Thursday, December 23, 2010

Crime 101: The Anatomy of a Mugging - Part 2

Atraties is back today with another guest post. This time he is taking what he brought up on Tuesday, and showing some ways you can use a mugging in game to get the plot rolling, keep it going, or just to challenge a player in an unexpected way. These are, to forewarn you, less 'advice' and more 'hooks' to use in an actual game session. After the hooks, I've added a small section on 'the setup' to also help with using this in your game. So, without further ado, here is Atraties second post on how you may want to mug your characters.

How does the anatomy of a mugging matter in your game?
Well, that really all depends on the game you're running. In games like New World of Darkness, any Supers game, or Shadowrun, it shows you how to run a professional or amateur mugging since that sort of thing is likely to come up. For other games it gives you an idea of the sort of thing you can do to players who get lazy and or think that they're always safe. It can also be a great place to start a plot, especially for low level characters. I figured I'd throw out some base ideas, and feel free to post more for folks.

The Motivation to Start:
Who cares that there's a gang in the neighborhood. Why should my character bother starting trying to defend the innocent, help the weak? I get left alone, I leave everyone else alone. That's how it works right? Well, that works just fine until a bunch of goons come up and take your money. This is the sort of situation where a professionally executed mugging works best, especially given that players tend to figure “I'll resist, I can totally take it.”

Follow the time line for a standard professional mugging, and then when the player resists, or even if they give the muggers lip before complying, use that threat of force. Have the professional toughs beat the stuffing out of the player. Mechanically this works fairly easily in most games because if they're behind the PC (which the enforcer will be), it's really easy to slam them hard. Professionals like knocking people down, it makes them easy to hit, ditto holding someone for a good beating to be inflicted on. If the PC is doing well, escalation goes from beating to shooting really quickly with this kind of person, and a point black shot from a .45 takes the wind out of just about anyone's sails.

There's any number of places you can go from here. Someone can step in at the last moment just before there is fatal damage done, and introduce the concept of being a Masked Defender. No one can show up, and they can be left bleeding on the ground either having to haul themselves to the hospital, or taken in by a good Samaritan. Either way this now humiliated, broke, and identificationless character is going to, given that they're a character and thereby more prone to heroics, going to want to now make a difference.

Hey Chummer, the Sprawl's a bad place!
This one is keyed in my mind specifically to Shadowrun, but it could work out in any number of systems with minor modification. The PCs are a group already, and some of them have gotten complacent. They're bad, they can take anyone. A good professional mugging can really show them how much they rely on their team. It can also illustrate how bad things are getting in the world around them. It might (though in Shadowrun, probably won't) trigger a bit of altruism.

So, random Runner #37 is walking home from the Soy 'n Slurp down the road where they just picked up a 50 round box for their Ares Predator II (with Smartlink, 'cause he's a Bad Mother!), a 40, and some pork rinds. Because he's not running he's just wearing an armor jacket, and carrying said Ares Predator II concealed. He still thinks that he's Bad. Because of this he isn't really paying that much attention, and probably doesn't notice the mugging crew closing around him.

We know that this “hot shit” street sam is going to pull on the point man. Guess what, the second that thing starts to come out on the point man, the enforcer behind him is going to use his sawed off under his coat on the arm of Mr. Hot shit street sam, and blow that nice smartlinked gun out of his hand, and the rest of the crew will move in to make sure their talker isn't hurt. If he's lucky, Mr. Hot Shit is just down his cred stick, his 40, his pork rinds, and every weapon he's carrying (maybe his shoes and armor jacket too). If he's unlucky he's also missing his SIN stick (if he had one), and the arm he pulled that gun with. Either way, he's out a good bit of hardware, out his money, and has a gang he's going to want to get back at. Well guess what, in Shadowrun professional mugging gangs are heavily armed. How's he going to convince his chummers that it's worth the newyen for the bullets and docwagon fees to go after that gang? How's he going to pay off the cost of the damage to that sweet smartlink in his palm? Hell, if he's lost the arm, how's he going to afford the new one? It puts him in a bad situation, and now you can hook them with a really crap run.

The Sob Story:
So the last example, it doesn't really much matter who is being hit, because our mugger this time is an amateur. They can see him walking ahead, turning around, and going back ahead again, as he is clearly trying to nut up. He finally turns around and comes at them and says “Give me all of your money, right now!” If they give him the money, he sobs that “Oh god, it's not enough.” If they don't he breaks down crying, and goes off on a sob story about what ever plot you want to get the players into. Either the player shows interest in the hook, or they don't. Make sure that they see the news later about how Joe Schmoe got killed messily and horribly in something suspicious. It's a two string bow for potentially getting them involved in a larger plot.

End Atraties - The Setup
This part isn't Atraties but me. Like with a lot of crime, and almost anything scene worthy in an RPG, the set up can be just as important to what happens as everything else. So, lets look at the three key parts to the set up that we have here.
Muggers, both professional and amateur, prey on people who are isolated. Now, this isolation can be a lucky happenstance "hey, no one is around, and that guy looks loaded;" to set up "Anyone not wanting to get shot best clear out of here;" to planned "this girl always walks through this little alley on her way to making the cash deposit. We hit her there."
So, if you're going to use this in your game, you're going to want to show the isolation. You can just casually mention it, "you're walking through the empty streets at night" for some, or really play it up for others, "the city seems eerily quiet for this hour".  Just make sure you actually mention it, if nothing else it will come into your favor should the PC look for help when the mugging starts.

The Approach
The second part of mugging is the approach, now it doesn't matter if you're an amateur or pro, you really only have two choices here. Do you approach from the front or the back? Now, Pros can do both at the same time, but which angle first contact is made from can be important. 

If your mugger goes from the front, then he gives up some element of surprise, but gains the ability to see behind the target. It also makes it easier to tell when you've been made. If the target sees you, then starts looking around, they've probably registered you as a threat. How they react can then determine if you want to break off, or follow through. If they turn and run, well, then they definitely have made you.

Now, pros have a bit more fun here. See, they are going to put their big hitter behind the target, so that if the target goes to start something they can blind side him/her. Like in the sprawl example Atraties has, PC goes for his gun, big hitter takes out his arm. Another fun thing they can do is send an obvious threat at the targets front, then when the target turns to run, they run right into the two enforces who keep them trapped.

The Execution
Finally, we have the execution, and if the target isn't careful it might actually be a real execution. This is actually - though unsurprisingly - the most important part to pull off well. If you are doing an amateur, you want to play up the nervousness and edginess the mugger is feeling. Use short, excitable, bit off phrases, and be a little too uncomfortably jumpy with whatever the weapon is. If they're pros, a calmer, but still threatening, demeanor can go a lot further. It is just business for the pros, just one of a thousand+ transactions they make all the time. Really, it's not worth it to resist.

If the PC target doesn't go along with the plan, then it is decision time for the amateur. Does he act or not? Does he run? Does he threaten again? Does he shoot, or merely pistol whip to show he is serious? With the pros, it is all about business, and force is now needed. However, because it is about business it doesn't start lethal. Lethal brings the cops in heavy, lethal is bad for business. A good beating, a non-lethal stabbing, is 'all' it is likely to be. If the PC resists more, or goes for a knife or gun, then the guns will really break out.

Basically, an Amateur may let you off with no violence, but the violence options are basically "no violence, lethal action". A professional crew on the other hand will definitely use violence, but it won't be lethal unless a mistake happens, or the target escalates things further.

Wrap Up
Phew, that went a bit longer than I was expecting. Atraties wants to know what other examples or ideas you guys have for ways to use muggings in a story, and I kind of want to too. So let us know, and hopefully this will help out with whatever games you are running.


  1. Professional or not, the mugger may have thought out not giving away the element of surprise. Depending on how they're dressed, they could act like a beggar "Hey man you got some change?" while approaching or like they're asking a innocent question "Hey, you got a smoke?" or "Hey where's Ash Street?" which is usually across town making the logical choice for them to approach you because your explanation is likely to be long.

    If done well they could almost get an ambush on the player.

  2. Very good point, and something we both forgot to mention for the approach/isolation. Luring people to you is a great way to get them alone, or at least close enough to smack/mug.

    Atraties also mentioned last night that some pro teams can isolate you even with other people on the street if they do it right. Which can also be a fun way to turn things as people ignore the victim/muggers.