Mean Streets and Mean Villains
A Roleplaying Game by Mark Baker
Mean Streets and Mean Villains is inspired by the glamorous police and detective series of the '70s and '80s such as Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, Police Woman, Columbo, Kojak, Hawaii 5-0, Cannon, The Rockford Files,
The Avengers and New Avengers, The Professionals, or films like Dragnet and the Dirty Harry series. The list is endless, and I'm sure you could add a lot more that I haven't even thought of.
Mean Streets and Mean Villains is designed to allow you to run games in a similar vein: not large campaigns, but small, one-off games as a way of injecting a little light humour between your normal gaming sessions, or when
half your players don't turn up. Episode or Adventures are targetted at one, two, or (very occasionally) three or more players.
It's not a game that requires a lot of preparation or planning in advance. All you need to play this game is paper and a pen, a few six-sided dice, an imagination, and a feel for the genre.
As a player in Mean Streets and Mean Villains, you play the role of a Police Officer, Private Investigator, or an agent for a more covert (but flashy) government organisation fighting crime. Style is everything:
you don't have the gimmicks and high-tech toys of James Bond, but you do have a hot set of wheels, a big gun and a badge.
As a GM, you create a city populated by two-bit hoods, pimps and whores, informers, drug pushers and gun-toting thugs; and the police force who, by their eternal vigilance and diligence, try to persuade all the villains to
move on to another city. The Mean Streets need not even be set in a real city, or geography can be warped to keep the game flowing at a fast pace..... after all, how often do the television series worry about such details?
The setting for a game wants to be teeming with life, colour and vibrancy. This isn't Cyberpunk. Good, Bad and Business are clear cut divisions: the streets are filled with hookers and small time criminals pursuing their
trade, stolen-goods are sold almost openly in the shops and bars... but your players are interested in the big criminals rather than the petty thieves. These are guys to be leaned on for information rather than locked away.
Alternatively, you might set an episode against a more upmarket backdrop: the successful businessman who murders his secretary because she uncovered evidence of his fraud, but who keeps his cool because he's sure no-one will
find proof that it was him; or the neglected wife that hires a PI to find who her husband is seeing when he's not with her (and then tries to frame the mistress for her husband's murder using the unwitting PI as a pawn or alibi).
Note - Throughout this rulesystem, I've used the generic pronoun - he. This doesn't mean that you can't use female characters or that it's only a game for men to play. There are plenty of female role models from film and television too:
Pepper Anderson from Policewoman, Purdey from the New Avengers (or Emma Peel from the original), Cagney and Lacey, Charley's Angels, CATS Eyes, VI Warshawski, etc, every bit as tough and cool as their male counterparts.
Playing a female role is neither an Advantage nor a Disadvantage.
Creating a Character
This is a points-based system where you are given a fixed number of points to spend building your character. Attributes, Skills and Advantages all have a cost; while you can buy Disadvantages and Mannerisms to increase your spending power on other traits.
I'd recommend that characters should be built on 32-37 points, with no more than an additional 3 points from Disadvantages (or one Disadvantage), and no more than two additional points from Mannerisms; but this is largely up to the discretion of
individual GMs. This should give a reasonably cinematic, action game. As you'll see from the sample characters later they can cover a much wider range and still be effective for certain styles of play.
I imagine that someone, somewhere could work out simple ways of creating random characters, but I'm not an advocate of designing on the basis of chance.
There are only four attributes used to define your character: Toughness, a measure of their physical abilities; Resourcefulness, a measure of their intellectual limitations; Dress Sense, pretty important
when it comes to impressing contacts and dealing with other people; and Coolness, which covers the ability to pull yourself out from rivers without a hair out of place, and to remain calm even as bullets are splattering on the ground about you.
Attributes are measured on a scale of 1-6 which is quite convenient when you are playing with six-sided dice. Contests are rolled against the most appropriate attribute or skill, with a success being a roll at or below the
characters level. For this reason, a Player Character should never be permitted any attribute at a level of 6 (except under the most extreme circumstances with a lot of grovelling and bribing of the GM) so that there is always some chance for failure.
Note - If you really want to create random characters, use 1d4+1 rather than a d6 to generate Attributes.
- Toughness is mainly used in hand-to-hand fighting, but can also be used as a measure for how well the character weathers any strenuous activity.
A gust of wind would blow this character over. It probably isn't a good idea to have any character with a Toughness of 1.
Ill health or age can give a Frail character, but that doesn't mean ineffective necessarily (although it isn't specially appropriate for the genre). Mrs Marple would be a character with Toughness this low.
Generally the minimum recommendation for a PI, and a mandatory minimum for any character in a police or agency role unless they are in a purely adminsitrative role (which this game is not designed to reflect).
The type of guy that can more than hold his own in a fight, and probably attends martial arts classes when he isn't working.
This is the officer that runs rather than drives to the station each morning, and plays football for the police team. His idea of a relaxing evening is teaching karate to the local kids.
The only television character I can recall that really fits this level of Toughness is BA from The A-Team.
- Resourcefulness is a measure of the whole range of mental activity: whether a PI character will have a small hand press to print his own business cards; how believable an excuse for an unfinished report is, if they doubt a suspects alibi, etc.
Resourcefulness is all about being able to think quickly, so it can't be used searching for clues at the scene of a crime: leave that to forensics, or people with an Eye for Detail.
- Brain Dead
A Character with a score this low drinks their beers warm because they just don't have enough sense to realise that they'd be cold if they were kept in the fridge.
Can manage the simple things in life, like knowing how to change a light bulb, or turn on the television. Know where the book is so that they can play by it.
Knows how to 'fix' the coffee machine to free coffees, can argue Fantasy Football teams with anyone, and is normally capable of thinking up some excuse for why they don't have last weeks' arrest reports typed up yet.
This character has enough intelligence to be able to lay traps for criminals without risking allegations of enticement; or (if a crook) to con people into buying the Brooklyn Bridge.
An Ingenious character is one who can come up with unusual approaches to a situation, a lateral-thinker. He probably has a car boot full of useful tools (almost anything that the players can create a valid excuse for).
Has the ability to make the most incredible mechanisms from the most mundane of items (such as nuclear reactors from egg cartons and sticky-back plastic). Examples of characters with this high attribute might be McGuyver and The A-Team.
- Dress Sense
- Dress sense is used to 'impress' people, and determines how they will react to you. The more respectably dressed you are, the more likely people are to believe what you say without asking for credentials or proof of identity.
Smartest dress is a dirty raincoat. With a dress sense of Scruffy, a character doesn't even know what a dry cleaners is.
Nondescript, utilitarian clothing, eg. Track suit. Useful for blending in with the crowd, but you'd have trouble persuading people you really were a police officer if it weren't for the badge.
Covers a multitude of sins from the uniformed beat cop, to the person who wears a simple suit as standard, through to hookers and streetgirls who always seem to wear the same types of clothes, and streetgang leathers.
The character makes an effort with their clothing, be it a Marks and Spencer shirt and tie, or a Debenhams tank top.
This character always wears the latest styles or most expensive tailored clothes, designer labels, fashion accessories, etc.
Jason King, drug dealers plastered with gold and jewellery, etc. Characters with Trendy just follow the latest fashions, Outrageous means that you set fashions.
- Coolness is most important as your ability to keep your head when in a dangerous situation (such as being shot at).
Twitches and flinches even at whispers. Spends most of his time looking nervously over his shoulder just in case and calls for the paramedics if he breaks a fingernail.
- Easily Excited
Needs to escape from the autopsy room at the first incision. Jumps when he hears a car backfire, and crosses himself whenever he sees a black cat.
Practical and down to Earth. Outwardly the Staid person takes most things in his stride without showing any concern. Inwardly though he's affected and perhaps tries to act more macho than he really is to cover that.
The Unruffled character really is tough inside as well as out.
Wears shades, even at night. He might raise an eyebrow if aliens were to land on his front lawn, but you wouldn't see it behind his sunglasses.
- (Totally Hoopy)
Hosts parties that aliens will travel to Earth just to attend. Fonzie slaps a juke box to make it play his record; this guy just looks at the jukebox and it plays.
Advantages are bought at a cost of one point per level. Advantages can be used to modify dice rolls, or can actually be rolled against in the same way as Skills or Attributes. In the lists of Advantages and Disadvantages below,
those that can be bought at levels are indicated with a *.
Inspector Morse is checking the scene of a crime. The GM requires a roll against his Eye for Detail-2 to determine if he notices that a rug has been pulled over the blood stains on the carpet. Rolling a 5, he fails.
The blood stains will be found by the forensic team in due course, but it will be some while before Morse learns about this piece of evidence.
Hutch is questioning the prostitutes on a street corner about whether any of them noticed two hit men that aced a witness being kept at a nearby motel. He has Dress Sense-5, so he'll impress them on any roll a 6, but decides to improve his
chances of success with the fact that he has Blond hair. This gives him a +1 to his dice roll, automatic success. One of the hookers remembers that two men in dark suits and shades drove up in a black transit van minutes before the shots were fired.
Just for luck, she also gives him her home address and invites him to drop round any time.
- Blond Hair
- Car *
Other vehicles can be supplemented instead of cars: if you were creating characters from the series CHIPS, you'd use 'Bike' instead.
Characters with access to more than one vehicle need to buy each as a separate advantage: eg. Sonny Crocket from Miami Vice has both Car-4 and Boat-4 at a total cost of eight points.
- Beat up wreck.
- Average street car.
- Fast, sports car.
- 'Top of the range' model.
- Contacts *
- Contacts are split up into different types: Police, Street and Other. Each must be bought separately, and each is useful for different types of information. Most characters would be advised to buy both Street and Police contacts.
Villains and street NPCs will only have access to Street sources under normal circumstances.
- Contacts - Police *
A character playing a police officer will automatically have the Police ontacts Advantage at level-3 at no cost (unless they are playing a role as an undercover cop, in which case they can only have a maximum of level-2
due to the risks involved in contacting the police for the information they might need).
- Useful for snippets of information only.
- Access to criminal records, license plates, etc.
- Full access to crime labs, forensic reports, etc.
- Contacts - Street *
- An NPC street contact also has his own contacts on the street. (See the sample character sheet for Huggy Bear below.) NPC Street contacts for PIs, and police informers should be fleshed out in the same way as
characters, and their level of street contacts is their value as a street contact for a PC (ie. Starsky and Hutch have Huggy Bear as an informer at level-2).
Two players who elect to game as partners can split the cost of Street Contacts between them, so Starsky and Hutch each buy Huggy Bear at a cost of one point (totalling his value of two).
To do this though, they must each buy the Partner Advantage. (It costs the same, I know... You really don't expect to get anything for free do you?)
- Useful for snippets of information only. Will get some very general answers if they ask questions down even the toughest streets.
- Has an informer, not too useful as a source on crimes yet to be committed, but they can find out about events that have already taken place.
- Access to an undercover guy or someone that actually knows about crimes that are being planned.
- Contacts - Other * (must be specified)
- Other Contacts will be rare, though not impossible. Even though only a PI, Magnum can occasionally call upon sources at Naval Intelligence; while characters working for a Government Agency such as the FBI would
have those resources available to them under this advantage.
Most Other Contacts would be scaled similarly to Police Contacts.
- Eye for Detail *
- Recognises that a mug of hot coffee at the scene of a crime might indicate that the perpetrator is still somewhere close by.
- Notices the make of cigarette butts left in the ashtray.
- Spots obscure details such as the date on a parking ticket,
- You must pay one point for each partner that you have. In a normal Police game, you would probably only have one partner, but if part of a special or elite squad you might have two or more (such as Steed in the New Avengers with Purdey and Gambit).
Partners, whether played by yourself as a second character, by others players, or as NPCs under the control of the GM, should be fully fleshed out with a range of Attributes, Skills, Advantages and Disadvantages.
They too must pay for the Partner advantage.
The benefits of having a Partner is that between you it is possible to buy a wider range of skills at high levels. If your partner is being run as an NPC by the GM, it should still be you, the player,
that determines their Skills, Attributes, etc. to complement your own.
- Rank *
Disadvantages are bought at a cost of -1 point per level. As with Advantages, Disadvantages can also be used as qualifiers to a dice roll, or rolled against in the same way as Skills and Attributes.
Some of these disadvantages are really more for NPCs, but a GM should be amenable enough to allowing them for player characters as well.
Kojak finds himself in the same situation as Hutch in the Advantages xample above. He has Dress Sense-3, and the GM rules that a -1 from the Bald Disadvantage means he requires a roll of 2 or less to impress the hookers enough to impart
any information they might have. He rolls a 5... tough, they don't know anything.
- Absent Minded
- Handicapped *
- This advantage isn't option to Police Officer Characters except with the express permission of the GM. Even then, it should be limited to a level of 1.
- Mild disability (such as Harry O's lameness).
- Severe disability (example, the one-armed man in 'Fugitive').
- Crippled (like Ironsides).
Skills are acquired at a level of 1-6. As with the attributes, it is recommended that GMs don't permit any skill at a level of 6 unless the player can really justify it. The default value for a skill is 1,
and additional levels are bought at a cost of one point/level. There are only eight basic skills in Mean Streets and Mean Villains which should cover almost any eventuality.
- Fast Talking
Mannerisms have no part in actual gameplay.
They are merely hooks to help develop the personality of your character. In the case of criminals, a particular mannerism might actually be helpful for tracking them down (such as 'frequents a particular bar').
Mannerisms can be bought at -1 point each, up to a total of two. (You can have more Mannerisms, but you can't get more than two points to spend elsewhere from them.)
Typical mannerisms might be:
- Smokes cheap cigars
- Waves hands about while talking
- Eats chilli dogs for breakfast
- Likes to drink
- Uses a 'catchphrase'. eg. 'Who loves ya baby', 'Book him Danno'
- Enjoys classical music
Jim Rockford - Private Eye
Toughness - Healthy
Resourcefulness - Ingenious
Dress Sense - Bland
Coolness - Easily Excited
Contacts (Street) -2 - Angel (NPC)
Contacts (Police) -1
Fast Talking -5
Inspector Morse - Homicide Detective
Toughness - Healthy
Resourcefulness - Cunning
Dress Sense - Uniform
Coolness - Staid
Contacts (Police) -3
Eye for Detail -2
Partner - DS Lewis
Rank - Detective Inspector
Fast Talking -2
Enjoys classical music
Likes Real Ale
Magnum - Private Eye
Toughness - Athletic
Resourcefulness - Mundane
Dress Sense - Trendy
Coolness - Unruffled
Contacts (Street) -2 Rick
Contacts (Police) -1
Contacts (Other) -2 Naval Intelligence
Fast Talking -4
Columbo - Homicide Detective
Toughness - Healthy
Resourcefulness - Cunning
Dress Sense - Scruffy
Coolness - Staid
Contacts (Police) -3
Eye for Detail -3
Rank - Lieutenant
Fast Talking -3
Smokes cheap cigars
Waves hands about while talking
John Steed - Government Agent
Toughness - Rugged
Resourcefulness - Cunning
Dress Sense - Trendy
Coolness - Imperturbable
Contacts (Other) - Government
Partner - Emma Peel (or Purdey and Gambit)
Fast Talking -5
Always wears a bowler hat and carries an umbrella
Doesn't carry a gun
Sonny Crocket - Undercover Narcotics Detective
Toughness - Rugged
Resourcefulness - Unimaginative
Dress Sense - Trendy
Coolness - Staid
Contacts (Street) -3
Contacts (Police) -2
Fast Talking -5
Huggy Bear - NPC Street Contact
Toughness - Healthy
Resourcefulness - Cunning
Dress Sense - Trendy
Coolness - Unruffled
Contacts (Street) -2
Fast Talking -5
Likes playing pool
Contests of Skills
The success of failure of most activities in an episode is determined by rolling the dice and throwing a score below the level of a particular Attribute or Skill.
With the exceptions listed below, the GM should decide what Attribute or Skill roll is applicable to certain circumstances.
In some cases, such as inspecting the scene of a crime, the GM should roll secretly for the players to decide if they have noticed any clues; though if the players are actively looking for something they should make their own rolls.
Other times, for example when a character is trying to pick a lock or tap a phone, they should make their own rolls. These are examples of 'uncontested rolls'.
Still other times, characters will be contesting their skills with NPCs or even possibly with other characters. In these cases, it is possible for both to succeed. What this means in game terms is up to the GM to decide.
There isn't any basis in this game for one party succeeding better than another.
No doubt as play progresses, the players will try to combine more and more Skills, Attributes and Advantages in order to improve their chances of success in any roll. This is perfectly acceptable,
I've even detailed ways of doing this in another section below. The players do need to justify any such combinations to the GM, and he alone has the final say in whether or not combinations are valid under the circumstances of his game.
Only very rarely should the GM allow an automatic success for any roll: the episode could become just too easy then.... use qualifiers against dice rolls to ensure that there is some chance of failure.
If your PI player is trying to pick the lock on the managers' office door at MegaSecurity Corp, and has Stakeout-6, this would ordinarily be an automatic success; but surely MegaSecurity would have the best locks available for their own premises, so
using a qualifier (perhaps as much as -3) here would be sensible. Give the players some hint in advance of their making the roll, point out to them that the lock is a 5-lever Mortice, so they have some forewarning that their access to the office won't be
quite as simple as they might like.
Don't let them roll, fail and then try again adding new advantages just to improve their odds, This isn't a lottery where you can go and buy an extra ticket. If they've failed, then they'll have to try something different.
Having failed to pick the lock at MegaSecurity Corp, the PI decides to use his Resourcefulness to look around and see if there are any other ways in. He combines that with his Eye for Detail advantage, and makes a successful roll.
Perhaps the Secretary has a key hidden in her desk.
Or does that sound too easy an answer, letting the players effectively ask the GM to supply them with a solution when their own ideas run out? If you don't want to make things that easy for your players, then perhaps they see a memo that the secretary
has left half finished on her typewriter, to the senior security officer at a local airforce base about checking up on MegaSecurity Corp to see whether they would be an appropriate supplier for security cameras at the base. Then it's up to the players
to figure out that they can perhaps disguise themselves, and appear in the office the following morning when it is open, to discuss security cameras with the manager himself, letting him think that they are airforce security men.
The GM should always remember Disadvantages too, and invoke those where applicable. You needn't tell them until after they've rolled the dice though, and hint at what might have affected their roll rather than tell them outright
("I ain't tellin' you nothin' Mr PI Fatso Cannon!")
Combat is really very dependent on the setting for the game: it would not be appropriate for some detectives (when was the last time Columbo ever drew a gun or threw a punch), while games set on the streets may well involve running gun battles.
The basic rule of all combat, especially when weapons are involved, is that no Player Character ever gets killed. Even villians should rarely be hurt (depending on the setting of the game), preferring to surrender when they lose a fight.
Of course for the darker scenarios, such as Miami Vice drug busts, lesser villains and back-up police officers may get hurt or even killed, but the game should always end with arrests rather than death.
Most actual combats will take one of two forms: either a shootout with guns, or hand to hand. A round of combat consists of two attacks, one by each fighter, with the other protagonist have a chance to defend themself against any attack.
Unless the situation warrants, Villains will always have the first attack in a round of combat.
Shootouts are a contest between the Coolness and Shooting skills of the characters fighting.
The attacking character rolls against his Shooting skill, with a success indicating that the bullet has come close to the target. The results of a failure is up to the discretion of the GameMaster: a jammed weapon; the bullet hits a different target; a
bystander spots the gun and shouts out a warning just before the shot is fired. Whatever the reason for a fail, the target now knows that he is being shot at, and is free to take any responsive action they want without the need for a defensive Coolness
After a successful shooting throw, the character being shot at must then roll against their Coolness to determine how they are able to respond. A success will allow them to choose how they react to being fired upon (draw their own weapon,
take off their shades and look to see where the shot came from, etc).
A failed Coolness roll has the effect of dropping their Coolness (for the duration of this combat) by one point as they duck for cover. They still get to decide on their reaction (making a strategic withdrawal, drawing a weapon, radioing for backup),
but it cannot be a Cool action (taking off their shades, brushing back their hair, or similar).
The defender now has an opportunity to make an attack of their own (always assuming they have a drawn weapon) reversing the attacker/defender roles.
Once both parties have had their attacks, the combat round is over, and both protagonists have a choice on what to do next. This might include withdrawing from the scene (possibly leading to a chase), continuing the fight, surrendering, etc.
Combat ends when or or other party decides to withdraw completely, or when the Coolness of one of the protagonists is reduced to zero. At this point, they have lost.
Note - characters with the Coward disadvantage will always try to escape from a shootout rather than start firing back; but a cowardly character that makes a successfull defensive Coolness roll will walk away from a gunfight rather than run,
or find safe cover and call for backup.
Recovering Lost Coolness.
Coolness is recovered at a rate of 1 point per minute; and once fully recovered the character must perform some action or say something to show how hip it really is to hide in garbage cans (or whatever),
or they will permanently lose one full point of Coolness. If running a game with more than one player, judgement on how cool that action is might be decided by a vote of the other players rather than the GM.... just as a suggestion.
Note - Because Mean Streets and Mean Villains is designed for one-off games, permanent is just that; but if you are running a series of episodes using the same characters,
then the loss of Coolness only applies till the end of the current episode.
Hand to Hand Fighting
Hand to hand combat is a contest between the Fighting skill and Toughness attribute of the two fighters. The structure (in gaming terms) is very similar to weapon combat, with a round consisting of each party having an attack,
and making a defence roll (using their Toughness attribute rather than Coolness) against any successful attack.
Recovering Lost Toughness.
Toughness is recovered at a rate of 1 point every ten minutes (of game time).
Modifiers in Hand to Hand Combat.
Weapons such as coshes and knives give an automatic bonus of 1 to any attack roll in hand to hand combat. Additionally, a successful attack with a weapon reduces the victims toughness by an additional point.
The first successful attack against an armed opponent serves to disarm them, but does no actual damage.
A surprise attack from behind gains a plus one bonus to any attacking roll, and there is no defence permitted.
Jim Rockford has run a suspect called Frank Barnes to ground in a dead-end alley. Barnes (as always, the villain gets first attack) swings a knife at him rolling a 4 on his Fighting-3 Skill.
It's a hit with the +1 bonus for using a weapon. Rockford rolls 1 for his defence, and with Toughness-3 that's a success. The GM rules that the knife grazed him, but there wasn't enough force in the blow to do any damage.
Rockford decides to grab Barnes by the jacket and swing him round against the fence. He rolls a 3, a hit with his own Fighting-3 Skill, and the GM rolls a 4 for Barnes. The Villain only has Toughness-2, so Rockford's move
worked and Barnes drops the knife as he hits the fence, but loses none of his Toughness.
Rockford's next fight occurs when he is sneaking into the office of Intercorp Trading, a rather shady company that is dealing in arms trafficking. He doesn't realise that there is a guard, and as he kneels down to pick the lock
the guard hits him on the back of the head with a gun butt. This is an attack from behind and with a weapon, giving a +2 bonus to the guard. He rolls a 2, success, reducing Rockford's toughness by two points.
He's still awake and decides to turn round and kick at the guard's legs hoping to trip him. He rolls 5, a miss, and the GM decides that the guard saw the attack coming as Rockford is still groggy from the first blow, and stepped back quickly.
Now both Rockford and the guard have a choice (as after any full round of combat) and the player decides that Rockford will surrender. The GM might decide that the guard hits Rockford again, or perhaps just takes him to the boss of Intercorp.
Two (or more) against One.
Not fair odds in a fight, but fights are rarely fair. If two villains gang up against one hero, then the hero can still only attack one (though he does get a choice of which villain he attacks each round of combat).
Both villains can still attack him each round (it's up the the GM's discretion how many can gang up like this at the same time), but he does get a defensive Toughness roll against every successful attack.
Chases are either on foot or by vehicle; though vehicle chases are the more cinematic and aren't just restricted to cars.
Chases on Foot
Compare the respective Running Skills of the characters in the chase. It might seem a bit complicated (given the overall simplicity of this rule system) but it isn't too hard to work out. Subtract the Running Skill of the character being chased
from that of the Chaser. Then subtract the result from 6. That tells you, as GM, how many rounds before the pursuer catches up with their victim (unless either party does something to change the odds).
Note - If the two characters both have the same running skill, or the crook being chased has a higher running skill than the cop chasing him, then the pursuer will still catch up (albeit in six or more rounds).
This might seem unfair on the poor guy being chased, but a lot can happen in that time and the 'poor guy' has the initiative. He can topple trash cans behind him, climb over fences, or jump across rooftops if it's a rooftop chase.
Chases shouldn't be just a case of pounding along the streets slowly catching up: the GM should use his imagination to make them action-packed and exciting (and the good guys shouldn't always win either).
Jake 'the Snake' Lightfinger, bag snatcher and all round two-bit crook, has Running Skill-1 and PC Ben 'Swifty' Johnson has Running Skill-5, then Swifty will have caught the Snake in 2 rounds [6 - (5 - 1)].
Jake had better do something sneaky to avoid a short trip down to the cells.
Jake starts by scattering trash cans behind him as he runs, so Swifty must make a Running Skill throw to avoid being delayed by them. He rolls a 6, great moan from the player, and tumbles among the cans. This failure not only negates the round so that
it doesn't count in the 'catch-up' time, but actually slows Swifty by a full round. Jake has gained another round in the chase.
Next, he finds his way blocked by a fence. This can be as much trouble for him as it is for PC Johnson, he needs to make his own Running Skill throw to get over successfully. He rolls and fails, the fence is too high for him to get over, and he doesn't
have time to try again. Swifty is only two rounds behind again.
He substitute rolls against his Resourcefulness-4, adding in his Eye for Detail-1 Advantage for good measure, and makes the throw. The GM decides that he's noticed a fire escape leading up onto the rooftops. He starts to climb leaving Swifty to find an
empty dead end alleyway: Jake has gained another round.
Scurrying across the rooftops, he reaches the end, plucks up his courage and takes a running jump from one block to the next (Running Skill roll to succeed). This time, he makes it, just as PC Johnson clambers over the top of the fire escape onto the
rooftop. (Had Jake failed, the GM might have ruled that he lost his nerve on the brink, and lost a round allowing no time for anything else before Ben caught up). Our speedy cop meanwhile hardly bats an eyelid as he rolls against his Running Skill
for the jump, making it easily, and lands nimbly across the other side.
Jake is glancing back nervously now as the cop closes in on him. In desperation he pulls at the rooftop door (substitution Toughness roll) which falls open, and he staggers down the stairwell inside.... right into the arms of Swifty's partner who,
rather than taking up the chase, made a roll against his own Resourcefulness and took a shortcut to get ahead of the sneaky Snake.
Vehicle chases, be it by car, boat, motorcycle, helicopter or tank are a staple of action series and films; and no episode of Mean Streets and Mean Villains would be complete without a high speed chase.
Vehicle chases are structured in the same way as Chases on Foot; but they take into account not only the Driving Skill of the pursuers and the pursued, but also the Level of the vehicle. Columbo has Driving-1 and a Car-1, giving him a total chase speed
of 2.... not very likely to catch up with anyone. As a more realistic example, Sonny Crocket has Driving-4 and a Boat-4 for a high speed chase around the Marinas of Miami. This gives him a rather more useful speed of 8.(Note that the Driving Skill is
used no matter what type of vehicle the chase is taking place in.) The suspect he is pursuing, Emilio Cortez, has Driving-3 and a Boat-4 giving him a speed of 6. As with a Chase on Foot, we calculate the difference, in this case 1,
and subtract that from 6. Sonny will catch up with Cortez in 5 rounds [6 - (8 - 7)].
Note - This may in some circumstances give results where the chase lasts for less than 1 round, an automatic 'catchup'. As a creative GM, you'll have to come up with some justification for this 'chase that fizzles out before it's even started'.
Examples might be forgetting to untie the boat from its mooring; no keys in the car, or it's out of gas; or hitting another car while pulling out into the street.
What sort of incidents can be used to make a Vehicle Chase exciting? You just have to watch a few films or television shows to get a wealth of ideas, but here's a few anyway: running a red light at a busy junction, sending cars skidding all around;
driving along the sidewalk; overturning a fruitcart (with apologies to a particular movie critic) or other market stall; raising the bridge; 180 degree handbrake turns; driving through a shopping mall, or plate glass windows.
Describe the events from different perspectives: imagine you're directing a movie chase and think in terms of camera angles. From a road mounted camera looking upwards and towards the chase where the cars black out the
picture for a moment as they race over it; from a low mounted roadside shot on a bend where gravel is splattered over the lense as the cars pass; from overhead, as though being overlooked by a helicopter.
All good chases should end in a crash, but remember the maxim of avoiding killing even villains unless you need it for your plot. No matter that 'Wheels' Malone just ran into a solid stone wall at 120mph,
give him a Toughness roll to see if he escapes without bruises. If he makes it, he scrambles unhurt from the wreckage and perhaps tries to make a fight of it or get away on foot: if he fails, he'll still be groggy in the car
(perhaps hurt enough for a hospital bedroom scene with police guarding the doors) but still alive when the good guys run to pull him out. Remember, this isn't meant to be realistic.... think cinematic.
Interrogation (questioning) of suspects is a standard part of police procedure, and for the purposes of this game is treated as a form of verbal combat. It's a contest between the Interrogation Skill of the police officer and either
the Toughness or the Coolness of the suspect (whichever is the higher).
After a successful Interrogation roll, the suspect must make a defensive roll against their Coolness of Toughness. A failed defence indicates a loss of one point of that attribute; but a successful defence roll means that the
interrogator loses one point of their Interrogation skill. (Such intense questioning wears down both sides).
Recovering Lost Interrogation Skill Levels.
Interrogation Skill Levels are recovered at a rate of a point every ten minutes; so if the player then decides to continue the interrogation, the suspect will also have recovered his resolve in that time
(unless partners are working him over in shifts).
Of course, if the player try this too much, forget the rule about keeping the action flowing. If they want to get bogged down in interrogations rather than getting involved in gun battles and car chases let them,
but fudge the dice rolls for the suspect so they never get worn down. Your players should figure out soon enough that they're getting nowhere, and go do something more exciting.
Surveillance and StakeOuts
Surveillance can be pretty boring. Most films and television series get round this boredom by just cutting to the interesting parts and the action scenes again.... and that's what I'd recommend any GM doing if his players decide to keep watch anywhere.
An episode of Mean Streets and Mean Villains isn't meant to be realistic, it should be filled with action and events from start to finish. If your players decide to tap the phone of a suspect, don't have them holding on for ages wondering when
something is going to happen, or listening to his chatting with his girlfriend for hours. Cut directly to the scene where the gang boss calls him and tells him to pick up the shipment at Pier 17 (or whatever your scenario calls for). If they've
picked the wrong suspect, wing it, change your plot.
Of course no reputable, law-abiding officers or PIs would tap a phone or bug a room without a warrant, but that isn't going to stop your players doing so. In this game, they have the knowledge (and the tools) to do so as a matter of course.
Whether they succeed or not depends on their Stakeout roll. A failed roll when they're trying to bug a room might have them scurrying to hide in the closet as the suspect comes home unexpectedly, or tapping the wrong phone line.
Don't leave them in suspense though, they know they've failed their roll as well as you do, so let them know what's happened and then move the story along.
Note - Each player only gets one attempt at any particular action. They can't keep trying again to tap the phone if their first try has failed.
There should always be clues of one sort or another at the scene of a crime, enough to at least give the players some idea where to start looking for their suspects. Conversely, they shouldn't spend too much time here when they should be on the streets.
The same applies to reading case files and looking at mugshots. Your players are street cops.... give them a short opportunity to learn anything useful (making rolls against their Eye for Detail in secret to determine if they've spotted anything in a
casual search), then get them back on the streets.
You can reveal the clues they missed later, either being reported to them by the police despatcher, or through whatever Police Contacts they might have, whenever you feel they're getting lost or the game is slowing down.
There will be situations where it is possible to combine certain Skills and/or Attributes to improve your chances of success. This is perfectly acceptable in Mean Streets and Mean Villains if you can persuade the GM that it is justified.
DI Reagan is interrogating Sammy the Fence about a jewel blag in London's West End. He has Interrogation-4, but decides that he will try and confuse Sammy into revealing what he knows. He combines his Interrogation with his Fast Talk-2
(this should be roleplayed) to give him an automatic success. His threats about being able to send Sammy away for a stretch succeed, and the cowardly Fence (Note, the GM could also have allowed Sammy's Coward Disadvantage to be
added as another bonus to Reagan's roll) coughs up the beans on who passed the diamond necklace on to him.
In some circumstances, you might wish to reverse a Skill or Attribute roll. When a player chooses to do this, the roll is made against that trait requiring a throw greater than (not greater or equal to) the trait being rolled against.
Ned the dope dealer is being chased by Officer Jane Castle. His Running skill is low compared with hers, and she is catching up rapidly. Knocking down a trashcan in her path, he takes advantage of the momentary respite and emerges into busy Main Street.
At this point, he tries to blend in with the crowds of people on the street, reverse rolling against his Dress Sense attribute. Ned is Scruffy (1) and rolls a 3, greater than the value of the attribute, so he successfully blends in and is lost in a sea
When Officer Castle emerges, she decides to use her Eye for Detail-2 Advantage to try and spot Ned in the crowd. The GM rules that Ned made his throw by 1 point, so Officer Castle's roll is at -1. She rolls a 2, which would normally be successful,
but at a -1 disadvantage she cannot see Ned who makes a clean getaway, albeit somewhat short of breath.
There are times when a player (or NPC) might decide to change what they are currently doing, and substitute a different Skill or Advantage to achieve the same goal. Any such activity is rolled with a -1 qualifier to the throw.
DEA Agent Foster is staking out the dockside where Drug Dealer Cortez is taking delivery of a boatload of cocaine. Foster fails his Stakeout roll (-3), Cortez has seen him, and decides instead to substitute his Disguise Skill-4 instead. The player
convinces the GM that Foster was staking out the pier disguised as a dockworker (such retrospective decisions are acceptable in Mean Streets and Mean Villains). Such a substitution is at -1, but Foster's player makes a roll of 3 which is
successful. Cortez knows that someone is on the dock, but doesn't know that it is the DEA.
Detective Sergeant Carter has been interrogating Diamond Lil, a hooker whose pimp is suspected of murdering a client, for some time without any success. He decides to rough her over a bit (bad boy), and so substitutes his Toughness for his
Interrogation skill. He's Rugged (Toughness-4) so he now rolls at -1 (for the substitution), but gets a 4. His slapping Lil around still doesn't get the answer he wants, and now he's likely to get in trouble with his Inspector
when someone sees the bruises on Lil's face. Carter has problems.
Dirty Harry is in a high speed chase along the streets of San Francisco with the thug who has just taken a pot shot at him and then fled in his car. Harry's not doing to well in the chase, not catching up at all, so he decides to substitute his
Resourcefullness for Driving, and try to find a shortcut that will get him ahead of the would-be cop killer. His Resourcefulness isn't too high (-3) so he combines it with his Eye for Detail-1, the GM deducts one for the substitution, giving him a 3.
He rolls, scores a 3, and swerves down a side street crashing through a wire fence and someone's laundry, to emerge back in the main street screeching to a halt just in front of the car he was pursuing. The thug gets a driving roll to avoid hitting
Harry's car, and fails, swerving into a fire hydrant instead. Now he needs to make a Toughness roll to see how well he survived the crash, and again he fails. He recovers groggily to find himself staring down the wrong end of a .44 Magnum barrel.
The Scales of Justice
Or rather, just one Scale. This Scale of Justice (I couldn't think of a better name to call it) is a sliding scale ranging form 'Does everything by the Book' to 'Rogue Cop'. Rather than name each discrete element though,
I've merely numbered them 1 through 16 with 1 at the 'By the Book' end, 15 being Maverick, and 16 being 'Rogue Cop'. This is a record for the GM to keep against each player character in an episode, preferably where the players can't see it.
The function of the scale is simple: every character starts the episode at level 8 on the scale, just below the mid-point. Every action that the GM feels is outside of legally acceptable police procedure adds a level on the scale for that character.
This includes roughing up suspects, illicit wiretaps, etc. Every action that the GM decides is doing things fully in accordance with procedures lowers the character on the scale.
Of course, all good cops and PIs in the films and on television do this illicit evidence gathering; and every so often they will be suspended or lose their license. That's exactly the purpose of this scale. if the character reaches level 15,
then that's what happens: They lose their licence, they're suspended, the powers that be close the case even though it hasnt been solved, whatever excuse seems most appropriate in the context of the episode.
In game terms, they're left without the police resources. No more access to forensic labs, or even to case files, word soon spreads that a PI has lost his licence, and he'll start finding doors shutting in his face.
They no longer have a badge that they can flash at people.
That shouldn't stop players continuing with the investigation of course, it just makes it rather harder for them to do so; and they can no longer work their way back down the scale to get back on the case.
They're at level 15 for good..... unless they manage to reach the dreaded level 16.
Level 16 is Rogue Cop, and the players need to do something really drastic to reach this stage (although if your players are the kind that insist on killing rather than arresting, or beating information out of everyone they meet then you might
jump them up the scale more quickly to this point). Any continued illicit activities after they have been suspended that would become known to the police, such as a shootout in a public place, or crashing their car through a shop window,
will put the players at level 16, Rogue Cop. If they haven't brought the villain in at this point, then the orders go out for them to be arrested themselves, and every cop in the city is going to be on the lookout for them.
Why do I need to give you sample scenarios to be used as game plots? You could watch half a dozen of these cop or detective shows any night on the television to get ideas for running a game using Mean Streets and Mean Villains.
Advice for Players
Be cool, be trendy. This game is a fashion statement of a bygone age when sideburns were stylish and florid shirts were de rigeur; and when stories didn't end in bloodshed and violent explosions.
You're not going to get killed if you take on Machine-gun Charlie alone (publicly embarrassed perhaps, but not killed). Don't call in the SWAT team when you know he's holed up in a sleezy motel down on West 33rd -
the back-up never arrives until the action's over anyway - go after him yourself. Prove to the world that you and your partner are New York's finest and coolest detectives by bringing him in on your own.
Be inventive. If your first possible solution to a problem doesn't work, then try an entirely different approach. Don't rely on just one set of skills to get you through an episode.
If your character isn't resourceful that doesn't mean that you can't be in thinking up novel approaches to the problem.
Above all, enjoy it.
Name : ______________________ Occupation : ___________________________
Toughness _______ _______
Resourcefulness _______ _______
Dress Sense _______ _______
Coolness _______ _______
Fast Talking __________
(c) Mark Baker - 1995
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