Originally Posted at: http://diehardgamefan-
Yesterday I reviewed the “dime novel” Blood and Roses, based on the Deadlands Noir campaign setting for Savage Worlds. Today it’s Tenement Men. Although both were released simultaneously, Tenement Men takes place first chronologically. Only one character and a single MacGuffin connect the two, but both are pivotal to each story, and you may find yourself a bit confused if you read them out of order. I know I had to stop and say, “Why does this name sound so familiar?” and “Why do both stories have the same MacGuffin?” It wasn’t until I finished Tenement Men that I realized I had read them out of order. There’s no indication on the tales that one comes before the other, which is a shame, as it would have been an easy notation for Pinnacle to make. Instead, the only way to discover that the two tales are rather connected (even though they are by two different authors) is the same way I did – by just plowing through them and making connections.
Tenement Men is a bit of an odd duck. It’s a continuation of the adventures of a private dick named Harvey Jenkins. Now when I say that, you probably assume that this means Harvey is the protagonist in Blood and Roses, but that’s incorrect. He’s actually the protagonist of the four part audio drama, Hard Boiled in the Big Easy. Tenement Men is a continuation of the events in that tale. It helps to have listened to it, but the story will still make sense if you haven’t – you just won’t be getting the bigger picture. If you’re interested in listening to it (it’s about forty minutes long), you can do so by going to Pinnacle’s YouTube channel and clicking on the appropriate links there. There are only seven videos, four of which are the audio drama, so I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble finding it.
So let’s talk Tenement Men. Like 99.99% of all Noir tales, this one begins with a dame. This particular lady of the night isn’t a femme fatale or a moll looking to con a private dick into taking a case that’s more trouble that she’s paying. No, this particular lady happens to be a voodoo high priestess, and the person that saves Harvey Jenkins from sleeping with the fishes in his original tale. Seems someone’s stolen some bad juju from her shop and she needs Jenkins to track it down. She did save his life after all. What follows is a tale that wonderfully blends Noir with survival horror. More importantly, Tenement Men feels like a role-playing adventure turned into a narrative tale. You can almost visualize the DM at the table with his players, watching them roll dice to determine the fate that will eventually unfold. Blood and Roses, while still an excellent story, felt like a “just” a story and not an ancillary product to a roleplaying game. Both have their positives because of this, but if you’re looking for which story gives you more of a feel for what PLAYING Deadlands Noir would be like, this is the one.
Harvey Jenkins ends up cruising through the Big Easy as the story keeps getting bigger… and weirder. Although Tenement Men starts as a simple recovery tale, it ends up becoming a full fledged adventure involving hunting down a missing person, forming a love/hate relationship with a member of the Black Hand (the Mafia in Deadlands Noir, not a sect of ancient vampires ala Vampire: The Masquerade), forming a party with a super scientist pal by the name of Doc Carver and finally, a full out hack and slash battle against some truly creepy monsters. Not only is the description of these things freaky, but you never get to know what they actually are or how they came about, which adds even more to the ominous tone of the entire tale. I love that their isn’t some sort of exposition as to what Harvey and his team encounters. They’re just simply there, and it’s very Lovecraftian in that respect, which is how I like my spooky stories.
The story resolves nicely, but as you move on to Blood and Roses you’ll see how the events of this story affect the next. It may be the Big Easy, but the city’s smaller than you think (says a person that’s walked nearly every square inch of it). I will say that I’m disappointed that a character from this story not only looks and sounds VERY different when he reappears in Blood and Roses, but he’s killed off rather as an afterthought, which is a shame, as I actually thought he had just as much potential as the two protagonists. Ah well, that’s what the Manitou are for, yes?
When all is said and done, Tenement Men is a great read and a story that makes you want not only more fiction, but to pick up whatever else comes out for the Deadlands Noir setting. I have only one quibble, but it is a big one, and that’s that the story costs $3.99 when it is only seventeen pages long. That’s rather pricey for a short story and about twice as much as you’d find something of similar length or longer for your e-reader. Because of that, you might want to wait for a sale or a permanent price reduction. For the cost of both stories, you can pick up full supplements or sourcebooks from DriveThruRPG, and you’ll get more value out of something like that. Still, Tenement Men is a great read, as it’s a story that will stick in your head for some time. If you’re already invested into Deadlands Noir, you probably won’t mind overpaying for this creepy little short story.
[4 of 5 Stars!]