I love running perp based adventures and have run quite a few since we first began playtesting the game. Also while I was writing the setting for Atlantis, I used perps to test it out, likewise Luna-1, so here are a few ideas.
I find that when I am working out a perp based adventure or campaign that it is often easier if I work out in advance with the players what direction they would like to see their characters evolve in. This may sound a little strange but having the players involved with the process gives me as a GM more power to shape the story, and often results in some great games sessions.
There are a few ways you can go of course with the direction. Will you start off big and try to pull off a big heist or slowly work your way up the criminal underworld one rung at a time? I like the 'in at the deep end' approach as it often means that the players have very little time to think when the action gets thick and fast.
The most recent perp based campaign I ran was set on the Luna-1 setting I have been working on for a while now, and had the players slowly skimming profits from a larger organisation, avoiding the judges and managing to get a foot hold in the Wagner outpost just outside of Luna-1. It is not easy and the fact that if they get caught by either the judges or their criminal rivals it could spell their doom, only adds to the excitement.
Citizen rather than Perp
A lot of the adventures I tend to run that are not Justice Department related will most likely involve everyday citizens rather than perps. Citizens of Mega-City One are a rich and colourful bunch and there is plenty of scope for storywriting and adventure when it comes to your average Joe Cit.
By taking a neutral ground with the citizen characters, your players can see both sides of the fence (legal and illegal) and can make for some very interesting roleplaying.
One of my first adventures with just cits was back when I was working on the Crazes book and involved a bunch of skysurfers attempting to make their names known in the sport and compete in the Supersurf championship. The direction that the adventure took saw the characters moving around the world from one Mega-City to another and meeting up with other skysurfers, judges and would criminal elements.
Knowing when to call the shots
The main key to running a successful perp based adventure or campaign is knowing when to call the shots and just how far to let your players go. If you go by the actions of the players in most cases they will find themselves in the cubes before they have reached Prog 2: Scene 1 of your adventure, so you need to have a little leaway and allow them to get away with that heist they are planning or up the ante on smaller organisations to come under their wing.
Of course this isnt to say give your players everything on a plate. Make them work for it and make them sweat, thinking that they may just have been rumbled by the judges or even worse a larger rival crime gang has caught wind of their operations.
There is of course no rule of thumb for this kind of gaming, just go with what you feel is best as a GM, but you will find that sometimes you have to bend or even ignore certain rules or lose your players freedom.
I run a perp based mafia campaign, originally ripped from the Sopranos and gangster flicks. So far we have got through about 320 hours of game, with a prospective minimum of another 420 hours planned out (roughly).
Basically what I did was come up with a sector (possibly still on site) and the mob familes that operate in the territory, statted up their capo, and then Created a Criminal business sheet to cover their interests. I had the players roll up judges, and then hand them over (to provide a conflict interest, each player has their own oppersite number in the Sector House).
Then I had them roll up PCs, as citizens, working in a bar, and drew them in slowly. Big Tony Falsetto owned the bar (as the players had seen the sopranos, it made it easy) and they basically got to play being the barman, bouncer and Compare. Of course Tony slowly introduced them to the fact the place was a front, and life in the mob. The barman had to stay late and serve at a card game, the bouncer had to pick up some girls and drive them over town, and the compare recieved a bag stuffed with cash and a gun, to hand over to Big T. As they curried favor Big T took them out with him to do a 'collect' and things just grew out from this one point.
The thing with a perp/citizen camapaign to bear in mind is that players are exceptional weak (even a starting Judge managed to put down a7th level Capo PC in two rounds). So its important to structure the game around aspects such as roleplaying, eating linguine at Joes, interaction with NPCs, with plenty of scheming and planning. The problem is that its difficult to keep the game on a set track, because players will come up with some scheme or scam, or blag they want to run.
The best way of dealing with this, is of course planning, getting the people, checking out the best place, getting the equipment sorted, test runs etc and then working out how to run it between sessions. The other thing is that players will end up with cash, lots of cash
My PCs best haul was 250,000 so far, when they hit an armoured car). The thing is you have to make it worth the risk (25 years to life), but then your pcs are rich and could effectively retire....
Fortuantely 250,000 is a lot of raw cash to have. So the players had to launder it. Being as they didn't sort this out first, it meant that they were desperate (the money tied them with 5 fatal shootings). So they approched a mob fixer I'd introduced in a early scenario. Gangsters being all about money, took a 10% fee, and set them up with a banker, who charged 20%, because the murder made shifting it difficult. The PC Boss knocked him down to 15%, with a concession if they used him regularly, and a month later then money returned. Of course then a taste has to go upstairs, so their boss takes a 15% flavour, and then charges them 5% for laying on a couple of drivers.
Hass, you managed to get 320 hours of real time gameplay in so far? Wow, that's impressive. Do you run one 8 hour session a week or lots of smaller ones?
I was running one a week on a Monday night (only day everyone could make) but it wasn't working out so well. Monday is never a good day for anything. We are trying to play a long session once a month on a Saturday, but are just working out the best time to start this.
I ran about 42 sessions ranging from 5-10+ hours and worked through about 6 months of time in game. Essentially the players did most of the work, and periodically as GM I'd prompt them with an offer or two.
Essentially it broke down into
Jugglers - Players work in Tonys Strip and Comedy club, running the door, bar and introducing the acts. Al (tonys protection man) hands over a bag of cash containing a gun to one of the players to look after. Later Al phones in sick, Tony needs some muscle, and invites them along. This was an introduction, to some NPCs, and involved a spot of car theft, a brawl and pusuading a doctor to cough up what he owed.
Pt 2 - Players end up taking care of a few things for tony, driving girls around to clients, to taking payoffs to the brewery and collecting 'tax' on some local hoodlems. Then a body has to be got rid of along with a motor. Finally a fixer needs a problem sorted. His girl friend was abused by Jimmy and the Spugs, the pop sensation, so the players track them down, find out its a set up, the girl is with the spuggs voluntery, but wack them, their manager and the groups technician, over the space of a few weeks, making an example of Jimmy. The players are now offically in, they get paid and Jimmy takes over the recording company the Spuggs were on. Most of the bodies end up, Dining with the Dead (being dumped in Romero block).
Pt 3 Tonys Birthday - this introduced about 12 sessions worth of subplots that ran into pt 4. Essentially this involved a sleezy lawyers trainee, some offers for affiliation, a meeting with most of the faces, a reporter taking pictures (who later they corrupt), the offer of a armoured car heist or trip into the cursed earth, a lot of shuggy, some poker and some dancing.
Pt 4 After the above, Jugglers is bombed, and a series of shootings and hits occur at the same time (one of the players got in on it). Two bosses are killed, and over the next 6 sessions everyone goes to the matresses and trys to deal with the problem. In the 'war' one of the PCs gets violently beaten and warned to stay out. Eventually the conflicting groups come to a deal, and the Scabies Family are sold out. The PCs wait for him and take him in his limo. Players then take out some dead wood in a restaurant and eliminate the groups lawyer, Scabies number 2, to ensure the gangs leadership is broken. Players put togeather enough money to start up a legal firm. PC Leader botches an attempt to gain the young lawyer from the party, by leaving a witness to the abduction of a mob lawyer. Then shortly gets stopped in possession of a fire arm by the judges, and gets sent down for 2 years, but the lawyer gets it reduced to six months.
Pt 5 - Players buy some property and set up a drug running business, operating out of the lawyers office. Lawyer gets beaten up over protection, but the PCs semi recruit the Juve and Punk gang as muscle. Rival gang is warned off, when one PC notoriously abducts two of the rival gang, and films them being slowly las-sawed up, whilst tied to chairs. He then send the gang head a box with all the bits in and the video. For good measure a number of the Juve gangs dealers and hustlers, get beaten or shot. PC involved in the abduction of lawyer, gets brought in to meet with the boss, who ends up shooting the lawyer, to prove a point. He gives the PC a pass because hes psychic. PC gets out of prision, and ends up being taken out to an old devestated block. In the end they resist shooting her, and decide to 'make her'. Players now pursue a few of their own sidelines, a love story, a robbery, and of course building their resources. One of the Pcs 'adopted daughter' is kidknapped by a group calling itself the DEF (Democratic Elective Front), but it turns out to be amatuer night. the kidknappers are all killed.
Pt 6 One of the PCs dealers gets murdered by a rival gang of Sovs, and at a sit down, the sovs come 'tooled up and shooting' two pcs are killed in the firefight, and a week later the boss and her info get ambushed in a crowd and get knifed, leaving one in a coma. The players track down one of the gangs dealers and arrange for him to set up a deal at a school hall, and gun him down, and fed-ex his head to the Bar the Sovs use as a front. The reporter (from pt3, is brought in to look into this gang) and finds that they are associated with a city def platoon. They take down the name of the suspects, and the dealers names in the dead sovs address/phone book, and in one night pay them a simulatanous visit, in a spate of shootings and murders across the block, they kill 12 city def and 11 drug dealers, at their homes, or work. The Sov blitzer retailates and three gang npcs are kidknaped, tortured and shot to death, but the pcs informants set the blitzer up with a false hit. Whilst on it, the PCs place a kilo brick of Brainwipe and a murder weapon in his car, and call the judges. The corrupt city def officer offers to meet for a sit down, whilst the remaining sov sets up a deal, where he walks and the PCs get his bar, and the other knife man. The city def officer is brought into the gang with his personal assistant (actually a wally judge named cassandra). The party also find out the source of the Sovs drugs, some ex-scabbies in down town. The decide to hit both the Scabbies and their contact, when an H-Wagon turns up. Ignoring this they go to take out the last sov who has 5kilos of brainwipe and planning to leave town. As they go in, the judges do, and three pcs are arrested, but their lawyer gets it beaten down to possession of a weapon. One of them gets rehab order for possessing brainwipe.
Pt 7 - Judgement Day Party - The Players attend the anniversry party, only to become embroiled in a block war with George Romero block. A special, before handing over to the GM for All Flesh Must Be Eaten.... This takes 32 weeks with 1-2 session of 5-10 hours of game play. A number of addition bits occured including a couple of shuggy tournements, and a skysurf challenge (but the PC ended up being sent down before it could be run).
I am planning to get the second season under way, which has a minimum run of 42 sessions.
Its a pain that all the NPCs I have, are stated on paper, because theres an A-4 folder full of them, notes and stuff from the first season run. In addition there was a whole raft of stuff I did to create a super-surf scenario (two players had craze skysurf), which I was thinking of branching into a sub-game.
I am trying to convince one of the players to run a one off All Flesh Must Be Eaten game set in MC-1 during the Judgement Day....