Showing posts with label Gumshoe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gumshoe. Show all posts

Sunday, December 14, 2014

B.A.T. Undercover -- A Gumshoe Setting

B.A.T. Undercover -- Gotham's Secret Weapon

Imagine if you will a world where a young Bruce Wayne, after seeing his parents murdered by a low level mob enforcer is saved from a similar fate by the Green Lantern (aka Alan Scott). The sympathetic Scott, and his friend Ted Grant, help Bruce to overcome his grief. While under the mentorship of Ted Grant, Bruce remembers a small detail that he shares with a sympathetic Detective James Gordon. Due to advancements in forensic investigative techniques, this clue allows Gotham P.D. to catch the man who murdered the Waynes. Young Bruce gets a glimpse of how effective police work can save his city and he embarks on a new career, but he also learns how even those with great power - like Green Lantern - cannot be everywhere at once. Superheroes need the aid of everyday citizens, like Ted Grant and James Gordon, who are willing to stand against injustice. 

Bruce Wayne uses his vast fortune to support anti-corruption political candidates (with a keen eye for discerning the deceptive), set up homeless shelters, supports education in hard hit communities, and scholarships for highly skilled people to enter law enforcement.

Early attempts to assassinate Young Bruce are thwarted by his Butler Alfred, a man of a particular set of skills, who trains the young man in Tradecraft. Bruce is trained in several martial arts by Ted Grant. As a teenager, Bruce uses his skills to aid police in investigations and to help Gordon root out corrupt police. By the time Bruce Wayne graduates from Gotham State University with several Masters degrees in Criminology, Chemistry, and Forensics, the Gotham PD is largely a clean law enforcement agency. There are still corrupt cops, politicians, and businessmen operating in the shadows, but many of the foes an older Bruce Wayne would battle against are his allies in this world. He'll need these allies because threats like the organized crime, Solomon Grundy, Killer Croc, the KGBeast, the Brotherhood of Evil, and the vampire lord Ra's Al Ghul's League of Assassins threaten Gotham and the world. It is in this setting that the Bureau of Advanced Tactics (B.A.T) fights the enemies of mankind.   

This setting is perfect for the GUMSHOE game system designed by Robin D Laws and expanded upon by Kenneth Hite and others. In addition to the OGL documents, a pile of DC Comics, and a stack of Man from U.N.C.L.E./NCIS/24 dvds, it is recommended that you purchase the Night's Black Agents and Mutant City Blues role playing games.

Key GUMSHOE rules for use in B.A.T. Undercover:

The MOS rule from Night's Black Agents. This rule is similar to the Area of Knowledge rule in the classic James Bond 007 role playing game published by Victory Games and allows for each of the Player Characters to have a moment where they really shine in each adventure.

Players choose one or more Backgrounds, and given the secretive nature of B.A.T. they all have Cover 10 and Network 5 at the beginning of character creation.

Players receive Health of 4 for free. Given the action orientation of the base "Shadows"  setting, Stability is not used. Though if you wish to play an "Arkham" mode, characters start with Stability 4 for free.

Depending on the number of players each player gets a number of build points to spend on investigative abilities (the numbers below are for a "Shadows" setting game and would be slightly lower in an "Arkham" game).

Players receive 70 points to spend on General Background abilities and should have at least one skill rated at an 8 signifying an area of specialty where the character is one of the best in the world.

The THRILLER Combat rules from Night's Black Agents are highly recommended as are the MASTERY rules from Double Tap.

Super Powers from Mutant City Blues should only be allowed for FOES of the Player Characters and reflect the types of foes the characters might face. These are threats that are too powerful for normal Gotham PD officers, but might also be beneath the notice of Cosmic Heroes like Green Lantern.

The B.A.T. Undercover Team:

Bruce Wayne (aka The B.A.T. Man) -- Bruce Wayne (35) is the founder of the B.A.T. team and has dedicated his life to following the legacy of his idols Alan Scott and Ted Grant. He will do whatever it takes to fight corruption in Gotham and provide hope to its residents. He understands that one of the keys to this endeavor is citizens being able to trust that their police department is there to protect them. That is why he partnered with Commissioner James Gordon to create a secret squad within the Gotham PD that fights the foes normal police officers cannot, and who work in the shadows allowing regular cops to take the credit for taking down corruption. He is highly skilled in Forensic investigative techniques, Tradecraft, and the Martial Arts.

Edward Nigma (aka The Cryptographer) -- Edward Nigma (35) almost became one of Gotham's greatest enemies. Having discovered that cheating could help him get ahead as a young man, he used his talent for mathematics and riddles to hack into the computers of the wealthy elite and those he believed thought too highly of themselves. His hacks would make the computers and finances of such individuals unavailable unless they could solve a puzzle and unlock their information. Edward's college roommate Bruce Wayne discovered what Nigma was doing and convinced him that Nigma could find more challenging puzzles fighting against criminal entities who used arcane ciphers to hide their communications. To Nigma's delight, he discovered a world of truly challenging puzzles and talented foes and agreed to turn himself into the authorities based on a plea negotiated by Wayne Enterprises attorneys which required him to aid Gotham P.D. as an alternative to prison time. It took a while to convince Nigma to make the deal, but then he encountered a H.I.V.E. cipher and his obsession with puzzles took over. Nigma is now the programming and computer expert for B.A.T.

Selena Kyle (aka The Cat) -- Selena Kyle (35) was a young girl living on the streets when she witnessed Bruce Wayne's parents being murdered by a mafia enforcer. She expected the situation to end like all other such situations; no witnesses, no real investigation of related crimes, and no justice. She was surprised when Detective James Gordon took on the case. She wasn't surprised that Gotham PD would investigate the murder of wealthy citizens. She expected that the PD would want to look good, but she never expected that the investigation would expand into the criminal underworld's engagement in human trafficking in the poorer neighborhoods. Gordon took the investigation where it led him and brought justice not only to Joe Chill - the Waynes' murderer and Falcone enforcer - but also brought light to the connection between the Falcone family and their human trafficking violations. Gordon became a father figure to the young Kyle and she has used her talents for Stealth and Observation to aid the team in fighting the threats that Gotham faces.

Jack Laffer (aka The Joker) -- Laffer (40) is the team's resident "class clown." A former chemical engineer who was in desperate straits when he discovered his wife was pregnant days after losing his job at ACE chemicals. Knowing how desperate he was, the Falcone family met with Laffer in an attempt to convince him to aid them in a raid on ACE chemicals. College Student Bruce Wayne had been observing Falcone activities and recognized the difficulty of Laffer's position. He had his friend Ted Grant - who was working with Gotham PD as an undercover muscle for the Falcones - visit Laffer and convince him to work with Organized Crime Task Force Commander James Gordon to stop the crime and bring some of the Falcone family to justice. Laffer agreed, but corrupt cops within Gotham PD informed the Falcones who sent hitmen to kill Laffer's family. Ted Grant overheard the assignment and was able to intervene saving Laffer's family. While the ACE chemicals raid was a bust, Laffer found that there those in the city who could be trusted. Thanks to a generous research grant from the Wayne Foundation, Gotham PD had a new secret position for a Forensic Chemist under the direct supervision of James Gordon open up and Laffer was offered the job. Ted Grant arranged for Laffer and his family to be "killed" and enter the witness protection program. Laffer ads his unique sense of humor to the team and expertise in Chemistry of all kinds.

Dick Grayson (aka The AcroBAT)

Helena Bertinelli (aka Huntress)

Stephanie Brown (aka The Robin)

Just an idea, but it's working its way into a campaign setting for my group.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Reverb Gamers #14

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #14: What kinds of adventures do you enjoy most? Dungeon crawls,
mysteries, freeform roleplaying, or something else? What do you think that says about you?

My preferred game is something that crosses heavy roleplaying and a mystery. Our long running 3.5 D&D game is about urban investigators solving supernatural crimes for the city watch in Sharn. It's even inspired our 4e campaign about the same thing. In a roleplay/mystery I can develop my character and solve a puzzle simultaneousy. I like to tell stories about interesting characters and places but I love a good mystery. Mysteries in RPGs can be tricky though. If finding a clue is based on requiring specific steps be taken by the PCs the threads can go unpursued. Gumshoe does an interesting thing and guarantees that each scene reveals a clue but it's up to the players to role play how that find them. I think I may need to play more Gumshoe.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Night's Black Agents, Kenneth Hite, Fritz Leiber, and Vampires

I have long been an admirer of Kenneth Hite as game critic, game commentator, and game designer. The reasons I hold him in high esteem are too numerous to be enumerated here one by one, and that would be boring besides, but there is one reason that stands at the summit of my admiration. It is his awe inspiring ability to fuse history, mystery, pulp, and high art into his game design in surprising ways.

Consider the following. I have known for some time that Ken was working on a new role playing game for Pelgrane Press entitled "Night's Black Agents." The game uses Robin D Laws' innovative "Gumshoe" role playing game system as its engine and combines the genres of action-espionage with vampire horror. That alone makes it a winner. Just read the Pelgrane blurb (and this interview):

The Cold War is over. Bush’s War is winding down.

You were a shadowy soldier in those fights, trained to move through the secret world: deniable and deadly.

Then you got out, or you got shut out, or you got burned out. You didn’t come in from the cold. Instead, you found your own entrances into Europe’s clandestine networks of power and crime. You did a few ops, and you asked even fewer questions. Who gave you that job in Prague? Who paid for your silence in that Swiss account? You told yourself it didn’t matter.

It turned out to matter a lot. Because it turned out you were working for vampires.

Vampires exist. What can they do? Who do they own? Where is safe? You don’t know those answers yet. So you’d better start asking questions. You have to trace the bloodsuckers’ operations, penetrate their networks, follow their trail, and target their weak points. Because if you don’t hunt them, they will hunt you. And they will kill you.

Or worse.

It just oozes high concept excitement. Yet, much like Ken's brilliant The Day After Ragnarok, there seems to be something else going on here as well. It is something that I missed at first glance -- Ken is sneaky that way. I didn't notice it until I was reading an interview with Fritz Leiber in Charles Platt's "Dream Makers vol. 2."

There was a brief comment by Leiber that his first book, published by Arkham House, was entitled Night's Dark Agents. Hmmm... Sneaky that Hite fellow. A follow up game to the successful, and remarkable, Trail of Cthulhu (which I believe to be the best Cthulhu game published to date, though Ken humbly differs) is named after a book published by Arkham House. Arkham House Publishing's first publication was a book of Lovecraft's stories, and Leiber wrote letters to Lovecraft receiving kind responses from the father of Cosmic Horror -- responses that kept Leiber writing until it became a paying gig. The Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story "Adept's Gambit" that is in Night's Black Agents is Leiber's first written -- though not first published -- tale of the duo, and it includes some Cthulhu references.

You see how he so subtly built a connection between Lovecraft and his new game through the vehicle of Leiber?

More than that, Hite knows that the title references "The Scottish Play" as well.

You see, Hite is just able to take ideas -- sometimes seemingly incongruous ideas -- and meld them into something new and wonderful.

I cannot wait for the release of Night's Black Agents.

I wonder if the game will include echoes of Leiber's vampire story, "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes." You can watch a "Serlingized" version of that tale below.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Invisible Gorrilla and Games -- Mystery Stories

In 1999, Daniel Simons did an experiment involving a person in a gorilla suit and people in different colored clothes passing a basketball to one another. The experiment was designed to see how we look at things and demonstrate how our perceptions can fail us. The basic finding of the experiment is that we fail to observe a lot of things that are going on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing out on so much. Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris have written a book called The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. Two of the things the book focuses on are how are intuitions often mislead us and how our perceptions aren't as keen as we believe them to be.

"What does this have to do with games," you ask? Nothing and everything.

How many times have you been running a roleplaying game session in which you have laid clues for the players to discover which will help them to solve a mystery of some sort?

Sometimes the clues are embedded in your verbal descriptions of scenes and events, and sometimes they are placed on a battle mat for the players to find. The clues might even have been incorporated into dialogue role played out.

Of these times, how often have the players completely missed the clue due to focusing on other objects in your presentation?

Sometimes this can lead adventures into fun new directions. If the player's become convinced that the 12 year-old witness you were acting out in dialogue is so creepy that he must be a shapeshifted Goblin in disguise and the real reason the children of Vandomeer have been disappearing, it might be better to follow the player's lead and ignore the fact that you had placed several clues that it was the kind Cleric of Pelor who had been driven to despair after the death of his daughter and was looking for parts to construct a replacement. In a case like this, there is no reason to shoehorn the players into your planned story even though they missed your -- to you -- obvious clues. A good GM knows that the goal of play is to satisfy your player's desires and making their wild guesses into fact is a great way to achieve this goal.

Sadly, improper leaps to conclusions aren't the typical result of missed clues. The most common result is that the mystery grinds to a halt as the players "keep searching." In a game like D&D, or any other system where skill rolls determine the results of actions, this can amount to players "rolling again and again" or "taking 20" at each 5 foot square of a room with you having to notify them of what they did or didn't find. In a game that is looser and more "acted out," you have to decide whether to keep repeating the clues you have already shared or make up newer -- more obvious -- clues to give the players. Giving the players too obvious a clue after they failed to understand the initial clues can lead to some serious dissatisfaction by the players. They'll feel foolish for missing the initial clues, and railroaded by your new ultra-obvious clue.

Robin Laws' Gumshoe system tries to address these problems by having an underlying gaming assumption that the players will find the necessary clues automatically and lets them "spend points" in order to get more information from the clues. The system doesn't guarantee that the players will "solve" the mystery that you presented to them, it only means that they will actually find the clue, but it does increase the likelihood that their speculations might lead the adventure into another direction from what you originally planned.

In real life, it can be tragic when some real clue is missed or misinterpreted. In a roleplaying game missing a clue can bring a game to a boring halt, but misinterpreting a clue might lead to a better story. In real life, our intuitions deceive us and lead us into foolish actions, but in games our deceptive intuitions can lead us into entertaining experiences.

Sometimes you can exploit the deceptive intuitions of your players to assist you in constructing your adventures.

Do you have any stories where mysteries have bogged down or where deceptive intuitions have led to great adventures?