A rough idea for a game, inspired heavily by the TV series Justified.
“When it comes to takin sides or takin chances; There’s a part of me that didn’t come to talk.” The Steeldrivers – Reckless Side of Me
Lawman is a game about, you guessed it, law enforcement officers and the people they deal with on a daily. The catch is that while these are police officers in the current 21st century they still do their job with the flair of the 19th century wild west lawman. Players will be taking up the roles of the modern men and women in law enforcement who still think as long as they draw first it’s justified to shoot them dead. These characters can be anything from local police officers all the way up to, just off the top of my head, U.S. Marshals. Of course, in order to get away with these 19th century styling you might consider dropping the characters into some backwoods setting like rural Texas or, again just off the top of my head, the Eastern district of Kentucky.
Mechanically, the game is designed to encourage players to make aggressive decisions and explore the consequences of those decisions. The game becomes easier in the immediate when you choose to draw down on someone but in the long run you will only create more problems. If a player decides to play things smart, to stay calm and go by the book, they will find the challenges presented by their GM to be more difficult while mitigating any long term drama they might encounter. However, if they damn the consequences to hell and just pull a gun then the immediate problems get solved real quick.
Examples: Throughout the course of this game there are numerous examples. These should help give an in-game look at how various rules work. There is the main cast of characters you’ll see crop up over and over again in these examples. To quickly familiar you with these characters, we’ll introduce them here.
Deputy US Marshal Tim is a quintessential 19th century style lawman in 21st century Kentucky. Tim is a quirky but dedicated contemporary U.S. Deputy Marshal who, having committed a justified killing in Florida, has been re-assigned to a backwater town in Kentucky.
Nick is the Chief Deputy of US Marshals Field Office in Kentucky. He takes a lax attitude towards unusual methods of law enforcement thinking that in time, either the Lawmen will leave for good or becomes another US Marshal killed in the line of duty.
Deputy Marshall Jacob is a another member of the US Marshal Task Force and the team’s sniper. He’s also a former Army Ranger and a crack-shot. Not much is known about Jacob’s earlier life, but he served a tour in Afghanistan and had claimed a few high profile targets during his tour. Sometime after his tour, Jacob would join the US Marshal Service and become a Deputy US Marshal.
Deputy Marshall Erica is part of the US Marshall team in Kentucky. Erica was born and raised in Kentucky by her single mother. After her sister was murdered by her brother-in-law, Erica took in her nephew and raised him alongside her mother.
Walton is a bank-robbing white supremacist who goes to jail, finds religion, and emerges as a born again messiah who’s opposed to his father’s involvement in narcotics. He tends to see himself as a criminal no matter what, but despite his criminality he seems to be a truly redeemed man after prison.
Joelle is a young, attractive divorcee who used to be married to Walton’s brother- until she shot him for continuing to get drunk and beat her. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and spent some time in prison.
Natalie is the ex-wife of Tim. Their marriage began to deteriorate, due to his anger-management problems and the fear of being the widower of a dead US Marshal. This drove Natalie to divorce Tim and marry their realtor, William. Natalie would move back to Kentucky after her mother fell ill, where she would find work at as a court stenographerwhich would force her to be reunited with Tim.
Lawman uses Dice Pools of mixed dice ranging from four-sided to twelve-sided. Dice are also commonly abbrivated D4, D6, D8, D10, or D12 depending on how many sides they have.
Dice Pools are gathered primarily from three sources on the player’s character sheet. There are additional resources also available to every character, some are general rules that anyone can use while others are specific drawbacks listed on another character’s sheet. The three major traits the Dice Pools are built from are Attributes, Affiliations, and Aspects. All of these sources can be used once for free, making the standard Dice Pool three dice. These specific traits that characters draw from are covered in detail during the Character Creation portion of this book.
Players also have a number of sources they may tap into by spending a Token. These traits include their opponent’s Complications and Tramas. Player can also spend a Token to bring in additional Attributes, Affiliations, or Aspects beyond the free ones they used to build their core Dice Pool. Tokens spend to use opponent’s Complication go to that Opponent. Again, more on these specific traits are covered in detail during the Character Creation portion of this book.
Finally, if the chips are still down, the player can Justify it. Justified Behavior is incredibly powerful since it allows you to roll in one to three more dice without spending a Token. While the size of these dice is determined by the GM, with input from the group as a whole, the amount of dice is entirely in the players hands. Of course, the number of dice you use always comes back to bite you in the ass later. Still, more on these specific rules can be found in the Justified Behavior section of this book.
To understand Lawman you’ll need to understand how the basic rules work. For the most part players talk about what they want to do and the GM decides how feasible those actions are. Characters with the proper Attributes, Affiliations, or Aspects should be able to simply do the things they can do without needing to roll dice. That is to say, if a character with a very large dice pool in goes up against another character with a low dice pool, it’s safe to assume the larger pool will succeed without having to roll dice. The only time dice should be picked up is when something else is at stake and the character has a chance of losing their stake.
You should pick up dice when two characters that are evenly, or close to evenly, matched come into conflict with each other and are actively trying to hurt the other person. These situations are called Conflicts and they are a series of back-and-forth dice rolls where players bid until there is either a winner or someone gives up.
To start a Conflict all involved parties will gather their dice pool and roll. It’s really just group preference if the dice are kept hidden at this time but for tension I highly suggest you keep your pools secret for now. Every participant pulls one die from their pool that becomes the order they act in, called their Bid Order. The Bid Order goes from 1 to 12 with 1’s Bidding first and 12’s Bidding last. In the event of a tie, characters compare die size with larger sized dies going first. In the event there is still a tie, players roll their Bid Order die again with whoever rolling lower acting first.
Once the Bid Order is determined the first Bidder slides forward any two dice from their rolled pool. The Bid Dice are added together and set the current Bid. The next Bidder needs to beat the current Bid by pushing forward up to two dice of their own. If the Second Bidder can reach a higher number then the Second Bid becomes the new Bid. Bidding continues until everyone involved has either made one Bid or Folded. Then the current situation is described, dice pools are re-gathered and the process starts again, with the last Bid setting the starting Bid for the next round.
When the next round starts, before rolling any dice, players may Fold. If they Fold it costs them a Token, paid to the GM, to abandon the Conflict but they get to escape without a Complication. As soon as a Bidder rolls dice they can no longer Fold. This also applies to the very first round. If you’re being force into a Conflict you don’t want any part of, you can simply Fold before you even roll dice. In this instance, it’s free to Fold and you still get to avoid taking a Complication.
If a Bidder rolls dice but can’t match the Current Bid they are removed from the conflict and earn a Complication. The bidder still needs to find out who close they can get to the Current Bid though, because if they can not get within five points of the Current Bid they are Knocked Out of the scene and risk taking Trauma.
After any Conflict in which the loser takes a Complication, the winner of the Conflict re-rolls their dice pool and assigns the die type of the highest result to the losing player as a Complication. If the losing player was Knocked Out of the scene the die type is considered one higher than whatever the highest result was. This means that if the winner manages to land a D12 Complication it automatically becomes Trama.In Conflicts with multiple participants multiple dice are assigned in the reverse order that the losers withdrew from the conflict, meaning that the last person out gets the highest roll, the second to last person gets the second highest roll, and so on. Any loser who was also Knocked Out still treats their result as one die type higher.
The winning player also gets to choose if the loser takes a new Complication or steps up an existing Complication. New Complications are rated at whatever the die size of the Complication Roll was. Alternatively, the winner can step up an existing Complication. If the current Complication die size is less than the die size of the Complication Roll then the Complication is bumped up one die size. If the die size of the Complication Roll is higher than the current Complication die size then it is brought to the die size of the Complication Roll. If the die size is already at a D12 the winner may choose to turn it into a point of Trauma. That complication is removed from the character sheet and the player either takes a new D4 Trauma or bumps up an existing Trauma. In the case of a loser also being Knocked Out the same process occurs but instead of starting at a D4 the new Trauma starts at a D6, or an existing Trauma is stepped up twice.
Attributes, Affiliations, and Aspects
As a backbone to Lawman, characters have three core features that make up their primary means of building a dice pool. Whenever a character goes to gather dice they get to use one die from each category for free. This means the standard dice pool, before any unique techniques or adjustments are made, is One Attribute, One Aspect, and One Affiliation. Each section has various refinements that modify how the basic trait works, but we’ll get into that later.
Attributes: These are the crunchy bits of your character. There are six Attributes; two defining the physical side of your character, two defining the mental and two that cover the social. Each set has a raw power attribute and a fine control attribute. Strength and Finesse are your physical attributes with Strength being your physical power and Finesse being your physical control. Intelligence and Wits are your mental attributes with Intelligence being your mental power and Wits being your mental control. Personality and Manipulation are your social attributes with Personality being your social power and Manipulation being your social control.
Affiliations: Affiliations are large groups or factions of people. Local gangs and large corporations are both considered Affiliations. There is no size limitations of an Affiliation, as long as it’s at least two people. Affiliations can be groups you’re aligned with or circle that your enemies run in, it doesn’t matter. All that’s important is that your character has interactions with the Affiliation on some level that benefits the character. There is no pre-set list of Affiliations, they are created by your Game Master, your fellow Players, and yourself.
Aspects: Aspects fill in the middle ground of your character that the Attribute and Affiliation traits leave uncovered. Aspects can come in any number of flavors, from two word concepts to iconic catch-phrases. Anything that adds more personality to your character can be made into an Aspect. Like Affiliations, there is no pre-set list of Aspects. Aspects are so unique to your character that only you can really make them up. With a little help from your Game Master, of course.
Attributes: Skills and Techniques
Attributes are rated by die size, from D4 to D12. Whenever you’re using your Attribute you get to add the die size associated with that Attribute to your dice pool for free. All Attributes start at a D4 rating for free as well. The problem is that Attributes are expensive. Every Attribute costs a number of points equal to its die size; a D6 costs 6 points and a D12 costs 12. This number is not accumulate either, to go from a D4 to a D8 costs 14 points (6 for the D6 and 8 for the D8). To bring an Attribute from a D4 to a D12 costs a whooping 36 points.
To help ease the burden of Attribute costs, characters can purchase specific skills at a much reduced rate. If attributes are the broadest overview, Skills represent a very specific purview of that attribute. Gunplay is, typically, in the purview of Finesses and can be rolled instead of your Finesses Attribute in situations that involve… well… Gunplay.
Skills always cost 2 points for every level above their connected the Attribute. If the base Attribute is a D4 then a D6 costs 2 points and a D8 costs 2 points. These costs are not accumulative, meaning that with a D4 Attribute to buy a D8 skill costs 4 points (2 for the D6 and 2 for the D8). To have a D12 Skill in a D4 Attribute costs a measly 8 points.
There are still a pretty big reason to still buy up your Attribute from a D4; As soon as an Attribute is raised all connected skills are raised to that level as well. Meaning that it’s actually cheaper to raise a D4 Attribute to a D6 if you raise 3 or more skills in it. Buying a small amount of Skills is more cost effective but if you’re looking to really master a lot of skills in that Attribute it’s best to just buy the Attribute.
Don’t forget that when you buy up an Attribute, any skills you have also step up a die size. If this would bump a skill above a D12 you may choose another, at least quasi-related, skill the bump up instead. No matter what, you will never lose points you spent just because you raised something else.
The last element of Attributes is the Technique. Techniques are special rules breaking\modifying abilities that attach to various Skills. Techniques rarely modify the size of your Attribute die, but instead give you access to special mechanical advantages like re-rolling dice, adding flat modifiers to the final result, or allowing for skills to be used with a different Attribute. Techniques all have a Skill requirement that must be met before they can be purchased. This means that if the Technique has a D8 Skill requirement then you need to either have either the core Attribute or Skill at a D8 or higher. Techniques also have variable pricing, since some Techniques are more powerful than others.
When gathering dice from an Attribute you use either the Attribute rating or a Skill rating, whichever is higher. All Attributes start at a D4 rating and Skills start equal to their connected Attribute rating.
Affiliations: Relationships and Definitions
Affiliations are rated by die size, from D4 to D12. Whenever you’re using your Affiliation you get to add the die size associated with that Affiliation to your dice pool for free. All Affiliations start at a D4 rating for free as well. Much like Attributes, Affiliations are also expensive. Every Affiliation costs a number of points equal to its die size; a D6 costs 6 points and a D12 costs 12. This number is not accumulate either, to go from a D4 to a D8 costs 14 points (6 for the D6 and 8 for the D8). To bring an Affiliation from a D4 to a D12 costs a whooping 36 points.
To help ease the burden of Affiliation costs, characters can purchase specific Relationships at a much reduced rate. If Affiliations are a large organization, Relationships represent specific people within that group.
Relationships always cost 2 points for every level above their connected the Affiliations. If the base Affiliation is a D4 then a D6 costs 2 points and a D8 costs 2 points. These costs are not accumulative, meaning that with a D4 Affiliation to buy a D8 Relationship costs 4 points (2 for the D6 and 2 for the D8). To have a D12 Relationship in a D4 Affiliation costs a measly 8 points.
There are still a pretty big reason to still buy up your Affiliation from a D4; As soon as an Affiliation is raised all connected skills are raised to that level as well. Meaning that it’s actually cheaper to raise a D4 Affiliation to a D6 if you raise 3 or more Relationships in it. Buying a small amount of Relationships is more cost effective but if you’re looking to have a lot of pull in a group it’s best to just buy the Affiliation.
Don’t forget that when you buy up an Affiliation, any Relationships you have also step up a die size. If this would bump a skill above a D12 you may choose another, at least quasi-related, Relationship the bump up instead. No matter what, you will never lose points you spent just because you raised something else.
The last element of Affiliations are the Definitions.
Statements: Some attributes have Statements, short sentences that encapsulate how the character feels about the subject. Typically attributes can only be used when a Statement is being proven correct. However, once per statement per game session, a player may Challenge or Enforce a statement. If the situation arises that irrevocably proves the Statement false it can be Challenged. The player permanently lowers the value of the associated attribute by one die type but may gather three dice from that attribute to be used on the current test. If the situation arises that proves the Statement true beyond the shadow of a doubt it can be Enforced. The player permanently raises the value of the associated attribute by one die type (to a maximum of a D12, attributes already at a D12 can no longer be Enforced) and may use that attribute in the current test as normal. You can only ever Challenge or Enforce a Statement once per session. You can not both Challenger and Enforce the same Statement during a single session. Multiple Statements can Challenged or Enforced but the same Statement can not be targeted twice.
Definitions: Similar to Statements, Definitions are the scope of an attribute. Unlike Statements Definitions can not be Challenged or Enforced, they are simply facts. Definitions are not limited to a single sentence either. An attribute may have multiple Definitions that increase the scope of when that attribute would be useful. A general rule of thumb is to limit Definitions to no more the one per die size, but this is by not to be considered a hard rule. Just keep it reasonable. An attribute can not be added into a die pool in any situation that doesn’t match the attributes’ Definition.
Techniques are special rules breaking\modifying abilities that attach to various Skills. Techniques rarely modify the size of your Attribute die, but instead give you access to special mechanical advantages like re-rolling dice, adding flat modifiers to the final result, or allowing for skills to be used with a different Attribute. Techniques all have a Skill requirement that must be met before they can be purchased. This means that if the Technique has a D8 Skill requirement then you need to either have either the core Attribute or Skill at a D8 or higher. Techniques also have variable pricing, since some Techniques are more powerful than others.
When gathering dice from an Affiliation you use either the Affiliation rating or a Relationship rating, whichever is higher. All Affiliations start at a D4 rating and Relationships start equal to their connected Affiliation rating.
Aspects: Definitions and Compels
Aspects have Definitions, similar to Relationships, They also have Compels that reward you for acting withing a certain, specified, set of behaviors.
Characters are primarily comprised of Aspects, similar to Aspects from the FATE system. Aspects are titled and then given a list of short phrases, called Statements, that govern when a character can receive a bonus. Aspect Statements all have individual ratings between D4 and D12. Aspects can only be Invoked when they have an appropriate Statement and the group agrees they would be appropriate. Whenever thematically appropriate the Aspect can also be Compelled, earning the player a Token and forcing his behavior in a certain way. Compels are made against the Aspect Title and not an individual Statement, this makes the Compels broader and more subjective than the narrowly focused Invoke Statements.
Whenever you need more dice you can use Justified Behavior. This is all about doing something extreme for a greater purpose. You can throw a sucker punch as long as everyone agrees that what you did was justified. It’s important to get the player who’s Justifying their action to explain what they are doing to the group. While the final decision is handed out from the Game Master, everyone at the table has a say for how they see things playing out. Try to reach an agreement on the situation.
Justified Behavior can earn you any number of bonus dice from one and three dice between the sizes of d4s and d12s. While there are no any hard rules on what makes one action a larger dice size than another, I have put together some rough guidelines. It’s important to remember that d12s should only be awarded for the most extreme of extreme actions. The average Justified Behavior should net the player either d6s or d8s.
To help get a mental representation of Justified situations, think of the size of the bonus die to be a measurement of just how brutal the action is. Sucker punches and low bows are worth d4s or d6s. While creative brutality or drawing down on someone is worth d8s and d10s. Truly inventive and cringe worthy behavior should be rewarded with d12s. Having the intention to kill someone always nets a D8 or higher and the only way to earn a D12 should be when aiming to kill in an intently brutal way. d12s should also only be rewarded with group consensus. If anyone at the table disagrees to the scope of the brutality then only reward d10s.
The number of dice the action receives is up to the player to decide. Players need to make a choice about how much this action means to them. I suggest only taking one or two dice at a time because after the conflict is over those Justified Dice are going to come back to bite you in the ass. You’ll see more of what I’m talking about later, but for now just remember that more dice means more problems.
Example: When Tim shows up to ask local criminal Michael about forging checks that belonged to Kaitlyn’s father, Michael draws a taser and hits Tim in the chest. Tim then tries to draw his pistol to shoot Michael. Tim doesn’t want to try to Justify his behavior just yet and the group thinks going for his gun is perfectly reasonable. Tim gathers his dice pool and rolls. The two go back and forth making Bids with Michael winning the Conflict. Tim takes a Complication but isn’t forced out of the scene.
The failure leave’s Tim’s gun in his holster and a taser in his chest. Not wanting to give up, Tim decides do something more extreme and Justify some shit. Tim attempts to grab the taser and shove it into Michael ‘s crotch. The group decides that’s pretty damn brutal so after a brief discussion the Game Master rewards Tim with a d8 rating. Tim opts to take 2 dice so on his next roll he adds in 2d8.
After you use a Justified Behavior you have a choice to make. You can either take Complications or add it to the ever growing list of Infractions. The number of dice you chose to add provide you with a number of Steps to be assigned to either Complications or Infractions. Generally, Complications are always things that make the characters life harder while Infractions are things that work against everyone. If a player decides to let the bonus go to Infraction they earn a bonus Token right then, but if they choose to take a Complication they don’t earn anything. Complications will pay out more Tokens later while Infractions pay out tokens right damn now.
When a player chooses to take a Complication they get to choose to either step up an existing Complication or, if none of their current Complications are applicable, create a New Complication. New Complications are stepped up from zero, so applying two Steps to a new Complication gives it a rating of a D6. Alternatively, the player can step up an existing Complication any number of Steps that they need to apply to Complications.
Complications for Justified Behavior are always decided by the player earning the Complication while Complications for Conflicts are decided by the Winner of the Conflict. It is possible to take a Complication from Justified Behavior and another one from losing a Conflict. It just means you gambled big and lost.
When a player chooses to take an Infraction because of their Justified Behaviors the Game Master gets to apply a number of steps to either New Infractions or to increase existing Infractions. The rules for stepping up and adding Infractions are the same as Complications but the choice of what to step up is on the Game Master now and not the player.
Complications don’t have to relate directly to the situation they are generated in. Players are encouraged to be creative and come up with something else that would complicate his life without it being directly related. Sometimes it’s easier to see how things will blow back on your character while other time’s its going to make sense to only take a new Complication.
Example: After shoving a taser into another man’s dick, Tim has a decision to make. He can add a two steps to the Infraction list or pick up two more steps of Complications.
Complications are problems your character has to deal with. This can be anything from the physical, like broken limbs, to the social, like owing someone a favor. Complications are a special type of trait that other characters can use against your character, adding dice to their pool based on the Complication Rating. Complications are rated from D4 to D12 and can also only be used when the group agrees they would be appropriate. Whenever a Complication is used, the player using the Complication must pay the Complication’s owner one Token. The Game Master then offers the Complication’s owner another Token or the chance to have the Complication step down one die size after the current Conflict is resolved. At the end of a game session all Complications are also stepped down one die size.
Example: Tim decides to be a bigger man and just take a Complication for tasing Michael in the nuts. Tim talks it over with the group and decides to give a disposable cell phone to another character Kaitlyn, in case this incident with Michale blows back on her. As a Complication Time writes “Kaitlyn has my number”.
Trauma are unique traits that permanently scar your character. If at any point a Complication is stepped up above a D12 the character removes that Complication and gains either a new D4 Trauma or steps up an existing Trauma. Like Complications, Trauma are used by other characters against your character, adding dice to their pool based on the Trauma Rating. Trauma have a rating between D4 to D12 and can only be used when the group agrees they would be appropriate. Trauma behaves like Complications except that Trauma never earns the character Tokens. Tokens are still spent to use Traumas but instead of going to the character with the Trama they are simply spent. However, if a Trauma is used the character with the Trauma may choose to have the Trauma step down one die size after the current Conflict is resolved. Trauma can also only be stepped down once per game session and isn’t automatically stepped down once at the end of a session.
When a Trauma would step above a D12 the character is removed from the game in some fashion. This can mean anything from death to severe mental breakdowns to being exiled. Characters can come back from Trauma later but the must be changed in some severe manner. No one survives being Traumatized without seeing massive changes.
Infractions are trouble for everyone else in the game. The bonuses assigned to the Infractions list may be used by the GM to increase the difficulty of anything the GM throws at the group. Infractions can blow back on anyone, not just the cause of the Infraction. When a player creates an Infraction they earn a bonus Token. Later, when Infractions are used by the GM, the player on the receiving end of the Infraction use gets a Token and the Infraction is then stepped down. Infractions can only be stepped down once per game session and are not automatically stepped down at the end of the session.
Example: If Tim had decided to not take a Complication he could have simply added “Tased a man in the balls” to the Infractions list.
Tokens are earned when Aspects or Complications are compelled or when Infractions are created.
Advancement is done by spending Tokens.
To start the game every player tells the story of their character’s first Infraction. The player writes two sentences that sum up Where and What the character is doing when the first Infraction goes down. Players then take turns reading their sentences and afterwards every other player gets to suggest a one sentence Escalation. Escalations foreshadow how this event is about to turn into an Infraction. After suggestions are made, the GM picks which Escalation best suits the game and gives the suggesting player a Token. The remaining players, including the starting player, then begin suggesting one sentence Climaxes. The Climax is where the actual Infraction goes down. Again, after all the suggestions are made the GM picks the best Climax and rewards the suggesting player with a Token. The same player who received the Escalation Token can no receive the Climax token. Finally, the same process is done for a one sentence Epilogue. This explains what the immediate fallout from the Infraction was. Players go around making suggestions and the GM picks the favorite. The Epilogue Token can only go to a player who hasn’t already received either the Escalation or Climax Token.
Example: Raylan’s player reads, “Raylan is down in Miami where he is serving a warrant on Thomas Buckley, a known gun runner. Raylan walks poolside at a Miami hotel and sits down across from Thomas at a table.” The table is polled and the GM votes on the next sentence for the Escalation: “Raylan tells the con that he has two minutes left on his 24-hour get-out-of-town grace period before Raylan will shoot him on sight.” Again the table is polled for the Climax sentence and the winner is declared: “The con gets so aggravated with Raylan’s continuing countdown that he draws a gun and Raylan is forced to shoot him dead.” Finally the table is polled for the Epilogue and the GM picks this sentence to round things out, “Raylan’s boss reminds him that they aren’t allowed to just shoot people on sight and because of some bad PR, Raylan is being reassigned to the Eastern district of Kentucky.” The GM then adds, “Shot a man dead in Miami” to the Infractions list and play moves on to the next character.