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Q&A: Pulp RPG 'Spirit of the Century'

Fred Hicks, co-president of Evil Hat Games Productions, spoke with Geeksago about the company’s pen-and-paper roleplaying game ‘Spirit of the Century’ – a game that embraces the Pulp adventure genre of the 30’s and 40s’.

Q: Could you describe the production history of the game?

A: 2006's Spirit of the Century was our first commercial version of the Fate system, which Rob Donoghue and I put together originally as a set of house rules for the Fudge system back around 2000. We wanted to update our house rules to something more fully-featured in preparation for using that rule-set with the Dresden Files RPG, which we eventually published in 2010. Spirit was a chance for us to produce something robust and put it out there in the public for folks to play (and, frankly, test) in advance of us using it in (and risking more on) the big-and-getting-bigger property that is the Dresden Files. Ultimately it turned out to be its own thing! Won a few awards, and helped put us and the Fate system on the map in our "learning years" leading up to 2010. But it almost didn't happen: our first run at updating Fate resulted in something which... had a few solid ideas in it, but didn't actually function as a working whole; it had some fairly thick edge cases where the whole thing just broke. So at one point, halfway through the development process, we had to nuke it all and start over. That was emotionally tough, and I even had to take a couple months away from it in order to get my head screwed on right about it, but during that time we also brought in Leonard Balsera, who helped us in the start-over-and-get-it-right work that followed.

Q: Have you released support material?

A: In the years between 2006 and now, we've released Spirit of the Season (a pulpy take on the Christmas & Hannukah season), Strange Tales of the Century (a look at the Spirit setting up to the 1950s, which includes a very deep dive into the various archetypes of pulp heroes around the globe, as exhaustively researched and written by Jess Nevins, and with an appendix by Brian Engard that helps folks update from the 2006 version of Fate to 2013's Fate Core edition), and Young Centurions (rewinding the clock to the 1910s, when the Spirits are all teenagers, going on pulpy young adult fiction inflected adventures). We also digitally released a Spirit of the Century adventure titled Storm of the Century, found on DriveThruRPG. In 2019, we'll be updating the setting to 1984 with the upcoming Shadow of the Century. We've done a few board and card games in the Spirit-verse: Race to Adventure, Zeppelin Attack!, and Zeppelin Conquest. And we've done a series of novels in the setting: The Dinocalypse Trilogy (Dinocalypse Now, Beyond Dinocalypse, Dinocalypse Forever); The Young Centurion YA novels (Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate; Sally Slick and the Miniature Menace); Khan of Mars; King Khan; Stone's Throe; and The Pharaoh of Hong Kong.

Q: How do the game's mechanics function?

A: I'm terrible at giving an interview-style answer to this, so instead I'll just point you to the basics of the Fate system as explained by the very excellent webcoming Up To 4 Players. While Spirit of the Century is based on an earlier version of Fate, the basics of the game still apply fairly well!

Q: What distinguishes it from other Pulp-themed games?

A: For all its heft, the rules are only a part of it; the game shines best in terms of the advice on how to run a game in a way that feels very pulpy. The system itself is also strongly story-focused, so you'll find the Fate mantra "it's fiction, not physics" applying heavily throughout and during play. The logic of the game is the logic of stories.

Q: Is there new support material coming out?

A: Shadow of the Century is a continuation of the Spirit of the Century setting, and slated to come out before the middle of 2019. Shadow updates the setting to 1984 while still keeping its eye on the pulp roots, which evolved and morphed in dozens of delightful ways to produce the genre-driven entertainment of my youth! Knight Rider, Automan, the A-Team, and more all easily work as pulp properties, and Shadow is about putting all of those ideas into a blender to build a team of larger-than-life underdogs that take on oppression in all its forms in the dark future (from Spirit's perspective) of the 1980s.

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