(This post assumes familiarity with the Forged in the Dark game system, i.e. Blades in the Dark).
I've been taking a mental break from cyberpunk to play around in the world of community-crime. This game focuses on mysteries set in a specific, close-knit community, and is inspired by everything from the TV show Shots Fired to the Stillhouse Lake books, and my own time working in a rural police department.
The game starts with a murder; the PCs are part of an investigative team brought in to determine the truth of what happened. Similar to Criminal Minds or Mindhunter or Shots Fired, the PCs aren't a local group. They have to overcome the secrets and suspicion of the locals to make any progress in their case.
The GM creates a relationship web between key community members. These NPCs have drives, allies, rivals, and secrets. The PCs are focused on learning more about everyone's motives, so they can discover the killer. In the beginning, anyone can be the killer; the facts of the case develop in play.
Play focuses on two main phases:
1. On the Job, which are like scores from Blades in the Dark, but are focused on the investigation. The team decides a new community member or lead to follow-up on, and make that the goal of the day.
2. After Hours, which is when the PCs start to form personal relationships with the community members and each other.
Right now, my plan is for the game to have a time-limited element. After a certain number of investigative phases, another crime will occur and the community will become more nervous/hostile. This will also be reflected in the Heat replacement. Instead of Heat, negative attention in Blades, the team will build up Negative Press (all of these names are stand ins until I can develop something catchier). As the team does things in their investigation that upset the locals, their work will get harder and a nosy superior might start micro-managing them; if they max out on Negative Press, they will be pulled from the case.
Instead of Crew Sheets I'll have Crime Sheets, which define the closed-in community for the game. This can range from a rural town to a military base to a corporate event to more options; there are about 6 crime sheets planned right now, but they all share the feeling of being isolated and claustraphobic, in their own ways.
I have the character sheets about half done right now. As shown by the characters, the core mechanics are a mix of Forged in the Dark games and Fate, with some tweaks of my own.
Below is the in-progress character sheet. I still need to add the equipment list. Right now, I'm leaning towards a more fate-like aspect/feat system for special skills rather than predefined special abilities, but I'll still need to play around with it a lot more before deciding.
To walk through the sheet:
Top Section: Name, appearance, and commendations. Commendations are basically the character's rep/background, the professional accomplishment that made them famous enough to get put on this special team of investigators.
Actions: Similar to Forged in the Dark games, you can roll the listed actions. Pretty much all actions focus on social power and exploring information. Notably, there are no explicit attack actions. Despite what some US trends might suggest, most of the detectives I worked with never pulled their firearm and I want to deemphasize the role of guns in good police work.
There are XP boxes on the left for each attribute, which can be used to improve an action. You won't gain XP for desperate positions because I'm tweaking narrative positioning away from controlled/risky/desperate to a different positional tier. I'll save details for another post.
Harm/Equipment will be similar to Forged in the Dark core game mechanics. Harm will focus less on physical harm, however, and have a greater focus on mental/emotional wear and tear.
The Stress section has some similar mechanics. Instead of a Vice, you have an Anchor. You spend time using/engaging with that anchor to decrease stress. Trauma is replaced by burnout, but it remains pretty much the same mechanically.
The big change is your resistance system. This is partly because most consequences will be social/psychological and because I want to play around with a psychology-based resistance system. Basically each character has three types of psychological defenses: the Mask, which is the "ideal" self/way they hope to manage challenges; the Alarm defense, which is the "everything is overwhelming" defense and usually some sort of chaotic, out-of-control, or destructive coping (similar to vices); and the Shadow, which is the part of them they tried to hide from others, but slips out.
Each time you use a defense to resist something, you fill in a box. Your dice pool is based on how many boxes you've checked since using your Anchor. The more you use one defense, the less stress it'll take...but if you fill up a defense it will permanently effect your relationship with your Anchor during the After Hours phase.
Here is an example character:
Martina joined the team after she successfully interrogated a major serial killer. As shown by her actions, she is more skilled in the analysis and data collection side of things. She is petite and lacks the official bearing of most cops, and won't get far trying to rely on authority or swagger. As shown by her anchor, she is a legacy cop: her father was a beloved chief of police. When her days are rough, she calls him for guidance and support.
The defenses sketch out Martina's basic personality. On the surface, she is a perfectionist and hard-charger, but when stress builds up, her addictive personality shows up. She's currently sober, but replaced her nightly drinking with heavy smoking, and usually smells like cigarettes. A character's shadow represents a past experience that they want to forget/hide, that still comes out in different symptoms. For Martina, she was bullied growing up, and still has moments of panic when she feels her control slipping.
Mechanically, this personality plays into how Martina will resist consequences. She prefer to manage challenges with her perfectionistic, measure twice and cut once approach. If an interrogation is about to go off the rails, she'll use her perfectionistic defense to know the suspect's entire file, including the one piece of information needed to get things back on track.
But if her perfectionism has already been exhausted, she might have to rely on another defense...like her addiction. Rather than get angry (minor harm) that an interrogation went wrong, she'll go smoke a few cigarettes, and come back unharmed and ready to try again.
If she gets cornered by a hostile suspect, she might rely on her shadow defense: panic. She hates appearing panicked, but in this case she is able to scream for help, and avoid being hurt.
In this current point, Martina has built up significant stress already and used her perfectionistic defense twice already. She can use it one more time without consequences. You can also see that she has burnout from a previous day. Whatever happened that day left her guilt ridden, and likely drives her perfection even more.
I still need to play around with the majority of mechanics, but it's a nice break from Karma in the Dark. This game also has a stronger sense of optimism/heroic quality to it, which is a nice change. The game is not about playing dirty cops; it's about policing the right way: through relationships, hard work, and community good will.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.