Wednesday, December 05, 2012

FATE Core Expansion: CrimeWorld

As some of you know, I'm a game design dilettante who the pros occasionally let play in the big leagues.  I've done writing for Dungeons  & Dragons, both the game and the comic, done some informal work for some indie companies (HKTPK), lots of design posts on various game forums and written the introduction for a few of my favorite game systems.  But I've yet to do any serious game work.

Well, Fred Hicks and the Evil Hat humans, who have the fabulous game system FATE, foolishly asked me to contribute a supplement for their kickstarter as they launch the new, streamlined edition of their game.  FATE is a very lean, elegant gaming system, with a lovely ration of dice rolling to descriptive play.  Much like Savage Worlds and Cortex, there really aren't ANY stories that a FATE game can't handle.

When Fred threw the offer my way, I realized the only knowledge of value I have is of crime.  Leverage episodes burned at least two or three crime stories or gimmicks on top of the main plot.  In order to keep up with this narrative burn rate, we wound up doing a lot of research.  A lot. Over the last four years my Evernote folder has become stuffed with notes on heists, alarm systems, cons, grifts, money laundering ... we were the first in the new cycle of con shows and still the purest. (If your partner's a cop, you don't count.  Sorry.  It negates a crucial part of the Con, the Blow)

And so game fans -- and heck, neophyte crime writers -- are going to get 10,000 words on the basics of cons and heists. Crimeworld: Heists and Cons will show you how to plan these crimes.  Pick your mark, set the stakes, lay out the complications that occur before, during and after such capers.  Although there will be FATE mechanics in the document in order to help game players integrate the ideas into their stories as efficiently as possible, I'm hoping it'll also serve as a decent primer on this particular niche of crime-writing.

Fred's asked us to make as much of our design process visible as possible, so this is the first in a series of posts about the book.  If you check over to the right, the tag "CrimeWorld" will lead you to the other posts.  I hope that, much like I've spent the last few years laying out the process of television for you folks, those of you who are interested will get to see how this sort of game and writing supplement come together.

I'll open up the Comments to you, both gamers and newbie writers, to put in your suggestions.  What do you want to know about Heists and Cons?  What would YOU want in such a book, either for gaming or as a sourcebook for your screenwriting?  I'll definitely be checking this post for feedback, and as always look forward to involving you in the process.

Now ask away!


Kathleen said...

Is there a definitive resource or listing of Confidence plans , perhaps in table/spreadsheet format, that lists their attributes and what is required to complete them successfully? I'd buy a book with an Appendix like that.
-not a thief
Curious Kat

Sprite said...

Yes indeed as a writer, for sure. And I think not just for heist and con, but also for murder. How to back engineer a crime. I want XXX how do I get from point A so that my outcome is that I get XXX. Get the jewels, the documents, the money, away with the crime itself.
I have already learned much from your show, how much more can you teach!

Sprite said...

And what each con is called and what it does.
What's a Cherry Pie or White Rabbit? and what makes up that con.
How many do you need to pull one off?

Matt said...

I'd love to see something about ways to help your players think on their feet when a plan goes wrong.

As a GM, one of the biggest problems I've had is getting my players to improvise when their carefully crafted plan gets a hitch in it, even though that's basically the best part of any heist story. They just freeze up, which kills the momentum we've got going at the table. Maybe there are some good improv techniques I could be feeding them?

Halcyon said...

The one thing books like this almost never do, that's fantastically useful, is show me not just what ideas you decide on, but what ideas you *reject*, and why they were tossed. Please, in addition to including what works, include what doesn't, and let us know why.

Also, for this specifically, I'm always fascinated by the world building. How do you design a mark? What attributes does he need? How would you take someone who wouldn't normally be a mark and make him the center of the story? Things like that.

kinesys said...

I am very excited by this project as I have long been a fan of criminal methodology. I do hope that you also bring an exhaustive bibliography.

Pixie said...

Tools of the trade: what are some of the basic things that any grifter/hitter/hacker/thief/mastermind would keep at hand. Especially the common, everyday things that can be used as/hacked-into a number of tools.

Better yet -- to fall back on my library school experience -- tricks of your trade, i.e. helpful resources and tips for how not to get arrested researching these sorts of things for oneself. Your favourite go-to blogs, books and search-tips. Basically, a CrimeWorld research guide, I guess.

Common mistakes/myths/misconceptions. What do you most see people get wrong, and how to avoid those pitfalls.

Pixie said...

Oooh, what Halcyon said. Not just what you keep, but how to decide what to throw away. Definitely that.

Anonymous said...

Definitely what Sprite said, a list of the basic cons. Plus an explanation of the steps of a con. I've heard references to the 'dangle', the 'hook', and the 'blow off', but I only have a fuzzy idea what they are. Most of us citizens need a crime primer. Don't forget, you know way more than the rest of us on this subject.

Josh said...

You could just publish your Evernote folder...

Jeff Johnston said...

As a player, how to plan a con or a heist. How to convince the GM your plan will work perfectly. How to handle a job that goes wrong.

As a GM, how to handle the mid-job "twist". What opportunities to look for. How to handle different tones (Heat or Reservoir Dogs vs. Leverage or Ocean's 11)

As a gamer, I'll be interested to see if you can "beat" the RPG of your show at it's own game.

Isaac said...

I was planning to support the Fate kickstarter anyway, but seeing that your work was a stretch goal is what convinced me to pony up a serious contribution rather than the token one buck for the basic PDF.

As Jeff said, I'll be interested to compare and contrast this with the Cortex Leverage game (which I'm very happy to have a hardcover of).

Heck, if you wrote a whole BOOK about Crime Stories, drawing upon your Leverage research, I'd buy that in a heartbeat, game-related or not!

Anonymous said...

Minor thing, but I'd love a list of *other* books on the subject that you would recommend. I read "The Big Con" by David Maurer, because of your recommendation (which I thought was excellent). What other resources would you suggest?

arsarcanum said...

+1 on the explanation of basic cons. Watching through the Leverage episodes again I constantly hear mention of cons that are never explained when forming a plan. ("How about X con?" "What's X con?" "It's like Y con but with zebras")

Sarah W said...

I'd like a run down of classic long cons, too. Historical con artists, too--Cassie Chadwick is a favorite of mine.

Are hackerless--or at least non-digital--cons truly possible these days? And would those be harder or easier to shut down?

But it's the psychologies of various con artists that fascinates me--especially their motivations. For some, it's obviously the money, but others appear to get off on being the smartest in the room (no matter which side they're playing) and the pay-off is just a way to keep score. Some appear to have great personal dislike for their marks (aside from the usual disdain), and one or two, at least from what I've read, appear to buy into their own cons on a deeper level--sort of like amnesiac kleptomaniacs.

Sorry. I love this stuff.

Dave The Game said...

I was kind of hoping Crimeworld would actually be a full-on setting, like the "Spy Story" issue of Miracleman where everybody is a spy but everybody thinks they're the only one.

Also I second the request for the con list, for various nefarious purposes!

Unknown said...

An explanation of the various ways to make money off of these crimes would be good too. Our favorite crew typically works off "an alternative revenue stream" (which I always assumed includes a series of convoluted short sales in various open markets, feel free to say how wrong I am). What are all of the possible revenue streams though? Have to buy the new gadgets somehow!

James said...

I'm going to agree with Matt, there are tons of things I'd love to seer as a GM, but some cluebyfour advice I can wield in the direction of my players for thinking on their feet when things go wrong in both social & physical plsns. I once tried using a clip from leverage where hardison spills coffee on elliott & the two play off each other to get away or something, but the player I was most attempting to reach just kinda scratched his head & said "so what if I don't have any coffee?"

John Taber said...

Not sure if anyone mentioned this...

1) What cons work well in RPGs?
2) Which cons don't work well in RPGs?
3) Con campaign concepts. Maybe a paragraph each or something. "A group of thieves helping those who are down and out." ;)

PS I was stoked when the FATE Core kickstarter hit 60K. I even posted a comment that I hoped it would hit 60K so I could get your content. ;)

ChelseaNH said...

In my Thursday game, we're currently running Star Wars and our group is working as bounty hunters (to build the skills we need for our primary goal). So we wind up pulling a lot of short cons to get information. What could help us a lot is a description of the con's basic toolkit: the essential skills and schemes that every con should have in one's back pocket, ready to go. Other than "cute girl in tight clothes" because that one seems to come to mind easily enough.

On the GM side, please remind them that relying on "cute girl in tight clothes" gets boring after a while...

Also, there's the eternal balance between "Beldevan applies her +17 Persuasion " and coming up with the entire spiel on the spot. And if you do like to play it out, how do you create and sustain the improvisational energy.

Rob Wieland said...

My blog has links to here as well as all the other settings part of the FATE Kickstarter.

Brad Ellison said...

A rundown on criminal organizations with quick breakdowns of how small gangs and larger syndicates tend to organize and how they interact with each other.

On that note, rules for mob creation, possibly along the lines of how city creation in Dresden Files works.

A criminal atlas of the US, giving the broad strokes of criminal activity/organizations in various major cities, and resources for running games set in multiple locations (small town crime vs. city crime, etc.)

A criminal history of the US, with resources for running games set in different eras.

a massive bibliography (and filmography, etc.) organized by category.

Harry Connolly said...

I'd like to see some sort of flashback mechanic like the one used in LEVERAGE. The players would be trapped in a room, the baddie would have the cops charge in, and one of the players would declare: "Of course the bad guy has the stolen plans in his pocket."

Then, the player explains the when he switched out the get well card for the plans, or whatever, and they get to make a roll.

Of something. Let it play out like Leverage.

runescape money said...
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jamoche said...

Something about how the con changes when the target is something big like a corrupt corporation or shadow government agency (I'm plotting something with the latter right now :) ). I'm sure it's more than just a matter of scale, and they've got the law on their side to complicate things.

ALONETANU94 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ruben said...

Honestly, I wouldn't mind seeing some of the best stuff from the Leverage RPG put into the fate version. (And yes, there is an official RPG!)

However, for specific things:
1. An "instant mark/scam/problem" generator type deal.

2. An instant "random plot twist" kind of generator.

3. I definitely think you need to beef up the Contest rules a bit for this supplement. After all, fighting isn't going to happen often but a whole lot of what you do in a con is a contest. Might even need special rules.

4. You're probably going to need to add in a Computer/Hacking skill.

WuseMajor said...

I'd appreciate a sidebar on low tech cons/heists. I mean, most heist movies are set in the modern day, but many Fate games are going to be in the past or some low tech fantasy world. So, while I know it's not the main subject, it would be nice to get a quick look at the changes that occur when you're trying to, say, heist King John's gold vault during the crusades, instead of heisting a modern bank.

I also hope you get a chance to chat with Mark Diaz Truman about Timeworks. Since you're both doing "heist" games (sorta), it seems like it would be nice if you two could touch base and figure out how best to help your two books play nicely together. Time and schedule permitting obviously.

cgeye said...

The hardest strategy to replicate would be what Nate tried to teach Hardison during the gold-buyers scam: How to make Plans B through X, and have them at the ready once a previous plan has outlived its purpose.

Nathan has to have them set up in a row, but flexible enough to be usable on the fly. How can that be replicated in the game without tipping hands?

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John, your comments about Fate Core (and the frequent tweets) got me to look. Once I realized there was also Shadow/Spider pulp stuff, I was in. Thank you kindly!

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Kate said...

Having run both a Leverage game and a Dresden Files (FATE System) game, I'd say that the idea of marrying the two is simply fascinating. Thanks for doing this. Me and my gamers just eat up your insights.

On the topic of what we'd want to see, well... Actually, a lot of the golden little tidbits you have buried about this blog in answer to our many questions over the years. Stuff like what public officials make the best investment for corporations, what the basic nuts and bolts of a good money laundering scheme are, when a middle-man is and isn't necessary, the actual limits of real-world hacking, and the legal quirks and codes that come most in handy or trip up people the most. One of the things I love about Leverage is that informed tone, and how true (if exaggerated) it was to a lot of the real-life possibilities and scams.

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What's a Cherry Pie or White Rabbit?

As a GM, one of the biggest problems I've had is getting my players to improvise when their carefully crafted plan gets a hitch in it, even though that's basically the best part of any heist story.

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