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
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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
That's right, gotta roll dice.
Lousy = 2d6. Okay = 3d6. Good = 4d6. Excellent = 5d6. Toss those
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."
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
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
3. One session of The Actual Job, where you do the actual
4. One or several sessions of Fallout, where the tensions and
dynamics of the group and the human failings of the characters come
5. One session of The Wrap Up, where somebody walks away with
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
"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
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
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
"That boy is a chalk outline just waiting to happen."
To see what actually happened when some friends of mine played the game,
Forge's Actual Play forum.