Down In the Hole character sheet and ready to playtest

Down In the Hole , my MG hack for prolonged The Wire police style roleplaying is looking good, I think it’s ready for a test ride.
Thanks to help here and on my blog, I completely re-vamped Nature since the initial draft:

Human nature can be used for hiding, running, cheating and empathising.
Nature 0 means the character has lost the remains of his humanity, his interest in doing good and helping. He may also have become obsessive, too focused on details to get the big picture. Worse, perhaps he has become a psychopath, or an animal-like creature. Nature 7 means the character has become too human and self-preserving to care about catching criminals. Such a character might retreat to focus on his own life and emotional needs, no longer willing or prepared to put his life at0 stake to uphold the law.
Conditions: Healthy, Angry, Hungover, Tired, Injured, Ill.

Google doc:

Character sheet (PDF)

Comments welcome as usual. I’m interested in what I’ve got wrong, misunderstood etc. in terms of both using MG for gritty police investigation drama and how to play creatively in this genre.

Ooh neat. Weird. It’s a hack I’d have never thought to attempt.

Your Nature choices are really nice. I wish I knew The Wire better! I got about halfway through the first season and gave up on it.

I assume “cheating” is left pretty loose? On the other Human Nature things, I’m concerned about “running”: I guess I’m envisioning chase scenes in which these highly empathic people who care about saving their own hide chasing down low-Nature psychopaths and thugs, i.e. “running” goes both ways! Maybe clarify with “running AWAY”? Or perhaps more broadly “escaping.”

To fit with the rest of the theme running through Human Nature (i.e. self-preservation, human connections), maybe lump hiding + running away into a more general “avoiding injury” category, and add a fourth: following orders. Just a thought.

Your season breakdown and conflict types are very nice.

Gear: I’d make it explicit that the police badge is a useful piece of gear in some conflicts (Raid, Interrogation, Crime Scene?). I think this might add a little pressure to the possibility of losing one’s badge in the course of the case.

I’d recommend more guidance in a few areas:

Goal: The reason BIG works in MG is that you’re expected to have a Goal in conflict with your Belief and/or the mission at hand (other than the CO of the patrol, of course). Then you have this tension during the Player’s Turn between cleaning up loose ends with the mission or pursuing your goal. So I think it’d be interesting if you emphasized or even required that your Goal be perpendicular to the case (right now you’re prompting people to take case-specific Goals, but this seems counter to the style of The Wire, i.e. it’s too CSI IMO). Human interest stuff like “Convince my wife to stop the divorce proceedings” or “Pay off my mob loan without anyone knowing” or “Check myself into rehab before anyone figures out I’m hooked.” You know, gray-morality cop-life stuff. The Wire, at least what I saw of it, seemed mega-procedural but every episode we looked at some of the backstory of the major characters.

You should probably provide some guidance on genre-appropriate Beliefs as well: “I don’t care if the bad guys kill each other as long as the streets are safer,” or “I’ll do everything in my power to become the next Captain,” or “I’ll help out as long as I can keep me and mine out of danger.” Basically a Belief aimed at one’s job as a cop and/or your philosophy on law and order.

Better/longer -wise list. I like in MG that the -wises are actually constrained to the list, IIRC. So like … clues-wise, surveillance-wise, back room deals-wise, ambition-wise, etc.

Last thought: Is the assumption that the GM comes up with a this-actually-happened-and-this-is-who-did-it solution to the case? Or is the assumption that the GM comes up with a crime, and through successful rolls and intent declaration, it’s the players who come up with the whodunnit? I think the game could support either, but each approach I think requires a pretty different prep procedure.

I would totally play this hack, Per. Have you run it yet?

Paul, I can’t thank you enough for this feedback, exactly what I needed. All of your observations are on the ball, and they will be incorporated in the draft.

I haven’t playtested yet, but I have half a group willing to act as guinea pigs. I might add that this is a labour of love, I’ve been looking for a game that could do this for more than 10 years, long before The Wire, but haven’t been able to nail it.

Regarding your last thought - yes, that IS the big question. Initially I was leaning towards your “GM comes up with a crime, and through successful rolls and intent declaration, it’s the players who come up with the whodunnit?” but I’m leaning more and more towards GM comes up with what has happened in the backstory (ie. knows who killed the woman in the bath tub fx), very similar to Sorcerer’s backstory setup, and then see what happns from there. But dang, I’m not sure.

Thanks again!

I think the killer app elements of using MG for this sort of team-oriented crime drama are a) the tension between Belief (about law & order) and Goal (about your own life), b) the GM/Player Turn split (but only if the players are forced to choose between belief and goal) and c) the Nature system. Everything else is gravy! I think you’re well on the way to getting most of this nailed down. Looking forward to the next draft.

Arg, my reply got eaten…

Short version:
I like your suggested Belief-Goal split. Do you agree that Goals could become more long-term than in MG? And what does that mean for the reward system, ie getting Persona points for achieving Goals?

Could you explain what you mean by “forced to choose” in b)?

I might be too deeply indoctrinated by BW-style Beliefs, but my feeling is that … maybe you don’t necessarily call the set Belief, Instinct and Goal. I like Instinct, but like…what if you had “Justice” and “Burden” or something? So under Justice you lay out your character’s belief (lower-case b) in what Justice is, like the stuff above. It’s not perfect, but what I’m trying to get at is the head space that leads players to describe things like “the police commissioner is corrupt and I’ll do whatever I can to take his job” or “Let the bad guys keep killing each other and the streets will become safer.”

Under Burden, you describe something about the cop’s personal life that is burdening him, and what he’s going to do about it: “I have a gambling problem that’s got me in deep with the mob; I’ll steal money from the evidence room to pay off my debts.”

Anyway, just a thought. And no, whatever you end up calling your personal life stuff (Goal or Burden or whatever), I don’t know that I would per se make it longer-term and therefore harder to fulfill. This is a place where the two-part Belief system works really well: Here’s the overall Burden, and here’s what I’m gonna spend this session doing to deal with it. (So therefore you should probably clarify that, if you were to require something like a Burden, that you can’t just … resolve it in a session. So no “I’ll get my kid back from my crazy ex-wife who’s now a coke whore for Big Nose Tony,” because once you get the kid back then your Burden is no longer burdensome.)

Re b), what I meant was that in MG, if you’ve got a personal Goal and you’re starved for Persona, then when the Player’s Turn comes up the player has to decide what to do with his checks: heal up his conditions, or tie up loose ends on the mission, or chase Persona by fulfilling your Goal?

I’m following - great stuff, Paul.

I have tried to spike Nature even more towards what I believe is the basis for human nature - it’s a philosophical choice, of course, and I don’t think humans are naturally authoritative (following orders) fx, but I’ve combined running and hiding into self-preservation. I still have cheating there, and I’m not entirely happy with that, but can’t find something better. Initially I was trying balance nature, so you had half protecting one-self and half helping/understanding others. Anyway, there’s a playtest next weekend so I have to go with this current version:

Human Nature
Human Nature can be used instead of Skills for self-preservation, gratification, cheating and empathising.

Your Goal comments have helped a lot - I agree very much, and renaming goal is a great idea. I don’t think I will rename Belief, though, I simply cannot find a word that’s better. The only one would be ideology, but BW’s Belief has got this built-in demand for having to include some kind of action in order to follow your Belief (or not). It needs to be concrete, and calling it Ideology or Justice pulls it a bit away from being tangible, I think. I may be seeing ghosts here, dunno.

So, Belief, Instinct and …something. I like Burden a lot, but it should be clear that it’s something the character has chosen, not something that’s been put upon her. Stress? Pressure? Load? Perhaps Burden IS the word!

EDIT: Belief could be Credo, actually.

Loving “gratification” as a Human Nature choice.

How’d the playtest go?

Playtest not until next Saturday, sorry, but only one player so far, dammit! Might have to take a shot at this over Skype or chat at this pace.

Anyway, happy with draft right now after incorporating your suggestions, Paul. Next biggie is GM prep of the case.

a few things:

* Burden is missing on the character sheet

  • Conflict Type: Fight in the table resolution, no sign of Unarmed Combat or Firearms. Tactics should be used when you lead a SWAT team or a bunch of fighters

  • There should be an Athletics skill, used during Chases or even hand to hand fighting: Defense.

BTW, I love this hack. Really. I usually not fancy hacks but this one is terrific. I’d like to run a Cop game but never found the system that would promote such a way of RPGing. But I’d like to give a try to DitH !

Thx, Udo.

Yeah, the latest character sheet is not online yet, but it’s on its way, other stuff got in the way - it’s got Credo, Burden and Human Nature, plus a couple of pages of player aids (skill/wises list, conflict chart etc).

Both firearms and unarmed conflict should fall under the Fight conflict category, at least that was the idea. It might need a revision.

Athletics skill, yeah, perhaps you’re right. I’ll make a note of that, certainly.

Let me know if you’re up for playtesting, either with your own group or online via Skype.

I’d love to. Tell me when you plan to skype a session… if I can make it fit in my schedule, I’ll let you know (easy thing: I live in France !)

Hi Per

With regard to the investigation aspect that PaulB mentioned earlier, I fall in the camp of “the police already know that Duwayne Johnson is responsible for The Crime”.

By “know”, I mean the kind of knowledge that everybody in the know just “knows”. And likewise, Duwayne Johnson knows that they know.

The police are stopped from arresting and charging DJ just like that for one or more of these reasons:

[ul][li]they don’t actually have any hard evidence that the DA can use in a court of law;
[/li][li]their Burdens have put arresting and charging DJ on the back burner;
[/li][li]it’s not politically expedient to do so;
[/li][li]they have evidence on DJ, but they want to bring more than just DJ down.[/ul]
[/li]As an example of “it’s not politically expedient to do so”, that could manifest as elections for the position of Commissioner of Police stalling the arresting and charging. The outgoing Commish wants the arrest and charging done now on his watch, but the incumbent wants the arrest and charging postponed until he or she assumes office so that he or she can get the plaudits. So the team sits on the evidence, and the GM Twists by throwing in the gangland execution of a key suspect, making the case damn near worthless again.

As an example of the last one in that list, the police have enough evidence to charge DJ, but not enough to implicate the corrupt big wigs in City Hall. City Hall is pressuring the Police Commissioner to kill the case or bring it to a premature conclusion - cue scenes of the Commish killing the case in a week unless the team brings something new to light that he can’t ignore, Twisting them onto shit duties like River Boat Patrol, etc.

All of these Obstacles will need to be aimed at the Credos of the characters, but I thinkhopeguess that’s easy enough to do. McNulty in “The Wire” fakes his own serial killer in order to cut through the red tape and political crap that’s been stopping him from “Doing good policing - for my definition of good, work the system, fuck the politics.”


Hot dang.

I was searching for mugshots that I could pin on a cork board for the investigation when I found this goldmine of a website.

Man, there’s loads of mugshots of Baltimore folk on there, straight from the BPD. A handy list of names too - I don’t usually have problems coming up with names on the fly, but the wee lists of names right there on the sheets of Apocalypse World are actually pretty handy for players.

I’m liking Pete’s take, and thinking that that whole approach might fit really neatly into a better explanation of how to play out your various obstacle types. Like…I’d almost say “we know who the guy is, so go find evidence to support our theory” could be a GREAT obstacle to deal with, especially if your own investigation contradicts your higher-up’s theory. And then you’ve got the opportunity to explore why your higher-ups are so hot on this theory, if you give a shit at all. Are they just wrong or are they motivated to pin the crime on a fall guy for other reasons?

Yes, absolutely agree. I really hope that is possible to play something like that. The extended case running over many sessions should certainly support it. And “seasons” of cases could continue into a new season’s case, which is essentially developments of one and the same case. All five seasons of The Wire is one long case with shifting perspectives and personalities.

I guess you can get the same kind of effect in Burning Empires if you play through three phases.

Udo, send me an email: per dot fischer at gmail dot com

EDIT to add updated character sheet + help sheets


Game played, fun had, feedback solicited.

Per, I’ll post an AP plus the answers to the specific feedback questions you posed… later sometime this week. Lame, but I have got a lot on at the moment. Sometime this week. We had fun, it was a worthwhile session, and there was some jarring between expectation of what The Wire RPG would play like and what the Mouse Guard system hack actually delivered.

With that tease, and links to the pics I took during the game, I’ll bid y’all adieu until later this week :slight_smile:

Oh! Obviously I’m lookin’ forward to your own AP or even just session report from your own game.


Wonderful, Pete, thanks a lot. One of the questions I DIDN’T ask was how MG sat with potential expectations of what a The Wire-inspired game to be like - I probably should have! Even though I’m not by any means trying to create a “The Wire RPG”, it’s inevitable that anyone who has some knowledge of the series will have some or other expectations. I’m very excited to hear about that, and to read the AP as such :slight_smile:

My game fell through as only one player was available, so had to call it off. I’m hoping that my planned Skype session will materialise in a week’s time. (and you’re invited Pete, of course, more emails to come).


Finally. We played an introductory session tonight, via Skype, and had fun. AP post to come. It’s looking very good, I have to say.

Pete has also provided extensive and detailed feedback from his playtest, which is incredibly helpful.

Aye, I enjoyed tonight.

It was chargen in the main, but I haven’t done proper chargen in ~20 years so game on. It’s looking good, yep.

Is it worth posting all the collated feedback on this board? That way folks who are making their own hack can perhaps take something from the conversation. Your call.