The Naga-what now? The National Game Design Month. Check it out here: http://nagademon.com/
As usual, I get my ideas either in the shower or in the car. This was not an exception. Driving along a winding country road, I got to thinking of an idea I’ve tried to develop as comics for quite some time: high-fantasy mixed with film noir.
Well, OK, not so much an idea as a reoccurring urge to draw orcs and elves in fedoras. Even so, it was enough to make me want to write up rules and guidelines for a short, simple pen-and-paper RPG.
The first thing I did was to read up on film noir. I’m very intrigued and entertained by the genre, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it. It’s so heavily ingrained in our pop-cultural subconscious that it’s hard to tell what it is, what is derived from it and what’s simply homage and/or parody. To read up on fantasy on the other hand would be… daunting at best. And possibly pointless. I skipped that class for the moment.
The second thing I did was to think about a rules mechanic for conflict resolution. The challenge were to write a game, not a campaign setting, so I did not want to hack, modify or adjust an already existing system with some form of open gaming license. And if I were to build a new mechanic, it should tie into the theme and mood of the game itself.
What was the mood and theme of the game now again? I didn’t know. Better decide it then! Revisiting my previous home-work, I made a big, red circle around the following quote from TvTropes.org:
The tone and outlook of Film Noir must be bleak, defeatist, and pessimistic — it always suggests a sliminess beyond what it can show. Nobody gets what they want, and everyone gets what’s coming to them.
Yeah, that feels about right. There’s no winners here. Much like how the classic Call of Cthulhu RPG put their characters on the road to madness, death or worse, my game should be a game that ultimately beats you. The mechanic would be rigged in the oppositions favor. And thus, I decided to build my mechanic around Black Jack, because “the house always wins”, right?
OK, no dice, you use a deck of cards. What are we betting with? Our life? Influence? A meta-game currency of some sorts? We need tokens either way… poker chips? Bullets? Cigarettes could be fun because “everybody smokes in noir”. After a bit of messing around with the rules of Black Jack and different ways to handle conflict resolution in-game, I realized I needed to test these ideas with actual play. Not having the ability to get a gaming group together until next week, the crunch had to be abandoned for now.
In the meantime, I sat down to formulate my thoughts on the interchange between high-fantasy and film noir. Up to this moment, the fantasy element was sketchy at best. I can’t just put pointy ears on Bogart and call it a day. If I were to keep my rainy, dark cities inhabited by elves and orcs, I had better justify why we couldn’t do without them. Was this merely an efficient tool for satirizing upon our own society, alá Discworld? Or a “comfort-filter” that we could use to act out some aspects of ourselves; sociocultural clashes within the densely populated cityscapes; that mess up our lives as much today as it did back then?
It had to be all those things, and more. Reinventing early 20’s technology with magic would not suffice. No, the world was to be quite fantastical indeed, putting a proper spin at how a cliché noir story usually played out. And with that, the project got a whole lot more “fluff” attached to it. I don’t really mind. Things are starting to come along nicely, and if the game turns out to be little more than meh, I’ll have a ton of ideas for that comic that I never got around to do :)
Here be dragons looking at you, kid