Copperhead County September Update
Hail September! I'm sorry this update is coming pretty late in the month, but I had a topic in mind which had to be figured out first. Now I've done so and can talk about it! This month's post is going to talk about violence, Heat, and Trouble, and coincides with an update to the game's playsheets.
Work proceeds on our next big update, which I hope to have ready soon. I spent some time this past week porting the book from InDesign to Affinity Publisher, which didn't take too much time and is paying dividends in now being able to use a program that runs better and costs less than InDesign. As part of that effort, I also redid some layout and formatting and made some nice new graphics and the book is looking pretty handsome. Recently, I've also been having a lot of conversations on the Indie Game Reading Club Slack about various Forged in the Dark topics, like clocks and effect, which have sharpened my thinking on those topics and given me a lot to dig into the final game text. (Check out Paul's Slack if you want to hear my hot takes!)
Another area of focus at this stage of the game is polish and kicking things and spending time asking myself if things work just how I want them to work. As part of that, I've been considering violence. I recently played a couple of games of Zombie World, which, like Cartel (which I haven't played yet—but as I type this, I'm getting ready to play in a one-shot run by Team Copperhead County's own Michael Crowley), requires you to pay Stress when you do violence against other humans.
This is a cool mechanic that directly mechanizes the internal cost of doing violence. Communicating the downsides of violence is important in any RPG, especially in Copperhead County, where the world should feel real and not like a game of Grand Theft Auto where all consequences vanish when you respawn, or like a D&D campaign where goblins are massacred by the hundreds. I kicked around the idea of just ripping off that mechanic, but the translation from solo-PC, one-shot focused PbtA designs to the shared-crew, campaign-focused Copperhead County didn't fit right. Like, I could require that you push yourself when you want to attack someone, but that just adds a step to the action process which most players will probably forget about or ignore. I also thought about putting a Stress cost into the post-job Payoff steps, like, "If you killed someone during the job, take x Stress", but that just adds another step to Payoff, messes with the Stress economy, and can create problematic situations with Stress and Burnout during downtime.
Ultimately, the solution I found was already living in the game: Trouble. If you've read CC you know that Trouble is an expansion of the Entanglements concept from Blades in the Dark and is a phase of downtime where Crew Trouble (new problems with the crew's business), Police Trouble (new problems with the cops), and Personal Trouble (new problems with the PCs' personal lives) develop. The solution is:
If anyone died during a job, all Trouble rolls get +1d. If any cops died, Police Trouble gets +2d instead. If any civilians died, Personal Trouble gets +2d instead.
I like this for a few reasons. One, it's a more direct consequence of violent crimes than just +2 Heat, which is just erased by PCs' Reduce Heat activities. It directly creates more trouble for the crew, in a way that's reminiscent of one of Copperhead County's gigantic inspirations, The Wire. Second, it creates problems for the PCs' individual lives, not just the crew, in a way that's reminiscent of Copperhead County's other gigantic inspiration, Breaking Bad. The concept that the crew's murderous crimes infect their lives with a sort of moral rot is very Breaking Bad-ian in a way that pleases me, as the ABQ-iverse is the #1 thing I think about in terms of CC gameplay.
When making this change, I also wanted to simplify the way the crew gains Heat after a job. I didn't like the huge pileup of Heat modifiers in the Payoff step. So, to go along with this, I streamlined that process to have you pick an appropriate amount of Heat, inclusive of all of the attention, exposure, and mayhem from the job, rather than picking a baseline and modifying it.
This can all be seen on the updated sheets, which you can download for free at the main game page!
Speaking of Trouble, I want to talk a little bit more about how that phase is working out in-play. I resumed my long-running CC campaign recently, after we had to go on hiatus for a few months, and we've seen a lot of Trouble. One intention of Trouble is to flesh out downtime with more free play and personal storylines for the PCs, and that paid off heavily in our last game. We filled two PCs' Personal Trouble clocks and the crew's Police Trouble clock, which created several juicy situations during free play and gave us a hugely dramatic session that played out entirely during downtime. I'm really happy with it and hope you all also like it!
Okay, that's a lot of typing so I'll shut up. I hope you've been watching The Righteous Gemstones, which earned an immediate place on the CC touchstones list. Because after all, no matter what kind of misbehavior your outlaws get up to, none of it compares to running through the house with a pickle in your mouth.