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Greg Stolze “A Dirty World”

Posted on August 22, 2008 by Flames

Greg Stolze (REIGN, A Hunger Like Fire) has recently released a new game called A Dirty World.

The black and white images conceal a world of baffling gray moral complexities. Noir is about secrets, deception, betrayal and hidden vice. “A Dirty World” rebuilds the One Roll Engine from the ground up to support those themes. Action has consequences, but it’s the only way to make progress. But be careful: Your character’s effectiveness hinges on the choices he makes. It doesn’t matter how nice you say he is: If he acts like a rat, soon a rat is all he’ll be able to be.

Today, Greg takes part in our ongoing design project and tells us how A Dirty World came together and what his goals where while writing the game.

How I Wrote “A Dirty World”

There’s a story behind why I wrote “A Dirty World,” and it can be summed up pretty quickly. I was approached about using the ORE for an extensive film noir setting, and I got an idea of how rules could reinforce character drama. When the aforementioned setting gets ready to roll, it will probably use this ‘Dark ORE’ mechanic, but in the meantime it seemed like something that could stand on its own, so I released it that way. Not terribly interesting, really.

Film noir is all about internal tension, all about conflicting desires and urges and needs. A lot of game mechanics have worked on driving that sort of tension through play, my own included. In “Call of Cthulhu” do you conserve your precious sanity, or spend it on what you may need to survive? How close is a Requiem vampire willing to get to frenzy? Are you willing to rat out your lover (literally) in “It Was a Mutual Decision”? That was one element of the ‘Dark ORE’ design.

Another was an impatience with complicating abstractions, especially with damage. Hit points work fine for tactical fights, but having to keep track of injury, and also track impairment to skills from injury, seemed needlessly complicated. Why not (I asked myself) just take damage right to your skills? Then they’d drop of their own accord. That was another element.

The drive for an internally consistent mechanic for all circumstances also seemed like a worthy design goal. Why should attacking someone’s body with a lead pipe use entirely separate rules from attacking their confidence with a surprise revelation? Was there a way to unify those?

Finally, I was tired of experience points. I admired the XP-less advancement of “Call of Cthulhu” and contemplated something similar for UA (specifically, that you’d gain 1% in a skill the first time you failed it in a session) but I wanted it to have a hard, tight tie to the events. I wanted it to be dramatic, not merely mathematical.

What arose from all this is the engine of “A Dirty World.” Your ability to get things done fluctuates depending on your mood and circumstances. Instead of a series of temporary modifiers, everything is in play all the time. If you want to retain your purity and courage, you have to work for them. If your character undergoes experiences that are going to turn him into a rat bastard, he’s gets rat bastard abilities whether the player wants them or not.

The result is a game where character is always critical, because explaining your character’s reactions to events is what builds his ability to change events. His struggles and discoveries impact your character directly. Drama and mechanics fuse.

– Greg Stolze

Visit the A Dirty World website more information, a pdf character sheet and more. A Dirty World is now available at Lulu.com and RPGNow.com.

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