A film noir narrative cage match.
TIRED OF THE NIGHT is a scenario for the tabletop RPG Pantheon. This scenario is set in 1930s Chicago and stars Detective Hugh Hammett in a case involving the femme fatale Lexi Chambers, the dirty cop Rafael Torres, and the jealous mobster Tony Costas. Hammett wants to solve the mystery, Lexi approached Hammett with the case but definitely has her own angle, Rafael has a gambling debt to pay off, and Costas wants to use everyone to get to the top of the Mob. Who will fulfill their agenda, betraying the other players along the way?
Players are rewarded for sticking to the stereotypes and tropes from film noir as they construct the story one sentence at a time.
For this scenario, the team created an elaborate set-up in one of the rooms in the Game Center’s floor. Included in the set up were case file documents, low lighting, fedoras, cigarettes, and an audio file that you may play on this site.
Making a film noir was an exciting prospect, but it didn’t come without a host of challenges and troubles. For starters, the genre is very atmosphere-heavy. Thinking about film noir has you envisioning dark alleys, shadows, lighting tricks, and jazzy music, all of which were difficult to represent in a narrative cave match. We wanted the genre to shine, so we went with a very descriptive setup and opening scene, with metaphors, puns and one-liners. It was written pretty well, honestly, but it was too lengthy, making it difficult to remember which parts of the setup were important, and what was just description. After some in-class exercises and discussions, we ended up shortening the setup quite drastically, removing sentences that don’t add anything to it.
The second problem had more to do with how the setup relates to gameplay. We knew characters had to be in the same area when the story started, but we had them all scattered in a factory, some characters being visible, some not, some knowing things, some ignorant. It was a mess keeping track of all these, and this setup turned the story into more of an action movie climax rather than a film noir. The solution to that was turning the scene into an informal meetup between all the characters, rather than an infiltration/rescue mission. Interactions now happen right away, and the game’s much more interesting this way.
Despite improved interactions, players didn’t know what they were supposed to actually do. The character relationships were all over the place, and the motivations and roles were unclear. The thing was, our team didn’t know what these motivations were either, as we settled with whatever was written on the character cards. After reading Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics, we decided to flesh out the characters as much as possible, even if whatever we discuss isn’t going to be in the setup or the character sheets. Why is the character there? What’s their personality like? What were they doing before the crime? What’s their relationship with the other characters? Have they met before? When? All of these were super useful in helping us know more about the case, focusing on what matters in the setup, opening scene, character sheets and especially the scoring.
One of the challenges we found was that we didn’t know whether some of the problems in our more recent playtest come from issues in our writings, or whether it was just the non-creative user problem. We fixed small stuff here and there, but the actual character sheets and setups were mostly unchanged.
Going back to atmosphere, having removed a lot of unnecessary stuff from our setup, we lost a bit of a dramatic narration. Instead, what we decided to try out was having the players sit in a dimly lit room, having them wear fedoras, read the setup from a case file, while listening to jazz music. We want players to really get into the story and genre, and hope they’ll get encouraged to role-play, and that it would improve the narrative experience.
Tired of the Night
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