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[Criminal Element] Reintroducing and Power 19, followed by questions

Started by MPOSullivan, March 30, 2006, 03:40:54 AM

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Some of you may remember a small little game from way back in the day called Criminal Element, created in the first batch of 24hour RPGs in 2003.  For those of you that don't (and I'm sure that's everybody but Ron), CE is a caper and heist movie RPG.  Equal parts Snatch and Heat, the game was built around a Meltdown system that forced characters to succumb to their darkest vices.  How a character did that was completely up to the player. 

To catch people up on things, check these out

Where it all started: the first 24 hour RPG event

a quick review and Actual Play by Ron Edwards

...then about three years worth of PMing and email between Ron and myself and here we are, with a brand new, completely streamlined and rewritten from the bottom up playtest document of Criminal Element: A Game of Desperate Deeds.  And, to cover the rest of the introduction to the game, here is the Power 19 for it. 

1.) What is your game about?

At first glance, Criminal Element is ab game about bank robbers and petty thieves all trying to pull down scores.  But, it's also about exploring that.  Why characters steal and take, why they are filled with desire.  And characters are filled with it and driven by it.  Some people want riches and fame, others just want to put food on the table.  What do you want most out of this life?
   But nothing comes for free.  CE is also about the cost.  Would you sell out your best friend to get rich?  Will you kill your partner just for the extra loot from the score?  There is always a price to be paid.  What will you give up to get what you need?

2.) What do the characters do?

CE emulates the crime film, particularly Heist and Caper flicks.  Player Characters are heisters, conmen, thieves and crooks, all working together on a score, from planning it out to pulling it off.
   Characters are also driven by their own needs, desires and weaknesses, called Motives and Vices.  The pursuit of these attributes can empower a character, but they can also make people turn against each other.  Characters will suffer Meltdowns, instances in which their darkest desires and personal flaws take over and drive them to disaster.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
Players will fit one of two roles.  First, the standard role of Player, controlling a single PC, guiding their actions and making decisions for them.  This is, for the most part, a standard Sim player role.
   Players will also take on the role of a Spoiler when their character is killed by another Player.  Spoilers are a rules-based karmic revenge against murderous PCs. 
   The GM, or Director as the role is called in this game, controls vagaries of plot and pacing issues,presents challenges to the players and deals with matters of conflict resolution.  It is important to note the presentation of challenges as a role of the Director, as it is through challenges and the ability of the characters to overcome them that players gain power within the game.  Life is not meant to be easy for a crook. 

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
There is no established setting for the game, though the book assumes a modern urban setting.  The game's theme (greed) is a universal one, not requiring one specific setting.  The lack of setting goes on to further highlight how pervasive greed is, and how it can affect all things. 

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

Character creation presents characters that are highly specialized and driven by emotional needs.  As mentioned above, characters have Motives and Vices that define a character's inner-most desires, and these are designed during character creation.   

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

CE is a game of balancing determination against weakness.  As such, the game rewards those characters that pursue their goals at the risk of everything else.  Characters are also rewarded for showing weakness; specifically a character's Vice. 

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
CE rewards players for pursuing their characters' desires and taking risks.  Drama Points, the games version of experience/currency, are a commodity that can be bet on actions.  If a player is pursuing his Motive or Vice while attempting an action, any bets placed will have their returns increased.  The size of a player's bet can be made larger through making riskier choices in conflict resolution and making it easier for the player to fail at a a given action.  The two, when combined, mean for larger rewards for those that evoke the themes of the game.     

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
The game is a strict GM-led narration, though with an intent-based ConRes system that allows players to "pose" their characters previous to the point of action. 

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
The game creates characters that are incredibly emotionally driven.  The game also rewards players with in-game power (in the form of Drama Points) for engaging with a character's emotions and letting them run loose.  It also keeps players on their toes and locked into the narrative by having rules that give the Director some say in when a character goes off the deep end.  It's called Meltdown, and it's explained below.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
The mechanic itself is based on the card game Blackjack, with players drawing a number of cards to form their hand depending on how skilled their character is.  The way in which the cards are totalled is dictated by a character's emotional state. 
   Players also have a number of Drama Points that can be spent to alter the play environment or to activate certain storytelling devices commone to the movies the game is inspired by.  These changes are called Dramatic Shifts. 

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
As characters use Dramatic Shifts they also earn Meltdown Points.  Meltdown Points are used by the Director as a signal to the player to start acting up his character flaw, or Vice.  The more a character changes his fate, the more he's going to succumb to his own weaknesses. 

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Players can spend Drama Points to advance their characters.  This can be done at any time, though if done during a game session the character will accrue meltdown points. 

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

Once again, it's about desire and price.  A character can raise his ability at something at any time during gameplay, but is he willing to pay the price in Meltdowns?  Is the reward worth the risk?

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?

Gameplay should be action-packed and unpredictable, with characters running from problem to problem, Bang to Bang, chasing after their needs and maybe even betraying each other in the process.  Most game sessions will end in blood.   

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?

The majority of my work has gone into the ConRes section, specifically outlining the exact steps to resolving conflict, how the steps interact with each other and how they reinforce the core concepts of the game.  I did this because I knew that the system was going to be integral in the presentation of the themes of the game and I wanted them to be the centerpiece. 

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

Personally, i love the Meltdowns.  They aren't your standard insanity mechanic as they leave control of the character completely up to the player.  They are simply a signal from the Director to the player and work as an excellent Bang mechanic.  It generates interresting character and player inter-relationships and really keeps everyone on their toes.  It also means that a game can never be predictable.  Characters may have certain personal themes that will guide their actions, but those actions will almost always come out of left field and spin the game off in new and fun directions. 

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can't, don't, or won't?

Unlike a lot of games that are about action and violence, CE really asks the question "why?"  It wants to know what's at the heart of these damaged, wrong souls that take without asking and hurt without thinking.  Rather than look away from the reason why the violence is so affecting, this game rubbernecks and gives players the opportunity to study it for real. 

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
I want to go all the way with this.  CE is my baby, i love it and i want as many other people to love it as possible.  I want people to have this game sitting on their shelves like a little guilty pleasure, their favourite nasty one-nighter of a game.  As of right now I'm thinking of going the Sorcerer route and doing a couple of online PDF editions of the game, test the waters and work out the kinks, and then publish a full version of the game all book-like with pages and everything. 

19.) Who is your target audience?

Gamers that are looking to tell intense, character-driven stories while at the same time cut loose and have a little bit of wicked, evil fun.

Now, for those of you that I've interrested in my game, here's the latest version of Criminal Element.

And on to the nitty gritty.  My concerns with the game as they stand right now are about core concepts.  I've been staring at the game for the past three years and I need as many new sets of eyes on it as possible as I'm afraid things are starting to get a little blurry.  Does the system assist and highlight the themes of the game during gameplay?  If it doesn't, where does it fail?  What sort of things need to be cleaned up, expanded or represented?  What am I missing or overlooking?

Thanks for taking a look, everyone!
Michael P. O'Sullivan
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions

Ron Edwards

Hi Michael,

Obviously, I'm thrilled to see Criminal Element in development. I have some comments about the current version, which aren't really "fix this now" points, so much as ideas you might want to consider as you continue to work on it, to be applied if they ever seem to fit.

1. The prose is really, really verbose. I just opened my old file of the original 24-hour game, and on that first page, wham bam, it's absolutely clear who the characters are and what they're like, in about one-ninth the text you're using now.

2. Rather than go on about "campaigns" and "one-shots," I think you might consider instead outlining to the reader just what the GM needs to do, one-two-three, in steps, to get ready to play, and to start play.

3. Consider putting in some real-world, from-real-play examples of people playing the game.

But hey, overall, I'm excited. I'd love to see this thing in hard copy, published form.



heya Ron,

1) Holy crap, you're absolutely right.  See, this is what I'm talking about.  I've gotten a little too close to the game and i need people with fresh eyes to look it over.  I'm going to port that over right now and toss together a new one real quick. 

2) I was kind of fearful of doing a GMing chapter or outline right off the bat as I didn't really know what would be needed.  I've been running the game so long that i know how I run it without a second thought.  I'm going to have to sit down and examine those techniques and get them into a workable format. 

3) And this was something I wasn't sure should go into a playtest document.  I wound up not including examples because I wanted to be sure that the descriptions and definitions of the system were clear enough that they didn't need examples to show how they worked or were implemented.  Then again, they would be a great way of showing how the system works overall, how it impacts the narrative and so forth.

And hey, everyone (anyone) else, i hope your interrested in taking a look at my game.  I know i haven't been very involved in the Forge over the past couple of years, but any input at all would be incredibly helpful and appreciated.  I'm not expecting people to just run off and start playing the game immediately, I really just need first impressions and surface detail remarks right now.  Do you feel like the game is presented properly?  What is your reaction to the system?
Michael P. O'Sullivan
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions

Graham W

Hi Michael,

I'm really glad you're publishing this. I read through the original version a few months ago, while I was thinking about a heist game of my own. So this isn't really first impressions, but still.

The system is superb. I love the blackjack mechanic. It's one of those systems that, as well as working, would be fun to play.

Ron's right that the text is over-wordy. You seem to explain things like Knacks twice (after a while, I skipped the introductory section and went straight to the character creation section). It's also a bit of a warning sign that, say, the "Concept" section is three paragraphs long. You could probably do it in a sentence or two. Also, the "Playing the Game" section starts with "What System Does", when what I really want to know is how to play the game. (That wasn't meant to sound sarcastic).

Ideally, I'd like a much shorter rules document, that's written entirely from the point of view of teaching me to play. Things like the "What System Does" section explain to me the thinking behind the system, which I don't really need to know, or at least, not until later.

I also agree with Ron about the example. An extended example of play would help a lot.

I hope that's some help. Good luck with it.

Oh, there was another heist game in Game Chef this year. It's The Right Hand of Mr Big. Might be worth checking out for ideas, you never know.



I think my problem is that I'm writing for end product.  Explaining simple concepts like "What System Does" and exploring Character Concept, as well as the tone that i try to take in the writing throughout the book are meant to help the newbies get into the game.  I guess though, if this only meant to be a playtest document, it should be a bit slimmer and less beginner's manual.  I'll try editing down the text to just the core concepts and that sort of thing and post up something new. 

And another call for example of play.  Alright, I guess i've been out-voted.  I'll work on one tonight and get it thrown into the doc.  What is ideal for playtesting though?  Should it be one long example of, say, a couple of rounds of gameplay all at once?   Or would it be better to sprinkle specific examples throughout the text of the document?
Michael P. O'Sullivan
Criminal Element
Desperate People, Desperate Deeds
available at Fullmotor Productions