Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vornheim, Maryland


If you don't already know, The Wire is the greatest cop/criminal show ever made and that's about the only part of this entry which'll make sense to you so you might as well stop now until you've watched it.

Ok so this is how I'm thinking about making a Wirelike adventure set up for cities in D&D.

This is more of a proof-of-concept than a complete adventure, but it should be a decent springboard for the more motivated DMs out there.

I'm going to change some things from the show to make it easier to slide over. You could do it a totally different way and still be true to the spirit of the thing but hopefully this'll kick off some ideas for somebody other than me.

Also, to keep things simple, I've limited myself to basically the set-up in the first season of The Wire and I'm also ignoring personal stuff with the cops cheating on their wives and buying crabcakes and what-all and just focusing on the central conflicts that drive events forward. That's the hard part to emulate, I figure the rest can be sort of chucked on at will.
Quiet you.




So the central conflict in The Wire is:

There's police. They know drug boss Avon Barksdale is responsible for all kinds of murders and death and horrible but they have to prove it. That takes a whole season of HBO and a lot of work.

The set up is like this:

Judge Phalen wants to get Barksdale so he tells the cop bureaucracy to get him. The cop bureaucracy tells the cops. The cops monitor the low-level dealers (the hoppers) looking for connections to the high level guys.

In the meantime, we discover there are connections between the criminals and the Baltimore politicians (who are the bosses of the cop bureaucrats, naturally) and we discover that, in general, the cop's bosses like to get in the cops' way for various personal and political reasons.



Like many cop shows, this one's all about proving stuff. PCs, in general, don't need proof. Or mine don't anyway. They just go "He's a dragon and that guy said he is, let's cut out his brains and make potions with brains".

Now there's lots of ways you could contort your campaign so your PCs will care about stuff like proof, but there's a simpler solution: make it so the task at hand is not finding proof of the crime boss's crimeyness but rather discovering which politicians the crime bosses are connected to.

So then the PCs have a reason to follow people, collect information, be sneaky, not always kill every motherfucker in their way and generally get a little more creative, indirect, and police procedural.

Also--I'd like this to be an adventure that could be attached to any campaign rather than a thing you'd have to roll up all-new law-enforcing PCs to do.


Now I'm talking like we're assuming the players are the cops. But if you look at actual episodes of The Wire carefully (like I did right before I wrote this) you notice that 80% of what happens is: something comes in from an informant (or a wiretap, which is an informant of a sort) and the cops react. It's hard to give the PCs much freedom if this is the only stimuli coming into the box. In an RPG, we want less reacting and more acting.

Then should the PCs play the crooks? Oddly enough, watching The Wire shows us the crooks have the same problem as the cops, protagonisticologically speaking: they do the same pretty boring thing (just selling more drugs and drinking at Orlando's) every day until the cops show up or a snitch fucks with they shit. Then they react.

So: "Desire and decision (the two things that create a live world)" --Nabokov said that. And in The Wire the people at the center of desire and decision (and action) are the informants. Omar, for instance, shooting kneecaps off and stealing drugs and selling them to Prop Joe for Omar's enemy's beeper numbers so Omar can pretend to be his lieutenant and then call him outside and shoot him. Bubbles mixing in with the dealers and putting red hats on them so the cops on the roof can identify them. That's some PCs right there.

So our set-up here assumes the PCs play a role that combines the plot functions of the informants and the cops. This way, it's possible for them to end up doing any kind of thing that happens in the series on both the crook side and the cop side: they can do both crossbow drive-bys and Speak With Dead evidence collection. And, of course, treasure is worth xp no matter whether they solve the mystery or not.


The basic set-up has two parts (consciously or unconsciously echoing Jeff Grubb's excellent adaptation of Marvel Comics' Secret Wars to RPG format):

1. To start with: an open city-sandbox. Stuff is going on continuously that the PCs can interact with if they choose--criminals doing crime, politicians digging dirt, safe houses being safe, etc. As well as some NPCs sitting immobile and immanent waiting for PCs to come collect information from them.

2. Injected into that, periodically, are distinct, discrete NPC-driven events the PCs probably won't be able to anticipate. The PCs can react however they like.

So it is by no means the purest sandbox--things will happen without the PCs making them happen, but freedom of choice and the law of consequence are still preserved at all times.

Between these two poles, a Wire-like story of intrigue, internecine politics and stealthy investigation should emerge fairly organically without having to follow the exact plot of the show. Or maybe it'll just be a fun mess. Whatevs.


(The names are completely stupid placeholders obviously, chosen to make them easy to remember since there's a lot of them.)

The basics:

1. It's personal:

DUKE ARCHVILL of the Inebriate Guild is responsible for having VICTORIA VON VICTIMIZED THE FIRST slain.

-If you can jigger the campaign so Victoria (or whoever) is someone the PCs would care about anyway and want to avenge (which could get railroady if not handled right) that's awesome.

-Or you can simply put whatever other important goal the PCs need to get to on the other side of the Duke, i.e.: "whoever ordered Victoria Von Victimized to be murdered now has the Gem of Ninety Things!!!"

In other words, this is the big motivator. Make discovering the Duke worth doing. Otherwise it's all pointless.

2. It's political:

BARRISTER BLOWBACK OF BLOVIATOR is, in general, a helpful justice system NPC who wants your PCs to find the villain but is somewhat hamstrung by his political position and Harkonnen-level weight problem.

COMMISSAR BOREALE is a genuine Civic Law Enforcement Official (Constable) who thinks the PCs' independent investigatory perambulations are getting in the way of his own investigations and reputation.

So: above the PCs, one official type who want to help, and one who wants to obstruct them.

3. It's hard:

Now you could do all this with White Lotus Powder and drug dealing etc. but I think that kind of direct parallel is kind of boring--I want to lift the tone and structure of The Wire, not the content, plus we need a little more action and monsters than my home state with its paltry approximate 400 murders a year provides.

So the criminal conspiracy works like this: the BRACHVAELE ORGANIZATION regularly sends its crews to delve deep into a dungeon teeming with REVENANTS reachable through a complex network of tunnels accessible from an obscure and lonely district on the edge of the city.

Such treasures as they manage to extract from this dungeon they bring to their master, LORD AGON BRACHVAELE via a complex and largely opaque network of dead drops, couriers, decoys and disguised operatives. These treasures and the profits derived therefrom are then traded to the DUKE in exchange for various political favors, minor and major.

(Below in the comments, Barry Blatt points out that aside from the corruption there at the end, most of this doesn't sound very illegal. The main problem with this arm of the Brachvaele organization is they keep killing people to hide the location of the pit from rivals and obscure their complicity in bribery of the duke. It's about the bodies. That said, there's no reason to not make them responsible for a wider range of nefariousness.)

Basically the form of conflict is: the cops do shit that makes your job harder, the villains do shit that makes your job harder, and you are tryna track the villains down.

For simplicity's sake this timeline is done like: Something happens, then 24 hours later something else happens. PCs do whatever they want along the way. There aren't a lot of reasons you can't spread things out if that makes sense. (Though every NPC involved should be treated as if they're "real" and if the PCs do something that could reasonably be expected to change their behavior or cause an event to not happen or happen differently, then go with that.)

DAY 1: "Nicely done"

Read the following boxed text:

"Ok, here's where you're at--we're doing this adventure. Pass me that Frito and listen up, ladies."

The PCs have just seen ANGELIQUE BRACHVAELE escape execution for the murder of VICTORIA VON VICTIMIZED like via cunning performance in a Trial By Theatre (see the Vornheim supplement bit about the legal system for details about Trial By Theatre. Wait you don't have Vornheim? Seriously? Screw you buddy. Or ma'am. Or just assume they beat a regular boring old trial and enjoy your free web content. Motherfucker.)

The judge, Barrister Blowback--an old friend of one of your party's thieves/rogues/specialists/whatever--explains that this is a tragic miscarriage of True Justice and s/he would like the PCs to aid in bringing the entire Brachvaele organization and whoever is working with them in the bureaucracy to trial--for they are the true puppetmasters here.

Everyone suspects that Victoria Von Victimized was slain because she was threatening to reveal a connection between the Brachvaele organization and an important aristocrat, guildmaster, or councilmember. As noted above, the PCs have their own motives for finding the villain at the top of the food chain. (That would be Duke Archvill.)(But they don't know that it's him, natch.)

After the trial, the PCs will be able to identify Angelique Brachvaele and his lieutenant SUTZU KANE (present taking notes) on sight.

To figure out what else the PCs already know about this situation from day one, PCs roll below. Thieves/rogues/specialists roll once plus a number of times equal to their Charisma bonus (SRD-style bonuses) if it's positive. Anyone who has spent at least a year in town rolls a number of times equal to their Charisma bonus. Except bards, who get fuck-all.

What do they know? (These things are true, unless otherwise noted.)

1. Angelique Brachvaele has been seen heading to and from an obscure location in a remote district of the city.

2. Lord Agon Brachvaele owns a tavern called the Slaughtering Minniver.

3. Angelique Brachvaele has been overheard discussing a place called "The Pit".

4. Lady Mulsiphine Zweel owns a portrait of Lord Agon Brachvaele (False--the portrait is of Lord Chesterweevil Cluster, a halfling. It is well known that Brachvaele is not a halfling)

5. Lord Agon Brachvaele once participated in experiments performed by the alchemist Quislet Phloggue

6. The attorney in the Brachvaele trial was named LaVei.

7. The alchemist, Quislet Phloggue, knew Agon Brachvaele.

8. The Brachvaeles own buildings all over the city. (Make sure PCs know the city's hall of records can be checked.)

_______ (Results below are only revealed to players once they've heard of or encounter the subject of the result--like they only remember things about Drab if they otherwise hear about Drab during their investigation. If one of these is rolled, write down the information and give it to the player once it becomes relevant.)____

9 The low city ruffian known as Drab can frequently be found smoking in the Disreputable Clasp.

10. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is awash in precious stones.

11. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is awash in precious stones, many of which are actually eggs of the marbled asp.

12. The Pit, an underground labyrinth reachable through a cellar door in an abandoned building in an obscure district of the city, is full of Revenants--colorless, soulless husks of men, women, and children, who act on barely remembered ideas about their former lives.

13. The low city ruffian known as Drab carries a broken moon blade.

14. The low city ruffian known as Drab carries a blade of pure malachite.

15. The low city ruffian known as Drab works for Lord Agon Brachvaele.

16. The attorney, LaVei, has an office on the Street of Ordinaries.

…..aaaaaand you can finish this chart up to d20 …..

What is actually going on?

"You show us you can run The Pit and you'll be back uptown soon enough"

Each day, Angelique Brachvaele (thief, 6th level? sure) and her small band of low level comrades venture into The Pit--a fearful dungeon beneath the city teeming with hopeless revenants, it is nevertheless awash in precious stones, just like the table said. 1/5 of the gems are actually eggs of the jewelled asp, which hatches, fully formed, one minute after the gem is disturbed (or d4 rounds later if there's a fight). The Revenants eat the gems and occasionally (acting on dim memories of commerce and exchange from their previous lives) replace them with eggs. Any discovered cache of gems not completely exploited by the PCs will be devoured by the Revenants over time. The Revenants themselves are a pathetic batch, a pallid, shuffling, half-hearted echo of the city above.

The easiest way to investigate the Brachvaele operation is to follow the low-level operatives down into the Pit and see to whom they take the gems (they take the gems to Angelique's--and then from Angelique's home to the drophouse once a week).

If the Brachvaeles find out the PCs are following them the trail will go cold. Or at least the observed part of it.
______________)So you let the PCs get started doing whatever they are doing. d6 hours later, MEISTER CRAWLS will begin looking for the PCs...

DAY 2: "See these? These are for you. These are for you for as long as it takes to get even."

MEISTER CRAWLS--a mid-managment constable, wants to talk to the PCs. This gentleindividual lets it be known that he is upset at the allocation of judicial resources to the task of bringing down the Brachvaele organization. He blames the PCs. He has enough work without this shit. He is clearly going to fuck with them at every opportunity.

However, Crawls is required to aid in the investigation. He asks the PCs for any information they've got so far. Naturally, it's their discretion about what they tell him.

What'll he do with this information? Nothing useful. But he will get angry if they don't provide something. Sometimes upsetting cops is bad.


DAY 3: "No witnesses no suspects."

The PCs are again accosted by lawmen: JAKOB LANDSRAAD explains that a new corpse has shown up. Slain at home, execution-style. One of the actors who performed/testified against Angelique Brachvaele in the original play. The murderer is (unknown to the PCs as yet) an assassin called DRAB.

Although he doesn't want anyone to hear the witness is dead, Commissar Boreale fears the Judge may let the information leak into the broadsheets and rumormills of the city if there is no progress on the investigation. So he is grudgingly informing the PCs. Like Crawls, Landsraad insists on being given any information the PCs possess.

The physical evidence can be analyzed on a wisdom or otherwise appropriate check by any single PC (only one shot) (assassins gain +3, rangers and rogues +2, fighters +1 to this check). Failure indicates nothing, success indicates that a distinctive weapon was used, dramatic success (within 3 of the maximum rollable) indicates the PC has also found a sliver of malachite in the wound. This last piece of information can also be discovered by any PC (the rolling one or otherwise) who says s/he is reaching into the wound and feeling around.

This is the last "calendared" event. Things progress more organically from there.


Some resources the PCs may draw upon...

-"Goddammit. You gonna make me go another round."
Tavern interludes: These take at least an hour. PCs gain 1 hit point for each minute of uninterrupted dialogue they generate in a tavern without DM prompting (an "interruption" is a pause of 6 seconds.) This works up to a maximum of 3/4 your max hp. For each tavern scene they appear in, the investigating PCs must save vs moderate poison (whatever system you got for that) to avoid starting the next scene drunk/hungover.

-Any PCs who have contacts in the city (see Vornheim page whatever page I put that on) may consult these unfortunates for information. The PCs get a +1 bonus to this roll, +2 if the NPC they're talking to is in the crime business or the gem business. However, for each piece of information the PC manages to get out of the NPC, said NPC will attempt to inveigle the PC in an annoying subplot of the GM's choice. This annoying subplot will concern the NPC wanting something directly conflicting with giving the PC whatever further information or aid s/he needs later on.

-"She has an unexplainable gift in matters of death investigation."
There is a fortune teller: Madame Vlinotchka. Her demands are elaborate (Like: cut off your foes' bottom lips, thread these lips onto a wire, twist the wire until it spells out your question, douse the lipquestion in oil and set it alight, then steal enough money from your foes to buy a small statuette of a hog and sleep with said hog. The statue will whisper the answer to your question in the night.) These rituals will produce accurate, useful information--but only once. Thereafter the rituals will produce accurate, useless information--"The murderer's eyes are spherical" etc.



The Brachvaeles have the luxury of drinking in a tavern owned by the organization called the Slaughtering Minniver, which employs a great many ecdysiasts of varying levels of dish. The owner--Orlak--is a weak-willed sleaze, willing to sell out his compatriots for the right price. The Braechvaeles are headquartered in a secret room in the back where lurks heavily a safe (8th level thief to even begin to think about cracking it, warded against magic by runes on the inside, though an erase spell will get rid of these runes). In addition to a Your Campaign-appropriate amount of treasure in here there is enough information to give the PCs anything on the info chart above they don't already know plus narrow down the list of suspects for the Uber-Boss to (20 minus highest Int score in the party) upper class suspects. This will put the organization Under Pressure (see below for how Under Pressure works).

Drab, the actual hands-on murderer of the second victim, is fond of inhaling the Xylem of the Callow Throgue, a rare plant from the Cobalt Reach. 4 nights out of seven he can be found indulging this vice in an Opium-Den-Only-Not-For-Opium called the Disreputable Clasp. This Clasp is on the highest level of a tower 150 yards from (and facing) the Slaughtering Minniver. Drab can be seen on many a moonless night curled in the frame of the arched window on the 30th floor, lost in a haze of cruel fantasies. If Drab is captured, this will put the organization Under Pressure.

The Pit itself. It can be any typical dungeon you like, really. It just has to have some Revenants (treat as normal NPCs of various classes and levels only kinda dumb and turnable as whatever level they are) and the treasure is mostly in gems, though 20% of the gems contain a vicious jewelled asp. Go make some snake stats up. The dungeon should be big enough that you could get at least 4 sessions out of it. It can and probably should have lots more awesome monsters and traps in it.

The Drophouse. Behind the facade of this ordinary-seeming tower residence on the edge of a far district lurks a warehouse for gems excavated from The Pit. Raiding it will, in most cases, alert the Brachvaeles to the PCs investigation and put the organization Under Pressure. Observing it discreetly will allow the PCs to discover one piece of information from the info chart per day. Maybe they put a monster in there. I would.

Homes of the Brachvaeles and their associates. For practical purposes, these are distributed randomly around the city. Generally these can be found by anyone following a given Brachvaele long enough. Little evidence or information can be gleaned from these homes by themselves per se. If a mid or high level Brachvaele (or LaVei) becomes aware of his/her home being raided, the organization will be considered Under Pressure.

The alchemist, Quislet Phloggue, once performed elaborate and ultimately unproductive experiments on many city denizens in hopes of discovering methods of predicting deviant behavior from the shape of the skull. His subjects included the elusive Agon Brachvaele. There is an anthropometric sketch in ink around here somewhere…ah, here it is… Acquiring it will allow PCs to recognize Agon if they see him.

Hall of Records. Investigating the Brachvaeles' genealogical and real estate records will reveal the properties can all be traced back to an attorney named LaVei.

H. The attorney LaVei's office is on the Street Of Ordinaries. After any arrest, LaVei meets with Brachvaele. LaVei keeps no records.

These happen at a rate of one per day randomly starting on day 4. If an event is rolled twice, nothing unusual happens that day besides whatever the PCs got going on themselves. Note that PCs won't necessarily notice some of these events happening unless they happen to be following/observing the principals…


1. ("Fuck you and your dots")
Jakob Landsraad--a jocular, hungover, ogre-like lieutenant constable, semicivilized--accosts the PCs. He is enraged that the PCs have diverted attention from an investigation of importance to the trifling matter of the Brachvaele organization. He is essentially harmless unless provoked.

2. If the PCs have interacted with any NPC since they arrived in the city other than members of the Brachvaele organization or NPCs named here (random henchtypes, shopkeepers, etc) one of these people (whichever one who would have heard the most about the PCs' activities by now) is a spy for Crawls. S/he will shadow the PCs as a 5th level thief and report all of their activities to Commissar Boreale or Crawls. If no such NPC has been met, keep this event in your pocket until one is met.

3.("They're gonna do me, Ronnie")
Have the PCs been less-than-polite to anyone in the bureaucracy (Landsraad, Crawls, Boreale, etc)? Have they (as in 2 above) run into any unaligned NPC? If so, this NPC is now spying on the PC--treat as a 3rd level thief. The offended party's ultimate goal is to discredit the PC by bringing evidence of misdeeds on his/her part to the attention of the city Barristers.

4. ("The man upstairs wants to see a circus")
A daring thief has made off with Commissar Boreale's balcony furniture. Though this likely has nothing to do with the Brachvaeles, it embarrasses the city enough that Boreale demands a retaliatory strike against the underworld. The PCs are ordered to bring in anyone they suspect of illicit activity. This, of course, will fuck the PCs' investigation right up. The militia will attempt to act upon any information gathered by spies (see 2 and 3 above) if the PCs do not act upon it. These raids, if carried out, will place the organization Under Pressure.

5.("Mother. Fucker")
A toothsome lass has been murdered in her home. Landsraad suggests the PCs investigate, as a Brachvaele connection is suspected. The physical evidence can be analyzed on a wisdom or otherwise appropriate check by any single PC (only one shot) (assassins gain +3, rangers and rogues +2, fighters +1 to this check). Failure indicates only that a distinctive weapon was used, success indicates that this weapon was a dreaded broken-moon blade from the exotic east, dramatic success (within 3 of the maximum rollable) indicates the PC has also found a sliver of malachite in the wound. This last piece of information can also be discovered by any PC (the rolling one or otherwise) who says s/he is reaching into the wound and feeling around. (Drab is the murderer.)
6. ("He in there playin' the games")
On the way home from the Pit, (3 hours after dark) Angelique Brachvaele and her pit crew notice a nondescript NPC (BRAND DEADSOON) in the street and begin to follow him. If uninterrupted, they shadow Deadsoon to a gaming parlor a mere 5 blocks from the Slaughtering Minniver. They tell one of their number to quickly go to the Minniver and tell Brachvaele's lieutenant, SUTZU KANE. Kane then (again, if uninterrupted), sends a subordinate to the roof of the Minniver. The subordinate pounds on the iron roof cistern with a crowbar in a casual but syncopated rhythm, awaking Drab (across the street in the Disreputable Clasp) from his drugged halfslumber. Drab then rolls on up out of there and kills Brand in the gaming parlor with his malachite knife. If Drab is already in custody or otherwise out of the game, it's someone else.

7. "Pop quiz..."
The PC of the highest social standing (or charisma, if their social standing is equal) is invited to a party attended by Vornheim mid-elite (s/he may bring guests). The Duke Archvill is present, as are Commissar Boreale and lots of other bigwigs, including three other NPCs with fancy names (including a LORD OPHROID) and, (in another room) a coachman who works for all 4 of them (including Archvill)-- DEID. Deid is a gregarious and foolish fellow and will freely discuss details of his many larcenous fantasies to anyone he believes to be of like social standing.

8. "I was the follow last time"
PCs encounter Sutzu Kane randomly and accidentally in the street as he shops for vegetables. He will not recognize the PCs unless they have met previously, but they will recognize him. Kane will engage in no nefarious activities and, if followed, will lead the PCs to a girlfriend and then to a library, where Kane is researching economic theory. If Kane notices the tail, the organization will be Under Pressure

9. The mid-level Brachvaeles (including Angelique) have a party. Someone dies. Landsraad will notify the PCs of the corpse the next day if they don't find it themselves. The victim is known to work at the Slaughtering Minniver.
10. "Game day"
There is little activity around the Pit today. Any investigation will reveal that much of the Lower City has flocked to a gambling den to watch and wager on a Crocodile match. Crocodile is similar to soccer, and played by two teams of 9 players in a small underground arena filled to the knee with a bath of steaming greenish salts. The contestants have their hands tied behind their backs, their legs bound together, and the object is to maintain control of the ball for as long as possible. There are no goals. The game's name is derived from the fact that biting is both allowed and common. Agon Brachvaele is present and will be recognized if the PCs know his face. If followed, the PCs will see him travel to his home. If he notices them, the organization is Under Pressure.

While the game is going on, two minor members of Angelique's crew leave the game, climb down into the Pit and scurry across town to the Drophouse to deliver a cache of gems.

11."His heart pump Kool-Aid"
The Brachvaele's plan to kill one of the following two targets:
-any Brachvaele NPC the players have already spoken to (someone low in the organization)
-if no-one fits that bill, another witness from the original Angelique trial
One night, after returning from the Pit, two members of Angelique's party cap this unfortunate soul--probably in the victim's home.
If this happens uninterrupted, the PCs will be informed that another murder has occurred by Jakob Landsraad the next morning.

12."He says he can buy weight"
Orlak offers to sell information about the Pit operation to the PCs. Other than what he'd obviously know due to his position, he knows nothing in particular (he does have access to accurate architects drawings of the Minniver). He is, however, also willing to try to ply the Brachvaeles for more information. Unbeknownst to Orlak, the Brachvaeles are onto him and will try to kill him (and anyone around him) as soon as he makes contact with them again.

13. A rival gang attacks the Brachvaeles in the streets. The PCs are free to intervene or just lay back.

14. The order has come down from Boreale: arrest someone already! After two days, if at least one mid-level operative is not brought in (i.e. Angelique or someone above her) the constables will cease to cooperate with the PCs and begin harassing their operation at every turn. On the other hand, if at least one mid-level operative is brought in, the organization will be Under Pressure.

15. Lord Ophroid of the Inebriate Guild seeks out the PCs, in order to make it clear that he is returning contributions made to his family's coffers via a network of unknown donors and to reassure the PCs that he has no idea who made these donations.

16. (your turn)


If the organization is Under Pressure, that just means one of the events below will occur the following day (along with any other event that'd be occurring that day anyway from the table above) . Any event (including those noted above) that indicates to the organization that the PCs or constables have their eyes on anyone higher than Angelique Brachvaele puts the organization Under Pressure. An Under Pressure event is also triggered if a Brachvaele becomes aware that s/he has killed a constable.

1. A series of coded messages are heard all over the city. These are disguised as ordinary sounds in the night (the DM should work these sounds into descriptions of the city) Cats screech as if kicked, the someone bangs on a reservoir wall, a hog squeals three times from a rooftop, a murder of crows is suddenly released released, a dog howls and is silenced abruptly, etc. Each sound is actually a different message. Like: pigsqueal=gems arriving from the drophouse, etc. If I ever properly finish this I'll write the whole code out.

2. A Brachvaele operative flees to another city in the night. Most of the Brachvaeles own aquariums, Angelique will be required to feed any missing operatives' fish. If the PCs are following her, they'll notice, naturally.

3. 2d4 (unimportant) members of the organization are murdered simultaneously by midlevel members. (These are considered potential snitches.)

4. Angelique Brachvaele takes 400gp worth of gems from the drophouse to Deid.

5. Deid brings 400gp worth of gems to Duke Archvill.

6, Deid (or another employee of Duke Archvill) travels to the Drophouse, picks up some gems, and delivers them to the Duke.

7. Duke Archvill and Agon Brachvaele meet on a balcony during an elegant ball and quietly discuss the dangers posed to them by recent developments.

8. Duke Archvill and LaVei meet hurriedly in LaVei's office for a short meeting. LaVei is paid with a single gem from the Pit.


The Brachvaeles (unlike the Barksdales) all go around strapped and will all throw down if threatened.

Interrogation: Torture and threats won't work on the Brachvaeles. Lies might, if the lies are clever enough.


  1. Sounds like it would work grand once things are underway, but the set up just doesn't sound illegal and/or immoral enough. These guys send people down dungeon and collect the proceeds? What wealthy NPC doesn't, in Vornheim or any other fantasy world?

    I'd suggest making the gems the souls of the revenants, who are just trying to fizzle into dust in their graves and The Pit actually the official burial ground of the city, so the revenants have relatives up above interested in their quiet and dignified departure.

    Might lift this whole thing for a Tekumel game though - that setting has cops a plenty, mostly corrupt, illegal drugs and a terminal way of dealing with people who get caught 'annoying' their betters with awkward questions without a very good reason.

  2. Using The Wire as an inspiration for a Tékumel campaign is inspired lunacy. Would that I had infinite time ...

  3. Awesome post. I'd run this with the PC's at level 3 - 5, and have the mid-level bad guys be level 7-9, with the big bosses being too tough to handle alone. That would provide the kind of incentive to not simply barge into every scene with swords drawn and force the information out of everybody, or storm the bad guy's known locations.

    I agree with Barry though - you need to up the repugnance of the bad guy's operation to give some real motivation to the PC's, since the law itself will probably not be sufficient cause to get involved. Also, I would up the repugnance factor of what the politico's are doing with the bribes - funding a despicable land grab war that is displacing all sorts of innocent folks, buying pastoral land to strip mine it, fund a brutal political faction that is incredibly racist and oppressive, whatever.

    Awesome system, though. Very, very cool.

  4. @ Barry
    @ Phil
    For me, the murder of Victoria and the necessity of finding the one ultimately responsible for that is the ultimate "moral engine" here.

    (And the thing keeping PCs from fighting everyone they see--they need to find out.)

    note also that I explicitly say "forcing " information out of people will not work. It is the second to last sentence you read before typing your comment.

    Though there's no reason not to make the enemy more horrible.

  5. I like this idea. I can picture the pcs' being chased by a mob of hungry revenants as they try to make off with the gems. Only to have the gems hatch while they try to escape.

    I can also see a player getting nabbed and interrogated for information...

  6. Have you read "The Corner"? It's the book David Simon and Ed Burns wrote after "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" and before they wrote The Wire. It's similar to "Homicide" but from the everyday crook's point of view. It's a riveting read.

    But it made me have a - perhaps in bad taste - idea for a campaign in which the characters are all dope fiends who have to get their hit once a day or suffer dire consequences. You could do that very easily in a Tekumel-esque setting using opium or whatever fucked up drug you want to create.

  7. What is that I see? A kick ass follow up/add on to Vornheim? Why yes I would be parted from hard earned cash for it.

  8. Shouldn't the Under Pressure events mostly be things that will make things harder for the PC's? Most of the entries seem like things that provide good leads, rather than things that tighten up the operation.

  9. @Adam

    Why should the Under Pressure events mostly be things that will make things harder for the PCs? It is the organization that is under pressure here.

    1. @ Zak S

      Well, that's the way things happen on the show - the organization realizes it's being tapped, so they destroy all the Pay Phones and the cops have to figure out another way to get information.

      It also seemed like it was framed as a consequence for failure - if they fuck up and the organization notices them, it goes Under Pressure.

      Another thing: what happens if the PC's just go down and clear out the dungeon? The organization would have to stop the entire operation. Selling drugs taps you into a self-replenishing source of money, but a dungeon only has a limited supply of stuff in it.

    2. @adam
      well if you actually watch the show carefully you'll see that although these reversals look like failure (and will, no doubt, seem like such to the PCs) they actually bring the cops closer to their (limited) victory. I think it could work the same way in a game.

      As for clearing the dungeon--they still won't know who killed Victoria so they will have not acomplished their objective--again the GM has to be sure the PCs would care about that or it doesn't work. I say that in the text.

    3. Fair enough on the dungeon thing, then.

      The Under Pressure stuff just seems like it makes the system into a trick, though. You'll want to pretend that they need to keep quiet, but actually they'd be better served by barging in and shouting that they're watching the organization.

    4. Kinda--but it works both ways--sometimes (often) the PCs will actually have though of something that will get them way more information than what the Under Pressure rules will provide. PCs are PCs after all.

  10. superficially speaking, this is the coolest post you've ever done on here.

    why? well, it's long for one. secondly, it refers to something outside of the whole comic books and galaxy of other things role players tend to think about. thirdly, it's you writing so you get that whole no bullshit, thought yale was stupid, not gonna try to seem clever, not going to just sit there analyzing crap to death, which is why i even read your stuff at all. fourthly, because it's a city, and cities rock.

    and that's fucking saying something, 'cause i lurk your blog whenever i need something to keep me from losing faith in humanity (probably because i read some really depressingly boring blog on accident and i just need to get BITTER BLOG TASTE out of my mouth by chewing on something fresssshhhh).

  11. I can't believe I missed this.

    Will try to use it with my players next february. Thank you so much for sharing!