Archive for the ‘Thin Blue Line’ 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.


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 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?


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, excerpt 2

    9 January, 2011

    Overview of how to play
    As a group you need to set aside a session to discuss your coming Thin Blue Line game. Make sure that everyone involved is heard and each adds bits to the whole.

    You are playing a group of policemen put together to try and crack a tough case – could be an old unresolved case, organised crime, drugs or whatever you and the group prefer. The first thing to decide is what kind of case it is, and where and when it is set. Read the rest of this entry ?


    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 ?