Monday, 10 December 2012

Review - Deadlands Noir


Deadlands Noir

By John Goff, Shane Hensley, Clint Black, Sean Preston



New Orleans, 1935. If it’s not the heat that gets ya, it’ll be the goons employed by the local crimeboss, five dollar thugs who’ll plug ya for business and pleasure. Oh, and the Hell Hounds. They ain’t too friendly, either…

Welcome to the world of Deadlands Noir, a gritty game of a history that is not our own, powered by the Savage Worlds core rules.

THE BOOK

The PDF copy I have here is a 144-page partial colour document, in which I mean it is primarily muted black and white colours with some splashes of red in the corners – blood splashes – and pictures of only two or three colours. The imagery is very nice, giving it a black-and-white Hollywood talkies gumshoe feel.

It’s split up into nine sections:

The first four section are for the Players;

DARK TIMES – This is the introduction, and the section I’m most interested in as it tells me where we have come since Deadlands Reloaded, and it tells you all you need to know about life in 1935.

In this section you also get plenty of advice on creating a hero for the game, including new skills, traits, some new Hindrances and Edges and gear. There’s plenty of stuff to choose from and all the period weapons and transport are available. There’s also a guide to New Orleans, with some fine colour maps and descriptions of some of the Big Easy’s locations. If you can get hold of old maps of other major cities then there’s nothing stopping you from running a game elsewhere, but this book is angled towards New Orleans.

SETTING RULES – Here are the rules a Games Master will use to run a game of Deadlands Noir. There‘s plenty of things to use to emulate the gumshoe setting, from Detective Work to Tailing, even getting those knockout blows that will leave you with a headache and little more. They reflect the detective drama era well.

MAGIC – This gives you different magic users; the Grifter (con men with magical abilities), Patent Scientists (creators of magical machines and the like), Voodoo (a shamanistic approach to magic), and Harrowed (the magic-wielding undead). With all of these come new spells and Edges.

This is then followed by the Game Master’s sections;

SECRETS AND LIES – This section gives you more details of the setting, such as Fear Levels, which gives you an idea of just how scared an area of the city is; from level 0, with the big smiley faces and picket fences and roses, up to level 6, which is an utter nightmare. Fear Levels for an area can be adjusted by the actions and successes of the heroes. There’s a small section about using Radios and Telephones in your game, primarily because of the Voices you can hear on them, spirits playing with these new ways of communicating. There are also more details about some of the Edges the players may have taken and some extra details about Grifters, Harrowed and Patent Science.

GAME MASTER’S GUIDE TO NEW ORLEANS – Your guide to the Big Easy Deadlands style, with information on Law, criminal gangs, and details about the different areas of the city and their Fear Levels.

MAKING MYSTERIES – This handy chapter explains how to create mystery-themed adventures so that a GM can emulate the private-eye theme of Deadlands Noir. It covers how best to use clues and evidence and gives you ideas on how to hook the players into the story, motives and plot twists. In here is a Case Generator that allows you to roll randomly for a different mystery to solve every time, with different hooks, events, perpetrators, motives, evidence, and optional locations and twists.

RED HARVEST – Not just an introductory adventure, but a campaign-length mystery. The campaign runs to seven adventures. Count ‘em. Seven.

SAVAGE TALES – A large selection of mini-adventures, just in case the full campaign that comes with the game wasn’t enough!

ROGUES GALLERY – A good list of creatures and characters the PCs might come across, with some in-depth personalities that walk the streets of New Orleans, and some useful full-colour maps.

A very atmospheric character sheet rounds out the book.

CONCLUSION

First of all, Deadlands Noir is a very pretty book. The style is very dark 1930’s noir, as the book suggests, and the use of black and white images with a hint of colour is very effective. Some of the images and sidebars are designed to appear as film cells, which is a nice touch and adds to the movie-inspired style the book is trying to invoke. There are a lot of character images, and that’s fine, but I would have liked to see more pictures of New Orleans as far as streets, buildings and surrounding landscape goes – I don’t know much about New Orleans and I’d like to have seen more of it. I’m sure I could Google my heart out, but I want to see the game’s interpretation of it. There are a couple of very dark or faded images of streets but they don’t give me a lot of detail.

The mugshots are really good, though, and they’re of people who helped with the original Kickstarter campaign to get this book off the ground. What might have ended up being a bit of a gimmick ended up being quite good, and gives each of the characters personality. Everyone who contributed gets a mention at the beginning of the book.

The book is well laid out and easy to read with black print on a very slightly grey background. Some parts are written as if a character from the setting is explaining to you how things work. I like that as it adds to the atmosphere. I would have liked to have seen some detailed hints and tips on setting games in another city, such as New York or Chicago, with some skills and the like to suit. There’s nothing stopping you from running games in another city, that’s for sure, and the heat, magic and history that surrounds New Orleans gives a lot of scope, but I would have liked to see the inclusion of other climates. A murder mystery in the snows of New York would have made a fine adventure.

It wastes no time and gets you right into the thick of the action. I like the Deadlands setting as it doesn’t try to be our actual world with a shadowy underbelly, but a version of our world where the weird is part of life and history is slightly different to reflect that. The history of Deadlands continues on into Deadlands Noir and the setting is richer for it. After the alternative history of the rise of weirdness in 1863 and the outcome of the American Civil war, the Great War interrupts all things and later on the Great Depression sets in. This brings us to 1935, and the world is a miserable place. It’s a great background that is instantly recognisable and at the same time very different, so you can settle into a role knowing something of the era but also knowing that things are strange enough to make things more than interesting.

This is a great product, very well produced and well written, and the amount of ideas, the length of the introductory campaign and all the smaller adventures make this a great book – the Kickstarter backers will not be disappointed, and neither will you. Recommended.