Weird Detective Mystery Adventures

game mechanics

campaign basics


Player Character Development Point Awards

The genre of role playing games makes all of the player characters self improvement junkies. In this game, development points which can directly be used to improve the character are awarded as opposed to experience points or other bonuses. Since we don’t have levels or classes, there is no chart which escalates the amount of points needed in order to make improvements on the character.

The judge balances the game by having the various bad guys have a similar point total to the forces of good. As time goes on, the bad guys get tougher, but the rewards for taking them on remains the same. We do not, for the most part, issue bonuses for simply beating people or monsters up. Combat is often the last and least complex part of a given mission. Awards are given for participation in and completion of the entire objective.

Participation is awarded at a flat 5 points per session attended. Longer sessions may merit more of an award. In general, it is a measure of time played. If you are playing twice the amount of time as normal, the participation award should be twice normal. 

Missions are about stopping events, uncovering schemes and smashing the structure of conspiracies and organizations. Point awards are from 5 to 25 to each player and are awarded at the end of the session in which the steps are completed. 

Let us take the example of a typical Crime type Weird Detective Mystery Adventure. A bunch of no-goods have been trolling the internet looking for people who are selling high end furniture. Specifically, they are looking for ads which indicate that the seller is operating from their home. They want a home in a fairly good neighborhood. When the bad guys contact their prey, they indicate that they would like to look at whatever it is at a time after dark. And then they cancel the appointment at the last minute, calling back and trying get another appointment at a similar late hour. About a half an hour after the first appointment, our no-goods show up at the buyer’s door, claiming they had someone else deal with whatever had caused them to cancel the first appointment. They make it a point to dress like they belong in the neighborhood. The seller then lets them in. And that’s the last anyone will ever see of the seller or anyone in the home.

            The bad guys kill everyone in the house and then systematically loot the place of everything of value. If they can, they will take the buyer’s computer, just to cover their tracks.

            Our heroes come into this after the gang has hit its second house. So far we have two seemingly unrelated home invasion murders. The only thing that seems similar is that in both cases is that there was no forced entry. So far, the police are not onto the internet classifieds connection. Digging up this detail is worth 5 points.

            The heroes could dig this up a number of ways. Someone with a computer skill could plow through the victims’ internet traffic for the past few weeks. They could hit doors and talk to neighbors, one of whom might mention that there were strange people coming to the door lately—or that both of the victims had recently bought new furniture. One of the victims asked a neighbor if the local church or block club was going to have a garage sale soon. Or, by examining what the bad guys left behind, they determine that the crooks did not take any other electronic item besides the computer. These guys are looking for jewels, cash and car keys. They do not operate with a moving van. So why did they take the computer? In any case, the award is given for something that the heroes found out as a result of their own actions.

            Putting together the crooks’ pattern is also worth 5 points. If the heroes can stop the bad guys in the act, it is worth 10 points. If the heroes can track the bad guys to their liar and stop them before they can pull this again, that is worth 15 points. Gathering enough evidence to put both the crooks and the people they were fencing goods through in jail is worth 20 points. But that’s about as far as this plotline can go. A 25 point award would require a crime of another scope, such as… 

A very large downtown Trust Management corporation was faced with the problem of lower level staff members leaving their employment for more challenging work. The firm, a title company, paid fairly well and required a high degree of education as a precondition of employment. Unfortunately, those very smart people they needed to employ have a tendency to have ambitions which transcend the glorified paper shuffling offered by the jobs the firm offered. This was a problem industry wide and the general solution was to simply eat the costs of recruitment, training and turnover. Our guys simply didn’t cotton to that sort of expense and assembled a blue ribbon task force to come up with a permanent and less costly alternative.

            Is this the part where the mad scientist comes in? More like a succession of mad pharmacists and social workers. Disguised as a somewhat odd-ball Human Resource Department, these people begin performing one covert experiment after another on the unsuspecting office workers. It started with drugging the water, then went to creating sub audio messages to altering the light to affect the pleasure centers of the subconscious. Actually they did so much that they are not sure what worked.

            But work it did. They went from 20% turnover per year to NOTHING, ZERO, NEVER. These people never left their jobs. They almost never took sick days. It didn’t seem to effect their learning curves—in fact, many of the office workers proved quite able to train each other on any new technology. Almost too able, too receptive. If you told one, trained one, showed one, it seemed they all knew. Their productivity was fantastic. Not another person was needed, even though the company’s business enlarged several fold. It went on like this for decades.

            Eventually the original management group retired very comfortably indeed—and took the secret of their experiment with them. New managers came in from time to time, but they didn’t stay long. Although many appreciated an environment wherein they didn’t have to look over their shoulders for fear of rivals from below, the work here wasn’t all that challenging. For managers, it became a weigh station—a nice place to say you once worked. It was, after all, a very successful firm.

            Oh, there were comments about the people who worked there. They were all kind of a clique. Hairstyles and dress seemed frozen in time. The workers certainly didn’t look their ages. And the corporate softball team killed, just killed, year after year, even though the youngest player had to be in his late 40s. And none of them ever died. One of them improbably survived a plane crash, another a train wreck, a third was hit by a bus and thrown 100 feet—and got right up. Just a lucky bunch of folks. Over time, they had all come to go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood and socialized only exclusively with each other. None of them had had children since coming to work for the firm, which seemed odd. And it wasn’t a concern. Which seemed very odd.

            Due to the firm’s long term success and dominance in its field, it recently became a buy out target. No less than four high powered investment firms are each seeking to purchase it. All of these investors are going to sell the firm’s book of business to another entity. In all likelihood the firm, as it is known now, will cease to exist.

            Now this is not bad news for the employees, most of whom are nearing retirement age and all of whom will be fairly set for life if the sale goes through. Spouses of these employees are especially looking forward to the windfall. This is, rationally, a happy situation—the fat pot of gold at the end of a long rainbow.

            The heroes come in at the time the first of the murders at the investment houses take place. A masked man grabbed one of the main brokers and jumped off a bridge with him. Although the broker’s body was found, his attacker’s was not. The murders spread to the other investment houses and even to the retired managers. All are taken out by attackers who should have died during the attacks. They are primarily pushing people off high places. The attackers are, after all, indestructible office workers and really not trained killers.

            Getting to the point where you can confront and thwart the weird, extra-dimensional entity that is controlling the workers subconsciously is a 25 point reward. Finding out how this collective unconscious was created is a 10 point award. Discovering that the entity is motivated by its self preservation is a 10 point award. (The entity will cease to exist if the workers are not together in the same space for several hours per day.) Discovering that the entity is only able to act when a critical number of the workers are in close proximity, specifically at when at work is a 10 point award. Being able to separate the entity from the workers and thus break its control is a 15 point award. Getting there in first place will involve several other objectives and tasks,  not the least of which is contending with some hard to hurt middle aged people. Compounding this further is that none of these people know they are under control or have ever been controlled.     

As you can see from the above examples, the way you set up these adventures is to determine what is happening and why. Then you work to a point in the story where the heroes can come in. From that point you hack the adventure into objectives with point awards and make up your bad guys. 

This is a very, very broad genre. To help you with the making bad guys portion (which can take up a lot of time) there is a  NPC Unit in the PDF version which has both specific bad guys and general generic monsters and other archetypes. Our final unit, Union City, gives you an extended scenario in which to plug the specific bad guy NPCs into.  This is also available in our unabridged  and illustrated PDF version. 

For purposes of helping you come up with your own gaming environment, we have provided you with…


Basic Campaign Mechanics

Things escalate. The heroes improve. The players get better at working as a team. From a judge’s perspective, the heroes and their abilities will improve very dramatically within a few weeks. You can of course keep adding points to the bad guy’s side, but after a while the bad guys will cease to have any context unless what they are doing also becomes similarly large or complex in scale. 1000 point heavies do not attack ATM machines. It is hoped that they have something better to do.

If your criminals do nothing more than loiter around waiting for some law and order steroid junkie in a set of red, white and blue jammies to beat them into a one-dimensional pulp, then they're not criminals, they're masochists.  Crime is generally not an activity undertaken merely to enjoy the pleasure of pain.  In fact, most criminals would prefer to escape punishment entirely and plan accordingly.  Breaking the law always involves some risk, thus the pay-off of a criminal activity should be worth the risk of punishment.

To keep your roving costumed desparados from seeming like overdressed clay pigeons, several questions should be considered:

(1) What is the criminal's MOTIVATION?  What is it that the criminal is after?  What advantage does the criminal gain by achieving his goal?  Why is this activity worth the risk of capture?   

(2) How will the criminal's activities be DETECTED?  What is it about the crime that will alert the heroes or authorities that it has taken (or is taking) place?  Do the criminals have a pattern to their activities?  If so, how would that pattern be detected?    

(3) What is the criminal's PLAN?  What do they intend to do before, during and after the perpetration of their crime?  How do they intend to accomplish the various tasks involved in their plan?  This is something that the Judge should have thought out completely.  

(4) How does this activity PAY OFF?  If the criminals are being paid for committing an act, how, when and where do they get their money?  If the criminals are stealing objects, how, when and where do they trade them in for cash?  If the criminals are stealing money, how, when and where will they split up the loot?  What do the criminals plan to do with their money?  

(5) Do the criminals have a way of dealing with a disruption in their plans?  Remember, in crime time is everything.  Criminals want to hit and run.  The longer a crime takes, the greater the risk of detection and capture.  Smart criminals will know when to cut and run.  Combat should only be considered an option when escape is impossible.  

(6) How will the heroes DISRUPT the criminal's activities once they have been uncovered?  At what point in the crime do the heroes barge in?  

Although we use the term ‘criminals’, the same would hold true of any adversary in this game. Once you have the basics of the antagonist’s plan and motivation down, you should factor in both the heroes’ actions and the reactions of the rest of the world. Any accomplished bad guy of any genre, or hero for that matter, will become familiar with the mechanisms of Real World Escalation and the impact of Character Reputation.


Real World Escalation

This is the white blood cell system of the real world. It is how the real world defends itself from catastrophic events. All of these systems are entirely man-made and run by men for the protection of men. It is the necessary and sufficient function of an organized society. In general, the progression of escalation starts with the police, fire department or paramedics and leads to the SWAT Team, National Guard and then the Army. Once the Army is called in, most governments are through when it comes to Real World Escalation. That’s the best they have, even in the literature.   

If you are using a standard comic book type universe, there may be other institutions that intercede or supercede the normal ones, depending upon the situation. Most worlds where Modern Thrills adventures take place will have some formal organization, such as a university, which makes the study of these events its special mission. Working for or with such a group may help the hero keep his shelf well stocked with missions.

Here in the real world, a recent study of the British public found that the average citizen appears on video camera 300 times per day. Cell phones and tiny cameras are everywhere. Motion detectors and automated sensing systems dot every part of the urban environment. Each purchase you make is logged in time and space, both electronically and on paper. If someone wants to watch, they have plenty of opportunities. Today’s citizen lives under the scrutiny once reserved only for prisoners in solitary confinement. 

The long and short of it is that you have about two minutes after something goes boom before the authorities start to show up. In rural areas or the not quite as developed world, this span may extend to ten minutes. But the average would be four. 

Even a an  average isolated  person or a remotely placed object set to watch something has tremendous sensory and signaling capacity—and each is one signal away from alerting the authorities and starting the process of escalation. 

One wonders how anyone can get away with anything? One wonders how energy trades could be manipulated so that the entire state of California was subjected to rolling blackouts. One wonders how gas prices could be jacked up several dollars a gallon at whim. One wonders how the entire treasury of Orange County could be converted into value-less ‘options’. One wonders how a mortuary could get away with not cremating people and just hiding bodies around the grounds--for decades. Apparently, there are some holes in the system. But don’t count on it. 

Finally, no government, no matter how totalitarian nor benevolent, will tolerate any impingement upon its right to a monopoly on the use of force. This will be a continual issue for your characters. Very few individuals even in the literature are granted a license as grand magic master avenger of truth. Your characters have two minutes from the time things go boom to finish their business and make a hasty exit. The bad guys are well aware of this. Even if you do beat your wings and head into the blue, what you did is LIKELY to come to light in some way. This will inevitably have an impact on your…


Character Reputation

We toyed with the idea of keeping track of fame, or credibility, or sanity or popularity with a statistical category. Many games of this type do. We have opted against it, inasmuch as we already have more than 20 BASESTATS as it stands. It was also felt that such things as fame, sanity and karma could have a sliding scale depending upon the situation. Heroes who hunt down purse snatchers with rocket launchers are going to have one reputation with the general population of one place and another impression indeed with the population of a place infested by zombies. Yeah, the guy’s a loon? So what. Tell him to bring the rocket launcher. 

In general, everyone likes the fireman but not everyone likes the police. The more like a fireman your character’s actions are perceived to be, the better his reputation is likely to get. Also, although everyone likes the army, no one likes having the army operating on their block. And that pretty much sums up what the public’s up close and personal impressions are likely to be. If your heroes have been around the block a bit, the public may have an impression gleaned from the media. 

The media is a weird mirror. The judge should, from time to time, explain to the heroes how their activities are being reflected by the newspapers or other sources. The last impression the public has will always be top of mind. 

As you characters progress, they will become something of a known quantity with the public. And every type of reputation is held as positive by somebody. There are also a great number of people out there who will defer to any type of celebrity. 

In the real world, no census has ever been taken as to how many celebrities there really are. Andy Warhol made the claim that in the future, everyone would be entitled to 15 minutes of fame. As it should turn out, that is not the case. The media has fractured and the audiences have become small, isolated groupings. What is a celebrity to a sports fan is a nobody to the average woman.  

So how famous are your characters and to whom? When setting up your world, you have determine how common people like your heroes are. In a comic book world, they would be as common as radio stations. There’s a certain awareness in a certain location. The receptiveness of the individual members of the public will depend on whether the hero has taken up a cause that the public has an opinion on. 

Being popular with the public does not always make one popular with the authorities. If the characters are continually leaving property damage and dead bodies in their wake, the authorities will start asserting their right to a monopoly on the use of force and make efforts to turn the public against the heroes. Being popular, in the end, may be secondary to surviving the perils of…


Crime, Horror, UFOs and Politics:

 A guide to the Modern Thrills Genre

Your standard issue vampire has to drink blood every now and then in order to continue to exist. He or she doesn’t have to wander the night putting the bite on members of the opposite sex, although most do. Such a person could alternatively simply work in a place where blood is collected and stored. If the vampire is a mere employee, he is going to get busted eventually—or at the very least the thefts are going to be noticed. So he has to do something to prevent that. The best way to do this is to be a figure of authority, a medical doctor or the person who owns the blood bank service. This involves a certain degree of organization: trappings and procedures. 

Once you have the adversary’s basic motivation down, you need to start fleshing out the trappings. The first trapping is the bad guy’s degree of organization. Even a traditional vampire, one who plies the streets at night, is going to do far better if he has some help. Unless one likes hanging out in the sewers hoping no one will spot your box during the day, a few creature comforts may be in order. A place to live would be nice. Someone to answer the door during daylight hours would be a big plus. That involves resources beyond simple blood. 

Even if the scale of the vampire’s operations amount solely to ‘drink blood, pay bills, repeat’ he will need a degree of organizational structure. Following are the basics…


Organizations 101

Unless you are a giant flame spewing turtle bent on eating Tokyo, you probably are going to need some help. Generally this means putting together an organization of some complexity. Organizations are like cars: They exist to eat money. Like a car, you should choose your organization’s construction based on what you must have and can pay for.  


A. Types of Criminal Organizations.

In crime, as in almost all human endeavors, the more organized you are, the more you will get done. There are four basic types of criminal organizations.  

(1) True Independent: A criminal who works alone. His targets are almost always cash or drugs.  In any case, it's something that he has a direct use for. 

EXAMPLES: Muggers, Robbers, Drug Addicts and some low-scale con men. 

Advantages: What you take, you don't have to share. It's easier to keep your activities secret if you're the only one involved.  

Disadvantages: Vulnerability. One-man shows have no back-up if something goes wrong. 

(2) Independent Contractor: A criminal who works alone, but who needs contacts with other criminals. He either needs other criminals to provide him with a product or service; or he needs other criminals to convert his product or service into cash. 

EXAMPLES: All kinds of Continuing Criminal Operations can be run by Independent Contractors. And most are.  Keep in mind that the 'average criminal' is a drug dealer. He doesn't work for anyone, but he needs connections in order to continue his operations. People who steal things other than cash or drugs need connections, too.   

Advantages: None. Absolutely none.  

Disadvantages: The same as a True Independent, coupled with the problem of having other people--other criminals--knowing what you're up to. 

(3)  Gang: A group of criminals with an obvious leader. 

EXAMPLES: Most gangs specialize in one type of criminal activity. Typically, Gangs act like Independent Contractors, only on a greater scale. The best common example is the Street Gang. Street Gangs are nothing more than glorified sales organizations. They do not make the drugs they sell. They do not import the drugs, either. They need other criminals in order to stay in business. Similarly, Auto Theft Gangs do nothing other than steal cars and hack them up for parts. Other criminals then buy the parts from them. The most extreme example of a gang would be the old New York outfit which called itself MURDER INCORPORATED. Acting as Independent Contractors, this organization used to kill people for other gangs. Only gangs which rob for cash are True Independents.  

Advantages: Gangs provide security and discipline. The larger they become, the more security and discipline they can provide. And the more the better. Security + Discipline = Prosperity. Very good gangs also provide a 'vision', a comprehensive unified group of goals and strategies. 

Disadvantages: Very good gangs are very rare. They are dependant upon the quality of their leader. Good leader, good gang. Bad leader, bad gang. And if the leader should be removed, chances are the gang will crumble.   

(4) Syndicate: A very large gang or group of gangs. In order to qualify as a Syndicate, an organization must either: (a) Have near total control of all organized criminal activity in a significant area; (b) Have near total control of a specific criminal activity in a given area; or (c) Have an extensive network of connections with Independent Contractors or other Gangs. They exist to make crime pay.  

EXAMPLES: All Syndicates provide a way to turn illegal goods and services into cold hard cash. Only large-scale gambling and fencing operations require Syndicates.  

Advantages: At their best, Syndicates eliminate competition between gangs, and the ensuing violence that entails. 

Disadvantages: Like the huge corporate conglomerates in which they were patterned, Syndicates are largely extinct. They were too large and inflexible to last. In the real world, Syndicates only exist in the Gambling and Pornography industries. Drugs, where the real money is, is largely controlled by lean and mean specialized Gangs and Independent Contractors.


B. Organizational Tone

A fish rots from the head down. A bad leader will doom almost any criminal group. Good leaders will rise above any deficiencies in organization.  Both good and bad leaders utilize one of three tones in which to maintain the smooth functioning of their operations.  

(1) Autocratic: "I say, you do." Both very good and very bad leaders prefer this tone.  If nothing else, it shows that the leader has extreme confidence in his/her abilities. A leader using this 'me coach, you player' tone will get involved in dictating the details of functions his underlings are assigned to perform. 

(2) Junta: "Let's do lunch. My secretary will call your secretary." The Junta is an unnatural structure. It is a collection of relative equals who have chosen one of their number to be the leader. The leader's purpose here is to please his equals.  Juntas have a tendency to be without vision and prone to confusion. It works best when there is one strong leader and a collection of equals who all agree with the way the leader is running things. In the real world, the Junta tone is used by political parties and corporations.  

(3) Democratic: "Let's take a vote and then break into committee meetings." Similar to the Junta, but without a specific office of 'leader'. This tone is perhaps best suited to a pack of clones. The organization must be either very small or very single-minded. It depends on all people involved agreeing on a set goal. It also depends on the minority's agreement to go along with the will of the majority. The Democratic tone is usually a transitional one. Organizations that start off Democratic typically change to the Autocratic or Junta tones.


C. Rankings Within Criminal Organizations.

Any pack has to have a ranking system, whether it has a formal structure or not. There are basically three different ranks in any organization. Not all organizations have all three ranks, but they must have two.  

(1) Big Kahuna: The most influential member of the group. This is the person people in the organization listen to the most. He is either the most trusted or the most feared member of the group.  

(2) Lieutenants: Are people the leader needs in order to maintain control of his organization. 

(a) Sidekick: Are people who are more loyal to the Big Kahuna than they are to the organization as a whole. These are the Big Kahuna's friends, mentors and advisers.  

(b) Toady: Someone whose agreement is needed, but whose input is not invited.  The Toady is a 'yes man'. He's very loyal, but not much else.  

(c) Rival: Sort of the Anti-Sidekick. The Rival's first loyalty is to the organization--and to his rise within that organization. He is someone who has the capacity to become the Big Kahuna. More often than not, he is treated like a Toady. The presence of a Rival will keep the Big Kahuna on his toes. A Rival can also fractionalize the organization.


(3) Henchmen: Just work here. These are non-leaders. They have specific jobs to perform.  

(a) Flunky: A trusted henchman. He is someone who has the capacity to some day rise above his station. Flunkies have already proven themselves to the organization. They can perform their jobs with little supervision and are often called upon to lead other henchmen.  

(b) Lackey: Someone who can be trusted to do his job, but little else. A Lackey is often very good at his job. He simply lacks the potential to be put in any other role. 

(c) Peon: None of the above. This is a person who needs constant guidance. He is given very narrow tasks to perform.


Taking it back to our example of the vampire, let’s see what he would really need of the above. Life would be both easier and impossible if our vampire had a real job. I suppose he could work at night, but that would get in the way. Traditional vampires were essentially landlords. Today they might be able to get away with being a day trader. That still involves research, work and luck, but it is doable. The activities of daily living—drink blood, work, pay bills—may still require some help. He needs at least a henchman, or, as defined, a Lackey. 

This is showing a distinct lack of ambition on our vampire’s part. Most of them like to live a bit more extravagantly, or at the least have operations which generate reserves and contingencies. (Extra cash so they can relocate the box on a moment’s notice in case of villagers with pointed sticks.) In the literature, many attempt to protect themselves by maintaining some status in society. 

In the case where the bad guy’s mere existence is enough to cause harm, it may not be all that necessary for you to define him as doing anything else. Our vampire can sell disco equipment to taverns and do his biting on the side. The giant flame spitting turtle doesn’t really need a job, although his commitment to environmental causes could be viewed as commendable. Some other bad guy types, such as Mad Scientists and Crime Lords are defined primarily by their jobs. For purposes of helping you flesh out your adventures further, we have provided a short list of…


Typical Genre Related

Plot Activities

The genre has provided us with many well known archetypes. Hopefully the game is well equipped enough for you to find or define them all. As for what the bad guys are doing, you can sort of mix and match--or mismatch--an archetype with a type of activity. Wouldn’t a vampire make a good Crime Lord? There is no reason that a zombie can’t be employed by a Ponzi scheme. Sure, it might interfere with his sales pitch a bit. I can hear it now: “Some friends and I started up this little business to earn ourselves points for a free trip to Europe. All we have to do is sell magazine subscriptions. And we are sooo close to our goal. By the way, do you subscribe to any magazines? MUST EAT BRAINS! Because, I can get you like the best deal ever. Could I have a moment of your time?”  

The genre is quite prone to fads, so feel free to start your own. The idea of there even being a ‘vampire slayer’ archetype only appeared recently. UFOs, once relegated to the task of global destruction, are now known more in the popular imagination for committing sex crimes. Our listing is  alphabetical and is only concerned with activities found in the literature. Often one or more plot trappings can be linked together. There are some more banal criminal and/or deviant activities (such as what the UFOs have been up to lately) which we have left out for editorial reasons. The bug eyed monsters want girlfriends. That’s all they have ever wanted and there is no reason to define it further. 


 Amuck Time

Something is causing people or animals or machines to just lose it. It happens at random intervals, but the behavior is generally the same. This is because it has the same cause. Isolating the cause will be the key to the mystery. There is something that all of the misbehaving entities have in common. There have been in the same place or have been exposed to the same catalyst. There may be an event which prompts the drastic change in behavior or simply a set period of time after exposure. Or they could all work for the Post Office.


Arms Peddling

Our seller is peddling a considerable advantage in arms, either to be used against the rivals or our heroes. In most cases, he’s not trying to help someone even up the score, but rather completely upgrade the lethality of a given conflict. Also, our peddler may be lacking manpower and offering these nifty gizmos as a way of wrangling some service from the thugs. Alternatively, the pay off for our seller may be in simply making sure more people get killed in the conflict.


Assembly Activities

Building a space ship or a bomb? Need that special element in order to make the dimensional doorway work? You need WHAT to make your golem walk? Discovered an asteroid made of gold and now you want to get it? First, you need tools. Second, you need materials. Third, you need a place to build it and/or a place to deploy it. That which cannot be afforded, must be stolen. Some things just need to be stolen, period. And you need labor, lots of it. Moreover, no single person or unit involved in the construction can know its purpose or final shape, until the end.



 A secret is only as good as the person it belongs to. Given the average person’s actual cash-out value, it’s probably not worth it just for the money. If, on the other hand, you need to recruit people who no one would have any suspicion of dealing with you or your operations, it may be quite worth it. Industrialized blackmail involves digging through phone records, credit statements, garbage and following people around. The Blackmail target himself is not what you really want. You want the target because they have influence over an organization or access to information.


Black Market

 In our genre, the bad guy is after something that just isn’t available legally such as body parts, plutonium, one eyed fish or slaves. There is no real market for these properties and our thugs only have one person to sell to. For purposes of maintaining their reputation and/or sanity, our thugs will prefer to deal with an intermediary. The thugs want cash before and after and they don’t want to hold onto the merchandise for long. The heroes will discover that the thugs are deliberately and willfully ignorant of anything but the obvious.


Bust outs

This is a crime against the credit line of an individual, business or institution. The crooks are using someone else’s good name order up stuff they can sell for cash. They are going to keep charging until they get cut off. And they are going to charge a whole heck of a lot as fast as they can. The crooks could care less about the perpetuation of the victim’s good standing. Chances are that the target is dead or has already been looted of anything of real value. Crimes of this type are usually perpetuated after a string of other crimes perpetuated against the target. It is the final insult. In the real world, this is a crime that is usually committed against restaurants which have ‘closed for remodeling’.


Commodity Manipulation

This is the holy grail of money making crimes. The theory behind it is that it is better to steal ten cents from everyone than it is to steal any amount of money from one person. In this crime the value of an institution or item is artificially driven down through means the crooks control. Once the bad things the crooks are doing stops, either the institution or something competing with it will dramatically increase in value. 

Sometimes this crime can be quite indirect and hard to detect. The key to it is understanding the real objective.  Let us say that you buy the company that provides bus service to the city of Los Angeles. As opposed to running the company, you shut it down. Without running the company, all you have is a bunch of old busses and signs. It would seem on the surface that you should lose money on this deal. On the other hand, if your objective is to increase demand for cars, tires and gasoline, closing down the bus service might be a good move. 

On a smaller scale, this crime usually targets real estate. The bad guys are using terrorist tactics to drive the price of a parcel down or to drive away other buyers. They may also have some insider information about a property, such as it has a hidden diamond mine on it. In any case, they want to buy it low, make the bad things that they have been manipulating go away, and then cash out. This particular crime is a staple of the Weird Mechanism genre.


Confidence Operations

The target is giving his money to what he knows is a criminal operation. It’s just not the type of criminal operation he thinks it is. In the classic operation, known as a Pigeon Drop, a King from an African country you have never heard of has emailed you, stating that he knows of your fine reputation and now requires your help. Just between you and him, he tells you that he has a ton of money he needs to move out of country. All he needs is someone with a bank account in the Western world who can help him move some of his stolen loot. That would be you. Now all you have to do is provide him with your bank account information and he can start transferring funds. You get 10% of the money that he has stolen. 

Of course, in this case, there is no King and no country and the crook is just looking to get a hold of your banking info. 

In the Union City module, there is a criminal operation known as the World Liberation Organization. Its primary goal is to overthrow repressive regimes in other countries. In short, they are funding terrorists and everyone who contributes to the special ‘action fund’ knows this. None of the people who give money to this fund will speak about it in public, since to do so would to admit they are contributing to a criminal operation. This suits the World Liberation Organization just fine, since they are not funding terrorism at all and simply pocketing the money.



This is the fine art of fixing the odds. In general, corruption involves government regulating authorities. The authority is being bribed either to prevent someone from getting into your business or to lower the operating expenses of your business. 99% of all real world corruption involves permits and zoning. If you want to make sure there isn’t another Taco Shack on your block to compete with the one you are running, you bribe the zoning authority to deny the competitor a construction permit, habitability certification, safe food license or even the right to run a restaurant in that location. 

And who does or does not get a liquor license is always a matter of who knows who. 

Conversely, if you buy an undeveloped piece of land, you can spread some bribe money around to have the area around it declared blighted. (It must be blighted. It’s ‘underdeveloped’!) With the right connections you can arrange for the land to be tax free forever or even have the government condemn adjacent properties and give them to you at a greatly reduced price.



When it comes to currency, this is generally a crime countries commit against each other. A few years ago the country of Iran was operating a press to print up American $100 bills. This funny money was being spread throughout Lebanon and Syria. It had a two fold effect: it gave Iran some ready spending power; and it made banks in the area suspicious of US currency.


The most common form of counterfeiting is in high end clothing. In this crime, a well known brand is stuck on merchandise which the brand’s owner did not authorize. Much of this merchandise is created in countries where there is no protection of trademarks, patents or copyrights.



Cult Orientation

This is an attempt to monopolize every waking moment of the target’s day. An organization deploying this tactic does not have to be religious in nature, although the real world provides many examples of such. The organization has a dramatic need for as many warm bodies as it can get. In return for participation, the organization offers ‘special training’ in an ‘exclusive activity’. What any of this amounts to varies, but in general it will require the individual understand that the only way to rise within the organization is through complete and total conformity with the group’s style of dress, tone of communication and moral standards. Unfortunately, conformity will get the individual nowhere, inasmuch there is always one standard for the leaders and another for the lay members. Sheep get fleeced. Actually rising in the organization is a matter of guesswork, the frustrating mechanisms of which has a tendency to lead the lay member down a path of even more conformity. 

Organizations of this type exert their control through the mechanism of the time suck. There is always some new deadline, some urgent truth or some need to redouble efforts. No matter how prosperous the organization obviously is, it will always seem to operate on a final crisis footing. In order to keep the heat on, organizations of this nature will seek to isolate the member from sources of information not under its control. It does this by systematically replacing the member’s normal relationships: with their friends first, then family, then outside media and, in some cases, with their employer. 

In the end, the target will wind up working for not much more than food and water. And that is usually the organization’s objective. The organization gets the target’s labor at the expense of not much more than the cost of soup and a cot. All they have to do is keep the target’s mind comprehensively occupied.  


Death by Remote Control

Crimes of this nature take a lot of preparation. Every single part of the crime has been accomplished by previously positioning equipment or having performed a series of tasks, except the pay off. The bombs are placed and are simply awaiting the final signal or the timer to go off. The oldest saw in this genre is the one wherein the bad guy has promised to kill his target by midnight. The target alerts the authorities and is surrounded by the police as the stroke of midnight strikes. Then… nothing happens. Just as the police are about to leave the scene, our target mysteriously drops dead, generally poisoned. Unbeknownst to the target, there was a vial of poison in the dental work he had done a few weeks ago. The poison container has either been eaten away or broken by remote control, thus causing the target’s death. Such a scenario is rather high on drama, but low on plausibility.  

A twist on this is the real world ploy of the crook phoning the authorities to tell them where a bomb is placed a few minutes before its detonation. This ties up the authorities in two potential ways: first, in the evacuation of the area, and second, in dealing with the aftermath. The more bombs you plant, the more of the authority’s forces you can tie up. In the genre literature, this usually frees the crook up to go ahead with robbing a bank or whatever his real target is without fear of a large response to his activity. On the immoral side, the crook can simply set off a number of bombs simultaneously throughout the city.



Drug Manufacture

There are considerable cost savings involved in manufacturing a product near where its consumers are. This cost savings is exponential when the product in question is contraband. It is, however, extremely risky. The issues involved in this process are concealment and creation. Both have challenges which inevitably lead to the operation shutting itself down or being exposed. 

Failure to control the ventilation of gasses and low energy heat causes most drug manufacturing operations to simply cease functioning. The drug lab explodes! The indoor hydroponics farm catches fire! Modifying the facility to deal with these hazards is typically beyond the technical ability of the proprietors and would arose suspicion if attempted. 

Drug labs give themselves away in several ways. They smell. Waste products are often dumped nearby or poured into the storm sewers. Even in a blighted area, they will stick out: large security fences, blackout window shades and loose dogs in the backyard are obvious visual clues. Moreover, labs use much more energy than a conventional dwelling or even a small office. Police, especially in rural areas, are always on the lookout for spikes in electricity usage. 

Taking steps to ameliorate these factors would involve the construction of a Functional Front, which is usually beyond the organizational capacity of the average nutty drug lab dude. On top of everything else, drug lab operators are normally very lousy neighbors.


Drug Problem

Not only are most nutty drug lab dudes bad neighbors, they also suck at science. When they are not blowing themselves up or setting fire to their neighborhoods, drug lab guys are obsessed with the fine process of cutting costs. They do this by substituting or diluting the active ingredient of whatever they are making with whatever they have on hand. Thus, what might be sold as a prescription pain reliever on the street may contain 50% borax. 

The drug lab operators only concern is with how his product looks. Throwing in ground chalk, cleanser or even a common petrochemical is not unheard of. Many times a batch will leave the lab with something truly dangerous in it. How much of this is intentional is anyone’s guess. If the guy was any good at chemistry, he would be a lab technician or a pharmacist, and not sitting around in a shack by the boarder attempting to shovel paste into round holes with a sharpened spoon. 

Beyond the miscreant actions of bad wannabe scientists, drugs can also be made lethal by spiking them with wide spectrum pesticides and other chemicals of this like. This is mostly done to a natural drug product which is for some reason not very potent. Since it can’t be sold as a good example of what it is supposed to be, it is palmed off as something special. Again, whatever is in it is haphazard and can often be dangerous. 

Finally, as of the writing of this game, there is a plague of Methyl Amphetamine manufacture and use in the south and west of the United States. This substance was initially promoted as the poor man’s cocaine. What it in point of fact is, is the end of the road. The pusher is selling it either because he has nothing else to sell or does not think his customer has very long to live. Statistically speaking, there is no recovery from addiction to this drug. Addiction is as certain to lead to death as a bullet in the head. For this reason, stamping out the manufacture and distribution of this substance has become a focus of law enforcement.


Drug Smuggling

Pound for pound, the most violent of any conventional criminal class are the smugglers. This is because everyone they are dealing with at every step of their process is a criminal. Most smugglers only specialize in part of the operation. The more parts of the operation that are under an organization’s direct control, the less risky it will be. 

In both reality and fiction, they can be fairly creative in their transportation practices. The fun, least risky part of the business, is in sending the product to the destination port. If they can get away with it, the smugglers prefer to send their shipments without attendants. No people, no direct ties. Besides there’s plenty of it coming. They use planes, trains, submarines, tanker trucks and cattle to move drugs into their target country. Conventional gangs often use boarder tunnels to simply slip it in. 

And then the fun is over. Once inside the country, the risk of the drug being intercepted drops to nearly nothing, while the risk to life and limb for the smuggler rises sharply. Now it’s time to deal with the bozos who want to pay for this. Whomever they are, they are probably armed and might not be opposed to taking your life… for any number of reasons. Repeat customers are apparently just not valued. There is no love lost nor loyalty expected in this business. And everyone involved with it is very, very twitchy.



It’s littering for profit. In a less enlightened age, this was a fairly widespread crime. The point of it is to dispose of a waste product for a lot less than the going rate. The most common form of this is fly dumping, which is literally throwing construction or yard waste all over someone else’s neighborhood. A less obvious type of this activity would be to place commercial waste into someone else’s dumpster. Another common form of this activity is to pump liquids into the storm sewer. 

Dumping is fairly lucrative, from a cost savings perspective. Unscrupulous restaurants and dry cleaners often simply cart up used materials, drive a few miles and then vent the drums straight into the street. A number of hospitals were cited for using a low cost service for disposing of medical waste. As it should turn out, this service amounted to nothing more than sticking the waste on a boat and then dumping it into the ocean.  

Most large scale incidents of dumping take place at sea. Coal tar, cooking grease, unused fish parts and tires are amongst the items most frequently dumped. Few crimes have more devastating, and yet hidden, of an impact. Besides degrading the environment, dumped items can introduce toxins into the drinking water of coastal cities and lead to massive health problems. Mess with the water and you mess with everybody.


There is another type of dumping, known as Market Flooding. This is a form of Commodity Manipulation. In this crime, an imported commodity or item is offered for sale at a cost that is less than what it took to manufacture it. This may seem counterproductive, inasmuch as the dumping party is losing money on every sale. What you need to understand is that this is a long term scheme. Once the domestic producers are bankrupted, the importer will steadily raise his price. Successful deployment of this tactic effectively wiped out the domestic steel and consumer electronics manufacturing sector in the United States. As of the writing of this game, dumping activities primarily involve agricultural commodities.

Environmental Leeching

A distinctly useless and predatory entity is using us as its food. This is what vampires, dragons and the military in most countries do. Central to the relationship is that the entity would flat out starve to death without us. It needs our blood, land, bones or produce to just keep keeping on. Some entities may simply sneak a bite out of the populace every now and then, letting its crimes be diagnosed as general lawlessness. As long as such incidents are kept to a small per capita number, the people are just as likely to blame the town drunk or village idiot as they are some unseen supernatural force—even if such are well known or rumored to be about. 

In the literature, many of these entities set themselves up as an authority, either religious, governmental or social, and claim to be benevolent protectors. The more ambitious these entities are, the more people and goods will be spirited away. Most truly powerful or unopposed entities will drop any such pretense, adopting instead an ‘it is better to be feared than loved’ tact. Often the appetites of these entities will outgrow their areas of control, causing the populace to steal people from other regions or to take military action—against other countries.


Environmental Replacement

This is what the alien invaders want—your land and you dead. Your existence is entirely inconvenient to the entity. It does not like your air, the water you drink or the land you sit on. Or maybe it likes those things just fine, but doesn’t want to share.

In the case of the UFO jockeys, they are coming in force. They may start with a brief propaganda campaign and then hit the military targets. Or the military will hit them. The two are destined to tussle, in any case. After that, they go after water, electric, food and the seven wonders of the modern world. It’s all just hunting down cowering people eating canned food in the end. 

There is a less ambitious form of this, which we find in the horror oriented sci fi. In this, our bug eyed monsters have not shown up in force. A full scale invasion may just not be in the budget. First, it needs a safe place set up just for it. Then, it needs some goons that it probably attracts through Cult Orientation. Once set up it needs to keep expanding its domain while in some way making sure that the world does not reclaim the land it already has. Until a certain step, it will also need to keep its existence a secret. In the mean time, the bug eyed monster is going to learn how to mate with your girlfriend and build a temple to its faceless dread god, the one whose name is an unending flow of consonants. This is where things generally get screwed up as far as the entity is concerned. There was a plan in the works for a weapon of mass destruction, but our entity is having too much fun to focus on it. 

For some reason, the literature seems to indicate that all beings engaged in this crime are vacant of nobility, mean spirited and very poor planners. No wonder they needed to leave their planet.



This is what the bully does when he demands your lunch money. It is the base form of Blackmail, Corruption and Protection. Extortion is using a threat to compel a person take some action. The threat can be real or imagined. The action can be to do something or to neglect to do something. The extorting party wants the target’s continued silence in any case. It is used most overtly in cases of jury fixing. You will either vote our way or we will get your family. In the past, trade unions would often threaten people who showed up at headquarters demanding a right to vote in the local’s elections. 

The most common and subtle form of extortion is practiced by community action groups. A business has in some way offended the group, its constituency or its cause. The group threatens a boycott of the business or seeks to have the government cancel contracts with the business. As opposed to suffering the group’s wrath (or making meaningful changes to its behavior), the business makes a HUGE financial contribution to the group. In return, the group goes on record to deodorize the business’s reputation. 



This is about getting something or someone out of a protected place. It covers everything from jail breaks to bank robbery to planting phony documents. You need to know all about a place. You need to know its security. The rest is timing and contingencies. The more contingencies you have mapped out for the bad guys, the better the scenario will play out.



 Selling stolen goods. Before the internet, most stolen goods were sold at second hand stores, pawn shops, out of the back of someone’s car or at irregular open air flea markets, such as the infamous Maxwell Street market in Chicago. Given how quickly even the most pricey consumer items depreciate in value, this seems to be a vanishing crime. At least on the formalized scale it is. Thank goodness for the internet.  

The higher class fences on the internet will not disclose that the goods that they are selling are anything but new. They make extensive use of fake packing material and fraudulent warranty information. 


Fixing Sports

This very common real world crime involves extorting or bribing athletes and officials in order to impact the final score of a sporting contest. It is almost always initiated by gamblers and is more common in the college and minor league sports. But it is common in every sport, from horse racing to professional cricket. Not a year goes by without a major fixing scandal coming to light.


Fortune Tellers/Spiritualists

The seer scam is one of the oldest in all of human history. On its general level it involves making scattershot and vague predictions about the future, as Nostradamus and some Adventist ministers were known to do. Modern mass practitioners  of this art  stick to silly daytime talk shows, tabloid newspapers or stock market programs. On a retail level are the horoscopes, which are written with their intended audience of women from 20 to 30 in mind. All of this can be dismissed as good fun, however fraud is fraud.           

On the most sinister level are the street corner psychics. Using a general knowledge of body language, and some actuarial realities, and by asking leading questions, your average psychic can do a fairly convincing job of playing hit or miss for up to fifteen minutes. If you ever wondered why they have a timer, it is because the act will wear fairly thin if it goes on too long. Answering follow up questions is not their strong point. 

What the psychic is always most interested in is reading your reaction. They will tell you what seems to register most. Mostly, however, the psychic is trying to measure up how plump of a sucker you really are. You see, the real money isn’t in giving $10.00 palm readings, but rather finding someone who is both susceptible to suggestion and in fairly dire straights. If the psychic has found you to be both, she will abruptly break off the first session, saying that there is something about you which is bothering her. She can give you a specific answer later. 

If you are gullible enough to meet with this psychic again, she will suddenly have all sorts of very specific information. Gosh, far from asking leading questions, you won’t be able to get a word in edgewise. Has she suddenly become psychic? No. Her boyfriend has gone through your garbage and had been following you around. For extra points, they may have purchased a record of the phone calls you have made out of your local calling area. 

Once hooked, you will be diagnosed with the ‘evil eye’. You have been cursed by someone. The psychic can remove this curse, but it will involve the physical destruction of some of your money. I kid you not. They will attempt to take you for as much money as they think you can get your hands on.           

The scam is old because it works. At the turn of the 1900s, the spiritualist movement was quite a bit more theatrical. Although sophisticated electronics were used to make the act more convincing—dancing lights, ghostly voices and that rot—the content and intention of the act was the same as in the street corner variety. Whatever information Madam Fate is suddenly spouting through her spirit guide inevitably was supplied by a confederate, usually a common law spouse. And they are always out to remove a curse by destroying your money.



 A Front is a legitimate looking business located in a public or well traveled area. The business has long or erratic hours and never seems to have regular traffic through it. This is because the business is fake. It is disguising a meeting place or storage area for some illegal activity.            

In the real world, fronts are not much. They are generally ‘disguised’ as members only social clubs. Given the rise of communication technology, the need for a front may be a thing of the past. Typically, most fronts were nothing more than places to drink and party.


Functional Front

Unlike a standard Front, this is a functioning business with real hours and real foot traffic. It just happens to be hosting a criminal operation on the side. Good functional fronts have ample storage space, long operating hours and legitimate revenue. Your average functional front is either a restaurant or a tavern. Functional Fronts are also used in Money Laundering operations. 



Most gambling in the western world is legal, so you would think that criminal involvement would wither away. It has not. In fact, gambling is the mother’s milk of organized crime. Gambling today is focused primarily on organized sports, which is still illegal in most places. But technology has spread the reach of gambling into every home.           

One wonders how much of it is rigged. Are the people you play poker with online real or fictional? People do get checks in the mail from their gambling, but how many of them keep the money they won? Doesn’t this little payout just encourage taking a deeper dip?            

Call me suspicious. So far anything that can be rigged has been.


Global Calamity

The end of the world works best as an impending threat to be averted or as the backdrop of a campaign setting. Hell has run out of room and now the dead are walking the Earth. All electronic equipment on Earth has ceased functioning. The seas have been turned into grease. You just discovered that the world came to an end fifteen years ago and you have been dreaming most of what you thought was your life.           

The action of the plot is either to prevent the calamity or to reverse its effects. In the distance all societal mechanisms start to systematically fail. A new structure is arising in its place, perhaps several new ones. Has this sudden reversal of fortune indeed made the last come first? Or is everything going to be ok once we finish shooting all of the zombies?           

Once you’ve gone Global Calamity in a campaign, you can never really go back. There are varieties, though. Last week, the giant alien showed up to suck all life off the planet. This week we have 1/3rd of the world’s population disappear without a trace. Next week we fight the mutants and the zombies for control of the remaining supplies of gasoline and canned food.           

We warn you: if you do destroy the world, most of our provided source material will become obsolete.



Diverting a large quantity of finished goods while they are in transit from their point of manufacture to their place of sale is the essence of this crime. Unlike Fencing, which is obsolete as a formal criminal profession, this crime is on something of an upswing. This has to do with the absolute convergence of the interior workings of most consumer items. 

For the most part, all consumer electronic items are identical when it comes to their functional components. This is true of DVD players, cell phones, stereo systems, lighting fixtures and televisions. In fact, no matter what name brand is placed on the box, most like items have been produced at the same factory. So what is the difference in any of them?  

The box and the name on the box. This has been a boon to hijackers. Break the stuff out of the box, stuff it in a new box, slap a brand name on it and sell it as new. Since none of the components or configurations are in any way unique, there is next to no way of tracking the crime. In today’s world, no one is going to question a name brand they have never heard of. As long as the item has a significant demand, there are plenty of discount odd lotters willing to take the goods. 

It requires a little more work than ripping off fur pelts perhaps, but the payoff is tremendous. The expense of assembly and packaging is more than offset by the cost savings of having stolen the parts and not having to pay for patent licenses.  

Speaking of fur pelts, there is still a considerable hijacking enterprise involved in the traffic of these items. Like the box components, furs can be reworked or sold in bulk for cash. 

Another type of piracy is what we used to call bootlegging, and it primarily involves the software, music and video industry. Electronic data is like peanut butter and it spreads well on everything. We may very well have seen the end of ‘cleans’ making their copyright infringing ways into discount movie and record shops from clandestine factories in China. But this is only because the consumer no longer needs Chinese assistance to steal such items.


Influence Peddling

This is making money off of your very powerful friends. The key to it is having powerful friends to begin with. Often the influence peddler is simply a ‘bag man’, a person you pay bribes to the influential person through. All influence peddlers are territorial and specific to a type of institution. Some of them may know many people whose access they traffic in. In some way or another the person performing this function can give cash to whomever you wish to sway. It is often a mechanism of Corruption. However, not all influence peddling is illegal. Lobbyists, political consultants, manufacturer’s representatives, actor’s agents and some lawyers practice influence peddling quite openly.


Insurance Fraud

Faking an injury, faking a theft or causing damage to property for the purposes of collecting insurance proceeds. This is one of the most common crimes out there—and because it is, also one of the hardest to get away with. 

Have you filed for divorce? Been cited for Drunk Driving? Declared bankruptcy? Lost your job? Did you know that the chances of your insured vehicle being totaled has just gone up 1000%? It’s close to five million percent if you have done more than one of the above. Funny how that happens. And the insurance companies know all about it. They are masters of human nature. And if any of the above has happened to you, your chances of filing a medical claim against a 3rd party or of filing for workman’s compensation has also gone up exponentially when compared to the general population.             

The problem with most people who commit insurance fraud is they have a tendency to think that they are the first person to have ever thought of it. They also think that the insurance company will have to wage an elaborate defense in order to deny the claim.           

Most frauds are so obvious that the insurance company will simply not pay and then let the claimant take them to court. 9 times out of 10 the person filing the claim was motivated by the fact that they have no money in the first place, and thus are in no position to take the firm to court.            

There are, however, organized gangs that do nothing but insurance fraud, mostly by staging car accidents. On the gang’s payroll are Traveling Circus members and shady doctors. What they do is cruise the streets looking for a moving, nice looking car to ram into. They have various methods to set up the accident so that the physical evidence would suggest that the target is at fault.  The Traveling Circus member behind the wheel then claims to be horribly injured. He gets carted away by the ambulance and the next thing you know he is in a special treatment facility, racking up huge bills. Other persons also on the gang’s payroll will swear that the target in some way was at fault in the accident—and they aren’t beyond lying in spades. The hope is that the target’s insurance company will simply settle without investigating or defending the claim. 

In the more ugly version of this crime, the operators deliberately set out to kill the other driver in the accident. This eliminates any possible contradictory testimony and may cause the grieving family not to pursue the issue as closely as they might otherwise. 


Juice Loans

Once upon a time there were such things as Usury Laws which capped interest rates at below 25% per year. These laws went the way of the dinosaur and today any institution can charge whatever interest rate they can get away with. Socking consumers with high interest, irregularly compounding loans has since become the stock and trade of Payday Loan storefronts and subprime credit card issuers. A now defunct national chain of furniture stores was set up primarily to sell goods at a loss which they would then make up for with high interest rate loans. Even auto companies have finance arms which are often their most profitable businesses.           

Of course, the loosening of interest restrictions has allowed a lot of consumers who might not otherwise qualify for credit to obtain it.            

So how bad of shape do you have to be in order for the loose credit peddlers to not want to touch you? Plenty bad. Chances are you are a gambler or a drug dealer. Yeah, the paperwork is skimpy, but that’s because the loan is backed by your health.            

Worse, sometimes a strongarm juice loan man will set up shop as a Payday loan store. The consumer only finds out exactly who he is dealing with after the loan is in trouble. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common.  



This crime involves snatching a person off the street and holding them for ransom. Since the early 1920s, any act of kidnapping in the United States is a federal crime. In today’s world, most kidnappings are perpetrated for reasons other than monetary reward. Revenge against the target’s family or political reasons are the primary motivations. From the moment a person is abducted, they can be moved an average of one mile a minute from the place they were snatched. Unfortunately, the longer a person is in custody, the less likely it is that they will be safely returned.


Local Disruption

This is a Global Calamity gone small. The zombies are walking the Earth, but just in the mall. In the genre these events usually take place in somewhat remote locations. Or the event is hidden from view and simply consumes anyone who chances upon it. In the normal scenario, the event has a way to keep people out or to keep people in. In the most large version, our flame spitting giant turtle is just eating Tokyo right now.  


Money Laundering

Is the act of hiding ill gotten gains by claiming that they are revenues from a legitimate business. In the real world, the crime of tax evasion is very easy for the authorities to prove. All they have to show is that you own or owe much more than you can afford. If your mortgage payment is $4000.00 a month and your sole income is a minimum wage job, the government is going to conclude that you are misstating your income. Since the charge is so easy to prove, many criminals set up real businesses that they can claim that their income comes from. In order to work properly, a money laundering operation has to primarily take in cash and have a minimum of inventory. Classic money laundering operations have included all forms of restaurants, taverns and coin operated vending machines.  


Ponzi Scheme

Is a sales organization without a real product. Also called the Bubble Game, in its most infamous incarnation this scheme involved selling a short term investment. The coupons were sold to the public in affordable denominations which paid off 15% interest in 90 days. The investment seemed very attractive, but no one was quite sure what it was backed by. 

As it should turn out, it wasn’t backed by anything: the people running the scheme were paying off investors with money brought in from sales of coupons. In the normal course of events, the operator takes in a massive amount of deposits and then skips town, never to be seen again. Charles Ponzi’s name became affiliated with the scheme not so much because he brought anything new to the idea, but rather that he didn’t run for it and continued to operate right up until the moment that he went bankrupt.  

Unfortunately, many insurance and real estate investment companies are run in much the same way. In the case of insurance companies, which are supposed to make investments and pay off claims from that income, the companies often wind up instead paying out claims from premium payments. This means that the firm has no investment assets to back it up. This is a big time bozo no no.  

Left on their own, Ponzi schemes raise capital by creating an entity with a permanently negative net worth: the firm will always owe money. 

The most modern and least industrialized version of the Ponzi Scheme disguises itself with the term Multi Level Marketing. In this scheme you try to recruit as many people as you can to sell a product. And then you encourage them to also recruit people. The lure is that you, on the top of this pyramid, will get an override (commission) on every product that anyone in your ever expanding organization sells. The problem is that the population of the Earth as a potential market will not keep up with your organization’s expansion and the need for sales agents will decline immediately. Also, in general, whatever it is you’rE selling is so laden with overrides, that it just won’t sell. And the stuff is usually junk to begin with. 

The real mark in this game is the sales agents, who are often encouraged to buy a large demonstration kit or sell products at a loss for illusionary rewards, such as earning points towards a trip to Europe. 



This is Extortion with the threat of destroying someone’s business. It is generally territorial and targeted against retail merchants. The merchant is paying off the criminals to keep them from burning his business down. In the most aggressive form of this racket, the criminals will fictionally buy into the businesses in order for the merchant to aid them in Money Laundering. This is a staple of the genre, but it is unclear how much of it actually takes place today.           

A variation on this theme is practiced by building inspectors and health inspectors who demand bribes in return for not flunking the establishment. Auto dealers are also subject to this type of shakedown by agents of licensing authorities. 

Most governments practice a form of protection, called Protectionism, which is designed to give an advantage to domestic industries against imports. If an import is drastically lower in price than a good made locally, the government will assign a tax on the import to make it just as expensive as its domestic competitor.  It is used as a defense against Dumping.



This is taking someone else’s secret and selling it. It is not so much blackmail as it is theft. Or it is simply using insider information to make a profit at the public’s expense. An example of this is being tipped off to the introduction of a new product and turning around and buying a quantity of the firm’s stock. More banally, you could be tipped off to the firm’s quarterly profit before it is released and then either buy or dump the stock based on this information. Giving an unpatented process or trade secret from your old employer as a condition of employment with a competitor is also a form of this activity.



Although slavery was outlawed universally, the practice still exists in certain parts of the world. It has even been found in developed and industrial countries. In some places this is due to odd contract laws and societal customs, but in most instances it is the result of abduction and threats of force. Slaves are typically kept in areas where they do not know the language or mores of the society around them. As in Cult Orientation, they are isolated, usually within an ethnic enclave. It is often difficult for the authorities to detect this crime due to language and cultural barriers, however there are some clues: The person is never allowed to be alone, cannot drive, carries no identification and has no money of his own. Slavers have been found operating in nearly every state in the United States and throughout Europe. 


Social Terraforming

This is the crime of dictators and perhaps the greatest man made cause of death the world has ever know. Its initial justifying cause is a desire to restore law and order. To this end, the authority demands sweeping dictatorial powers, usually by declaring an emergency. The emergency never ends. First they go after criminals, then deviants, then dissidents, then counter-revolutionaries and then intellectuals. Your classic big wig dictator will leave it at that, but those with vision will then start to get creative in defining their enemies. Often these designated enemies will be no threat to them whatsoever and may even support the regime. Once it’s fantasy time, there is no stopping them. The dictator believes that the entirety of human history has been a catastrophic waste of time and that all remnants of the past must be clear cut in order to make way for his divine new vision. In the end it is reasonless, brazen mass slaughter and it is usually only stopped when and if the dictator attempts to inflict his vision on other countries. If he keeps all the killing home cooking, there is very little chance that he will be stopped.


Territory Issue

It’s everything from a military invasion to a gang war. The point of the action is to take territory by causing the persons occupying it to flee. Killing the opponent is the best way of insuring that he does not return. The territory itself does not have to be of any real value. It can simply be a good place to launch further attacks upon the enemy or a good place for the enemy to launch attacks upon you. Territory Issues have a tendency to ruin whatever territory the fighting is actually being done in. And sometimes that’s the point.



Often the result of Cult Orientation or personal delusion, persons engaging in this activity are attempting to dramatically illustrate the importance of a conflict or cause. Through intense indoctrination or individual emersion in literature, the participant has been become convinced that he is compelled to lash out against an indifferent world--and that the measure of his cause will be increased in direct proportion to the amount of carnage inflicted.


Traveling Circus

This is a group of criminals who move from one town to the next, usually committing various property crimes as they go. Lower level groups specialize in home invasions, car theft, theft of construction equipment or organized shoplifting. Low level groups often also pass around counterfeit money, engage in pigeon drop type Confidence Schemes, stage Insurance Fraud fake slip and fall accidents and car accidents and engage in Bust Out operations involving the use of stolen credit cards. 

Most of the time the low level groups are capable of doing all of the above and will do so all at the same time. They are cross-trained. They are also most likely to be members of the same family or an organization with Cult Orientation.

These groups are especially fond of obtaining auto financing using stolen identities. They favor the purchase of SUVs, large cab pick ups and conversion vans, since these vehicles suit their traveling lifestyle. (Sometimes they have to live in these vehicles.) The group usually owns and maintains at least one large moving van or city type truck.  In the past, many of these groups would attach themselves to  carnivals, but today they are more likely to be traveling with an itinerant roadside salesman.  

The salesman is selling furniture or paintings or rugs or lawn ornaments or children’s riding toys out of a vacant lot. They can also be set up as a service business, such as hail dent repair or knife sharpening. Often this guy is serving as the group’s bank and his place of business is their collective safe house. He is not ordinarily involved in any of the crimes being committed by the group—and is kept deliberately unaware of them. Despite this, he is the group’s leader. This is the guy who comes to bail out people who get nabbed by the cops. He is also the one who determines when it is time to pack up and move on.  

Most of these groups practice a religion which strongly resembles orthodox Judaism. They have stringent dietary laws and are extremely particular about the handling and eating of food. (This does not stop them from smoking and using drugs, which nearly all of them do.) When they take up residence in an apartment or motel, they will cover the windows in newspaper or a highly opaque cloth. This is to keep the Angel of Death from looking in their window. Another part of the religion is that the world has committed vast crimes against them and that their activities are acts of vengeance and righteous retribution. 

Despite the seeming clannish nature of these groups, they often actively recruit anyone they can get a hold of. They are not particularly interested in ethnic purity and many tribes are quite the rainbow coalition. Tribe indoctrination involves plying the target with a lot of free drugs, brainwashing them and then eventually setting them off to work. They are not opposed to kidnapping attractive women or children. 

While they use drugs, few of the groups peddle them. This is out of fear of civil forfeiture laws, which would allow the authorities to strip the gang of nearly everything they have on them. 

The more aggressive of these groups engage in bank robberies and may also traffic in slaves.  

Weird Mechanism

This is a plot twist wherein an event that seems to have a supernatural cause, often with many horror trapping, turns out to have a very banal motivation and a rationally explainable mechanism. It’s not ghosts at all, but rather holograms. As it turns out the trailer park wasn’t built on an ancient Indian burial ground, instead it is where the new off-ramp to the highway is going. Almost without fail, the perpetrators are engaging in Commodity Manipulation, with real estate being their favorite target. And they would have got away with it, too--if it wasn’t for you meddling kids! 

The genre became a staple of pulp magazines in the 1930s, starting out in the magazines Terror Tales and Horror Stories. It proved so popular that it spread into every genre, starting with the detective magazines and then the romance and western pulps.


An archetype of this Weird Mechanism genre is that the perpetrators are ridiculously sadistic and murderous. There is nothing fake about the severed heads they leave lying around. The fake part is the monster in the lagoon. Even in the toned down for television cartoons version of this genre, the antagonists have a very dark creative streak. It’s one thing to want to turn the apartment complex you own into condominiums. Sticking a succession of severed heads in the courtyard to scare the tenants into fleeing is quite another thing indeed. Some tactics just don’t occur to sane real estate investors.

 Our Union City campaign setting incorporates all of the ideas explored in this unit. It also contains over 100 NPCs, dozens of scenarios, an encounter engine and a fully detailed system of escalation charts.