Friday, March 14, 2014

By the Numbers: Playing the Police

Piggy-backing on my previous post I'm going to go through a combative encounter with the Police, as I would run it if I was in game. This should help clear up some of the questions from my last post. If this goes well, I'll do more of these to help illustrate some of the other GM concepts I plan to cover in the future.

As with my previous example the party is trying to rob a store. Specifically they are looking for financial records related to Mafia money laundering in an other wise unassuming Mom & Pop shop. They choose to force the back door, assuming that the alley will give them the cover they need to work undisturbed. The store's back door is guarded by a keypad lock. The team's electronics guru goes to work on the case, making a Locksmith + Agility [Physical] test, and scoring a number of hits. This gets him access to the guts of the keypad. He then goes to work rewiring the internals.

For tests that may have Dramatic Consequences(tm) I will generally make the roll for my player, which some players don't like this, most enjoy the added dramatic tension, especially when I describe success, or failure, with some thematic flair.

On the second  Locksmith + Agility [Physical] to rewire the internals I roll a glitch. Now, when I'm making rolls for my players I'll occasionally fudge a roll in their favor, It helps to keep the game moving, and helps to keep the story tight. However, I won't fudge a roll against a player. If they make a roll, great. This also changes depending on the experience of the group, if I have a veteran group, I don't fudge the dice. To each their own I guess. Anyway. A glitch is rolled, not a critical glitch, so the door does open. However, they have now tripped the alarm.

Once the alarm is tripped I start rolling a threat pool. Adding a die every minute of real time, or, every initiative pass. Whichever is greater. I use the professional rating of the threat as a limit to the test, raising that limit by 1 if a Lieutenant is present, or if combat is underway. Successes on this test determine the amount, of response. Especially for police this pool can grow quite large, and with a limit of 5, or higher, once combat is joined, and senior officers are on site the opposition can ramp up very quickly.

I'll fast-forward through the police response to the actual combat, using the method above the first officer arrive three rolls after the players tripped the alarm. I rolled a single success on three dice, and so a single car arrived, with one officer. Now, the question was asked in my previous post how professional rating effects the behavior of my threats. I'll get into the details a bit later, but at this point the difference in professional rating means that the officer isn't going to be stupid.

Pulling into the parking lot, lights, and spotlight shining into the store the officer takes cover behind the drivers side door, side arm readied. Now, the lights entering the store give a -3 dice penalty, and the officer gets to use the door as a barrier.

Once combat begins, the officer ends up wounded in the opening exchange. I like to view professional rating as a gauge for wound levels. For example, a professional rating 1 grunt is going to retreat at a light wound, anything equal to, or above, a -1 penalty. Simply put, they don't care enough to hang around. However, an officer with professional rating 3 is going to hang around up to a much more serious wound, and a -3 penalty. Also, professional rating determines how a threat will react up to the point where they retreat. For example, in the opening exchange of fire the officer takes three boxes of physical damage, for a -1 modifier. His immediate response is to switch from his side arm, to the shotgun in the cruiser, effectively increasing the lethality of his response.

At a -2 modifier, he's going to move towards the rear of the vehicle, increasing his cover. Also, at the higher professional rating he's more likely to keep calm, and radio effective instructions back to his superiors. This means that other units arriving on scene will arrive in more advantageous positions.

For example, let's take the same storefront. At professional rating 0, the opposition would flee at the first sound of gunfire. At professional rating 1, any backup would simply charge at the front door, and most likely end up in a meat grinder scenario. At 2, they might think about the alley in back, but the focus would still be on the front of the store, at 3, they have the back alley covered, and will work to limit escapes. At 4, or higher, things get really ugly for my players. Specialist opposition, vehicles, drones, snipers, well laid traps.

I always assume that a Runner is professional rating 4. So, at a professional rating 4, you're playing yourself. Anything my players might do, my opposition will do. At rating 5, or 6, the opposition is smarter, faster, better equipped and meaner then my team. I rarely see the need to go above 4 in my games. Police, at 3, with a Lieutenant, or a hardened security team are usually enough of a threat.

Remember, every initiative pass you're making that threat pool roll, each hit means more bad guys show up. Eventually if enough hits are rolled, I usually view it as when I reach a point where I'm losing hits due to the limit, the next group up the threat ladder responds. That might be a drone, or drones, or a SWAT team, whatever is appropriate. At that point the limit for your test goes up, and you keep rolling.

Also, when the team effectively neutralizes the threat, the pool resets. Let's assume that the officer responds, and in that opening volley he's killed. He's not had a chance to radio back, as he's not had his combat turn yet, so all dispatch knows is that he was sent to the store. At this point, the pool resets to zero, and I go back to adding a die a minute. It's a good way to teach players to deal with threats quickly, and cleanly, to prevent them from rapidly growing.

Well, I hope that helped flesh out a little bit in terms of how I handle professional rating in my games, as always, feel free to leave comments and I'll address them.


  1. Going to try this tonight. I really like the way this all fits together, but I'm a little worried about the one-minute window of time to add dice. I'll probably "pause" the clock if we're discussing setting or other situational details especially since I run the game in a Google Hangout so maps and drawings are at a minimum.

    1. That's a good point, I use the one minute rule as a guide, though you're of course free to increase, or decrease, the value as you see fit for your group.