Jason L. Blair wanted to write a noir game. What he got was a Kickstarter that hit 342% funded, a soundtrack from Ed Lima, and illustrations from Shawn Gaston. From an Editor-in-Chief to game designer and fiction writer, Jason’s scared readers across anthologies and frightened gamers with his Little Fears RPG. The newest destination in his career is Bedford and Lamrose, home to the Streets of Bedlam.
GDG: Why did you pick Savage Worlds as the system for Streets of Bedlam?
JB: Even when I first conceived the setting back in 2007 or so, I associated Bedlam with Savage Worlds. Over the years, I have thought about using other systems, even my own Top 3 System (used in Little Fears Nightmare Edition) but I kept going back to Savage Worlds. I really like what Shane Hensley and company have done with the system. It plays great, scales well, and has a large, friendly audience.
Once I set upon actually doing the work, I saw how easy it was to do what I want Streets of Bedlam to do using Savage Worlds. Even the new mechanics I’m creating specifically for the setting, such as the Interrogation rules and giving Roles to the characters, are based on elements already in the system. As a designer, I can kitbash and rig the parts of Savage Worlds using language and components already familiar to the audience. Savage Worlds is a lot more than the sum of its parts. The more I work with it, the more flexible I find it to be. Plus I get to reference the great work done by other licensees such as Triple Ace and Reality Blurs which isn’t a bad side benefit.
GDG: What elements of noir did you want to get across in Streets of Bedlam?
JB: The ambiguity of right and wrong is the main element. This is a game about heroes, certainly, but on the surface the good guys and the bad guys are a lot alike. The methods are similar—extortion, blackmail, good old backstreet violence—but the ends are what define the characters. Bad guys stick a gun in your face to get you to back off a lead that could ruin their careers. Good guys stick a gun in your face to find out where that kid who got abducted is being holed up.
I’d say the next largest influence traditional from noir comes in the form of Bedlam’s character types. You’ll find a lot of familiar archetypes in the setting from private eyes who can’t help but stumble into trouble to drifters just passing through to mob bosses with too many interests to protect to intrepid reporters looking to get the real story.
I find a lot of folks associate grimy New York streets with noir but, historically, LA is noir’s town. With Bedlam, I’m going more New York, Boston, Detroit, what I call the neo-noir cities. Ultimately, that’s what Bedlam is: more neo-noir than noir. With a heavy dose of ultraviolence thrown in.
GDG: When did you decide to approach Ed Lima about doing a soundtrack for Streets of Bedlam?
JB: Ed and I are old friends. We used to work together back five or six years, and have always kept each other in mind when opportunities arose. A lot of the time, the prospect of us working together is in someone else’s hands. But with Streets of Bedlam, which is primarily my show, the only obstacle was money.
As the Kickstarter became more and more successful, I saw an opportunity to bring Ed into the project. I don’t think it would surprise him to hear the top priority was getting amazing art—which is where Shawn Gaston comes in—and then bulking up the book line. But doing a soundtrack, especially since music is such a big part of the source material, was high up there. As soon as it looked like maybe Kickstarter would not only cover the first book and the first supplement but maybe more, I got in touch with Ed to get Sounds of Bedlam on the table.
GDG: Who have been your creative partners on Streets of Bedlam?
JB: As most folks know, Streets of Bedlam started as just me. I was going to let the Kickstarter run a bit before I sought out collaborators but artist Shawn Gaston got in touch almost immediately. I had been a fan of his work for a while so when he offered to come on board, it was such an obvious fit I had to say yes. Then, as I said, I brought Ed on board to give folks a soundtrack.
And that’s it. That’s the core team. I have some really talented folks in reserve in case I need relief pitchers, editing help, whatever, but right now Shawn, Ed, and I are defining the work. But I like that. I really like working with small teams on these projects.
GDG: How did you decide on doing the Kickstarter for Streets of Bedlam?
JB: I was hopeful Streets of Bedlam would find an audience, but I wasn’t in a position to take a gamble on it. My publishing outfit, FunSizedGames, has a bit of a reserve from Little Fears Nightmare Edition and its supplements but I like to roll that over on new material for that line. FunSizedGames has always run in the black—I need it to—but the cost of getting Streets done would have put FSG in the red.
A lot of folks I know had seen success with Kickstarter so I figured I’d give it a try. I did the math to see what my bare minimum was to get Streets done and I set the threshold to that. I figured, unlike a traditional pre-order which could help cover part of the cost but stick me with a hefty bill if it didn’t do well enough, I could draw a line of “Hey, I need X amount to get this done” with that limit being an inherent and understood part of the process. If I did a traditional pre-order with the caveat of “If I don’t get enough to cover costs, I’ll just refund your money” there’s no reason for folks to trust that. With Kickstarter as an in-between, nobody loses money if the goal isn’t met. And if it is, I have an easy way of rewarding that investment with stretch goals, backer tiers, etc.