[Other Worlds HBO] A Crazy Handful of Nothin’
“I think a plan is just a list of things that don’t happen.”
-Parker, The Way of the Gun.
A Crazy Handful of Nothin’ is a single-session adventure outline for Other Worlds dealing specifically with the heist/crime thriller genre. The player characters are a bunch of professional crooks who have been hired to complete a specific task. Some key inspirations here are Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Drive, Heat, and The Way of the Gun. A little pinch of Breaking Bad might come in handy as well.
If you’re going to do all this in a single session you don’t have time to do a full worldbuilding sequence. Instead you can boil down the information you need to three specific issues:
1. Pick a City. It doesn’t have to be a real city, or even a city you’re very familiar with. Just pick somewhere atmospheric that you feel comfortable improvising around. If you want to be clever you can choose an alternative time period as well. Some good examples of appropriate cities include LA, Vice City, 1980s New York, Copenhagen, and the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis in 2032.
2. Create a Mr Big. As a group create your collective employer using the normal supporting character rules. The primary purpose of this is to add some colour to the first scene, but it might also prove useful later on as events begin to spiral out of control.
3. Create the Mission. Roll d10 on the following table to determine your assigned task, or invent one of your own.
- Rob a bank or jewellery shop
- Rob a sports car showroom
- Spring someone from jail
- Murder an informant who is under police protection
- Murder a rival crime lord
- Murder a whole list of civilian witnesses
- Retrieve a briefcase full of diamonds or money
- Retrieve a truck full of guns or drugs
- Retrieve a memory stick that contains vital information
- 10. Kidnap a rival’s wife as a hostage (50% chance she’s pregnant)
Again, you don’t have time to design a fully three-dimensional character with hopes and fears and an intricate little web of relationships. So we need to take a few shortcuts. Choose a power level of either 20 or 30. Give all the characters either Urban Middle Class or Urban Working Class as their cultural archetype, and either Assassin or Career Criminal as their professional archetype. It’s OK if one or two players want to vary this a little bit, for example by taking Outsider as their cultural archetype or Stuntman or even Cop as their professional archetype, but the scenario won’t really work if too many characters are atypical. You don’t have time to start creating new archetype templates in any event.
Characters in A Crazy Handful of Nothin’ do not have trademarks or preliminary supporting characters. They do have individuality but this should be invented during play rather than being designed in advance; flesh out your character’s backstory when he gets his moment in the spotlight goddammit!
A Crazy Handful of Nothin’ is specifically set up to create a blood opera-style game, meaning that the characters are heavily motivated to turn on each other before the end of the session. Each player should either roll d10 on the following table or invent his own sinister secret. These complications can be represented mechanically as abilities using the character’s individuality slots.
- The character is an undercover cop
- The character secretly works for a rival gang
- The character has a personal vendetta against his employer
- The character has a personal vendetta against another player character
- The character is desperate to find a way out of ‘the life’
- The character has a personal connection to the intended victim
- The character is a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie
- The character is a stone cold psycho likely to go on a kill-crazy rampage
- The character owes a huge amount of money to some very serious people
- The character is paranoid about being set up (and maybe he’s right!)
In secret, the GM should also either roll d10 on the Plot Complications table below or invent some sinister twist of his own to mix things up a bit later.
- Mistaken identity – the characters have the wrong person or address
- The intended victim has been tipped off by persons unknown
- The intended victim is known to one of the player characters
- The location of the job is secretly under police surveillance
- The characters are secretly under police surveillance
- The whole job is a set-up
- Mr Big will attempt to have the characters killed after the mission
- A rival crew is attempting to do the same job
- The intended victims are heavily armed and extremely paranoid
- The site is full of innocent bystanders and potential witnesses
If you need to conjure up a random location, either as the site of the main job or just for some kind of side encounter, roll d10 on the following table.
- Seedy bar
- Pool hall
- Apartment building
- Truck stop
Structure of Play
The first scene should be the briefing. Have all the player characters be in the same room together while the Mr Big figure explains the mission to them. This could be the first time the player characters have ever met or just the latest in a long line of jobs they’ve performed together. Either way, they should spend a bit of time interacting with each other and asking Mr Big some questions to flesh out the details of the mission. It’s OK (necessary, even) for the players to do a bit of planning at this stage, but don’t spend too much time on it. Remember that this is supposed to be a one-shot, and no plan survives contact with the enemy anyway.
At this stage some of you might want to get all complicated and put in some Tarantino-esque flashbacks to show more of each character’s backstory, or some build-up scenes to show how the characters get whatever pieces of information or hardware they require. If done well these things can add a real sense of depth to the session, but bear in mind the time factor and make sure they don’t stop you from getting to the main action.
The main sequence of play should be the job itself. This is the heart of the adventure and there are so many variables that it’s impossible to offer much in the way of solid advice. Above all the GM is encouraged to keep the action moving as quickly as possible, introducing opposition and complications only as required to make the game more enjoyable. Remember that this is what these people do for a living, and they’re supposed to be pretty good at it. That said, if the players do manage to mess things up, don’t hesitate to throw some truly horrifying consequences their way (‘Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face.’). Karma’s a bitch. As you move towards the end of the session you can also start to relax the normal rules on not putting player character’s lives at stake. In fact, once you get to the final few minutes, you should be actively trying to kill them off!
Players for their part should play up to the conventions of the genre at every opportunity, committing terrible acts of ultraviolence in a stylish way while also spitting out a constant barrage of witty pop culture references. Try to filter your character’s actions through the lens of your favourite movie director and throw yourself directly into the action. Show no mercy.
The second main sequence of play, if you get that far, is the aftermath. What will the characters do with their newly-captured hostage? How will they make it back to the safe house? How will they collect their winnings? How will they stop the police from catching up with them later? This is a good time for the GM to throw in any further complications, and also for the players to attempt any last minute betrayals or final quests for redemption. Look at the clock to see how much time you have left, and look back at the state of the characters to see how much more punishment they can take. You might even roll up a second mission if you’ve got the energy, or maybe save it for a sequel to play out another time!