Rescue 911 project.

edited June 2011 in Story Games
I'm starting this thread at the behest of John (Jenskot).

I've been kicking around the idea for a game about rescue workers, firefighters, EMTs, and the like.

Why? Because I want a game that's dangerous and challenging, with genuine action and struggle that isn't about killing people. Because I love "Rescue Me" and think that kind of show deserves some good genre emulation, and, well, genre emulation is kind of what I do.

I'm hoping for a few things, some gribbly gear and detail oriented action play, and some way of emulating the strain a job like that puts on the people that do it. Some sort of morale system would be nice too, but the one I've used in Combat Diaries isn't a good fit.

I'm starting to lean heavily towards a granular sort of action turn followed by a more mechanically abstract personal turn.

Sorry if this is written in only-Ogre-understands-this. That happens sometimes.



  • Bliss Stage? More gruelling than you're after, but it does a great job of making the action scenes and the interpersonal scenes equally meaningful, and important to each other.

    I also like the idea that your strength as a firefighter or whatever comes from the strength of your relationships with the other team members.

    You'd have to do some work to make the more metaphorical/sci-fi aspects of Bliss Stage more literal, but it could be some good inspiration?
  • Bliss Stage is a huge influence on another design project I'm working on, dealing with teen supers, but isn't right for this. Something where out of action issues force accidents will probably come about. It's pretty nebulous in my head right now.
  • I love the concept.

    Mechanically it would be interesting to have refreshment scenes as seen in Lady Blackbird or player turns in Mouse Guard where you can replenish resources, remove stress / conditions in non-action scenes that are more personal / emotional.

    For some reason I'm also picturing 3:16's combat grid simulating levels of danger on a mission.
  • One of my friends is a firefighter. I'll ask him what he thinks.
  • I think Jenskot has a great idea, a hack of 3:16 seems like a really smart place to start. The flashback mechanic would be great for getting into messy personal stuff. threat tokens could be tweaked to represent the people you need to find and save, or even just obstacles on the mission. It's certainly a game where the initial setup of any given 'mission' begs to be a series of nested lists like in 3:16.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing how you tackle the genre trope where self-medication, mostly alcohol, keeps characters functioning past their physical and emotional limits right up until the tipping point where it's suddenly and obviously hurting more than it helps. Some kind of short-term mechanical advantage that's really hard for a player to turn down that risks an increasing risk of crash in any given scene, or maybe that Xanax you pop to scratch a Wound gives the GM a 'Force Weakness' recharge?
  • I thought about this and Mouse Guard keeps coming to mind. I don't like hacks, but maybe a hack of Mouse Guard?

    If it had campaign/long-term change for the characters and city, I'd play the crap out of it. Now I'm thinking about The Wire.

    What would the first session look like? What would a later session look like?
  • Pondering out loud: the 3:16 route seems interesting but... I'd try and fiddle and complicate it a bit. Instead of a single pile of threat tokens you have two piles (numbers to be determined).

    One is the "Victims" pile. Your Rescue Team must do stuff (maneuvers, rolls, whatever) to reduce this pile. Each token is a person with a name, a life, a job, friends, maybe a cat. These details should be part of the process somehow. Maybe you discover them from turn to turn, fleshing out the victims, and/or you know them when they die and/or get terribly wounded. When the Rescuers reduce the pile, those victims are in the ambulances and running to the ER. We'll discover at the end of the game if they live. This pile can be brought to zero. No victims, mission ALMOST ended. The Team still has to come out alive from the burning building/sinking ship/crashed train cars/etc.

    The other is the "Danger" pile. The Rescue Team can choose to do stuff (maneuvers, rolls, etc.) to fight and reduce *this* pile instead. This lowers the threat level of the situation. Bringing this pile to zero should be very hard: no threat, end of mission, remaining Victim tokens go to ER. Each turn the Danger makes "attacks"/"maneuvers" to either: Endanger the Rescue Team (a floor collapses, fire flashes from an opened door, a gas tank explodes) making attacks to the characters directly. Endanger the Victims: a roll (probably harder than the one against the team) to attack the Victim token pile. People get injured, then badly injured and/or die. And finally, the Danger can roll (do stuff) to Increase the Danger. Yep, more danger tokens. Shit just got worse.

    Other fun stuff:
    • Roles for the members of the Rescue Team, obviously, giving them edges and rules-bending tools (the Field EMT / Combat Medic can stabilize injured people, maybe roll to try and keep them alive, and so on)
    • Rooms/zones. Either on a single map, or as different stages in the mission.
    • ...dunno, other stuff
  • You ever see the TV Show "Emergency"? Used to be a family favorite around our house. Would be a great source of 911 type situations. I don't have much more to offer than that.
  • edited June 2011
    I remember Luke Crane talking about wanting to write a trio of games that each dealt with fire/police/EMT. I wish he or you would. I don't think we have a game yet that would do them justice! Though Serial Homicide Unit is a great cop game on they detective and sleuthing side of things. It seems like this is a different part of the job you'd be portraying.
    What Renatoram wrote.
    Awesome stuff! Also, give the emergency worker a life, loves, fun and responsibilities. Then, as things go wrong right the Victims may tie in or parallel their life, or the stress of complications on the job put pressure on the home life. Somewhat like spy vs. guy stuff in spy fiction (see Spione).

    Another element that could be included is mystery. Police, EMT and firefighters are presented with a situation gone wrong as they begin interacting with people. Most often. Then they have a mystery on their hands: what is wrong with the patient? How can we stop the blaze/what started it? Who committed this crime or how can we stop this situation.

    And an element of these lives is the difference in scale of the things they deal with. You might have EMTs respond to someone with a panic attack as well as the domestic violence or terrible car crash. Though, depending on what you are looking for you might just want to frame to the hardest hitting cases. What would you like, Ogre, high action drama or human issues realité?
  • This won't be a hack, like most things I write today it will unabashadly steal concepts and bits of mechanics, but not a hack, more like Lady Blackbird, made of chunks of other games and then wait for lightning.

    It's alive!
  • Posted By: Emily CareWhat would you like, Ogre, high action drama or human issues realité?
    Cool, that's what I meant to ask myself ^__^

    Depending on how much you want the focus to be on the personal stuff of the rescuers, on drama, on action/danger and so on there are many dials and toggles to frob with... and, obviously, you can have more than one of those and link them in feedback loops of some kind, again depending on what you want from the game.
  • Ogre, if you teamed up with Luke on this, I would do everything I could to help. You're talking about my dream RPG here...

    That being said, let's get the ball rolling on your game!

    What do you want a session of play to look/feel like?
  • Both high drama action and human issues, which is why I'll probably use the gm turn/player turn model.

    I'd like a session to go something like this: a spotlight scene where we shine light on one of the character's issues, and do some abstract resolution to see if they keep it under control or if it becomes a big problem, then an action sequence where the gm challenges the players and the players use skills and gear and wits to overcome, gaining some fallout along the way, and invoking the spotlight scene if it became a big problem, then a personal turn where the characters can try to burn off stress, and follow their personal ambitions. Rinse, wash, repeat.
  • Does it have to be called an action sequence? Would the gm be able to challenge the players with the more mundane aspects of the job? I'm thinking that this would make it less episodic and formulaic.
  • Posted By: Ogremarco...a game that's dangerous and challenging, with genuine action and struggle that isn't about killing people...
    Then you've never worked in the emergency services. ;)

    Sorry, I don't want to put a big downer on this, but as a medic working with the London Ambulance Service, only a tiny fraction of the job is about what you're looking at emulating. It's about struggling with incompetent management who are solely interested in their own careers, fighting to get the equipment you need to actually do your job, and of dealing with dross for 99% of your shift. The 1% can be 'interesting' but usually fairly standard in what you have to do in order to stabilise, package and convey your patient (or cover quietly with a blanket and hand over to the police).

    I think you're looking for an idealised view of the role, which is cool and a damn sight more interesting than the real thing. Yes there are horrible jobs that make you go "eew" but they are few and far between for the most part (and that's a good thing).

    There's a huge built-in pressure valve that most of those in the emergency services have. Gallow's humour. It can be quite disturbing (for those not in the job) sitting in the messroom after a one-under (person under a train) or some other job where bits have to be collected. The jokes that fly about are fairly grim, but wholly necessary to let of steam.

    It's also (from my perspective in the LAS) a very team-based job with all sorts of services, managers and passers-by turning up to offer help or just get in the way when the 'big one' come in. I did a road traffic accident this weekend where an old boy had had a fit while driving, took out two other cars and then a shop. I counted over 40 emergency services personnel there: fire brigade, police, a doctor, an LAS management team and first responders, police scene management and traffic police. The driver had to be cut out, and in all we were on scene for an hour getting him free. It was all very calm, professional and ordered. From the outside I'm sure it looked very exciting. It wasn't.

    If there is anything I can do to help, however, please feel free to email me (johndavidanderson at hotmail dot com) and I'll certainly give you some more insights into how London's ambulance works and how it interacts with other emergency services and the sort of things we actually do, rather than what is portrayed on the the telebox.

  • Heya, Teataine's favourite troll here who also moonlights as a firefighter.

    First of all, let me say that I'd love to see a game about rescue services around, but I must also agree with John, what you see on them colourful screens is far from the general truth about rescue services. I do not have any first hand experience with police or medical rescue services, so I'll try and help with only the part I'm familiar with.

    You see, as a firefighter, unless you're member of one of the few units that cover the most busy areas in the world, you'll be spending a lot of time doing...well nothing. All right, that is not exactly accurate, but there is a lot of down time. Which I think could/should be implemented in to the system, for it would add an additional depth to it. Do you spend the downtime just relaxing? Working on your personal issues? Team issues? Refreshing your skills? The skills part is a pretty important one and could be used in conjunction with whatever skill system you will go for. Because when you train to become a firefighter they teach you an insane myriad of skills, from how to pull a guy out of a car wreck, how to tackle a bazillion different types of fires, rope and climbing techniques, advanced first aid (somewhere between common people and proper paramedics), psychology, chemical warfare (just kidding, but you do learn a lot about chemicals and accidents related with them), scuba diving, etc. etc.

    Only after you are assigned to your unit you might start specializing, depending on the needs, size and the budget of the unit. If there's no specialization plan in the unit you're assigned to, you're basically a jack of all trades. And unless you spend a considerable time refreshing those skills they'll start degrading pretty quickly. So this could be one of the possibilities for downtime that would heavily impact your character.

    I'm somewhat in a hurry here, so I just tossed out a few things for now. If you have any specific questions regarding firefighters in any aspect, I'll be glad to help, so just toss 'em down here and I'll do my best to satisfy your needs.

  • This game could be great in a one-shot format, taking comments from John and Peter into account: most of the job has been down time, and suddenly The Big Day hits.

    I think that most games play up the more interesting/fantastic aspects of the job and ignore the mundane ones. Even D&D fighters spend more time practicing, traveling, and sharpening their swords than they do in an actual fight.

    Fatigue could be a good resource for the characters, because that can come both from physical struggles and from dealing with relationships. It's also something you can recover/ignore with inspiration and a "second wind" sort of situation.
  • Well, from my perspective, it's team-based (ambulance crew or police squad car of 2 up to a fire appliance with, what 6 people? or a TSG with up to 8 coppers). It's also mission based, with an order from on high to "Go to X" and "Resolve problem Y". I agree with Colin that it will focus on the moments that stand out rather than the dross of the average shift.

    In terms of the character interplay, yeah I can relate to that. If you have a regular crewmate (which I did for 2 years of 12-hour shifts) you end up spending more time with your crewmate than partner. That can lead to interesting relationships.

    For fatigue (certainly an issue, with burn-out being common) and a second wind I just have a vision of the "Damn it! Don't you die! Not on my Watch!". Cos, I say that all the time. ;)

  • One of my shelved games, from years and years ago, is a futuristic EMT game. I heartily endorse the notions of games about heroic life-savers and resuscitators and would love to see what we all come up with. There should be as much room for a multitude of these games as there is for a multitude about hurting people. (Though I've been wrong before.)
  • Jesse, action sequence is just a tacked on term for the purpose of design, I'd like to hear suggestions.

    John and Peter, that's why I'm doing fictional genre emulation, not simulationist design (if there even is such a thing). Just like war movies tend not to dwell on the long periods of travel and standing around wondering what's going on, rescue emergency shows don't dwell on the downtime as much either. According to my firefighter friends most of the job is eat, sleep, watch tv, work out, watch tv, eat, maintenance, ad nauseum...oh, hey, a call!

    The point of this is to emulate shows like Emergency, Rescue Me, Third Watch, etc. It's drama not documentary, though thanks for the reminder about red tape and funding, as well as middle and upper management bullshit, those are great stressors to add alongside spouses, personality conflicts, diversity issues and so on.

    Mostly I want someone to have a scene where they say "My guy is taking too many pills for his back and washing them down with vodka, and it's starting to show, who wants to do a scene where someone brings it up?" and then the outcome of that scene impacts the team's response to whatever it is they're doing. Maybe he get's light headed in a burning building and someone has to yank him out, maybe he has a meltdown at a grieving family member as they're removing the body of a shut-in from a tiny junk filled room, and maybe he gets his shit together and does the right thing.

    Good drama has a pace.
  • More to the point, you could make a hell of an entertaining show or game about my eight years as a bouncer in a goth fetish club. No, really, it would be a hilarious comedy, but you couldn't portray it at the pace it happened at all, otherwise you'd end up with episode after episode of "fat bald asshole reads a book."
  • edited June 2011
    Yeah, I'm not sure that anyone wants a game that runs at the pace of real life. In my head, a game like this should produce cool stories, and pacing and themes are important to that.

    But as John and Peter are saying (and myself a little too), we may be yearning for a game that includes all those mundane details we don't see on tv. That's what I'd like in a game like this! But if your goal is to emulate rescue services television shows, well, that may be a different path.

    Ha, action sequence may actually be a good name if you're going more with the TVish path. The best I got is rescue sequence or "a call".

    OOOH, what if there is a mechanic that allows the GM to RANDOMLY interrupt the game with "a call"? That could be a lot of fun and a little nerve-wraking.
    If you're rolling dice for some type of resolution and you get "a call" on...
    Firefighters: 1 on a D20
    EMT: 1 on a d10
    Police: 1 on a d6

    Oh man, I'd put in the mother of all random encounter tables for this game. I'd also call the GM dispatch.
  • Posted By: Ogremarco"fat bald asshole reads a book."
    I'd play that.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarPosted By: Ogremarco"fat bald asshole reads a book."
    I'd play that.

    So would I, if it was rules-heavy enough.
  • edited June 2011
    Posted By: jessecoombsPosted By: Jason MorningstarPosted By: Ogremarco"fat bald asshole reads a book."
    I'd play that.

    So would I, if it was rules-heavy enough.
    I played that for eight years. It sucked.
  • I love the idea of random interruptions. Now I'm pondering the technology to do so. Maybe an extra die rolled into all rolls that's only function is to signal a call on a roll of a one?
  • I'm not super-familiar with Rescue Me but based on how you say you want the game to play, it sounds like Grey Ranks might have something valuable to offer. You have a team of characters focused on an objective (the mission, or in this case perhaps "rescue people from a burning building"). Each character takes a turn in the spotlight for both a personal and a mission scene in each act, with the mission scenes adding up to an overall success or failure for the group. Personal scenes work in conflict to the mission scenes, meaning that generally you have to fail in one to have success in the other. It seems like a good fit unless you want to be pretty detailed in the resolution of the action ("I kick in the door!" "Okay, roll vs. Bad-Ass").
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