Setting the Stage

While looking through RPG forums to answer some D20 Modern/Gamma World (6e) questions, I came across a 2013 post by a user named RobShanti that contains something pretty amazing that I just had to share.
His answer is perfect for the question of, “As a Game Master, how do I create a game that obviously exhibits a particular look & feel?”  As I am looking to define my particular post-apocalyptic world and then deliver it with game sessions, how do I go about ensuring that it feels like we are adventuring in a mutant crawling wasteland?  RobShanti doesn’t go mutant but does describe his process to bring a 1970s Cop Show to his crew.
RobShanti starts us out with an overview of the project:
But of those games, far and away, my favorite was the 70s Game, or the “D20 Mod” game, as we called it, was told in the style of a 70s cop t.v. show, using as many of the conventions of that genre and medium as I could think of, including evil drug lords, informant pimps, car chases, a Christmas episode, a 70s music soundtrack and — the most important part — an opening montage-credit-roll to open each session! It was, by far, one of the most fun games I ever ran.
He goes on to talk about doing the research to trim down the D20 Modern equipment list a little.  This is necessary in his case because the genre/setting is a kind of the point.
Finally, we get to the good stuff.  The core of his process:
Step 1: Absorb the “Historical Documents”
So, I set upon the Herculean task of studying the conventions of 70s television shows. Using the internet as my research resource, I found lots of websites, such as, which contain surprisingly detailed synopses of many television shows from the medium’s history. I cut-and-pasted into a Word document *all* of the internet episode synopses for 70s action hero t.v. shows and movies, including The Mod Squad, Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels, CHiPs, Hawaii Five-O, Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, and so on. I read them carefully, getting a sense of what was topical and what kinds of plots were characteristic of the genre. Then, I rented as many 70s movies as possible, like Shaft, Cleopatra Jones, Foxy Brown, Sheba Baby, Friday Foster, Saturday Night Fever. On top of this, I had, to guide me, my own fond memories of burning out my retinas and soaking in radiation as a child from sitting too close to the gigantic t.v. console in my own living room.
Step 2: Write out the outlines of plots you would like to run and rank them.
Then I started making outlines of plots I’d like to run, such as “Capture a serial killer who drugs, abducts & murders disco divas who refuse to dance with him”. I ranked them from favorite to least favorite. Some that I never got to create games around included: “Hippie student activists take over college campus administration building w/PC & elderly teacher as hostage.”
Step 3: Make a list of all genre defining items and keep that handy while running the game.
On top of that, I made a list of ALL the atmospheric things about the 70s that I could remember, such as lava lamps, flower children, plaid leisure suits, orange and lime green pleather furniture, etc., and (in a fitting homage to 1st ed. D&D) made a “Random 70s Table,” which I hung on my GM’s shield. Whenever I got the sense that we might be loosing the pervasiveness of the 70s feel, I’d roll d100 and see what random element I needed to work in the scene. (e.g., “The bad guy takes cover behind a beanbag chair and fires at you.”)
Step 4: Collect additional Media (music & art)
Then I set off on the task of creating a soundtrack. I researched the Top 40 lists of each year from 1970 through 1979, and selected the songs that (1) we all remember and (2) we don’t hear on the radio anymore. For example, Jethro Tull’s “Bungle in the Jungle” *didn’t* make the list, because although we all remember it, you can still hear it ad nausea on any classic rock station today. On the flip side, Maria Muldaur’s “I’m A Woman” didn’t make the list either, because although it was in the Top 40 in 1975, who the hell remembers how it goes? So the tracks that *did* make the cut were songs like: “Spirit in the Sky,” “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “That’s the Way (uh-huh, uh-huh!) I Like It,” and so on. I then compiled the pop songs onto a 4 disk set…well…a 3 disk set, actually. The FOURTH disk was strictly instrumental theme songs to 70s cop shows. That disk included the theme songs to Baretta, S.W.A.T., Hawaii Five-0, Shaft, Cleopatra Jones and so on…but the *real* trick was finding a unique song that could be strictly associated with our own show, “They Fight Crime!” After much searching, I finally found it in Billy Preston’s instrumental “Outta Space,” and that became the FIRST track on the instrumental theme- song CD.
Step 5: Use it
RobShanti secret ingredient in all this sounds like the montage scene he played out at the beginning of every session.
Each session, I’d pop my four 70s-music-mix CDs into the CD player, and play Billy Preston’s funky instrumental “Outta Space,” which sounds like it was *written* for a 70s cop show t.v. series. Then, at the point in the music where you’d imagine the title of the show flashing across the t.v. screen in huge letters, I’d narrate.
He would go to each of his players and ask what his character is doing in the opening of the show and let them describe how the audience first sees their character.  This had no effect on the game or story but it did get the players into character and into the feel of the genre.
I love this process.  Get immersed, make a few notes, add something extra and then hit the players with all of it at the beginning of each session.
Now I just need some post-apocalyptic mutant music.

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