(Written by Caroline)
Most of the games I play are focused on a general type of story — Downfall (collapse of civilization), Kingdom (explore community dynamics), Epitaph (explore a single life), etc. For the most part, I enjoy playing games that have a lot of flexibility in terms of tone (Follow for instance can be just about any tone, regardless of whichever quest you choose) or setting (I obviously love games that let you create any setting you like).
Fedora Noir is a little different. With Fedora Noir, I was designing a game to emulate a specific genre (more like Fiasco or By the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan), with the goal of encapsulating what makes the genre awesome and rules that enable people who aren’t familiar with it to still create those stories (we don’t need to get into whether ‘noir’ is a genre, I’m going to assert at the very least that hardboiled noir is one, and the game captures the cinematic mood of a noir, so there).
Development was further complicated by the fact that it was a pre-existing, unpublished game. I also had to make it be the best version of itself as it already existed, which already started out very, very good. These are some of the design choices that I made to accomplish those parallel goals:
Focus the Hat
The original roles in Fedora Noir were the Detective, the Hat, the Partner, and the Dame. The Dame changed to the Flame, but the Detective and Partner stayed more or less the same, with a little added character creation procedure.
The Hat, on the other hand, saw a couple changes. First of all, the Hat is awesome. I would never have come up with the idea for the Hat myself, that’s all Morgan’s brilliance. But there were some balance issues with the design. For one, the Hat wore (forgive me) too many hats. The Hat was responsible for 1. narrating the Detective’s thoughts, 2. solving the case, and 3. framing every scene.
I decided to focus the rules on what made the Hat the best tool for telling a detective noir — the voiceover. The Hat no longer frames every scene, and the rules don’t tell the Hat to solve the case. We all do that together, and mostly in the background. Instead, the Hat uses their energy to create dramatic irony, context, and witty one-liners throughout the game.
Set the Background
Morgan and I were really excited to hire writers to create a variety of settings for Fedora Noir. The settings all have a few things in common inspired by the genre, including brutal class disparity, bitter and counterculture characters, and corrupted power.
I also wrote a short procedure for how to create your own setting at the table, because how could I not. <3
Learn the Rhythm
Dividing a character between two players is tricky, especially for experienced role-players who are used to describing their character’s thoughts and feelings. It’s an inherently odd (but super cool) part of the game that requires a little bit of practice.
So I made a warm-up script. Three actually. The first chapter (more on chapters later) starts with the Detective and the Hat reading a script together that demonstrates how to pass play back and forth. When the script stops, the Detective and Hat keep role-playing, with the momentum of the script giving you something to talk about and an understanding of the back and forth rhythm of the roles. It gets you in the practice of giving the other player space and shows you how you can prompt the other player into doing or thinking about something.
Play the Arc
Perhaps the most time-consuming part of making Fedora Noir was watching all the movies. I wanted to design the game because I loved the original version, not necessarily because I knew a lot about film noir. So Marc and I sat down to watch some great movies (28 according to Marc’s notes).
To make sure the game followed the typical structure of a hardboiled noir, I designed a chapter framework. There are 7 chapters, each of which has 3 prompt options to choose from. The chapters help keep us on the rails of a detective noir while focusing the conflicts and camera on the characters’ relationships. I tried to strike a balance between keeping things open ended while giving enough structure for players who aren’t familiar with the genre to effortlessly create an awesome movie plot.
Each chapter has one scene, followed by up to four ‘moments,’ which let us do short camera shots of the action between scenes. Moments are great for quick exposition, introducing strangeness or something threatening, or moving the case along. They also feel very film noir-ish. You can narrate a long camera angle or describe a cool moody snapshot without having to make a whole played scene. They also help us keep the game short, so you can create a film noir in about the time it takes to watch one.
There’s more little bits that I changed from the original game, all with the goal of keeping it true to its original vision and emulating a specific type of story. I’m excited for people who played the original to get a look at this new version, and I’m extra super excited for people who never played it to create some awesome noir detective stories. <3