A few months ago, I had a few extra dollars burning a hole in my pocket, and RPG Now's featured product on their front page was Arc Dream Publishing's One Roll Engine game, A Dirty World.
On a lark, I picked it up for the sale price of $10, and I have had a couple of occasions to run it in recent months. While I'm certain there's a print-on-demand version of it, and as with most Arc Dream titles, it could probably be had via Indie Press Revolution, this review will be based on the PDF.
A Dirty World
Author: Greg Stolze
Mechanic: One Roll Engine
Implied Setting: Noir novels, films, plays.
Bear in mind that I have the PDF, not print version of this book. For all I know, this may be printed on slick glossy paper with a beautiful set of color cover illustrations in the print version. I wouldn't know. The cover of the PDF is black and white, and most of the interior illustrations appear to be black and white photographs of crime scenes, people in period dress, etc. The internal illustrations certainly fit the genre, which is a plus.
The volume is a slim volume, laid out in two-column format, with a simple clean font. Simple, elegant, but not exactly inspired.
I give it a 4 out of 5, mainly on the strength of the illustrations evoking such a specific mood.
A Dirty World has no defined setting. It's effectively a set of rules for running games inspired by film noir, and the novels and stories that inspired film noir. Basically, if you enjoy Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, or the many films (The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, etc.) and plays and authors their works have inspired, this is right up your alley.
For those unfamiliar with the basics of noir, they usually center around some form of a detective story. It may involve the recovery of a stolen item, blackmail, adultery, incest (Chinatown is a good example of neo-noir for these purposes), a rape, a murder, or sometimes, a witches brew of any or all of these elements.
What turns what might otherwise be a plain vanilla detective setting into noir is the characters themselves. The heroes are not necessarily the guys in the white hats, and the villains may very well have somewhat compelling motivations for what they've done. Everybody has a secret, everybody has a graveyard full of skeletons in their closet, and by the time the story is over, all of these things will come out, usually to damage our opinion of the hero, and have at least a little empathy (if not sympathy) for the villain.
The implied setting is evoked by a pair of short stories, which effectively begin and end the book. Both are good at evoking the mood of noir. However, I think it would have been a good idea for the book to take a little more time explaining some of the tropes of noir than it did. A Dirty World is likely to leave a novice to film noir wondering exactly what they are supposed to do with the admittedly good rules set.
I score it 3 out of 5.
A Dirty World uses a greatly modified version of Arc Dream's in-house RPG engine, the One Roll Engine, the same base mechanic used in Wild Talents, Godlike (both are supers games), Reign (Sword & Board Fantasy), Nemesis (Survival Horror, and a freebie). Basically, it's a d10 dice pool. You roll so many d10s, and what you are looking for are numbers that match. The one roll engine name comes from the fact that the roll of these dice determines your initiative, attack, and damage, all in one roll.
The speed of your attacks or skill checks is measured by how many dice you roll that have the same number of, while the effectiveness or power of the roll is measured by the number on the matching dice themselves. So a roll of three 2's (3 x 2 in game parlance) will act faster than a roll of two 2's (2 x 2). Still, while it may be faster, that roll of 3 x 2 will not be powerful as a roll of two 8's (2 x 8).
There are a few other factors involved, but that's the essence of the mechanic.
A Dirty World differs from some one-roll engine games in that the player can alter his qualities (think of these as skills from most other games), and other players, as well as NPCs can alter the player's identities (think of these as character attributes) during the course of play, through either social situations or combat. Note that social encounters are resolved in the exact same manner as combat. It is possible to not only beat an opponent to a pulp, but argue her to the point where she becomes a quivering mass of jello bawling her eyes out in the corner without ever laying a hand on her.
The game also gives some pretty good examples of the mechanics in action, and the list of identity/quality pairs to form the dice pool needed to do specific things. The chapter on the mechanics is clearly written, and forms the vast meat of the book.
The mechanics fit the genre so well, it's hard to imagine a better set of rules for running a noir-themed game. As with the rest of the one-roll engine games, the simplicity of the mechanics make it ideal for a one-shot with a new group, or in a convention setting.
I score it 5 out of 5.
Ironically, this is probably the shorteest chapter in the book, and comes after the mechanics and combat system. It's a point buy system, and an easily done one. Character generation is a snap, the chapter is thorough despite its brevity, and the character generation process so simple that it would take less than 10 minute to get even a total neophyte up to speed with complete character in hand.
5 of 5.
This section is very slim. Again, if I'm a GM unfamiliar with noir films, plays, and fiction, I just don't have much to go on, as I won't find enough here to make up the difference. One very valuable resource available for a GM stumped for plot ideas, or staring at the clock, realizing she has players arriving in an hour, and hasn't got a clue what to run is the Appendix: One Roll Legal Problems. In essence, this is a very thorough, far more useful than normal, random scenario generator. I've personally used it to run the game I'm running now, as well as one I'm writing for the convention in February.
Still, it's not much to go on for a GM new to the genre.
3 of 5, basically on the strength of the short stories and the Appendix.
Again, bear in mind that I'm working off the PDF copy. This is a thin volume. Retail price via RPG Now is supposedly $17.95...but I've never seen it priced for more than $10 there since I bought it. For the size of the volume, it's packed with all of the mechanics you'd need to run a film noir game...it is a complete game. That said, I'd be less satisfied with it at $17.95. However, at $10, it's fairly priced.
4 of 5.
There is no game I've encountered that does a better job of capturing the feel of the Noir genre. If it has a downside, it's my sense that a bit more could have been devoted to defining the Noir genre for a green GM (which I am not) without adding too much to the page count. Still, for $10, it's a bargain, particularly when the game's mechanics knock the ball out of the park in terms of capturing the feel of the genre without sacrificing the ease of use that is the hallmark of the One Roll Engine
I give it a 4 of 5 simply for the mechanics, marked down slightly by the limited resources available to a new GM.