Tag Archives: abilities

Alternate Pickpocket rules

One of our customers, Rob from Canada, wrote to tell us about a variant for our pickpocket rules that he used.

Watch out – there’s a pickpocket about!

Here’s the text that he prepared for those with the pickpocket skill:

Your character has the Pickpocket ability. Your ability card shows what you can pickpocket and how many attempts you have during the game. Beware! Some characters have the ability to investigate pickpocket crimes, and even dispense justice if a crime is proven!

When you want to use your ability, you will need to do three things:

  1. Complete a Pickpocket Use slip.
  2. Place a sticker somewhere on your victim’s body.
  3. Show the host your ability card and give them the Pickpocket Use slip, telling them where on the target you placed the sticker (such as left shoulder, right heel, purse, etc.)

The host will seek out your target as soon as possible. If the sticker is no longer there, then you may have been discovered by your target or another character who saw you place the sticker. Other players have not been told what the sticker means, but you had better watch your back as they may become suspicious!

If the sticker is still there, the host will advise the target they’ve been pickpocketed and will search through their items, retrieving either the target item (if they have it) or some other random item. The host will then (as discreetly as possible) remove the sticker from the target and transfer the stolen item to you.

Stickers and Pickpocket Use slips will be found in your character envelope which you’ll get at the start of the game.

Rob is using our rules for Investigating Pickpocketing Crimes, which you can find here.

If this sounds slighting familiar, it’s because we talked (briefly) about using stickers for pickpocketing previously, back in 2014. But this is a much more detailed explanation of how that works.

Note: Depending on your players, you may need to consider whether using stickers needs their consent first. If so, then we recommend using our standard non-contact pickpocket rules.

Investigating Pickpocket Crimes

Pickpocketing can be a divisive mechanic amongst experienced freeformers (although I’ve never heard any of our customers complain about it). On one hand it’s a useful mechanic for replicating a real-life skill (one that is thankfully rare); on the other hand it can be particularly demoralising to have spent all game trying to get hold of something only to have it stolen by someone unknown.

My experience is that some players hoard their items, and pickpocketing is a valid way of forcing items to move around the game. But if pickpocketing is so unpopular, what should we do about it?

I’ve been thinking about this, and solving other minor crimes, for a while. I wrote about it on my blog, following Shogun, a weekend freeform. Before that I’d written about solving in-game crimes, and about pickpocketing specifically.

And now I’ve finally done what I’d been promising myself I’d do – I’ve created an optional rules sheet for Investigating Pickpocketing for Freeform Games.

(There’s also now a standard rules sheet for pickpockets.)

How does it work?

The optional rules come in three parts – one for pickpockets, one for investigators (or detectives, sleuths, reporters), and one for judges.

Pickpockets: Those with the pickpocket ability get this:

They get one of these for each pickpocket use.

(The standard rules sheet has a sheet of these you can print.)

When a thief wants to use their pickpocket ability, they fill in name of victim, item to steal, and their name and then give it to the Host.

The Host then resolves the pickpocketing ability, and adds what was actually stolen (if different from what the thief was after). The host keeps the slip of paper.

Detectives: Give the following ability to detective-type characters – sleuths, investigators, police officers, and reporters.

So someone who has been pickpocketed can find a detective and ask them to investigate. The detective checks with a Host and plays scissors-paper-stone:

Host wins: The detective learns nothing.
It’s a tie!: The detective learns who was behind the crime, but doesn’t have definitive proof.
Detective wins: Proof of the crime! The Host gives the detective the completed Pickpocket Use slip as evidence that they have solved the crime. This is enough evidence to bring before a judge (see below.)

The detective can then go back to the victim with the news that they’ve either identified the culprit (and maybe even have sufficient evidence to try them) or that they haven’t.

Punishment: If proof of the crime exists, then the evidence may be taken to the
Judge, sheriff or whoever is responsible for dispensing justice. They should be given
the following slip in their character sheet:

As a guide, punishments should, if possible, improve a player’s game rather than detract from it.

Wrapping up

The intent of these additional rules is not necessarily to punish the wrongdoer, but to create more plot for the players by exposing secrets and shining light on dark deeds. Even if the culprit is known, the investigation doesn’t necessarily result in hard evidence that you can take to a judge. However, that shouldn’t stop the victim from dramatically confronting the pickpocket and demanding their goods back.

Not all of our games have a character suitable to give the sentencing guidelines to. In those games, evidence of pickpocketing can be dealt with during the game wrap by asking the investigating characters what they intend to do.

Updating our abilities

This could probably be filed in the “should have done this sooner” drawer. We’ve just finished an analysis of our many and various abilities. We’ve copied all the abilities into a single spreadsheet so that we have everything in one place.

(“What’s an ability?” you ask. Well, each character in our murder mystery games has three abilities that give them an advantage in the game. Abilities range from forcing another player to tell them something, winning a rock-paper-scissors challenge, to being tougher to beat in combat.)

And now that we can see all 500+ abilities in one place, we’re marvelling at some of the contradictions.

For example, we found eight different variations on the Not so Fast! ability. We found some abilities that had different wordings in the same game. We found some abilities that have different effects in different games.

A sample ability
A sample ability

All this leads to inconsistency – we don’t want you to have to relearn the abilities every time you play. Once you’ve learned Not so Fast! you shouldn’t have to re-learn it.

This has crept up on us over time. Our approach to abilities has changed over time. As an example, an early version of Sudden Insight states “After talking for five minutes with any person, you realise that they revealed more than they intended. They must show you everything on their “Information” card.” Feedback from players suggested that some players were timing themselves to the second so that they could play the ability. That wasn’t really what we intended – we just wanted them to talk for a short while. So later versions said “After talking briefly to …” or even just “After talking to…”. But we didn’t then go back and change the original abilities.

So we’ve agreed on some standardised wordings for our “standard” abilities, the ones we use time and again. For example, Sudden Insight will now say: “After talking to another player, you realise that they have revealed more than they intended. They must must show you their Clue.” (As discussed previously, Clue is our new term for Information.)

And we’re going to sort out all our old games and bring them up to standard. (This isn’t going to happen overnight, obviously.)

So when you see Sudden Insight in Court in the Act, you know that it’s going to have the same effect as Sudden Insight in Casino Fatale.

The only things that may change are flavour text and restrictions. We sometimes use flavour text to give the abilities a bit of colour and make them fit the character. And in some cases we put a restriction on an ability (in Happy Birthday R.J. the Harrington Stock cannot be pickpocketed, for example). However, neither flavour text or restrictions change the basic effect of the ability. We will also ensure that the balance of abilities is about right.

For example, Hollywood Lies currently has over 20 versions of “I love talking to people – I never know what I’m going to learn!” We’re going to replace some of those with abilities that do slightly different things so that there’s a good variety.

First games to get the new abilities will be Lord and Lady Westing’s Will and Death on the Gambia.

Arrests in Way out West

In Way out West the Sheriff and Deputy can (via an ability) arrest other characters. There are various ways in which someone can escape arrest, one of which is that the restrained player gets outside help.

Way out West wanted poster
Way out West wanted poster

We’ve recently been asked if the player providing the outside help needs an ability to cut the ropes/unlock the door and help the restrained character to escape.

If we’re presented with this situation during a game, we ask how the helping player plans to release the arrested character. If they have an item which will obviously help, that’s great: but if they have a good enough imagination, then they don’t need to have a specific item. After all, Way out West is set in the Wild West town of Cactus Gulch and there are lots of other things lying around which aren’t represented on the item cards.

So if they need something particular for their imaginative plan, and it’s reasonable that they might find it in Cactus Gulch, we let them succeed.

Basically our guideline is: if it feels ‘fair’ that they should succeed, because they’ve put in some effort to find items or to invent a good plan, then they should succeed.