Villain craftingYou begin with the welcome first step of deciding style of play. The three styles are Punk (gritty, realistic), Gangster (cinematic) or Anti-Hero (one man army, comic book). No-one is putting a gun to your head to choose one of these styles but by pointing out the dead elephant head in the room up front will help many tie down the sort of gangsters they will make.
The next steps are familiar: You point assign attributes (Bulk, Power, Toughness, Reflexes, Sense, Brains, Control, Style, Experience and Luck). Calculate derived attributes (there are 12). Select criminal type (like a class but less constricting). Talents and flaws further tune your character and add Vices - a randomly rolled flaw every character gets.
Background is a delicious feast. Dog Town includes lots of help such as name lists (organised by background, Irish, Italian etc). This kind of detail does not add a mechanic to the game but piles on depth. You'll be up to your eyes. You finish with adding Skills to the character, for which there is an admirable but not oppressive list.
There are other mechanic measures for a character, such as influence: which changes given your actions in game. Police Status tells you how much the police are after you - augmented by Warning Signs, which are markers that the police use to warn other cops about you (such as Violent or Drug user). You start with only $40, a watch and your clothes and a criminal mind. Character Creation reads like a 1970s gangster film. It feels right.
Putting in the bootDog Town's mechanics appear simple but have layers on top of it. You roll a d20 against a target number, adding any appropriate skills and talents. That is wrapped in a layer of timing. Some actions take longer than others and that is modeled too. The level of success of any action affects the discipline of the characters.
Combat rounds are broken up into slots and depending on your fighting style, these slots are filled with a myriad of blows and actions. Gun fights have their own rules, as do explosives. Injuries are gained using a chart describing all manner of ailments. There's one for close combat, fire fighting and explosives. And for falling. And for drowning. And car crashes. And for furry fedora fashion failures.
You're not a gangster? Really?Don't know about torture? Don't know how to run a racket? What about creating concrete overcoats? Dog Town can help you with that. It lists rackets, how much they pay, how much time and effort they require to keep going and so on. There are more mechanics to help you build a criminal empire. There's even a table for Flunkies. These mechanics allow you to scale your game from a small band of punks beating up grannies to mob bosses running the whole show. Police tactics are included too, giving the GM some help in hunting you down like the scum you are. Or that you will certainly feel by this point.
Two hundred and ninety five pagesDog Town leaves nothing to chance, including lists of vehicles and weapons from the 1970s. The setting information is great, the players given a sketched requirement to amass $100,000 in 90 days. The GM section is superb, with a massive list of plot hooks and example play. Whats more:
It's beautiful in the most evocative sense. The imagery is of a professional standard and layout is clean throughout. If the main rulebook is too much for you, then gorge your ravenous eyes over the lite delight on Dog Town Stripped, which takes the core mechanics and shaves them for the lighter appetite. Beyond that, there is a plethora of source books (I counted 8) and I am pleased to say that Jonathan Ridd (I believe to be the main brains behind Cold Blooded Games) is still active and over at 1km1kt.
Spill the beansLike all gamers, I want more. And so this is the paragraph in which I shine a torch in Dog Town's face. The maps are not as high quality as the majority of the art and I am not sure that a key works as well as labelling. The font choices for the main and sub headings are very similar, making it difficult to determine whether you are in a new section. I think the whole book could do with some more partitioning and order, following some ideas from my guide to organisation. There is some text on dark backgrounds - fine on screen but too little contrast on a print. The explanation of mechanics is a little cumbersome - a problem mostly mitigated by excellent examples.
ConclusionsDog Town is a professionally produced, crunchy gangster game that feels like a gangster game. By the end of my stop and search, I felt like a criminal. Dog Town feels like a crime training manual, which is testament to its superb writing. Downloading Dog Town for free is a crime. The production values of this game set it in the commercial bracket and I am still confused why it is not. Go and download it now before the brothers Ridd realise their terrible error in making it free and put it back on the market. I'm going off to hand myself into the nearest police station.
Blog Review by misterecho
RPG.Net review by Carl Morris