Friday, December 27, 2013

The Wire: Season One

So HBO was kind enough to bring us the Wire and after many years, I've finally watched the first season. I kept waiting for it to come out in blu-ray so I didn't have to replace it when it did come out in that format but I've had season one forever and a day.

Not seeing any blu-ray releases on the horizon, I decided screw it and watched season one. As my dear mother would say, "It's a little slow." This isn't a bash against the show mind you. It relies on multiple episodes to provide some coverage to a wide cast of characters on both the sides of the angels and the devils. And it does a good job of that.

The Wire, like many 'cop' shows, is an interesting model to view from a gamer's perspective. Well, I should say a Game Master's perspective. Players can use anything as fodder and because a lot of movies and shows are focused on the solo character, like the Wolverine or others, it can be a little more difficult for the GM to get anything out of those. The Wire though, provides a whole crew to observe and enjoy.

In that vein, I'd like to point out a few things that might be useful for a role playing game.

Omar Little: Say you have a player who can only show up when the full moon is out. Say you have a game where he likes some of the concepts, but doesn't necessarily want to run directly with the crowd because you know, he feels that since he's only there once every blue moon to being with, he wants a little room to navigate. A character like Omar Little may be perfect for him.

Omar is a criminal who finds himself in alliance with the police in season one. This works perfectly with the old adage, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Omar robs the criminals that the police are actively pursuing and in turn finds himself under fire for it by that aspect of the underworld including losing allies and loved ones. The police provide a legitimate method of putting the heat back on his enemies by sharing information that they might not normally have access to.

In a different vein though, Omar is a competent character who is more than capable of inflicting his own 'street justice' on those he wages war against. In his initial appearance, he is observing what the money is flowing from those he is preparing to rob. His skill with a shot gun and his ability to whistle show tunes though, giving him a bit of a catch phrase, make him more than just a resource, they make him a very possible character.

Looking at the various deeds and bits attributed to him in later seasons, I can say that for those players who don't show up that often, but want to be in the midst of things when they do, providing them with a character who is competent, who has distinctive features, like Omar's facial scar, and whistling tunes, as well as his folk town hero status, is the way to go.

Bubbles: In contrast to the competency Omar shows in dealing physical violence as well as being able to plan and plot his own methods, Bubbles is a drug addict and informant for the police who has a heart of gold. His initial turn to the police, at least in season one, is when those he is actively trying to scam catch his prodigy at it and hospitalize him.

Bubbles has his own troubles, his own arc, his own efforts at redemption, but in a gaming context, I paint them all as description feed to the players, and different descriptions at that. In terms of utility, he would be the face and the name of a skill check or a face to face with someone on the street as opposed to a character level utility.

His knowledge of life on the streets is high mind you. He provides a bird's eye view of what it's like for those with addiction and no prospects. He provides advice on making an undercover cop look more believable. He provides officers with names and faces.

But such a character might not be appropriate to play. His interaction with the main cast is almost always as an outsider. His ability to hold his own, non-existent. This aren't bad characteristics in and of themselves, but could easily be frustrating for a player, as opposed to a NPC.

The Wire provides a whole host of characters and situations in season one, and looking at the HBO site, it looks like it covers a lot of ground between season one and five. Character development with characters that aren't saints? The lives of inner city inhabitants that isn't glorified? Showcasing friends turning into executioners? It's all there and I look forward to watching the rest of the Wire real soon.