lumpley games: Chalk Outlines

Chalk Outlines

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Chalk Outlines Waiting to Happen

a caper-flick roleplaying game

Things to do in Denver when You're Dead - The Way of the Gun - The Sting - Suicide Kings - Reservoir Dogs - Snatch - Heat - Thick as Thieves - Out of Sight - Jackie Brown - Dirty Rotten Scoundrels - Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels - The Big Hit - The Score - Montana - Bottle Rocket - Boondock Saints

Your Crew

Making characters is quick and easy. You should do it in public, out loud, at the table, at the beginning of the first session. Don't prepare. Hand out the character sheets.

I'm excellent at my specialty, which is _____.
You're automatically excellent at your little crime niche. Choose a specialty now, out loud. Work it out with the other players so that you don't duplicate too much. Here's some of the specialties I can think of: B&E, Safecracking, Lookout, Getaway Driver, Gun Guy, Muscle, Talking, Planning, Logistics, Fence, Casing, Hacking, Surveillance. I expect there're more.

I'm _____ at being useful otherwise.
Choose: lousy, okay, or good. Lousy is funny but irritates your friends.

My usual arrangement is _____, but this time I want _____.
Write your usual arrangement for jobs, like: cash up front, or flat rate, or retainer, or percentage. This time you want: a piece of it, or the whole deal. Choose one that's bigger than your usual arrangement.

I'm _____ at...
Choose: lousy, okay, good, or excellent. Go down the list. You must choose at least one lousy. And you will play it. Mix and match with the other players and choose for maximum chaos.

I have access to _____.
Here's where you write down who you know, who owes you, what you own, and what you can beg borrow or steal. Maybe I'll throw in some lists later but you're free to choose whatever, I mean it, whatever you want. Write it down and it's yours.

But First, before you go hog wild, you should figure out what the job even is.

The Job

At this point, you've got a crew, but nobody knows what for. So: make it up. What are you waiting for? It's not going to decide itself, plus all you need is one concise sentence. The job is to kidnap and ransom the surrogate mother of the mob boss' kid. The job is to rob the diamond store and meet at the warehouse. The job is to get the jewels out of the guy's fish tank.

Point: Everybody knows how the job itself is going to go. You're going to win. You'll deal with a bunch of left-field not-going-according-to-plan craziness and you'll squeak through. Eventually some or one or all of you walk away with the goods. I know it, you know it. Don't sweat it.

Point: Don't shut anybody out. If one of you is playing a fence, better have some stolen goods at some point. If one of you is playing a second story man, better have a second story. (Or you can change your character if you need to.)

The Plan

Segue that conversation into the crew's first planning session. Here's your chance to firm up a few details, and figure out what you already know. What will you need for the job? (Convenient how somebody has access to just the thing.) What are your contingencies? This is important: don't establish anything as fact that you wouldn't already know. Conjecture all you want, but the golden rule is: If it didn't happen in play, don't count on it.

Your PCs should come out of this first planning session with a rough start of a plan and a list of things to do, details to check, people to see before they proceed.

With me? A digression:

The Big But

Say you're lousy at keeping your big mouth shut and you're sitting in Doohey's with these two guys you knew in the joint and a pitcher apiece.

That's right, gotta roll dice.

Lousy = 2d6. Okay = 3d6. Good = 4d6. Excellent = 5d6. Toss those puppies down.

The only ones you care about are the two high rollers. (If you're lousy, that's all of them; if you're excellent, throw out the low three.) Then I hate to do this to you but subtract them. The second highest from the highest. You'll have a number from 0 (rolled doubles) to 5 (a 6 and a 1). That's the magic number and the better you are the lower it's likely to be.

Now back to you in the bar. You succeed. You keep your big mouth shut. You always succeed every time at anything you're trying to do. But -- BUT -- that magic number? You have to make that many concessions to the situation.


They have to be actual concessions but otherwise you have complete freedom. You choose what they are, but you can take suggestions from the GM or the other players if you want.

"I keep my big mouth shut, but..."

Concessions can be sacrifices: "...but I end up buying all the beers." They can be additional complications: "...but one of their friends shows up, and he hates me." They can be partial failures: "...but I do mention that I'm working." They can be future problems: "...but I hang out until dawn and today I'm a useless wreck." They can be subsidiary rolls: "...but instead I talk about cars, and since I'm an excellent getaway driver I should be able to keep them engaged."

However many you rolled, that's how many you have to come up with: "I keep my big mouth shut, but I'm out until dawn and I buy all the beer, plus at about two in the morning this guy catches me looking at his girlfriend and blacks my eye."

Or, the supersize but, if you have more concessions than you want to deal with, you can just bag it: "I keep my big mouth shut, but ... eh, forget it. I blab the whole stupid job."

Another example: picking a lock. "I pick the lock, but I break one of my picks, I gash my hand, I leave the lock all trashed up so it's obvious somebody's picked it, it takes longer than I thought, somebody walks by and sees me, I make noise, I get my fingerprints all over the place, and to top it off when I hunker down I split the crotch of my jeans, and anyway forget about it, it's going to take way too long."

Chalk Outlines

There's a very easy rule you can use if you want to play a low-bodycount game (The Sting rather than The Way of the Gun):

Whenever you're trying to kill someone, if you roll any concessions, the first one must be that you don't kill them.

If you want, you can place the rule for killing PCs and not for killing NPCs, for a more action flick kind of experience.

Anyway back to the game.

A Quick Summary

The game plays in five parts:
1. One session of The Setup, where you make characters and establish the caper.
2. One or several sessions of Planning and Logistics, where you figure out the tensions and dynamics of the group and explore the characters.
3. One session of The Actual Job, where you do the actual job.
4. One or several sessions of Fallout, where the tensions and dynamics of the group and the human failings of the characters come to fruition.
5. One session of The Wrap Up, where somebody walks away with the goods.

Actual sessions may vary.

Planning, Logistics, and Already Things Ain't Right

So now what you're going to do, before you do the actual job, is play a cycle of scenes, one for each PC. The planning and logistics part is just a backdrop to the real fun, which is highlighting and playing out what the PCs are lousy at. It works like this.

The GM chooses a player and says something like this: "So you have this job in the works, and I see from your character sheet that you're lousy at trusting your friends. Let's see it. Would you set the stage for us?"

The player then introduces a suitable scene. "Okay, me and Robin and Chaz are driving over to Mitchell's, to pick up that shotgun he's been holding for me." The player chooses who's there, where they are, what they're doing, and then turns it over to the GM to direct.

Play that scene through, then the GM turns to the next player. "I see you're lousy at relationships. Set the stage."

"Well, let's say my fiancé is waiting for me at her place, but here I still am at Doohey's with Chaz and Carmichael..."

And so on.

The Actual Job

You should have no trouble playing out the job itself. Just remember that this is what the characters are good at for once. The game is about them, not about some stupid score.


And you thought that planning and logistics was fun.

What you do now is play through a second cycle of what the PCs are lousy at. The big difference -- and it's a doozy -- is that now they've got the loot, and remember how they all want a bigger piece than usual?

"So you've got the diamonds. I mean Chaz does, in the trunk of her car, and I see by your character sheet that you're lousy at trusting your friends..."

Finders Keepers

At the end of the fallout cycle, everybody (including the GM) votes for who they think should walk away with the cash. The vote is secret, you can vote for as many characters as you want, just write their names on a piece of paper, fold it, and give it to the GM. Use whatever criteria you like. Only one rule: You Can't Vote For Your Own Character. Better hope other poeple do.

(If you want, you can also write things like "Carmichael should get the girl, despite he sucks" or whatever on your ballot. Again, don't write anything about your own character. That's for everybody else to decide.)

The Wrap Up

At the beginning of the final session, tally the votes. Probably you won't have one clear winner; that's cool. Divvy the loot into shares and go by how many votes each character got, or have run-off votes. Whatever, the point is that before the session really begins, everybody should agree about the final distribution.

Once everybody's clear about how it ends, just play it out. Easy. Mayhem. You're psyched.

Here's another link to the character sheet.

"That boy is a chalk outline just waiting to happen."

Design Notes

To see what actually happened when some friends of mine played the game, visit The Forge's Actual Play forum.