Resources for a Detective/Noir campaign

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

CT_Phipps

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2020
Messages
516
Reaction score
1,227
Hey guys,

I'm planning on doing a campaign based around noir and detective fiction, specifically around 1940s LA without any supernatural or science fiction elements. Just sleaze, crime, investigation, corrupt cops, and gangsters.

I was curious what sort of system or games would be helpful for this sort of thing and any suggestions people might have.

It's going to be strongly LA Confidential, LA Noire, and James Ellroy inspired.

But I'm open to other resources, pictures, images, and suggestions. Basically, what do you think are all good things to keep in mind.
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
706
Reaction score
1,633
Do you want a traditional game or a more narrative one built to emulate the genre? Also how many players?
 

PolarBlues

Legendary Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2017
Messages
1,924
Reaction score
4,792
I you may want to conisder looking at "A Dirty World" if only for its Noir adventure generation tables. The system is a streamlined version of ORE that focuses on personality traits rather abilities which, to be honest, I was never thrilled by. But then I've never played it, so I can't really say. The adventure generation tables however are good, very focused on the mundane and personal.
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
706
Reaction score
1,633
As mentioned by PolarBlues PolarBlues A Dirty World is a great resource even if you don’t use the system. Same with Secrets & Lies by Daniel Bayn which has some great GM advice on relationship maps and noir games.

If you need setting info The Big Crime and Mean Streets both have decent sized sections meant to help you learn the era. If you want a traditional rule set I like the look of Midnight Boulevard which is built on Classic Traveller/Cepheus.
 

sharps54

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 25, 2019
Messages
706
Reaction score
1,633
Another one that is highly acclaimed but I haven’t read is Technoir, it is a cyberpunk setting but apparently can be pared back to the 40s-50s and the game mechanics are supposed to be great at reinforcing the genre.
 

Gringnr

I ❤ BRUH CHICKS
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
4,563
Reaction score
10,099
Don't suppose you have a copy of "Noir - The Film Noir Role-Playing Game"?

A bit pricey on the secondary market tho.
 

3rik

Legendary Member
Joined
May 13, 2017
Messages
3,935
Reaction score
6,866
 

Korgoth

of Barbaria
Joined
Sep 5, 2018
Messages
304
Reaction score
477
Gangbusters is my go-to game for this kind of adventures, may have become pricey on the secondary market though.

Gangbusters B/X Edition by Mark Hunt is available on DrivethruRPG. Also has some supplements and adventures.

Also came across these on DrivethruRPG
I'm kinda surprised how many they are for a 'relatively' un-popular/niche genre these days.

I'll also second using 'Gumshoe/Trail of Cthulhu' for Noir gaming & Detective/Clue hunting adventures. I'm not at all a fan of 'Story' games or most 'modern' mechanics, BUT the idea from Gumshoe that the Players will ALWAYS find the clue so the story keeps moving forward, just if they roll poorly they get the Clue and a Complication was like a Lightningbolt to my RPG brain!

Why the heck didn't I think of this all those years ago as a Teen playing RPG's. I can't count the number of Gangbusters, Traveller, Cyber-Punk 2020 adventures our sessions came to a screaming halt as we missed a clue or didn't catch onto the DM's 'hints'. Funny how in hindsight how literally we played the games.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
8,687
Reaction score
22,342
I found Gumshoe somewhat revelatory in the same way.

For people who don't Gumshoe I'll just add that the players automatically find the clue if they look in the right place with the right skill.
 

Mankcam

Coiner of Thread-Falls, & Inadvert Founder of Swo'
Joined
Sep 24, 2017
Messages
4,027
Reaction score
10,703
Almost any generic system can run Detective/Noir as a genre. I know I can do it easily and quite thematically in BRP and Fate Core, and the more that I'm reading Cypher System I think I could easily do Pulp/Noir in that as well.

I think how Gumshoe formalised making 'pivotal clues' easier to find (or automatic, if the characters are in the right location/circumstances) is a good approach, regardless of system, as it helps keep the story moving at a decent pace.

Other than that, it's all flavour
 
Last edited:

Zebraman

Active Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2022
Messages
44
Reaction score
84
Bit of a left field suggestion re: resources but in terms of ambient music for inspiration when writing or playing I'd suggest the score to Cop Land by the great Howard Shaw. The movie is set in and from the 90s but it is a neo-noir piece focusing on police corruption. The score itself has a slow building brooding intensity that you can put on in the background.


Regarding LA itself this article is quite interesting about the role of art, artists and Hollywood


 
Last edited:

PolarBlues

Legendary Member
Joined
Dec 22, 2017
Messages
1,924
Reaction score
4,792
Bit of a left field suggestion re: resources but in terms of ambient music for inspiration when writing or playing I'd suggest the score to Cop Land by the great Howard Shaw. The movie is set in and from the 90s but it is neo-noir piece focusing of police corruption. The score itself has a slow building brooding intensity that you can put on in the background.


Regarding LA itself this article is quite interesting about the role of art, artists and Hollywood



I recently rewatched Cop Land. It's really good,
 

Zebraman

Active Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2022
Messages
44
Reaction score
84
It's one of my favourite movies and for a number of reasons a constant inspiration for me from a GMing point of view. Although that discussion would likely derail the thread away from LA.
 

Raleel

The Lemon LeCroix of Mythras
Moderator
Joined
May 15, 2017
Messages
4,954
Reaction score
11,676
This thread has populated my wishlist. I already had a dirty world on there.

while we are asking about resources, and since someone brought up a movie, what movies are good for noir, specifically ones showing a group of protagonists like you might find in an rpg?

I’ve not watched Cop Land, but will add that as well.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
8,687
Reaction score
22,342
LA Confidential has a little of that, but it's a duo, not a group. Noir isn't a genre packed with ensemble casts. Sunset Boulevard and Touch of Evil are the only two I can think of.

Edit - and even those two aren't really about groups the way an RPG would be.
 

Zebraman

Active Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2022
Messages
44
Reaction score
84
This thread has populated my wishlist. I already had a dirty world on there.

while we are asking about resources, and since someone brought up a movie, what movies are good for noir, specifically ones showing a group of protagonists like you might find in an rpg?

I’ve not watched Cop Land, but will add that as well.

A lot of noir movies typically focus on one (often male) main character (isolation and paranoia is a common theme) with perhaps a female counter point (the stereotype being the femme fatale). This set up doesn't lend itself that well to most rpg groups.

With that in mind as mentioned LA Confidential has three characters that could be said to be protagonists.

True Detective is a classic modern noir story with two main characters and a plot easily transposed into a rpg game.

Heat (1995) is another classic neo noir crime film. Al Pacinos team of cops could easily be the PCs in this genre. Bonus points as it is also LA based albiet 50 years later.

Millers Crossing is closer to the time period you're talking about (albiet 1920s). The movie is closer to the theme of isolation rather than a group of protagonists. However it deserves a particular mention in a rpg thread because the "Danny Boy" scene with Albert Finney is ripped straight from the playbook of a Player Character. If you've seen the movie you know exactly the scene I am talking about and if you haven't I don't want to ruin the surprise.

Thief (1981) is a neo-noir movie set in Chicago that has a plot that could easily be transposed to a group of PCs with I would argue a classic (but not insane, just amoral) Chaotic Neutral main character and a straightfoward Chaotic Evil villian.

EDIT: Scooped a bit by Fenris lol. I'd argue that at a pinch and in the context of reimagining it as a group of PCs, Kevin Spacey in LA Confidential is also a protagonist but don't want to argue the point too much because of spoilers for those that haven't seen the movie!
 

Raleel

The Lemon LeCroix of Mythras
Moderator
Joined
May 15, 2017
Messages
4,954
Reaction score
11,676
up. Noir isn't a genre packed with ensemble casts.

A lot of noir movies typically focus on one (often male) main character (isolation and paranoia is a common theme) with perhaps a female counter point (the stereotype being the femme fatale). This set up doesn't lend itself that well to most rpg groups.
And thus why I ask. If I am running a game currently, it means the GM is gone and the host is in town. He likes noir as much as I do. Likely my other big roleplayer is in town. Good chance two of my remaining 3 are out, so if I can get stuff that works for 3+GM and is a little different from the norm, I’m for it. Noir has been one we’ve talked about a bit.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
8,687
Reaction score
22,342
Maybe not noir, but a variety of heist and con movies might as be a a fruitful place for examples of RPG-type group action.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
8,687
Reaction score
22,342
And thus why I ask. If I am running a game currently, it means the GM is gone and the host is in town. He likes noir as much as I do. Likely my other big roleplayer is in town. Good chance two of my remaining 3 are out, so if I can get stuff that works for 3+GM and is a little different from the norm, I’m for it. Noir has been one we’ve talked about a bit.
I think you could take most noir plots and expand the single protagonist to a group of three without too much trouble. They just each need their own noir hooks and complications.
 

Zebraman

Active Member
Joined
Nov 23, 2022
Messages
44
Reaction score
84
Yea, and put in some conflicting points between the three of them for a bit of drama.

I think as a one or two shot where the players understood it was a noir genre piece and therefore some party conflict and even outright betrayal could occur with no hard feelings then it greatly increases the scope of which characters in a typical noir could be PCs. In LA confidential for example I'd immediatly also include Danny Divito and even Kim Basinger in the list of potential Player Character type roles (minor inferred spoiler but the movie is over a quarter century old just watch it already).
 

CT_Phipps

Legendary Member
Joined
Jan 6, 2020
Messages
516
Reaction score
1,227
Films

* The Big Lebowski: No, seriously. The movie is actually an adaptation of the classic detective movie The Big Sleep but the joke is the protagonist could not CARE LESS about solving the crime. This is how the PCs will definitely treat any serious story by the ST.

* The Black Dahlia: A movie adapted from a book by the same author as LA Confidential. It's about the infamous murder and the two crooked detectives investigating.

* Chinatown: Jake Gittes is a very successful sleazy PI who thinks he's dealing with a woman who murdered her husband only to find himself involved in a scheme to destroy all of the farms in San Fernando Valley to turn them into real estate (which he did).

* LA Confidential: The best Neo-Noir movie in my mind and the inspiration I'm going for. The premise being about the corruption in the LAPD of the time.

* Muholland Drive: A psychedelic journey about two actresses trying to survive a hit with identical copies of them running around LA. There's a lot of David Lynchian weirdness but oddly enough everything DOES make sense at the end.

* Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Oddly enough, an adaptation of Chinatown in the same way that The Big Lebowski is the Big Sleep.

TV series

* Mob City: A short-lived series about Mickey Cohen's reign over the LA underworld in the 1940s. It attempts to be as noir as humanly possible, often to semi-humorous effect. It stars Jon Bernthal AKA the Punisher.

Video Games

* LA Noire: The classic Rockstar game about a straight-laced detective with a tragic past that is attempting to solve a series of fascinating crimes in LA.

* Mafia 1 and 2: The first two Mafia games are not technically Noir but gangster movies but have a lot of infuences from them.
 
Last edited:

Raleel

The Lemon LeCroix of Mythras
Moderator
Joined
May 15, 2017
Messages
4,954
Reaction score
11,676
* LA Noire: The best Neo-Noir movie in my mind and the inspiration I'm going for. The premise being about the corruption in the LAPD of the time.
this the name? i can find the video game, but not the movie.
 

Ronin

Gentleman of Leisure
Joined
May 8, 2017
Messages
1,620
Reaction score
3,127
Hey guys,

I'm planning on doing a campaign based around noir and detective fiction, specifically around 1940s LA without any supernatural or science fiction elements. Just sleaze, crime, investigation, corrupt cops, and gangsters.

I was curious what sort of system or games would be helpful for this sort of thing and any suggestions people might have.

It's going to be strongly LA Confidential, LA Noire, and James Ellroy inspired.

But I'm open to other resources, pictures, images, and suggestions. Basically, what do you think are all good things to keep in mind.
PiG has got you covered on this. Means Streets RPG is exactly the game you are looking for. I found it when it was still being published by Deep 7. Its a great little noir rpg. Even if you dont like the system, the splats and such are great resources of info for the period.
 

3rik

Legendary Member
Joined
May 13, 2017
Messages
3,935
Reaction score
6,866
LA Noire: The classic Rockstar game about a straight-laced detective with a tragic past that is attempting to solve a series of fascinating crimes in LA
Loved the premise and atmosphere of this, but I could never get my head around the interrogations and the clue/hint thing in the notebook.
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
1,279
Reaction score
2,816
Yea, and put in some conflicting points between the three of them for a bit of drama.

I know CT_Phipps CT_Phipps mentioned him in the OP and LA Confidential has been mentioned a lot, but James Ellroy is the pinnacle of modern noir. The LA Quartet is brilliant, but I’d also recommend the Underworld USA Trilogy.

It’s exactly what you’re describing. Three protagonists, sometimes at odds with one another, all coming at a crime or conspiracy from a different angle.

I’d recommend the books, ideally, but I know that’s a big time sink.
 

finarvyn

Legendary Member
Joined
Jul 24, 2018
Messages
643
Reaction score
1,421
I love the old school detectives by Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Robert Parker, Mickey Spillane, Dashiel Hammett ... even TV detectives like Rockford ... but haven't ever been able to pull off the vibe at my table. Maybe I'm limited by players who aren't "into" that style of fiction. I think we all run the game we wish we could play, and I would have a blast as a noir detective in an RPG setting.

Some nice suggestions for games and movies in this thread, so thanks. Even if I can't motivate my players, it gives me some fun stuff to explore. :grin:
 

SJB

Legendary Member
Joined
Sep 14, 2021
Messages
343
Reaction score
807
I love the old school detectives by Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Robert Parker, Mickey Spillane, Dashiel Hammett ... even TV detectives like Rockford ... but haven't ever been able to pull off the vibe at my table. Maybe I'm limited by players who aren't "into" that style of fiction. I think we all run the game we wish we could play, and I would have a blast as a noir detective in an RPG setting.

Some nice suggestions for games and movies in this thread, so thanks. Even if I can't motivate my players, it gives me some fun stuff to explore. :grin:
Are those sources noir? Hardboiled yes, noir no, I’d say.

Perhaps hardboiled might be a much easier sell than noir: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is himself not mean; neither tarnished nor afraid.” I think every campaign I play is that.

Psychologically, the closest gaming experience to noir is classic Call of Cthulhu: you are going to be doomed by your own choices, one way or another. If a group likes CoC they are probably going to like noir.
 

Doctor Wombat

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 16, 2019
Messages
68
Reaction score
209
Are those sources noir? Hardboiled yes, noir no, I’d say.

I suppose it depends on how loosely one is using the term, since film adaptations of both hard-boiled and noir stories tend to fall into the film noir genre. For example, Chandler's The Big Sleep is a classic hard-boiled detective novel, but the 1946 movie is generally considered an example of film noir.

I think most RPG players are likely to be more interested in the hard-boiled genre than the kind of deeply flawed and likely doomed protagonists you find in noir fiction like Double Indemnity. Then again, there have been several noir playsets for Fiasco...
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top