[RPG] How to make the game more “noir” as a GM


I ran a couple of Shadowrun games at Dexcon, my first time GMing at a con. It's not my first time running Shadowrun; I based the games off of a couple jobs my players did in a then-ongoing campaign. The players at the con had a good time; but, I made it fairly cinematic, and one of the players commented that they were used to a more "gray raincoat" style of game.

I wanted to have high-speed car chases, and action-packed combats; but, I also want to be true to the theme of Shadowrun. I think the player's comment had some merit, and I'd like to make the game feel a little more dark, and grim.

Part of the problem was that I needed to be more diligent about having Lone Star jump on them, after a high-profile combat scene. What else can I do to tweak the theme of my game, and make it seem a little more dystopian?

Best Answer

When I think of noir, I think about the following elements: crime, betrayal, temptation (often sexual), urban settings, pessimism, cynicism, and no-win situations. There's also a host of cinematic techniques that don't translate precisely into non-visual mediums, so I'll leave those aside for now.

Shadowrun has crime and urban settings covered, so that's easy. For pessimism, cynicism, and temptation, I'd look at my NPCs. Almost every one of them should reflect those traits in some way. They don't all have to be pessimistic; in fact, some of them should be defiantly optimistic, but that should be something other NPCs comment on. That'll bring home the point that it's a pessimistic world. And everyone should be capable of being tempted by something. Everyone has to have a price.

Betrayal and no-win situations are trickier, because you don't want to kill the fun of the game and if the PCs are betrayed all the time, they're going to wind up expecting the worst of everyone. This quickly turns into a game of turtle. I'd recommend having a fair number of missions that are the result of betrayal. In other words, the PCs should often be hired by someone who's been betrayed and who needs revenge. They're living in an atmosphere of betrayal rather than being betrayed.

Although it should happen to them once in a while. Don't avoid it all the time, by any means.

Finally, coming back to the visual stuff: play it up in your descriptions. It's raining. It's raining cold, bitter rain. The raindrops are exploding like a child's dreams on the cold, hard pavement. Well, maybe not that last.