Copperhead County November: Trouble Sandwich
Happy November! Today I want to talk about two topics: one gameplay-related and one world-related.
Copperhead County's Trouble phase is a big departure from the Forged in the Dark core—it combines Entanglements, NPC faction actions, and campaign tracking with a new form of Personal Trouble involving the PCs' personal lives, mixing them all into a downtime step with a bunch of clocks. My current campaign has given me a lot of opportunity to test it. We're in what we consider "season 3" of the game—the crew is Tier 2, the PCs are getting more powerful, and more burnt out. The crew has multiple alliances and multiple enemies, so there are a lot of balls in the air. As I was prepping for the game we played today, which would open with downtime (we generally alternate job-sessions with downtime-sessions, since our downtime sessions are extremely meaty and full of roleplay—the recommended Copperhead County approach to downtime), I completed several clocks and realized this was a great stress test for the system.
So when the session started (in the "Free Time" phase of downtime, I introduced several free-play scenes for the crew to explore. Without recapping the whole campaign, here were some highlights that I hope help illustrate the system and how you can use it.
- The crew is involved in a chaotic four-way race for County Trustee, as they try to install their dimwitted lackey Deputy Marty Fly in public office. While watching the six o'clock news, they saw their Crew Trouble: a TV ad extolling Fly's virtues, using photography none of them had taken, paid for by the Copperhead County Concerned Citizens PAC. Who is the mysterious other party taking advantage of Citizens United to get involved in the crew's business?
- Another way to use plot clocks is to time out faction actions. The crew is at war with the Pettimore Clan, so when that clock filled, the Pettimores attempted a reprisal by attacking one of the crew's gangs. I made a fortune roll using their gang's quality, and they got a 5: one soldier was injured, but they fought off the attack without too much trouble.
- The crew is also at war with the Spearpoint League, and had used their connection McFall, an arms dealer, for some info on the shithead militia's hidden armory (which they raided and blew up). The Spearpoints retailiated by killing McFall—since he was just one dude and not an experienced gang, I didn't do a fortune roll for the outcome, and just made a new countdown clock: Arms Shortage. The crew needs to find another arms connection soon, before their weapons, armor, and ammo supply dries up!
There were even more, too—this was a busy downtime. One concern I had about the system, which by default uses 4-segment clocks for Trouble and campaign plots, is whether it would get too overwhelming. But, part of the intention was to be overwhelming, inspired by the ever-tightening screws of Breaking Bad and Ozark, where the PC crew rarely has a chance to rest without some new bullshit fucking with them. Also, if you want a slower pace in your game, or want a particular plot to unfold more slowly, a 4-segment clock can be easily converted to a 6- or 8-segment clock by drawing lines on it. But so far, I'm extremely happy with how the system is working in play, and pretty proud of it, too.
COPPERHEAD COUNTY CUISINE
For some reason, Zip Burger—Copperhead County's homegrown fast food chain—has been a prominent presence in every Copperhead County campaign I've run. In my current campaign, the crew even runs their own Zip Burger franchise as their Front Company. (Zip Burger has also shown up in other games—a recent session of Cartel with two of my players saw our PCs meeting at a Zip Burger in Durango.) Fast food is one of America's great(?) contributions to global culture, and the South is home to many unique chains, some delicious, and some less so. Zip Burger is, I think, somewhere in the middle—a place that isn't so good, but locals have a certain pride in it.
Recently, my favorite podcast The Doughboys spent a month in Atlanta, reviewing southern restaurant chains. The last two episodes covered Krystal and Cook Out, which I got a big kick out of, because those two chains are the primary inspirations behind Zip Burger. Krystal was founded in Chattanooga, Tennessee (the city that inspired a lot of Patterson's history and geography), while Cook Out is from North Carolina (across the border from Copperhead County). When I imagine Zip Burger, I think of Krystal's suspect quality and late-night gorges, crossed with Cook Out's extremely thick milkshakes and weirdly large menu.
Of course, that's not the only big southern fast food news recently—you might have heard about the magical chicken sandwich from Popeye's which has taken over Twitter, and returned to life today after a long absence. All of this mixed together into Zip Burger being on my mind lately.
I've also been thinking about redoing the style of faction entries in the book, inspired in part by friend of Copperhead County (and player in my campaign!) Calum Grace (whom you may know from his work on the new Copperhead County playbooks, in addition to his own many excellent games). Calum recently previewed a faction from his game A Matrix of Flesh & Metal, and I really liked how he had changed the standard Forged in the Dark format, particularly by putting a fuller faction description up at the front of the entry.
So, I decided to take a stab at redoing the Zip Burger entry in a different format. Here's a preview page. I think I like this—I'm very satisfied by putting the faction description, history, and situation at the top instead of at the bottom, and as much as I like writing NPCs in the three-adjectives style, I wonder if this style is more natural, more informative, and more actually usable in your own games. (BTW, if you can guess which chain restaurant figure the new NPC Ahmed Darbandi is named after, I will award you a thumbs up. Hint: there's a Tennessee connection!)
On this page, you'll also see some amazing Zip Burger art by Adam Schwaninger. My plan is to have several other half-page illustrations for other factions, in part to enjoy cool illustrations, and in part to break up the layout of the factions chapter so it isn't just 40 pages of faction boxes. When I emailed Adam about this, I had a very specific image in mind, but I couldn't adequately describe it or find a reference photo that completely matched. But when Adam sent me his drawing... it was exactly what I pictured. That's the magic of collaboration!
Hey, that's not all about burgers. As a reward for reading or scrolling down this far, here's a Zip Burger example job that's going to appear in the setting chapter entry for the city neighborhood of Fort Alice.
Zip Burger is testing the new Zip-a-Dee Chicken Sandwich at several corporate-owned locations, including the one near the Patterson State campus. Students can't get enough of the mysterious, mouth-watering Zip-a-Dee sauce, and lines are always out the door—but corporate refuses to share the item with franchisees yet. Board member and franchise owner Ahmed Darbandi would be very interested in getting his hands on the recipe, or at least a large supply of the sauce.
That's right—sauce heist!
That's it for now!
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