[19:33] <+JohnAdamus> Hi everyone, I’m John Adamus, normally a developmental editor in the RPG industry, and I’ve worked on projects such as The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game Paranet Papers; Fate Core; Night’s Black Agents; Marvel SuperHeroic Roleplaying; Headspace; Karthun; Iron Edda, Wield … like a lot of stuff.
[19:33] <+JGray> Nice!
[19:33] <+JohnAdamus> My game is Noir World, which is film noir as powered by the apocalypse, or more accurately, the confluence of emotion, decision, consequences, and terrible people in a movie you and your friends design
[19:34] * +JGray raises hand.
[19:34] <+JohnAdamus> Go for it dude. I don’t remember how to emote to call on you.
[19:34] <+JGray> Why PbA and not Fate?
[19:34] <+JGray> Since your resume includes some Fate work.
[19:35] <+MonkofLords> 0/
[19:35] <~Dan> (Howdy, MonkofLords!)
[19:35] <+JohnAdamus> Great question. I got tired of working in Fate, and I didn’t want people to tell me I was doing the same thing my friends were doing, and since I was already insecure about my designing a game, I wanted to do something that they couldn’t say I was doing just to do it. And originally it didn’t start out as PbtA or Fate, it just ended there.
[19:36] <+JohnAdamus> It originally started as a Mythender hack of an old boardgame. And over nearly 80 drafts, things changed.
[19:37] <+JohnAdamus> (normally this is the part of my answer that has profanity in it) Principally that change was led by my no longer being so preoccupied with trying to be liked by my friends or thinking the relationships were so tenuous that I had to impress them.
[19:38] <&Silverlion> Wise.
[19:38] <+JohnAdamus> …end of answer.
[19:38] <+JGray> Next question.
[19:38] <+JohnAdamus> Go for it.
[19:38] <+JGray> Why PbA? And how did you “navigate the license” as it were. The status of its openness was strange to me when I looked.
[19:38] <&Silverlion> Why noir?
[19:39] <+JohnAdamus> I picked PbtA because I was in a Dungeon World game and it completely changed the way I saw narrative in play. It was more storytelling that happened to touch dice, rather than dice rolling that happened to sometimes tell a story in between actions.
[19:40] <+JohnAdamus> And the license … well I just asked Vincent if I could go do a thing. And then I did. And then I showed it to him at Metatopia and was told, “You solved some problems better than I did, that’s awesome man.”
[19:40] <~Dan> Cool. 🙂
[19:41] <+JohnAdamus> It’s been my developmental experience that it’s often better to seek forgiveness than wait around for permission, so I figured if someone was going to have a problem with it, they’d say so, since I was pretty open about what I was doing. No one stopped me, so I just kept going
[19:41] <+JGray> Nice.
[19:41] * ~Dan nods
[19:42] <+JohnAdamus> As for “why noir”, I grew up watching film noir with my grandmother, and the structure of storytelling was a big component of our relationship. She often dissected stories and asked me to do the same, so our movie watching was integral to who I grew up to be.
[19:42] <+JohnAdamus> Also, I have hundreds of movies laying around the house, since I had a pre-games job as a screenwriter. So it felt like a good home base to start from.
[19:43] <+JohnAdamus> …end of answer
[19:44] <~Dan> Do you include any “weird” elements in the setting, or is this “pure” noir?
[19:45] <+JohnAdamus> Well, the stretch goals on the Kickstarter got weird, in that I stepped away from noir and neo-noir, so that I could do things that made me laugh or things I felt could be lensed through noir and still be enjoyable, different and still a little recognizable.
[19:46] <+JohnAdamus> Like the first stretch goal was The Narwhal Featurette, and it all stemmed out of Jim McClure’s inability to say “Noir World” (Nu-are World) without it coming out like “Narwhal” so I wrote a stretch goal about people on a fishing boat being stalked by narwhals.
[19:47] * ~Dan laughs
[19:47] <+JGray> Staked by narwhals?
[19:47] <+JGray> Because that’d awesome.
[19:47] <+JohnAdamus> And later, as the campaign progressed, I wanted to see if I could write Cthulhu Noir or Star Noir… so I did
[19:47] <+JohnAdamus> You can be impaled by narwhals if it’s narratively interesting.
[19:48] <~Dan> How could it not be?
[19:48] <+JohnAdamus> Really all the strangeness like The Toon (so you can tell Who Framed Roger Rabbit sort of stories) or the Prom (because every teenager’s prom could be a film noir) came from me wondering what would be a cool thing that you wouldn’t see somewhere else.
[19:49] <+JohnAdamus> In playtesting, some people played the narwhals a little too straight and benign. Which is cool, but dude, they’ve got horns, let’s use them.
[19:49] <+JohnAdamus> …end of answer
[19:49] <+JGray> Are there sex moves?
[19:50] <+JGray> (I swear, this is a serious question.)
[19:50] <+Viktyr> JGray: Not with the narwhals, hopefully.
[19:50] <+JGray> Well, as long as they’re all consenting adults.
[19:51] <+JohnAdamus> The Fatale has moves that imply sex, and the Director can Fade to Black or Advance Time to say that sex happened, but there’s no explicit put tab-A into Slot-B move for roleplaying purposes. In noir, the sex is so often implied and that’s where its impact is best felt.
[19:51] <+JohnAdamus> It’s not about the doing of it, it’s about what happens post-sex, so the narrative focuses more there.
[19:51] <+JGray> I should note, my biggest exposure to PbA has been Monsterhearts.
[19:52] <+JGray> So, I was curious.
[19:52] <+JohnAdamus> Monsterhearts and its sequel were huge inspirations, but not with sex moves.
[19:52] <+JGray> Cool.
[19:52] <+JohnAdamus> ..end of answer
[19:53] <~Dan> What are the core elements that makes this game film noir?
[19:54] <+JohnAdamus> I’d say there are two. First and foremost, the Hooks system that establishes the relationships between all the Roles at the table — as in “X has their hooks in Y”, because it creates little backstories with a lot of emotional potential before the game even starts
[19:55] <+JohnAdamus> And secondly, the decision that the story’s distance from the Crime is dependent on collaboration – Roles can choose whether or not the Crime of the story has already happened pre-start of play or if the Crime is going to happen during play. This often leads to the Roles committing the Crime.
[19:56] <+JohnAdamus> Throw in some set dressing like Belongings and names of attributes (Motivations) like Gams or Moxie, and you feel pretty noir before the first Scene.
[19:56] <+JGray> Slipping out to collapse. Good luck with the Kickstarter!
[19:56] <+JohnAdamus> Oh the Kickstarter was hugely successful and I hope the pre-order is soon to be as well.
[19:57] <+JohnAdamus> …end of answer
[19:59] <~Dan> What are some particular challenges to running a noir game as opposed to a more… standard, I guess?… RPG?
[19:59] <+JohnAdamus> I think the greatest challenge is keeping a lid on the tone, and not confusing it with hardboiled … the lines too often blur.
[20:00] <+JohnAdamus> Hardboiled is all the slang like “dame” “gumshoe” “moll” “heater” and that’s a different atmosphere from noir, despite being a parent of noir in the lineage.
[20:00] <~Dan> Oh? I wasn’t aware of the distinction.
[20:00] <~Dan> Interesting.
[20:01] <+JohnAdamus> Noir is a tragedy, it’s the American tragedy. Hope meets consequences and bad decisions out of reckless actions. So that tone, the sense that the black and whiteness of the world is more than visual, that shadows carry weight and everyone has choices and failures as baggage, that marks noir
[20:02] <+JohnAdamus> Keeping that without going too maudlin or too saccharin is tough. It’s not like you can slap a fedora on an orc and call it a day.
[20:02] <+JohnAdamus> It all has to drive back to how the Role feels and how whatever that feeling is will lead them to do stuff that may or may not cause problems down the road, either for them or others.
[20:03] <+JohnAdamus> Sorry, I didn’t mean to get soapbox about it, it’s a really critical distinction that I have to make otherwise so much of what ends up being discussed is ill-fitting window dressing.
[20:04] <+JohnAdamus> And I didn’t want a game to wear a noir costume, I wanted it to feel noir and affect and impact the players.
[20:04] <+JohnAdamus> …end of answer
[20:05] <~Dan> Seems like a lot of responsibility has to rest on the players’ shoulders.
[20:06] <+JohnAdamus> I guess. I mean, there’s always responsibility when people sit at a table. They’ve got to be the paladin or the third player on the right or the guy ordering dinner. But I feel if there’s a want for a good story, you have to empower and then trust the player to use the tools they have on hand and those they bring with them to get that story out
[20:07] <+JohnAdamus> It’s why this game is so collaborative, and such a radical departure from PbtA or even Fate, because I challenged all the design elements that I didn’t like or didn’t want to repeat.
[20:08] <~Dan> Do you have a character sheet that we can see?
[20:08] <+JohnAdamus> I’ll get a link to the Quickstart Guide. Give me one second
[20:08] <+JohnAdamus> It’s here – (Link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/q53o1lqg5uv778x/NoirWorld_Quickstart%20%28expanded%29.pdf?dl=0)https://www.dropbox.com/s/q53o1lqg5uv778x/NoirWorld_Quickstart%20%28expanded%29.pdf?dl=0
[20:10] <+JohnAdamus> I noticed that I didn’t see my friends faces when we played other games, they would always put their heads down and scan their sheets for cool stuff. I got really accustomed to see their scalps. That’s cool, but I wanted to design away from that.
[20:10] <+JohnAdamus> So the sheets at the back of the Quickstart get things moving. Jason did an awesome job configuring what was previously a stack of Word documents.
[20:11] * ~Dan nods…
[20:11] <~Dan> So the attributes are Brains, Moxie, and Risk?
[20:12] <+JohnAdamus> Yeah. That’s a measure of how smart you are (like Intelligence), how charismatic or charming you are (Charisma) and how willing you are to do something you perceive as dangerous (Wisdom, somewhat) … but you can’t directly translate that all the time
[20:13] <+JohnAdamus> In all the film noir I watched, things like physical strength weren’t relied on like attributes, they were things that made specific story moments interesting. It didn’t matter if the guy was strong all the time, just that he was strong enough one time to flip the table
[20:13] <~Dan> So how do you handle things like strength and dexterity?
[20:14] <+JohnAdamus> If it makes sense in the story to do a thing, you do it.
[20:14] <+JohnAdamus> If it makes sense in the story to do a thing badly, you do it badly.
[20:15] <+JohnAdamus> Like if we’re just hanging out and you’re telling me about this one time something happened to you, are you really going to say “My Dexterity was a 14, so I didn’t get a big bonus” ? No, you’re going to tell me you did a good job not spilling coffee in the boardroom
[20:16] <~Dan> Is the game’s story told in past tense like that?
[20:17] <+JohnAdamus> Not always. You can do it in whatever tense you like. Even between multiple players when they act as Director, they can shift the tense, just as easily as they can shift chronology by saying a Scene is a Flashback or a Meanwhile.
[20:17] <+JohnAdamus> So much of this is malleable. And I think it should be.
[20:17] <~Dan> How do you keep Flashbacks from contradicting the present?
[20:18] <+JohnAdamus> The collaborative ability of a group to self-police. And the fact that most often the contradiction will stem when a player tries to take an advantage … so there’s the rule that if you’re Director, your Role cannot be in the Scene.
[20:20] <+JohnAdamus> And if a Director tries to flex against it and set something up later that only they’ll benefit from as a player, the rest of the narrative can pretty easily pivot past them and leave them in a lurch. A lot of the early playtests had people who tried to set stuff up that would only work for them, and the table didn’t really let selfish play persist.
[20:21] <~Dan> So the players rotate GMing duties?
[20:21] <+JohnAdamus> It eventually go codified as “You’re all in this together to tell a good story” and “You can’t Direct yourself in a Scene”
[20:21] <+JohnAdamus> Yes, the Director’s chair passes to the right. Although in smaller groups you can hopscotch it around. When everyone’s been a Director once, the Act ends. Most games are 2 Acts, sometimes 3 if the story isn’t resolved.
[20:22] <~Dan> What signals the time to switch Directors?
[20:22] <+JohnAdamus> This was an explicit decision because I didn’t want the majority of the narrative and momentum in one person’s hands, leaving the other people constantly reacting to whatever the GM said.
[20:23] <+JohnAdamus> Every Director can do up to 3 Director Actions, then it passes to the right.
[20:23] <+JohnAdamus> Sometimes you just do 1 and pass, sometimes you do 2 or 3.
[20:24] <+JohnAdamus> I figured if I can trust a player to do something heroic, I can trust them to set up other people for good story too.
[20:25] <~Dan> Is there something about rotating Directors that you think enhances the game’s noir aspect?
[20:26] <+JohnAdamus> Two parts: First I think it allows for a breadth of storytelling. Different people tell parts of stories in different ways. Second, it lets people focus in on getting the most out of a story, zooming in and leading/forcing choices and consequences.
[20:29] <~Dan> How do you account for mysteries during the game, though?
[20:31] <+JohnAdamus> Well there’s a lot there. Aside from not all noir being a mystery, what makes a mystery is something unknown that becomes known over time. There are Director actions to do that explicitly, but also as Director-ship rotates, some of that unknown fuels actions in later Scenes.
[20:32] <+JohnAdamus> So if I’m Director and you’re a Private Eye, you’ve got an Action that will get you information, but we have to work together to figure out what that information is, and we can only do it relative to what’s already been established or whatever boundaries we set up before play started.
[20:33] <+JohnAdamus> If the Crime was “a City official is blackmailed” and the decision was made that the blackmail happened before play began, there’s this other decision all together that the Roles want to investigate it at all.
[20:34] <+JohnAdamus> In so many noir the “plot” is secondary or outright confusing (see: The Big Sleep), while the character arcs, the evolution or destruction of a character takes precedence. It doesn’t matter if the Good Cop solves the crime, it becomes more interesting to see him tarnish his ideals.
[20:35] * ~Dan nods
[20:35] <~Dan> Interesting approach.
[20:35] <+JohnAdamus> I think my favorite part of that is when a Role decides they’re the criminal and the rest of the table tells the entire Movie about how they get away or get caught.
[20:36] <+JohnAdamus> This distinction is one of the forks in the road where I lose people. And I had to get okay with that in a hurry as development progressed.
[20:38] * ~Dan nods
[20:38] <~Dan> I can see that.
[20:39] <~Dan> Do you ever have issues with Directors who have competing visions for the story?
[20:41] <+JohnAdamus> Yeah, and usually those Scenes (and to some extent the Directors) sag the story. It still works, it’s still enjoyable, but it’ll have these sputtering moments where I wish the person would just move forward. I think that’s a combination expectation and comfort level thing
[20:41] <+JohnAdamus> They expect a game to be played a certain way, they expect a result to come a certain way, and they’re comfortable when that happens, or when something in the ballpark happens.
[20:43] <+JohnAdamus> I wanted to make a thing that didn’t live in the same spaces as what my friends were doing, I wanted to put my own fingerprints all up and down the ideas in play, so I challenged the expected play styles, and when competing visions arise, the story balances out.
[20:43] <~Dan> Can you give an example of that happening?
[20:44] <+JohnAdamus> Sure, this happened in February.
[20:44] <+JohnAdamus> Guy was a Private Eye, really wanted to make his detective the “star” who had the entire story in hand, because he wanted to do a Bogart impression for 2 hours.
[20:45] <+JohnAdamus> The first hurdle was the rest of the table decided the game was set in the 1980s and that the Crime was not something the Private Eye had a lot of immediate pull over – I think they robbed a bank or botched a robbery.
[20:46] <+JohnAdamus> So when the Private Eye was Director, he set up a lot of things to pay off later (a Director Action). The problem was that before he could go use those things, two other Roles also got a chance to Direct, and other Roles immediately benefitted from those setups.
[20:47] <+JohnAdamus> The potentially selfish stuff become story fuel for other people.
[20:47] <~Dan> Huh… Interesting.
[20:47] <~Dan> (Howdy, egyptian!)
[20:47] <+JohnAdamus> Yes, the Private Eye was grumpy and sulky because he didn’t get to be the big star, but ultimately he did get to shoot someone, so he was happy.
[20:48] <~Dan> Nice. 🙂
[20:49] <+JohnAdamus> No one plays in a vacuum. That’s a big deal to me. And it’s no fun when someone makes my game night all about them when we all drove 20+ minutes in traffic to find parking in front of Mike’s house to have a good time.
[20:49] * ~Dan nods
[20:50] <+JohnAdamus> I feel like I may have lost the audience there.
[20:51] <~Dan> They’re here. Just lurking.
[20:51] <+JohnAdamus> Oh. Stealthy. Great for paranoia.
[20:51] <~Dan> So how well does Cthulhu mix with noir?
[20:53] <+JohnAdamus> Once you get past the tentacles, every cultist who wants to be a fish being immortalized forever to serve dreaming Madness is making an emotional set of choices with a set of expected consequences that may not go according to plan.
[20:53] <~Dan> So the PCs are cultists?
[20:53] <+JohnAdamus> Everybody thinks it’s gonna be hella cool when the big guys make landfall but after that it’s all gibbering and sacrificing.
[20:54] <+JohnAdamus> The roles are people, and people can be cultists, or they can have wants for power and are subject to whims given to them by beings in dreams they cannot fathom.
[20:55] <+JohnAdamus> Playtesting did have a whole table of cultists. Citizen, Gambler, Attorney, Dirty Cop, and War Vet .. all had personal and wretched reasons to want Hastur to swing by for coffee.
[20:55] <~Dan> Can the game handle a group with some cultists and some some non-cultists?
[20:55] <+JohnAdamus> Totally. This usually means the last Scene of Act 2 has some killing, but that’s always a nice end to an evening.
[20:56] <+JohnAdamus> These are just a different lens for character driven story. Weird geometry and madness are tints to them.
[20:57] <~Dan> Speaking of killing, how does the game handle combat?
[20:57] <+JohnAdamus> You roll Fight It Out. You have 3 Health, the average weapon does 2 Injury.
[20:58] <+JohnAdamus> Most combat is short, ferocious, and painful. Frequently terminal.
[20:58] <+JohnAdamus> Only one Role has any ability to outright heal you (the Disgraced Doctor), so a lot of people are hurting usually when Act 2 starts to wrap up.
[20:59] <+JohnAdamus> And even then, you can play the Doctor and not choose the Healing Action.
[21:00] <+JohnAdamus> (it’s Lay on Hands, because that makes me laugh)
[21:00] <~Dan> How does PvP combat work?
[21:00] <+JohnAdamus> The same way.
[21:01] <+JohnAdamus> There’s no distinction just because it’s Role on Role. If anything, PvE or PvNPC is faster because it’s narratively necessary just to shoot that goon to prove that the Gangster really is a tough guy.
[21:01] <~Dan> But I thought that combat in PbtA games was self-test with one side only reacting.
[21:02] <+JohnAdamus> Yeah, it is, and I didn’t want to do that, so I went a different way.
[21:03] <+JohnAdamus> If you and I fight, we’re both going to act and react, because we both have a reason to be in and ultimately get out of the fight.
[21:04] <~Dan> Really? Huh… That would seem to be a pretty significant change.
[21:04] <+JohnAdamus> Yeah, Noir World does a lot of those.
[21:04] <~Dan> A positive change to my mind, to be clear, but a significant cahnge.
[21:04] <~Dan> change
[21:05] <+JohnAdamus> It engages the players differently, often more evocatively.
[21:05] * ~Dan nods
[21:06] <+JohnAdamus> Rather than looking at the sheet to tell me how they’re going to counter an Action with an Action, I can just ask, “Lady, you’re getting shot, what are you gonna do?” That shortens the distance between “Um..” and their decision, which adds a nice momentum to the Scene
[21:07] <~Dan> Yeah, I prefer that NPCs be able to be proactive.
[21:07] <+JohnAdamus> Every being in the story should be proactive when necessary.
[21:07] * ~Dan nods
[21:08] <~Dan> Out of curiosity, do you enjoy other PbtA games?
[21:08] <~Dan> As written, I mean.
[21:09] <+JohnAdamus> Oh totally. I’m a big fan of Monsterhearts, Black Stars Rise, Tremulus, and Headspace. I enjoy my Dungeon World and Apocalypse World games. I just didn’t make something like them,
[21:09] * ~Dan nods
[21:09] <~Dan> Nothing wrong with that. 🙂
[21:10] <+JohnAdamus> I did originally.
[21:10] <+JohnAdamus> I bought Dungeon World and copied it page by page for like 30 pages.
[21:11] <+JohnAdamus> Thinking that if I directly aped a book, I’d get the same results. It stopped when someone asked, “Hey John aren’t you making a film noir game? So what’s up with the wizards?”
[21:11] <+JohnAdamus> That sent me stumbling back, ego bruised, for about 6 months. And after that I started questioning every part of design. I asked a lot of “Why” from then on out.
[21:13] * ~Dan nods
[21:14] <~Dan> In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
[21:16] <+JohnAdamus> I want to say I’m really grateful for a chance to talk about this stuff. This whole crowdfunding and beyond experience has been huge for me personally and professionally, and I am so happy to do things like this.
[21:17] <~Dan> We’re glad to have you. 🙂
[21:18] <+JohnAdamus> Also. reading me describe the game is totally different than hearing it played. I’m forever indebted to One Shot for their recording.
[21:18] <+MonkofLords> Hyup
[21:18] <~Dan> For that matter, I hope you’ll feel welcome to hang out here in the future whenever you like.
[21:18] <+Monochrome_Tide> I’m really interested in this concept, John.
[21:18] <+MonkofLords> How’s life folk?
[21:18] <+JohnAdamus> Thanks Dan, that would be cool.
[21:18] <~Dan> And for anyone wanting to support my Q&As, you can do so here: (Link: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/)https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/
[21:19] <~Dan> Now if you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll get the log posted and link you!