Friday, 20 June 2014

Rooting for the Underdog: A View of The 'Hood

I've been asked a few times what the inspirations of The 'Hood are and people have pointed to various sources such as the films of Michael Mann or TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Sopranos but to be honest, I haven't watched a lot of those and I think you have to scale down your expectations quite a lot to get the most out of the game.

There are quite a few sources of influence on the creation of The 'Hood, but there's no one thing which is a perfect model of it, so I can't point you to a particular film or TV show and say "Do it like that." The premise has been stitched together from bits of British TV programs such as East Enders, The Bill, Misfits and Minder (the latter mostly remembered as the original series from my childhood) as well as a few films like Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Mostly though, the game is an attempt to model real life, not fiction, and a lot of it comes from newspapers, documentaries and my own experiences of living in some pretty rough areas where drug use, prostitution and the black market were right there on my doorstep.

The motto of The 'Hood is 'Big Fish in a Small Pond' and that's the way to play it: the PCs, like real people, are the stars of their own personal dramas, but pretty much no-one else gives a shit about them. You don't have to go too many streets away before you come to a place where nobody has even heard of them and some other chumps are doing the exact same things to different people. In The Writer's Tale, Russell T. Davies talks about techniques for getting the audience to care about the characters but sums it up with this profound thought: the audience will care because that's the character you're choosing to show them. Watching a TV show is an investment of the audience's time, so they come to it ready to care about the characters; so with an RPG, we care for the characters we create because we've invested our time and effort in creating them. They don't need to be important, powerful or influential, as long as we are sufficiently interested in exploring their life and seeing the world from their perspective for a time.

The 'Hood is like a microscope that places a drop of pond water under its lens and shows the teeming, myriad life within: take a moment to look at your streetplan and think of it from that perspective before getting down into it. Whatever is on there is what the players and the characters care about; if someone cares about something, they need to put it on the streetplan. Say what your prep demands.  The streetplan is almost a storyboard for your game and it tells you what needs to be threatened in order to motivate the characters; fronts follow from the streetplan, so it also tells you who is doing the threatening. Don't be afraid to have threats that start out small, even inconsequential, just trust that they will get bigger as soon as one of the PCs really screws things up (hint: they will.)

The PCs are dishonest, but the game isn't: play honestly and remember that to do it, you have to do it. All the basic moves are situational, in that they reflect or trigger a situation within the story. In order to ask around, a PC has to start by actually asking someone about the thing they want, so they need to explain who they are asking and how they contact them. The same goes for lying low, there has to actually be someone who can help the PC before they can make the move, which brings me to making trouble.

Honesty demands that you think about what a PC is asking for from an NPC and what the relationship is between them: if a PC seeks help from someone whose name is already in their payback box, then that NPC might not be inclined to listen, so the PC needs to see if they're making trouble. This is especially true if the PC has just taken heat from something violent and public: if you knew the police were throwing everything they had into finding the person on your doorstep, would you let them into your house to hide? How much trouble are they worth? Sometimes the PC won't be in a position to make trouble until they've tried and failed to do something else: for example, if they've just tried to rip off a mate by arguing the toss with them, that mate might not be inclined to give them the time of day afterwards. Patching up a damaged relationship is part of the conversation that is the game: just because someone isn't in your payback box doesn't mean you can't do them a favour to keep them sweet and get back into their good books.