Thin Blue Line, update 4

13 March, 2011

A further excerpt from the draft game text.

The setup session

OK, so you’ve gathered a handful of friends, three to four is recommended, and somehow convinced them to play a game of Thin Blue Line. It is a great advantage if everyone has read the game text. If that’s not the case, it’s up to those who have to guide the group through the process. Personally I think it’s a reasonable request for everyone involved to have read the game and made their mind up that they are going to trust the rules and also are willing to contribute to the game.

The setup session is part of play, and it’s an important part. This is where you as a group begin to collaborate, create and share the fiction in your game. This is also where you establish the buy-in from everyone, which is essential for the game to be enjoyable.

What type of crime

Let everyone around the table state what kind of crime they are interested in for the game, and why, if they know. Perhaps you have read a great novel or played a game or listened to some music that inspired you. Perhaps there’s a story in the news or in the past you would like to examine.

Agree on something than everyone finds interesting, and leave aside anything that one or more players don’t like.
It’s fine to discuss here were the group should draw the line in relation to what’s happening in the game. What about rape? Male rape? Children? Is some of this OK if you do it “off screen” in the game for example, or is it entirely no-no? Make sure that any concerns players may have are discussed out in the open. Don’t spend hours on this, but it’s important everyone is on board.

When and where

Agree on a location for your game. It could be a specific city (Baltimore), a made-up city (Big City), a country or area. Sometimes it’s great to set your game in a city well known to the players, such as your home city or town, but it also works with a location that none of the players are familiar with. Then pick a year or decade you want you game to take place in, from today and all the way back to the late 19th century.

What your special task force is

Come up with a reason why you police task force was created. Has it been put together especially for this case, or is it a long-running task force? Is the real reason behind the force to make some chief or politician look good? Is it in fact a disguised internal affairs unit looking at police corruption? Is it the new mayor’s vehicle to launch his crime policies?


  1. I’ve been thinking a lot obout police procedural games recently.

    In particular, I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible to create a procedural game that doesn’t dehumanise the perpetrators of crimes in the way that many procedurals do, and the way that The Wire (clearly an influence for you here) doesn’t.

    The Wire works because it shows you the commonalities and differences between the Police and the community they are ostensibly serving. It humanises the drug dealers and other poor residents of Baltimore, as well as humanising the Police.

    I don’t know if it’s possible to do the same thing in a roleplaying game (like, I literally do not know). It seems like it would be difficult to have players portray both the Police and the people they’re trying to catch.

    This is the central problem that’s stopped me from making an investigative game, despite being a (conflicted) fan of the genre.

    What’s your take on this?

  2. I do think you can “have players portray both the Police and the people they’re trying to catch”, but with this hack I chose from the outset not to. I have in my notebook an idea for an add-on where you play criminals instead of police.

    The Wire is not really about crime – it’s about people and how they are affected by a society in which crime is an integral part, from petty theft to drug dealing, murder and corruption. Absolutely nothing is solved by finding the guilty criminal, crime continues after a re-shuffle of persons.

  3. I’m right with you on your interpretation of The Wire.

    What I don’t see is how to turn this into a satisfying roleplaying game, at least using existing RPG technology. The “solve problems, level up, solve bigger problems” model is a good one, but I think maybe it works at odds with the idea that “Absolutely nothing is solved by finding the guilty criminal, crime continues after a re-shuffle of persons.”

    Do you see that as a problem? How does your game solve this?

  4. The easy answer is: it doesn’t, and that was a deliberate choice not to try. I’m riffing off The Wire, but not trying to recreate its mindboggling complexity. I’m starting with the police side of things.

    Is it a problem? – I’m not entirely sure. In my game the shared fiction will shape the characters, and the players will have to address this via new fictional events, there’s no “empty” levelling up (as indeed there’s isn’t in the Burning * games). That’s my method of having crime affect the player characters, which I hope makes sense?

  5. Fair enough!

    It’s a challenging situation, and I certainly don’t have a better answer.

    Good luck!

  6. Ha! Thanks, Simon, are you interested in playtesting at some time by any chance?

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