Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tommy's Take on Noir Knights

This was actually the review I was preparing to do, when I did the Savage Suzerain one instead. Noir Knights is set in a Suzerain realm called American Grit, and shows up in the Savage Suzerain plot point campaign.

The PDF is $19.95, with most of the common cool features, like being searchable and bookmarked, with copy and paste available. You can order the hardcopy right now for $34.99.

The same production values are present here as they are in Savage Suzerain and Shanghai Vampocalypse, although the art on the cover image just doesn't do it for me. Conceptually, I don't have a problem with it...something about the style just doesn't click with me. Incidentally, I don't have a problem with the interior art (by the same artist), the cover just loses me.

FOR PLAYERS

The setting is a mostly-like-our US in the 1930s, in the heart of The Great Depression...just freakier. A conspiracy is afoot, and it is slowly tearing the United States down from the inside. Your PCs are assumed to be members of, or at least associated with, the United States Special Projects Administration - Task Force Division. This means that they are the kind of troubleshooters that deal with secret conspiracies threatening to take apart the United States from the inside.

And so the book provides us with the player's overview of the SPA, including three new Paths that we'll get to in a minute, to give you an idea of just how things work.

CHARACTER CREATION

Pretty standard Suzerain character creation, which is pretty standard Savage Worlds character creation, except everyone gets free Pulse. Noir Knights is assumed to begin at Heroic, after the Telesmae have "awoken" to the PCs and they are now doing freakier stuff...so if you want to plunge right into the Plot Point Campaign, create Heroic rank characters.

Unlike some realms, American Grit only has humans...however, since everyone is Heroic rank, the option is present to allow a PC who started in another realm and wound up in American Grit before the beginning of the Plot Point Campaign, for a nice variation.

A single new Hindrance is present - Charge. This is a dependent that the hero must care for, not a sidekick or anything.

Several new Edges are present, like the really cool Echolocation...basically, you use sound to make up for the lack of light. Fair Catch lets you spend Pulse to catch projectiles...and that includes bullets. Hail of Bullets lets you unload into a crowd but ensure that you never hit in innocent, Majesty makes it harder for Extras to become Unshaken in your presence, Nothing To See Here convinces people that you are doing whatever you're supposed to be doing and Sharp Shooter lets you pay Pulse to dump penalties off of Called Shots! There are some really cool Edges here!

A list of setting-specific Connections is supplied, as well as new Telesma Edges such as Folk Hero Telesma, which lets you take an Edge that is one rank higher than you are, once per Rank.

Three new Pulse Paths are provided: Ruizologist's are Weather Wizards, basically, and have a list of New Powers...Railwalkers are hobos who use sigils and, like the Ruizologist, they have a list of new powers well. Lastly are the Taximancers, who sometimes use dead things for back-up. Each of these is a specialization for an existing Pulse Path, meaning that you have to have the appropriate pre-requisite Pulse Path first. 18 new Powers are spread out among the Paths, like Mean Dog, which allows Railwalkers to summon attack dogs or Drudge, which allows a Taximancer to enlist the dead (though they typically only use animals these days), and Bolt from the Blue, which allows a Ruizamancer to summon a giant bolt from the sky that'll strike in a Medium Burst Template that doesn't directly harm those it hits...just potentially sends them flying,

THE SPA FILES

Here is a more detailed look at what the SPA is dealing with. It touches more on the sense of desperation in the Great Depression, the rise of carnivals and the prevelance of the railroads (and the sigil-drawing hobos that follow them). The text is full of little items that can be expanded into adventures, and does a nice of job planting the idea that something IS fundamentally wrong in the world.

A handy flowchart tries to explain government structure. Thank God this is set in the '30s at the rise of government expansion and not now, trying to keep everything straight.

Washington DC gets a special section of its own, since it is likely serving as the homebase for your party, from the mobsters carving up the city to the rumors that The Founding Fathers are back from the grave and operating as vigilantes.

GUNS AND GEAR

A few pages of equipment specific to the era, such as elephant guns and padded trenchcoats.

FOR GMs

And now we starting getting into the truth of the setting...and spoilers are coming, so if you're a player and not a GM, do go away.

For instance, the drought that created the Dust Bowl? Ruizologists that screwed up and breached the Realm of Fire. An assassination attempt on FDR goes wrong, killing the guy he tapped to head up SPA...a taximancer tries to "save" him, repairing the body and sticking a new spirit in...it just wound up not being the right spirit...and now that has turned into an unholy brain trust who are trying to cripple America in the Depression.

Oh...and the Transcontinental Railroad? It's one Great Sigil keeping heinous forces at bay...and the hobos guarding it are kind of one of the few safeguards against The End of Everything.

J. Edgar Hoover's infamous paranoia has led to him figuring out that some things just aren't what they seem, and Hoover, for his faults, is someone inside the system who ultimately has American interests at heart, rather than infernal interests.

Other benevolent factions include the Templars of Marassa, warrior-priests empowered by the Loa Marassa to make sure that the taximancers doing unnatural things are stopped in their tracks.

Even some of the mobsters in DC now have access to arcane forces, but the BIG secret is the truth behind industrialization: All of those big factories have a sub-basement in which the morlocks slave away...and along with some "normal" humans, who are happy to have a job.

I wouldn't be completely shocked to see a sequel in the American Grit realm.

ADVENTURE!

The plot point campaign has a dozen adventures to it, with Savage Tales to fill in the rest.

The campaign begins in Winter of 1934, with a missing persons case (mostly hobos, but a few locals) in Dodge City. Right off the bat, the PCs can wind up diving into something deeper if they know where to look.

The second plot point follows up on a thread involving a carnival in the first one, and ties into the hobo disappearances, as the government tracks the carnival to Tennessee.

Plot point three, in a bit of campy fun amidst a dark situation, lets the PCs encounter a megalomaniacal Thomas Edison inside a morlock factory (Edison himself is one, and has faked his death). Human trafficking isn't funny...but I know my game table would lose it the second I revealed Thomas Edison's plan to take over the world from his underground sweat shops. Awesomely, Edison has a captive who can end his plans if the PCs free him - Henry Ford, master of machines.

Plot point four leads the PCs to Florida, where they are thrust in the middle of a conflict between rail workers and indian natives, and get a crack and the ruizologists that caused The Dust Bowl to begin with!

Plot Point five is a head-on conflict with Ma Barker's gang...'cept most of them have been dead for a while, so they're a little more durable than your typical crook. Barker's plan involves dropping "Necro-Bombs" on Washington, turning everyone into zombies!

Plot Point Six is the historical Black Sunday dust storm...and it is one massive Dust Devil. For the halfway point of the campaign, they turn up the "heat", because this should be a fairly intense affair. At the conclusion of this point, their handler is piecing together a much larger conspiracy, even if they haven't been.

Plot Point Seven begins with a meeting of the minds and ends in a giant factory raid that lets the PCs work through dozens of drudges, a nasty ruizologist and a flying serpent...but leaves them missing pieces, still.

Plot Point eight starts off with a nasty hurricane coming to Florida and has more leeway than any previous plot point: It can be solved with guns or with words, and depending on what the PCs do, could easily wind up in the Spirit World!

Plot Point nine draws the PCs back to Washington as an ally from an earlier adventure goes missing...and Hoover hands them one of the villains named dropped earlier in the adventure as the suspected reason for the disappearance.

Plot Point ten has the PCs specifically requested for task in Pennsylvania which, at this stage in the game, draws suspicion from all involved. This lets them learn the truth about the Great Sigil and the railwalkers, as well as let them do battle with a Demigod.

Plot Point eleven seems to be a detour in things, taking on arcane gangsters...until the PCs get mystical information identifying the Big Bad that they have been hunting (their own boss) is in Washington DC.

Plot Point twelve is the grand finale, where everything gets laid on the table and the PCs get to kill their boss...only to realize that the shell he was stuck in was holding him back, and once freed, it turns into a MEGA boss fight...at this point, the PCs should just be crossing into Demigodhood.

Much like the Necessary Evil plot point campaign, you are going to have some people who just HATE the set-up, because it is, for the most part, their immediate boss telling them where to go and what to do, since the campaign explicitly assumes that the PCs are part of the SPA (and if they are not, it will mean a massive rewrite). Note: I love the Necessary Evil plot point, and so I don't have a problem with this one, just stating what will surely be a complaint.

One common complaint I've heard about Plot Point campaigns over the years is that they tend to "kill" the setting...that is, they fundamentally alter the setting far past the starting point. This one doesn't really do that with American Grit, though it does fundamentally alter the premise of Noir Knights - that is, The SPA does not survive the campaign intact. The setting itself can still be used as written (in fact, many of the events of the PPC will wind up under the radar of most people).

SAVAGE TALES

18 Savage Tales are included, with some name dropping. For instance, Blackbeard's Castle (though there are no pirates here, but Fish-Men). Another one involves the PCs getting to deal with the Chosen of Loki, who is trying to drop a sea creature in Lake Champlain. Another Tale deals heavily with the Spirit World, while John Dillinger makes a cameo in another. They also get to deal with a time traveler and his death ray, and it is worth noting for those who ran the Heart of All Saints adventure in the Savage Suzerain book that there are several callbacks to it in this one.

ALLIES AND ENEMIES

The book concludes with a set of generic stats for the various extras that show up, such as Dust Devils, drudges, thugs, etc.

CONCLUSION

I have to confess, I don't see the "Noir" part of it, other than it's being set in the thirties. I mean, you do have The Great Depression going on, but there's not much setting up the heroes as hard luck, or really even a lot of shades of grey in the setting. Citing "four color pulp", "answering the call to action" and "patriotism in the form of universal morality" as being what the adventures should invoke...yeah...not a lot of noir there, in my opinion.

That doesn't mean it's bad...far from it. I like the supernatural twist on The Great Depression, and Savage Mojo scores once again with some very nice character options. On one hand, I might would have gone with something other than a dragon for The Final Boss Fight, since that was done in the Savage Suzerain book already...but on the other, a big dragon is about the last thing you expect to see at the culmination of big battle in Washington D.C., supernatural setting or not.

While I think they missed the mark on the hard-boiled part, they delivered a great take on supernatural pulp action (Thomas Edison is a morlock looking to take over the world - that's awesome), and the setting still has tons of life left in it for a future Plot Point Campaign or setting book. I, for one, enjoyed getting a setting in this time frame focused on America and having nothing to do with, say, World War II.

To summarize: I really dig the book...Savage Mojo supplies some great settings and some tremendous character options. I just don't think I liked it for the reasons I'm supposed to, with names like American Grit or Noir Knights, because there wasn't anything particularly gritty or morally dark or ambiguous about it...on the other hand, it does provide a high-powered smackdown of Very Bad Guys who are trying to destroy the very fabric of America with Necro-Bombs and stuffed government officials possessed by Giant Dragon Demons whose plans are being held at bay by hobo wizards that time-traveled to ensure that the railroad system was a giant protective sigil.

If loving that is wrong, I don't wanna be right.