This Saturday we ran another play test of Gritty Cop Show, the role playing game.
If you want to see what Gritty Cop Show is, here is the recap of the first test game (where I stole the plot of Heat) : https://monsterhunternation.com/2018/01/19/gritty-cop-show-test-game-recap-1/
And the second (where I stole the plot of Paranoia) : https://monsterhunternation.com/2018/01/22/gritty-cop-show-test-game-episode-2/
We made a few rules tweaks after those last two to improve and streamline the system a bit more. It has been several months since the last test games, but that’s what happens when you’re a busy writing books, one of your regular players gets deployed, and another ends up working every weekend.
So I invited over the regulars and then a couple of neighbors (one of whom used to play a lot of D&D, and the other who’d never played an RPG before), and this time I stole the plot of L.A. Confidential. Only since I wanted to test out character growth, we moved it to 2018 New York.
If you read episode #2, you’ll remember that Detective Jimmy Moore shot a professional hit man while he was in custody. IA couldn’t prove it, but when we pick up with this session, Moore has been demoted and been “riding the boat” (yes, I love the Wire). Detective Tank Middleton is still at Major Crimes. Since Detective Quinn and McRidge couldn’t make this session, we decided that Quinn had gotten promoted, and McRidge had quit the force, bought their local cop bar (now renamed Ox Knuckles’) and married the super hot waitress (I rolled a 10 on a d10!).
Major Crimes was joined by two new detectives. Vimes (a practical law and order guy who came over from SWAT, his advantages were Ice Water Veins and Arson, Murder, & Jay Walking. But his disadvantage was Got A Feeling That I Can’t Let Go. and Detective Stiles,who’d spent the last couple years under cover with the Irish mob, who had Brute Squad, Fast Talker, and the disadvantage Flinch.
Since there are partnership advantages, Tank and Moore are Good Cop/Bad Cop while Vimes and Stiles have Cowboy Cops. Because it ain’t a gritty cop show unless you’ve got your cool partnership dynamic.
And yes, I’ve got four pages of advantages and disadvantages based on every cop show trope I could think of. My favorites are Doughnut Run, Fists of Ham, and Good is Not Nice. Each one has a mechanical bonus, and is also kind of a guide for the player how they should play their character.
I didn’t tell the guys what plot I’d stolen this time (I figured everybody has seen LA Confidential, and if you haven’t, you should, fantastic movie) but I kept all the NPC names the same. Only there was no Exley, Vincennes, or White because the PCs replaced them. Plus, since these are different characters entirely, I just skipped all the early scenes set up, and we opened up with the shotgun massacre at the Nite Owl Café.
2:00 AM Major Crimes gets a call. Six people have been shotgunned in the bathroom of the NIte Owl Café. Tank, Stiles, and Vimes arrive to find a mess. One of the victims is identified as Dick Stensland, former detective, forcibly retired for beating a suspect on Christmas and getting caught on video. And to bring Moore back in from his exile to the harbor, Stensland used to be Moore’s partner.
Remember, Major Crimes has a new Captain now because the old one got murdered by his Russian mail order bride. In this game the PCs pick what kind of unit they are in, so this time instead of Shit Detail they are a Black Sheep Squad, so their new Captain only cares about results, not reputation. So the new Captain thinks there is no way Moore actually shot an Austrian hit man inside the station, and he knows one of the vics, so should be useful, and brings him back.
The PCs start investigating, and immediately the new guys flub some rolls and add some stress. (remember, in this game there is an escalating stress mechanic that leads to complications and eventually a Dramatic Blow Up). Once you’ve got some stress points, you start having the potential for dramatic screw ups. And when you roll a dramatic screw up, it’s on the players to decide what happens to them.
Some good forensics rolls and they start to piece together what happened. It was obvious Susan Leffarts (who looks a lot like Scarlett Johansson) was eating with Stensland. (there were two female vics, but one was the waitress, and there was lipstick on the glass across the table from where they found Stensland’s blood, and it matches Susan’s)
Vimes and Stiles head out to Long Island to the address on Susan’s ID. One thing about using existing cop show plots, the GM needs to be ready to roll with it whenever the PCs do stuff out of order. So as they are talking to Susan’s befuddled old mom, there is the scene where they smell something rotten and see she’s got a towel stuck against the bottom of the door. So Stiles ends up in the crawl space under the house where he finds the rotten corpse of Buzz Meeks, another former NYPD detective.
So the plot is now out of order, but that’s fine. The PCs just know there is a conspiracy a bit earlier is all.
At the same time (in Gritty Cop Show you totally split the party) the other two are going through Stensland’s stuff (he drives a really nice car for an ex-cop who didn’t even make his pension), and they find some mysterious business cards that Tank recognizes (steetwise) as coming from a high end prostitution ring.
The next morning at the briefing, Deputy Chief Dudley Smith (I described James Cromwell, but left off the accent and didn’t call anybody Boyo to keep them from realizing what movie this was yet) passed on the tip about the three men in the red Mercury (changed to crappy ’97 Sable).
A bunch of research and streetwise rolls (shaking down chop shops and drug dealers) led our PCs to three bad dudes who matched that description. (I skipped the kidnapped girl bit and escape from the station bits because of time) and they arrive at the home of Sugar Collins, to find two detectives from Robbery Homicide, Brunig and Carlilse at the Mercury. Brunig swears that they saw these three sawed off shotguns on the back seat, but Vimes is really suspicious that they just planted them because what kinds of idiots would leave three murder weapons in plain view. (congrats, you are more observant than Guy Pearce).
But Carlilse lies convincingly and says that the guns were actually hidden on the floor boards, and they just moved them to the seat so they’d have probable cause, now you want to let these scumbags get away or not?
Vimes is ticked, but the three bad guys are upstairs, so the PCs, along with Carlisle and Brunig, swoop in. Of course, a running gunfight ensues. Moore gets grazed in the arm and shot in the vest (dramatically) but the three dudes get shot. Stiles tackles a 4th crack head who just happened to be there (Stiles has Flinch, so sucks with guns). Of the three suspects, only one survives (eBay Fontaine, because I had to come up with street names on the spot for the other two dudes).
Moore is going to the hospital anyway, and since he and Tank have Good Cop/Bad Cop, and Tank stuck most of his points into interrogation they ride in the ambulance with eBay. They grill him, but its pretty clear he’s a total scumbag criminal guilty of pretty much everything, but he doesn’t know a thing about the Nite Owl.
Meanwhile, Vimes and Stiles question the crack head (I was basically playing Tyrone Biggums, itching and all) who can alibi Sugar. (honest your honor, I couldn’t didn’t commit those murders because I was busy selling crack). So it’s a crappy alibi, but it’s an alibi.
But at the hospital, while Moore is getting stitched up, Deputy Chief Smith shows up with a pile of reporters to talk about the heroism of his officers for catching these killers so fast. Moore is back In Major Crimes, hailed as a hero, and everybody is calling him Shotgun Jimmy. (which I think is when this particular player realized what movie this was).
But the PCs know something is up. This smells like a frame job. They confide in their new captain (and since they took Black Sheep, he’s got their backs) so they keep investigating, but they are supposed to keep it on the down low.
The next day there’s a great scene between Moore and the IA detective who hates his guts and got him put on the boat, where he finds out how dirty Stensland and Meeks were. (this was when I got to sneak in Russell Crowe’s awesome line about a Big Rat in the basement). Of course, the IA still thinks Moore is dirty and wants to ruin him, because Gritty Cop Show reasons.
This is getting long, so I’d better condense. I introduced Sid Hudgens (I can’t do a very good Danny DeVito) who now runs a gossip blog called The Husher. More investigation leads the PCs to Lynn Bracken (and when I describe her as young Kim Bassinger, then they all knew which movie this was). But when they stick Lynn into protective custody, this goes back to the Deputy Chief, and the next thing they know they’re getting yelled at by the DA. Stress is building. More and more complications are occurring.
Then Moore and Tank go out to Martha’s Vineyard to interview playboy Pierce Pratchett, who employed Stensland and Meeks as “drivers”. When he offers a thinly concealed bribe (he’ll give them $20k to moonlight as “security” at one of his “parties”) Moore flubs a roll, has one too many stress points DRAMATIC BLOW UP and breaks the millionaire’s nose. They get tossed out by security.
Meanwhile, Vimes and Stiles get the black mail photos of the DA from Danny DeVito, and go to confront the DA. They were smooth fast talkers, and didn’t even need to drown him in the toilet or dangle him from a window. He spills the beans on Dudley Smith.
(and because nobody ever went alone to talk to Smith, nobody got the Rolo Tomasi treatment)
When Vimes and Stiles realize just how high this goes, and that they put their one witness in protective custody (which is under Dudley Smith’s command, and he knows where every safe house is, and who is in it) they rush to where Lynn is being guarded by Nobs.
Oh yeah… Officer Nobs. Okay, so one of the things I wanted to test this game was random extra cop character generation. It’s designed so that you can create an extra NPC cop helper, fully statted out, in like 30 seconds (the system works fantastic). So the rookie cop who found the bodies at the Nite Owl had been assigned as Major Crimes gopher/helper. And he was the one guarding Lynn Bracken at the safe house.
Vimes and Stiles get there. Nobs and Kim Bassinger are missing. The lock has been picked. The (hidden) security cameras were all disabled. They got Nobs! The bastards! They call Tank, who has just gotten back into the city.
With a witness and the rookie kidnapped, Moore and Tank decide to directly confront the two detectives who planted the shotguns (oh yeah, those matched the hulls at the scene). Of course, this doesn’t go as planned.
So when they see Carlisle and Brunig in an alley, Carlisle immediately shoves down Tank all like “how dare you accuse me of being dirty!”. Moore sucker punches Carlisle. Who takes it, spits out a blob of blood, takes his coat and tie off, and hands his gun to his partner while telling Tank, “If either of us cheats, feel free to shoot us” See, these guys ain’t run of the mill mooks, I statted them all the way up with as many points as our PCs. Alley fight!
Moore and Carlisle proceed to have a dramatic fist fight, which ends badly when our PC tries to smash the bad cop’s head into the car door, and instead ends of getting bounced across the hood. However, during this, Tank accuses Carlisle of kidnapping Nobs, and Carlilse is shocked. It’s one thing to frame scumbags who really need to get put in the ground anyway, but he obviously doesn’t know anything about kidnapping cops.
So a few hours later, instead of dispatch sending the heroes to the Victory Motel, it’s Carlisle giving them a tip. One thing about GMing is that when your PCs derail your plot, just roll with it. This guy is dirty, but he likes Nobs, and wasn’t down with that.
They can’t tell anybody, because it’ll just get back to Dudley Smith. So they gun up, armor up, and drive to New Jersey so we can have a big ass gun fight at the abandoned Victory Motel.
This happened in two waves. First was them trying to sneak in to rescue Kim Bassinger and Nobs, only most of these guys aren’t sneaky, so it turned into a big ass gun fight. Lots of drama happened. Stiles (who can’t shoot for crap) gets pinned down behind a car that’s getting riddled with bullets. Moore boots the door and spends two rounds shotgunning a bad guy in the vest. Tank dramatically saves his partner’s life by shooting a guy who came up behind him. And Vimes actually put a bunch of points in shooting, and asked for an AR-10. So he was pretty much just popping heads like grapes. (I made guns super lethal in this).
The hostages are saved. Tank takes Kim and Nobs out the back.
Only that’s when two more SUVs with lights and sirens come flying in. When Vimes looks at them through his scope, they aren’t from Jersey. They’re from the NYPD, which is a bad sign since they are dealing with an army of crooked cops.
Moore goes out to meet them. (a variation of the badge scene from the end of the movie, very fitting). Only one SUV stops, and the other sweeps around the back toward where Tank is trying to get away. There’s a tense confrontation, but then the bad guy (Brunig) does a count down for Moore to turn over Kim Bassinger or else, only when he gets to one, Vimes (who is hiding in the trees) blows his head off.
(in the words of William Defoe) AND THERE WAS A GUN FIGHT! Stiles gets shot again, and has a complication with his shotgun (kicks himself in the face with it, we decided it is a PGO). Moore ends up having a close contact hand to hand/John Wick moment with the driver of the SUV, and it ends up driving violently into the side of the hotel.
And in the back of the hotel, the other SUV opens fire on Tank. He takes one in the vest and goes down. But then Tank asks me if he can see the gas tank from there. I say yeah, but being a pedantic gun nut automatically say gas tanks don’t blow up when you shoot them in real life. But Tanks says this ain’t real life, this is GRITTY COP SHOW! Excellent point Rule of Cool always wins.
So Tanks rolls great, and Suburban goes up in a huge fireball. The bad guys even stumbled away, on fire, waving their arms, stunt man style.
Only Tank rolled a complication (and to illustrate how dramatic complications work) as Tank stands up, and Kim Bassinger runs to hold him, one of the on fire bad guys is still alive (play Karl music from Die Hard here! DUN DUNDUNDUN DUN DU!) and Tank sees him just as the bad guy is about to blow him away (and this is when I step in) BUT Rookie Officer Nobs suddenly fires a gun he picked up, and shoots the bad guy right between the eyes, saving Tank from certain doom!
Because Gritty Cop Show!
In the aftermath, now the PCs had to add up all the evidence they’d collected during the session, and I assigned points. Remember, the goal in GCS is to get as many evidence points as you can, and then roll a D12 and add them to it. You need to get at least a 12 total (representing the jury), or Dudley Smith, the DA, and Pierce Pratchett will walk. They got a whopping 10 evidence points, and luckily managed not to roll a 1! Boom. Convicted. Case closed.
And I almost forgot, one of my favorite dramatic complications during this session? As they were driving back from Martha’s Vineyard, there was a call over the radio, the deadly hit man, Helmut Bookwalter, has escaped from prison! (he killed a guard with his TEETH). BOLO. Extremely armed and dangerous. Do not engage, hide and call SWAT. Better yet, call the National Guard.
Remember, Moore shot this psychopath in the stomach. He’s a bad dude. And when I say bad dude, I made up advantages and disadvantages for creating nemesis level bad guys, and his are called Plot Armor and Killing Machine. 😀 And the funny thing is, he never even showed up in the session. Just the threat of him being out there was enough to change the dynamic. I love dramatic complications. This is what happens when you watch a thousand hours of cop shows.
So that was our third test game of Gritty Cop show. The tweaks we made to the wound/health system worked good, but since none of our guys got incapacitated this time, I only had to test it on bad guys. Also the random NPC generator works great. It’s literally a few dice rolls, and they’ve got skills and a basic personality.