Deadlands: Noir, Cast a Deadly Spell, and My First Duet

I've already played a game like Deadlands: Noir -- once -- and it was one of the most bizarre RPG experiences of my life. It was also the first one-one-one or solo game that I GM'd.  (Following a pretty savvy series at, I've decided to start calling this "duet gaming" as well.)  It was a homebrew setting I created inspired by an odd little film called "Cast a Deadly Spell."

 "Cast a Deadly Spell" is a 1991 made-for-HBO film about a private detective in 1940's Los Angeles named H. Philip Lovecraft and his attempts to recover the Necronomicon for his employer.  Seriously.  It's one of the last TV works of director Martin Campbell before he went on to make "Goldeneye," "The Mask of..." and "The Legend of Zorro," "Casino Royale," and (*cough*) "Green Lantern."  It stars Fred Ward (Remo Williams!), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor!), David Warner (Ra's al Ghul!), and Julianne Moore (the other Clarice Starling!).  There's gremlins, werewolves, and zombies running around -- and they're only background flavor!  It is a seriously fun film.

My adventure was set in a a film noir San Antonio filled with magic and fairy tale creatures.  The plot of my adventure was the mysterious death of debutante Goldie Lox at the hands of her lover, shapeshifter "Baby" Bexar, but there were a lot of crazy asides and wackiness that have vanished into the depths of my memory.  I remember A shady informant who looked like Kermit the Frog and talked like Peter Lorre and people strolling the River Walk with billy goats to protect themselves from bridge trolls...

Unfortunately, it was too weird for my players.  We had dropped AD&D 2nd Edition a while back and picked up West End Games' d6 Star Wars.  The d6 system was my first foray into skill-based games and I still think it's one of the best (if only it used more than one kind of dice).  The system was flexible enough that, for the first time, I felt I could play any kind of game in any kind of setting.  This "hard-boiled fairy tale" setting was my first attempt at that and half of that night's players rebelled.

Of course, there were only two players actually participating besides myself.  I know I didn't spring the idea on them with no warning, but for some reason my brother decided to just sit and watch instead of joining in.  The other two created characters -- a Native American shaman and a hard-boiled detective -- but after an hour or so the guy playing the shaman just opted out as well and joined my brother in the staring.  If I'd been more mature, I probably could have salvaged things and gotten everyone involved (probably by giving up and playing something else) but I was an ass at that age, so I just pressed on with my single player.  

The two of us who did play had fun.  My player wasn't as well versed in noir as I was, so I had to coach him a bit (hint to hard-boiled P.I.s: if the suspect won't talk, rough him up), but it was still a good time.  [Note to self: write a post some time about how a duet GM's job is sometimes to be a coach.]  I keep thinking it might be fun to run a game where Snow White is being blackmailed because of some kinky photos taken with the dwarfs, but that's a scenario for horny young guys without wives. 

Kinky photos and blackmail raises a point.  I was kind of iffy about Deadlands: Noir when the setting was merely New Orleans.  Like with "Cast a Deadly Spell"'s Los Angeles setting, I just can't imagine hard-boiled detection without the seamy underbelly of glitz and glamor, and the Big Easy just doesn't cut it for me.  Now that the Companion has been announced, however, I just need to see how much money I can spare.


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