Posted on July 2, 2012 by mazecontroller
Available at RPGNow.com
Noir is a genre which is often defined by its trappings. Many people see fedoras, trenchcoats and beautiful women and think that’s noir. The characters are what make something noir. Good men driven to evil. Evil women driven to redemption. The situations are what makes something noir. Can a killer find humanity from befriending a little girl? What’s in the briefcase that’s worth dying over? Jason Blair, author of Little Fears, brings these flawed heroes and classic situations together for his newest game, Streets of Bedlam.
Streets of Bedlam calls itself an ultraviolent neo-noir setting of crime and corruption. It takes its most obvious inspiration from Frank Miller’s Sin City. The films of Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and the dozens of filmmakers inspired by them also are heavy influences in the setting. Bedlam is actually two cities spilt by a mad-made river. Lamrose is the older city, slowly choking under crime and decay. Bedford is the fairer sister city but her pretty face hides a black heart of corruption. The book discusses ideas on where and when Bedlam is supposed to be. The default assumption is that it is someplace modern but not connected to a specific geographic region.
The PDF is a single column layout featuring art at each chapter heading as well as sprinkled throughout the text. The PDF also offers multiple versions including one streamlined for tablet readers. Each chapter begins with a full page picture. The book also includes full page spreads for each of the Archetypes. The book is in black, white and grey, which seems more of an aesthetic choice than one made for cost reasons. Most people think of black and white when they think of the noir genre, after all. There are also occasional splashes of red, such as on the cover.
Characters are built from fourteen Archetypes in the book. Four other Archetypes exist as exclusives to Kickstarter backers which may or may not show up in a future book. Each archetype has at least two choices to expand the character types available. Playing a Badge? Pick whether the character is on the straight and narrow or bent and corrupt. Each Archetype also gives access to unique Edges and Hindrances only available to someone of that Archetype. Players that chafe under class-style construction can use the Citizen, which is also useful for playing normal folks drawn into a web of deceit and murder.
The game is built on the Savage Worlds engine and requires a copy of those core rules to play. The game uses the same engine but also offers refinements of the rules. Streets of Bedlam features rules that let PCs get beaten bloody and terrible but stick around for the big payback. It also features investigation rules that let help the GM set up clues for the players to find. A quick draw of cards sparks the imagination for clues left during the committing, clean-up, and exit from a crime scene. Interrogation rules also exists for multiple avenues of getting information. Social, physical and chemical interrogation can all be used to pry information from a suspect. These give solid mechanical flavor to a game known for tactical mini style combat. The rules for Roles also offer a good bit of player control using bennies without the complete wacky randomness of the Adventure Deck.
All of the art is done by a single artist. Shawn Gaston defines Streets of Bedlam like Tim Bradstreet defined Vampire: the Masquerade or Jeff Laubenstien defined Shadowrun. His art makes his Sin City influences clear but it never dips into copying Miller’s look. Each of the Archetype pictures is a perfect fit for the feel of that type of character. The internal pieces looks like they are from an awesome gritty comic book that is being published somewhere the reader missed. Signature characters can often be trite but the few panels and captions pull the read into their stories very well while still leaving plenty of space to want to tell their own.
The PDF is still something of a rough draft. The PDF is still missing an index and has typos waiting to be found. The art and layout is complete. Blair released it to the public to get some extra eyes on the PDF and is updating it free of charge as edits are made. The game is playable now but still evolving. Readers who are turned off by finding mistakes may wish to wait until the final PDF version is released when it is sent to the printer for hard copies. The game is still a living document rather than set in stone.
The rules are solid but vague. They convey the flavor of the game well, but still need a few bits of technical polish. Each Archetype gets Edges and Hindrances but some are very vaguely defined while others are very specific. There are extra rules meant to emulate the neo-noir genre but the intent of if and when to use the rules is unclear. Some fans will be upset with the lack of a gear section. Game masters looking for a book full of modern guns and vehicles to use will be disappointed.
The game is chock full of story ideas. Each backer of the Kickstarter is listed in the book with a short blurb describing a character sharing that name in the city of Bedlam. There is a large adventure that takes the place of the standard Plot Point campaign. Normally, adventures in core books seem wasteful but this adventure goes a long way to illustrate how to run a good mystery adventure without either leading players by the nose or requiring important info to be subject of dice rolls. The follow-up adventure collection, Five Story Drop, will be very solid if those adventures match up to the one in the book.
The Bottom Line: Streets of Bedlam comes off more Mickey Spillane than Raymond Chandler, but it’s still a great game for fans who want some action mixed in with their brooding.
Review by Rob Wieland
Tags | savage-worlds