Preparation for Play – Chapter 2 – HYOOTRD RPG Players’ Guide

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Chapter 2 – Preparation for play

Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama Role Playing Game
Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama Role Playing Game

In order to play this game you’ll require some special gear; a pencil, a 6 sided dice (referred to throughout the rules as 1d6 for short), and two 10 sided dice (referred to as 2d10) .  Head down to the bottom of this page if you woudl like to prepare some spinners to use in place of dice.  You’ll also require a character sheet (see p. 84).  The GM will require some further equipment (discussed in part two of this volume).  Dice are easily obtained from the internet or your local gaming hobby store (or you could cut out and assemble the spinners on the next page).

As a player you will need to create a character.  All the instructions for accomplishing this are contained in this Player’s Guide.  In this volume you will learn how to generate your character, the skills your character will use, and the way to engage in actions within the game world (fighting, driving, building gadgets, casting spells, etc).

This book and its companions

If you are the game master (GM) you will, like the players, need to understand these rules, but you will also need to be familiar with the GM’s guide in volume 2 of this book.  Players can be forgiven for wanting to learn all they can about the game, but will enjoy things more if they leave volumes 2 and 3 of this series unread.

Volume 2 is a GM’s guide providing advice and special rules for the design and running of your own custom made games, as well as numerous example games you can play straight away.

Volume 3 is a world book providing setting information and plot-hooks to help the GM understand the world (including villains, locations of interest, monsters, information about equipment and vehicles, even world history.

What is radio adventure?

Radio adventure (as the name implies) aims to recreate the fun of the over-the-top radio serials that reached the height of their popularity during the 1930s and 1940s.  In those shows daring and suspenseful stories of mystery and magic were recounted.  They were an outgrowth of (and sometimes interchangeable with) the dime novels published in the United States from the 1880s onward.  The story-telling range of these programs was extremely diverse (including romance, western, science fiction, supernatural detective, true crime, etc.).  They are best remembered, however, for their wild flights of fancy and heroic adventurers.

Below are some of the more readily acknowledged features (or tropes) of radio adventure.

Heroes are larger than life

In radio adventures the heroes are larger than life.  They run faster, hit harder, think quicker, and are all-round more effective than ordinary human beings.  They tend to be polymaths, adept at everything to which they turn their attention.  Alternatively, if they are specialists, they number among the greatest in their fields.  Above all they are admirable and worthy of emulation – heroes to the world.

The pace can never be too fast

Radio dramas are action oriented and race from start to finish with minimal interruption.  Action is around every corner and where there is a lull you can bet it’s only a brief chance to catch your breath before the heroes are interrupted by another group of ninjas kicking down their door ( or thugs, monsters, etc. ).

Optimism and action are rewarded

Heroes are upbeat.  They believe in progress and the basic goodness of people and institutions.  This optimism is rarely misplaced.  Likewise action is always the best policy.  Long periods of planning and reflection are never more effective than kicking down the door and charging in guns blazing.

Hero deaths are exceptional

Heroes never die in the radio serials from which they came.  In a roleplaying game however, death is an ever-present reality.  It should, however, be a rare occurrence, and when it occurs your character will always be able to engage in one last heroic action aimed at thwarting the bad guy or advancing the cause of goodness.

Villains are colourful (and bad)

Villains are always undeniably bad.  Shades of grey should actively be avoided (which is not to say that the villain can’t be a sympathetic character). They always have quirks and twists that make them stand out from the crowd and, as such, villains should always be memorable, potentially redeemable, and committed to an unequivocally evil purpose.

Capture is common

Capture is common, if not downright desirable in some instances.  Captured characters always have a chance to escape from sinister, yet somehow flawed, death traps.  Getting captured may be the best way to uncover the villain’s final target etc. Being captured is an occupational hazard and rarely a bad thing.

Weird Science works and gadgets abound

Weird science works.  It does so in a manner that is neither consistent nor repeatable, but it does work.  This means that the incredible shrinking ray is a feasible invention and can exist in the campaign alongside interstellar spacecraft, rocket packs, cloning, revivification devices, etc.  The sky is the limit.

That said, weird science is not real science.  The results can never be replicated and usually have a twisted objective or methodology.

Gadgets, however, have a basis in real science (even if that basis is a currently discredited theory such as that of the luminiferous ether).  If a campaign calls for replicable gadgets they must be used consistently.

Historical reality is subverted, modified, or heightened according to need.

If the drama requires it, then it is permissible to have the Nazis attempt an invasion of the United States five years before the real war occurred.  The great depression may never have happened.  Human beings can establish a moon base in 1935.  Historical reality always gives way to story.  Just be careful to make sure that modifications to history, once made, remain an ongoing part of your universe.

Things that go bump in the night exist and never leave any evidence behind

Ghosts, monsters, aliens, vampires, ghouls etc. all exist.  Unfortunately, they never leave any evidence of their presence behind (or the government comes along and confiscates it, or it is mysteriously destroyed).  As a result only a handful of people are aware of, or willing to admit to, the presence of the unexplained.

Sorcery is dangerous

Magic can have a major destabilising effect on a radio inspired game or story.  As a result, magic, while existing, is either very weak or is very dangerous to use, or requires the expenditure of absurd amounts of wealth or extremely precious resources, or requires activity that the heroes couldn’t countenance (such as the sacrifice of three virgins).

Genres are mashed

Radio drama is among the few places where it is perfectly acceptable to mash together multiple diverse genres.  If you want to have a supernatural detective cowboy riding dinosaurs in space you can.

Monsters and Aliens are usually unique

While plenty of traditional monsters (such as vampires and werewolves etc.) appear in radio drama, more often than not, unique, unheard of creatures are invented.  Radio Serials were one place in which creativity really came to the fore.

Bizarre Crimes and Mystery are required

No radio drama would be complete without a bizarre crime;.  the more bizarre the better.  The object of the crime may be strange, or its method, or its timing, or the apparent perpetrator, or perhaps even the reason behind it.  Whatever the oddity, the crime and ensuing mystery will stand out from the crowd.  It certainly won’t be any pedestrian bank heist.

Planets have Breathable Atmospheres

Oft times an adventure will take its characters off-world.  When this happens, the atmosphere will usually be breathable and the inhabitants, unless monsters, will share a means of communication with humanity.

Action is cinematic

The action is always cinematic.  Guns don’t run out of bullets (except for dramatic effect).  Chandeliers are always capable of holding the character’s weight. Leaping through a window will not result in lacerations.  The action is always heightened for greater entertainment.

Settings and Locations are exotic

Radio adventure was deliberately escapist.  It took the listener to sections of the world (or even the universe) that they would otherwise never experience; the Gobi desert, the Potala Lassa in Tibet, the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, the bowels of the earth, the surface of an alien planet, or the depths of the sea.

Maps still have blank areas

As much as the world of radio drama is one of progress towards utopia, there is still plenty of mystery in the world.  There are lots of places as yet unexplored and what lies within these places is still unknown.

Lost Worlds are discovered and lost again

Lost worlds, dinosaurs, cavemen, ancient civilisations left undisturbed into the present – all of these can and are discovered in radio adventures… usually in those blank portions of the map discussed above.

Chases add excitement

Exciting chases through exotic cities, or out of cities being swallowed by the sands, or up through a sinking ship etc. are a staple of radio adventure stories.  Racing against time (and other obstacles) has always added an extra dimension of fun to these tales.

Cliff-hangers are employed shamelessly

The serial cliff-hanger was pretty much invented for radio drama.  Ending on a cliff-hanger was both exciting and a very effective marketing tool to keep people coming back.  In fact, so prevalent was the cliff-hanger that many listeners would complain at those times when a story came to a definite conclusion.

Death-traps are rarely deadly

Villains are always coming up with new and overly elaborate means of doing away with the heroes.  Fortunately for the heroes, death-traps always seem to have a fatal flaw that allows them to be subverted and often turned against the villains themselves.


Above all else, radio drama was flexible and diverse.  If none of the above tropes appeal to you then don’t use them.

The “Feel” of the 1930s-1940s Radio Era is emphasised

This is all a matter of flavour.  The feel is enhanced when you include the cars, the planes, the fashions, the weapons, and the slang of the era (see Vol. 3 – Worldbook).

Examples (Radio Era Heroes)

True greats of the radio adventure era included hardboiled detectives such as Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe; mystery men such as the Avenger and the Shadow; heroes like the the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger; sci-fi greats like Dimension X and X Minus 1; and of course chillers like Lights Out and the Inner Sanctum.

The stories which were heard on radio often mirrored and in turn inspired stories that appeared in the pulp magazines (extremely popular and cheaply produced fiction magazines) of the time.

Pulp magazines include such titles as Doc Savage (by Kenneth Robeson), The Shadow (by Walter Gibson), The Spider (by Norville Page), G8 and his battle aces (by Robert Hogan), Weird Tales (particularly those by Seabury Quinn), Planet Stories, and many, many others.

Playing it “Old Time”

Human heroes (yet larger than life)

Even though modern super-heroes have their roots in pulp novels and radio heroics, they are not the same thing.  The majority of radio heroes were first and foremost human beings.  They were larger than life in that they were smarter, faster, stronger, etc. than their compatriots, but this did not result in super-powers.  They were simply at the peak of human capacity.

Radio heroes are also, first and foremost, Heroes.  Those used to playing roleplaying games in more modern settings, where angst-ridden anti-heroes are the norm, will need to adjust their thinking to encompass a world in which heroes are genuinely heroic and good guys are good with a capital “G”.  The experience of play will be a lot less fun if this feature of radio adventure is not enthusiastically embraced.

Optimism is key

Optimism, even in the face of cyclopian monstrosities invading from another world, is an essential part of the world of radio drama.  While keeping games challenging, it is always possible to save the day.

The dark underbelly of the times

The days of radio drama (particularly between the wars) had a different sensibility to that of modern society.  People were more optimistic, the First World War had been survived and the second (while on it’s way) was still largely believed an impossibility.  Authority was mostly trusted and, if you happened to be rich, white, and male, life was good.  BUT, society was also overtly racist, poverty was rampant, nationalist violence was on the rise, women were second class citizens, rich industrialists felt no compunction about bringing in the police to break the heads of depression era workers, etc.  Some of these things could be seen in the radio broadcasts of the day (particularly the racism and sexism), but others were carefully hidden.  The ravages of the depression, for instance, were kept off the airwaves for the most part in order to maintain public optimism.

The world of radio adventure that we envisage, however, is an idealised one full of fictional adventure, mystery, and magic, not one in which we seek to emulate and faithfully recreate the times.  As such, we recommend you don’t attempt to simulate the racism, sexism, etc., of the era.  The dark side of the times might be explored in game, but heroic characters should never reflect the negative and offensive aspects of their culture.  Being good with a capital “G” means overcoming the typical prejudices of surrounding society.  If the game is to be enjoyed by everyone participating in it, then it is important that no-one is marginalised, mistreated, or offended in the interests of a misguided attempt at “historical accuracy”.

A final word on magic

As noted earlier, magic can easily throw off the balance of a radio adventure game.  Sorcery in particular can quickly render a game unplayable.  For this reason the following suggestions should be followed.

Mystical powers should be relatively weak but highly useful – e.g. Telekinesis should allow a player to manipulate and move small objects along line of sight (and not crush buildings or break metal chains at a range of 20 miles).

Improvements in skills should emphasise range and finesse rather than raw power – e.g. improvements in Telekinesis might include the ability to manipulate objects from further away, without line of site (in the next room), or with special nimbleness (picking a lock).

The ability to crush the villain’s weapon of doom from a continent away is likely to unbalance things somewhat.

A good rule of thumb is that the initial skill should have the limitations typical of a human equivalent. Telekinesis as a power should not be able to carry more than a normal human could carry in their arms and should not be able to do so further or faster than a normal person could carry such a load.  This would preclude the skill from being used to crush a metal box, hurl a ball bearing through the air at the speed of a bullet, or carry a giant trailer full of loot around behind the party.

Winning and losing

Roleplaying games are not about winning and losing.  Instead they are about participating in a fun and engaging story.  But, as has been noted, characters can die.  To ameliorate this somewhat, we have devised our ruleset in such a way that even death is heroic.  Should your character die you will always have the chance to go out achieving one last heroic action.  Who knows, your character’s death may be the event that ultimately saves the day.

If you don't have access to 10 and 6 sided dice then you can construct some spinners as a substitute.
If you don’t have access to 10 and 6 sided dice then you can construct some spinners as a substitute.


This chapter is written, in large part, using the excellent insights of

Brian Misiaszek’s 1994 The Pulp Avengers article (


Mike Bourke and Blair Ramage’s 2011 Reinventing Pulp For Roleplaying articles (

This chapter of the Host Your Own Old Time Radio Drama RPG and all associated content (except where acknowledged) is © copyright and Philip Craig Robotham 1997 and may not be reproduced or distributed without the written permission of the author.

HYOOTRD Roleplaying Game – Players’ Guide

6 thoughts on “Preparation for Play – Chapter 2 – HYOOTRD RPG Players’ Guide

  1. Appreciate the link back to the series on Reinventing Pulp. Credit where it is due, however: that series was a collaboration between myself and Blair Ramage, the co-GM of the “Adventurer’s Club” Pulp Campaign.

          1. The third time’s a charm… and, since there’s some chance you’ll see this comment, I’d like to take the opportunity to say (in total fanboy fashion) that the work you folks did on that series of articles was beyond fantastic. Your insights really captured the spirit of pulp fiction as applied to RPGs. My experience of GMing wouldn’t be the same without them.

          2. You’re welcome, Philip. That’s the reason anyone writes, to make a difference. That series was intended to be just one article when we started, because we assumed that others had been there before us – but Pulp resources and advice, it turned out, was very thin on the ground. And, speaking of resources, I hope you’re tracking the series we’ve been running recently on the Essential Pulp Reference Library 🙂

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