Crime


  • Pitcrew

    I have seen crime come up on a variety of games, but it has led to a lot of troubles in my experiences across numerous games. The question I have this morning is, how could Crime be handled better?

    In my experience, most games become anti-Crime. Criminal RP is about catching, containing, and then finishing a character, typically through retiring the character. If we proceed from the assumption that all RP is good RP, why does it seem so often that Crime RP is not only bad, but unsustainable? Can Crime be handled better? Must characters be forcibly retired from Crime RP? Are there alternatives that could be seen?


  • Politics

    @Bennie
    In general, one of the problems with crime RP is that people want to deal with it with finality, and that's not the way crime works, especially in fiction (continuous fiction, that is).

    If you play a cop, you want to be able to catch the dude that did the deed. If you play a prosecutor, you want to be able to stick them in jail foreverz. If you play a criminal... you want to get away with it.

    The only way to keep everyone happy is to give a little on each end. The guy gets caught, but gets off on a technicality. The guy gets sentenced, but his supernatural friends bust him out. The problem with playing a criminal is that you have to be very careful who you commit a crime against. Some characters will retaliate by murdering you, and that's bad for you.

    In general, I think crime and law enforcement need to have a working relationship out of character and law enforcement needs to realize that, at least when it comes to PC criminals, they will probably not be very effective; and as such, storytellers that like to run criminal mysteries should try to make the wins that the cops get feel earned and important.

    Edited to add that if a criminal PC is just that fucking stupid and does something ridiculously dumb and obvious, then it becomes a too-bad-so-sad situation and at best they'll have to escape prison if caught, which means being on the lamb for a long, long time unless they can change identities well enough to continue existing within the setting of the game.


  • Admin

    I think the problem is a bit more fundamental than Crime not working; my take on it is that resources (not necessarily the WoD merit by the same name) are not working and it's affecting a lot of other areas of a MU*.

    Before Crime can function thematically it has have a place in the overall theme and it must lead to some engaging roleplay. For most games that's an afterthought; it's put together somewhat hastily (usually in the form of grid squares and gang names buried in some wiki page), it's represented by a couple of attributes ('black market', 'contacts', etc) and then players are left to do their thing. What, precisely, is that thing?

    • Stealing stuff (or any traditional blackmail, extortion, etc alternatives) means nothing because there's no shortage of resources, nothing to be truly gained by doing so.

    • Pushing another gang out is similarly just as useless; even if you succeed how is your roleplay changed in any measurable way? Territory as a resource is sorely underdeveloped in most MU*.

    • There is usually not much exclusive to criminals; any character can have larceny, contacts, etc without being 'a criminal' per se. Compare that to playing someone in law enforcement - there is no merit that lets you be a part-time cop.

    • It's a (possible WoD-only) cultural thing but there are simply more PrPs thrown for catching bad guys ("robbery in progress, all units respond!") than for being one. And it's a well documented phenomenon that people go where the plot already is.

    None of these things mean you can't have a very successful Crime genre in a game, it only means it has to be planned for. Staff has to facilitate advancement in a way similar to what law enforcement has (anything from street hassler to mob boss), there must be unique elements non-career criminals can't have access to (perhaps black market gear, information that can mirror without being the same as being able to look people up people on the FBI database, etc), and actual reasons why you would want to be king of the hill other than simply being that.

    On top of it you need measurable boons which boost your influence the more successful you are, and part of this means making it so everyone in the game isn't independently wealthy. After all even in real life poverty is a leading factor for criminal activity, so if you make your game so everyone has stacks of cash to wipe their ass with what's the point of being a criminal? Introducing shortages - and forcing people to make choices - helps many aspects of gameplay, and Crime is just one of them.



  • What most dramas centered on persistent criminal environments have in common (someone mentioned "Sons of Anarchy" in another thread, the first show that came to mind for me is "The Wire," where the cop and criminal characters interacted semi-regularly, but there are a handful of other good models) is that they put their criminal characters within an organization that supports ongoing crime'ing. Your crime boss will get you a lawyer to find the technicality to get you off on. Your low-level enforcer friends will make NPC/guest character witnesses disappear. Your mole inside the police department will tamper with evidence for you, and your crooked politician will make sure the crusading prosecutor and/or judge are dissuaded from doing anything about you. Crime is dangerous, and if you don't have protection from the societal rules erected against it, you won't last long.

    There's very little care taken with setting up a criminal infrastructure, in my experience. Also, players want to play lone wolf criminals which, in reality, probably will get arrested and/or killed fairly quickly. And in fiction (since this isn't reality we're talking about), can't interact with anyone else and aren't very interesting. Lone Wolf Anythings suck, but they're particularly unsustainable if they're criminals imo.


  • Creator

    It also depends on what kind of crime you're using. Traditional street crime is done off-the-cuff, and usually by people that aren't professional criminals (which is generally a rarity). The people who are professional criminals (using the term extremely loosely) are doing what they do to get by, and a lot of it is pretty petty. While dealing drugs and theft doesn't seem petty to the people doing it and the people it's done to, these are typically low-end criminal activities that don't really earn much attention. They can ruin your life, certainly, since if you steal over a certain amount or are caught dealing/carrying over a certain amount it counts as a felony which fucks up your life in ways most people don't realize (even then, when I was a DoJ agent, we had a list of businesses that would still hire felons to ensure that there was a light at the end of the tunnel financially, plus advocacy programs).

    Your organized crime like the 1%ers, various mobs and cartels and the whole smorgasbord of ethnic and local groups that make a business out of horrible fucking shit we do to one another on a day-to-day, operate differently. A good example is "The Wire," with the Barksdale organization. Crime, unfortunately, does pay pretty well. You'll notice that most of the low-end street characters fit the description above - and it's true, a lot of people end up in over their heads with groups like that. You see it with teens and the like that end up getting addicted to drugs or out on the street or escape an abusive situation or any number of things that leave them high and dry, so they have to resort to moving product (drugs, stolen merchandise, working cons) or selling themselves (though this is generally not something someone goes into on their lonesome, usually there's a handler or a partner involved). While there is a way back from that, it's genuinely unpleasant and usually involves institutionalization. A lot of the street dealers are expendable, which is also the point.

    To bring this back into focus regarding the hobby -- also keep in mind that this is very US-focused -- if you're playing a low-level street dealer, hooker, thief or even muscle, you shouldn't expect to have much status among the community. Most people would rarely have heard of you, and usually if anyone knows who you are, it's limited to a neighborhood unless you hit the headlines with your name or do time. Something that should probably be taken into consideration would be a reputation system, which would work outside of any sort of status system. Where status is like rank, your reputation is your social currency. People might know you're the dude to get horse from and what you sell is relatively clean, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're automatically in with the cartel that's supplying it. It just means that you'll have more scrutiny from the police (because confidential informants will probably tell them, if they don't find out when one of your customers gets busted), and more scrutiny from other people who would prefer that you give your business to them.

    If you're playing a character that's higher tier in their organization, you also should realize that you're pretty expendable as well. Most high profit criminal merchandise (drugs, cheap knockoff shit that breaks patent law, stolen goods and vehicles, people) is trafficked into the United States (or from one state to another), it rarely originates here. The things that are produced in the United States are usually trafficked out to other countries unless someone is running a solo business. To get from point A to point B, you need someone on either end. As a for instance, my state has a problem with drug trafficking organizations that originate from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia (the last count was around 35 international groups, if I recall), and production cycles of methamphetamine occur out of the state and are usually brought in. So, you've got the dude that's running the operation elsewhere (either out of the country or out of the state) and the guy that's facilitating the transfer of material into the area. That second guy, while useful, isn't the only person that could do this. If compromised, production and distribution won't cease. It may slow down for a good few months, but it'll kick right back up like nothing happened.

    So, in playing a criminal character, the idea that you're really not all that special and someone else could do your job just as easily as you could should be reinforced. In running a Crime sphere, you should also focus on things like ensuring that the PCs have communication lines within their DTOs or rings. Ideally, you would have a core group of storytellers that would focus on interpersonal stories since you kind of have to look at a criminal PC as you would any other PC with a job. You will rarely RP out a scene where your character is doing data entry at his office; as such, you will just as rarely RP out your drug dealer PC selling cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs, meth, etc. It's background noise. So, the focus should be on criminals working together. Yes, it's understood that your character is a drug dealer/hitman/car thief/whatever, but how does s/he get along with her/his superiors? That should be the focus of the sphere, with the occasional scene done where you have a specific thing you need to do, such as run muscle during a production cycle (which is a fancy term for when someone brings something into the area) or if you need to grab a specific car or kidnap someone or whatever. Most of it should be attempting to jockey for favor with your boss, like in a regular job.

    My final thought on this is that thematically, crime is very similar to how WoD Vampire functions. People are possessive over what scraps they manage to pull together. While there are quite a few people who will work together for the good of the organization, there are just as many people who would kill you or sell you out for a piece of your pie, either due to jealousy or simple greed. Anyhow, that's all. And also extremely long. Sorry for that.


  • Politics

    @somasatori
    All of this. Every word of it. It's also this sort of necessity that leads into needing storytellers that are willing and able to do this sort of thing and, most importantly, staff that are willing to trust them to do it. But more than that, players, who are willing to work with and against the IC structure.

    If you want to come into the game playing a drug dealer, that's great. If you want that dealer to deal in a place where there's already deals going down, you're going to either have to find a way to ingratiate and integrate, or you're going to have trouble. The key is to remember that both of these possibilities are roleplaying experiences, and running from one or the other isn't going to get you RP.


  • Creator

    @Coin said:

    If you want to come into the game playing a drug dealer, that's great. If you want that dealer to deal in a place where there's already deals going down, you're going to either have to find a way to ingratiate and integrate, or you're going to have trouble. The key is to remember that both of these possibilities are roleplaying experiences, and running from one or the other isn't going to get you RP.

    Exactly. If you're coming into an area, you need to either establish a reputation through going against the current structure (which, unless you have friends or supernatural powerz, will likely get you killed), or be willing to use the current structure for your own means until you have enough clout to branch off (again, which will likely get you killed).

    Either of those are incredibly good ways to build your character. Nothing in the criminal world exists in a vacuum. You will ALWAYS be on someone else's territory, and you will always be running up against antagonism from the police and from your fellows. Even if you're part of an established organization, many criminal organizations dislike one another. While there can be situations where they'll work together -- especially with ethnic organizations, this can't be overstated; in the United States, ethnic communities are still isolated bastions of the old world and if you're a white dude selling coke in Little Saigon, you're going to get some negative attention from the locals -- there are far more rivalries.

    How do you deal with that? Using the old GM/Storyteller gem: what do you do?


  • Politics

    @somasatori
    I find that the general problem with that is that players don't want to be antagonized, they just want to sit around and deal their drugs, so to speak. So if as a storyteller I drop a couple of mob enforcers on them during a scene who start muscling him out on part of the mob that runs that turf, the player is much more likely to get annoyed at me out of character rather than in character. This is why it's probably a great idea for a game's staff to be upfront about this stuff from the get go: if you want to play a criminal, be ready to have to deal with this sort of thing, much in the same way that if you want to play a cop, be ready to have PC criminals evade justice at some point.


  • Creator

    @Coin
    I have nothing more to say on that than "yes, all of this." It should be directly placed into the news/theme files for criminal PCs that you should be ready to deal with all of that.


  • Pitcrew

    Aye- and the protections that the mobs/organized crime run? They are top heavy. Its basically a fuedal system with associates- so unless Joe Schmoe is sworn into the organization in question. (And thus is trusted to RUN the businesses and ventures and not just push the drugs himself), he won't get the protections necessarily needed to run a criminal sphere like they are hoping to.

    Most of the people working with the mob are not sworn in anyway- and are just associates looking for an in or an easy buck. They might advance in rank, and position, sure, but just like with any business, its bottom heavy- tons of workers to replace those that are lost- the only danger and need to insure protection is at the top- where people running things getting caught can be bad for long term business.

    Thus- what amuses me is that criminals often times do the lowest level end rp in crime- its the sort of thing that people cannot realistically expect protection doing... I think that criminal PC's need to take a more social vampire approach- don't just be a drug pusher- be a drug pusher with a crew who oversees the local business- that might get you some protection. Mules/Whores/Muscle is easy to come by for criminal organizations- actual business acumen is a bit more rare- and leadership rarer still.


  • Pitcrew

    Aside from Shadowrun games, the only crime interaction I've had on a MUSH is at TR.

    In my observation, there are a couple of unique problems with keeping "crime sphere" PCs occupied:

    *As someone mentioned upthread, there is an not-insubstantial number of very individual/loner people who have no OOC inclination or IC motivation to band together. This makes PrPing and ST difficult if those people are not go getters and willing to take turn running their own prps and events for each other. Which tend to lead to:

    *I've noticed a lot of crime PCs really seem resentful towards LEO PCs for not providing them with RP (normally in the form of here, you try and catch me and I'll get away since I think your stats/abilities can't possibly trump mine). They see cop PCs have events and such, and I wonder if maybe they assume it's staff driven, so it fuels some feelings of unfairness there?

    As an example, the cops on TR tend to run slice of life things for each other. Going after NPCs, because it's less stress. You don't have to worry about someone saying that they're good with whatever outcome and then freaking out on you. You don't have to worry about someone pulling a punch at shooting at you. You don't have to worry about the inevitable ripple effects on all sides from PvP action. Now, there are a lot of people who want to RP that they're a cop but who never show for events or express interest in getting involved beyond channels and faction membership (I'd say those are like the loner criminal folks who want to use it as a justification for skills/livelihood but may or may not be really interested in RPing out 'the life), but I think you're more likely to have folks who want to RP being a cop with other people doing the same in the law sphere than folks willing to interact with strangers similarly in the crime sphere. I don't think everyone is like that, but that's just my observation as someone who has had both types of PCs.

    So I think crime folks are even more dependent on making their own fun than law folks are. (and both groups kind of historically have needed to very much be willing to make their own fun rather than wait around for staff support). I don't know a good way around that because of the nature of criminal PCs. They're so much more highly individualized than, say, a police officer. The police officer in theory can be ordered to do something, they have a reason to work with at least 1 other person, ect. I don't know that criminal PCs outside of organized crime or small playgroups have a reason to do that. They have even more of a reason to shrug off any staff plot with a "So?" than most sphere folks, and even if there is a big bad sphere meta plot thing going down there are always more people than not who are of the "So?" variety. (This is not bad or good, IMO, just an observation).



  • The not going after PC criminals is because a lot of cop PCs believe they can only go after NPCs (unless the PC criminal wants to be caught) because that is what they were told.

    When it was brought up to staff Troy was 'along the lines of 'No post is needed to say otherwise. It doesn't matter if they PCs think they can't interact with each other for cops and robbers stuff. The wiki doesn't say they can't.'

    In essence? The wiki is God to Troy. At least that is my impression.


  • Pitcrew

    No, the policy is quite clear, everyone must consent to it. Including the cops. Everyone must be willing to negotiate the fun. Including the criminals. I play a cop PC, I have had to fend off people who wanted pretty much to be able to do whatever they wanted while I was required to nerf my PC's skills so that they could have fun without consequence. That's not fun for me.

    The cop PCs have a clear understanding of the policy--a lot of times the people who want to involve them do not, because the first thing that is asked is "You can't do anything to me, right?" After awhile, the expectation of keystone copdom simply is not fun. And most of the time the people that end up asking for that aren't interested in a 3rd party running and NPC cop where that's possible w/o compromising anyone's IC. I know because I've offered and been declined many times.

    The disconnect seems to be during the "Before you engage in PvP of this nature all parties must consent to the risks and possibilities and all must compromise so that fun is had by all." Instead, IME as a cop PC, the conversation tends to go more along the lines of "I'm going to do whatever I want, you get to watch, but you better not do anything to impact my PC more than a slap on the wrists. What, you don't want to do that with your PC? You are denying me the opportunity to RP my PC." That's just as obnoxious as some Dudley Do Right who wants to investigate everything that shows up on the media board so they can go after the PCs involved. Though I have had really fun experiences too, when people are willing to talk it out. It's just that they seem to be in short supply, and it only takes a few times of someone being kind of obnoxious to you for most people to think, "You know, I think unless I know this person I'd rather not risk it."

    Oh, I do remember a few times another PC wanted to sic the PC cops on a 3rd party PC who did something to them, and did not seem to get why the PC cops were reluctant to do that without talking to that 3rd party so that they weren't in violation of the separation policy. Like, we had one person get really belligerent about it. It's not that doing that in and of itself was the problem, but any PC cop responding would need to be sure that it was desired by the PC who did the crime, and it was not clear that they knew that the person who'd agreed to a bit of crime RP with them was going to turn around and try to involve the cop PCs to do things to them.

    Not sure why a policy of communication first is such a problem, but it certainly can be. :(


  • Admin

    Why is conflict defined so strictly as being cop vs criminals?

    Again, my Sons of Anarchy binge run is probably doing the talking here, but it seems much more fun to mix it up, and there are so many approaches to plot. A cartel/the mob is moving in and the criminals must fight back without exposing themselves to the cops and get arrested (or wear cement shoes and go swimming in the ocean). The cops would love to mess with the PCs but they got orders and bigger fish to fry in the NPCs. Etc.

    As a sidethought - this isn't the TR thread, it's the 'how can we do Crime better' one. So let's try to bring up solutions and fun approaches rather than showcase how one implementation has failed. :)


  • Pitcrew

    I agree, it would be nice to break out of the cops vs. criminals mindset. Whether it's PC or NPC cops though I think that naturally people gravitate towards some kind of LE "antagonists" when it comes to crime. I do think gang vs. gang or even scrambling for power within a larger group (not necessarily PvP, but like...the small time ring wants to make a bid for power in the larger organization against NPCs) is more interesting.

    However, unless you make a sphere very focused (like, here are the 4 organizations to which you can belong, ect) I think you will still run into the problem of Crime folks being naturally a little more separated, a lot of outliers, and a need for some of the groups to make their own fun outside of staff attention. Maybe that could be done with some expectations of PC faction heads? Though that's not a for sure solution either. :(


  • Pitcrew

    Crime is hard. It is completely fun but it is hard. There is risk. Your character may die. It might not be a blaze of glory but a whimper of discontent. I played in the crime sphere before on many games. The last attempt went like this:

    My PC came on scene and made promises they were not at liberty to promise. They went to all the PC 'bosses' and asked for them to work together. If they said no, the PC then went to all their lackeys and recruited them over to their team. They just cut the feet out from under the main bosses and waited. There was a great dynamic on who was going to end up on top and the 'lackeys' had fun being bribed back and forth.

    When it comes to law both have to have an RP blind eye. When law arrests NPCs that are in the area of crime, crime needs to be like dumb criminal. Shouldn't have gotten caught. Let him rot. He's dead to us or such. When crime does it, law has to be like, fuck if I know what happened. There are real life cold case files that were never solved from minor theft to murder. So it takes hand in hand co-operation. At the end of the day, it should be about enjoyment. Sometimes you take a hit. Sometimes you take a retcon. Sometimes you win. It's all about fun for people and such.



  • I've almost reached the point where I feel you can have a Crime Sphere or you can have an official Law Sphere, but not both. This may come from having to mediate one too many situations where the cops had everything they needed to bust someone due to hard work and RP and the target refused the whole notion that they could ever be caught, or the number of times criminal PCs wanted to pull the I am Invincible thing,

    On TR attempts were actually made to implement consequences for crime. It went over like a lead balloon. How dare we interfere with their twinky fun?

    Some of the cops were pretty bad too. (I'm looking at Mr PC Police Detective who was handed evidance involving several PCs IC killing sprees and did...absolutely nothing with the information, you would think that the police might have had an interest in those dead bodies and mass graves, but no, Don't let possible plot interrupt the IC coffee and doughnuts,.)

    Bleh.


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