I'm a big fan of ORE. I liked Nemesis
for showcasing the rules, but it was a damn boring read. I liked Reign
even more because of all the supplemental material, and because it was a much more interesting read. Initially I didn't pay attention to A Dirty World
because the Noir genre didn't interest me, but after reading a post by Greg Stolze explaining how the combat was much more flexible I decided to get it.
So there you know my bias - I liked ORE and Greg Stolze's work from the start, and I suspected this variation would offer something I liked.
To start with I'm not going to talk about the system, but the readability. Out of Nemesis, Reign and A Dirty World, the latter is the easiest to read as a PDF. Nemesis has a fine layout but the writing style is just incredibly dry and boring. Reign has an interesting to read writing style, and it's actually immersive. However, it suffers from being laid out for printing - it has a 2 column layout and is set up for 8.5"x11" paper. My screen, and I suspect the screens of most people with a laptop don't handle this well. A Dirty World is designed for 6"x9" printing. It also seems to be designed well for PDF viewing, as it has only a single column of text. It's very readable when expanded to fill the whole width of the screen, and it's convenient only having to scroll down. There are a few black and white photos thrown in, but since it's single column, you never have to scroll down and then back up as is the case most of the time. The writing style is also very readable. Admittedly it's only 70 pages, but I was already a bit tired when I started reading it and I finished it in one sitting. There isn't much in the way of game fiction, and I've found Greg Stolze to be one of the few authors who integrates game fiction well. The majority of the book is examples of how you would use the system in play. ORE Noir is really a toolkit system for playing games, with a fairly simple (but at the same time flexible and sophisticated) mechanic, and the book shows you ways to use the system. Basically, it's enough hand holding to get you started, after which you should only need the character sheet (or not even that, just a blank sheet would do), a pencil, and 11d10. I can forgive the lack of an Index in this case since there really isn't a need to check it to find a rule - there are so few of them that it really isn't necessary. I think I can also call A Dirty World rules light based on the fact that it does just fine without an index. It has some moments of slanted text, but it was still readable. The artwork consists of black and white photography in the style of Film Noir (go figure). I really appreciate consistent internal art, it makes a product look much more polished.
The style rating of 5 reflects the fact that it is very readable, is enjoyable to read, doesn't have any typos that I could find, is well laid out, and has product appropriate and consistent artwork. There's nothing that I can complain about in terms of style.
Now, on to the system! I already think that the One Roll Engine is one of the best, if not the best, currently available RPG mechanics. I've found it to be very flexible with Nemesis and Reign and ORE Noir doesn't disappoint. The basic premise of ORE is you roll a set of d10s, up to a maximum of 10, based on your stats, and look for sets of 2 or more of the same number. So if you roll 6d10 and get 2, 4, 6, 6, 8, 9 you get a set of 2x6. The first number is the width which determines a number of things, and the second number is the height, which determines a few other things. Previous versions of ORE used height to determine hit location which made things awkward. ORE Noir does away with hit location, allowing you to affect any stats in the same manner and it becomes a tie breaker in contested actions. Since width determines effectiveness, as well as speed, and height determines quality, some people might prefer to map speed to height and leave everything about effectiveness on width. This would be more intuitive for me, and I don't think it would break the system. Greg Stolze has commented that ORE handles tinkering very well, and I agree. It's certainly a strength of the system and a testament to its brilliance.
If you're interested in more details about the ORE mechanics, you can download Nemesis for free. Despite the fact that I said it's a boring read, the majority of that has to do with abilities and skills which I just don't find interesting to read about anymore. What I will talk about is what is different about ORE Noir from previous versions. In ORE Noir there are no hit locations - combat isn't about physical damage. At least it's not anymore about physical damage than it is about emotional damage. I really like this aspect. One of my favourite games to play was Sweet Dreams which incorporated social combat in a similar fashion (although not with the same elegance as the ORE system), and this was one of the reasons I liked it so much. I really like that the system has mechanical support for talking down someone who's about to shoot you, and if you succeed you can limit their effectiveness in shooting at you.
ORE Noir uses a set of paired stats called Identities and Qualities. One pair for example is Courage and Wrath, if your Courage is a 5, the max your Wrath could be is a 2, and vice versa. This creates a very nice game balancing mechanic. Whenever you get good at doing one thing, you end up not so good at doing another thing. Your qualities can shift over the course of an encounter - character advancement happens all the time. One way they can change is during combat. Before a fight you compare all combat relevant Identities and Qualities and see whose is higher. The person who is higher uses Wrath and another relevant stat to fight. The lower person uses Courage and another relevant stat. This creates an interesting effect that some people are much better at beating up on people who are weaker than them, and might be completely incompetent at fighting someone stronger. Other people would be the opposite, they rise to the occasion when they have a tough fight but can't bring themselves to fight someone obviously weaker than them. Another interesting way this plays out is if you're getting beat up your Courage goes down and your Wrath goes up. If you're the weaker one to start off with, this is a bad thing, but if you switch from unarmed combat to having a weapon, or escalate to a better weapon, you're automatically considered to have the upper hand. Someone who perhaps wouldn't have been very good fighting someone they're better than, after being beaten up and driven to the edge could pull a gun and suddenly have a huge advantage mechanically (not to mention that the gun improves your width by 2, so it does much more damage). The dramatic potential of this mechanic is quite astounding (and it's not explicitly stated, it's a conclusion I drew from reading the system). Similarly, in a court case, you could have a similar effect with one lawyer being repeatedly battered and unable to do anything, and then coming back using a completely different tactic that's backed up with incredibly solid evidence. If you're losing at one thing, as long as it's not too bad, it's shifting your stats so you get good at another thing. It's a great integration of two versions of the death spiral. You get worse as you take damage (which can come in many forms) but you also get better (most of the time, really serious damage is just plain damage, there's no benefit to it).
This is just a tidbit of the system. There's a lot more to it, but these are some of the characteristics that really stood out to me as making it really fun and different. I'm not going to go into detail about every option it provides, as that would be roughly as long as the rulebook itself.
As far as the Noir genre itself, I don't have much interest in it. I still found it to be very useful. With a little tweaking I think I could fit it into the high school setting of Sweet Dreams, use it for sci-fi for a Star Trek game, and I honestly think it could work perfectly well for a fantasy game of Dragon slaying. Some people might prefer to use Reign for that, or an entirely different system, but the point is that A Dirty World isn't just for Noir. That just happens to be what it is packaged as.
Something I was disappointed to see missing was One Roll Character Generation - it was an awesome feature in Reign, and I missed it initially. However, I realised that with the system as is, it's not really necessary and probably also wouldn't work as well. What it has instead, which I'm quite happy with, is One Roll Adventure Generation. The results that come up are a bit slanted towards Noir, but with a bit of tweaking it could be used for sci-fi or fantasy adventure generation. With more than just a bit it could be refitted for creating entirely different kinds of adventures.
I really enjoy rules systems that give me inspiration to play certain types of games. Most of the time I'm just looking for a system that works well and doesn't break (and ORE did this in all its incarnations), but A Dirty World takes it to another level with making me really want to play it and being full of ideas. I'm actually excited about playing it, and fully expect a lot of fun to come out of it. It's also complete - there's no need for supplements. That's not to say that all the Reign supplements aren't great, but it's worth noting that A Dirty World stands on its own, and I don't see it really benefiting much from supplements. The substance rating of 5 doesn't really do it justice. I wish I could go back to a lot of my previous reviews and downgrade them to give the 5 rating here more significance.