Welcome to the Pen and Die Notorious Review! A solo TTRPG, Notorious features familiar bounty hunters and random tables that help inspire your story. The game brings a simple rule set that allows for narrative interpretation without being too vague. While there isn’t really much strategy involved, potential for interesting stories abounds. The game features two modes, arcade and journal. The arcade mode will essentially take you through the steps of the game, giving you the prompts but allowing you to run through your session quickly without adding a lot of creative storytelling. Journaling mode encourages you to consider each prompt and each challenge roll more carefully. If you have spent some time with some exotic sci-fi, then the worlds and scenes will come to life for you. Altogether, Notorious provides a great platform for sci-fi bounty hunting tales although it will not take long before you’re seeing repeats from certain tables. 7.5/10
Gameplay begins with rolling or choosing your bounty hunter. There is not really any customization involved besides choosing a name although you can pick from the tables to determine personality. You will then generate the world, factions, and target using supplied tables. The tables vary in their length, meaning that there are six planets that you might hunt on but twelve different species you might encounter. Notorious runs on a gameplay loop that cycles between rolling on an event table and a destination table. Eighteen different events and eighteen destinations keep this loop pretty fresh while the different planets and environments should help things feel different across multiple playthroughs.
To aid in the page searching that is common in games like this, Jason Price added the page number to every table table reference. That addition greatly sped up game play as flipping to and rolling on tables make up the majority of your time. The well made tables facilitate the creation of your story, the worlds, and the characters that you meet in a away that flows well. Some of them just need to be bigger and more diverse.
Players use two opposed d6’s the resolve challenges, whether resolving something akin to a skill check or combat. Equipment and a few stats will add bonuses to your roll or allow for some rerolling, while enemies will have their own bonuses to add to their roll. This mechanic does not allow for much strategy. However, the streamlined approach provides enough tension to keep it interesting while not bogging the player down in rules.
Repetition mars certain portions of Notorious and currently keep this from being a game that I would want to play regularly. I think that the planets, species, events, and destination tables sufficiently keep things fresh for a while. However, the target and showdown sections really do not bring enough unique situations and characters. If your first showdown with a lead is while there’s a starfighter dogfight overhead, the same event won’t carry the same weight with the target. With only six to roll up, this will happen fairly often. The author commented that there will be a new Kickstarter sometime soon that will feature an expansion, hopefully expanding these tables.
Solo Play and Other Uses
Notorious exclusively provides a solo bounty hunting experience. However, the procedures and tables that provide so much inspiration for your solo tales will also power bounty hunting hijinks for another system. If you’re playing in a setting that fits the flavor, then you can follow the pattern for Notorious and even use the species and settings within your system. Otherwise, you could substitute whatever setting specific information that you would like. I also feel that small solo games like Notorious work very well as an episode of a larger campaign. Even if playing in a group, a game like Notorious can help create a backstory, epilogue, or a side story during downtime.
I really like Notorious. The art and layout of the book are charming. The tables provide a lot of utility in generating the world, characters, and scenes. The tables that provide the climactic content lack some variety, but you will seldom roll on them. Regardless, I look forward to seeing them expanded. Altogether, I loved the experience of creating my bounty hunter story. There were twists and struggles. I felt as though my hunter had his own code and made choices based on it. Of course the imagination fuels this partly in addition to the game itself. Additionally, I think this would also work great as an overlay procedure for other games. If you want to throw a bounty hunting episode into another game that you’re playing, the rules in Notorious will work well to help give guidance on how to handle that.
Notorious is a charming and engaging game. You will find yourself facing interesting situations and sometimes difficult ethical dilemmas. The world and its political situation came to the forefront of my story and I expect that to often be the case. This game borrows heavily from the Star Wars Empire vs Rebellion trope while your story will reside on the periphery.