[Down in the Hole] Streets of London

edited November 2010 in Actual Play
I was finally able to playtest my Mouse Guard hack Down in the Hole, which is for police drama in the style of The Wire. We are playing via Skype, and the first session, character recruitment and delving into the first GM turn, went without technical trouble.

The players are Joe, John and Pete. Both John and Pete are old-hand Burning Wheel/Empires and Mouse Guard guys, Joe less so, although I once dragged him through Burning Empires planet and character creation. I've known and played with Joe for years, while I only know John and Pete from the BW forums.

Recruitment is a step by step process, and we went though it just like that after quickly deciding to set our game in London, present day, among the Metropolitan Police. It was suggested by Joe that we touched upon human trafficking in our game, and we also agreed that we would draw the line at children as victims.

Here come the three police officers:

Detective Sergeant Ravinder Kumar, played by Joe.
Kumar is 28 years old, London-born, and part of a huge family. His style is hip, sharp, urban.
CREDO: You just need to find their price.
INSTINCT: Family comes first. Well, ladies come first. Then family.
BURDEN: The job doesn't pay, not even after I got promoted. There's still bills to pay.
Traits: Well dressed, sense of duty, diplomatic.
Joe picked some interesting gear: Adidas, iPod, mobile, Zone 4 Tube Pass.

DS Douglas Harris, played by Pete.
Harris is 32, and from Canada. His style is flashy.
CREDO: I will be police chief, my family expects nothing less.
INSTINCT: Never delay while on a case, crack on and get things done.
BURDEN: Scientology is helping me deal with my post-traumatic stress.
Traits: Ambitious, impulsive.
Unarmed, only gear is his badge.

Tony Riley, played by John.
Riley is just about ready for his pension, 52 years old. His style is pricey 'cheap' suit.
CREDO: Criminals today just haven't got half the class as the lads from the old days.
INSTINCT: Always look the other way when a copper does something wrong.
BURDEN: I will protect my daughter Susan from the sorts of low-lifes that London has.
Traits: Thoughtful, Jaded, well dressed, methodical, ambitious.

Every player also names their character's mentor, friend and enemy, which will be the beginning of a relationship map. We got an MP, a Detective Superintendant, a family member, a lawyer, among others.

Under normal circumstances, the GM will take all this information and use it to prep the upcoming sessions, especially in terms of challenging the characters' Credos and Burdens and well as construction the beginning of a case that the group will have to work. In this case we decided to crack on and I had to come op with something on the fly. I had an idea that I was thinking about on the way home from work, so I just went with that and took it from there.

Our three officers were on night duty and got called to a shooting incident in Chelsea, where a fellow officer had been gravely wounded by gun shots. Kumar worked the scene, helped by Riley, who went round to nearby houses to find witnesses. I set an obstacle of 3 (in my rules, that's the basic number for case-related obstacles in this early phase of game), Joe failed his roll, but let him succeed with the condition angry.

Then Harris went to work on the shot officer's collegue, trying to pry out the shaken young man what had happened, since he had witnessed it all. Roll failed again, but I let it succeed and gave Harris the condition tired.

Before going back to the station, Riley wanted to get access to the CCTV camera footage from the local area, which he managed easily (obs 1 I decided), and the characters are just about to watch the footage on Harris's computer. We decided to break here.

Questions, feedback, comments?



  • edited November 2010
    This is a copy from my reply over at the BW forum.

    I really enjoyed the first/character generation session, but it wasn't without issue.

    I creating an old and jaded DC (Detective Constable) who joined the Met full of drive and ambition, but ended up being shunted from assignment to assignment in a career death-spiral after pissing off a soon-to-be superior. The only thing waiting for him was a too-soon retirement and an unhappy marriage and a daughter who'd gone off the rails (and dating one of the other PCs, which my character didn't know about). DC Evans' last assignment would be to a newly created special investigations unit within the Met that seemed devoid of drive or purpose. Fitting really.

    Character generation went relatively smoothly, although I think it would have benefitted from a more coherent process for creating the initial setting along with a brief idea of differing ranks across police services. The playtest document, as it stood, was heavily US-centred, and could have benefited from a more international flavour. There was also talk of differing eras in play, however this was largely left up to the players and GM to flesh out. Again, a more detailed and internationalised aspect to the process could have made this easier. I think this is something that will either come from individual playtest groups or through increased feedback such that the rules are changed to facilitate this if it is thought to be an issue in play. There also seemed issues with only having a group of detectives, as this largely homogenised the group stat-wise. The general perception (I think) seemed to be that we would be all detectives and I don't think we could quite see how a mixed group of characters could conceivably come together as a 'party'.

    The start of play was...rocky. To be fair to Per, we started play straight after character generation with only about 5 minutes of thought on his part as to how the game would start. I need to unpack this a bit I think. We created a special unit of detectives in London in the year 2010 without any clearly defined remit. I am the only Londoner, and thus we approached the game with a very vague and assumption-filled knowledge of the Met. From there we leapt straight into a phone call to one of the detectives from a rooky PC who'd been shot*. We headed to the crime scene and while Per's character comforted the poor young constable we canvassed the crime-scene, arranged to have CCTV footage seized and sent to our office and tried to learn what happened. It was soon determined that there was a drive-by shooting of two police officers where the rookie stayed in the car while his colleague was gunned down in front of him. Not nice. We finished as the CCTV was flashed to my computer screen and sets up next session for a reveal on the car/van/persons that were involved.

    I really think that real feedback on play will hit once we actually get to actual play, which will be monday evening. I do have to say that I've played online via iTT a couple of times, and skype once and that one time was during this game. It went incredibly smoothy, and I was very impressed with the techincal side of the evening. That's not to say I wasn't impressed with the hack Per has put together, but I feel there needs to be more hand-holding during setting and character creation, setting more than character. I am really looking forward to tomorrow night.


    *I work for London's emergency services and thought the start highly improbable. Police Constables do not generally telephone detectives after being shot. They have priority overide buttins on their radios that they would have used to call for priority assistance. A firearms incident then leads to a rendezvous point (RVP) being established, ambulances (LAS) and firearms teams (SO19) being requested and all sorts of shit hitting the fan. Once the firearms teams had secured the scene, ambulance and police would have entered the scene, removed the injured and the entire area shut down as a very high profile and high priority fcrime scene. Specialised police detectives would then ne allowed access to the scene. I didn't mention it at the time because, well, that would be anal. We were all trying to come to the game with the same assumtions I think, and it really was a game starter that sought to throw our BITs into conflict. Simply sending us to an already live crime scene could have arrived at the same point however. I am a knitpicker.
  • Absent an explicit Goal, Per, how do you think persona flow is gonna work in this hack?
  • Paul, I'm worried that might be a problem (can't back it up with AP just yet) - I have already been thinking, after re-reading MG, that Burden needs to be as concrete as MG's goal. Luke writes about Goals in the book that it should include a statement about your character, an action, and a target, and if possible a condition as well. It should also include "I will/will not" or "I must/must not". So right now I think Burden needs to be tightened up, yes.

    John, thanks for that feedback, it's very useful indeed. You touch upon quite a few things that I need to think about, especially in relation to setup, recruitment and setting, which I've already begun re-writing.

    Given your real-life knowledge of London's emergency service, I regret on one hand that we chose London 2010 as our setting. I have absolutely no wish for the game to be realistic - my interest lies in the characters and the drama that their choices (coming from the players of course) create. That's also my I suggested, half joking I guess, chosing a city that none of us had any detailed knowledge of, because that would free us up creatively, and not cause for example you to think that what happened in the fiction was improbable.

    On the other hand I'm glad we did chose London, because it made it very clear to me that I need to stress this point much more, and if any of you out there have any good ideas, I'm all ears.

    Am I putting my point across clearly here, if not please ask me for more... :)
  • So, I've been speculating, and re-reading the thread about actual knowledge ruining/poisoning games.

    What I was thinking is this: if your group is fortunate enough to have one or more of its participants as experts in areas that concerns your game/setting/setup/location, you should make use of it. Let them tell the rest of the group. (and if not, just make it up as you go)

    In our case: we've got an officer down, John, let us know how it works. I could totally work with that.

    Same could go for local area knowledge, technology, procedures etc.
  • edited November 2010
    Yeah, I would totally treat Burden as a (very focused) original BW Belief: Here's the thing that's burdening me, and here's what I'm gonna do to unburden myself of it, even if temporarily, this session.

    Alternatively....well here's an idea. What if you also had a Goal? Not a free-floating line item like in MG, but rather you choose Credo, Instinct or Burden to be the focus of this session's Goal. So you might have a structure like:

    CREDO: You just need to find their price.
    INSTINCT: Family comes first. Well, ladies come first. Then family.
    BURDEN: The job doesn't pay, not even after I got promoted. There's still bills to pay.

    And for this session, at the start of play, Kumar's player decides that his Credo will be the spotlight thing. He adds a this-session-only Goal:

    You just need to find their price. I'll go to (bad guy 2iC's) club and find out what he thinks (bad guy) is gonna need to stop dealing down on Pseudonym Street.

    or, if you're more forward thinking:

    You just need to find their price. Figure out if I can afford Lieutenant Soandso's price to let me into the evidence room for a few minutes. (Thinking next session, he'll hit his Burden with a Goal, something like, "I'll take my bonus pay out of that brick of hundreds sitting in the evidence room.")

    It might be too formalized or restrictive, I dunno. Doesn't feel that way in MG, having a single Goal you're chasing, since you have your Player's Turn in which to take the reins from the GM for a while.
  • edited December 2010
    Since there doesn't seem to be much interest here, apart from John, one the playtesters, and Paul, who are both already active on the Burning Wheel forums, the discussion continues there, where you are more than welcome to join in of course. Cherio!

    Playtest thread on the BW forums
  • I'm following along with interest, Per! Nothing much to add, though, until I've had a chance to play. :)
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