Archive for the ‘Probable Cause’ Category


[Probable Cause] Playtest ahoy

10 March, 2012

After a considerable re-write since the previous playtests, I’ve begun a new cycle of playtesting. Peter, Oliver and Asbjørn have all graciously agreed to play via Skype, and we had the setup session this week. The first session lays down the land regarding what kind of setting, crime and stuff the players are interested in. We quite quickly agreed on playing in Denmark today, and doing something “internal affairs” kind of crime.Smuggling and corruption were also mentioned. The setting is Falster, a big island not that far from Copenhagen but still very, very different. The area has ferry routes to Germany and Poland(?), and was also the location of one of the most famous Danish shipyards, now defunct for decades.

The players each chose a character pack to start building their player characters, and then it’s my turn as the chair to come up with a brief backstory to kick things off.


Human Nature: This is it

2 March, 2012

Probable Cause is playtest ripe, at least by me, since not all procedures have been written yet. The biggest hurdle so far has been Human Nature, which looks like this in the current draft.

Probable Cause: Good cop, bad cop

Human nature is a central ability in Probable Cause. It defines who your character is and where she is heading. Your player character is a police officer, but how does she go about doing her job? To what lengths does she go? Will she break the law to uphold the law? And how does she cope with the job?

If Human Nature falls to 0 means the character has reached the end of the line. Her interest and energy in protecting and serving is crumbling, and her energy to do so has gone, she is burnt out, done, finished. Read the rest of this entry ?


Burden and Hunch

7 February, 2012

The two other parts of the belief system in Probable Cause are Burden and Hunch.


Nick Nolte as the cop in 48 Hours.

Burden is something in your character’s life that is a burden or a stress factor, or even a personal goal. For extra tension, make up a Burden that’s perpendicular to the ongoing case. This could be a beginning separation with your spouse, who gets what and what about the kids etc. It could be a deep and overwhelming debt problem, a career thing, illness or dependency on drugs, or something form the character’s past coming back to haunt her. Playing towards your Burden earns you a Destiny point reward, and should your character reach a point where her Burden is “solved” it earns another Destiny point reward.
Burden should include a statement, an action and a target.

“I might be broke, but I’m not selling the house to get money for my alimony payments to my ex-wife. There’s gotta be another way.”
“I can’t go back home after what Mary did – I end up in bars every night and pick up women. Any woman will do, I just don’t want to see Mary again.”

Make it possible for you to show in play how your character is reacting to or trying to deal with her Burden – it earns Destiny points.

Also, make sure you choose a Burden you want to be challenged, because the GM will do that, all the time, during the game.
When a Burden has been overcome, take some time to stop and think. You can either retire the character from play and create a new one, or write up a new Burden. Your choice.


Hunch is your character’s habit or usual reaction. From The Wire, it’s Bunk’s pinstripe suit, his cigar or his chasing tail. Or McNulty’s quarter of Jamieson in his pocket. From The Killing, it’s Sarah Lund’s sweater, her sensing of a crime scene, or her inability to connect with other people. From Twin Peaks, it’s agent Cooper recording every detail of his working day for Diane, his obsession with coffee and doughnuts and pie. It’s Andy breaking into tears when he sees a dead body. All these small, quirky details about a character adds dept and hopefully interest. Feel free to come of with weird stuff you don’t even know the explanation to yet. Perhaps your character’s gun has a pink grip. Or she has a tattoo on her belly that says “HANK”. Or she always wears leather pants on Fridays. Or can never get the fax machine to send.

Playing out you character’s hunch earns you a point of destiny. You are even rewarded when you decide to go against your character’s hunch if it makes a situation more difficult. This way you can enable your character to be more efficient in the fiction, when you need it or think it’s dramatically appropriate, all depending on how you choose to play the character at any given moment.


Credo: To serve and protect

6 February, 2012

In Probable Cause, what I have called Credo, Burden and Hunch are in a way the engine room of a player character. This is where it all happens, and where actions on behalf of you character in the game interacts with the game system’s Destiny points. In short, as a player you will want to earn Destiny because Destiny gives you more impact on the game’s fiction, and that’s handy in dramatic or dangerous situations. You earn Destiny by acting on and playing to your character’s Credo, Burden or Hunch. You even earn Destiny when you play against your Burden or Hunch to make things even harden for your character. In game mechanic terms Destiny allows you to reroll dice, add dice to a roll or add your character’s Human Nature as extra dice to a roll.

Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle in the unmissable The French Connection.


Credo is what your character believes about law and order and justice, and is going to do about it. These are ethical, moral, ideological statements or stances, filters your character perceives the world through. The Credo should relate to the character’s job as a cop or to justice and law and order in general. It’s what the character believes is the point of being a cop or how justice should work. Describe your character’s Credo as a sentence as seen from the character’s own point of view. It is also a good idea to write a character’s belief based on what game setup you have agreed upon. If your game is going to be about corruption in the force or among politicians, write it into your Credo if you care about it. If it’s about slave trade or people trafficking, likewise. Do not think of a character’s Credo as something isolated, it’s a comment on what is going on in your game. And it can change depending on what’s going on in your game.

In the Wire, Omar only targets drug dealers, never civilians. That could be written into his Credo. A good Credo should make it possible for other participants to know when a character is following his Credo, or indeed not doing it. Credo should drive what the character wants to do in your game, it’s a statement of belief that guides your actions, as the dictionary says. Include a goal in your Credo if you like.

Examples: The law should be upheld without breaking it. The law is there to protect the criminal – better to get at him before the law does. You have the right to remain silent until I tell you to talk. You are guilty until proven innocent. Everyone is equal before the law and everyone deserves a fair process. I am the law.


Probable Cause: Destiny

5 February, 2012

Holy red herring, is it February already? Gaming has been slow for me since I finished my game Crossroads, intended for Fastaval over Easter. If you are going to Fastaval, please consider running or at least playing Crossroads, you won’t be disappointed. If you run the game at the convention, I’ll give you a copy as a thank you. Everyone else will have to buy one, but thankfully it’s very cheap.

Destiny: the little extra with the big punch

Similiarly, I haven’t been working much on my Probable Cause police game, besides watching a bunch of William Friedkin movies, but that’s given me some energy to pick it up again.

William Petersen as the cop in Friedkin's underrated 80s movie To Live and Die in L.A.

The inspiration for how the game works is still Mouse Guard RPG, but it’s becoming more and more its own entity. I have morphed Mouse Guard’s Fate and Persona into what I’m calling Destiny. Below I’m referring to “Credo, Hunch and Burden”, which I will explain more about in the next post. Basically they are my variations of Belief and Instinct.

Destiny points allow you to re-roll 6s as new dice and add any successes to the total. They can also be used to add a die to a roll per point spent. You can use Destiny to trigger Human Nature and add your Human Nature rank as dice to any roll except Circles or Resources, albeit risking Human Nature to be lowered momentarily.
You get Destiny points when playing your character’s Credo, Hunch and Burden. There are several ways to get these important rewards, which are all handed out after a completed game session of a GM’s and players’ turn.
Destiny point can be tracked by simply noting them down on the characters sheet, or you can use tokens like poker chips or similar. Stacking them in front of you gives the group a good view of who has many Destiny points to spend at any given moment.

Using Destiny after a die roll

Reroll any sixes from a roll by spending a point of Destiny, and add any extra successes to your roll.

Using Destiny before a die roll

Add +1D per spent Destiny point before a roll (up to +3D).
Add Human Nature rank as extra dice by spending a point of Destiny.

There are many different ways of earning Destiny points, and you can use as many as you like. Destiny points help make your player character extra special and with larger than life impact on the fiction, if necessary. Destiny Points are handed out after mutual agreement among the players at the end of a play session, after both the Chair’s and players’ turns.

Get Destiny points:

1. Act on your Credo
2. Play towards your Burden
3. Play your Hunch
4. Eradicate your Burden (create new one before next GM turn)
5. Play against your Hunch to make things difficult
6. Roleplay your character


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.