Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice

Improvised Radio Theatre - With Dice! is a podcast by Roger Bell_West and Michael Cule, in which we pontificate on role-playing games.

Try the RSS feed!

You can also listen on iTunes.

Please email us your comments and suggestions, to "podcast" at the domain "", or comment on individual episodes. Most discussion is now happening on the forum.

Winning Fights, Possibly With Inanimate Objects 01 June 2017


This month, Roger and Mike talk about the new edition of Unknown Armies, and ask why mid-century hard SF has been relatively unrepresented in games.

We mentioned Fading Suns at the Bundle of Holding until 5/6 June, Unknown Armies, Illuminatus trilogy, Tim Powers, The Invisibles, Over the Edge, WaRP, Everway, Fiasco, Reign, Alarums and Excursions, Space Pirate with Sliderule - Kelly Freas, from Astounding, February 1959, British reprint, Transhuman Space, Traveller), and GURPS Space: Terradyne.

Music by Kevin MacLeod at

(We do get free access to the Bundle of Holding contents, but this happens whether or not we plug them.)

  1. Posted by Douglas Sundseth at 02:19am on 02 June 2017

    I think the reason that 1950s SF wasn't much used in roleplaying is mostly a matter of timing. The people most likely to play RPGs in the first couple of decades of their existence were broadly unlikely to have read much SF from that era. (I had, but then I was an avid reader and was 16 in 1976 when I started playing D&D.) The '50s were not yet popular, the science in most of those stories was obviously wrong but not really in a romantic way (as were Wells and Verne), and the 60s reaction to 50s culture was still in full swing.

    As to what you could use, I think a pretty decent physics engine would be SPI's Battlefleet Mars (1977), which did orbital mechanics simply enough to work but inflexibly enough to act as a story driver. I'm not sure I'd use the specific war background in that game, but the society either pre- or post-war could work pretty well. And an espionage game set pre-war could be pretty entertaining.

    Note: The Cold Equations, Tom Godwin, 1954, had nothing to do with crashing a spaceship into a city. It was about an innocent (of both crime and scientific knowledge) stowaway on a resupply shuttle who found out about the cruelty of the rocket equation the hard way. Brilliant story, even today; there's a reason it was included in the SF Hall of Fame.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:59am on 02 June 2017

    I'm about to vanish into UK Games Expo, but briefly: The Cold Equations strikes me as a trolley-problem story, a setup that is deliberately and monstrously stupid so as to produce the moral dilemma the author wants. If your safety margins are that thin, you will be losing more ships than arrive at the destination just to normal changes in conditions, even without worrying about stowaways.

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 10:16pm on 05 June 2017

    I'm minutes into this, and already finding that the birdsong in the background is almost as loud as your voices and making it hard for me to follow what you are saying never mind think about it in a critical manner.

  4. Posted by Phil Masters at 10:53pm on 05 June 2017

    Space habitats are a regular background feature of the Belter society in Larry Niven's stories from the '70s or maybe even the late '60s. Some of them are bubble-formed (replace the core of a metallic asteroid with a bag of water, spin it up, heat it to melting point with solar mirrors), producing an O'Neill-station-like structure.

  5. Posted by RogerBW at 01:47pm on 06 June 2017

    Hmm, O'Neill's studies were 1975-1976. I remember those asteroid habitats, but I don't can't pin them down to specific stories and therefore publication dates.

  6. Posted by Phil Masters at 06:17pm on 06 June 2017

    Apparently, that design is known as a Cole Bubble, and dates to 1964.

  7. Posted by David Cantrell at 07:00pm on 07 June 2017

    I believe the modern equivalent of "we won the war we can do anything" is "Humanity! Fuck Yeah!" which can be great fun even though the quality is generally appalling.

  8. Posted by Phil Masters at 06:06pm on 18 June 2017

    Regarding Unknown Armies -- I'm having increasing problems with the advertising for this on Ken & Robin's podcast. The description says it's about "broken people conspiring to fix the world", and how it all goes horribly wrong, complete with rules for groups working towards objectives. The trouble is, we have excellent real-world examples of broken people (with strong belief in the supernatural) conspiring to fix the world (by their lights), and it all going horribly wrong as they work towards their weird objectives. And I really don't want to roleplay those murderous suicidal death-cultist bastards.

  9. Posted by RogerBW at 06:11pm on 18 June 2017

    I have over the years had vague thoughts of writing a one-shot Call of Cthulhu adventure with exactly that premise: players are typical CoC PCs doing typical CoC PC things on typical CoC flimsy evidence, and at the end they realise that all the real violence and mayhem were caused by their deluded activities and other people's response to them. But it would leave the players feeling let down, so I probably won't actually do it.

  10. Posted by Robert at 08:38pm on 22 June 2017

    My best results with Unknown Armies were in 2nd edition and were more about the players interacting with the broken people conspiring to fix the world or the shattered remains of same. Pick a key item, add a secret history, and let loose players as uncontrolled catalysts. The more venal and selfish the players start off the better UA seems to go.

    I occasionally worry that UA is harder to get into without the context of Tim Powers' novel Last Call.

    As for hard SF of the 1950's and Cold Equations in particular, there was a Babylon 5 RPG starter module that used Cold Equations as the title. Oddly that module is how I found the original story. I think that module did a good job of showcasing space survival problems inside a narrative for a d20 SRD module. It feels too loose on how it advises scheduling the resolution of the discussed lifeboat section but it is from 2006.

    I think a possible takeaway is that with the focus on engineering, verisimilitude, and overcoming adversity the 1950's sci-fi arena is a compelling frame for a disaster type story from last May's discussion.

  11. Posted by RogerBW at 08:40pm on 22 June 2017

    Ooh. Shiny. I'm always after new one-shot scenario ideas…

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 7th sea a taste for murder aces and eights achtung cthulhu agon alchemical baroque amazing engine amber apocalypse world arkham horror ars magica artesia ashen stars banestorm battlelords of the 23rd century battlelords of the twenty-third century battletech behind enemy lines blades in the dark blue planet blue rose bluebeard's bride brp buffy the vampire slayer cabal call of cthulhu castle falkenstein chill conan continuum cyberpunk dark conspiracy diaspora different worlds discworld doctor who dracula dossier dragon age dragonmeet dramasystem dread dreamhounds of paris dune dungeon world dungeons durance dying earth eclipse phase empire of the petal throne everway exalted fading suns fallen london fantasy fate fear itself fellowship feng shui fiasco fief for players forgotten futures forsooth! freemarket fringeworthy fudge gamma world gangbusters gear krieg genesys godlike good society grey ranks greyhawk gumshoe gurps gurps time travel harn harnmaster harp hero system heroquest hillfolk horror houses of the blooded in a wicked age in nomine in spaaace infinite worlds jags wonderland lace & steel lace and steel lady blackbird larps laundry files legend of the five rings lords of creation luftwaffe 1946 madness dossier mage the ascension masks masterbook merp microscope millennium's end mindjammer modern age modern day monster hunters monster of the week montsegur 1244 necessary evil nexus nexus the infinite city night's black agents nobilis nova praxis numenera ogre over the edge paranoia pendragon pre-written adventures primetime adventures reign reign of steel rifts ringworld rocket age rolemaster runequest savage worlds science fiction shadowrun sorcerer space 1889 space master space opera story games sufficiently advanced superhero 2044 tales from the floating vagabond tales of the floating vagabond talislanta technomancer termination shock the arduin grimoire the cthulhu hack the esoterrorists the great dalmuti the laundry files the mountain witch the price of freedom the quiet year time travel timelords timemaster timeship timewatch torg trail of cthulhu transhuman space transhumanism traveller traveller 2300 troika twilight 2000 universe unknown armies vampire vampire the masquerade victoriana viewscream warhammer frp warp weird war ii werewolf the apocalypse whfrp world war ii wraith the oblivion yellow king rpg
Produced by aikakirja v0.1