[Probable Cause] Need some help with Nature

Yes, I’m still working away on my MG police hack that started with the working title Down in the Hole. It’s now called Probable Cause.
A lot has happened since it was playtested a couple of times about a year ago, but Nature is unchanged, and Luke’s hacking Nature thread got me thinking. I like the gist of my nature hack, but it needs more oomph, and it needs ideas for specific actions.

This is what I have so far:

Human Nature

Human Nature 0 means the character has lost the remains of her humanity, her interest in doing good and helping. She might also have become obsessive, too focused on details to get the big picture. Perhaps she 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 her own life and emotional needs, no longer willing or prepared to put her life at stake to uphold the law. In either case these extremes are pointers that the character is probably retiring as a police officer.

I’d like to hear some thoughts how to break them down into actions, or suggestions for re-naming the parts.

I don’t think self-preservation is wrong, and many officer probably use asense of self-preservation on the job. However, I would suggest something closer to hesitation or trepidation, i.e. the officer pauses in hopes of something happening without his/her initiative to make it happen; it is about being reactionary and passive instead of active and motivated.

Gratification could also be a difficult thing to debate at the table. I thinik it is simple enough that many players would see how it gets used by an officer of the law, e.g. an officer that ‘finds’ something wrong to ticket on the speeding red corvette while allowing other speeding drivers to pass. Still, it might get used only when in need of fulfilling that sort of scene; it might be difficult to create scenes in which gratification is poised against duty, honor, and service.

You might find there is some added traction by listing the general qualities that are expected of officers in every scene, and list thier opposing force as elements of human nature. For example, I would consider duty, honor, service, and integrity as expectations for officers in every scene. When you begin to place the officers in the game against the wall and threaten their beliefs, goals, and instincts, they might revert to a human nature response of empthy, larceny, graft, and dishonesty.

That is by no means a perfect list, but that is my take on the idea off the top of my head.

The idea of an enforcement officer becoming too detail-oriented, needlessly violent, self-preserving, retreating, emotionally overburdened, etc. sounds more like a list of traits that would create strong impacts on the character which might lead to an officer retiring. In contrast, those traits may be great tools for engaging the character and watching for growth to overcome those traits or use those traits to best positive impact. I also think that could change the ideas of human nature.

if you consider my above reassignment of human nature, you might find that a Nature 7 indicates an officer that has walked away so far from values such as duty and integrity they are still on the force, but are ‘dirty’ cops: in bed with the criminal organizations of the city and enjoying graft, larceny, and dishonesty for a comfortable life even on a police paycheck. a Nature 0 indicates an officer so lost in empathy they decide to enter a field of social services, child protection services, or homeless care; they’ve lost their grit that makes them good cops as they listen to every sad story and are convinced too easily to ignore the laws in favor of human nature. Alternatively, Nature 0 could be a cop so drawn to dishonesty that they accomplish nothing; they spend their time unwisely, they walk the easy beat and drop in on restaurants throughout a shift, maybe stop at the house for a few hours of a shift. They are no longer perfomring honest work for honest pay. They meet a few quotas, but never go the extra mile to change the statistics of crime in their city.

So, there are some ideas. The Nature 7 or Nature 0 cops can start to form NPCs that remind players of what happens when their officer taxes too much of human nature, i.e. calls upon empathy or dishonesty too often, or increases their human nature, i.e. uses their position for opportunities to get in comfy with organized crime, taken bribes, stolen evidence, etc. Once players see what those officers do–stay in the force and waste resources, stay in the force and worsen crime, leave the force instead of dealing with emotional burdens–they get a clean idea of what those human nature indicators are and how much they need to avoid those extremes.

Please don’t think I have a negative opinion of those working in social services, child protective services, or homeless care. I used that as an example; because, I presume that police work with those organizations, but don’t always share the bleeding heart. I assume that cops have a bit more reserved emotion and some doubts about the effectiveness of offering empathy in those ways.

post got eaten, i’ll have to try again later.

Great stuff, Kenneth! I’m at work right nw, but will digest when I get home and hopefully be able to come up with a reply :slight_smile:

Goddammit…just lost as lengthy post. Let me rebuild it in Word and then paste it in…

Okay! So let’s start with an analysis of what you’ve got:

· Self-preservation: Very vague, easily applied to lots of edge cases, i.e. “I’m shooting this guy in the face because if I don’t he’ll do the same.” See the problem?

· Gratification: We talking seven deadlies here? Any and all self-gratification? This is very much a motive and not an active, game-usefulverb. Let’s swing back to this one in a minute.

· Cheating: This seems like a method of achieving self-gratification, above. And/or an expression of ego (as any crime not of desperation is, I think we can posit).

· Empathising: I get where you’re going with this – you want low-Nature cops to be lousy at empathising – but I think you’re looking at this one through the wrong end of the telescope.

It seems to me that in your slice of law enforcement fiction, the tension isn’t between being a cop and a civilian (like it is inMouse Guard – can you be heroic enough to carry out your duty?), but rather between being a good cop and a bad cop. Everyone’s got authority, but will your personal needs (of ego or desperation) be stronger than your duty?

So…the first thing I’d do is flip the whole thing around. Nature 7 means you’re corrupt, justthe absolute worst asshole on the beat. Nature 0 means you’re burned out, you can’t do your job. This is for mechanical reasons: You want the draw of being a bad cop to be strong, and one way of doing that is to offer power to the player. When all you have is a hammer, all you see is nails.

Side benefit: When you’re swinging your bad-cop dick around, you’re advancing more slowly. When you’re a better cop, you’re advancing more quickly. It also means the more you indulge your Nature the more quickly you become corrupt.

Then, I’d start by working up a list of verbs that would beuseful to a bad cop:

· Lying

· Abusing authority (too broad)…I’d experiment with something sassy like flashingyour badge and watch for how the players want to interpret that. But itseems like you need a verb that facilitates people abusing their authority, since that’s the thing that everyone has and can misuse.

· Making friends with scumbags (too broad)…maybe convincing

· Assaulting

· Intimidating

· Stealing

Then I’d look for places I could merge, while remaining motive-neutral and action-specific:

· Assaulting + Intimidating? They’re both kinds of force, and one’s authority means you can use either with impunity. Dunno… use force is way broad. Act violently is interesting in a Vincent Baker kind of way. Might not work. I’d experiment.

· Lying + Stealing? Two different verbs and already pretty specific.

· Lying + Convincing: These strike me as pretty close. They’re both about using social force to get what you want. In fact you could convince people through either deceiver or persuader. Therefore, I might drop lying entirely and go with convincing.

At the end of that, I’ve got these verbs:

· Stealing

· Convincing

· Acting violently

· Flashing your badge

Combined with a flipped Nature mechanic, I think I’d be ready to play this.

Moving on to the matter of self-gratification: I’d map this to “Goal” and make it “Need.” Now, if the player wants to earn his fate/persona he’ll chase his Need and be tempted to use his bad-cop stuff to make it happen.

Thanks for the feedback, it’s extremely helpful. One thing that I missed, is to make Nature 7 as the ‘dirty’ end of the scale, which both Kenneth and Paul are suggesting. I was working with the human vs cop distinction, so being human is about protecting you and yours, essentially, and when you are orking as a cop you are put in situations where you have to choose between your duty and the urge to protect yourself. So. yeah, the tension between civilian and law enforcement official, pretty much straight Mouse Guard.

I really like the tilt that Paul is suggesting, it is sweet! And it takes the fiction into the dark territory I’m looking for, right there. More Bad Lieutenant than CSI.

I knew my descriptors were vague, they were mainly there to flash what I was going for, but needed to be more practical, active, and I like most of the suggestions. ‘Stinkycheeseman’ had some interesting ones in the Hacking Nature thread as well.

Getting this exactly right has to come down to some playtesting, but I definitely dig the turn it has taken (again!).

I owe you :slight_smile:

thinking of the nature 0 and nature 7: it is easy to tax and deplete; tax and deplete, and slowly push the nature down towards squeaky clean. Gaining corruption take time and energy and effort.

I think you could consider whether you want corruption to be the easy route (tax and deplete, tax and deplete, tax and deplete) and make it far harder to clean up (avoid taxing nature, never deplete, use it in highly judicious ways).

Part of setting the tone of the game could be whether it is hard to get in with criminals and mafiosos; shirk duties without consequences; avoid danger without seeming cowardly; or is is easy to uphold civil protection; take a bite out of crime; and other such heroic things.

Another aspect of that is that the higher nature score gives you better odds when called upon. So, is the corruption intended to stack the odds in the favor of the PC or whether the squeaky clean karma should increase their odds.

Given the enormous power of being able to call on your nature and achieve huge gains, I think you’ll see some interesting tension built into actually working toward corruption. I think it’ll feel a lot like The Shield, with “good” cops working in a very dirty way to take down seriously bad apples. It’d be interesting to see it this theory plays out in practice!

Ok, after a deep think…I somehow feel it could all be summed up in these two:
Acting violently
Abusing power

These cover stealing, intimidating, flashing your badge, convincing etc.

I don’t love these. My critiques:

  • “Abuse” and “power” are both incredibly open-ended and will lead to disagreement at the table. I guarantee it’d be an hourlong fight at my table.

  • They’re too on-the-nose. Well…at least that second one is. Because of the loaded language it can only be used in cases where the character’s being an asshole. We want to provide verbs that facilitate/suggest bad behavior, not specifically require it.

Just my thoughts! You won’t know for sure 'til you use it at the table. I’d be very comfortable with my list (keeping an eye extra-open on what players do with flashing your badge) but I wouldn’t quite know what to do with this list.

I had another thought: You might also consider reframing the whole “Nature” concept. It’s so great in MG because a) MG adventures are typically in nature and b) the struggle is between the core self of all mice versus the heroic requirements of guardmice. But what if you called it “Corruption”? Or Nature (Authority). Because we don’t necessarily want to state outright that all of humanity is a bad cop at the core – just the guys working vice or gang violence or whatever you specify the default beat to be. In fact it might be useful, if you were going this way, to call out another Nature – Civilians (hiding, obeying authority, avoiding trouble, running away). Obviously crooks will suck at all this stuff :-). They’re lousy at living in civil society. Dunno…this might be my own experience in experimenting with variable Natures coming through here.

Hope this helps,


Interesting thoughts, Paul, as always. I’m not keen on the idea of splitting Nature - I am still very interested in finding nuggets of human nature (ie. what I think human nature is, fundamentally) and how they would make stuff easier or harder in certain circumstances. I want human nature to be exactly the same for civilians, criminals, housewives, police officers. It’s a humankind thing.

I totally agree, however, with finding verbs that don’t suggest bad behaviour as such, but allow it. That’s not easy. And stealing and acting violently in your list do suggest bad (or illegal) behaviour.

I’m very much warming to “flashing your badge”.


You’re telling me! It’s effing hard, particularly in a hack built fundamentally on morality.

IMO this fact about hacking Nature is the big reason why it’s hard to hack MG.