Film-noir style game?

edited September 2011 in Story Games
Well, my first post here, so hello Story Games!

On topic now, my group has only recently tried non-D&D roleplaying games(after playing D&D all through high school) and one of my friends has shown interest in playing a game that channels the film-noir genre. I'm especially eager to fill this request because this is a player who has tended to not be as excited about the games, so I want to be able to give a good game to up his overall enthusiasm(also I think it would be cool). Now, I have no experience with the film-noir genre. I'm researching it so I can make the game, uh, authentic is the word I'm looking for I guess. Like I mentioned, I'm also new to the non-D&D thing, so I don't really know any games that would model it well.

What games would you suggest to model the film-noir genre, and are there any tricks that you use to heighten that film-noir feeling(mechanical tricks or otherwise)?


  • Dirty Secrets is kinda cool but may be a bit too shocking for players who have only played D&D.
    There's also A Dirty World, but I haven't actually read it.
  • I wrote a supplement for Mortal Coil that's all about bringing the Noir into your games. It's called Twisted 50s and it's a whole $2 in pdf.
  • A Dirty World was written to emulate film noir and I think it does an incredibly admirable job of it. If you're running a noir game, I highly recommend it. Aside from that, if you're not familiar with film noir and want to run a game emulating it, all I can suggest is that you start by watching the classics of the genre. The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity, and Touch of Evil are essential viewing. After that, try some of: Kiss Me Deadly, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Killing, Gilda, In a Lonely Place, The Killers, This Gun for Hire, or Dark Passage. Neo noir films that captured some of the same feel include Chinatown, LA Confidential, the French Connection, the Last Seduction and (yes) Blade Runner.
  • Oh yes, watching some of the genre's key films was on my list of things to do, thank you very much for the suggestions; I'll start looking into those immediately.
    From the suggestions you guys are giving, I think A Dirty World is looking great for it, so thanks.

    However, GB Steve, I'm interested in your supplement, but am thinking that, overall, I probably won't be playing Mortal Coil. I think I might still get it though if a lot of the advice is more setting-neutral. Is it?
  • Don't forget to add Detour to your film list!

    Also, it sounds like Hollowpoint might be good for more violent-action oriented noir, in the Frank Miller vein. Maybe not for an extended campaign though.
  • A Dirty World is pretty great.
  • Not only is A Dirty World brilliant, it's underrated and very inexpensive.

    The best thing about A Dirty World is that you can play a character who isn't nasty and vindictive and backstabbing...but through play you may become so. Just like a noir character that finds themselves in a dastardly situation.

    Twisted 50s is not setting-neutral. It's good, though. :)
  • Alright then, as soon as I get my Paypal running again I'm going to pick up A Dirty World. Thank you all for your testimony and movie suggestions!

    And shame about Twisted 50s then. Well, I'll keep Mortal Coil in mind for future games, maybe a time will come up that I can use it.
  • I made a noir one-sheet pdf dingus for Sorcerer called Blood Simple.

    It is pretty keen. Drop me a whisper and I should be able to track it down and e-mail it to ya.
  • Posted By: Felan
    Also, it sounds like Hollowpoint might be good for more violent-action oriented noir, in the Frank Miller vein. Maybe not for an extended campaign though.
    Hollowpoint is a game about violence and teamwork, so it would only really work for the most for action-centric Neo-noir. Even though that fantastic bank robbery from Heat is a touchstone for the game, Hollowpoint doesn't really help you produce a story like Heat as a whole.

    I ran a hardboiled/noir-style Eberron game for a year or so in 3.5e and the main thing I took away from all my research on noir is that a lot of the feel of the genre comes from the visuals, so pay attention to those in the movies and think about how you would describe that feel to the players.

    (I've yet to play A Dirty World, but it looks great, so add me to the chorus)
  • Posted By: horn_head_oHowever, GB Steve, I'm interested in your supplement, but am thinking that, overall, I probably won't be playing Mortal Coil. I think I might still get it though if a lot of the advice is more setting-neutral. Is it?
    Much of it is about how noir works in games generally rather than particularly applied to Mortal Coil. And it is only $2. Otherwise I'd read The Noir Thriller by Lee Horsely (although I didn't before I wrote my supplement).
  • edited September 2011
    The aspect of Noir that I like-- is that it depicts social issues. Details like a bare lightbulb and bare mattress on a floor-- can speak volumes about they way people struggle in a crowded, impoverished, heartless city.

    I recently watched "Johnny Handsome" with Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Lance Hendriksen, Forrest Whittaker, and Morgan Freeman.

    It is "Eighties Noir".

    The 80's part: it's set in the underbelly of New Orleans, raining all the time, with women who dress like big-hair hookers, and tough guys who dress like gay hookers.

    The Noir part: Mickey Rourke is a criminal with a monsterous deformed face and voice. Morgan Freeman arrests him, and sends Rourke to pick cotton on a work farm.
    Whittaker is a surgeon who offers Rourke an attractive new face, on the theory that it might be the key to reforming him.

    Will the experiment succeed, when Rourke is back on the hopeless city streets, and back with his cronies Hendriksen and Barkin?

    To create this type of Noir, you might borrow from 'shock: social science fiction' by creating an Issues/Shock Grid.

    Issues: List a few social issues down the side of a page: such as Prostitution, Slumlords, Unwanted Children, Racial conflict, Substance Abuse, Recidivism

    Shocks: List a few iconic modern 'signs of the times' across the top of the page: such as Scientific Police Procedures, Telemarketing as a job, a winning lottery ticket, 9/11, cosmetic surgery

    Draw lines down and across, so the lines intersect where each 'Issue' connects with each 'Shock'.

    Brainstorm about how the items would intersect, and create characters based on the intersection: a Prostitute whose John is killed in 9/11 tries to claim she's his spouse, to get benefits. A new tenant finds forensic evidence in an apartment, proving a slumlord killed the previous tenant. A telemarketer steals customers' identities to pay for an expensive drug habit. Will a cosmetic surgery cure a recidivist?

    Characters who share a horizontal or vertical axis will be connected by the elements they have in common.

    Look for connections between the characters: The telemarketer's scam is similar to the prostitute's scam. How do they meet?

    You could also navigate the grid like a dungeon map, following the lines from intersection to intersection like a spider crossing a web, to determine story structure-- the order and content of scenes.
  • That was very helpful, and the idea about doing it with shocks(or shock-equivalents, at least) is awesome. I can see how that would totally work, and I'm pretty sure I'll be doing that. All I have to do is figure out what time period we're going to be playing in and I'm going to try that out. Thanks!

    GBSteve, if it is more setting neutral I might as well try(it IS only $2...). The Noir Thriller seems intersting, but I think it may put me over the budget for the first game at least. If I go for a slightly longer scale game(assuming the group ends up enjoying how it plays out) then I'll probably pick it up. Thanks for showing it to me though, I hadn't known of it. I think I will get your supplement though, once my Paypal is back online.
  • Film Noir: "One Can Have Her" by Jonas Ferry. You'd have to drop Jonas an e-mail directly to get it now (but it's worth it, if you like the 24-hr version):

    The 24-hr version (which is not the finished product but gives a good idea of what Jonas' game is like) is free and here:

    No problemo!
  • That looks very exciting, actually. I've e-mailed Jonas about it, and am really looking forward to seeing the full version. I think I may prefer that one for a one-shot over A Dirty World, if only because it looks like I can teach it fast and it's a very simple-seeming system. If I end up doing something more substantial with the noir than that, A Dirty World looks to be the way to go. Regardless of system, I think I'm going to use that shocks/issues idea to generate some cool npcs.

    Started watching the movies today, btw. Watched Double Indemnity, highly enjoyed it. Took a few notes during it about some cool visuals and themes/ideas to use, gonna hopefully watch another film later.
  • Adding a recommendation for "A Dirty World".

    Recently ran the old L5R City of Lies box with it and my players had a blast. Once everyone got a hang of the system, it really turned into a contest of mean low blows (in the good sense).

    My favorite moment being, I guess, when the eta leaders - convinced that our monstrously crooked Magistrate was an honorable man - used purity to appeal to him to save their community, offering themselves up as the guilty murderers of the previous magistrate... and won him over. Faced with the first only honorable people in the whole run, he decided to let them live - and to help the eta community. Which was the beginning of the end for my players of course.
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