Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Noir Games?

I'm reading a book about the origins of film noir right now, and it got me to thinking two things. One, are there any Noir games out there? and Two, how would I approach a Noir game? If you know anything about the first, shout out. As for the second...

One of the cool things about Noir is how incredibly tightly the genre is bounded (aesthetically, technically, narratively) without creating cookie-cutter stories and characters. I can see a Noir game as a GM-less setup, probably for 2-4 players. There's a cast of main characters (the femme fatale, the antihero/protagonist, the unabashed criminal, the representative of the law) which are further defined in the beginning process. They are all co-owned, in that different people can play them in different scenes, but I think it would be worth it for each player to have final say over...something..for one character, mainly because of buy-in issues.

The characters move up and down on different scales, representing emotional connexion/distance to each other, as well as having a progressive measure for the macguffin (the big score, the discovery of the truth about the girl, whatever). I can definitely see a lot of Karma resolution here, with tight resources and consequences for the slighest screw-up.

To be really Noir, it also has MLWM-esque endgame conditions, but with pretty tight pre-determined events (getting gunned down, suicide and the like for the anti-hero, being betrayed and brought in, getting away with it, and the like for the femme fatale, etc). I'd have to watch more noir to really get this right.

This would also be a good scenario for my thoughts on 1-on-1 adversity, and maybe worth being the "default" for that kind of game.

People are working on this. I know Emily Care Boss is for sure, IIRC a "many GM, 1 player" deal, and Clinton Nixon has talked about some similar jazz.
Hey, have you seen my September Ronnies game noir One Can Have Her, available at my RPG page? I've reworked it completely three times since then, but the basic structure is still left. I talk about my recent development on my blog, which you'll find through the link above. Too bad you don't read Swedish, there's an InSpectres-inspired little time travel game called Tempora there as well which you might think is fun.

As my goal is to publish, you can understand I've researched existing noir games. The ones I've found are Mean Streets (2002), Noir: the Film Noir Role-Playing Game (1996), and Mutants & Masterminds: Noir (2004). The first one is a small game in a real-world setting (New York, 1940s), the second one has 150 pages of rules for range of fire and stuff in a fictional city, and the third one is a mix of noir and superheroes.

Which book are you reading? I've been devouring books on noir (the current ones are "Early Film Noir", "The Fatal Women", and "Dangerous Dames"), but I'd be interested in reading suggestions.

One Can Have Her will have an endgame, based on the prisoner's dilemma. Every protagonist, which will be a male noir archetypical figure, will be hunted by the police justly or unjustly. There's a femme fatale, the police chief's daughter, and the only way to get her and get away with whatever they're after is to sell the other's to the police. If no one rats, no one get what they want, but they don't die either. If more than one person rats they all die or end up in jail. The number of scenes are somewhat randomized, from scene 4 and onwards the risk of it being the last scene increases.

What was tested in my latest playtest was a new way of generating story through conflicts. Each protagonist has three "moral" values (anything from Love to Physical Health or Wealth) with aspects tied to each (aspects are traits, belongings, connections, almost anything). The values can be either in a "good" state or a "bad" state, and are tracked on the character sheet with zigzagging lines. If you invoke an aspect in a conflict you roll an extra die, but it means the corresponding value has to switch. You either "sell" something to win if it goes from good to bad, or you "gain" something if it goes from bad to good. You might win or lose independently of how many aspects you invoke, but the chances increase by each invocation. More invocations probably means that the conflict is interesting, which changes the protagonist more.

All this is because I want to use a standard technique from scriptwriting: a value that oscillates in a scene makes the scene interesting.

Whether you sell the others or not will determine how the values end up. If you're sold out without ratting back no value can be higher than "mediocre" (a middle state only used at the start and end of the game). If you rat on the others and get away with it you can set your values as you like, you get to control your protagonists destiny completely.

I would be very happy to discuss noir in general (I want all my examples to be based on actual film noirs) or noir games in particular, if you want to. I'm also looking forward to Carry, as it sounds like the kind of game that would interest me.
God I love Noir! It's such a great genre of Film, and I really wish the ideas behind it were explored more fully in other genres (RPG's would be especially rockin').

Oddly enough, I was thinking about Film Noirish type stuff the other day as well (though, admittedly in the context of theater). I just love the classic image of the suspect and the cop sitting in a dimly lit room with a fan slowly turning overhead. Translating that scene to stage would be the challenge.


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