I’m going to start blogging in 2015 by talking about something I’m really proud of and motivated by. I want to share some parts of Noir World with you. Noir World is a game I’m making. It’s always been a thing I’ve wanted to do, get my name on the cover as a creator, not just the editor or contributor. I really doubted my ability to do it until I started writing draft after draft, and now forty-something drafts in, I’m very proud to call this project my own. The fact that every idea on the page is what I’d want a game to tell me, and it’s told how I’d want to explain it to someone is a very sweet cherry on this sundae.
So here’s a quick Noir World Q&A
What is Noir World?
Noir World is an Apocalypse World hack, where people play characters (called Roles) based on film noir tropes and staples to tell stories of crime, passion, regret, tragedy and violence. It’s a game of high interaction, simple mechanics and collaborative storytelling for 3 to 8 players.
What kind of characters can someone play?
As of this morning, there are over two dozen possible Roles, and the book by default includes the basic six – The Good Cop, The Cop On The Take, The Private Eye, The Fatale, The Mook and The War Vet. What will likely be a stretch goal are other Roles like The Politician, The Girl Friday, The Gambler and The Socialite. Two Roles, The Vigilante and The Ripper, aren’t true noir, but they’re really fun takes on Batman and the Joker. Because seriously, how could I pass up the chance to do my own spin on Batman and the Joker?
I barely know anything about film noir. Does this mean I can’t play?
Anyone can play this game. One of the big important elements I wanted to do when I made my own game was the idea that you didn’t need to have a very deep or very specific knowledge. A lot of games seem to have two “depths” – you can be new and play the game and have a pretty good time, but to get full enjoyment out of it, you need to have some great amount of experience or awareness. I wanted to avoid that.
What are some things you can tell me about the game?
It’s set in The City, which is a City the players design but the vibe is anywhere from a movie version of an existing city all the way to the gothic sort of Gotham in the animated Batman series. You’re not limited to the 1930s through the 1950s, you can easily make this modern just by saying it’s modern. (This way you can get in your Andersen, Fincher, Mann, Taratino, and Scorsese stories too.) Players build The City on their own, naming different Locations and the People who occupy them. Maybe you make Joe’s Diner where the coffee is lousy but everyone goes there anyway, because Joe’s secretly running a casino in the back if you know the password. Maybe you make An Empty Lot Near The Train Station where everyone dumps bodies and doesn’t think twice about it. The City is entirely up to the players.
Unlike other games where you have a GM, or someone who sits at the head of the table and tells you what’s going on so you just react, that job rotates around the table, so that everyone has the ability to contribute to the story both as a Role and as Director (in charge of the stuff the Roles aren’t). Since the story you’re telling is generated at the start of play, the story gets told from a variety of perspectives and no one gets left out. That was another big concept for me – I’ve played a lot of games where a few people seem to be doing everything and many of us are just sort squeezed into the peripherary or just waiting until we can do something. Avoiding that and getting everyone a chance to tell the story they want was one of the reasons it’s taken so many drafts to come this far. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I’m at a point now where I can say this game shares the spotlight pretty well.
The game hinges on complicated relationships that the players develop between themselves. Maybe you’re playing a Cop On The Take who’s been bribing a Citizen to stay quiet about something they saw you do while your partner The Good Cop has been trying to reform The Fatale as the Fatale’s ex-love interest The Reporter is desperate for the Good Cop to notice how he’d be a better choice for romance. Or maybe you’ve just convinced your best friend who just got back from the War to earn a little money on the side with you by ripping off a Mobster. Each Role has tons of possible Hooks to connect their awfulness to other peoples’ lives. By the time play starts, everyone’s mixed up with each other and anything could set it off … say a Crime.
But John, film noir is really gross and problematic. It has all this sexism and homophobia and racism and other stuff that’s a problem. Why should I play a game with that stuff in it?
You’ve found my biggest concern (no not just that you used “gross” and “problematic” in the same sentence and expect me not to make a face). Film noir and its genealogy out of hard-boiled fiction does have its problems when we apply what we feel and believe today to what they wrote. Yes. absolutely, there’s not a lot of LGBTQ or modern progressive thinking. And I’m not discounting any of that, because it’s relevant and important in what’s going on all around us. I don’t own a time machine, I can’t go back and change what they wrote 60+ years ago, all I can do is go forward and make sure that the focus of my game isn’t on perpetuating the -isms and phobias.
So, for example, all the Roles can be played by any player, regardless of race, gender, orientation, identification or other factor. And the relationships between Roles does not have to be heterosexual. (In fact, all the games so far have included some element of not-straight-white-dude-ness ranging from angry lesbian bank robbers to genderfluid war veterans and an incredibly complicated poly relationship built on crimes and lies.) Just because the game is built on a specific point of view and social context doesn’t mean we have to reinforce it. Anyone can play this game anyway they want.
When is it going to be done?
It’ll be done when it’s done, but I’m really feeling like 2015 will be the year it gets made into a book with art and printing and everything. At least, that’s my goal. I’m pretty well on track, I think. Everything I can think of it needing as foundation is done, then I shall hand it off to an editor or two and then get some nice layout and art done. After that, it’ll go to crowdfunding. I’m right now trying hard to not freak myself out about those things (it’s always easier when the project isn’t your own, right?), so I’m focused on getting the text out of my head and onto paper and playing it more to see how it works. But I’m doing work on it practically every night (it and Minecraft have become my two stress relievers after work), so there’s always progress.
Where can I get more information?
I want to play! Where can I do that?
I’ll be at Dreamation on February 19 – February 22** in Morristown NJ running the game several times and I’d like to run it at GenCon this summer. Beyond that, I don’t have anything concrete scheduled, but it’s not hard to find me on twitter and ask to set something up. Yes, it can be played online too, so it’s great for Google Hangouts.
**bonus points if you wish me a happy anniversary that weekend. Double bonus points if you also mock Canada.
Thanks for giving me a few minutes to tell you about how things are going. I hope you’re writing and creating and doing well.