The feel of the 30s

edited August 2011 in Story Games

So I'm setting this game in an alternate world (not an alternate earth, more like a game of Civilization - lots of parallels but lots of weird mash-ups too).

The main premise of the game is '1930s X-men in a world that never was.'

I'm trying to figure out what I need in the game's backstory in order to capture the feel I'm going for.


  • For instance I think I need:

    • Evidence that technology may be delivering us to a worse future, not better.
    • A rapid loss of wealth
    • Terrible poverty and unemployment causing migrations
    • Government instability at home and abroad
  • edited August 2011
    The gradual loss of postwar naivete
    Demagoguery and totalitarianism
  • What Jason said. A lot of the 30s can be summed up by poverty, a lack of heroes, a loss of national identity (in an age when Nationalism was just starting to ramp up), an us. vs. them attitude, but most important people started to realize that they weren't the center of the universe anymore.
  • Fascism. It's all about the rise of fascism. And eugenics.

    I am not kidding. The 1930s were terrifying.
  • Eugenics flowered in the thirties but it had been around for a long time. The first compulsory sterilization law was passed in the United States in 1907, surely an inspiration to more energetic proponents later in the century.
  • edited August 2011
    The 1939 New York World's Fair has been cited as a watershed event in the collective imagination--
    of those who would, in subsequent decades, dream of superheroes.

    Gerard Jones' "Men of Tomorrow" notes that Superman appeared on the cover of "New York World's Fair Comics".
    Superman was created in 1932, but not published until 1938. Batman arrived in 1939.

    That World Fair was the first one with a utopian, proto-disneyland theme-- "building the World Of Tomorrow".
    (Previous world's fairs had been a survey of the status quo of trade and industry.)

    Iron Man 2 and the Captain America movie both use a thinly-disguised version of the fair as a central location.

    Here's an excellent list of other examples:'s_Fair#Influence_on_later_literature_and_popular_culture


    The stock market's all-time low was in July 1932, down 89% from the peak before 1929's Black Friday crash.

    SO... what if there had been a 1933 World Fair? ...masterminded by a Magneto figure with a fascist Italian Futurist theme (celebrating the beauty of machine gun fire as the music of modernity, and "War, the World's Hygene"...
    Magneto would look like Darth Vader, because Darth Vader looks like a 1930's Italian Fascist Design Masterpiece, the Bugatti:

    Professor X would presumably be a very rich, but benevolent, man-- who sought to keep mutants from being a tool of fascist 'progress'.


    Meanwhile, Prohibition created a nationwide network of organized crime. Which didn't confine itself to bootlegging, but infiltrated labor relations, politics, the judicial system.

    Where would that leave the individual mutants of the X-men? They'd be a motley collection of have-nots, with extraordinary abilities, but with few legitimate opportunities.

    The mutants would be Yeggs--- smalltime operators with only a tangental connection to Al Capone-style organized crime.
    John Dillinger was a Yegg, as were Bonnie & Clyde... and the other bank robbers whose antics caused J. Edgar Hoover to form the FBI to engage in a War On Crime. And mutants.

    The book Public Enemies says that the 1930s were a heydey for Yeggs because of the advent of the V-8 automobile and the machine gun. These two things made a daring loner crook able to outrun and outgun cops-- still driving Model-T's and firing six-shooters. Mutant powers would have the same effect. (The Johnny Depp movie is ok, but the Public Enemies book really nails it. Here's a sample:

    World's Fair
    Italian Futurist design/Fascism
    Financial Collapse
    Organized Crime
    Federalization of Law Enforcement

    Also: Okies = Morlocks = pretty much everybody
  • edited August 2011
    Just have all your players eat a teaspoon-full of dirt at the start of each session.

    See those pictures of the cars, up above? In parts of the country, they would need to have a chain hooked to the undercarrage, dragging on the ground, because otherwise the static electricity in the dusty air could short the battery.
  • Trail of Cthulhu is set in the 30s so you could read its historical section. Whereabouts do you want to set your game? The Crash was felt very differently across the world.
  • Extreme philosophies flourished because the world endured two wide spread catastrophes within a generation. People saw the existing systems of society as very flawed and were looking for new answers. Social structures both large and small, from governments to families saw upheaval. Other people wanted nothing more than return to a time of peace and prosperity and were willing to do almost anything to try and keep things stable.

    The depression really was global, though the mood and experiences were different. The one major exception that I know of is Russia, which had almost completely isolated itself before the collapse, so it didn't suffer any significant losses. The people were still suffering from other hardships though and economic growth was very costly and difficult on the citizens.

    People were desperate and sometimes turned to horrific or brutal solutions.
  • If you are going to have the mutants all be teenagers, then you could peg the sudden uptick in mutant births with the 1910s flu epidemic! (or just have people think that's responsible...)

    It was also the era where travel by air was popularized, so there's lots of stuff to mess around with re:travel and flight, while still having it be a new thing.

    And if Magneto was an adult in full command of his powers in the 30s? He wouldn't be in the U.S., I'd wager. He'd be making Europe a very interesting place. Its certainly a time where you don't need to treat the mutants and Jews connection as subtext any more...

  • Hum... What about looking at it from the point of view of the incoming college freshmen in 1936. so they were born in 1918 (and will be sucked into WWII in a few years but they don't know that)

    They have never known a time when automobiles were not the dominant form of transportation.
    They hae never known a time before telephones, radio, electric lights, movies, airplanes, or recorded music.
    Their parents fought in WWI.
    The world has known no stability since they were 10.
    Hitler tried to take over Germany for the first time when they were 5.
    The Fascists have ruled in Italy since they were 4.
    Youthful rebellion (in the form of Flappers) have been tearing up respect for everything since they were 1.
    Practically everyone lose someone in the 1918 flu epidemic - epidemic disease is VERY real to them.
    Between 10 to 20 people (mainly African Americans) are being publically lynched every year since they were born.
    FDR has just won his second term as president.
    The US Army still has horse cavalry divisions.
    People have feared communists since the Palmer raids when they were 1.
    People have sympathy for the Rebulicans in the Spanish Civil War.
    Pulp writers and comic books are experiencing mass appeal.
    The Great Depression is in it's 7th year with no end in sight.

    Just a few thoughts. Hope they help.

    Chris Engle
  • What country is your setting? Or is it international?

    The nazis are in full swing in Germany later in the 30s, sending teams of 'scientists' on missions around the globe, Indiana Jones style.
  • It's set in the "new world"

    So far I'm looking to Buenos Aires, Montreal, and Mexico City as inspiration, but I know I'll be filling in with New York, Chicago, and Boston from that period.

  • Another interesting factoid: the last US Civil War veterans didn't die until the 50s. These kids may actually have grandfathers or great grandfathers that fought in it.

  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: GrahamFascism. It's all about the rise of fascism. And eugenics.
    And those weird building, with the giant hood-ornament angels on the side. The promise of the flying car, the idea of food pills. See this?
    Posted By: RyEvidence that technology may be delivering us to a worse future, not better.
    Don't do that.

    A very common, very mainstream American vision of the future in the 30s had (to steal and smash together a few William Gibson lines): White marble, and smooth lines, lucite sandals, blonde haired and eugenically perfect Americans, quicksilver cars, and all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth propaganda.

    Technology is the way out, not the problem, to the people of the era. It's the big dream. Unrealistically, sure. But still.
  • I think both views are correct concerning technology. Some people saw it as savior, others were frightened by it. It was an easy time to be frightened. The key in my mind is that the ideology concerned should be moderately absurd and disconcerting when viewed in hindsight.

    Though it started in 1928, Fordlândia is something possible to borrow from. Henry Ford tried to recreate America as he idealized it (the taming of the jungle was almost an afterthought and assumption on his part). There was a recent book about the subject and several decent interviews with the author (Greg Grandin) can give a pretty good synopsis.
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