Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mean Streets

Mean Streets takes the best (and bleakest) aspects of film noir, presenting them in a concept with which to role-play cynical private eyes, unscrupulous gangsters, and dangerous femme fatales as portrayed in film noir from the '40s and better part of the '50s.

This is the opening tag line from Deep7. For their game Mean Streets. They get right on the money. This thing just oozes noir film. Covering the the whole genre very well. It uses Deep7's XPG system. Which is simple and rules light. Which suits me, and the genre very well. Its very much worth a look. Even if you don't like the system. It is a treasure trove of info, for the era.

The reason I bring any of this up. Is that Ive been thinking about the genre. Ive had Mean Streets for a while. But I have not gotten a chance to run it. Well a couple days ago some folks were speaking about Fly From Evil. A game S. John Ross is working on. Which I guess has been a long time coming. He has stated he doesnt want to rush it by setting a deadline. He wants it right, and well playtested. Well his game is very much like Mean Streets. I very much want to check it out when he completes it. Anyways thats what got me thinking about Mean Streets. I would like to run a game of it tonight. But I think I will have trouble pulling my roomate away from the computer. As hes recently become addicted to Blitzkreig.

Anyways I found a review by of all people S. John Ross of Mean Streets. Check it out.


S. John said...

Well his game is very much like Mean Streets.

No, but I suppose it's my own fault that folks might speculate, having never seen it. :) They both have margin-based rollunder systems and people with guns and fedoras. That's pretty much the alpha-omega of similarities between Mean Streets and FFE.

The FFE FAQ sums the game up pretty well, I think, but in terms of specific comparisons, the game FFE most resembles is the game it in many ways descends from: TSR's "Gangbusters" RPG (1st Edition). To picture FFE, start with Gangbusters and do the following:

(A) Shift the focus a bit more toward private eyes.
(B) Infuse it with a metric ton of pulp-crime information.
(C) Infuse it with a comparable amount of historical resource material (the combined page-count for B and C will is already in the multiple hundreds, before final editorial trims and spiffs).
(D) Add more sample adventures. Keep the programmed adventure as one of them, but lose the boardgame elements and the programmed-for-a-group thing (in other words, FFE includes multiple adventures, plus a solitaire adventure).
(E) Keep the stat-driven system focus, but move to a sliding-d6 rather than percentile system, and replace Gangbuster's straightforward hit-pointy injury rules with something a little more abstract.
(F) Written by me, with all the usual extras that often entails, for better or worse. Lotsa maps, GMing techniques, a thorough index, rambling design notes, etc.
(G) It comes out much, much, much later :)

Fly From Evil began as three different things: My own take on Gangbusters + my notions for what a "GURPS Gumshoes" might be like + my desire to write a definitive crime-drama GMing guide. From there, it grew.

If you're in the mood to run a film noir game, games like Noir and Mean Streets will always be the choices, even after FFE is released, since FFE offers no real support for film-noir style gaming, and in many ways a GM seeking a "noir" gaming experience would have to gut FFE's systems and setting-assumptions from the belly up to even get started.

A fair comparison (I think): Using FFE to attempt a "film noir" campaign would be like using Toon to run a Cowboy Bebop campaign. You could do it if you were determined, and you could kinda-sorta argue that "it's still a cartoon," but that'd be mostly wrong.
If you're in the mood to play something like FFE before FFE goes public, the two things to grab are TSR's Gangbusters RPG and a good general pulp-era resource (I recommend Pulp Hero, natch, since I did spiffy GMing-advice writing for it and Steve Long filled it with FFE-esque amounts of historical resources, but the I.C.E. Pulp Adventures book would also be a good choice, and ditto GURPS Cliffhangers).

Ronin said...

Wow! Thanks for leaving a comment. That definitely clears some misconceptions on my part. I still think Noir and Gumshoe stories are similar. (One of my favorite movies is The Maltese Falcon, and I think it fits both genre) But I have no experience with TSR's Gang Busters either. One of the few TSR games the crew and I never got into back in the day. But it sounds like your game is more pulpy (Is that a word?).

S. John said...

Well, noir is a mode (or style, if you prefer) and a gumshoe is a kind of person (and a kind of shoe) and the Maltese Falcon is one film. So it's a bit like pointing at Sigourney Weaver rocking out in ALIENS and saying "I still think horror and science-fiction stories are similar." Sure, when we're talking about ALIENS, absolutely, since ALIENS is a science-fiction in horror mode, just as SPACEBALLS is science-fiction in goofy-comedy mode, THE LAST STARFIGHTER is science-fiction in action-adventure mode, and (of course) BLADE RUNNER is science-fiction in noir mode.

But the majority of films noir have no hardboiled elements; most are crime dramas but not hardboiled ones (and FFE isn't a gumshoe game, specifically, but rather a hardboiled crime game with a gumshoe focus ... like Gangbusters, FFE also includes resources for campaigns focusing on gangsters, cops, G-Men, journalists, two-fisted attorneys like the early Perry Masons, independent criminals like Ed Jenkins, etc ... Gumshoes just provide the default).

The hardboiled pulps created a new genre told in the same set of modes that its father-genre, the Action-Western, were usually told in. It's both fair and accurate to say that a true-to-period hardboiled pulp story is very much a western that takes place in a modern (for the pulp era) city, one which replaces the western frontier with the more complex barriers between a city's ethnic, social, and legal tribes.

FFE is pulpier than Gangbusters, absolutely (as per point B) in that my stinky, dusty stack of crime pulps is the heart and soul of my resource library (followed by my 1936 World Book set) :) But FFE isn't necessarily "pulpy" in the way that game companies typically use the word (which is to say, FFE is based on pulps, not on Raiders of the Lost Ark).

In terms of comparison between Gangbusters and FFE, the the difference is kind of like the difference between GURPS Vikings and GURPS Swashbucklers. GURPS Swashbucklers is an adventure-genre book rooted in history, while GURPS Vikings is an adventure-in-history book that benefits from genre appeal. FFE is absolutely a generic 1930s hardboiled RPG, but while genre breaks all ties, history fills all gaps and settles all disputes. The end result, for better or worse (for better, I think), is neither a pulp RPG nor a historical RPG, exactly, but something that participates in its genre rather than emulating it. I guess there, the best comparison would be Call of Cthulhu or King Arthur Pendragon ... CoC is anathema if you're looking for a pure-history game OR a strict emulation of Lovecraft ... it does its own special tentacular hair-weave of Lovecraft, other Mythos writers who aren't Lovecraft, real history, and the gaming ideals of the designers, and the resulting fusion is one thing and one thng only: it is Call of Cthulhu. Likewise, KAP resembles no particular version of history and no particular version of Arthurian fantasy apart from itself. Both games participate rather than emulate, and FFE takes a similar road.

I do expect some people to end up calling FFE "Call of Cthulhu but without the awesome monsters," btw, which in many ways will be fair. My structure for the game's presentation and depth of core-game resources draws unashamedly on the 3rd Edition Games Workshop edition of CoC, for one thing, and there will be appropriate gushing in the bibliography :)

S. John said...

Oops :) I really should have said ALIEN rather than ALIENS ... Those two films are, all by themselves, excellent examples of the same genre (indeed, the same setting) explored in two different modes (Horror in the original, and a kind of fused Horror/Action in the second).

Ronin said...

I see what your saying. I guess, I always kind of lumped noir fiction and the hardboiled pulp together. While noir fiction is more of a sub-set/sub-genre of the Hardboiled pulp. While sharing similarities they are two different beasts.
Again I have to thank you for your comments. Now I have to buy your game when it comes out. If you put forth this much effort in explaining things on my little blog. I can only imagine the final product, that will be your game.

S. John said...

[..] noir fiction is more of a sub-set/sub-genre of the Hardboiled pulp.

Perhaps. I do think it's true that most GMs, asked to run a "noir" RPG, would end up running a darkly-themed and morally-muddied hardboiled RPG instead. In that, terms like "hardboiled" and "noir" suffer or enjoy the same fate in RPGs as terms like "anime," "pulp," and "cinematic." These terms are rubbery enough in the real world, and become moreso when gamers get hold of them :)

Again I have to thank you for your comments. Now I have to buy your game when it comes out. If you put forth this much effort in explaining things on my little blog. I can only imagine the final product, that will be your game.

It won't differ from any of my work, really. If you know "GURPS Russia" you know how I'm approaching the research. If you know "Among the Clans" you know how I'm approaching the deepening of the genre material. If you know "Uresia: Grave of Heaven" you know how the humanistic themes will be woven in. If you know the "Risus Companion" you know how I'm doing the GMing advice, and so on.

Same old S. John. Just a LOT in one place, is all. With hats on.