Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 [Review]

Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 is a supplement for Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Shane Lacy Hensley’s Savage Worlds, published by Triple Ace Games. Written by Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams, who has a number of Savage Worlds titles under his Wild Card, including Slipstream and Necropolis, this digest-sized book collates five scenarios previously only available separately as PDFs. Obviously inspired by the Indiana Jones trilogy (yes, trilogy – at GameCryer, we like sticking to the classics) and The Mummy and its sequels, these scenarios are definitely in the pulp vein and come with rules and a guide to running Savage Worlds in the pulp mode. The quintet makes use of four specific characters – available to download direct from the publisher’s website – that can be used as they are or as inspiration for the players’ own.

So what is it exactly that you want from a pulp scenario? Car chases galore? Fights on top of zeppelins and trains? Seeing the heroes one step ahead or one step behind some dastardly foe in the race to discover an ancient secret in a distant and dusty tomb? Have them confront despicable Nazis or ancient Chinese sorcerers or a really nasty spider god? All right, so having all of this in one scenario is definitely far too much, but between them all, the scenarios in Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 has the lot, every one a big fat juicy cliché. Which is not to denigrate this collection, because its genre is pulp, and if pulp is anything, it is both cliché ridden and formulaic. Recognizing both clichés and formula is part of both the charm and the fun, and playing to them is not just thrilling, it is also good manners.

Of course, this does mean that these genre elements occur in more than one scenario, so it is probably best not to run all five in one go. Take a break, run a different game. Then come back to Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1, which does ask the GM to make his Savage Worlds game a little pulpier – and it is pretty much pulp action to begin with. If there is a downside to the collection, it is that it is a collection and not a campaign, but the five scenarios are really written as a serial rather than a campaign. As to the clichés and that formula, they really do make the scenarios in Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 easy to run, not just for Savage Worlds, but for the pulp RPG of your choice – Spirit of the Century, Pulp HERO, Feng Shui, and Hollow Earth Expedition are all good. It also makes each one fairly easy to prepare, just one of several reasons that Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 deserves to be on the shelves of every good pulp GM.

The pulp genre and Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1 are both for heroes, and the supplement begins by laying out the ground rules for being heroic Pulp style. The characters are expected to act in an upstanding and heroic manner, and will be penalized if they demur; heroes get extra Bennies (the Savage Worlds equivalent of Luck Points); death for anyone other than the villains is clean, but cinematic, though the heroes can withstand, if not shrug off, a lot of punishment; combat should be inventive, with lots of ammo flying and never ending up exhausted unless its dramatically appropriate; and just because it really is dramatic, as well as in keeping with the genre, the players should get used to the idea of surrendering to the villains as part of the plot. Just as in the Indiana Jones series and The Mummy, the players get to create contacts during the game, and their characters get a straight five points worth of at the end of every adventure, which ensures that they will gain an advance between every adventure. If playing with the pre-generated characters, these advances are suggested on the character sheets. Lastly, villains get to escape certain at least once, though in the five scenarios given, they only get to come back within a scenario rather than between them.

The last thing that the author includes (and I am discussing the last thing because I want to get the less interesting bits of the book out of the way before discussing what you really want to know about – the scenarios) is the essay, “Cults & Evil Organizations.” It describes itself as a brief look at its subject, and it is. This is not to say that it is a poor look at its subject, but rather this is an introduction to it, enough for a game of pulp action, but not for a Call of Cthulhu campaign.

Finally, there are the adventures. To get the most out of them, a GM will need a small pile of markers. These are used in some of the scenarios as part of the chase mechanics, set out on the table in a line to mark progress along a route and how far the protagonists are apart from each other. A GM might also like to find a period atlas or world map, and either some red markers or red silk thread with which he can indicate the route travelled by the heroes as they move around the world. Of course, whilst doing this, it is mandatory for the players to hum a few bars from a certain film trilogy. (Yes, trilogy. See my point above.)

Anyway, let’s talk of the adventures. The quintet opens with “To End All Wars,” in which the heroes must race to stop a Nazi plot that strikes at the heart of the American government, after rescuing that all too intrepid, all too curious reporter (who would certainly serve as a fifth player character with some adjustment) and fighting flesh eating insects! In “Chaos in Crete,” the heroes are hired to find an archaeologist on the Mediterranean island, and this being Crete, they find themselves caught in a classic archaeological mystery that of course, involves puzzles, a labyrinth, and the Minotaur.

Archaeology rears its head again in “Web of the Spider Cult,” as does having to rush off after an archaeological team, though this time in Mexico rather than Europe. This is the most straightforward of the five scenarios and is definitely not for arachnophobes. Things get more complex and take in more of the world with “The Treasure of the Templars,” which again sees the heroes facing the Nazis. It treads familiar territory, but because everyone gets to participate, to a much more enjoyable effect than anything dreamed up by Dan Brown. The author saves the best title, “The Talons of Lo-Peng,” for the last scenario, a rollicking good ride that sends the heroes in search of ancient Chinese treasures, first to Afghanistan, then Venice, and finally China.

The scenarios though, do require a closer read than their “pick-up-and-play” nature suggests. This is mostly due to unclear explanations of certain mysteries within the scenarios, the details and explanations of each often being too widely spread within the pages of said scenario. That is really due to the editing though, because otherwise, the author’s style and organization of each scenario is unfussy, straightforward, and easy to use. The artwork is cartoonish, but not bad, although it is a pity that the covers for each scenario as they originally appeared could not have been better used.

Savage Worlds, although not quite a pulp action rules set, does lean in that direction. It is pretty easy to do the pulp genre with the rules adjustments given in Daring Tales of Adventure Compendium 1, but then it is equally as easy to extract the plots of the five scenarios here and run them using the pulp RPG of the GM’s choice. Essentially the rules for pulp action Savage Worlds are as direct and clear-cut as the plots in each scenario, which is just about what you want in a pulp sourcebook.

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