Deadlands Noir: The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp
Publisher: Pinnacle Entertainment
Page Count: 46
Release Date: 12/18/2013
Get it Here: DriveThruRPG.com
Wow. I honestly though 2013 was going to be the year of Deadlands Noir when it was first released at the tail end of 2012. The core rulebook was simply amazing, and then it was immediately followed up by a high quality adventure in The Old Absinthe House Blues. After that though, the campaign setting rather dried up. We had three “dime novels (short stories) released for Deadlands Noir and the less than impressive Deadlands Noir Companion…but that’s been it. In fact, only a single eighteen page story was released for the setting in the second half of 2013, until now. The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp might not sound like something you’d see for a 1920’s noir/horror mashup tabletop RPG, but it covers all the bases: Mob bosses, cannibal cults, crooked unions, murders, a frame up for a crime characters didn’t commit, backstabbings, double crosses, triple crosses (maybe even a quadruple cross!) and so much more. Sure, the name of the adventure is a bit wacky, but it helps to lower the guard of your players and suck them into an ever escalating scenario where multiple sides want their heads and the only way out may be to decide who is the lesser of several evils.
The adventure begins with players being hired by one Travis Evans, a young man running for the leadership role in the local teamsters union. The current incumbent is Simon Beauregard, who Evans believes has mob ties. Evans feels if these are exposed, he can secure the nomination. At the same time Evans’ assistant , Chelsea Golden has a father who has died (and believed murdered) and the players will have to look into this as well. Both paths lead the investigators down an ever growing path of depravity and weirdness that they may never recover from.
Much of the adventure is mundane, such as doing Legwork for information, checking ledgers for embezzlement and racketeering, interrogating/questioning NPCs and the like. It’s a dry adventure compared to what most people think of when they hear Deadlands. It’s much like a Call of Cthulhu adventure without the Mythos aspect. I really enjoyed that this was more or less a straightforward detective piece, but those who want a little more blatant supernatural experience or some monster bashing may be a bit disappointed. That said, it’s not as if the supernatural is completely absent from The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp; merely that it is exceptionally subtle. In the back story there are references to spells of prolonged life and of course, some occult circles believe that cannibalism gives one extraordinary abilities. As the players investigate the crimes before them, they’ll also discover the use of a spell to snuff out a critical NPC’s life. So again, there is supernatural occurrences in this adventure (It wouldn’t be Deadlands otherwise) but it takes a trained eye, ear and nose to spot them. There is one big blatant potential supernatural threat, a Swarm Man, at the tail end of Chapter 2, but it doesn’t really seem to fit the adventure, so my advice would be to excise it unless your players are really aching for combat and/or monsters at this point. It does kind of change the dynamic of the adventure for a single experience though, so I think you’ll find the mood, theme and flow of the adventure is better off without it.
Of course all this talk about subtle supernatural elements goes out the window with act four of this adventure. There, PCs will be travelling to a creepy bayou island full of bloats, voodoo zombies (as opposed to the Romero style zombies) and trying to end the reign of an ancient cult. This is the most action packed and violent part of the adventure, and if PCs are going to die, it will probably be here. Thankfully though, even if a TPK (Total Party Kill) occurs, the PCs can still win. It’s a nice touch and considering how the characters are going to be thrown through the wringer here, I was pleased to see how death is far from meaningless in this piece.
The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp takes place over four chapters, each of which could be considered their own adventure. As such, that makes this more of a mini campaign than a single adventure. It will take you multiple play sessions to get through all of this (more than likely with one or more PCs meeting a grisly demise if they aren’t careful). This helps to offset the $9.99 price tag, which would be a bit high for a single adventure in digital format. As such I think the sheer amount of content The Case of the Jumbo Shrimp ensures players and the GM will get their money’s worth out of picking this up. The adventure works especially well as an introduction to the Deadlands Noir setting due to how the emphasis is on investigation and discovery over combat or supernatural horror. Of course, there are only two published adventures for the setting outside of the core rulebook and the Companion, so it’s not like you have much of a choice if you prefer to run published adventures. Who knows? Maybe Pinnacle will throw more Deadlands Noir content our way in 2014.