Five years ago (Seriously? It does not seem like that long!) Greg Stolze published A Dirty World, a One Roll Engine roleplaying game about film noir. He had been talking about an ORE Noir game for a while and it took a few different shapes, but what he developed in A Dirty World was special. It took the basics of the One Roll Engine and stripped it down to essentials as spare and powerful as Dashiell Hammet’s prose.
In most ORE games a character’s capabilities are defined in stats, skills, and powers that are fairly static — they change very slowly. Characters keep track of immediate changes mainly with Willpower scores and damage points. Monsters and Other Childish Things stripped things back a bit by having the damage points and Willpower effects apply straight to your stats.
A Dirty World went way past that. Your character isn’t defined by stats and skills but by attitudes and tendencies. A Dirty World isn’t about winning or losing a fight or an argument. It’s about how winning or losing changes you, changes the way you look at the world, and changes the way the world looks at you.
Conflict, Inner and Otherwise
What does that mean in play? Take a look at the character sheet. Look at the six big words in opposed pairs: Patience vs. Cunning, Vigor vs. Grace, Understanding vs. Persuasion. Each of those pairs encompasses a way of overcoming a challenge or influencing someone. They combine with the ratings in the smaller text, which are in their own opposed pairs: Generosity vs. Selfishness; Courage vs. Wrath; Honesty vs. Deceit.
If you want to lie to someone’s face, you roll dice for your Persuasion and your Deceit. If you want to physically beat someone who’s helpless or who’s weaker than you, it calls for Vigor and Wrath. If it’s a fair fight, on the other hand, it’s Vigor and Grace.
When you suffer a setback in play, those qualities change. They move from one side to its opposite. If you get your clock cleaned in a fair fistfight, a point of your Courage slides over to Wrath. If you get beaten bad enough, you might lose Vigor to Grace as you compensate for your physical bruising and weakness by ducking and avoiding threats.
That means a couple of important things. First, it means characters aren’t static. They don’t just reset to their default mode in between game sessions. Your character evolves based on things that you choose to do in play — and things that other players and non-player characters do to you. Characters in A Dirty World are scarred and changed by their experiences.
Second, it means most outcomes are not intrinsically bad. Being on the losing side of a fight or argument, or being swindled or humiliated, doesn’t take you out of play or make you less effective in play, it just makes you more effective at other things. If a femme fatale seduces your character, you may lose Purity and gain Corruption. Purity and Corruption have different functions in play. Your character has become worse at one thing but better at another.
Notice how that puts a new spin on conflicts between player characters. Player characters in A Dirty World can be bitter rivals, they can constantly be looking for ways to sabotage and betray each other — and whoever comes out on top of the latest twist, each is likely to change for the worse in one way but for the better in another.
Your Choices Define You
Together, those things mean that your character is not defined by the numbers on the character sheet that you pick at the beginning of play. Those numbers can change. Your character is defined by your choices, by your actions and by the actions of people around you.
If you want to play an upright, forthright crusader who’s great at getting people to do the right thing, you need to take actions that bolster your Purity and you need to avoid things that might shift Purity to Corruption. Otherwise you might become more and more cynical turn into a character who sees only the worst in people and knows how to exploit it. Your struggle to protect your Purity gives enemies leverage against you — they might put you in a position where you let them get what they’re after because the alternative is a contest where you might take damage to that Purity score.
The core of A Dirty World is that tension: pursuing the things that you want your character to be all about while changing other characters to suit the way your character sees the world.
Until August 13, A Dirty World is part of Arc Dream Publishing’s One Roll Engine 30% off sale, where you can pick it up along with our other great ORE games — Godlike, Wild Talents, Monsters and Other Childish Things, Reign — at a great price. Enter the coupon code “3013″ during checkout to get the savings.
Give it a shot — and tell us how you’ve been corrupted by A Dirty World.