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General Gritty City Watch campaign (outline)

CapnZapp

Legend
The Agents of Edgewood campaign got me thinking. How would I personally do a campaign starring a group of city watchmen in a large fantasy city?

Please note this isn't posted in the Pathfinder subforum. It isn't related to, or intended as a comment on, Paizo's adventure path. These are my own general ideas for themes in a decidedly different city watch campaign.

I'm envisioning a teeming metropolis rank with poverty and desperation, where corruption and villainy rages. Drugs, prostitution, violence and racketeering are just about the only viable means of surviving if you don't belong to the privileged few. Your species or ancestry defines the impression you give others. Gangs recruit mostly only from "their own", and squabble incessantly over territory and perceived slights. The most prominent exceptions are the churches, temples, monasteries and other "houses of worship", religious organizations that accept you regardless of the length of your ears, tail and horns, or whether your skin is scaly or not. Other than that, they act just like the other forms of organized crime, however, with the goddess of love running the temple prostitutes and the god of indulgence controlling the influx of opium as two examples. Humans default to the privileged classes - noble ladies, watch commanders, rich people are likely human. Following in the footsteps of the great Dragon Age game, elves run powerful forest nations, but in this city, elves are consigned to ghettos. Halflings are infamously insular people that simply doesn't talk to the law. Goblins make everybody else nervous, breeding rapidly and taking over block after block. Gnomes have no sense of community, but make for dreaded assassins and internal affairs detectives. Dwarves are few but relatively rich and well-connected, making them fearsome opponents. Maybe.

Likely scenarios would revolve around making busts, talking to informants, dealing with gangsters, catch (or at least kill) murderers and cultists, and so on. Even helping the "innocents", the "citizens" once in a while! The focus would, as appropriate for D&D, lie on action. Sherlocking clues is all good and well, but that's not the main focus. What is a focus is the consequences of making choices. I'm not talking simplistic stuff like losing your good alignment for doing "bad" stuff. I'm talking having to live with the consequences of taking the easy way out - bribes, deals, looking the other way. On the other hand, if you never cut corners, skip protocol or rough up suspects, you won't get results fast enough for your superiors. All this is intended to have consequences down the line.

Alignment: In order to not get the players stuck on debating whether an act is good or evil, every natural creature (humans, animals, monsters) registers as neutral in alignment. Another change is that the aligned damage of outsiders (angels, demons etc) hurt every natural being equally. The intended result is that player characters and NPCs are just "neutral". They don't take aligned damage from each other, but they all take aligned damage equally from outsiders. Undead, demons and angels suffer aligned damage as per the normal rules, however.

Luxury: Another rule suggestion regards temptation. Okay, so the naive suggestion would be for characters to desire gold for personal gain. But mixing in regular gold (for purchasing magical upgrades) with money needed for greasing noblemen, maintaining expensive mistresses and so on doesn't work well in the context of D&D. So I'm thinking something different, yet rather simple. Each level you get a luxury point. Spend this on anything you can think of, that fits your character: gambling debts, watch commanders and gang leaders in your pocket, For example, a level 7 character might have put 2 points in "impressive home" and 5 points into "gambling debts with the Dwarf mob". Another character might instead spend 3 points on "Charlize the Courtesan" and 4 points on "favors with the commander of East Quadrant". The purpose would be signal to your games master (me) what kinds of trouble you want your character to fall into. That is, these points are meant to be opportunities for stories. Not liabilities. In other words, you'll get into trouble either way, but if you refuse to spend luxury points you simply don't get any say into what kinds! ;)

Leads: to maintain momentum, you generate leads simply from skills such as as Gang Lore, Vice Lore, Street Lore. (If you have suggestions for more like these, I would love to hear about them! :) ) A good skill check roll might mean you can move directly to the bust stage of a case. Otherwise you might have to work your way through a series of clues, talking to pimps, witnesses, and gang members. The point is; the skills lead you to the trail of bread crumbs, somewhere along the line. What you do with that information is then up to you. Do you bust everyone according to what crimes they have committed (and you can prove)? Or do you trade favors to get you where you need to be?

Store credit: If players feel the regular notion where heroes loot their fallen enemies to purchase their magic weaponry, not to mention keeping "grease money" separate from gold per level, "store credit" is an alternative. Under this alternative, you can either turn in found money and items into evidence or you can keep it for yourself, granting you luxury points. Either way, making busts and solving cases gets you store credit, so instead of using regular gold to buy magic items, you requisition them from Watch HQ. The reason for jumping through these hoops is that in a regular D&D campaign, players wouldn't want to spend money on luxuries when they could instead spend them on magical plusses. But since temptation is a key theme in this campaign, gold for items needs to be siloed separately from "wealth". And to that end, store credit allows the campaign to have the watchmen act more like real law enforcement, that isn't simply stealing from the population. They CAN pilfer stuff, but for story reasons (luxury points) rather than +1 swords. Stealing for story reasons is a choice. Taking gold for power upgrades is not.

Other possible issues to be discussed:

Species or Ancestry: To most citizens, all they see is that you're a cop and that you're a elf or dwarf or goblin. The city watch certainly can use members of the downtrodden races, both to reach out to the respective communities, but also to gain opportunities for undercover work that's closed off to human cops. So you should definitely not feel constrained to play a human (though recruiting NPCs to go undercover obviously remains an alternative). On the other hand, playing an exotic or rare race (Dragonborn? Leshy?) mostly makes it harder for me to involve you in the city's social fabrics; that you lose opportunities for roleplaying (even if only getting insults hurled at you). Therefore, choosing a species or ancestry that plays a large role in the city's politics and crime is strongly encouraged. Obviously you can work with your GM to ensure your choice is adequately represented, as long as you don't choose anything too esoteric.
Relatives: You are encouraged to make up friends, relatives and others you rely on in your private life. Why? Because stories about YOUR kidnapped wife, or YOUR uncle deep in debt with the Half-Orcs, are much more compelling than just some random housewife getting snatched up from the street, or some random old geezer not having the money to pay back his loan once the extortionate interest is added in!
Gender and Strength: While mechanical penalties to Strength are deeply unpopular among gamers today, there needs imo to be at least a minimal nod to the very real physical disparity between the sexes. How else explain prostitutes staying with their pimps (and why aren't there female pimps keeping their male hos in an iron grip), or that cases of domestic violence are more often about beaten wives than husbands? Right now, I'm going with zero mechanical changes, instead simply asking my players with female characters to avoid just three build choices most strongly associated with size and brawn: two-handed weapons, grappling and bend bars/lift gates. All other aspects of the game are entirely fine, including creating a strength-based fighter and weapons master that's great at climbing, swimming and whatever else Athletics is used for. In this campaign, WPCs leave the wrestling of perps and the kicking of doors to their male colleagues, but do everything else just as well, if not better.
Non-Lethal Damage: The choice to bring in perps alive should imo be a meaningful choice. To that end, I'm leaning towards only allowing specific damage types (blunt, cold, mental) to work for purposes of the game's non-lethal damage rule. Fire and slashing damage simply cannot make enemies drop without killing them.
Intelligence and Skills: while the focus won't be on making Sherlock skill checks, the issue remains - is Intelligence as an ability valuable enough by the regular rules for non-wizardy characters? Maybe you gain not just one more skill for each point of Int modifier, but one Lore skill (see Leads above) per point as well?






tl;dr: envision the tv series The Shield and its Strike Team as an open-ended fantasy campaign.
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
As you were stating all of this, it immediately was flashing in me a whole ton of stuff from Eberron's Sharn: City of Towers sourcebook. If you don't own it, quite a lot of what you were talking about here is part and parcel in that book. In the lower levels of the city (say in the Lower Dura district) organized crime, watchmen trying their best to stomp out crime or outright corrupt, people paying protection, brothels, assassins, racial inequity and so on and so forth are talked about and have influence in the book.

Now granted, you may not want to actually run a game in Eberron, but I did run a Sharn game recently using the sourcebook and indeed a lot of what you talked about was hit as the players navigated the impoverished lower sections of the city. So I can give a thumbs up to the tome as a great sourcebook for city-and-crime-based ideas if nothing else.
 

dave2008

Legend
I like the idea and the luxury mechanic sounds fun. Also, I do have few thoughts:

Non-Lethal Damage:
  • A blunt weapon can kill, so I assume there must be some mechanic/rule for declaring an attack is non-lethal.
  • Can you use a slashing weapon as a blunt weapon? The heal or broad side of a sword for example. Possibly with penalties or reduced damage?
  • Massive damage. Use a version of the rule in the DMG with the primary focus being to knock someone unconscious. That skill is often a big part of these types of stories.

Justice for All or King's Justice:
  • What happens to criminals when they are caught. Is there a trail? Is there judge and/or jury?
  • Is there another option: trial by combat? In a twist, maybe the combat is performed by randomly selected gladiators (not personally or chosen champions)
  • Is one person judge/jury/executioner
  • A group of street judges like Judge Dred?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I like the idea and the luxury mechanic sounds fun. Also, I do have few thoughts:

Non-Lethal Damage:
  • A blunt weapon can kill, so I assume there must be some mechanic/rule for declaring an attack is non-lethal.
  • Can you use a slashing weapon as a blunt weapon? The heal or broad side of a sword for example. Possibly with penalties or reduced damage?
  • Massive damage. Use a version of the rule in the DMG with the primary focus being to knock someone unconscious. That skill is often a big part of these types of stories.
Thank you for your interest!

I'd use the game's existing mechanism, such as "you take -2 to your attack roll".

I assume the game's existing rule for "improvised weapons" would suffice.

Massive damage just doesn't play a role in 5E or PF2, except maybe at level 1. More generally I don't believe in systems where you get to bypass the HP pool (not in levelled games like D&D at any rate).
 


CapnZapp

Legend
Justice for All or King's Justice:
  • What happens to criminals when they are caught. Is there a trail? Is there judge and/or jury?
  • Is there another option: trial by combat? In a twist, maybe the combat is performed by randomly selected gladiators (not personally or chosen champions)
  • Is one person judge/jury/executioner
  • A group of street judges like Judge Dred?
I would say that in most cases the perp cease to be interesting for the story once caught. The case is closed, time for two new assignments!

The players might catch up with a criminal as he or she rots away in the dungeons when they have reason to. A former arch nemesis asking to meet a character in a last ditch attempt to get out of gaol; using a prisoner's contacts; that sort of thing.

Of course, this being a fantasy world with a decidedly non-modern criminal system, a lot of crimes lead to execution. Still, it's easy to imagine perps having to sit in prison for some time before that sentence is effectuated, leaving time for stories to develop.

The City Watch is not supposed to go Judge Dredd on people. Especially not upstanding citizens. Or those protected by greater interests.
 

dave2008

Legend
Massive damage just doesn't play a role in 5E or PF2, except maybe at level 1. More generally I don't believe in systems where you get to bypass the HP pool (not in levelled games like D&D at any rate).
That brings up an interesting point. How will you handle the increasing power of leveling? Is this a strictly low level campaign or are you thinking 1-20?
 

dave2008

Legend
Of course, this being a fantasy world with a decidedly non-modern criminal system, a lot of crimes lead to execution. Still, it's easy to imagine perps having to sit in prison for some time before that sentence is effectuated, leaving time for stories to develop.
It also gives them time to escape or be bailed out for political/ crime/ story reasons to become a reoccurring villain or possible informant. I mean, how many times has Batman put the Joker in Arkham?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
I would add to my previous reply that in the cases where the player characters have a vested interest in obtaining a given sentence for someone, I would obviously allow them to pursue leads helping them to reach that goal.

My reply was only meant to say "the heroes play cops, not lawyers".
 

CapnZapp

Legend
That brings up an interesting point. How will you handle the increasing power of leveling? Is this a strictly low level campaign or are you thinking 1-20?
I know myself well enough to know I'm much better at relating to, and therefore come up with, quests at low level than high level.

In order to still allow the players the hope of reaching 20th level, I plan to morph the campaign from an open-ended sandbox to a specific "save the city from destruction" plot, with the shift taking place during maybe levels 7, 9, 11 something.

As for this plot, I obviously have Agents of Edgewatch to look at during the coming months. Another suggestion I got was Zeitgeist, if I can make that story fit a more traditionally backwards fantasy metropolis.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
It also gives them time to escape or be bailed out for political/ crime/ story reasons to become a reoccurring villain or possible informant. I mean, how many times has Batman put the Joker in Arkham?
Sure with the caveat that heroes of written fiction tend not to get nearly as frustrated by having their hard work essentially nullified as players of role-playing games... ;)

Batman would totally kill Joker, raise his corpse as undead, Imprison that abomination, create a Demiplane to store the imprisonment jewel, then throw away the plane shift key to that dimension, and finally Wish everybody forgot about his existence... if Joker got out of jail more than maybe twice in one campaign... ;)
 
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dave2008

Legend
Sure with the caveat that heroes of written fiction tend not to get nearly as frustrated by having their hard work essentially nullified as players of role-playing games... ;)

Batman would totally kill Joker, raise his corpse as undead, Imprison that abomination, create a Demiplane to store the imprisonment jewel, then throw away the plane shift key to that dimension, and finally Wish everybody forgot about his existence... if Joker got out of jail more than maybe twice in one campaign... ;)
True, but it could be a hook to investigate deeper - why does the scum keep getting back out! Hmmm...
 

CapnZapp

Legend
As for the justice system, I hope to not have to delve too deep into that. I am dimly aware even the ancient Romans had a truckload of laws and regulations, so when I'm envisioning that the law protects the rich, the influential, the connected and the strong, I know that's more "fantasy" than "history".

The City Watch itself is supposed to be one of the most protected organizations. Not because the murder of a lowly watchman is of any particular interest, but because how this ultimately threatens order and those in power.
 

Aldarc

Legend
My first take reading the thread title: “Why is the hockey mascot Gritty part of the city watch?”
 

samlarson

Villager
Relatives: You are encouraged to make up friends, relatives and others you rely on in your private life. Why? Because stories about YOUR kidnapped wife, or YOUR uncle deep in debt with the Half-Orcs, are much more compelling than just some random housewife getting snatched up from the street, or some random old geezer not having the money to pay back his loan once the extortionate interest is added in! like this payday loan affiliate program
I always underestimate that part in my plays
 
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I once played in a campaign where, for a few levels of play, the PCs were all members of the Sharn (Eberron) Watch.

It was fun and memorable. The GM threw some oddball stuff at us, like two bakers who were rivals in the same vicinity of each other and we kept having to break up arguments.

We got a lot of use out of Saps in those adventures, and I never thought a +1 Merciful Light Mace would come in so useful.
 

Eltab

Hero
Random Encounter: Guardian Angels (as in NYC). Look like just another street gang on the surface but they have a dispersed "territory", really do look after the weal of those whom they protect, and tend towards Good / Lawful. They also have an agreement to cooperate with The Authorities but are not a subordinate tool nor a cats-paw group.

Put some variety into "you have to drum up some evidence / clues / witnesses".
 

Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
If you want gritty, perhaps pathfinder is not the best system? Have you considered Warhammer 2nd ed, or the GLOG?
 

Stormonu

Legend
For a City Watch campaign, I wouldn't use the penalty to non-lethal force. I'd make that the standard, and make using lethal force a -2 penalty to hit (assuming that the watch members are overcoming their training to inflict deadly wounds rather than capture).

Also, I'd personally draw on a lot of '20s era gangster lore - Chicago mobs, the untouchables and the like - for most of the roster of villains, perhaps also Gangs of New York for inspiration. If you want something a bit more modernish, I'd personally draw on things like Law & Order (you could have PCs actually have two characters - one set for the watch on the street observing and investigating criminal acts and the others who are a mix of investigators, lawyers and/or defenders involved with the cases once an offender is brought in) or perhaps something like CSI, where the PCs investigate and attempt to solve post-crime action. Or a mix of all three - walking a beat investigating crimes and/or mysteries, and bringing offenders to justice while trying to keep afloat of the rampant political/corrupt bureaucracy and make things better for all involved.
 

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