Gritty Cop Show Test Game Recap #1

As many of my regular readers know, I’m a gamer nerd. I really enjoy tabletop role playing games. As a writer I find that they help me recharge my creative batteries. And if you’ve got a good bunch of players, it’s kind of like improvisational collaborative novel writing on the fly.

I’ve got a good game group, they’re mostly a bunch of writers. (If you want to see some really good Legend of the Five Rings fan fiction while we were learning to be pro writers, type The Drowning Empire or The Burning Throne into the search engine here and get ready for a novel worth of reading). But my other game group consists of me and my kids. Who are actually really hard core RPGers, because I got them all started at a young age. Family tradition, News Years Eve I run a special one off game for the kids.

I’m also a sucker for crime dramas. Procedurals, murder mysteries, heists, serial killers, etc. That’s what I binge stream in the background while I paint. I don’t really watch sci-fi or fantasy because that’s too close to what I do all day, so my brain starts to edit it or critique the writing, and that’s no fun. Basically I watch a lot of cop shows.

So one day I got on a kick and decided to homebrew an RPG based entirely on gritty cop shows, and that name kind of stuck.

I made up some simple rules, where everything is based on the standard tropes of TV cop dramas. There’s Action Scenes and Investigation Scenes. It’s designed to be cheesy. It’s like Luther, Bosch, Longmire, Blue Bloods, or Justified had a baby with D&D. There’s no magic, but you can take skills like Cut The Red Wire or I’m Too Old For This Shit. And there aren’t any curses, but there are disadvantages like Punchable Face or Fists of Ham.

There is a chance for dramatic complications with every roll (and the players have to come up with what the screw up is). Of course, it wouldn’t be a gritty cop show if your character didn’t get increasingly stressed until he has a Dramatic Blow Up. (seriously, think of every cop show ever. This is mandatory!)

And the best part for the GM, plots are easy to make up. Take any cop show plot, and replace the movie cops with your players and turn them loose. Boom. Done.

On New Year’s I ran the first test game of Gritty Cop show. Because my kids had not seen the classic movie Heat, I used it. Only instead of Al Pacino, they were led by smooth talking Detective Quinn (played by Correia 2.1), crime scene expert Detective Bishop (played by 2.2), former undercover cop Smirnoff (played by 2.3 who insisted he use a Russian accent and wear a track suit), and SWAT officer Cole (played by 2.4, who is the youngest and didn’t really know what was going on, but he’d wander off until it was time to roll dice during the action scenes and that made him really happy).

Shockingly enough, even though they range in age from high school senior to kindergartner, my kids all made way better detectives than Al Pacino.

I explained to them the goal wasn’t to just pop the bad guys and loot their corpses for treasure (2.4 who usually plays an orc barbarian was very disappointed) but rather to gather evidence so they could put the bad guys away. The goal was to get 12 evidence points. Why 12? Because at the end, I would roll a D12 to represent the jury members. D12 plus however many evidence points you gathered, greater than 12, you convinced them all and got a conviction. Less than 12, someone has reasonable doubt, and the bad guy gets off.

So we opened with them reconstructing the tow truck ramming of the armored car. And since I know most my readers have good taste, and have thus memorized Heat, you know this is where Waingrow had to Get It On and started shooting guards. So my kids used their detective skills to recreate the crime scene, look for clues, and interview witnesses.

And strangely enough, they were shockingly thorough. I’ve attached the picture of some of the notes 2.2 took during this case. Nothing gets past that kid.

Heat Notes


They started following the leads. Where did they get the tow truck? Where did they get the explosives? Where is the get-away car? What did they take from the armored car? Where did they get an ambulance to block the road? “I want to check the tow truck for hair or DNA!” “I want to use my two points in Streetwise to interview the local hobos!” “There aren’t any hobos here.” “DAD THERE ARE ALWAYS HOBOS!”

So on and so forth. They were so thorough I had to start making up a bunch of crap. Thankfully the IMDB page for Heat has a very in depth synopsis.

Next thing I know, my kids are off shaking down their local CIs asking about armed robbery crews operating in town, and interviewing hookers. And this idea came from my kids, because they’d watched enough cop shows to know that you always interview the hookers!

They went and harassed William Fitchner demanding to know who would know about his bearer bonds. And yes, though he looks slimy in this photo, you just know he’s in on it, you can’t just violate his civil liberties by shaking down the victim of a robbery. WHATEVER CAPTAIN-DAD YOU DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! And I’m all like one more stunt like that and I’ll have your badge! So at this point this is really shaking out like an actual gritty cop show.

I had pictures of all the characters (thanks IMDB). Pretty soon they were getting descriptions of Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer. But the big break came when Benny the Snitch (here’s a picture of Henry Rollins. HE LOOKS SHIFTY DAD. Yeah, no kidding, let me play you some Black Flag) gave them some info on Waingrow.

Then there was the incident where Waingrow almost wound up in the trunk, and my kids were hot on the trail. Only unlike Pacino, there was nothing sentimental here. They were going to put these punks in jail OR IN THE GROUND.

It turned out the whole interview the hooker angle was smart, because if you remember the movie, Waingrow was a serial killer. So the hookers rat out Waingrow, and they go to pick him up at this sleazy hotel. They jump him, but it turns into a big fist fight and a chase. 2.1 and 2.3 basically get the crap beat out of them in the process, but they arrest their scumbag.

And then they grill him. I added Partnership Perks (it wouldn’t be a cop show without partnership perks) and 2.2 and 2.4 took Good Cop/Bad Cop. And since 2.4 is a 6 year old who usually plays an orc barbarian, this part was actually hilarious. Waingrow agreed to flip on his old crew (who wanted to cap him anyway) BUT he wanted immunity for killing the guard, and would plead down to manslaughter.  (2.2, pretty pretty princess cheerleader then surprises her father by taking this deal, and saying, don’t worry, a psycho like that won’t last long in prison once I spread the word he likes to hurt little kids… And I’m like, damn girl… You learn a lot about your kids by playing RPGs with them).

Waingrow knows where Cherito lives. (it made sense at the time). So my kids down Tom Sizemore and put a tail on him. (which ends badly when 2.2 ended up getting mistaken for a prowler by Tom Sizemore’s next door neighbor, who for whatever reason, turned out to be an obese lady named Brenda, who hit 2.2 with a beer bottle). Sizemore is in the wind!

But they still know this crew is up to something big.

Then, just like in the real movie, I deliver up the famous bank robbery scene with a conveniently timed phone call from Benny the Snitch as it is going down.

At this point, I put the super climatic bank robbery scene on in the background, with that really cool soundtrack (dun dun dun de de de dun dun dun) and DeNiro’s whole We Are Here For The Bank’s Money Not Your Money bit, and my kids are like HOLY CRAP WE HAVE BEEN PLAYING IN THAT MOVIE THAT HAS DAD’S FAVORITE GUNFIGHT (and they’ve all stopped to watch that gun fight with me several times over the years) GET TO THE BANK! and they bolted out of there like the cops did in the movie.

But then 2.2, with 2.4 in the passenger seat, flubbed her Driving skill roll and DRAMATIC COMPLICATION crashed her police car into a garbage truck on the way to the bank. So our best shooter is going to get to the bank one round late.

2.3 arrives first, and spots the getaway car (with Dennis Haysbert behind the wheel, who I describe as “picture a younger version of the All State Guy”). So being all stealthy and undercover, Smirnoff decides to walk past the car, and stick his knife into one of the tires. I say go for it. He rolls beautifully and I let him pull it off. The tire is leaking. Why not? The kid is thinking outside of the box.

2.1 rolls up, and since she put a couple of points in Command, she gets a bunch of uniform cops to arrive with her. They’re trying to play it cool, just like in the movie. They don’t want the bad guys to take hostages.

But then I stop the movie at the exact instant that Val Kilmer walks out, spots the cops, and opens fire. HA HA HA IT IS ON NOW!

And since this is Gritty Cop Show, I made the combat rules super brutal. In this game, bullets MESS YOU UP.

And Val Kilmer spotted poor Detective Smirnoff as he was walking past the getaway car. That track suit isn’t too low key here.

It’s on like Donkey Kong now!  (and there is no initiative order in Gritty Cop Show, everybody says what they intend to do, and then it all goes down at once. Then you sort out what happened based on the results and what makes for the most dramatic scene. Repeat until it’s over. Combat goes really fast that way)

2.3 gets hit by Val Kilmer, and dives for cover. 2.1 engages the perps and wings Val Kilmer. Tom Sizemore shoots at poor injured Smirnoff as well, as Robert DeNiro runs out of the bank.

Round Two! But then 2.2 rolls up in her damaged car and bails out with her MP5. (in real life her favorite gun is a CZ Evo, so I figured an MP5 was LAPD appropriate). She hits Dennis Haysbert in the face as he pulls away.

Unlike Pacino’s cops, my kids actually dropped a bunch of their points into Shooting. And 2.4, being our barbarian, well, we helped him out and put all his points into shooting, face punching, and general manliness. He’s basically Ultimate Action Guy. It’s like a cop played by 1980’s Arnold Schwarzenegger just wandered into our Michael Mann movie, flexed his massive biceps, and opened fire.

2.4 asked for a machinegun, so I gave him an M16 (old school A1 complete with carry handle, because this is a Michael Mann film, it demands gun accuracy), and he yells I SHOOT THE BAD GUYS! Which bad guys? ALL THE BAD GUYS! And then he rolls his fist full of dice, and it’s like a pile of sixes, so we decided that he hosed Dennis Haysbert and Tom Sizemore in the car. Windows shatter. Tom Sizemore opens the door and falls into the street, riddled with holes!  It’s like Saving Private Ryan all over again! (my kids stare at me blankly).

Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer make a run for it, but my kids aren’t having none of that! Val Kilmer catches a couple of rounds from the MP5, and then 2.4 wrecks his face. Sorry Ashley Judd, your husband ain’t pretty no more.

And then the whole final airport scene goes right out the window, because before Robert DeNiro can steal a car, 2.1 foot chases him down, and nails him with her pistol. (she even declared I MOZAMBIQUE HIS ASS!) Sixes.  DeNiro is down! DeNiro is down!

Action Scene over its time for everyone who got incapacitated to roll on the incapacitation table Which I made funny, with injuries ranging from Just a Boo Boo, to Walk it Off, to mandatory retirement (we got you this nice watch) all the way up to death. 2.3 got plugged with two rounds of .223 from Val Kilmer’s Colt Commando, but looking at the numbers, as long as he rolls anything other than a 20 on a D20, he’ll pull through. He rolls a 20.

So 2.2 has points in first aid. She valiantly tries to save Smirnoff. Of course, she rolls a 1. SMIRNOFF NO! And he dies in her arms. KILLED IN THE STREETZ.  (I started playing Taps. It was very tragic).

Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, and Dennis Haysbert were dead at the scene. (seriously, 2.4 did a mag dump on Sizemore, he would have needed to roll like a negative four on the table to no die). However, Robert DeNiro survived (we decided 2.1’s head shot hit him in the teeth).

So we totaled up all their evidence points. They had accumulated 9. And then the ghost of Smirnoff rolled like an 8 on behalf of the team. That puts it over 12. Guilty! Bang the gavel. Court dismissed. And Robert DeNiro, who said he’d never go back, gets life without parole. DON’T HAVE NOTHING YOU CAN’T WALK AWAY FROM IN LESS THAN THIRTY SECONDS WHEN YOU FEEL THE HEAT ON? I DON’T THINK SO. GO TO JAIL SCUMBAG!

That was our first test run of Gritty Cop Show.  I need to make a few rules tweaks, but it has got potential.

Tomorrow night (assuming we don’t have a blizzard) I’ll be doing another test run for my regular game night guys. Because they’ve watched more movies, I picked a lesser known British cop show to steal the plot from. Only I moved it to an American city, so our gritty detectives can actually carry guns.


Gritty Cop Show Test Game: Episode 2
Tom Stranger 2 COVER REVEAL - Releases 1/23/2018, narrated by Adam Baldwin

36 thoughts on “Gritty Cop Show Test Game Recap #1”

    1. I don’t know about that one. “I loot all the guns from the police station” is pretty much a classic gamer move in the first place.

  1. Holy Carp on a Stick that sounded awesome!

    Larry, I know how much you hate the “shut up and take my money!” meme, but honestly, if you flesh this game out and publish it, I will absolutely buy a copy of the rules. And I don’t even play RPGs! (yet, but I’d like to get into it)

  2. I really like the idea of a detective making a “hobo” roll to find unaccounted for witnesses by spotting someone pretending not to watch from that park bench over there.

  3. Sounds like a good framework to mash up different movies/shows/books/comics and see what happens.

    James Caan is busy stealing Chicago blind. (Thief) Unfortunately, it’s during a shakeout of the local OC scene, one side of which has a high-up source in the Justice Department. (Raw Deal) And Caan just witnessed one boss taking a personal part in whacking one of the other mob’s lieutenants, and was made by both said boss and the OC task force, and is now really really popular for different reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with his continued existence. (Rapid Fire)

    Imagine the cliffhanger fun as Caan is having a kung-fu battle with Al Leong as the local dirty cops are having it out with Feds sent in by said dirty Justice dude, Powers Boothe & Co. (our gritty PCs) caught in the middle and…

    “Welp, getting late, we’ll continue next week, aright?”

    (Gotta work in an appearance by aged yet still badass Mike Torello and the rest of the Major Crimes Unit, including special guest Frank Ballenger from M Squad.)

  4. Honestly, I would run that game all the time. I love quick and dirty RPG rules with fast play and maximum fun. Hell, you could play all year long with Michael Mann’s director’s list alone, and everyone knows how cop shows work, so the learning curve is dramatically reduced. I’m thinking the RPG book production may be another job for Alan Bahr.

  5. Please, for the love of all that is holy, put out a ruleset for this. I don’t care if it’s paid, I don’t care if it’s free, but I NEED this game in my life.

    1. Would you like a Cops: The variant of the storyteller system? ATM I am plagued by a vision of splats for Robert Peel’s flavor, Gendarmes, and pretty much every fictional and historical police culture.

  6. Handwriting is much better than mine.

    You’ve raised your kids well.

    Folks wanting rulesets: Take a look at Gumshoe, GURPS Action, and GURPS Tactical Shooting.

  7. So much EPIC WIN! I’m torn. I want more books to read. I now want the rule set for this game. And I want more write-ups of your kids gaming. This was so much fun to read.

  8. The soundtrack to Heat is my second favorite, after Krull. They are my go-to’s for DMing background music (D&D, usually) and for Writing Music. Last of the Mohicans (Another Michael Mann movie, and ‘effing awesome) is wonderful gaming music as well but it actually tends to be too well known (I find the popular soundtracks like Star Wars and Indy break the mood because people can identify it so readily).

    Heat is phenomenal movie with a kick@$$ soundtrack that has the benefit of being somewhat familiar but not obvious unless you are a Collector like myself.

  9. Action Scene and Investigation Scene are all well and good, but where’s Police Station Politics scene and Chekhov’s Gun-style Home Drama scenes?

    Or are you going to put those in the expansion books, “Chief, Whatchoo Tawkin’ ‘Bout ‘Thirty-Magazine-Clip’?” and “Baby, Just A Couple More Years And I Get My Pension”?

    1. I can imagine that one could lose observation & focus points because of Home Drama.

      Your teenage stepdaughter is going through a crisis because her father is a large type a-hole. Make an distraction roll…

  10. I added Partnership Perks (it wouldn’t be a cop show without partnership perks) and 2.2 and 2.4 took Good Cop/Bad Cop. And since 2.4 is a 6 year old who usually plays an orc barbarian, this part was actually hilarious.

    Since I guffawed just reading that, I’m guessing it was. 😀

  11. I love gaming with my kids. I did an anime adventure that came out … I’d say just like this. Everyone screaming and bad guys flattened and I was crying tears of happiness.

  12. Why 12? Because at the end, I would roll a D12 to represent the jury members. D12 plus however many evidence points you gathered, greater than 12, you convinced them all and got a conviction. Less than 12, someone has reasonable doubt, and the bad guy gets off.

    So is exactly a 12 a hung jury and a mistrial? Go for the sequel!

  13. This recap is made of love and awesomeness. The game itself sounds good, and Larry’s brood are excellent players who would really shake up my regular group.

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