The Loose Cannon

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The Loose Cannon

The loose cannon, also known as the cop on the edge, is a law enforcement officer who is far more concerned with justice than proper police procedure. The loose cannon is a shoot first, read Miranda rights later kind of guy, and as a result he’s always one step away from being kicked off the force (usually by a black man with a predilection for screaming things like “This time you’ve gone too far, McBain” at the top of his lungs). When the court system fails to punish a criminal (often because of technicalities resulting from the loose cannon’s disregard for proper procedure) the loose cannon will sometimes take it upon himself to punish the bad guy personally. While the loose cannon is not required to turn in his gun an badge first, it is traditional to do so.

Likely Stories

Loose cannons are most at home in modern day action and crime stories, but work just fine in any setting that includes a law enforcement agency of some type. Because they tend to work alone or with a partner, loose cannons may seem ill-suited as RPG characters. However, when you take into account the sheer number of informants, love interests, comic sidekicks, strippers with hearts of gold, and random strangers that loose cannons sometimes drag around with them while on official police business, it’s really not that hard to keep a full player group involved in the story.

The Name Game

Typical action movie naming conventions apply here: manly, monosyllabic first names with last names that are either ethnic or evocative of action and danger. Some cops on the edge will also have nicknames, usually related to their tendency to ignore the rules and/or engage in acts of police brutality.

The Numbers

Most loose cannons have a high Nerve number to reflect their independence, instincts, courage, and ability to intimidate others. Body is also an important number for loose cannons, as they tend to be very action-oriented characters. A good Brain Number can be helpful for finding clues and solving puzzles, but is usually the least important Word for loose cannons.

Suggested Jobs

Beat Cop, Bobby, DEA Agent, FBI Agent, Gang Investigator, Grand Theft Auto Investigator, Harbor Patrol Officer, Highway Patrolman, Homicide Detective, Inspector, INTERPOL officer, K-9 Officer, Motorcycle Cop, Mountie, Narcotics Detective, Organized Crime Investigator, Plainclothes Officer, Police Detective, Robbery Investigator, Sheriff, State Trooper, S.W.A.T. Officer, Texas Ranger, Undercover Cop, U.S. Marshall, Vice Cop

Suggested Gimmicks

Car-Fu, Clue Magnet, Danger Sense, Drive Anything, Friends in Low Places, Good Instincts, Grizzled Veteran, Gun-Fu, Hardboiled, Hard to Kill, Iron Will, Man Without Fear, Terrifyingly Intense

Suggested Weaknesses

Achilles’ Heel, Adrenaline Junkie, Alcoholic, Ammo Clip Has a Sense of Drama, Bad Luck, Bad Reputation, Compulsive Gambler, Dames, Debt, Drug Addiction, Enemy, Getting Too Old For This Shit, Impulsive, I’ve Seen Worse, Opium Addict, Red Tape, Sex Addict, Strange Vehicle Magnet, Tough, Wrong Place/Wrong Time

Suggested Skills

Bad Jokes, Ballistics, Brawling, Contacts, Crowd Control, Darts, Demolitions, Drug Lore, Eavesdropping, First Aid, Gambling, Good Cop/Bad Cop, Emergency Driving, Interrogation, Intimidation, One-Liners, Self Defense, Skydiving, Sports Trivia, Stealth, Street Cred, Surveillance

WWPHITM? Gary Busey, Jackie Chan, Robbie Coltrane, Sean Connery, Russell Crowe, John Cusack, Tyne Daly, Willem Defoe, Robert DeNiro, Johnny Depp, Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Vivica A. Fox, Mel Gibson, Sharon Gless, Louis Gosset Jr., Pam Grier, Holly Hunter, Ice T, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Mila Jovavich, Harvey Keitel, Val Kilmer, Hugh Laurie, Delroy Lindo, Ray Liotta, Lucy Liu, Eddie Murphy, Nick Nolte, Chuck Norris, Gary Oldman, Timothy Olyphant, Sean Penn, Al Pacino, Ving Rhames, Michelle Rodriquez, Rene Russo, Arnold Schwartzeneggar, Steven Segal, Charlie Sheen, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Shadoe Stevens, Uma Thrurman, Mark Wahlberg, Denzel Washington, Sigourney Weaver, Bruce Willis, Chow Yun-Fat

Tag Line: “I know what you’re thinking. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”—Dirty Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry

Tools of the Trade: Since loose cannons tend to be plainclothes officers, their equipment is often very similar to that of the private detective: a gun, a car, and maybe a few other odds and ends, such as handcuffs. The main item of equipment that distinguishes the cop from the P.I. is his badge, which many loose cannons at some point have to turn into a commanding officer (along with his weapon, but he’s probably got a spare gun). Uniformed officers will carry considerably more equipment–baton, radio, flashlight, pepper spray, and maybe a taser—and frequently wear bullet proof vests. Officers with specialized skills or duties may carry additional equipment, either on their person or in their vehicle.

Where You’ll Find Him: Though a few loose cannons are happily (or unhappily) married and live in modest working class homes, the majority are either single or divorced, widowed, or otherwise estranged from their wives. Such single loose cannons usually live in squalid apartments in bad neighborhoods. The refrigerator always contains exactly one carton of leftover Chinese take-out and the counter is usually littered with empty liquor bottles. The loose cannon spends his free time in a dive bar of some description. Meetings with informants traditionally take place in strip clubs, especially in films made in the 1980s.

Social Circle: Because he’s a lone wolf who plays by his own rules, the loose cannon has few close friends. Aside from his partner and fellow officers, the loose cannons closest friends are often members of the criminal element—informers, pimps, and gang bangers. In 99% of cases, the loose cannon’s family either hates him or has been killed by the mafia/yakuza/Vienna Boys’ Choir, which means reconciliation/revenge is a frequent subplot for such characters.

Sample Character

John McClane (c)1995 20th Century Fox
John McClane (c)1995 20th Century Fox

John McClane

Body: 13

Brain: 12

Nerve: 14

Job: New York City Police Detective (14)

Gimmick: Instincts (13)

Weakness: Wrong Place/Wrong Time (13)

Skills: One Liners +3; Counter Terrorism +2; Cowboy Movie Trivia +1

WWPHITM? Bruce Willis

Dumb Fact: Wife’s maiden name: Gennero

Tag Line: “Yippie-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!”

HP: 15

YY: 5

Inspirational Material


Roderick Thorpe

Walter Wager



Gordon’s Law

The Punisher


Beverly Hills Cop

Demolition Man

The Detail

Die Hard series

Dirty Harry series

From Hell


The Last Action Hero

L.A. Confidential

Lakeview Terrace

Lethal Weapon series

Maniac Cop

Minority Report


Point Break

Righteous Kill



Training Day


The Untouchables

Walking Tall (original and remake)


“Axel F,” Harold Faltermeyer

“Bad Boys (Theme from COPS),” Inner Circle

“Dudly Dorite (of the Highway Patrol),” Ray Stevens

“Die Hard,” Guyz Nite

“Go Ahead Make My Day,” T.G. Sheppard

“The Heat is On,” Glenn Frey

“Highway Patrolman,” Bruce Springsteen (we prefer the Johnny Cash cover)

“In The Air Tonight,” Phil Collins

“Police Truck,” Dead Kennedys

“Theme from S.W.A.T.,” Rhythm Heritage



Law & Order

Miami Vice

The Shield

Starsky & Hutch

TJ Hooker

The Wire

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