I am not the world’s biggest fan of backing projects on Kickstarter. For example I would never back the development of a video game. However, I find crowdfunding for pen&paper games generally interesting. Monte Cook Games do it extensively, and some of the most interesting indie projects (e.g. Blades in the Dark) were born on Kickstarter. That’s why I dabbled in backing Kickstarter projects by throwing my money at two games: Dusk City Outlaws and just recently Noir World.
A game like a film noir
As the name suggests, this pen&paper game leans on Film Noir as a genre. The other inspiration for this game is Dungeon World. Together, those two elements form Noir World, a roleplaying game Powered by the Apocalypse. It does a lot of things very differently than classic RPGs like, say, Dungeons&Dragons. As backer I received the quickstart rules, and highly anticipate the rules PDF sometime this summer.
PbtA games generally use playbooks for the different character classes. In Noir World they are called Roles. The quickstarter introduces 6 classic Roles, the complete set of rules will contain 20 Roles. The Roles from the quickstarter are: The Dirty Cop, The Good Cop, The Fatale, The Private Eye, The War Veteran and The Mook. Character creation is a shared endeavor. Everyone picks the role they want to play, and then chooses a motivation, a secret and a goal from the playbook. Furthermore, you select 2 actions that your character can do, basically like moves in Dungeon World. Then we move on to an exciting bit of storytelling: hooks.
Joint creation of a setting
Each Role has different hooks that you choose to link yourself to the other characters at the table. In the character creation session every player has to pick two hooks to other characters, and they in turn have to pick a hook as well. At the end of character creation every character should be linked. The lists of hooks are long and pretty exciting and IMHO can shape the tone and direction of the following game session.
Once the characters are linked with hooks, the crime of the ‘movie’ aka the session, is rolled. This crime may be the center of the story, but also might just be something that’s happened on the side. Finally, every player can create a location or an NPC. Those are written down on index cards and are the setting of the movie. The movie has different acts, so locations and NPCs may change.
A roleplaying game without a GM?
What makes Noir World stand out for me is that there is no GM. This means it’s only a game for people who really are into collaborative storytelling. A Noir World movie has scenes with different directors. Every player gets to be director of one scene. Once it’s a player’s turn, they have to pick one of the created locations, and which characters and NPC are present, and set the scene, much like a GM would. Every director has three actions, e.g flashback, presenting a difficult choice to a character, or adding another character to a scene. The director may not have their own character present.
The scene ends after those three actions, and the next player to the right starts the next scene. Once all players directed a scene once, the first act is over. In the interlude, new locations and NPCs may be created, characters may switch out equipment or NPCs are removed from the movie. You continue with the next act, rinse and repeat, until you are ready for the epilogue. The epilogue allows each character to come up with how their character fared after the main story ended.
As you can imagine, such a game will only work with people who are really into roleplaying, or who already have experience as GM. Players who are usually experiencing games in a more passive capability will likely not find the director system to their liking. The podcasters of the One Shot Podcast played Noir World, and in that game I found that Paulomi, who plays a Russian mook, was directing a lot more tentatively than the other three players. As the improv style players of One Shot really play along great, it doesn’t matter much but I am assuming it could be different for other groups.
In my immediate circle of players I know two more passive players who I couldn’t really imagine having fun with Noir World. I might be totally wrong though because it might also make them really interested in narrative roleplaying. Players need to know from the start of the session that it’s going to be a shared story, more so than maybe a Pathfinder game. Not your average dungeon crawl! I highly recommend listening to the above podcast, their movie turned out great!
By the way, you don’t have to play in the classic 40s in Noir World. At the start of the game, you select the era of the game. Your movie could be a film noir like Blade Runner. As stretch goal, Cthulhu Noir will be available, along with more cyberpunk, sci-fi and wild west noir.
I am highly looking forward to the completed rules and will definitely give this game a try. As I only backed the PDF, I am hoping to receive the completed file in July. I’ll post more about the game once I have tried it.