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Author Topic: Honor Among Thieves  (Read 3435 times)
mathey
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« on: November 22, 2010, 01:59:06 PM »

So, let's say Ten Thousand Bullets comes out some day, I buy it, and my group agrees to play it. Let us further suppose my group wants to try a game focused around a criminal gang rather than, say, vigilantes or police officials. While we could theoretically go the Ocean's Eleven or Sting route and make all of the PCs fairly non-violent, devious-but-moral characters, let us suppose they want to try something a bit harder edged and slightly nasty. They come up with a bunch of ruthless cutthroats and hooligans who are out to make it big in the City by cheating, robbing, and killing the opposition. They are also not above screwing each other to gain an edge, something that could result in betrayal, secrets, and even PC-on-PC murder.

How do I, as GM, run this so it lasts longer than a One Shot? Do I even try?

I've listened to a few Actual Play podcasts (mainly one-shots) featuring fairly amoral PCs doing terrible things to one another lately, and I'm curious to know what other prospective-10K players and GMs think about the subject. Is Teamwork paramount? Secondary? Should 10K PCs be half-decent human beings or can we dial it all the way down to Scumbag if we want to?
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Crafty_Alex
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« Reply #1 on: November 22, 2010, 02:28:14 PM »

My intent - and every game I've run of 10kB (and I have run it) across 3 systems - is that back-stabbery and scumbaggishness will be at most games' very core...even with cops (see The Shield). That said, generally - generally - there has been a tone of mutual cooperation suspended by a hair-thin line of trust. I've always made the PC's lives complicated, mainly through individual subplots that encourage the players to keep such things a secret, which lends tension and distrust to the table dynamic.

What we haven't run, however, is the Outright Traitor scenario (like a campaign in which one PC is an undercover cop, waiting to bust the other players) because such backstabbery is very much campaign- (or at least character-) ending.

Personally, I think the trick is to balance including characters who are bastards while not letting the game devolve into them being bastards to each other. It's the gamer version of Cackling Evil, right? The best bad guys don't twirl their moustaches and kill passing puppies and steal candy from babies (unless said babies happen to be worth lots of money, then they'll think about it) - the best baddies have some sympathetic or even twisted noble traits, so the audience can relate and appreciate them as more than a characture of The Bad Guy. Likewise, the trick to playing effective "bad" PCs is making sure it's not a constant game of Fuck Over Your Buddy at the table like you see in the worst Vampire games - rather, they need to think about their character in more complex terms, often vastly more complex than goodie-goodie types.
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« Reply #2 on: November 22, 2010, 04:20:53 PM »

Never been fond of the fuck your buddy scenario. However, I am excited for the Empire module that I heard was supposed to be in 10KB showing you how to create your own criminal organization from the ground up.
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« Reply #3 on: November 22, 2010, 04:40:46 PM »

I totally read the first sentence without "your" and was starting to object vehemently...(.......)

Butyeah, the Outright Traitor scenario sounds pretty cool, but no random backstabbery in my games, thanks...
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« Reply #4 on: November 22, 2010, 08:47:24 PM »

Butyeah, the Outright Traitor scenario sounds pretty cool, but no random backstabbery in my games, thanks...
I can work with backstabbery in one shots and convention games, but not around a regular table.
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« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2010, 08:55:04 PM »

Even when they're the noble heroes of the realm my group tries to stab each other in the back and keep secrets, and blackmail material.  So somehow, I think they'll take to 10k Bullets like fish to water.

That said - while sometimes they do hilariously execute one another [it happened surprisingly often in the Warhammer 40k game I ran], they often don't come to pc on pc blows, there's just a lot of "I'm on to you" type posturing.
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« Reply #6 on: November 22, 2010, 09:08:05 PM »

Unless I'm playing Paranoia, no thank you.
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« Reply #7 on: November 23, 2010, 03:44:36 PM »

I think in part it may be wise to try and use the invisible hand to help keep a balance of power between the pcs.
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« Reply #8 on: November 23, 2010, 04:08:40 PM »

To illustrate how important the conversations we have here are to the process, Alex and I had a two-hour conversation last night about the similarities and differences between Spycraft Third Edition and Ten Thousand Bullets, and how to illustrate them mechanically. I for one am wildly excited about what we've got cooking, which should showcase the versatility of the Mastercraft system and give you a kick-ass field of play for any modern game.

It's a couple days early but this community is one of the things Alex and I are most grateful for this holiday season. Smiley
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« Reply #9 on: November 23, 2010, 04:25:54 PM »

Grouphug!

I just hope that I'll be able to contribute in some meaningful way one day.  Smiley
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mathey
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« Reply #10 on: November 23, 2010, 05:13:03 PM »

Thanks for the responses!

Just to get a bit more specific, two of the sessions I listened to were using A Dirty World, an indie game centered around the film noir genre. Its fairly rules light but features an emphasis on contested checks between PCs as well as against NPCs. The idea is that you can affect the motives and resources of your  corrupt(ible) associates so as to gain influence over them. The fact that both sessions were One Shots (though they may have followed up on one of them) is important to note, as well.

Something else of import - there was a lot of scene switching, with the GM alternating between particular PCs or small clusters of PCs getting up to nefarious hijinks. While the other players were aware of what one particularly backstabbing and greedy S.O.B. PC was up to, they seemed to do a decent job of keeping that knowledge OOC and not dragging it into their interactions with the guy In Character. I think it may be a play style that some players would not appreciate ("Aren't we ever going to meet and do something TOGETHER?"), but it didn't seem to drag on too long in any given scene and people were at least amused by other players' antics even if their PCs weren't present to contribute.

I think there was maybe one actual attempt by a PC to get another one killed in the two sessions total, but there was still a lot of undermining and backstabbery in a less literal sense going on. In one of the two, a straight-laced sheriff PC was manipulated by an amoral criminal defense lawyer PC, an ex-con PC covered up some crimes he got into to conceal them from both the lawyer and the sheriff, and the sheriff and ex-con were both maneuvered into moving against the main "bad guy" NPC by the lawyer PC. The sheriff and ex-con got into a gunfight against the bad guys, and the sheriff was killed despite the ex-con's attempt to save him. The lawyer walked into a shotgun ambush set up by one of the innumerable people he screwed over during the adventure, which the provocateur player seemed to think was totally appropriate.

Now, obviously, Ten Thousand Bullets and Mastercraft aren't meant to do all the same things as A Dirty World or ORE. I LIKE the distinctions between them and would probably find different kinds of things to do with them if I tried to run both. However, I kinda think a gritty kind of tale of backstabbery and set-ups would not be far afield from 10K's wheelhouse.

To throw out an example from the crime story genre, how about Heat? If we take the tack that the heist crew are the PCs and the cops are NPCs (though the idea of an improbably crazy big game with PCs on both sides is kind of intriguing), then we see that these guys work well as a team - aside from the one serial killer guy, who we may assume is an NPC foisted upon them by a mischievous GM. They pull their jobs off with military precision and have disciplined themselves to be professionals in their field. They may even be kind of friends with one another, hanging out as they do with each other's families. They are, in other words, kind of like most traditional PC groups.

As the story progresses from that first armored car job, though, things start to fray at the seams. Contacts sell them out, the cops come down hard, and even one of the team's loyal members sells them out (Danny Trejo's character) after being tortured nearly to death. By the end, only Val Kilmer's character gets away, and even he has to deal with being wounded and abandoning his wife to police custody.

Assuming that this was a 10K campaign, would it be a success? If you were Danny Trejo, would you punch the GM in the face for killing your PC's wife in a Torture dramatic conflict? Would Bobby DeNiro be happy with how his last minute change of heart to avenge his friends got him killed by that Al Pacino cop NPC? 

Personally, I'd say that if the group knew going in that it could all Go Bad in a big way, they might feel satisfied. Maybe. It'd ease the pain a lot if it had been a One Shot, but maybe it had gone a few make-believe sessions before the finale. It is, after all, a crime story, and those tend to end poorly for the crooks. They even end bad sometimes for the cops. Consider L.A. Confidential, a movie with three very PC-like protagonists, only one of which walks away relatively unscathed. Er - spoilers, but if you haven't seen that movie by now, I can't help you. Wink
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Desertpuma
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« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2010, 10:34:19 AM »

I've been in a round robin style of play like this before with Ninjas & Superspies. It went well for the most part because we would RP 3 weekends a month and then do something unrelated to gaming.

I've also been in a game where a GM ran two different tables on alternating weeks (Weeks 1 and 3 vs Weeks 2 & 4). One was a team of criminals while the other were a team cops. It was going well for a few months until the flaw of the game system made it readily apparent that the end fight had none of the criminals survive and only 1 cops survive. The 2nd cop died in the OR and was promptly recycled. ... The name of the system was Cyberpunk.

I think the scenario will work better in 10KB than elsewhere!
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« Reply #12 on: November 26, 2010, 12:57:49 AM »

Of course it can go the other way, and badly.

I had a GM turn a player into a vampire, and not tell any one else in the group or even allow us sense motive checks.  His versions of vampires were 200xp worth of extras onto the PC, and completely changed their personality and motivations [which is why I'm sore about no sense motive / notice type stuff] and they had Shapeshifter 3.  The PCs entire mission was to kill us, and steal the macguffin that we spent half a dozen adventures chasing.  The whole thing was like being slapped in the face.
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Goodlun
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« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2010, 01:17:36 AM »

Lets stop and take a perspective from real life.  Plenty of these harden thugs are insanely loyal to their organizations.  Its like a criminal family.  Just because someone is evil doesn't mean they don't have loyalties or ties and doesn't mean they will back stab everyone.
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« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2010, 02:28:06 AM »

The organization, yes. Other people in it, not neccessarily. Especially if it gets you a promotion.
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We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming. - Werner von Braun
Right now you have no idea how lucky you are that I am not a sociopath. - A sign seen above my desk.
There's no upside in screwing with things you can't explain. - Captain Roy Montgomery
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