Weird Crime Tales

Weird Crime Report

Featuring “The Spook Squad”

Setting Notes

Horror pulps are just what the name implies: ghost, vampire, werewolf, and monster stories written to give you a good chill and lead you to sleep with the lights on. There were several leading authors known for their work in this area: H. P. Lovecraft,

"Shudder Pulps," a.k.a. "Weird Menace" stories are a subgenre that uses many of the elements of the Horror story. There is a villain, at first thought to be supernatural in either origin or power that threatens the well-being of the city/country/world. This villain kidnaps a beautiful girl and subjects her to extreme cruel and sadistic torture. Her boyfriend manages to rescue her and defeat the villain, which is usually shown to be an ordinary mortal being, albeit an evil genius. “Weird Menace” was a theme prominently featured in the radio drama I Love A Mystery. That radio drama later inspired the Saturday morning cartoon, Scooby-Doo (the original series). If you think of the old Scooby Doo cartoons (“I’d have gotten away with it if wasn’t for you pesky kids!”), then you pretty much have an idea of what “Shudder Pulps” are like.

Pulp Examples

Some of the magazines that featured horror stories:

  • Unknown

  • Weird Tales

Some of the magazines that featured "Weird Menace" tales:

  • Dime MysteryHorror StoriesTerror Tales

Helpful Clichés

  • Ghost Chaser

  • Occult Scholar

  • Psychic Investigator

  • G-Man

House Rules Character Creation

As per standard Risus rules, with the following Advanced Options:

  • Pumps and Double Pumps, Sidekicks, Lucky Shots, and Boxcars

Sample Character

Special Agent Laurents Gilchrist

Psychically Sensitive G-Man [3]

Erudite Connoisseur of World Literature (2)

Short Tempered Martial Arts Student (2)

House Rules

Magic and the Supernatural

Guiding Principles

Outside of the Horror Pulps, there is almost no mention of magic and the supernatural. Occasionally, there may be a hint of something otherworldly, but these hints are later to proven to have rational, mundane, non-magical explanations (giving them more in common with the Shudder Pulps than the Horror Pulps).

On the other hand, the Horror Pulps provide just about the only evidence of magic and the supernatural. In these stories, magic is performed by following a formulaic ritual. There is usually a sacred locale, specially prepared components, an arcane symbol or two, and a verbal incantation. Because of this formulaic approach to magic, it was not necessarily limited to “trained mages.” Anyone could pick up a book of spells, so to speak, and provided they followed the instructions accurately, could cast a spell.

This actually translates well to Risus. It follows one of the cardinal rules: Anyone Can Try Anything. In addition, GM’s will assign target numbers based on the cliché being used to read the formula and cast the spell. Grimoires, or spell books, are considered bonus die gear in the hands of a character with a cliché appropriate for reading and/or casting the listed spell. Characters using clichés not appropriate to the reading/casting will face higher Target Numbers, thus negating the advantage of the bonus die.

Magic and Character Creation

Remember, Pulp heroes are, for the most part, red-blooded Americans committed to preserving the “Natural Order of Things.” Since magic violates “The Natural Order,” and deals with “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know,” no Pulp Hero can take a witch doctor or voodoo priest cliché. The only exception is the Indian Medicine Man cliché from Strange Western Stories. However, players are free to take clichés from the Academic Section of the Master List that deal with arcane studies. These do allow a character to read/cast from a grimoire, as well as maybe remember some small charm that could be helpful in certain circumstances. The Pulp Hero may have a psychic ability, but these are generally low-level: danger sense, limited telepathy/ESP, etc. – no “Jedi mind control” techniques!

The Mechanic

This is no different from the basic mechanic in Risus. When a player decides that his character will attempt to cast a spell from either a memorized charm or from a musty tome, or a hieroglyphic text on the wall of a pyramid tomb, the GM will assign a target number to the spell. I’m borrowing the table from Tim Ballew’s excellent game Silverlode 1908 (this was one of the inspirations for Strange Western Stories). He actually lifted it from S John Ross’ (the Venerable Creator of Risus) essay on Elemental Magic:

In deciding the TN for a given spell attempt, the GM will consider two factors: Dramatic Necessity and Spotlight Sharing (Hogging). Higher numbers will be given to those actions which limit the involvement of the other players and which suck the fun out of the adventure for everyone (including the GM). Should a player fail a roll in casting a spell, the text from the grimoire mysteriously disappears, leaving only pages of blank paper, and any other nasty badness the GM can devise for the failed caster.

Insanity -- In Weird Crime Report, GM's may elect to use a set of sanity rules adapted from When confronted directly by the supernatural, GM's may require the player to roll against the cliché most closely associated to paranormal investigator. If the character has nothing resembling “paranormal investigator,” then the GM may allow the player to roll two dice, following the Risus principle for “When Somebody Can't Participate” from page 4 of the basic rules.

The following table is adapted from the Sleepwalkers rules at the above url:

If the player fails the roll, one die is deducted from the cliché. The loss is permanent, although advancement is possible as per standard Risus rules. If the cliché is reduced to zero, then the character is determined to have descended into madness, and any recovery is at that point is up to the GM.

Background – The Supernatural, Paranormal and Otherwise Unknown Criminal Division was established in 1928 by the personal authority of Director J. Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I.

During the 1920’s, there was a rise in crime on a national scale in connection with National Prohibition. Along with increased activity of bootleggers, the Ku Klux Klan and agents of foreign governments, there were some crimes that had no rational explanation. Hoover authorized the S.P.O.U.C.D. (pronounced “Spooked”) to investigate these crimes and to “neutralize or suppress beings and energies with malevolent intent.” Their field reports go directly to Director Hoover, who after reading them, order them permanently sealed. Agents have a great deal of latitude and possess the highest of security clearances.

In order to maintain cover for the S.P.O.U.C.D., or “Spook Squad,” as it is known within the Bureau, critical information and training is issued nationally to field agents by so-called “horror films.” Many scriptwriters and directors have been recruited for this purpose. Directors James Whale and Tod Browning have been especially helpful.