Archive for the ‘Down in the Hole’ Category


Hacking Mouse Guard: the Nature thing

7 November, 2011

Mouse Guard is such a nicely structured game, and because it works so well it’s very tempting to hack it to your own needs. Which loads of people have done already, and indeed are doing. I’m one of them.

It’s not easy. While it may look like a game that’s simply “skinned” with brave mice in a middle-ages kind of setting, it’s really not. And in that respect it’s also not just Burning Wheel with mice. The funny thing is that you only discover that when you start fiddling with it. The key thing to understand is the ability Nature. Luke has written a very helpful post on the Burning Wheel forums. When you hack Mouse Guard you need to hack Nature, and get it right. And to get it right, you need to grasp what Nature is. Luke says:

“Nature is the soul of Mouse Guard. It quantifies and qualifies the character as a mouse—as an animal apart from all others in the setting. It does so by describing a series of mouselike behaviors for the character that are useful but generally counter to the entire purpose of the game. To wit: the goal of Mouse Guard is not to play a mouse. When you sit down to play, you are playing a hero.”

I have been battling with my police hack of Mouse Guard for some time now. I have been writing and thinking a lot about it lately and have started writing the third re-draft. As Luke also mentions, there’s an inherent tension built into Nature – in Mouse Guard it is between being a hero and a tiny mouse. In my police hack it must be between being a cop and a human being, right? At least, that’s what I thought at first. But it is the obvious re-skinning of Mouse Guard. Hero becomes cop and mouse becomes human, and voila!

You know your Nature hack is a bit weak when you try to come up with actions that define it. These actions should be about risking something, and in each you, as the player, has to make a decision. My initial suggestions were a bit weak. I mean, I liked them but they were not very transferable into risky and decisive actions.

Then Paul Beakley, who is very far with his excellent Sci-Fi hack of Mouse Guard, suggested that the tension in my Nature should be between being a good cop and a bad cop. Between clean and dirty. And the scale going from being burnt out and incapable of doing your job to absolutely corrupt. In other words completely flipping my original, boring idea on its head. And it works.


Nerdinburgh II

5 October, 2011

Nerdinburgh is the most private of conventions. To be able to attend you have to be invited. By me. The first time I organised it was a couple of years ago, in my house, and while it was totally awesome, the venue wasn’t ideal.

This is not Photoshopped. This is real!

Now, this time around we have gone all the way. And I do mean all the way. With the help of Joe and Debbie, we are collectively renting the Old Observatory House, on Calton Hill right in the centre of Edinburgh. The observatory, now long obsolete due to light pollution, is still there, right next to it. But be envious, be very envious. This is the awesomest of roleplaying locations you’ll ever see. The only bummer is the number of people it actually accommodates – sleeps 8, plays perhaps 16.

We have people travelling in from Sweden, China, and indeed Milton Keynes. You will cry yourself to sleep tonight just because you are not part of it, so apologies for that right away.

What’s happening at Nerdinburgh II? Well, for starters we have a Mechaton extravaganza on Sunday, and there have been announced Sorcerer games, Apocalypse World, actual copies of Matt Machell’s new game The Agency straight from the printer, playtests of Sunshine, Crossroads and Vincent Baker’s new game Murderous Ghosts. It’s crazy.

One of the playing rooms. Awesome doesn't even begin to describe it.

Nerdinburgh is also very special because the participants not only pay to attend, they prepare gourmet food to bring along. You think I’m kidding, probably, but no, it’s actually true. One participant wrote in an email yesterday: “I’m currently cooking some duck legs. If someone local could swing by a chinese supermarket and pick up a pack of frozen pancakes for duck, and some hoi sin sauce, that would be great. Cucumber and spring onions, too. Thank’ee kindly.”

If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.

Oh, we’ll be tweeting and podcasting from the event, hopefully. Stay tuned.


Thin Blue Line, 5

5 June, 2011

After a period of distractions, I’ve gone back to the Thin Blue Line draft. I’m currently half way through David Peace’s “1980”, the third book in his Red Riding quartet about the Yorkshire Ripper, and this is the kind of dark police drama I would play any day.

I’m nearly done with briefly describing all abilities and skills, which is kind of boring but necessary to explain to playtesters (and players) what kind of stuff they can be used for in play. As I mentioned earlier, I have included player character templates to kick things off faster when starting to play. I won’t bore you with skill descriptions here, but I can show you the templates I have in mind, which are called Character Packs. The draft includes 10 packs, but it’s very likely that more will emerge as time goes by.

Character Packs

Each Character Pack comes with a, hopefully inspirational, title and a pre-made set of abilities and skills. All that needs to be filled in by the player is close NPCs, Credo, Burden and Hunch, and sometimes a backstory question. Here’s a full example:

Ex Military

Born in your game’s city/setting. Been a police officer a couple of years. Working-class parents. Already famous/notorious in the police force (for what?).
Human Nature 6
Will 3
Health 5
Skills: Bureaucracy, Intimidation 3, Law, Firearms 3, Deception, Persuasion,  Report-writing 2, Tactics, Unarmed combat, Vehicles
Traits: Brave 2, Fearless, Sense of Duty, Skeptic
Wises: Surveillance-wise, Wiretap-wise
Resources 1
Circles: 4
Notes: Can’t take Cool Under Fire, Naive, Compassionate, Merciful, Diplomatic, Jaded, Uptight or Righteous traits.
First sergeant:  Mentor:  Good friend: Enemy:
Gear: Police badge and service firearm. Shotgun. Lockpick.
Destiny 2

Here are the rest of the Character Packs, short description only.

Born in another city. Middle-class parents, and a family with a long tradition in police forces. Once committed a crime (which?)

Action Man
Born in another country, but grew up here. Well off parents. Has been in the force 10+ years, now a Detective, and have powerful enemies.

Old Hand
Born and bred in this city, and an institution within the police force. Middle-class parents. Rank Lieutenant.

Born in another city. Parents filthy rich, expensive private education, top class degree, Masters, PhD, the lot. And then the police force? Wtf?

Mr Ambition
Born in this city. Went straight through the ranks and is now Captain. Middle-class parents.

Born in another city by working-class parents. Scholarship and now analyst with the police. Rank as police officer.

Born in this city by middle-class parents. Last generation in a long line of police officer. Detective.

Working for the Man
From another country, well-off parents. Police Officer.

Born in another country, working class family. Has been in the force for decades and ranks Detective. Bit of  loner.


Thin Blue Line update 3: shocking changes

21 February, 2011

I hope there are still people out there who like me are very excited about my Thin Blue Line game, formerly known as Down in the Hole. I can’t be the only one wanting a slow-mo police procedure focused game, but I want to play this very much. I also wish I could go back in time and use this system for our FBI campaign we ran more than 10 years ago, it would have made a great game even better. At that time we used a mix of fiat and hand-wavey freeform disguised within a modified Storyteller hack. That system – or: lack of explicit system – sucked ass big time. Thin Blue Line is my answer to that, Lars and 2x Thomas, if you are listening.

At the moment I’m slimming the already slim Mouse Guard system even more, hopefully without damaging the delicate system it is, and to make it possible that my friend Joe likes it and wants to play it. Joe is my target audience.

Here are the most shocking changes from Mouse Guard:

  • Persona and Fate points merge into Destiny points, and are not two different things anymore
  • Instinct is now called Hunch. It’s mostly colour, but can still earn Destiny points
  • No workhorse or MVP awards – these are gone, puff, vanished
  • You also earn “checks” for the players’ round when you fail a test (once per scene, not in conflicts)
  • Simplified advancement – not entirely sure how yet, but no more tracking passed and failed tests

    Thin Blue Line

    7 January, 2011

    The devil triumphs when good men do naught

    I’m through my New Year depression, and have begun re-writing my Mouse Guard Down in the Hole hack from the bottom up. The game will now morph into its own entity, complete with a new shiny title Thin Blue Line. Among some of the changes, informed by playtesting (thanks, guys!), are: character templates (“packs”) to enable quicker character generation, optional but recommended rotating GM (“Chair”), more streamlined reward cycle and missions structure, and shared game setup.

    These are excerpts from the new draft, with more to come. Read the rest of this entry ?


    Down in the Hole playtests

    27 November, 2010

    Man, it’s been a while. I’ve been working on and off on my Mouse Guard hack Down in the Hole, and it’s really coming into shape. I’ve felt for a while that I really needed to playtest it to get some informed ideas where I’m on the track and where I’m not. Pete from the Burning Wheel forums was the first to playtest, and he’s provided me with fantastic feedback already. I will post a link here when his comments become public.

    Then I finally got a chance to run Down in the Hole myself, with the aforementioned Pete, John from London and my old gamer friend Joe, now in Liverpool. We are through the first session, AP here.

    John Anderson created this wonderful form-fillable character sheet:
    DiTH character sheet Form Fillable