would honor no claim for loss, and offer no insurance for damage. An opportunist, Hardwick took advantage of Hajiro’s genius to build a massive industrial company and helped her build the ARMOR suit and go off fighting toward the end of the war, in the hopes she’d get killed.
She didn’t. She became a national hero, in her role as Armor Man.
Now that the war if over, Armor Man remains a national hero, dealing with Super Science Villains and International Crime Leagues. As long as Hajiro keeps inventing for Hardwick, he’s happy to keep funding her heroic efforts. He can’t expose her without risk of being exposed as a fake and fraud himself (and losing his chief source of new inventions), and she has seen and heard what common American men say about both Japanese and women when they think none are present, and fears what the government would do if it discovered she has duped it, heroically while only doing good, for years.

Crime Basher
Justice Never Sleeps
The man who became Crime Basher was a veteran of WWI who took a piece of shrapnel from an experimental chemical bomb to his skull. It caused him to never sleep, and never need to sleep, and almost never grow tired.
Upon his discharge after the war, the veteran discovered corruption had taken over his big city home, and no one was doing anything about it. Already a combat expert, and now able to work during the day and still stay up to fight crime all night, he assumed the blue-color working-man’s hero identity of Crime Basher, and used his hard fists (and a pair of weighted-knuckle gloves) to punch crime in the face!

Donny Brook
He doesn’t start fights. He ends them.
Domhnall “Donny” Brooke doesn’t mean any harm. He just doesn’t like to see people get picked on. It makes him sore. And so he does something about it. Usually involving hitting things with whatever is handy.
But he happens to also be the reincarnation of the Thulian Age warrior-god Anextiomarus, also known as the Champion of Protection. So when he gets sore, bullies get even MORE sore. He can usually just beat people up, but he IS a reincarnated god. He is always a little strong, and a little tougher, and a little better fighter than the strongest, toughest, most dangerous person present.
But he can still be outnumbered, and he’s not that smart.

Katherine (Kate) “Blaze” Carson
She’s Out of the World!
Blaze Carson is an adventurer’s adventurer. She’s not a masked hero, but she is an ace pilot (with her own custom tricked-out Bell P-59B Airacomet and a massive Dornier Do X seaplane she uses as a mobile headquarters). She’s also a crack shot, drover, anthropologist, master of Bartitsu (which she learned directly from Edward William Barton-Wright), fencer, engineer, deep sea diver, and detective.
She’s also been to the Moon and mars, where she faced and defeated the Mondreich and Aresites, respective, but she doesn’t talk about that much.
Though she kept the ray gun.

The Scarlet Shadow
Crime Makes Her See Red!
The Scarlet Shadow is Lilibeth Jefferson, the oldest daughter of a large family with numerous men becoming police and soldiers in every generation. She learned everything her brothers learned, but when they went to academies and military programs, she was packed off to school. She became a determined chemist and aided in the creation of new munitions toward the end of the war, but couldn’t get any real science job after the war ended and men came home.
She took a position as a detective’s secretary, and discovered she was better at the job than he was. When he was investigating a case involving strange substances she tailed him and saved his life when an experimental chemical bomb went off. The mix of chemicals didn’t kill her, but gave her the power to create the Scarlet Mist, a thick red fog she can see through (even at night), but which block’s anyone else’s vision. Armed with this power, and a red trench coat and fedora and twin 1911a Colt .45s, she has become the greatest detective in America, the person you go to when everyone else is stumped.
The detective she saved, Mason Alder, has become her chauffer and assistant.

Sky King
The Highest of High Adventure!
I’ll be honest, Sky King is a Rocketeer pastiche, though he works with a group of Stratoknights and has a mountaintop base called “Avalon” and an airship named ” Llamrei.”

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Roller Dungeon

So here is the idea:

Dungeon speed runs as a team sport, on roller skates. “Roller Dungeon Team T-Shirts” optional, but the Absalom Abyssals Woman’s Speed Destruction Team is my favorite.

EVERYONE is on roller skates. Heroes, monsters, gelatinous cubes… everyone.

The Rules

Every PC must have half their levels in barbarian, brawler, cavalier, fighter, investigator, kineticist, monk, ninja, rogue, or slayer.

For these mandatory class levels, you get +4 skill points per level, and the Skating skill. Also, any class that has Ride replaces it with Skating.

Skating works like Ride, but your “mount” is a pair of skates that take your space. Anything you could do on a mount, you can instead do on skates. All skates have a 30 foot move rate and, like a mount, if you control your skates without taking an action, you get a full action.

Skates are never battle-trained mounts, unless you would get a mount as a class feature like cavaliers).

All dungeons should be 2 CR lower than the APL *your spellcaster assistance has been limited after all, and you are making speed runs).

You only get full XP and treasure for a combat or trap encounter if you finish it in 5 rounds or less. For every round more than that, you lose 25% of your XP and treasure. An encounter begins when you become aware of it, so scouting eats into your time. If you complete an encounter in less than 4 rounds, you get a 10% treasure bonus for each round less time you take.

It’s assumed you have an audience, so Performance combat is an option.

Combine with DungeonBall! or X-Crawl as desired.

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Diesel Pulp Australian Units

20170208_103755

Working on more minis for my Diesel Pulp setting. These are three “Kelly Heavies,” from Australia’s legendary Armored Rangers. While medium and heavy infantry doctrine varies from country to country, and many ended up simply slapping what heavy infantry they could scrounge into heavy weapon platoons, only Australia built custom-purpose advanced scouting units that combined light, medium, and heavy infantry (generally known as Bushrangers, Kellies, and Kelly Heavies, respectively).

The idea behind armor scout units was to operate far from the front lines, make detailed reports about conditions, and engage in targeted strikes where a small force could potentially make a large difference. Bridges, passes, pillboxes, observation posts, field airports, and headquarters were favorite targets. Bushrangers would move as far ahead as possible, with one Kelly each in support if they ran into a small enemy unit (generally infantry or cavalry). Only if a viable target was found would Kelly Heavies be employed, each directed to an advantageous firing position by a Bushranger, where the Kelly Heavy could employ their Australian-built Owen Gun Shields, with their machine carbine and integral HEAT launchers.

Armored Scouts were consistently the most effective units including heavy infantry throughout the Global War, their tactics honed in part due to Australia’s much longer history with armored infantry, dating back to the 1890s Bush Battles against the Martian tripods in and around Victoria. Kelly Heavies, in particular, were designed with much heavier armor in front, especially on the head and chest, and lighter armor over the rest of the infantry fighter. Because they generally engaged in battle supported by more mobile units, Kelly Heavies could reliably face the source of the heaviest enemy fire and depend on support to alert them from threats outside their narrow field of vision. While no heavy infantry could survive direct hits from anti-materiel weapons, Kelly Heavies could take glancing blows to the heaviest section of their armor, and hold up to direct hits from most anti-personnel weapons. As a result, “damaged” Kelly Heavies were much more common than other heavy infantry units (which generally didn’t survive being hit by anything heavy enough to do significant damage).

I’m making an effort to make these miniatures more dinged-up than I normally try for, but they are otherwise fairly stock.

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A Partial List of Very Supers Words

As a companion piece to the (partial, revised) List of Very Fantasy Words, here are real, not newly-minted, words and phrases I very rarely encounter outside a Supers RPG or story.

*Alter-ego
*Archenemy
*Cowl
*Domino mask
*Henchman
*League
*Mastermind
*Many impact-based onomatopoeias (Blam, Pow, Woosh)
*Mutant (yes, some post-apocalyptic sources as well, but weirdly those are by far the minority)
*Rogues Gallery
*Secret Identity
*Super-powers
*Superhero (though beyond the obvious ties to the genre, there are actually BS legal reasons why the word superhero is only common in DC and Marvel products).
*Supreme (except I confess, as a pizza description, which is more common)
*Syndicate
*Villain (and, even more so, super-villain)

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More Diesel Pulp

Most of my “Diesel Pulp” figures and models are part of a specific setting I worldbuild purely as a hobby. I work on them in my (limited) spare time as something connected to many of the things I love about my hobby, without being something I plan to actually ever turn into a product. And, of course, a lot of it is left half-done…

47-frei-corps

In the background two Maginot Field Turrets (each topped by an Irregular — Sister Sanguine and Tommy Atkins), in the foreground several more Irregulars including Father Pentacaust, Buring Skull, Mister Mythic, Captain St. Louis, The Haze, Torch Singer, the Marshal , Kilroy, Pirate Jack, and Black Hood. to the far right, three members of the Iron Raptors.

Occam’s Rangers

An idea for a paramilitary group, perhaps for a Pierce the Veil, Guns of Tarnation, Strangefinder Modern, or No Strings Attached campaign.

Name: Occam’s Rangers
Slogan: Explore, Examine, Explain
Logo: A cavalry rider on a zebra

Purpose: Occam’s Rangers are trained to investigate the unexplained, especially those cases of unusual and mysterious events that seem to pose a hazard. Though able to defend themselves when pressed, they are modern philosopher-warriors, who take the scientific method and critical though seriously, and respect scholars as much as soldiers.

Occam’s Rangers believe extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but are also willing to be pragmatic about public safety.

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Diesel Pulp Allied Troops

Diesel Pulp Allied Infantry
Top, Left to Right: US Light Infantry medic, three US Medium Infantry (anti-armor, close combat, flamethrower, all in unpowered armor), two US  Heavy Infantry (combat support, flamethrower, in powered armor), and one US “Rough House” AT2 Gun Carrier (walker equivalent of an armed jeep)
Bottom, Left to Right: two Allied Special Unit Light Infantry (Pacific Theater, the Yelling Yahoos; one with captured Japanese Death Ray rifle and one with an experimental Power Arm, both with captured Tokubetsu Kōgekitai swords), one Free Corps mercenary (European Theater, the Minuteman Militia) and two Irregulars (All-American Girl, with her Boom Gun and Tomastic Sword; and Sky King with his Jetpack, SpectraGoggles, and Colt 1911a .45).

diesel-pulp-troops

These are for my ’49 setting I play around with as a hobby. I have shots of kitbashed walkers here and here, and talk more about the technology of the fictional setting here. and have a history of some of that tech here.

The Light Infantry medic is a rebased HeroClix
The Medium Infantry are Dust Tactics troops
The Heavy Infantry are Grindhouse Games APE suits for their Incursion game.
The Gun Carrier is a West Wind Productions Commanche battle suit
The Yahoos are rebased Heroscape.
The Free Corps is a repaint HorrorClix.
All-American Girl is a Heroclix Liberty Belle, with a modded-in gun and sword (and she’ll eventually have a US flag on her chest instead of a bell)
Sky King is a modified Lobster Johnson IndyClix (with the lobster claw removed from his chest, and Jango Fett’s jetpack from WotC’s Star Wars line)