Crescendo Of Violence: A Neon-Noir Roleplaying Game | First Impressions

October 11, 2022 by brennon

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When I first saw the cover of Alan Bahr's newest roleplaying game, Crescendo Of Violence, I thought I was in for another Cyberpunk roleplaying game. "No bad thing," I thought, as I am all for more of that! But, after diving into Bahr's work, I got a very nice surprise indeed.

Crescendo Of Violence Cover

Crescendo Of Violence: A Neon-Noir Roleplaying Game from Osprey Games has elements of the Cyberpunk genre in its DNA but at its heart, it's something quite different and Bahr goes to great lengths to explain that throughout the book. This isn't your classic downtrodden masses rising up against corporations. That has already happened. This is the aftermath of all of that where the world is a little bit terrible but there are more important things to deal with. You can't change the world but you can help make your own problems go way or the other.

The Setting - A Neon-Noir World

The first portion of Crescendo Of Violence is given over to exploring the world that you're going to be roleplaying in. Neo York, where the bulk of the action takes place is very similar to our own world but it has been levelled up to eleven and the knob has been broken off. It's hyper-stylistic and so utterly, utterly "Noir". Rain slicks the streets that are doused in the glow of neon signs. Criminals gangs are all around you, the cops don't care and just want to get paid and there is always (and I mean always) a Synth-Jazz club on the street you're walking down.

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This is why Crescendo Of Violence isn't Cyberpunk. It could be if you really want it to but it's a lot more. Crescendo Of Violence is a Jazz-Age tale told in a Science Fiction world. It's a world of gangsters, corrupt police officers, femme fatales, homme fatales, gambling, mistrust, backstabbing, political intrigue and everything that you like about those 1920s and 1930s-style stories but with a dose of something more.

Bahr also draws inspiration for this world from the gun-fu movies of the 1990s and early 2000s. Films like Hard Boiled, The Killer and A Better Tomorrow are as much of an influence as Blade Runner or Ghost In The Shell and in a more modern twist, films like John Wick. I absolutely love the blend of styles that has been worked into Crescendo Of Violence. Whilst it might have been done before, to me, it all feels very original and does a neat job of setting the scene for unique encounters in your roleplaying games that might trick your players in just the right way.

So yes, you get your hackers and your mega-corporations, and you get your gangs running guns in the low places of the city and fighting for control of territory. But, the real focus of Crescendo Of Violence seems to me to be about the individual. It's stories of family, love, loss, and betrayal, set against the backdrop of the Noir and the Jazz-Age but with the Sci-Fi twist there to really take things to another level. I think you'll have guessed by now that I was pretty sold when reading through the first portion of the book!

The Mechanics - Playing Your Part

Driving all of this action is a simple and easy-to-learn set of mechanics. Whenever anything is done in Crescendo Of Violence, the players will pick a Path. This Path could be something like Cautious or Fast or perhaps something Violent or Dramatic. So, when you're called to make a test you and the GM come up with a reason why you'd be using a specific Path to achieve success.

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When you've decided on what Path you're going to use for a test, the GM sets a difficulty rating ranging from one (easy) to ten (practically impossible). You'll roll a number of d10 based on the score in your particular Path and if you manage to hit or exceed that number, you pass!

What's really nice about this system is that it's incredibly easy to get your head around when it comes to the basics. What takes things to the next level is the use of Action Tokens. Whenever you perform an action you need to decide if you're going to spend a Green, Yellow or Red Token in order to do it.

Green gives you a +2d10 bonus to your check, Yellow allows you to do it flat with no bonus or penalty and Red gives you a -2d10 to the check instead. This means that you can super succeed at something (mitigating bad luck) and also potentially even catastrophically fail. Why would you ever use the Red token? Well, you HAVE to use all of your tokens before those previously used get refreshed! So, something is going to take a hit. I LOVE this. It forces you as a player to take a risk in this Hollywood-style action movie of a roleplaying game and push things to the limit. Why would you ever pick Red though? You could game this and just take it on a test that doesn't matter. Where's the fun in that?! Even in the book, Bahr impresses how being dramatic and going for it should be rewarded, even in failure.

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Characters will also get to draw on bonuses from the class that they chose in the form of Talents. Everyone also gets both Momentum and Reserves to call upon to help them out when they are in a sticky situation. All of these give you either additional ways to pass tests or fiddle with the odds to bring them in line with your favoured outcome. Building on that are of course your weapons, armour, accessories, cybernetics, body modifications and more - everything that you'd expect from a Sci-Fi/Near Future game.

This ends up providing you, as the player and the GM, with a really fun sandbox to play around with. Everything is very fluid and there's not even the need for initiative in combat in this game. Instead, the "Spotlight" shifts from player to player depending on where the main action is. The GM almost takes a back seat and provides reactionary elements to gameplay based on the player's actions. They are movie stars. They are action heroes. You're trying to make them feel amazing as the GM!

The Story - Crafting The Film

The allusion to movie stars and action heroes is quite apt here. Stories of Crescendo Of Violence are played out over three acts. In the first act, the scene is set and the stakes are laid before the players. In the second, the planning and plotting begin as you work out how to deal with the situation. Act three then turns into an epic showdown, oftentimes with a major villain in some amazing action-packed sequence. Remember, this is inspired by John Woo films and Jazz-Age crime-style affairs. No one is getting out of this by talking (well, most of the time).

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This feel of the movie is enforced throughout and I think it's the perfect way to approach telling a one-off affair and a larger campaign. You get to play out "Hardboiled" during your two-to-four-hour session from beginning to end and then think about how the sequel might play out. It caps the action, provides you with an interesting way to plan a campaign and allows for feedback if required. Oh, and a way to cut things off nicely should you need to wait for months to play again.

I also love that players can't really die in act one or act two. They can get beat up and maimed sure but the heroes never die, right? They pick themselves up, wipe the blood off, reload their guns and get ready for an epic showdown where the odds are stacked against them. Everything has this wonderful air of "cool" about it. Sure, the mechanics are there to keep things ticking over but it feels like "is it cool?" rules the roost here.

The Guts Of The Game - Is It For You?

Everything is there in Crescendo Of Violence to give you a solid time at the tabletop. The mechanics are quick and easy to understand with the added bonus of making you think before you attempt anything thanks to the Action Tokens. Building characters too adds just enough fluff and background without it becoming overwhelming.

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All the Sci-Fi tropes are there too. Hacking, cybernetics, clones and such are all slotted into place here but with that sheen of the Jazz-Age over the top of them for good measure. It should also be noted that hacking isn't something your computer whizz is going to do separately from the group for thirty minutes. It's quick, easy and keeps the momentum flowing.

Deep in the guts of this game, it just feels like it would be super fun. I know that's a strange thing to say but there are often games where you just think "man, I really want to play this". I had the same thing with The One Ring and MORK BORG recently and I think Crescendo Of Violence is right up there with both of those heavyweights.

Is it going to be for everyone? Probably not. I could see the crime/action movie cliches sometimes looming over and over again if you're not careful leading to stories feeling formulaic. Mechanically though, there's nothing that feels jarringly odd about the game and how it plays, as long as you have a group that is ok with not being overly gamey about the maths of it all.

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So, if the storytelling is the bit where things might fall down, it's good that the game draws on something with a lot of depth and breadth to it. That "Noir" feel gives you plenty of fun ideas for taking things in different directions and I think that the agency given to players is where you'll find the guts of your storytelling. I reckon eager players will latch onto the themes and provide you with interesting villains, plot twists and more to keep you wanting to come back for more.

I think if you're wanting something Sci-Fi but with a twist, Crescendo Of Violence might be for you. You can tell a lot of heart and soul has gone into this and I think it's a genuinely creative system for telling stories and having fun in a movie-style format.

It also helps that the book is saturated with gorgeous artwork from Andrew Thompson. It sets the scene beautifully and backs up what Bahr is trying to say when it comes to world-building. Again, I was immediately thinking "I want to be that person!" when I was flicking through the book. That all bodes well I reckon...

Crescendo Of Violence. Give it a shot!

"...I know that's a strange thing to say but there are often games where you just think "man, I really want to play this""

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"Criminals gangs are all around you, the cops don't care and just want to get paid and there is always (and I mean always) a Synth-Jazz club on the street you're walking along..."

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