The below is the complete core rules for Pulp!. You can also download this as a 2 page PDF, and as a pocketmod from DriveThruRPG.
by Brian A Liberge
Edited by Jim White
Pulp! is a role-playing system that encourages creative play through minimal, dynamic rules. It highlights the action-oriented heroes of Pulp Magazines, who fight against the strange and phenomenal. The Player Characters (PCs) are the stars of the stories. The Game Master (GM) controls the world and Non-Player Characters (NPCs). Each character fits on a playing card for fast play you can take with you anywhere. The goal is to have fun telling stories together.
Playing the Game
The GM takes turns with the players, with the GM introducing new story elements and the players responding. It’s important to collaborate but the GM has final say on the limits of the story.
Once a high stress situation begins, such as combat, it’s time to enter Initiative. The character that triggered the action takes the first turn. Each turn a character can make any number of Mundane Actions leading up to one Test, Contest, Aid, Create Asset, or Repair action. Once the turn is resolved, the player or GM controlling that character chooses any character that has not taken a turn to go next. The last person to take their turn starts the sequence again, choosing who begins the next round of turns. This continues until the scene is resolved.
Mundane Action: Any action that is particularly easy considering a character’s abilities. These actions automatically succeed. In a particularly difficult situation an action that was previously Mundane may call for a Test, as determined by the GM.
Tests: Tests are used to determine the outcome of difficult situations. Tests are resolved by rolling a six sided die. You add one relevant Ability Score AND one relevant Trait or Asset modifier to the result of the die to get your Total. A Total that meets or exceeds the Difficulty is a Success. A Total lower than the Difficulty is a Failure.
A result of 6 on the die OR a Total that exceeds the Difficulty by 6 or more is an Outstanding Success. This grants the Character an additional benefit, often a lower Difficulty on related actions, as determined by the GM.
A result of 1 on the die OR a Total of 2 or lower is a Complication. This results in greater consequences that may put the character in an undesirable situation or create a higher Difficulty on related actions, as determined by the GM.
Difficulty is determined by the GM using the following guidelines:
1-3: A Mundane Action that most could complete without failing.
4-6: A Skilled Action requires some talent or training.
7-9: An Expert Action requires great talent or years of training.
10-13: A Master Action is difficult for even trained experts.
14+: A Legendary Action will be retold by bards in song.
Contests: A Contest is when two characters are working in direct opposition. The initiating character rolls first and then the targeted character rolls a reaction, both adding in modifiers as with a Test. The higher Total wins the Contest. The difference between the two scores is the Margin of Success.
Characters can attack another character’s Abilities with a Contest. A successful attacking character reduces the reacting character’s Ability Score by the Margin of Success. A successful reacting character can also reduce the attacking character’s Ability Score by the Margin of Success, as long as it narratively makes sense.
The rules for Outstanding Success and Failure still apply with the consequences determined by the GM. A reacting character that has a lower Total but achieved an Outstanding Success never loses Ability Score. Should both characters achieve Outstanding Success then both characters displayed incredible skill, but neither character achieved victory.
Aid: Aid adds a +1 Bond modifier to an ally’s next roll. You can use multiple Aid bonuses on one action, to a maximum of +5.
Create Asset: Any beneficial effect that lasts more than one turn is an Asset. Players can use their action to create an Asset by succeeding on a Test, with the Difficulty set by the GM.
Assets created during initiative are generally temporary. The bonus on temporary Assets is equal to the margin of success. If it makes sense for an Asset to last longer than one scene, the bonus granted becomes +1 at the end of the scene. You may add it to your Asset list.
Repair: Add one point of Vigor back to an Asset. You can never exceed the Asset’s original Vigor Rank in this way.
Between scenes each character can make one Recovery Action. Characters who take extended downtime may take several recovery actions as determined by the GM.
A Personal Recovery Action allows a character to add a point back to an Ability Score that has been reduced. You can never go over your original Ability Rank in this way.
An Inspiring Action allows a character to add a point to an ally’s Ability Score. The Inspiring character has to have a higher Ability Rank than the target’s Ability Score or make an Expert test to succeed. Unlike a Personal Recovery Action, you can exceed the target’s original Ability Rank up to a maximum Score of 5. At the end of the next action scene any Ability that exceeds its original Rank returns to its original Rank.
Abilities: Each character has five Abilities, with a Rank representing how talented or skilled they are in each area. A character with a Rank of 0 in an Ability is average while a character with a Rank of 5 (the maximum for PCs) is one of the most gifted individuals in the world.
- Charm: A character’s grace, charisma and looks. Charm is almost always used in social situations to convince someone to act or think the way you want them to.
- Grit: A character’s determination, resolve and will. Grit is generally used to fight off the effects of fear, misdirection or insanity.
- Smarts: A character’s acquired knowledge, reasoning, creativity and ability to think on their feet. Smarts is generally used to improvise tools, assess a target, research a problem or develop new equipment.
- Vigor: A character’s strength, fortitude, health, and toughness. Vigor is most often used to inflict or absorb physical damage, or otherwise physically affect the world.
- Luck: Luck works differently than the other Abilities. It represents fate, chance and your natural ability to avoid danger.
Luck: Luck can’t be targeted by an opponent, and you can’t use your Luck Ability as a modifier on a Test or Contest. Instead, you can spend a Luck point to add a +1 bonus to a Total, or you can spend 2 Luck points to reroll a d6. Spending Luck lowers your Score until you can recover, just as losing Contests reduces your other abilities. When initiating a Contest, you have to choose to spend Luck before your target rolls a reaction. Your cannot spend your Luck Score into negative. Once it drops to zero, you’re out of Luck!
Traits: Traits represents a characters skills, personality and past. Each character has one of each Trait type: an Edge, a Tagline and a Bond.
An Edge is a specific, positive Trait that grants a +3 modifier on Tests and Contests. They’re always positive and represent the thing that the PC is best at. Some example Edges are Flying Ace, Deadly Right Hook, and Enchanting Songstress.
Supernatural powers such as Necromancy, Fire Resistance or Telekinesis are also represented by an Edge when appropriate to the setting.
A Tagline is a quick phrase that sums up a large part of who your character is. Taglines grant either a +1 or -1 modifier on Tests or Contests, so the best Taglines can be used both positively and negatively. Example Taglines include Too Hot to Handle, My Gun Talks for Me and Arrogant Mogul.
Bonds represent a link to another character or part of the world. Like Taglines, they can provide a +1 or -1. Some example Bonds might be Trained by the Dragon Knights, I Owe a Life Debt to the Rogue or Wanted by the CIA.
A character that chooses to use a Tagline or Bond with a -1 modifier on a roll recovers 1 Luck point, to a maximum of their Luck Rank.
Asset: Any beneficial effect that lasts more than one turn is an Asset. Assets are often pieces of equipment, but may also be inherent abilities. Generally, Assets grant a +1 modifier. Assets that are more fantastic may have a higher bonus but might also require a minimum Ability Score to use, a Test to activate, or have a clear drawback.
Assets have a Vigor Rank which represent how durable they are. An Asset’s Vigor can be targeted just like a character’s Vigor, with the character wielding the equipment rolling the reaction. Assets with a Vigor Score of 0 or below are no longer functional. At -5 equipment can no longer be repaired or recovered. Unless otherwise noted, an Asset has a Vigor Rank equal to its bonus.
Pets: Any Asset that has its own Traits is a Pet. Common pets are vehicles, mounts and servants. Pets do not get their own turn. A character in control of a Pet can use either their own Abilities and Traits, those of their Pet, or an Ability of one and a Trait of the other.
When a character is defeated they cannot take further actions until they recover. Most NPCs are defeated when an Ability Score is reduced to below 0. PCs and NPCs with Luck Ranks need to have an Ability Rank reduced to -5 or below to be defeated.
Player Characters start with a name and an idea. The GM’s adventure might provide some example characters and will be a great place to start looking for ideas.
Distribute 10 points among your Abilities. No Ability Rank should be higher than 5 or lower than 0. Every PC has 1 bonus rank in Luck.
Create three Traits: an Edge, Tagline and a Bond.
Starting Assets are generally established by the adventure itself. You might not start with any Assets.
Write a brief description of your character and you’re done. Most characters will fit easily on an index card or sticky note.
NPCs are as detailed as you need them to be. The average person likely has 3 points to distribute to Abilities, and a Tagline. The lead villain may have as many Abilities and Traits as a PC, or possibly more. A GM should feel free to create NPCs with degrees of detail in between these extremes as called for by the story.