Could you use D&D for a film noir setting? What would have to be changed?

By "film noir", I'm imagining something set in the 1940s, urban, dark, private eyes and all that. There would be cars, telephones, revolvers, all the technology of the time. And there would be no magic.

Edit: Thanks for all the suggestions, they basically confirmed what I suspected: that D&D is definitely not suited for a film noir game, and they gave me some clearer ideas of why.

  • \$\begingroup\$ wouldn't the classes be something like; spy, parachutist, brawler, doctor, policeman. for example you could replace magic for a spy with, persuasion and outwitting, and confusion, diversion. etc \$\endgroup\$ – Joseph Le Brech Oct 14 '11 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Would there still be elves and dwarves and other fantasy trappings, though? Keith DiCandido's novel Dragon Precinct does something similar with hardboiled cop procedurals. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Oct 14 '11 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mghicks I think that (d20 Modern) would be a great choice, second only to d20 Call of Cthulhu. On the other hand, it's possible he's not interested in learning a new system, but adapting the one he's got to new uses, and I think that's a respectable goal. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Oct 14 '11 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Joe Some clarification would help shape the direction of this question: 1. Are you looking for a traditional film noir setting, or a fantasy setting that has been "aged" to the 1940s (should there be elves? Dragons?)? 2. Are you looking specifically for an addon to D&D (if so, which edition?) or are you looking for any system? \$\endgroup\$ – AceCalhoon Oct 14 '11 at 15:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ Asking "what would have to be changed?" without asking which edition (PSA: they're all very different!) makes that part of the question hard to answer well. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 14 '11 at 18:15

I would say yes but you would be trying to put a square peg into a round hole. You will have to do a lot to get the magic out of D&D, the classes would need re-doing, and there would be none of the background available.

There is a d20 modern which would fit better but that is not D&D, just a similar rule set.

Noir: The Film Noir Role-Playing Game would be a better choice.

Edit: Another site of interest maybe Mean Streets which appears to be free although I cannot judge for its quality.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Right, I mean for starters you'd have to ditch most of the Classes and Races as they are irrelevant outside of a fantasy magic setting. \$\endgroup\$ – TygerKrash Oct 14 '11 at 8:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Agreed. If you changed D&D enough to fit a modern-day film noir game, you'd essentially end up with D20 Modern. If "no magic" isn't a strict requirement, take a look at the Eberron setting, which mixes film noir with high fantasy. \$\endgroup\$ – Joe Dovahkiin Oct 14 '11 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Noir has been out of print for fifteen years, never had a particularly large run, and to my recollection wasn't a very good game. It would not be a better choice than d20 Modern, or even d20 Call of Cthulhu. \$\endgroup\$ – Jadasc Oct 14 '11 at 12:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ I liked Noir. It had a large background and was well researched. I cannot comment on the rule set since I did not even bother reading it. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Oct 14 '11 at 12:44

You could modify D&D for film noir, but it would be a lot of work for a clunky system. Make a new question in which you ask for a for a Film Noir game.


The biggest change you'd need to make would be to lower the massive damage threshold dramatically. Noir as a genre tends toward stark portrayals of life and death, and the increasing levels of hit points in D&D make that harder. One fix might be to set a character's MDT equal to their Constitution, or perhaps a flat 10 for all human characters.

Another difficulty you'll need to overcome is that noir characters typically work alone, and D&D as a game presumes four or five characters working as a team to overcome obstacles.


Maybe you could track down a copy of Call of Cthulhu D20.

It is mostly geared towards Horror games, but I believe that the "distance" you have to cover from D&D to Film Noir is a lot more than starting from CoC D20.

For a starter, the game main setting can be 1920 or later (up to modern times) so there are stats for contemporary (i.e. XX Century) equipment, weapons and vehicles.

There are no classes, per se, but there are guidelines for creating Private Eyes, policemen, gangsters, etc.

There is an "Insanity" mechanic. It is pretty coarse and mostly geared toward shock when confronted with some alien monster, but it can still be of some use in Film Noir scenarios.


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