A Dirty World
EPUB EBook by Greg Stolze
EBook DescriptionA Dirty World is available from LuLu in both print and PDF formats, and I believe that a bundle packet will be available from IPR at some stage in the future. A Dirty World EPUB EBook It is short, but encapsulates an entire narrative genre with elegance and punch within its length, and is entirely self- EPUBcontained. Although A Dirty World uses a variation of the ever-adaptable One Roll Engine (ORE), it is designed to be as useful to someone who has never encountered the ORE before as it is to returning fans.
For ease of access, the website for the game is available here with some previews.
In case anyone's interested, the LuLu printing is something I'm entirely happy with, producing a digest-sized easily portable softcover book that is sturdy and distinctive.
A More Social ORE
The core of A Dirty World is social conflict mechanics anchored in Film Noir, and the approach it takes is that there is no mechanical distinction between clubbing someone with a two-by-four and revealing to a society dinner that they slept with their sister.
The fun part is that your stats and skills update moment-by-moment to reflect what's going on for your character, because this kind of change is how you get damaged. Essentially, getting one part of your character's identity chewed on is likely to improve something else.
There are three pairs of stats (called 'Identities') in A Dirty World, and each of these Identities has two pairs of skills (called 'Qualities'). This is relevant because these pairs are, to an extent, mutually exclusive within themselves: You cannot be both Pure and Corrupt, or both Innocent and Deceitful. Attacks - unless the roll is particularly good - slide points from one side of a Quality or Identity into the other. For example, imagine a conflict where one character is trying to seduce another, and the would-be victim is trying to tell the attacker that they're a better person than that. The attacker is targeting their would-be victim's Purity, and the victim is striking back at their attacker's Corruption. It's entirely possible - as happened in a brief playtest - for the roles of the characters to switch: The attacker became convinced that what he was doing Was Wrong at about the same time that the 'victim' was good and seduced, and the roles reversed.
There is no way to make another person do anything in A Dirty World. It's a question of what they are willing to do in order to avoid toeing the line, and what consequences they're willing to wear. Deliciously, it's also a question of what you'd be willing to do in order to try and make them cave. Nothing is without price.
The game includes many good elements to both prevent characters from either stagnating, or being malleable to the point where the character's identity and concept ceases to be a concern. You can slide one Quality from one side to the other after each scene providing you can justify it, and there are many situations that can be used to raise your numbers overall.
However, it's important to note that part of Noir is that the characters have horrible things happen to them, and mostly that they do this to each other/themselves. As such, a great many of the ways in which to raise your numbers involves Nasty Things - and its almost encouraged that there be intraparty conflict to fuel all this. However, this isn't to say that the game is Noir-flavoured Paranoia, more that this can be part of A Dirty World's fun. Figuring out how to twist the PC love-triangle for maximum torment (and thus maximum benefit) before a climactic conflict could be as much fun as the climactic conflict itself - for certain player groups. I imagine that the players of Buffy: The Watch House or those of Gamerchick on Gamegrene would have an absolute whale of a time with this. However, several of my players don't think it'd be Their Sort of Fun because they don't enjoy vicarious torment as much. Both viewpoints are entirely reasonable, and for one side of the spectrum A Dirty World is likely to be very tasty indeed.
From a mechanical perspective, A Dirty World is elegant and simple, but far from simplistic. The adage of easy to learn but hard to master applies, and figuring out how to make your numbers work for you is a world of complex possibilities - all of which are easy to comprehend. For example, if you don't like your numbers for the current conflict, change them. How do you do that? The fastest method is to find someone to beat the living hell out of whatever you want to change, so as to move it over to its opposite. If your Public Defender is too much of a paladin to put the screws into a snivelling traitor, go out and get the ideals beaten out of you until you are able to go and get your Venge on.
ORE RLY? (I couldn't resist.)
Part of the beauty of the One Roll Engine is that as more books are added to its stable, it is increasingly more than the sum of its part: mechanics from one section can be added to another, depending on the desired tone, focus or task. However, the other beautiful thing is that the books in the ORE are not generalists: They set out to do their particular jobs very well indeed, and any crossover is an additional bonus.
I had been considering A Dirty World as the core for adding social-conflict mechanics into the rest of the ORE... and this would work. But.
There's a but. A Dirty World's mechanics capture the Noir vibe excellently, that's their purpose and they do it with style. The ORE has been tailored to this purpose here, and again this is profoundly elegant. However, the consequences of this tailoring makes it harder to meld with the rest of the ORE because the Identity/Quality pairs and the sliding of points between them have no real analogs in the other ORE systems.
A potential (and potentially elegant) solution to this is to have two different character sheets. You could have your REIGN or NEMESIS sheet, for example, when dealing with a sword-duel or car-chase. Then when the context is right, move over to the A Dirty World sheet for social conflict in a similar (I think) approach to 'dialing in' the details for conflict in The Shadow of Yesterday. This might well work for some groups. Informal polling of my players has shown that they think the idea works in practice, but are not personally motivated to move between character sheets themselves: They'd rather do one or the other.
Fortunately, A Dirty World has mechanics to handle fisticuffs and gun-fu as well as social conflict - it could hardly be Noir without it. Just bear in mind that what is gained by being able to make an NPC cry and spill the beans is traded by lacking a concrete system to put a slug in his braincase from a block away with a high-powered rifle and kill him outright.
Actual Book Layout.
A Dirty World is bookmarked by two very brief but extremely punchy Noir stories by Greg Stolze, and both of which are enjoyable and good for setting the mood. I'm generally a sucker for any story that starts with, "Two months ago she walked into my office in Boston, put that little chin in the air and asked me to find her father. Today we're in Philadelphia, in a graveyard."
The book then moves into discussing ORE Noir and how it functions in that regard, with concisely written discussions of the three pairs of Identities and the six pairs of Qualities. Greg Stolze's narrative voice is very present here, making the contents of the book easily accessible and interesting to engage with. I particularly approve of a section called "Twenty Things To Do And How To Do Them" that shows different combinations and permutations of Quality/Identity pairings, and in what context you'd apply them. It's easy to understand, and gives a good fundamental grasp of the tricks that the system is there to facilitate. Talking a jumper of a ledge? Persuasive Purity. Threatening someone to get them to talk? Persuasive Corruption. And for the record, what is the opposite of Persuasion? Understanding. Yep. That's not going to be important at all.
"Swift Justice" explains how to move around your numbers within the pairs yourself, and the ways to boost yourself through in-game encounters.
"Conflict" works through exactly what you might expect, and explains that the rules for a shouting match are exactly the same for a fist-fight, but resolved with different Qualities and Identities. In another very nice touch, there's a discussion about Weapons. Physical weapons improving your chances in a brawl or making you scarier for intimidation is all well and good... but what are their emotional and intellectual equivalents for those kind of conflicts? Intellectual surprises, for facts you didn't know, and emotional secrets. There's a concise section detailing different levels of severity for each, and how they influence the conflict: again, always the same system so as to keep things easy to comprehend, and in danger of making me use the word Elegant again.
There are three different "Example Conflicts" using - in some cases - the same characters, and they are extremely helpful for illustrating the system and for the player/character divide that the game can encourage: after all, doing horrible things to your character makes them stronger, so a little authorial sadism can ultimately be a good idea.
"Character Gen" is short, in part because the entire character consists of the Quality/Identity pairs, along with some dickering. By now you have an idea of how things work just by comprehending the system - but Stolze's narrative voice continues to smooth the ride even so.
As if all that wasn't cool enough, we then move onto "One Roll Mysteries," which are a staggeringly awesome way of generating an entire Noir scenario or even campaign from one diceroll. This is an element that can happily be ported to many other ORE games, and I intend to do exactly that. There are several worked examples as provided by Mr. Stolze for how to turn rolls on the table into a workable Horrible Plot, and they're very neat indeed. I think of them as good examples of how the One Roll approach to plot generation is a shining gemstone for creating circumstances that I, as an individual GM, might not have considered.
"The Dirty World Cheat Sheet" encapsulates every fundamental element of the game onto one page. Yep, everything. The only thing I'd need besides this if someone stole my copy of the book would be the "Twenty Things to Do And How to Do Them" section, and I'd be off. The rest of the book is a well written support and explanation structure for these simple rules.
And "The Character Sheet" itself gives a good impression of the mechanics by conveying at a glance how the elements of character relate, and how they might be mutually exclusive. (There's a free character sheet PDF at the A Dirty World site linked at the top of the review.)
And In Conclusion...
A Dirty World is short, but diamonds and dynamite come in small packages and I don't think we should hold this against it. It's 70 pages of clearly-written engaging work that does a great job of bringing the Noir world to life in RPG form.
As noted, I believe that it will appeal to some player groups more than others - but what game doesn't? And for those groups it does appeal to, I believe it will truly shine. Like this book? Read online this: Dirty Thoughts (Mechanics of Love, #1), When Sex Was Dirty.
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