Notorious (Always Checkers Publishing)
Written & Designed by Jason Price
Artwork by Torben Bökemeyer
You can purchase Notorious here
When I was a little kid playing, pretending was a big part of my life. We did not have a lot of money, so action figures & elaborately manufactured play accessories were just not something I ever had. When I wanted to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I got a spare piece of purple fabric, cut eye holes, and wore it on my face. I put my backpack on for my shell & used a cardboard wrapping paper tube as my bo staff. I was a Donatello type of kid. When I wanted to play Ghostbusters, I took that same backpack, tied one end of yarn around a strap, punched a hole in a paper towel tube, and tied the other end to make my proton pack. I even took a shoebox and some yarn to make my ghost trap. Superman was easy: safety pin and some fabric for a cape. Star Wars was another wrapping paper tube to serve as my lightsaber. Big confession I used to be embarrassed about: I never had many action figures, so I would make paper cutouts of every comic book hero & villain I could think of, keep them organized in a series of envelopes, and bring them out to play when I was bored. Being the oldest of four siblings and homeschooled, I didn’t have many friends, so imaginary play was a solitary time. In playing Notorious, I felt taken back to that sort of joyous solo imaginary play, which is about the biggest compliment I could give a tabletop rpg.
Notorious is a solo rpg that lets players take on the role of a Nomad (bounty hunter) in a world heavily inspired by Star Wars and other space opera media. Nomad’s have a code they must follow, but you can go against it when you decide that is what you want to do. There are consequences, of course. In the game, players have only three attributes to manage – Notoriety, Favour, and Motivation. Notoriety represents your reputation on the planet your story takes place. Favour is your standing with the Nomad’s Guild, and Motivation is your will to capture your target.
There are four reactions you take when interacting with NPCs: Speak, Attack, Threaten, and Recruit. Not all Reactions are used with all NPCs. For instance, You can Speak to Locals, but you cannot Threaten or Attack them. You may Recruit them when a prompt gives you that option. If you encounter a Hostile, you cannot Speak to or Recruit them. They may only Threaten or Attack. Some Assets provide you with some story boon, Leads who bring you closer to your Target, and of course, the Targets themselves. When you take a Reaction, you roll your Nomad die (just a D6) and add any relevant attributes. Then you roll a Challenge die (another D6). The higher number wins.
When it comes to the classes you have to choose from, they are The Armour, The Assassin, The Bot, The Brute, The Scoundrel, and The Uncanny. Each class has a simple loadout of ranged & melee weapons, plus an outfit that provides armor. They also have Origins, Scars, and Triggers that you roll for that are intended to influence the narrative. Scars are something visible about your Nomad that others can react to, while Triggers are something that can cause your Nomad to shift away from strictly following the Guild Code. You also roll for Species and Personality to help add flavor to the character.
When you are ready to go after a Target, you roll a few of the same things and the planet they are rumored to be hiding on. Once the planet is determined, you will be given three factions present on that planet (Controlling, Challenging, and Minor), which you can pick from to be the Faction that hired you. Each Faction comes with potential reasons they would want someone captured. For example, the Old Empire is focused on apprehending rebellious types; the Trade Alliance often wants those brought in who have harmed their bottom line, while The Mystic Order is concerned with the darker side of their ancient warrior ways.
The play loop is simple: Roll on the Exploration table, and complete the prompt. In this part of the loop, you have a chance to find a Lead, and that increases as your Notoriety increases. After encountering two Leads, the third will always be your Target. At the start, you won’t be discovering Leads yet. After exploring, you roll on the Destinations table and complete the prompt. That will lead you to more encounters at this Destination. You’re given six potential locations on each planet and many prompts of encounters you can have in these places. Then you go back to Exploration and keep the loop going.
When you are told you have found a Lead or are about to face the Target, you get to roll for a Showdown. This is a way to dramatically set the table for a significant encounter. First, you’ll roll for a Site that will be a location that is unique & exciting in some way (e.g., a speeding hovertrain, ruins of a crashed starship, a mystic temple). Then you roll for Setting, which are the conditions in this Site. For example, you might face them during a blinding sandstorm or amid a herd of beasts stampeding. None of this affects the mechanics and is there to help you construct an exciting encounter.
After the Showdown with the Target has been resolved (you might capture or kill them, let them get away, they could defeat you and potentially kill you), you multiply your remaining Motivation (which can be spent to re-roll during play) by 2 and add it to your Favour with the Guild. That shows you how your character is seen by the Guild and the hiring Faction as a result of what happened. If you do poorly, you could be starting your next adventure with little support from the Guild or even being hunted by the Faction. On the other hand, if you do well, and the Faction may throw you another contract, something bigger & more dangerous.
So, how was my game? While I enjoyed Thousand Year Old Vampire, I am not a fan of vampire fiction, so it didn’t grab me. On the other hand, while I am not a Star Wars fanboy, I do enjoy the kinds of stories and the flavor of that universe, so this was a lot of fun. It also helped that I had John Williams’ Star Wars score playing in my earbuds, creating the perfect atmosphere for the stories I was telling.
I did everything in character creation using random die rolls, so my Nomad was Tiki Dokk, a member of the Lek’tok (insectoid) collective & an Assassin. The game lets you fill in the details, so for me, the Lek’tok come from a central Hiveworld and have a simple shared telepathic consciousness. One of the things I wanted to do in my story was push back against the negative connotations we often see associated with collective societies in Western media (see the Borg and all sorts of other things). The Hiveworld was a good thing, a way in which the Lek’tok could naturally support and share information. Then the Old Empire came and brutalized the planet by turning it into another mining colony, shattering the Hivemind.
Tiki left the Hiveworld, raging at the Old Empire, and sought a new community. He found that in The Red Moon Syndicate, a criminal organization. That went sour when he experienced extreme bigotry by the predominantly human members of the cartel. Tiki & a supposed ally stole some equipment and set off on their own, drawing the ire of the Syndicate. They were eventually stopped & searched by Imperial soldiers, and the ally betrayed Tiki to them, leading to the insectoid spending a couple years in a brutal prison factory. After escaping, Tiki joined up with the Nomad’s Guild. His Scar is a dependency on stims & chems to keep himself going, the result of physical & psychological trauma in prison.
Tiki’s first Target took him to the ocean planet of Veltari. The Trade Alliance wanted a man named Rudi Vallay captured for destroying a vessel transporting lots of valuable goods. At first, I didn’t entirely lose myself in the story as I was feeling out the very light mechanics and getting used to the play loop. That first game was fun, but I didn’t really key into the potential of Notorious quite yet.
My second game was where Notorious really hooked me. Tiki did well, and The Trade Alliance sent me after Quira Pang, a member of the New Uprising who helped a monarch escape from a planet the Alliance was about to blockade and blackmail. The Target brought Tiki to Utov, an ice-cold frozen world. The Old Empire tax collectors demanded higher tribute from the Trade Alliance, and they figured giving them Pang could help bring that number down. Utov was controlled by the New Uprising, so Tiki’s first efforts to get information out of Locals were met with a lot of hostility and stonewalling.
While visiting the outpost Storm’s Rest, Tiki heard an ancient Lek’tok lullaby being played, bringing him to a Kimano street performer. She noted the Nomad’s Guild insignia and wouldn’t talk any further to Tiki, so he was left wondering how she knew that song. Later, Tiki discovered a ruined temple of the Mystic Order, and inside was a reptilian shadow knight, my version of the Sith for this universe, who appeared to be talking to his Target via a holocomm. That didn’t quite make sense to Tiki, and he confronted the shadow knight. Tiki’s concealed blades helped me barely defeat the shadow knight, and he swiped the holocomm to see if he could trick Pang at some point. Tiki would eventually discover Pang was a spy for the Old Empire, feeding them information about the Uprising.
Tiki was eventually directed toward the base of Mount Potha, where a New Uprising outpost had been set up, only to find it charred & in ruins. Even worse, a rival Nomad was there who was also a Lek’tok (obviously the one who had taught that Kimano one of the Hive’s lullabies). Her name was Gretta Nahaak, and she wore a bulky thermosuit to keep her safe from the harsh conditions. Tiki had outfitted himself with a slimmer thermosuit that filtered heated liquid through tubes outside the material. Gretta was also sensitive to the Power that the Mystic Order wielded and could pinball Tiki around for a bit. Tiki was able to disable her with some well-placed sniper fire and learn what she knew about the Target.
That led to a beautiful Showdown on a decrepit bridge suspending over the mountain valley. Overhead a massive space battle erupted between the New Uprising and the Old Empire, whom Pang had sent coordinates for a surprise attack. Unfortunately, Pang was also flanked by Imperial bodyguards, waiting for a transport ship to navigate the battlefield above, descend, and whisk her away. Tiki took out her bodyguards on the bridge as it buckled and broke. It looked like Tiki was dead until New Uprising snowfighters sped across the sky and opened fire on Pang and her comrades. She escaped, but Tiki lived. However, he ended up in poor standing with the Trade Alliance, and the Old Empire hired their own bounty hunter to take Tiki out.
For the final contract, Tiki was hired by the New Uprising to journey into the heart of enemy territory, the mega-urban world of Iyama. For me, this world had major cities but between them were sprawling oceans of scrap metal populated with a host of scavengers and resellers. Tiki’s Target was a Kimano named Vimm Kilo, an incredibly arrogant engineer helping the Old Empire build a secret weapon called The Starbreaker. Upon landing, Tiki was attacked by a scavenger who he defeated and stole his herdbeast, using it to ride around the scrap metal wasteland.
This was my longest adventure leading Tiki to be reunited for a fight with his traitorous former “ally” from the Red Moon Syndicate, Suvo Kenjo. Tiki also made friends with a tailor & secret New Uprising member who outfitted him with some extra armor. There was a close encounter with Shadar Sciak, the Old Empire’s second in command & a twisted shadow knight. Ivee V’uush, the hulking reptilian Brute Nomad hired by the Old Empire to kill Tiki, took his shot and died. There was an attempted train robbery while Tiki used the hoverrail to make his way to a nearby outpost. Eventually, the Showdown with Vimm Kilo happened, and Tiki learned the architect was also a shadow knight, and The Starbreaker was made to amplify his dark power to obliterate entire planets. The fight occurred in Kilo’s apartment in the sprawling mega-city, shattering a large window and sending Tiki and Kilo plummeting, leaping from hover car to hover car until the Nomad beheaded his Target.
For this Epilogue, it felt appropriate that Tiki would leave the Nomad’s Guild. His search for something to replace the broken Hivemind was found in the collective efforts of the New Uprising. Using the skills he’d developed hunting Targets, Tiki chose to use them to help fight & hopefully end the Old Empire once and for all.
This scratched every itch I was looking for and could be replayed quite a few times with new characters before prompts got too repetitive. As with most solo games, you must improvise with the system. You need to “yes, and” everything, drawing from tropes & source material to build something fun. If you want something crunchy with even mid-tier complex mechanics, this is not for you; this is a story game. My one critique of the game is that there are no mechanics or prompts that allow for space battles, and for me, that’s a core piece of Star Wars-esque/space opera stories. Especially if you are playing a bounty hunter-type character, you want to have a cool ship and have space fights. There is a solo game this creator has written some supplements for, I believe, called Bucket of Bolts that is all about space battles & ships. In the future, I want to look at that, see how it plays on its own and figure out if the two games could be combined somehow. If any of this sounds fun, I recommend you check out Notorious.