Monday, February 7, 2011

Tommy's Take on Crime Network: Cosa Nostra

I want to cover a long overdue review in my queue next. Last year, I reviewed the adventure The Old Country for Crime Network, but did not review the actual game itself. Allow me to correct that grievous error now.

Crime Network: Cosa Nostra is an RPG built around playing mobsters, meaning you get to pretty much be the bad guys. Crime Network was made by Bedrock Games and distributed through Avalon Games, with the PDF available at RPGnow for $9.99. It clocks in at a relatively light 104 pages, but they didn't skimp on the bells and whistles, as it is not only searchable and fully bookmarked, but it also features a clickable table of contents. The cover art is competent, but not impressive, and book itself is black and white and with double columns, meaning there is a lot of text per page.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The book opens with acknowledgements, tossing a shout out to Terror Network, its sister game (which I will be reviewing, along with the Agency Handbook, very shortly) and how the two differ fundamentally.

INTRODUCTION

This starts as a basic "What is roleplaying?" type intro, but gets a little more in depth about the game, serving as a primer to the system (d10 dice pool system, take the highest result and compare to a Target Number, 10 is a "Total Success"). If you have no dice in a skill, you roll 2d10...and take the lower result.

Advancement runs on an official track and an unofficial one: You can spend XP to build your character up, while the actual rising through the ranks of the Family is up to the GM, based on who does what in various jobs.

Crime Network also professes to being incredibly gritty...to the point that they recommend everyone making 2-4 characters, so you always have a replacement ready.

CHARACTER CREATION

This chapter helpfully starts by breaking down the steps up front, before digging into the explanations.

Characters are divided into three types: Brains, Brawn and Casanovas. These determine your types of connections, as well as your Primary skill groups. Once the Primary skill groups are set, you get 12 points to distribute among the skills in each group (of which you will have two), and 9 for each of your Secondary skill groups. The cost is cumulative. For instance, two ranks in the Bully skill costs 3 points (1 for Rank 1, plus 2 for rank 2). For a single point, you can buy an Expertise in a skill, which gives you an extra d10 in certain circumstances.

From there, you pick a Family to belong to, and Crime Network provides eight of them, if you want to use the Baybridge setting included with the book. Note that your Family gives you a free point in two Crime skills (the family's specialty). There are six official ranks in the families, from Associate to Boss, and every character has Respectability, which is a measure of how much they can get away with, and for how long. Awesomely, this one is rolled by the GM in secret, and failure means *someone will try to kill you* if you do not make amends. It also governs your ability to tap your connections, and the above failure conditions don't really apply.

We get a little more clarification about skills next, notably that Defense skills are never rolled, but instead provide thhe target number for people acting against you (whether attacking you, lying to you, trying to bully you, or whatever). The one exception to the "never roll defensive skills" rule is Resolve, which you sometimes have to roll to avoid temptation.

Each of the skills are detailed, with their uses, with one important one being Crime (which has specific specialties)...now, you DO have to roll the Crime skill when committing a crime, but it doesn't determine success or failure: It determines a) the amount of financial benefit (if any) you gain from committing the crime, and b) the target number for the police investigation into the crime.

Once all of the skills are broken down, a list of Expertises for each skill is provided, with clarifications as needed.

With skills out of the way, we get into the second major system of the game: Connections. They come in five categories (Criminal, Political, Social, Business and Entertainment) and two types (Insider - with all of the deep information you may need, and Protector - providing actual services). If you tap a contact, except to have to do a favor in return. Keep tapping without repaying the favor, expect to make an enemy.

Shortcomings are disadvantages that can affect you, and provide a bonus Skill Point for each one that you take (and you can take two). These include things like Enemy, Illiterate and Rat (either you don't know when to shut up, or your family has a history of ratting people out). I particularly like Womanizer (and your lack of impulse control can cause a lot of problems), Henpecked (especially when you can't keep your wife out of your business) and Mama's Boy (complete with a daily visit, dinner twice a week and taking her shopping).

EQUIPMENT

A pretty good variety of weapons are covered, complete with full stats and descriptions, as well as optional rules (such as boosting damage for point blank shots, just in case). Drugs are also provided, in three broad categories (alcohol, opiates and stimulants), with their effect on the character using them. A broad listing of vehicles are given, as is three generalized types of body armor (which adds a bonus to your Hardiness defense). Finally, a catch-all of Things you may like to buy, from watches and fancy shoes to fake IDs to bugs.

The stat blocks are easy to read, and if there's really not enough weapons, armor and vehicles here, I have to imagine that Terror Network covers at least some different ground.

COMBAT AND NON-COMBAT RULES

We've covered the basic mechanics already, but this chapter provides further clarification and rules, such as damage. After a successful attack, you roll Damage against their Hardiness. Success equals a Wound. Every 10 you roll on the Damage roll equals an additional Wound. Three Wounds equals incapacitation, and dying sets in. If you get a Total Success (natural 10) on your Attack roll, you get an extra Damage die, to increase your chances of rolling that extra 10 and inflicting more Wounds.

The exception to this is the Assassination skill. If you have this skill, you get one shot versus your target's Wits. If you win, they're dead. Just like that. You have to make a second roll to see if you kept your trail clean, as assassinations sometimes lead to retribution.

Combat, by default, is grid based (and explosives have a chart for applying to the map grid), with the Speed skill being used for initiative. You can make a Move Action and a Skill Action each round, two Move actions, or you can take one Move and drop the skil Action, adding 1 to your Defenses, drop both for +2 to your Defenses, or just drop movement and add 1d10 to your attack roll. So, a decent level of options right there, without getting too complicated.

A handful of further tactical options are provided, including shooting someone from behind, targeting multiple opponents with automatic weapons and making called shots.

The chapter ends with basic vehicle rules, as well as "When Grenades Miss" (you've probably seen charts like this several times).

THE WAY OF THE GANGSTER

Here, we start getting into being a gangster.

I cannot vouch for the historical accuracy of the information in this chapter, but I can say that they say it convincingly enough that I won't argue with it. It begins with a history of mafia activity in the US, from the earliest recorded beginnings through now.

From there we get into some mechanics, such as setting up rackets (for when your players are higher up in the family) to generate additional income. Poor planning equals no money and arrested men.

Going to jail opens up its own set of opportunities, although anyone getting set up for a lengthy sentence are likely to just wind up dead, so they can't cut a deal.

Finally, this chapter discusses becoming a Made Man...the necessary steps needed to move from an Associate to a full fledged member of the Mafia.

THE GAME MASTER

Step by step tips on making your own campaign, including building mafia families from the top down. There are guidelines for points allocations for NPCs, depending on the challenge you want them to provide...but the really impressive part is the list of NPC Types: 25 archetypes often associated with the mafia in popular culture, like the Flash Madman (the guy who snaps on a moment's notice), The Fatherly Boss, The Reluctant Criminal and the Religious Hit Man.

The game encourages fostering paranoia among the PCs, as a PC who angers his superiors is likely to have his own crew gunning for him. Obviously, this is one area where you need to know your group first.

A discussion of the Mafia Movie themes is given next, like Violence, Love, Revenge and War, with each theme getting a good paragraph each, as well as thirteen story seeds to get you rolling.

I do have a gripe here, though. There is a table of modifiers for trials on page 66...but the chapter doesn't actually start talking about conducting trials until page 67. It just seems really awkward...but that is literally my biggest gripe thus far.

The chapter ends with a sizeable list of references, in book, film and TV, if you want to learn more.

REMO LOVES LUCY

Here we get a full fledged adventure for 3-5 characters. It's a pretty straightforward revenge scenario, in which the PCs are avenging the death of their (now former) Capo. The adventure is set up by the new Capo, and once they have their location and objective, it is pretty much up to them to figure how to get the job done.

I like the structure as, much like The Old Country, it does a nice job of giving the PCs plenty of freedom, even while they are following orders.

THE BAYBRIDGE SETTING

The default setting for the game, Baybridge is (shockingly) a corrupt city overran by the mob. Said to be founded by a pirate, the city has a long history of crime. Baybridge is broken down into districts and suburbs, with a brief overview of each area, complete with important sites. For instance, we learn that Chinatown is pretty much the center of Asian activity in Baybridge,  and The Golden Buddha is where the Triads call home.

Certainly enough information to get you rolling if you prefer to use their setting.

Major NPCs are fully detailed, such as the Bosses of the families, and Mayor Marino (who is pushing a pretty severe anti-crime platform).

A helpful chart of 14 sets of stock NPC stats are provided, from cops and reporters to a variety of mafia operatives.

The book tops off with a character sheet and an index.

THOUGHTS

Normally, I hate skill systems. Like, heavily skill based systems. I give them a bit of a pass here, because characters are defined entirely BY the skills. For instance, there is no Strength stat, there is a Muscle skill. I can handle that.

The damage system doesn't make me think it is as gritty as advertised, although the possibility of having a hit put out on you, and the lethality of assassinations does certainly step that up a notch.

More importantly, the writers went out of their way to make sure you have enough material to understand how to capture the "feel" of a mafia game, with the NPC types, discussion of themes, story seeds and the full blown city. It is worth noting that, at the beginning of the review, I commented that it was kind of "light" at 104 pages...but the sheer amount of information doesn't make me feel at all like it is overpriced. They don't waste a lot of space here.

If mafia roleplaying appeals to you at all, I give this a strong recommendation...in fact, I recommend buying it in the bundle with The Old Country, which was a wonderful piece of work in its own right.

I'll be digging into Terror Network soon...I wonder if you can mix and match for a "Departed" type game?