Jeepers, fella’s! It’s the cops!

In last post, I suggested ways to deal with troublesome characters but only as a pure thought experiment.  In this post I want to give an example of how you could apply the thoughts in different settings.  So, in each of the next paragraphs, I am going to consider this situation:  A character murders a low-level street thug, who turns out to be a chosen of a local crime boss.  The simple assumptions that will hold in each setting are that the constabulary are generally a law-abiding bunch who do their job because the think it is important to have a just and lawful society.  The murder took place in a waterfront alley, in the dead of night.  It was quick so their was minimal sign of struggle. The thug was murdered because he caused the character to lose face with his companion, which is important to him.  The character is not a professional killer, but is knowledgeable on the ways of police practice.  The local crime boss has a few “Friends” with the constables, but cannot expect them to out-right break the law…but he has a few minions of whom that is their specialty.  He is not the Capo of the area, so he is restricted on the amount of mayhem he can raise without repercussions from both sides of the law. So, given these situations, which of course will usually take place completely off-screen, unless your players are the constables (which is a whole different article unless they carried out the murder and are trying to sabotage the investigation from the inside…) you can make a quick decision based on how you want to deal with the character….and then you can even explain what happened!

1st, we will look at a fantasy setting.  This is a typical mid-high fantasy setting, so magic is not uncommon.  The constables, with the exception of the King’s Sheriff and his hand-picked deputies are the city militia, who, for day-to-day patrolling, answer to the Sheriff before the commander of the watch.  Murders happen regularly in this small city, and the patrols do their best to set it to rights.  The law is handled first by the Sheriff, but allows appeals to the God of Justice, who does not always judge only on the crime at hand.  Anyone who appeals to the God, turns over their fate to the will of his priests with no recourse afterwards.  The first thing the patrols do, is question around and see if anyone noticed anything.  In the set up-the only thing noticeable was the loss of face, so except on an exceptional die roll they will not find anything.  The Crime boss however wants vengeance for his chosen son, so sets out all of his watchers and ruffians to dig up what they can.  Their tactics are a bit more direct, so they have a 50/50 chance of finding at least the defacing incident.  If they do that, then they have a good chance, say 3 in 4, of confronting the killer.  Where it goes from there is a role play (with a bit of roll-play) event.  Because of a “donation” to the sheriff, he send his deputies to the mages guild to request a magical investigation.  In some worlds, they might be able to call the spirit of the deceased and ask him about the last day of his life, but such necromancy is seriously frowned upon, so they have a mage perform some psychometry to see what they can find.  If the mage is successful, they may have a decent lead.  If he is not, or if he is but the magic didn’t let him find much (such as seeing through the victims eyes his last few moments so only gets a quick wire around his neck…maybe a ring or distinctive scar on a hand), they don’t have much.  If he is found by the sheriff and the “good” guys, he will face a sentencing by the sheriff and then the option of facing judgment by the priests of justice (who, of course have many ways of finding “the truth”).  So, the player may face the block, prison, or at least burning several favors.  If they are found by the crime boss…he will probably be ambushed and join his victim.  And If he survives, the boss may take it up with the capo of the area…

What about a futuristic setting?  Lets replace the waterfront with a spaceport on the fringes of the New Roman Solar Empire.  While science can replace magic as above, it seems unlikely that they would have the possibility of summoning the spirit of the deceased, so they need to rely on the purely physical.  Ever hear of Clarkes third law?  Using this , you can use the exact same logic as above.  However, the setting is sufficiently different as to need a different approach.  Law is dispensed from the representative of the local senator and his Praetura Sentries.  Assuming the victim was a citizen, then he will be given proper attention and the killer will be ruthlessly sought.  So, was the killing observed by a small patrolling Security Drone?  Maybe not, as this is an out-of-the-way planet, but it is near an imperial spaceport…so it was likely to be caught on a camera, or at least the confrontation between the victim an his killer.  What about a DNA trace tool?  Well, hopefully the killer disposed of the tool.  Oh, he did?  well, what DNA/Pheromone/epithelials were left on it?  He destroyed it entirely?  Good.  But, what about the crime boss.  He has access to drugs and brain scans, and is not above bringing anybody with a questionable past, who would be afraid to report to the Sentries, in to interrogate what happened.  If you, as a ref, want the killer to be found, you can.  There are lots of ways to get there…and don’t forget divine providence.  The Senate will likely rely on omens and divination as well.  Or, you can leave it to a dice roll and assign a chance of being found.  Once he is arrested, then he faces trial with all the evidence.  Then punishment.  Maybe, if the killer is a citizen as well, he is banished and all possession given to the victim’s family.  If he is not a citizen, then perhaps the local coliseum games have a new event to come!

The whole point is not to have to take a great deal of game time out to punish characters for breaking the local rules.  Just realize, that as ref, if you feel the need to remind players that they are  living in a society, their actions have consequences.  As you can see, you have reasonable tools to use with just a little thought.  And, the investigation can run and cause problems for the characters during their main adventure.  Or, it can be the adventure itself!  The worlds we create to play these games are not always the wild west solving every problem with a pistol.  Sometimes that is exactly what they are, but…it is not the only way to deal.  Either way, it is important that your players are aware of the social mores and restrictions that their characters would know, otherwise you may be meting out very arbitrary punishment!

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From the trenches

Where we look at Bottom up design

Bottom up design, as we have discussed before, is a method of world building, or adventure building that starts with local detail and adds details about the greater area as needed.  For an exaggerated example, I will design a starting adventure in the fictional New Roman Empire that I looked at in the last post.

We are going to create an adventure on the Gloriana,Centurion class frigate.  To start this method, we need an idea of how we want our story to go.  So, it will be a murder mystery, where one of the officers was killed while in transit stasis.  So, with just this, we need to create a rank structure, a deck plan, a crew compliment, and at least a general outline of the cohort aboard the Gloriana.  We will also need to detail the murder as to work out what clues will be available to the players.

We could have the characters woken while everyone else is in stasis, but assuming the killer altered whatever monitoring devices are available, that would make it difficult.  So, they will be woken, just before everyone else so they can be briefed about their duties.  There is a time limit imposed because they will need to solve it before they arrive, or face judgement for failing a mission…oh, that leaves us to design a legal system so we can work out the rewards or punishment.

We need to detail all of the major NPCs, we can broad stroke the bit players.  Assuming that we don’t need to modify or create any rules, then we have a complete adventure…oh…except we might need to work out a few planets to create the non-human slave races on the  ship.  Which will make us detail some of their culture.  But other than that…we have an adventure…

To turn this into a whole setting, which is our goal, we need to expand this.  But for right now…we are done.  One of the biggest benefits of the Bottom Up style is we have all the details we need for an adventure and anything that comes up, we can start hanging on all of those empty hooks outside of the ship…other planets, different slave races, the planet that is mentioned in rebellion…the Flagship…”Wow!  This sounds like the perfect system for making a setting, why fight with the Top Down when you can build it as you need it?”  well….let me ‘splain…

This system takes work, but not as much as Top Down initially.  You end up doing the work in the bits that you need them rather than in anticipation.  Again, you say, so what?  If I am only doing the work that I need to do, then I have not over taxed myself!  Granted this is really the way most TV shows and even movies are written; just creating the information needed for each episode or installment.  This is where the problem can come in.  In your first adventure, the murder mystery, you decide that people are routinely wakened during transit stasis to ensure they maintain muscle tone, and purge the body of toxic build-up.  But, in a later adventure over a year later, you have a key part of an adventure revolve around someone who has been in transit stasis for over 100 years…May not be too difficult to reconcile, but if you had top downed, those details would have already been created.  What about if you identify the planet of Ragu II as having been purged from above due to a rebellion and that the Raguans make terrible slaves…a year later, you remember the name Ragu II and decide to have a ship commanded by one of its residents.  But, even though you mentioned it in passing in response to a player question, the player made a note of it because it seemed vitally important.  Well, now you need to either explain your mistake, or correct it by saying they were from Macarone II not Ragu II (or some such!)

The biggest problem with bottom up comes from having to make disjointed pieces fit.  I’m sure you have seen a favorite TV show that violates its own canon once, and never addresses it, or they need to create a lame reason that this instant was different.

OK…that should define both of the broad styles of creation.  Next article will talk about other benefits and problems by comparing them, and talk about how you can get the best of both worlds with only a bit more work to start!

That’s the story…Take it or leave it…My trucker buddies…They believe it!