Saturday night I ran the 2nd play test game of for the Gritty Cop Show: The Role Playing Game (see the last post for the recap of the 1st one using my kids as the cops and the plot of Heat for more explanation). This game was with most of my regular Writer Nerd Game Night crew and just two of my kids (2.1 and 2.3).
This time I wanted to try a little more murder mystery/conspiracy style plot, so I borrowed the basic plot from the British cop drama, Paranoid on Netflix. So you might want to skip this post if you are planning on watching it, because I’ll be spoiling the heck out of it.
I had three extremely experienced gamers and two kids. They all liked the simple, drama based, rule set, with the escalating stress mechanic (that adds plot complications) and the Dramatic Blow Up systems, for when their cop has been PUSHED OVER THE EDGE!
I’ll be making some tweaks to the combat system before the next game. I’m trying to keep that really fast, simple, and story based, as opposed to crunchy/mathy. Plus our player who actually defuses bombs for a living came up with a couple of supplemental rules so we can try Gritty Cop Show: BOMB SQUAD.
Part of GCS is that the players partner up and get a partnership perk, and then they all together decide what kind of unit they are in, and that comes with a bonus/penalty, and determines the personality of their commanding officer. These guys picked Cruel and Unusual Punishment, which meant that their captain was a total douchebag who’d throw them under the bus in a heartbeat, but they got some individual perks to make up for it.
That meant whenever I was playing their boss, I got to be a loud, angry, yelling, jerk, who passed the buck, yet claimed all the glory. It was awesome.
We wound up with Detective Quinn, who was the by the book cop (2.1 playing her same character as last time) her new partner McRidge (2.3) who was a big dumb guy who just came over from SWAT, Jean LeDou a naturalized citizen from Quebec and former RCMP, “Tank” Middleton (think Andre Baumgartner’s character from Homicide), and Jimmy Moore, former US Marshall who is one bad day from turning into Michael Chiklis in the Shield.
In true Gritty Cop Show fashion, we opened with Sergeant Quinn coming back to duty at Major Crimes after being on mandatory leave because of the death of her partner at the hands of Val Kilmer (though she did gain some Street Cred points for taking down Robert DeNiro).
They caught a case, a random fatal stabbing in Central Park (oh yeah, we’re NYPD now, run with it), and since this was a mom/doctor/upstanding citizen just minding her own business pushing her kid on the swings, and it got caught on camera phones and had already been put on YouTube, it was going to be all over the news, so Captain Nails ordered his gang of scrubs to close it fast or the mayor would HAVE THEIR ASS!
We played from 6 PM to 1 AM, so I’m going to condense this down big time and just hit the high lights. What appeared to be a really straight forward random killing by a dude on a psychotic break, turned out to be a massive conspiracy.
The crew gathered evidence, talked to witnesses, notified the next of kin (seriously, it turns out my kids are incredibly ham fisted at that. It was actually painful to watch). Then a guy who lived six blocks away, who matched the description really well, with a history of mental problems and psychotic breaks, fell from his 10th floor balcony. It looked like a suicide. And when they searched his place, they found a knife set that matched the murder weapon perfectly.
Open and shut case. Captain Nails was actually happy for once. Briefly.
Only the crew discovered that the doctor’s office had been broken into. Then they discovered that her ex-boyfriend had apparently done a bunch of drugs and drank a bottle of tequila before going swimming and drowned in his own pool with no witnesses the night before. Plus to make it really suspicious, they get an anonymous tip telling them YOU GOT THE WRONG MAN. LOOK INTO HER PAST.
And then everything went sideways.
It turns out the stabbed doctor used to work in R&D for a multinational pharmaceutical company… And her drowned ex-boyfriend still worked there. The next thing our gritty cops know, they’re neck deep in a giant conspiracy.
As the night went on, they kept finding more clues, and shaking down more leads. It turns out there is an exceedingly skilled professional working against them, and he’s looking for some evidence that the doctor left behind (she typed it on an old typewriter because she was worried about her computer getting hacked). There are more break ins, and it became a race between the cops and the mystery man to find the missing pages.
Meanwhile the drug company has a Director of External Affairs, who is a basically a very highly paid, slick, corporate clean-up man, (former FBI agent) who is officially cooperative, but behind the scenes trying to derail the investigation.
One of the cool things about this system is that it isn’t like a regular RPG where you NEVER SPLIT THE PARTY. This, I have them on the clock, so the party splits constantly, and the partners go different ways to track down different leads and work different angles. We just switch back and forth between them, timed for the best dramatic reveals. It makes it fun to plan because you never know which bunch is going to tackle which lead and also some tense phone calls like HE’S WEST BOUND ON THE EXPRESS WAY! CUT HIM OFF!
One of my goals was to add a Stress Point mechanic to emulate how cop shows always start kind of calm, but then things get more and more tense, and there’s escalating screw ups and complications happening, until at the end it is all intense freak outs and dramatic blow ups.
That part worked perfect. And as the case gets more complicated, the cops are getting more and more stressed out, and more bad things start happening. Plus you can add stress on purpose to get bonus dice for important rolls (like gun fights!). But that also increases the chance of more screw ups.
Long story short, our cops figure out where the pages are (she mailed them to a PO Box she rented), but they get there right after the bad guy. So it turned into a big car chase (with him lighting the pages on fire and tossing them out the window along the way). But then they eventually catch this dude, who has a suppressed pistol, a pile of cash, and passports and credit cards under three names. So they’re dealing with a pro hitter. (finger prints come back he’s an Austrian who has been off the grid for years, named Helmut Bookwalter)
And Helmut ain’t talking… Until all the law abiding cops aren’t there, and Moore–who has a perk called Not Dirty But A Little Crooked (thank you Luther)–ends up SHOOTING the bad guy with his own suppressed gun WHILE HE IS IN CUSTODY. (needless to say, he quickly spilled everything he knew so Moore would call for medical help). Then Moore came up with a BS story about how the dangerous hit man jumped him, and they wrestled for the evidence gun and it “just went off”. (like really, way to go evidence tech, stick it in the baggie loaded why don’t’cha)
I then based the Internal Affairs detective who showed up on Steve, one of our regular players who couldn’t make it that night. Moore is boned… Except oddly enough the Austrian hit man corroborates Moore’s story… Because as a GM I really want this scary bastard to break out of prison next time we play and come back to revenge murder Moore.
Lots of crazy stuff happens after that.
While researching some of the names they found on the partially burned evidence, Tank rolled a Complication, which meant something dramatic had to screw him up… Well, one of the names on the partially charred page was from an old case where a bus driver seemed to just lose it for no reason, and drove his school bus full of kids off a bridge, but they found nothing suspicious about the guy, and his tox screen came back clean, so they decided there wasn’t anything suspicious and declared it an accident… But because of the complication, we decided that had been Tank’s case. HE was the detective who’d declared it just an accident. But now we’re involved in this conspiracy with international hitmen, and there’s this bus driver’s name again.
HE LOOKED THE PARENTS OF THOSE DEAD KIDS IN THE EYEs AND ASSURED THEM IT WAS AN ACCIDENT… Which means Tank screwed up before and now he has to live with that guilt.
That is so gritty cop show!
Another complication, this time for “Frenchy” LaDou. When they flubbed a surveillance roll against the pharma company exec, we decided the dramatic reason was because he got a call from his wife, asking why she just found a bag with $20,000 in cash inside their freezer beneath the fish sticks… And of course, a few minutes later IA turns up at LaDou’s house because they got an anonymous tip he’s on the take!
SET UP! We’ve got tropes for days!
Back to the wounded Austrian hitman, McRidge is guarding him at the hospital, when all of a sudden a car load of low rent scumbags roll up, because they’ve been paid to go inside and silence the witness. McRidge ends up in a gun fight, pops two of them with a Mossberg 500 (dramatic slow motion shotgun pump!) and saves the hitman (he gets dramatically grazed in the process). The other two bad guys get shot by the rest of the crew while they’re fleeing the scene.
When they question the surviving thug (also based on Steve, ironically enough), it turns out he got paid off by this scary South African guy who just arrived in town. With one pro hitter out of the way, the conspiracy brought in a replacement killer. He paid the thugs half up front, and they’ll get the other half when he sees on the news that the Austrian was killed at the hospital.
So Quinn lies to a reporter, so they run a report that the hitman got murdered, and then go stake out the spot where the new hitter is supposed to pay the thugs the rest of the money. Of course, I made that a night club. Because strobe lights and rave music.
And a complication (I love that rule) on an Under Cover roll at the club, Tank gets spotted, and the next thing he knows he’s got this scary African dude standing right behind him, polite as can be saying in his ear, “Cooperate or I will kill you. Tell your friends we are walking out of here nice and slow.” It was super tense.
“What is your name, officer?”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Tank. I am Jonathan. Do as I say and I will not sever your spinal cord.”
It was very a very Gritty Cop Show moment. With them all talking into the radio to poor Tank’s ear piece, doing a 3,2,1, count down to a distraction… So obviously that turned into a gun fight, then a foot chase through the alleys, and finally a fist fight (Moore got knifed, but he knocked the African out).
The cops end up cutting a deal with the replacement killer (Former police detective in Johannesburg, who became a “security consultant”, and he’s also into black magic and skinning people… seriously, I ended up loving this character and wanted him to get away so he could come back and cause trouble in the future). So he rats out some of his collaborators, and calls his employer to tell him that he’s been made and has to flee the country, but one of the collaborators is going to talk to the cops, so if you want to stay out of prison you’ll need to remedy that ASAP. (which didn’t give the big bad guy a chance to hire more pros to do it for him)
I didn’t even talk about the poor sucker they set up. He was the psychiatrist that helped the bad guys find a perfect patsy to toss off a balcony. Tank had a dramatic blow up interviewing him earlier, had threatened to beat the truth out of him, and was going to get sued by the shrink for harassment. So good thing he turned out to be guilty!
So the cops hid in the shrink’s house, waiting for the main bad guy to tie up his last loose end. A gun fight ensues. The clean-up man flees through back yards (but bad guys can burn stress for extra dice and roll complications too… and complication) so he ended up being attacked by someone’s dog. They bust the former FBI man with a labradoodle biting his ankle.
So by the end of the night (5 long days in game time) they’d exposed a four year old conspiracy to cover up an experimental drug trial that had gone horribly wrong (it was an anti-depressant. Side effects may include getting you to drive your school bus off a bridge, or setting fire to their houses while you are inside of it). We tallied up all their evidence points, and they had 9. So they had to roll at least a 3 on a D12 to convince the jury (I love that mechanic). They rolled a six. GUILTY! And in exchange for leniency on his sentence, the clean-up guy spilled the beans on everybody else on the board of directors who knew, and he’d even kept some of the discontinued experimental drug to use as leverage.
Sure… Everyone’s 401k took a hit, and like 5,000 people got laid off in the ensuing corporate melt down, but all those school bus kids finally got justice.
We did a ton more than what I wrote about. There were cover ups, chases, interrogations, fights between cops (I know you shot that hitman with his own gun, Moore! HE KILLED THREE PEOPLE IN MY CITY, LEDOU!). There was also awkward flirting with a judge (who we decided looked like Jeff Sessions) in order to get a warrant, a very stoned post office employee, and me doing a terrible accent as Paco the Sicarrio.
Of course at the end Captain Nails took all the credit, got an award for valor, and a promotion out of Major Crimes. We decided that he died later that year because his Russian mail order bride had been putting anti-freeze in his morning coffee for months.
I’m going to be tweaking a few of the rules based on this play test, and will probably be running this again next week.