tl;dr Compelling story in a fascinating noir setting, pushed forward by all the players who bring their best to the game, bogged down occasionally by player and GM confusion about Noirlandia’s weirdo rules and resolution mechanics
Title: There Is No Greater Love Part 1
Season: Bluff City
Podcast: Friends at the Table
Gamemaster: Austin Walker
Ali Acampora as Christine “Chris” Andrews
Jack de Quidt as Florence “Flo” Slowly
Art Martinez-Tebbel as Tyler Taylor Pierce
Keith Carberry as Patty Fink
Game engine: Noirlandia
Live at the Table is one of the features of the subscriber-only feed for Patreon subscribers for Friends at the Table. FATT has an amazing subscriber-only feed — there is fresh content every week, sometimes multiple shows per week. This episode is 3-1/2 hours of real play podcast; that’s not at all unusual for Live at the Table.
(I went through a lot of hand-wringing about whether it was kosher to review a podcast episode that only people who pay money are able to hear. Maybe it’s bad for the FATT campaign for some reason? But then I realized that most reviews are for media that people have to pay for. Movies, music, concerts, most TV — they’re only available if you pay. And yet people review them every day. In fact, we think that it’s actually good for the artists to get good reviews. So make sure to subscribe to their Patreon at friendsatthetable.cash.)
Bluff City is a…. series? Season? Something like that. A setting that they’ve re-used for different one-off games on the Live at the Table series. It’s a noir setting that’s a lightly-veiled clone of Atlantic City, NJ, where GM Austin Walker once lived and worked. It’s gritty, violent, greedy, and oddball — like a lot of beach towns, like a lot of gambling cities.
The team comes together to play a game called Noirlandia by Make Big Things. It’s an interesting game system — a narrative-oriented GM-less game for 3-4 players. In the game, the players try to solve a murder set in a somewhat alien city with multiple neighborhoods — some of which can go into chaos based on the results of their work.
GM-less, you say? Yes, that is what I said. FATT plays GM-less games pretty regularly, but I’ve yet to hear one where Austin Walker didn’t spend a huge amount of time introducing, explaining, and facilitating the game. (He also plays NPCs in this episode and others.) I’m sure it’s satisfying for him, but I have to say that after listening to hundreds of hours of FATT podcasts, I’d really like to hear Austin put down his manager’s hat and just let someone else take the lead. But as far as I know, nobody else has ever GM’d a FATT game, and Austin GMs the GM-less ones.
“There Is No Greater Love” is the story of the murder of Hector Hu. He’s a priest and late-night radio personality, beloved by people around Bluff City. The party play private eyes and others involved in the case. Flo is a former cop who looks like Tilda Swinton. (She’s also the most Jack de Quidt character I’ve ever heard.) Tyler Taylor Pierce is a social-climbing PI who wears expensive cheap suits and eats knock-off gourmet hot dogs; he’s played by Art. Rounding out the party are Ali’s call-in show caller Chris Andrews and Keith’s petty criminal and conspiracy informer Patty Fink.
Hector was shot in an upscale hot-dog stand in the fancy part of Bluff City. TTP, on the scene, notes that there were important documents squirreled away from the scene of the crime and returned to the Mayor’s office. Each player takes turns acting as the protagonist, following clues to City Hall, the radio station where Hector worked, and coffee-shop meetups to figure out what’s going on.
At each location, the protagonist has a chance to take on a challenge and do an investigation. Based on the results of these rolls, they may get new leads, but they may also cause uprisings in the city. This is where the show really bogs down; Noirlandia has a screwball resolution system, including white dice for the protagonist, black dice for the numinous opposition, and more white dice for non-protagonist players to use as bargaining chips to affect the story. Austin has to explain to the players and the audience, which knocks us out of the narrative flow quite a bit. It’s hard to follow; I listened to this episode twice and I probably still couldn’t explain the system to a neutral third party.
As the story progresses, an underground rebellion called “Omega Love” develops across the city, driven by suspicion based on Hector’s conspiracy theories as well as insomnia (a lot of people depended on Hector’s soothing voice to get to sleep). So, as the party continues to try to figure out the murder, the crime’s consequences threaten to destroy the city completely.
The setting is quirky and dark — great for noir. Noirlandia’s game creation system intentionally introduces elements of alienness into the game — pushing the timeframe into the past or future, suggesting unusual social practices and mores. The weirdness snowballs, and when we finally find out the Lovecraftian cross-world conspiracy that causes Hector’s murder, we’re so accustomed to the weirdness that it seems quite natural.
The FATT team really does a great job with this story. The co-creation of the world is right up their alley, and each player brings individual strengths to the game. The rough edges between these players have been worn off since their great work together on FATT’s COUNTER/weight season. They hand off and share focus flawlessly.
Audio is great, music by Jack de Quidt is original and slick. If you like Friends at the Table, this is a great episode to pick up off the Patreon feed. I give it four stars out of five, since the game rules slow the story down somewhat, but it’s definitely worth your time.