Dog Town Core Rulebook
From: Cold Blooded Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Dog Town Core Rulebook is a new RPG Core Rulebook PDF from Cold Blooded Games.
I am not a huge fan of anything that glorifies criminal behavior or gives kids the chance to explore that side of themselves, so going into this I was somewhat negative. From page 5 of the e-book - Dog Town is not a fantasy role playing game featuring supernatural beings, magic or futuristic gadgetry. It is a realistic role playing game dealing with the adult themes of criminal and street sub cultures. It aims to be an authentic portrayal of urban life and criminality in 1970’s New York. Interestingly, the first thing that the author disclaims is not the behavior of criminals depicted in the role-playing but the language used, including racial slurs and sexual orientation slang. I guess the author was more worried about offending someone rather than encouraging criminal behavior. In defense of the author, however, he does state up-front that the role-playing game was inspired by the gangster and street crime movies of the 70s and 80s like Good Fellas, Taxi Driver and Scareface. DISCLAIMER: I first want to make it clear that I do not condone criminal activity of any kind. Secondly, I want to WARN the reader that there is some adult language used in this review that is straight out of the book. I have edited the language out in some places, however, in other places it is required because it is part of the game. This game is not for children and neither is this review.
From page # 5: “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” - Cody Jarrett from the classic gangster movie White Heat goes out with a bang.
Content: The setting is late 70s New York City, in a crime ridden ghetto. Players are "anti-heroes trying to profit" from a corrupt world. The background provides a relatively detailed historical account of NYC at the time. Provided is an extensive background of the crime culture of the time along with major names. It goes on to describe the area known as Dog Town - an isolated region on the East River in New York. It is broken down into neighborhoods which are later mapped out in reasonably detailed maps (that look like they were made in something like MS Paint, but they are functional).
Character generation is considerably extensive and detailed. Along with the systems for standard raw attributes, derived attributes, and skills, there are also Criminal Type (class), Special Talents, optional Flaws and Vices, a Criminal History system, and a way to generate connections. The classes are in general terms. There are ten Criminal Types including the Asshole, the Broker, the Heister, the Hustler, the Thug, and the Racketeer. More is explained about Criminal Types below.
The criminal history is simply a guideline for the criminal's history and includes background information from early childhood to early adulthood. It also supplies lists of typical family names for specific ethnic groups and a general guide for nicknames. The character generations section goes into contacts, hang outs, considerable list of skills, combat values, Power and Respect, Influence, Back Rolls and Warnings as well as arrests and offenses on the criminals rap sheet.
After the rules and combat chapters (covered below) is a the Director's (GM's) section, guiding a gamemaster through how to run a Dog Town adventure. Nothing out of the ordinary for this chapter - just guidelines on different styles of running the game.
My comment on content - it's enough. There could be more flaws and vices as well as talents, but it works.
From page # 31: "How do jou like that eh! You fckin Maricon. Jou think you can take me. You need a fckin army to take me. I take you all to f*ckin hell.”
System: The character generation system is a point allocation system where everything costs points. The number of points is based on the style of play - punk, gangster or anti-hero. Attributes development points are differentiated from skill points which are differentiated special talent points. The Atttributes are Bulk, Power, Toughness, Reflexes, Brains, Sense, Control, Style, Experience, and Luck. These are straight values bought by attribute points and can range from -2 to 5. Then there are Derived Attributes (Trauma Resistance, Hurt Modifier, Injury Points, Move Straight Speed, Climbing, Maneuver/Balance, Endurance Short, Long, Reaction Roll, Balls, Discipline Roll, Suss Roll, Know Streets, Coping Roll, and Hostility Rating) - which are derived from the other attributes through a series of equations. For instance, to calculate Injury Points, add power x2, bulk x4 and toughness x4.
At the outset, I was turned off by this initial part of the character generation system. There needs to be a quick reference for all the equations. This did not fair well for the overall system. Equations need to be intuitive and a GM or a player should not have to go book diving for an equation. I feared that this system was also based on equations like this.
The Criminal Type was a little confusing at first. The player can choose one or two types (multi-classing). The Criminal Type does not restrict the player to anything. It simply gives the player 20 extra points to spend on certain skills, special talents and skills which are cheaper than the usual ones. There are also Drags or Flaws and Vices that the player must take at least four of. This is an interesting and imaginative approach to a class system. Something like the d6 system could benefit from an approach like this.
Special Talents are like d20 feats. As I said before, there could be more of them, but there is enough to make things interesting. The interesting mechanic behind these is that they are divided up into packages and if the player takes them as a package, they are cheaper. Vices and Flaws are rolled randomly, if not chosen from the Criminal type.
The system is called the Split System. It is a table reference system with a 20-sided die (d20) roll. The player must generate a value and cross reference vs. the opposing value (a difficulty or opponents ability value) to determine a value to roll a d20 over. The problem I have relates to my previous worry in character generation - the equations. The values are determined through equations like the ones referenced in character generation. For instance, skill values like Break and Enter are calculated by Reflexes x2 + Sense + Brains. Every skill is different. I have the same problem as I do with the equations in character generation - too many! They should be intuitive or there should be a quick reference somewhere.
There is an interesting mechanic if a 1 or a 20 is rolled. However, because some of the rules read like a statistic book, I do not understand the rule. From what I can gather, in either case you role a second d20 and count that into your failure or success. However, I am not quite sure how the second roll factors into the failure. Another constant problem I had with reading it was that the rules were not clearly explained, at least to me. There were occasional examples, but they were not any more clear than the rules. It made the game even less attractive.
Another interesting aspect was the Behavior mechanic set up in the game to reflect the extreme in behaviors criminals tend to exhibit. There are three factors in Dog Town to represent this - Suss Roll, Balls, and Discipline. Suss Roll is rolled when a criminal really needs to assess his situation and his chances of success. Of course, this is not a level based system, so there is no way to measure the "challenge rating" of a situation. Therefore, it is really up to the GM whether he wants the player to survive or not - a characteristic of all no-level based systems. Balls is basically the bravery of the player (and sometimes the sanity), and Discipline is the measure of how level-headed the player is.
Another interesting aspect of the game are the rules on running a Racket - the steady income of a criminal. This system provides a detailed system allowing players to create their own business deals and see the results of the deal in games terms. It is based on the character's skill, influence and finesse, and can result in great benefit or disastrous results. There is a rather large list of rackets to choose from.
There are also rules for delegating to non-player characters (NPCs) and measure the loyalty of those NPCs, Boss bonuses, giving orders to flunkies, and putting the competition out of business. There are also rules for laying low, torture and chases. These include an interesting array of classic cars and their stats. There are many other rules relating to the criminal underworld that I could get into, but it would make this review entirely too long. Let it be said then that despite my misgivings on the rules and how they are explained, they are thorough.
However, I do not want to leave out combat. The combat or violence system is very detailed and covers a wide variety of actions. It attempts to make it realistic and break it down into eight essential steps: Balls Test, Reach, Reaction Speed, Combat Mode, Attack Roll, Injury, Stuns, and Blood Loss. There are several charts and lists to refer to in each stage, making combat somewhat complicated. Injury is more than a simple roll to be subtracted from hit points, and I found myself so confused, I did not care anymore.
A nice gem however is that it does detail some fighting styles for hand-to-hand combat like karate, boxing and street fighting. That was kind of cool. Rules on shootouts were also a nice addition, although I found combat so complicated that I had no desire to even look into it.
Layout: The PDF looked nice. Art was on par from what I would expect from a PDF. Nothing outstanding, but nothing so horrible that I needed to point it out here. It is a large PDF, but it is reasonable printer friendly. The tables are hard to read (and there are a lot of them) because there is artwork behind them, so those might not look good in printouts.
In conclusion, I am sorry to say that I was not overly impressed by Dog Town from beginning to end. The only thing I was remotely impressed with was the thoroughness and detail. It is not a half-*ssed job. However, I simply did not like the premise, did not like the system and did not like the overall game itself. I can tell the authors have a strong passion for gaming and I wholeheartedly encourage that. I assume there is an audience for this game and to them I bid them a good luck with this game. I hope you enjoy. I know I did not.
This game is not for children. It uses adult themes and adult language even in the color-quotes from the movies. I would not recommend this to anyone under 18.