Deadlands Noir: The Old Absinthe House Blues (Savage Worlds)
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
Page Count: 32
Release Date: 01/14/2013
Get It Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Earlier this month, I reviewed the Deadlands Noir campaign setting and absolutely fell in love with it, to the point where I’m STILL kicking myself for not taking part in its original Kickstarter campaign. Since then, Pinnacle Entertainment has released the first adventure for the setting, entitled The Old Absinthe House Blues, and I knew I had to see if it was just as good. As the adventure was originally a free Kickstarter stretch goal to backers of a certain dollar amount, I’ll admit to being a bit shocked at the price tag on this adventure. With a page count of only thirty-two pages, it’s hard to justify the $9.99 price tag for this adventure, especially when it’s a) almost a fifth the size of Deadlands Noir but roughly half the cost b) just a PDF and c) crazy expensive compared to adventures like the Shadowrun Missions series, which is the same size, full colour and only $3.99 per adventure. The good news is that, while The Old Absinthe House Blues is pretty expensive compared to similarly sized adventures from other systems, it’s a really fun adventure that works as an excellent introduction to not only the Deadlands Noir campaign setting, but the Savage Worlds. Pinnacle does have you over a barrel right here.
If you’ve read Deadlands Noir (or my review of it), then you know to expect two things. The first is that you’ll need a copy of Savage Worlds in order to play this adventure, as that is the rules system it uses. The other is that the adventure is set in and around New Orleans in the 1930s. Eventually, we’ll see other locals for Deadlands Noir, so just hang in there if The Big Easy isn’t your preference.
If you haven’t picked up Deadlands Noir, you really should grab that before getting The Old Absinthe House Blues. Again, you will need copies of Deadlands Reloaded and Savage Worlds for rules and mechanics, and the aforementioned Deadlands Noir for setting information. So that’s three whole books just to play The Old Absinthe House Blues, which is a bit of a sorespot to me, but seeing as I only get PDFs of RPGs these days, it’s not like having all these books to play an adventure is going to break my back or take up a lot of space. Still, couple the need to purchase three books on top of a ten dollar adventure and the cost is going to add up quickly for newcomers, perhaps even to the point where it drives them away. So if you’re gaming on a tight budget, The Old Absinthe House Blues might not be where you want to begin with this system.
The player characters are either gumshoes by trades or roped into the role for whatever reason. They’ve been hired by the bartender of The Old Absinthe House to find the joint’s missing torch singer, one Ms. Delilah Starr. Seems she played her regular gig Friday night, but never showed up to work on Saturday. Sounds like a simple missing person’s fetch quest, right? Well it’s not. The adventure throws everything but the kitchen sink at the PCs, including an unrequited would-be amour, an evil oil company (is there any other kind?),a bunch of petty thugs, some voodoo magic for good measure and an unwholesome beast out to turn the PC’s insides into their outsides. Characters will be going everywhere from New Orleans proper to a bayou swamp inhabited with spooky things in spooky locations. The Old Absinthe House Blues is a pretty turbulent affair, and there’s a good chance at least one player character will bite it through the progression of the adventure. It’s a fairly creepy adventure that will have you wondering who is the bigger evil in the adventure – man or monster – and it blends supernatural horror and two fisted pulp drama together in a way that it is hard to imagine one without the other. By the time all is said and done, you’ll have been given a taste of everything Deadlands Noir has to offer, and you’ll want to come back for more.
One thing I should mention is that The Old Absinthe House Blues is pretty different from regular Deadlands and Deadlands Reloaded adventures that I have played or red through in the past. This is not an adventure fraught with fast paced actions or shoot ’em ups. Sure, there are times where combat is the answer (perhaps the only answer in fact), but The Old Absinthe House Blues has more in common with Call of Cthulhu adventures than the Weird West Deadlands is typically known for. There’s a lot of legwork, research, hobnobbing and persuading here. There is at least one point where the PCs will encounter an alien horror that defies understanding, and their best option is for flight over fight. Honestly, with a little bit of tweaking, you could actually make The Old Absinthe House Blues work as a 1920s/30s Call of Cthulhu affair, and it would still work wonderfully. I bring this up for two reasons. The first is this means The Old Absinthe House Blues is a wonderful way to introduce people to Savage Worlds or Deadlands who primarily play games like Chill, Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu or Gumshoe. There’s a strong crossover appeal, and it will help with the learning curve of the new system, as Deadlands has some very unique quirks that people tend to either really love or really hate, like the deck and chips mechanics. The other is that the slow pace of this adventure coupled with the more cerebral gameplay might be a turn-off to others, especially those who want a more traditional Deadlands adventure or something hack and slash based. Personally, I loved this adventure and found it to be exactly the sort I love to run/play, but then, my favorite games are Call of Cthulhu, Shadowrun and Vampire: The Masquerade, so I’m not your typical Deadlands player.
The Old Absinthe House Blues should take between one and three sessions of a few hours, depending on the players progress. It’s a fairly linear adventure, but there is room for deviation and places where the authors suggest throwing in some of those Savage Tale side stories from the Deadland Noir core rulebook. It’s full of memorable characters and does a good job of combining the core theme of Deadlands proper with the grit and locales of a Noir setting. The adventure also sports some excellent art, some helpful handouts for players and some reference maps for the Marshall/Keeper/DM/GM/Whatever to use. The Old Absinthe House Blues is a solid affair from beginning to end, and it’s a great companion piece to the core Deadlands Noir campaign setting. The worst thing I can say about the adventure is that it’s priced a bit too high compared to its contemporaries, but even then you’ll get your money’s worth out of The Old Absinthe House Blues and then some. At this point, my biggest concern is whether or not Pinnacle can keep a string of high quality Deadlands Noir releases coming, and the speed at which they do it. After all, there’s so much potential in this setting and we’ve only got a single city locked down so far. So far the Deadlands Noir setting is two for two in terms of quality releases and I can’t wait to see what’s next.