Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Thin Blue Line - A Detroit Police Story

The latest project by Melior Via (the company behind Accursed) is a modern urban fantasy setting, which focuses on the paranormal investigations of the psychically gifted police officers of Corktown Precinct.

John Dunn offered to let me have a sneak peek at the current draft of the player's guide, so I thought I'd give a quick overview in case anyone else was interested in the project. I will focus mainly on the crunch because that's the area I know best.

Chapter 1: Detroit History

The first chapter is 39 pages, around a quarter of which covers the history of Detroit, the rest describing the neighborhoods and regions of interest, along with some maps. Most of the information is based on real-world history and geography, but there are also subsections covering supernatural activity.

Someone who is already familiar with the history of Detroit might already know some of this information, but for anyone else the chapter is invaluable. It's also well organised, broken down into separate sections that each cover different parts of the setting.

Chapter 2: Corktown Precinct

This chapter is 11 pages, and focuses on Corktown Precinct and the police force. It delves more deeply into the supernatural side of things, describes the various ranks and roles of the police officers, and explains the recruitment and training process.

Chapter 3: Fresh Recruits

This chapter is 11 pages, and covers character creation, setting rules, Edges and Hindrances.

Everyone begins with Knowledge (Law) d6 for free, which feels a bit excessive to me - I'd expect a typical lawyer to have Knowledge (Law) d6, but for most police officers I would rely on Common Knowledge. Savage Worlds Deluxe actually uses a lawyer with Knowledge (Law) d4 in one of its examples, and none of the Police stats in the Horror Companion have Knowledge (Law) at all.

Characters are also required to take at least d4 in Driving, Fighting, Guts and Shooting, which seems pretty reasonable. However the fact that they're not freebies, and that Legal Authority is explicitly defined as an Edge rather than a setting rule, would imply to me that PCs don't need to be police officers if they don't want to be - a common trope in urban fantasy, where the supernaturally-gifted civilian protagonist is occasionally called upon for their expertise. I don't know whether that is the intent, but I think it would make a fun option, even if it's only included as a footnote.

Setting Rules

  • Just as Lucky: This rule was also used in Accursed, although I'm not overly fond of it for reasons I've outlined before.
  • Lost Illusions: Like "Damaged Characters" from Accursed.
  • Reason and Delirium: A new mechanic, somewhat reminiscent of the Roads/Paths in WoD. It's an interesting idea that fits the setting like a glove, and I think I prefer it to the sanity mechanics I've seen in other settings.
  • Skills: Like in Accursed, Guts is used for Fear checks, Climbing and Swimming are merged into Athletics, while Lockpicking and Stealth are merged into Subterfuge. Two new specific Knowledges (Forensics and Parapsychology) are also included, and they're a good fit for the setting.

As with Accursed, a few Edges and Hindrances are also included from the Horror Companion, although you could ignore them if you didn't want to purchase an extra book.

Hindrances

There are four new Hindrances. Disrupted Psyche is like Cursed from the Horror Companion, except it works against Psychic powers rather than Miracles, and has been reduced to a Minor Hindrance. Glass Jaw has shown up in other settings. The other two are more interesting (and unique as far as I'm aware): Gambler and Haunted.

Edges

There are two new Arcane Backgrounds and five new Edges (although one of those is Dirty Fighter, which has appeared in other settings). The Edges don't explicitly list their categories; Parapsychologist looks like a Professional Edge, but it would be nice to know for sure (because of the rules for stacking bonuses).

Chapter 4: Parapsychology

This chapter is 12 pages, and details the new Arcane Backgrounds and their powers, including 14 new powers geared towards different types of psychic characters. Most of the powers look pretty good, the only one I'd take exception to is Autodidact (+6 to any Knowledge skill of your choice with a duration in hours) - I'd personally reduce the bonus to +2 (the same as the Scholar Edge).

As well as Psychics, there are also rules for Nullifiers - characters who are able to block the supernatural powers of others. I wasn't too sure about treating them as an Arcane Background initially, but after reading the extensive flavour text I think it's a good fit.

The chapter finishes up with a few pages on paranormal phenomena and rival organisations.

Chapter 5: Gear Locker

This chapter is 10 pages, and covers equipment and vehicles. There's a lot of gear listed, some of it is the same as SWD and some of it is new. Most of it looks pretty good, although there are a few areas I'm hoping the writers will take another look at before publishing, in particular:
  • Tasers are described but don't have any stats yet. Hopefully they won't work the same as ETU (I explained here why I dislike their version).
  • Splinter Rounds give a +2 bonus to Shooting rolls (the same as shot) but it's not clear whether they inflict the same damage as shot (1-3d6 depending on range) or as slugs (2d10).
  • Cold Iron Rounds gain +2 AP against creatures vulnerable to cold iron, which seems a bit arbitrary; if a fae is vulnerable to cold iron, surely they would still benefit from wearing physical armour?
  • M84 Stun Grenade are described as being "used to blind and deafen enemies", but they don't actually cause either outcome, only Shaken. I would have expected them to work a bit like the Blind power with the Sound (Deafen) trapping from SWD.
  • Tear Gas Grenades also cause only Shaken, which (particularly considering the new Shaken rule) makes it a very weak option that will barely slow most foes down. The same with the Paranormal Irritant Spray. I would have thought Fatigue might be more appropriate.
  • Riot helmets are only 50% effective against head shots, the same as a pot helm - however unlike a pot helm, they have a polycarbonate visor. Helms with visors are usually 100% effective against head shots.
  • Motorcycle jackets provide the same protection as chainmail, which seems quite a lot. Even providing the same protection as leather armour would seem quite generous to me (I usually just treat them as reinforced clothing; +1 armour unless you're hit with a raise).
Summary

The version I looked at is still a draft, but it's packed full of good content and is clearly close to completion. It actually reminds me a bit of the novel "Rivers of London" (called "Midnight Riot" in the US) by Ben Aaronovitch, except based in Detroit rather than London, and I can definitely see it appealing to fans of urban fantasy.

You can check out the Kickstarter here, and view the website here. I will definitely be backing this one.