Bring some Fantasy Noir to your table

I’m a big fan of the whole Noir style, whether it’s on film, in comics or five-a-dime pulp novels. Give me The Big Sleep, the Femme-Noir comics, The Maltese Falcon or Kiss Me Deadly and I’m in heaven. I love that dark, grim’n’gritty, seedy tone of the settings and the crumpled-yet-noble weariness of the heroes. And the dames…… oh, the dames!

DAZ Studio, tritone in Photoshop. Click to enlarge.
DAZ Studio, tritone in Photoshop. Click to enlarge.

That’s reflected in my superhero gaming; I’m more at home running street-level heroes who cruise the back alleys and docklands with their line-slingers that I am battling against aliens to save the world. Give me Daredevil over Superman any day.

This got me thinking. The tone of Noir is very much like the Points of Light concept in 4e D&D. Both have a dark, threatening setting with a barely-concealed evil round every corner, and both set the heroes up as one of the few lights of good in the world. So why not mix the two?

Here’s the twenty second pitch (to be read in a gravelly-throated drawl).

“Vampyr Point. Even the name of the town tells you it’s evil. The yellow coast fog drifts through the streets at dawn and brings a fresh taste of danger that even the sun cannot crack. It’s home to beholder gang leaders, ogre thugs and the worst scum that humanity can dreg up. Even the Eladrin Mayor isn’t on the up, but he’s too slippery to catch – so far. Me ‘n’ my friends are the only hope in this gods-forgotten place. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve an appointment with an elf and a whiskey bottle.”

The world of Noir is filled with shadowy alleyways and dockyards. There’s huge papermills and factories, tabloids, whiskey and cigarettes. Add goblin snitches, orc heavies and worse, and you’ve a recipe for pure D&D fun. Who needs dungeons when you can run a car chase against a machine-gun toting beholder?

If you want to bring guns into the setting (and what Noir would be fitting without them?) just use the stats for Shortbow and Longbow for guns and rifles. It’s quickest that way, and reflects the relative low-power of guns in traditional Noir. Keep the character classes as is, but come up with a suitable twist to each. Here’s a few suggestions.

Every self-disrespecting town has at least one occult bookstore, and the Wizard class is a perfect shoe-in as the bookstore owner. He’s got access to all those forbidden tomes and casts a slightly grubby, sinister air as he walks the streets. While the common folk distrust him, he’s a firm friend and ally to those who know he merely studies evil to be able to defeat it wherever it’s shadow falls.

The archetypal Private Detective class. The Paladin fights out of his strength of belief in Law and the forces of Good. Your Noir Paladin is as likely to be found with a whiskey bottle in his hands as he is with a longsword, and he’s going to be wearing a trenchcoat and trilby instead of chainmail, but his heart is every much as pure and honest as one from King Arthur’s court. Maybe just a bit more frayed around the edges……..

A two-fisted slugger who knows that a good punch between the eyes is all that’s needed to bring down evil. Noir Fighters are solid, dependable allies who’ll always watch your back and never buckle under pressure. While he’s proficient in most weapons he seems to spend most of him time improvising, cracking chairs and picture frames over the heads of those who cross him. I’m sure he just does it for effect.

You may call the Padre mad, but I call him a Man of God. His trenchcoat might hide his dog collar, but the strength of his beliefs shines through his eyes. He’s dedicated to vanquishing evil, and here in Vampyr Point that’s a lifetime’s work. The Noir Cleric is outspoken, forthright and dedicated and would be the most likely Class to bring together the disparate party members together to lead the fight against evil.

An Army Officer in the Great War (whichever Great War that happened to be), the Noir Warlord is a military man finding it hard to adjust to civvy life. He’s used to commanding men and fighting the Boche/Gnolls/Demonic Hordes, and working nine-to-five isn’t in his blood. He needs to feel the gun between his hands, the men at his side and the enemy in his sights. If nothing else, it helps stop the nightmares………

The Noir Warlock can be many things, depending on the Pact selected. As a Star Pact Warlock he’s a drunken prophet who spends his nights staggering from bar to bar, and his days trying to convince anyone who’ll listen of the Great Evil by the side of Dock 42. Your Fey Pact Warlock is likely to be a gorgeous dame dressed in green chiffon, as beautiful as she is dangerous. The Noir Dark Pact Warlock on the other hand is fearsome indeed, a man who has walked the darkest pathways of this world and come out the other side. He’s the one guy who left Baron Samedi’s gang and lived to tell the tale, though some say the demon still has a hold on his soul.

No other class epitomizes Femme-Noir more than the Rogue. This is the class of the all-action Dame who is more than capable of looking after herself in a fire-fight. Noir Rogues are (almost without exception) women – and what women! – who will seduce you then shoot you in the back and walk away if you cross ’em. Armed with paired Remingtons and lipstick, this is one dame who doesn’t need saving.

Some call him Demon-hunter or a vigilante, but to many the Noir Ranger is a saviour who walks the rooftops of this world. He’s an urban hunter who intends to take down the crime bosses one by seedy one. Some say he’s looking for something or someone, but others predict the only thing he’ll find is his own death. The question is how many crooks he will take down on the way.

Till next time!

14 Comments on “Bring some Fantasy Noir to your table”

  1. @Viriatha @Brent Thanks! Glad you liked it :D

    @Stuart Thanks for the book link :D I’m willing to bet that 4e would make a terrific Noir Fantasy game. The Skill Challenges system is tailor-made for detective work, and Rituals can be weaved into one heck of an occult Noir scenario. Adapting the Powers system is purely a matter of changing the fluff text, turning the WoW-style flashiness into something darker and more sinister. I’d love to play a Noir-style Eladrin who’s Fey Step is more of a Dark Step where he moves from shadow to shadow. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? The Eladrin know!

  2. “Me too” along with everyone else — this sounds freaking awesome! I’d want to play or (try) to run such a game.

    @Chuck I’ve heard of Savage Worlds and it sounds interesting. How easy is it to GM and what’s the initial cost?

  3. Thanks for the article. I’m also a fan of a noir in fantasy. What’s especially nice about this article is that it actually makes me want to play 4e. I haven’t bought into it yet, though I was thinking it would work for a wuxia-style game. Now I’m thinking it could work for a “D&D noir” campaign.

    Well done, sir.

    Fraser Ronalds last blog post..SEP in 2009

  4. This is definely a good idea for a setting. I am using a similar style when running my 3ed champaign in a ebberon city. It mainly take place in the towering city of sharn which I have pretty much turned into the D&D version of NYC. So my players have been getting caught in plots concerning corrupt officials, ruthless mob bosses, and religious cults. Been fun so far.

  5. Pingback: Fantasy Noir

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