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World of Darkness: Tales from the 13th Precinct RPG Review

Posted on July 14, 2009 by Megan

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The basic premise of this book is to provide a setting for ordinary mortal investigation of the supernatural as presented in the World of Darkness line. As sworn police officers, characters are in an ideal position to investigate odd goings-on, and – let’s face it – a lot of the things that your average werewolf, vampire or even mage might get up to are likely to break a few laws along the way. It would also make a good resource for the Storyteller who wants his vampire, etc., players face up to the consequences of their actions in the real world, as well as in the refined atmosphere of their own kind’s society.

The ‘flavor’ opening sequence takes the form of a newspaper interview of a veteran crime reporter, telling a new recruit to his profession the low-down on how policing works in Midway, the fictional city in which the 13th Precinct is located. The city itself, by the way, is left loose enough that it is very easy to transfer the entire setting into another city – real or imaginary – of your choice, to fit the rest of your chronicle.

The Introduction continues to set the scene. Deliberately, an ordinary city police department has been chosen as the focus rather than the more flashy FBI – the kind of stories prevalent in the rest of the World of Darkness tend to be local in scale, and so the action here is designed to reflect that rather than nationwide investigations on a grand scale. It is in the little things noticed by a beat cop or the detective working a small city’s red light district that the strangenesses will be found…

Chapter 1, The Cop Shop, introduces the actual precinct house that is the physical centre of this setting. It gives a good description of the building and its different parts (including a haunted cell in the gaol block!) and also describes the organisation and shift pattern, so you know who is likely to be around when… all ready to drop your characters in, whichever side of the law they are to be found.

Chapter 2 is the main part of the book. Called The Ride-Along, it provides copious detail of how an American city police department operates so if your only experience of US law enforcement is watching police shows on TV, you now have a more solid grounding on which to run your game. Naturally, there are generalisations here and players who are in the law enforcement business may well have points to raise – but this is a game after all, and the level of detail and accuracy provided is quite sufficient to allow the portayal of a working police department in your chronicle, even though reading this won’t prepare you to become a sworn officer yourself! Little ideas the astute Storyteller can pick up on are scattered throughout, yet this is general information that can be shared with the players to give their characters the necessary grounding to play their roles well, if you are intending to run a game in which they are sworn officers. While organisation is discussed, the actual people occupying different positions are left to the Storyteller, so as to make it easier to personalise the setting and run it in accord with the rest of your chronicle concept.

After a comprehensive run-down on the organisation of the Midway PD, the next part of the chapter looks at training in the shape of the Police Academy. There are details of entry requirements and tests, and of the 28-week initial training programme all recruits go through. Training done, we move on to the regular day-to-day routine of a regular uniformed police officer, where a newcomer will expect to spend at least the first two years of his police career. There is sufficient detail for the Storyteller to start characters off wherever he pleases, even to beginning when they apply to join the department, or as newly-sworn or more experienced officers as appropriate. There is an interesting sidebar of advice to Storytellers on how to deal with characters who think they can kill cops and get away with it, particularly useful if you are using this resource for antagonists rather than as the core setting of your game, but useful to spin on its head should your vampires and werewolves be the antagonists as well.

Next comes similar detail on detective work, including analysis of the different sorts of crimes that need to be investigated – homicide, property crime, narcotics, vice, organised crime and so on – as well as specialties such as crime scene investigators and the Emergency Response Unit (or SWAT team). Each is discussed with an eye to how well suited they are to player-character involvement; although it also depends on the sort of game you and your characters want to play – people who enjoy lots of adrenaline-charged action might thrive on being SWAT team assaulters, while others might prefer a mix of investigation and action as they combat organised crime or chase a serial killer. Even amongst most games, it is worth discussing with your players what they are looking for when you suggest a cop-based game before planning too much. There is also quite a lot of detail about what a police officer can and cannot do in the pursuit of his duty, invaluable to ensure that nobody steps over the line, at least, not without knowing about it!

A section on Tools of the Trade covers weapons and other equipment carried by police officers, including what an off-duty cop is likely to have – few go unarmed even on their own time, for example. Sidebars explain the rules implications for easy reference, although other books such as Armoury may come in useful if more detail is required. The chapter ends with a few police-related character options – two fighting styles (combat marksmanship and police tactics) and the social merit of Sworn Officer – the recommendation is that in a cop-centric chronicle all those playing officers receive it for free, but that in any other game it must be purchased by those wanting a police background in the normal manner.

Chapter 3, Roll Call, looks at some likely personalities to populate your precinct house. Each comes with full statistics and sufficient background to be used as a major NPC as appropriate – and many have some contact with the supernatural, so can be used to weave it into your story as you wish… although there is enough here for someone who wants to run a regular ‘real world’ contemporary law enforcement game without a shred of the supernatural.

This is followed by a chapter called The Blotter, which is divided into two parts. The first is Storyteller advice for planning and running a chronicle that revolves around law enforcement, and the second provides a series of incidents that can be developed into full adventures. The advice concentrates with a discussion of just what supernatural elements are to be expected in a city of Midway’s size in the World of Darkness, and how they generally remain out of sight of the rest of the community… and how law enforcement may interact with them. The adventure seeds provide an initial event that requires a police presence with follow-up material to develop it into an entire scenario. Although all involve potentially strange situations, they are not all ‘supernatural’ in nature – indeed, the advice given to Storytellers is to ensure that not every crime will involve supernatural protagonists, and that a law enforcement game works best with a fair number of conventional crimes with a measure of the strange and unusual mixed in.

Finally, the Appendix contains a full adventure to start you off – The Subtle Key. I’ll say no more, I am preparing a chronicle based on this book and at least one of my players reads this website! Suffice to say that the plotline will work either as a whole or threaded through other events, and is well detailed for even a novice Storyteller while giving a lot of latitude to the more experienced to twist events to suit whatever else they have in mind.

Overall, this book provides a setting that is a fascinating twist on more conventional World of Darkness games and should prove useful to all Storytellers who want to bring the reality of police investigations into their game – be it as the centerpiece or as something that happens when a werewolf or vampire leaves one too many bodies behind. As mentioned above, at the time of writing I am preparing a game using it for my own group. What better recommendation can I give?

Review by Megan Robertson

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5 Responses to “World of Darkness: Tales from the 13th Precinct RPG Review”

  1. zs.gothpunk says:

    Very useful book, I think one of the best. Good, detailed review you wrote about it!

    Too bad that the other guncentric book, Dogs of War doesn’t resemble Tot13P in any way. It’s a waste of money, especially compared to the subject of the above review.

  2. angelo says:

    hey megan, great review here. made me want to go check it out, actually.

  3. Megan says:

    Good to hear you folks have enjoyed my review (hey, someone actually READS them?) – my aim is to attempt to describe what’s in the product and how it may contribute to your gaming experience… then you can make an informed choice as to whither to buy the thing!

  4. Don Clarke says:

    Very useful and informative. Thank you!

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