Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gareth Ryder Hanrahan: Interviewed!

Episode 119 of the Gauntlet Podcast is up for your listening pleasure! In this one I talk with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan about Cthulhu City, his approach to writing, and his voluminous output. Gareth’s one of rpgdom’s most productive and interesting creators. I mean—seriously-- check out RPG Geek’s book summary. It includes sourcebooks, modules, adventure collections, and megadungeons. They list him at just shy of 200 releases and I’m certain that’s incomplete.

Gareth delivers evocative ideas and amazing set-ups. He works on the trad side, but his rich concepts and plots can easily adapt to indie and story games.

His RPG Geek Listing:

Below are a few things by Hanrahan I really love.

GRH has written several really sharp adventure collections for GUMSHOE products. Elsewhere I’ve reviewed Dead Rock Seven for Ashen Stars. I love its variety. The Zalozhniy Quartet offers a series of linked adventures for Night’s Black Agents approachable in any order. They’re both great introductions to the core book’s world—providing great examples of the problems and situations you could play out. In both cases GRH built on adventure concepts from the core book author, providing the flesh and bone to that spirit.

One of my favorite collections he’s done is Brief Cases, one of two books for Mutant City Blues. Harahan has a mandate here: provide rich adventures doable in a session or two. They’re fast, but not thin. Each one leans into a different aspect of the setting. I’ve run “Blastback” for The Gauntlet Hangouts and I appreciated the way the game sets things up for the GM. (See my write-up here with links to the videos).

Some modules provide little GM guidance on how to actually approach reading or running the adventure. They expect the GM to decipher and discover the fun buried within. That works for broadly sketched resources, like Dungeon World starters. Adventures with more connections and detail require signposts. On the other hand, some modules itemize the process: X scene --> Y scene --> Z scene. They offer a track and show how to steer the players back on to it. There’s an expectation of control. Hanranhan’s adventures expect the players to shoot off in many directions. They discuss ways to approach that and how scenes & incidents can flow into one another. Most of all, they consider the practicalities of timing and how to handle changes.

I’ve mentioned before my love for Rolemaster’s Creatures & Treasures series. They’re great, wild, and random. I’ve bought other item books—the d20 glut spit forth a ton of them-- but I’d never found any I’d really dug. Until I hit The Book of Loot. It’s a great collection, with amazing ideas smartly organized by the Icons. That means you can easily key an item or a player or a situation. My favorite kind of treasures has always been those with novel ability. This has that in spades. I don’t items fully mechanized, just a grab bag of bonuses. I need stuff that players can use in clever ways or that open new approaches to problems.

There’s also Eyes of the Stone Thief. In 13th Age’s Dragon Empire living dungeons bubble to the surface from somewhere down below. These lairs change and reshape over time. Some eat other dungeons. The Stone Thief is a megadungeon which has swallowed cities and castles. It adapts, learns, and changes. You can imagine the challenge in setting that up for the GM. The book’s at once a solid adventure and a toolbox. Since groups can head in many directions it has sections, set pieces, factions, flow charts—all easily divided and accessible. The smart organization struck me when I ran pieces from it. There’s also a dynamite section of dungeoneering at the start and a great index-glossary of key elements at the back.

Finally there’s “Heroes of the City.” It’s a short little thing, a DS pitch from Blood on the Snow. But it grabs my attention like no other concept. A band of Heroes and their gathered forces have finally defeated the Big Bad Warlock in his capitol. This is about what happens next. It’s a story about reconstruction, alliance crumbling, old feuds arising, and dark conspiracies lurking. While I never got it to the table with DramaSystem, I did run it as a session of Kingdom. I loved it and I’m probably going to run it again with Fate next year.

3 Games I’d Love to See GRH Write For
1. Cryptomancer: I really dig this concept and I want to return to it again next year. I’ll love to see some adventure seeds for this “heroes underground” concept. The setting has so many cool ideas that I’d be interested in what he pull out as adventures.

2. Any Free League publication: Tales from the Loop, Coriolis, but especially Mutant: Year Zero. MYZ has a series of Zone Sectors. They’re adventure set ups, NPCs, challenges, and concepts. GRH could offer interesting twists on what happens at home and in the zone.

3. Base Raiders: GRH’s done dungeon-crawls and superheroes (via MCB). I’d be super excited to see what he’d do with those two in combination. What kind of villain base would he create? How would he draw out the cool from the setup?

And of course I’d also like to see a fuller version of “Heroes of the City,” with some mechanics to support that. Perhaps for Dungeon World or 13TH Age.

Anyway, check out the podcast and consider taking a look at Cthulhu City. I have my copy and I’m working through it. I’ll post a review when I’ve had a chance to play around with it more. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Retrocember Rolemaster: Bringing Law to the Ursine Dunes

As I posted a while back, I try not to work on my Gauntlet 2-4 shot games any sooner than two weeks beforehand. It keeps my sanity and structures my schedule. So obviously I’m going to break that rule right now.

In December I have six sessions of Rolemaster on the schedule. That’s broken into a Thursday and a Sunday run of three sessions each. We’ll be playing using Slumbering Ursine Dunes and Fever-Dreaming Marlinko, an exciting Slavic-flavored setting for Labyrinth Lord.
I'm running three sessions of Slumbering Ursine Dunes with Rolemaster in December. The Dunes offers a point-crawl fantasy exploration game set in a Slavic-tinged world. We may even stop off in Fever-Dreaming Marlinko. We will play from pre-gens, rules will be taught, sessions run about 2 1/2 hours 
*Wait, go back. Did you say Rolemaster?
Yes—if you haven’t played it, you’ve probably heard of it. Here’s a chance to check out what’s groovy about it without getting too far into the complexities. I’ll have a simple one-page cheat, we’ll use nice Roll20 characters, and the GM will take care of most of the combat look-up & resolution. I ran RM for years and I’ll be using my simple version of several elements. I’ll be fun.

Come and try it out! If not for the system, then for the setting. It has Slavic Werebears!!! What more could you want!
I’m super excited for this. As of this writing, I even have a seat available in the Sunday. But consider signing up for one or both series in any case. We have waitlists available and seats might open up between now and the start of December.

Thursday Night Series
S1 Thursday Dec. 7th, 8PM EST
S2 Thursday Dec. 14th, 8PM EST
S3 Thursday Dec. 21st, 8PM EST

Sunday Morning Series
S1 Sunday Dec. 3rd, 10AM EST
S2 Sunday Dec. 10th, 10AM EST
S3 Sunday Dec. 17st, 10AM EST

I ran Rolemaster for many, many years. When I first bought it, they printed the rules on parchment and cardstock. That didn’t even really consider itself a system, just pieces and parts that could be fused together. Faith and willful ignorance of system gaps glued that game together. Over the next two decades I stayed on through multiple reformattings and eventually a massively revised edition, Rolemaster Standard System. RMSS finally burned me out. I gave away all of my copies and materials.

But then a couple of years ago Shawn Sanford ran some Rolemaster for Sherri and I. We saw some of the bits and hilarity that made it such a distinctive game. Super trad, super chart-filled, and super full of crunch. Trad I can handle-- that’s just a flavor. Chart-filled I can manage—I got good at making RM flow quickly. Crunchy I can deal with by sanding down the rough edges. So that’s what I want to look at today. What do I need to do to make Rolemaster simple and accessible for a three shot game with new players?

Note: most of this is inside baseball for folks who know Rolemaster.

One goal will be to reduce the info the players need to manage. A RM character sheet has a ton of detail, but not all of it actionable at the table. For example skill and combat values come from multiple sources (base rank, stat bonus, levels, items). But only the final value is really relevant at the table. The details come into play mostly for advancement.

The same thing for characteristics. Each of the ten stats has a value, potential, racial bonus, and base bonus. Some give development points for advancement. All we need to know for a three shot is the final total. While I’ll have a full character sheet with the details the player sheet will be minimal.

What else has to be recorded to make this workable? Profession, Race, Level, Armor Type, Defensive Bonus, Hit Points, Maneuver penalty (for some armor). Cutting things down to that makes it easier to spot what you need to know. Unless you’re a magic-user, but I’ll come back to that.

Initiative’s always been wonky in Rolemaster. Throughout the Companion series we saw multiple versions, most involving complicated action costs and point spends. Some remain among the craziest, most convoluted things I’ve ever read. For my version we’ll go with one of two approaches. A) Everyone rolls at the start of a fight and we rack ‘em up. I’ll probably have players roll d100 plus Quickness bonus. B) An even easier roll determining which side goes first. Winning side, then losing, then mooks. Rolemaster puts emphasis on missile weapons going first, so in the case of the former, they’d get a bonus to the roll. In the case of the latter, we’d break it up into phases (all missiles and then all melee).

Rolemaster has a complicated Movement/Maneuver system. If you need to roll for a non-attack action, there’s a table cross-referencing difficulty and roll, resulting in percentage of accomplishments. In play, we always eyeballed results, rather than stopping off to work through that. Rolemaster Standard System added an innovation of easier action result charts. They still had different ones for each category of skills (so about 30), but they shared a basic format. For our play, I’ll adapt that. Players will roll d100 plus relevant skill modified by difficulty.
176+ Absolute Success: In combat, you get a free half action. Outside of combat, you kick-ass and get a +30 to your next test. The GM may assign extra benefits.
111 to 175 Success: You do exactly what you set out to do.
91 to 110 Near Success: You do mostly what you set out to do. There’s a cost, complication, or you still have something left to do.
UM 100 Unusual Success: You do what you set out to do and there’s a positive additional effect for the scene.
76 to 90 Partial Success: In combat, you fail but gain a +15 to your next attempt with this. Outside of combat, there’s a cost, complication, or you still have something left to do
UM 66 Unusual Event: Something weird happens. It changes up what’s happening and may require a different check.
05 to 75 Failure: You fail and/or make no progress.
-25 to 04 Absolute Failure: You fail and/or make no progress. There’s also a cost (a penalty on the next roll, damage, situational effect, etc.)
-26 or less Spectacular Failure: FUMBLE-LAYA
I may simplify this more, but in the end I want something I can call quickly and players can pick up on.

Basic Rolemaster has a tight set of skills, all action or combat elements (Perception, Stalk/Hide, Maneuvering in Armor). But it also has a list of “Secondary Skills” as optional elements. This consists of about 40 skills. They’re…varied-- Contortions to First Aid to Herding to Rowing (and Sailing) to Tracking to Wood-Carving. These arrived in later editions of Character Law as a way to broaden character development. Then Rolemaster Companion II added a complete and compiled 20 page skill list. When they reworked Rolemaster into the Rolemaster Standard System, they leaned into that. Now we had a multi-page character skeet fat with individual skills.

For a three session game, I don’t want to worry about that.

Instead I’m going to put a short list a “Secondary Skill” listings on everyone’s sheet. I’ll distribute bonuses across those. When a player wants to do something and they want to declare knowledge of it, they can name a skill and write it in next to the bonus of their choice. We’ll then decide on a associated stat for it. This will let players define their characters on the fly, make skills effective, and create an interesting set of resource choices.

One of the largest challenges to running Rolemaster comes from the combat charts. Weapons have individual charts. A successful roll usually moves players over to an additional critical table (Slash, Crush, Pierce, Heat, Shock, etc). That’s the cornerstone of the system and why it’s dismissively referred to as Chartmaster.

But that’s also the secret sauce.

Those charts are great, wild, and fun. Over the many years I ran it weekly, I got good at looking things up. I did it quickly. When I played online with Shawn Sanford, he had players read their own weapon chart, but he handled the Crits. That worked since the table consisted of mostly RM vets. For what I’m doing, it isn’t as great a choice. I don’t want to dump that in new players’ laps. I also avoiding an app. I’ve tried those before but they’ve been slower than handling it by hand.

So what I am going to do it a little meta, a little behind the curtain. Since I’m making pre-gens, I’ll be choosing characters’ weapons. For these, I’ll go with the most common types (Broadsword, Dagger, Battle Axe, Longbow, etc). I can keep that pool manageable rather than having a dozen different weapons (Scimitar, Falchion, Main Gauche, Rapier) to flip through.

Magic in Rolemaster’s complicated. Like really, really complicated. Just buying spells involves investing in lists of spells at level ranges. Spells cost power points. Casting a spell’s a maneuver—with higher success modifying the target’s resistance. Elemental attack spells have their own tables and often specific critical types. Ideally I want to reduce the workload on the PC spellcaster down to: what do the spells I know do, what do they cost, what do I have to roll? I think that should be easy. I can make easy, individual cheat sheets for this.

A little more complex is the issue of spell prep. See RM has a delightful restriction of spell casters. Spells usually take three rounds to go off. Two of prep and followed by an activation round. Yes. Three rounds. However, if the level of the spell’s three to five less than the caster’s level, they can cast it with one round of prep and one of activation. Given PCs will be level four, that means only first level spells.

However, there’s a mechanic to cast faster—it just means that you have a nastier effect if you mess up your casting. There’s also a mechanic for casting spells higher than your level. I have to figure how to write those options clearly. Other variations exist, but I want to cut those down to a manageable set.

I suspect magic will be the most involved section to work through.

Maybe? Maybe not? I’m sanding off the rough edges, but frankly the changes fit into two categories. A) a focus on limited sessions of play . That means hiding the character creation and non-play elements away. B) the kinds of changes I usually made when I ran anyway, like easier initiative.

So there it is—and though it may not seem like it, I’m super excited and looking forward to this. I’m almost giddy with the thought of rolling those percentiles and dishing out exquisite damage. Delicious!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Gauntlet Con 2017 Draws Near!

In two weeks The Gauntlet will be hosting Gauntlet Con, our first online convention. There will be games and panels running Friday Oct. 20th through Sunday Oct. 22nd. There’s a ton of great gaming there- including games run by Paul Czege, Avery Adler, Fraser Ronald, MadJay Brown, Mark Diaz Truman, Becky Annison, Jason Pitre, Jacqueline "Jax" Bryk, Phil Vecchione, Jen Kitzman, Eddy Webb, and more.

As of right now, many games have filled, but a bunch still have seats. A quick glance through shows Psi-Punk, Fate Accelerated, Godbound, Earthdawn, Hydro Hackers, Katanas & Trenchcoats, Legend of the Elements, and Sword’s Edge all have space. And there’s more beyond that. Events use Google Hangouts and the con as a whole will use a Discord channel for communication and making sure games get under way. There will also be a series of panel across timezones.

Right now there are two ways to register for Gauntlet Con2017. You can either join the Gauntlet’s Patreon at the $2 level or pay a $5 registration fee. There’s more details on that at the con page. You can find other info there including some bios on featured GMs and speakers.

Here’s the blurb from the registration page:
“Welcome to the Gauntlet Con Game Schedule! Feel free to browse our games on the Calendar or Events tab. If you would like to join a game and are a Gauntlet Patron, please login using a Gmail account so our organizers can invite you to the Google Hangout Video Calls we use for our games. If you are not a Patron, please register for Gauntlet Con through To join an event, click on the RSVP button after you are logged in. Feel free to join the Waitlist if a game is full as the RSVP list changes regularly. To be notified when new games hit the calendar, join the Gauntlet Hangouts Community on G+ (be sure to turn notifications ON).”
It’s very cool and I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes. The Gauntlet’s built an amazing stand-alone RSVP service which makes setting up games easy. That focus on scheduling, waitlisting, and calendar management means that games actually happen. I used to schedule online sessions only to have them crash & burn half the time. That’s a rarity with the Gauntlet Hangouts. I’m excited to see that implemented with an online convention.

ALSO I’m running four sessions of World Wide Wrestling for the Gauntlet Con (because I like sticking to a theme). My pitch:
PbtA-Powered Pro-Wrestling Drama! Gauntlet League Wrestling! The mysterious Caestu Group has taken things on the road. They’re recruiting new international, traditional, indie, trindie, and old-school competitors together to display their prowess. While the GLW has Championship belts, the true prize is The Gauntlet, the bearer of which becomes The MC: Master of Conquest! 
We will be playing multiple sessions throughout the convention. Play whichever slot you want. Bring old characters, play multiple sessions, just drop in for one event-- it's a free for all. Each session will set up the current wrestlers and their stories, throw in twists, and maybe even put up a belt for grabs. A curated set of playbooks will be available. We’ll start with a quick heat map for the wrestlers and then get ready to rumble. And by rumble I mean play out the dramatic stories of athletic entertainers trying to make a name for themselves and actually get a paycheck. 
Sessions run three hours. We will use Google Sheets for characters, with pdf playbooks available. No experience necessary, rules will be taught in a friendly environment. If you’ve been curious about World Wide Wrestling, come in and try it out.
I have seats remaining for three of the four sessions, but you can also waitlist in case someone can’t make it!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

From the Secret Registrar: Libri Vidicos Second Year Courses

Long ago I ran Libri Vidicos, a steampunk-magical school campaign that stretched across five years in-game and close to seven real-time. I was reminded of it last week as I prepped to run Pigsmoke, the PbtA game of modern magical academia. Years ago I'd created class lists for each year of Libri Vidicos. They helped break up and signal arcs for each year. We played out many classroom and teaching scenes in LV. They established themes, highlighted NPCs, and allowed me to foreshadow incidents.  

Eventually want to do a list sample list of classes for Pigsmoke, as resource for players running it. Here's my course listing for the second year of Libri Vidicos. 

Congratulations on making it to your second year! At this point you might see yourself as having risen higher in the social ranking-- shifting from a little fish to actually walking on two legs. Allow me to dissuade you of that notion. As first years, you had the luxury of a certain degree of forgiveness. As second years, that slightly protective aura has vanished—to all possible exclamations, the answer is the same: you should have known better. Upperclassmen generally look upon first-years as amusing, rosy-cheeked children. Second years are simply awkward and generally uninteresting folks who trip up underfoot.

That being said, congratulations again! You will notice a few of your classmates missing this year, having gone home to tell their parents about all of the wonderful things they did this year and having said parents look on in horror. This is to be expected. I'm sure your class will grow smaller still by the end of your time here at Libri Vidicos. Think about all of the extra individual attention than reduction will gain you!

Now, this year you will only have four required classes. These will take up your first four periods, though in a slightly different order depending on which house you happen to be part of.

Rhetoric and Argumentation: A certain school of philosophical mechanics builds on the idea of achieving certainty-- proofs, logical processes, and establishing final truths. Huzzah for them. A full ninety-nine percent of all your disagreements will be based on circumstances where absolute veracity is as useful as a wet cat in a tornado. This course looks at methods of presenting arguments, mastering cogent evidence, and identifying fallacies in an opponent's discourse. It is about being right, not correct.
Natural Philosophy and Scientific Thinking: Too much of what we do is based on the unsteady ground of opinion and hearsay. This course introduces students to the examination of the universal scientific principles operating in the world around us. This survey looks at chemical processes, biological phenomenon, and elementary natural mechanics. These ideas represent permanent foundations in the order of the world. (Students will be marked down for any permanent damage they inflict on the lab or students & staff.)
The Fall of Civilizations: From the Unmaker to the Thonak: Nothing lasts forever. This is amply demonstrated by the history of great disasters across the continent, from the fall of the Makistani, to the collapse of eastern civilizations, to the changes wrought by the forces of darkness. This is history focusing on the interesting bits, not the yawn-y ones.
Further Studies in the Dark World: All the World's Monsters: This year students will learn the zoological catalog of all the beasts so generously brought back to the world by Ilvir and his ilk CURSED BE HIS NAME. Students will study behavior, environment, hunting methods, and color-stage variations for each of these monsters. Additionally students will learn of the catalog of monstrous races who remained after the Parade of Monsters and whose efforts threaten decent people everywhere. (Note: this course does not cover the undead so don't get any ideas).

Course Choices
Students take two electives, or three with permission. Should a student take an overload class, they will be only permitted to enter into two formal clubs or activities. There are no exceptions to this rule. You will note my mention of “activities”, which are informal gatherings and organizations sponsored by the school itself. Students who opt not to or are not permitted to take an overload have the luxury of joining up to three clubs or activities. Dear Lords above that's interesting.

This is the first year that students will be able to start taking courses suited to their own individual inclination. These courses are important, but do not factor directly in to your decision regarding a directed educational track-- that will come in your third year. Therefore we suggest students take courses which seem interesting or odd to them so as to better get a sense of the possibilities lying before them. In other words, while you may have your heart set on something you'd better figure out what your back up plan is when you fail out.

Courses marked with an asterix (*) are half-year courses. Courses not marked with an asterix are full year courses. If you hadn't figured that out coming into that last sentence, be sure to mention that to your Year Master who will arrange for remediation or a good, solid boot to the head. Elective course are open to both second and third years, as well as certain fourth years of deficient intellect

Please note that the Headmaster does not take the blame for these course descriptions, written as they are by their respective departments (though with some editorializing on his part).

Weighty Weapons and Sensible Protections: If one has the wisdom to fight in a mindless glorious war or battle a random drake, one had best be prepared for it. Students will learn the basics of armored combat and the use of weapons of a length up to the size of two headmasters. (Bastard).
Dueling as a Fine Art: Students will learn one or more new sword-fighting styles based on their present aptitude. Additionally the course will focus on the etiquette of dueling, the varying formal rules of dueling across the nations, and the best way to exploit those rules to one's benefit.
Marksmanship: Beginning with muscle powered weapons, you will learn the fine art of putting a hole in someone else. Assuming you don't put someone's eye out you will advance to work with Volters in the second semester.
A History of Warfare*: Examining the records of the great battles of history-- and the contradictions between various accounts, students will come to understand the difficulties and dangers inherit in large-scale warfare. By the end of the course students will understand the difference between strategy and tactics, how to read an OOB, and learn how to spin post-battle narrations to best effect.
Dirty Pool*: At times one way find oneself without a weapon ready at hand in circumstances where having one might be best. This course focuses on specialized self-defense for uncertain times. Not suggested for those students with a strong sense of personal honor or those not favoring a high sense of practicality.

Commanding the Elements: Beginning from the basic and agreed upon element structures, this course examines other historical and cultural conceptions. Students will learn the universal forms for elemental castings, alternative spell structures, and the art of improvisation. Students should be familiar with at least one element before taking this course. Students not familiar with at least one element should really take a long, hard look at their life choices.
Principles of Symbology: Students will look at the various notation schemes used historically and presently. Application of those schemes to contemporary casting styles will be considered. Course work will also focus on practical application of permanency, cross-styles communication, and handling obscure concepts. Students should not expect any contractions to be explained in any meaningful way.
The History of Magic and Technique: This course looks at the various eras of magic, their characteristics, how changes occurred between them, and what elements carried over. We will also examine the evolution of the current casting styles and how to recognize caster lineage and specialty. Particular attention will be given to dealing with artifacts and anachronistic magics.
Magical Analytics*: This highly specialized course deals with analyzing spells both for re-creation, identifying building blocks, and being able to undo effects. It also begins the sequence of courses working with meta-magics. Not nearly as boring as it sounds moreso in fact.
Wands, Staves and Rods: The Magicians Toolbox*: Some call them crutches, others call them lifesavers-- we will examine the making and use of supplementary items for spellcasting. Note-- students must bring their own wand or device with them to the class. Please see the Quartermaster of Twilight for supplies. He will then tell you to sod off and get your own.

Ancient Languages: Nothing impresses more than a strong mastery of older texts and poetry. Alternately, it could be a potential tragedy if you couldn't read that ancient Donaen “Keep Out” sign.
People and Places of the World: A comprehensive survey. Do I need to say more?
Culinary Arts: All Things Liquid: Students must obtain a permission slip for the second half of the course, Mixology.
Acting”*: Getting into character...being able to emulate and pass oneself off convincingly as another person...for the purposes of entertaining an audience, of course. Not for anything sinister...really.
Dress and Deportment Across the Continent*: Clothing makes the humanoid person, and is a center point to many person's conception of themselves. This course explores the variety of dress and manners in our present world. Students will be expected to have a mastery of decorum before taking this course. Shoes will be required at all times.

Contemporary Political Structures: This course considers who holds power and why. We look at rules of succession, the voice of the people, rules of nobility, political movements, and how change occurs. Most importantly we look at who really holds the power and how they manage to get it. As an added bonus we will learn to identify the the degrees of sinistry separating a royal advisor from a vizier.
Economics and Accountancy: From the smallest level to the greatest, money or likewise commodities drive people. We look at the virtues and vices of mercantilism, how value is assigned, the new orders of compacts, and how trade is managed and measured. We also examine the mathematical tools best used for analyzing the flow of trade, locating fat pocketbooks, and acquiring treasure.
Modern Literature: An examination of literature from the lowest to the highest: from poetics to smut, from epic to pulp action-- we examine the trends, styles and techniques currently “all the rage.” We will also consider how to make a fast buck from the mercurial tastes of the public.
The Fine Art of Correspondence*: In a great many cases, the only representation one can make of oneself is through the written word. If you wish at least part of your legacy to be fine and concrete evidence of your charm and ready wit, consider this class covering elements of history and composition of the well-crafted missive.
Calculational Analysis*: The educated scholar has a significant awareness of his surroundings and is able to see the world in the system of moments, motions and forces. Yes, that's pretty cool.

How Not to Be Seen: Please don't take this class if we have to explain that to you.
History of Crime: We study the methods and events of the rich lives of famous thieves, con men, and generally questionable figures. This course features special attention to the overlooked details which resulted in the less skilled being caught.
Mastering the Outdoors: Prepare to engage in the rough and tumble romantic world of eating pinecones to keep yourself alive. It is not enough to know how to survive in difficult and dangerous environments, the true master learns the art of turning his surroundings to his advantage, making places dangerous to those who would harm him, and creating his own kingdom. Students will learn advanced tactics in wood and field craft culminating in a rigorous final exam to the death.
Parlor Tricks and their Applications*: Oh the high-hilarity that can ensue from the proper application of a smoke bomb, flash powder, sleeping draught or hold-out knife at just the right time. Covers the building and use of all manner of gizmos, gadets, and gee-gaws.
Musical Feats*: Playing of instruments. Course offered at different levels based on audition. Students are instructed not to mention this course to first year students on punishment of expulsion from this class as well as all other activities or clubs. NOT KIDDING AROUND HERE!

Metal Working: Students will learn and practice the basic techniques of working with metals-- from delicate handiwork to forging. Second semester will introduce students to working with amalgams and magical metals. Students strongly attached to their digits may want to consider another course.
Power: Muscle, Steam and Mana: Engines and devices are for nothing without the energies to power them. Seize that power! Master the ancient secrets that have evaded the wise ones through the ages! They call me a fool, but they'll rue the day!!!
Elements of Art and Architecture: A favorite course for aesthetes, dungeon robbers, and future art thieves. Also of some use in polite society.
Basic Physiking*: Accidents will happen and there are times when magical healing remains out of reach. Also deals with injuries beyond the scope of basic magical medicine. Note, enrollment in this course does not give students automatic access to the medicine pantry.
Animal Husbandry*: The care, feeding, and training of non-magical creatures. Mostly harmless.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Gripping Play: A Year with Gauntlet Hangouts

Last year, Rich Rogers and Jason Cordova convinced me to start running for The Gauntlet Hangouts. I did my first session on Sept. 1st, 2016—with a table of expert GMs. No pressure there. I began with Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. There’s a symmetry that next month I’m running sessions of Legacy 2e. From September 2016 through September 2017 I’ve played 92 sessions of 34 different Gauntlet games; 72 as a GM, and 20 as a player:

1% 2, 7th Sea 5, Atomic Robo 2, The Black Hack 2, Changeling the Lost PbtA 4, Chill 2, City of Mist 2, Coriolis 2, Cryptomancer 2, Dead Scare 2, Dresden Files Accelerated 3, Dungeon World 5, Fate Core 6, Feng Shui 2 2, Godbound 2, Grimm 2, Kingdom 2, Kuro 2, Legacy Life Among the Ruins 3, Masks: A New Generation 2, Monster Hearts 4, Mutant City Blues 2, Pigsmoke 2, Robert E. Howard’s Conan 2, Shadowrun Anarchy 2, Silent Legions 2, Spirit of 77 2, The Sprawl 2, Tales from the Loop 1, Time & Temp 2, Tweaks 2, The Veil 5, World Wide Wrestling 9, Worlds in Peril 2

I’ve learned from running for this online community. It helped me manage my anxiety for running f2f at conventions. It’s been a solid community with good players. If you’re interested, consider checking out GauntletCon, the massive online con we’re doing in October. Today I’ve pull together a few lessons I’ve learned or had reinforced over this year of gaming.

I entered 2016 jaded about cyberpunk. I’d run Neo Shinobi Vendetta as part of Ocean City Interface, but that focused on spectacle, ninjas, and anime tropes. Actual, real cyberpunk didn’t grab me. But I kept running up against it—Interface Zero in my KS feed, a copy of the Shadowrun Almanac that fell into my hands, a demo game of Headspace. But it would be The Sprawl and The Veil that would turn it around for me.

I’ve talked about both this year. The Sprawl offered me new tools for doing mission-based games. Once I would have dismissed those as limited and uninteresting. I like campaigns and games where players progress. But The Sprawl showed what could be done with a shorter, more lethal cyberpunk campaign. On the other hand, The Veil does something completely different. It provides dynamic tools for world building connected to characters. Every session of The Veil I’ve run has generated interesting questions about society, choice, and identity.

We plan Gauntlet Hangout sessions a couple of months out. This week, for example, I have pick what to run for December. That weirdly means I can challenge myself if I want to. Several times I’ve offered to run games I’ve only skimmed through at that point. Then two weeks out from the session I sit down and work through the game—building cheat and character sheets if necessary, printing out reference material, outlining the sample adventure if there is one. Because I constantly move through these games, I block out exactly two weeks to figure them out—no more. That deadline spurs me on.

In some cases, it isn’t just about reading the rules. For my Fate Month and GUMSHOE Express games, I promised something that didn’t exist at that point. I set myself that two-week window to develop the hack and come up with the mechanics. Some have been easier—it wasn’t too much work to figure out the changes necessary to do Hellboy with Atomic Robo. But rewriting Mutant City Blues and coming up with the Reign of Crows took many more hours. But I did it—and that’s been a satisfying way to fight off any impostor syndrome I have.

While I still haven’t figured out how to build Roll20 character sheets, I have gotten better with Google Sheets. The former requires CSS and higher level knowledge, the latter just means I have to work out the limitations of the formulas there. In particular I’ve paid attention to what people actually use from the character sheet—what elements they have to refer to, how they want their elements presented, what things don’t get filled in. I’ve tried to make these more user friendly.

I’ve also found some of the Google Sheets limitations. For example I’ve been using drop downs and VLOOKUP to give players access to their move selections. That works if I know the move selection pool. For example, I can make up a sheet for each playbook. But if the system has multiple playbooks—like Sprit of ’77 or Pigsmoke, I can’t make sheets for every combination and can’t automate that.

I’ve come to appreciate well-organized rpg books. That’s a slightly different thing than a well-written one, but often they’re linked together. When I’m playing f2f time spent flipping to find a rule or chart becomes an eternity. That’s magnified online. There’s an irony in that because I’m running online, it’s easier for me to flip through a physical book than an electronic one. I already have a bunch of tabs open; pulling up Acrobat Reader eats up desktop space. I almost always print out key sheets and reference materials to have at hand.

If you want to learn a system, write up a cheat sheet for it. That forces you to find the essential resolution systems of the game. In a badly written game you quickly discover how scattershot the explanations are. You’ll have to follow those threads. More importantly you’ll then need to figure out how to express those concepts tightly. You’ll assess what elements will hit the table the most. A couple of times I’ve hit games I thought would be simple, only to discover numerous exceptions, sub-systems, and linked rules. On the reverse, I’ve also hit games I assumed would be difficult to summarize which had a simple system buried under the chrome.

I have to be reminded of this from time to time. If you’re running online, call out players by name—PC or personal. Asking a general question to the group, like “So what are you planning on doing?” or “What does the table have to say about this?” generates dead air. People will hesitate and wait for one another, followed by stepping on each others’ verbal toes.

To ask a general question immediately focus on someone to answer. Like “So what are you planning on doing? Paul, let’s start with you.” It’s a technique I need to internalize. I’ve gotten better about it, but then an awkward silence tells me I’ve just dropped a vague question.

Die rolling can slow things down. It’s the moment of uncertainty where the players’ declarations come into question. Some systems resolve this easily—you know the chance of success. But others have multiple steps. PbtA looks simple but you have two issues. The first is the mechanical side. Usually you have to stop to work through the move rolled. If the move has choices for the player, they have to pick and then show how that works in the fiction. Second, PbtA generally has fewer rolls with more weight each. It can feel weird to have an interesting conversation, but then switch gears to rules text.

I try, if I can, to streamline the number of die rolls. I’m more liberal with my interpretation of what does and doesn’t need to be rolled. If a character has bought a proficiency with something, they can do it. But you shouldn’t gloss over that moment, “OK you don’t need to roll.” Instead make that awesome—it’s a place to show a character’s competency and command over something.

Play is important. Play is vital. If you really want to see how a game operates, you have to play. In this last year I’ve had games that read well hit speed bumps in play. I’d hit stuff that seemed cool but when we got to the table they just got in the way. I’ve worked through adventures that make no sense on the ground. On the other side, I’ve played games I thought would be wonky and had them sing.

A side-effect of that has been to make me impatient with designers and pontificators who critique and comment, but don’t actually play (except maybe at conventions). Maybe impatient isn’t the right word, but more to make me roll my eyes when they insert themselves into conversations to naysay or be negative. The Gauntlet community’s been strong enough I can easily ignore those voices. I just have to remind myself to do so.

I love character and world building. I take copious notes during this section and work hard to reincorporate them. Players invariably come up with cool stuff. It’s part of what I love about PbtA and Fate games—that’s baked into the process. But sometimes you just need to get playing. I’ve hesitated about this because I didn’t want to box players in. Sometimes you just need to get playing. I’ve run several games with pre-gens this year and I’ve been happy with them. The trick: reduce choices (I like six), leave room for the players to tweak, and generally build a character you’d want to run.

1) If you’re running an online two shot, you’re effectively running a four hour convention game with an insanely long break. Be prepared to lose time and direction at the start of session two. 2) You’ll never have the full attention of your players. Everything in their personal environment will be pulling at them. Be comfortable with repeating. 3) Technical issues and schedule conflicts will happen- frequently. Be patient. 4) Sometimes players will do shit that you won’t understand at all. Stop and have them clarify intent. Sometimes they haven’t understood their position. Sometimes they’re just gonzo. 5) Establish how information passes in the group. I make it clear that any info gathered by one group’s available to the others, unless they specific or edit. 6) Model your play structure right at the beginning. 7) Don’t skip tone discussions.

I used to consider myself a responsive GM. I knew I listened to the group and had my finger on the pulse of the game. I could read the table and didn’t need formal feedback. That confidence gave me an even higher level of GM arrogance than I have today. Then I watched Rich do Roses & Thorns. He took feedback at the end of every session. Everyone had to say a thing they didn’t like and then one they liked about the session: the system, the play, the GMing, other players’ behavior, the environment, their own play. My stomach flipped the first time I saw it. I dismissed it as touchy feely. But then I realized two things. First, Rich got solid feedback and actionable points for improvement. Second, my dismissal was actually fear of being wrong. I had to get past that.

So I do Roses & Thorns now. Not every session like some others, but at least every other session. Through it I discover what’s working and not working. Not every exchange offers a revelation, but enough to make it worthwhile. It has a secondary effect, one that echoes my primary reason for using the X-Card. It tells the players I’m going to listen to them. It gives them a better sense of the GM player relationship I picture at the table.

Get into games with other GMs. Have them get into your games. That’s been huge. Every session playing with Rich, Jason, David, Dylan, Christo, or any of dozens of others has shown me something new. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

History of Cyberpunk RPGs (Part Five: 2008-2011)

This header will quickly become dated, but currently DriveThruRPG has setting materials on sale. The event runs through September 30TH, 2017. A search with “cyberpunk” leads to a ton of interesting materials. I’ve picked out a few below which caught my eye. I’m sure others remain to be found.

While I’m focusing on core books, I include a few notable sourcebooks and supplements (by my reckoning). Ironically, I only list books with a physical edition. I include an electronic release if they’re notable and of significant size. Some selections came down to a judgement call; my definition of cyberpunk’s broad. If the product declares itself that or several online sources give it that label, I put it in. I’m sure I missed some, so if you spot an absent cyberpunk rpg from 2008-2011, leave a note in the comments

1. Interface Zero (2008)
Interface Zero offers a conventional cyberpunk setting, updated for modern sensibilities, used as the go-to bolt-on for several systems. It opens with a geo-political history based on conflict, collapse, and corporate control. The setting embraces a more cutting edge, high-tech approach than earlier cyberpunk games. Two crucial tech elements, nanotechnologies and synthetic persons (i.e. replicants), have shaped this world. It has an Augmented Reality (Veil) citizens exist in called the Hyper-Real world (HR). Interface Zero has a ton of front-loaded history. The Fate version opens with thirty pages of timelines, world events, and terminology.

After getting through that Interface Zero nicely presents colorful options. Its various bio-mod and simulacra forms offer a middle ground between anime spectacle and Cyberpunk 2020 chrome grit. I can’t speak for the other versions, but I'm pretty pleased with the mechanics of the Fate Core edition. It's created a solid system revision which understands how Fate works and sn't just a re-skin.

Interface Zero's one of the best toolboxes out there for modern cyberpunk. It leans a little crunchy. Even the lightest version comes off heavy. But it offers interesting concepts and sub-systems (drones, hacking, etc). If you want a sourcebook across multiple platforms Interface Zero has True20, Savage Worlds, Modern20, Fate Core, and most recently Pathfinder editions. The publisher has released several sourcebooks and modules, primarily done in the Savage Worlds version.

2. MSG™ (2008)
A satirical cyberpunk rpg. MSG plays in a single evening without a set GM. It presents a future where corporations are everything. Your role, reputation, and status within that organization define your worth. Humanity loss here isn't about cybernetics, but instead about ethics, independence, and self-worth. GMing duties rotate; each round one player plays the Company and the others play Reps. The Company's goal is to crush the spirit of the Reps or get their peers to do it for them. The game's loose and diceless with a resource system. Resolution requires bidding those resources, but the "winner" is the character with the most left at the end. It's a clever little game with three editions (original, executive, and the currently available "Deoffensified Edition").

Triple Ace Games has been one of the strongest third-party publishers for Savage Worlds. Beyond settings (All for One, Hellfrost), they've released several adventure series under the "Daring Tales" label. That includes Adventure, Chivalry, the Space Lanes, and the Sprawl. TAG began the line by releasing a free set of SW cyberpunk rules. These offer simple adaptation mechanics and a couple of full-blown add-ons. That includes a list of cyberware packages and rules for hacking. Lead Author Kevin Anderson also worked on Sundered Skies and Wonderland No More. I've run from the former. It has interesting ideas, but comes off little dense and railroady in places.

The actual Sprawl series consists of five adventures, originally released as pdfs. These have been collected together into a Compendium volume. They follow classic cyberpunk role-play patterns: missions, patrons, extractions. If you're looking for resources to drop into Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, or even The Sprawl these might work.

4. Eclipse Phase (2009)
Eclipse Phase is a monster, a dense sci-fi game spanning multiple genres. The original open-license edition spawned a host of supplements. One of EP’s strengths has been hooking gamers in diverse ways. Some see it as classic sci-fi, some as transhumanist fun-time, some as post-apocalypse. Others read it as a particularly dark sci-fi horror game- one brimming with awful implications for the fate of humanity. That's all in there- you can play any of those. You can even zoom in for a bleeding edge cyberpunk game.

In the future, humanity has lost the Earth. They have spread out through wormhole gates into the greater universe. Some fragmentary structure remains- through a patchwork of authorities and links, strongly corporate. Most people, including the PCs, are disassociated intelligences, sleeved into bodies based on need and wealth. It may seem like a kind of immortality, but there are costs and dangers. Threats exist everywhere from viruses, to fanatics, to monstrous AIs stalking the stars. Eclipse Phase does a great job of setting up what the players could be doing- serving with a group called Firewall fighting threats to humanity's existence. But everything I've read and heard suggests that the game set up, despite being detailed and dense, is also open. You can run many different kinds of campaigns, genres, and styles with the detailed tools it provides.

Judging by online discussion Eclipse Phase has become the go-to cyberpunk game among those looking for a high-crunch system. Some turned to it after the perceived failure of Cyberpunk v3. I've seen a couple threads where players have attempted to combine Cyberpunk 2020's timeline with the Eclipse Phase’s history.

The company launched a highly successful Kickstarter earlier this year. It promises an updated and streamlined approach which remains compatible with the first edition.

5. eCollapse (2009)
2009 was a crazy year for Wild Talents, with four distinct and impressive setting sourcebooks landing. That’s an interesting publishing approach. Rather than build on Wild Talents’ established setting or even the precursor Godlike material, Arc Dream chose to follow up with multiple new ways to play. The approaches read like thought-experiments and eCollapse makes that explicit in its introduction. Here Greg Stolze wants to explore choices and defining ‘good guys’ versus ‘bad guys’. You can see the seeds of his later Better Angels; here he mentions doing a setting based on the behavior of supervillains.

eCollapse presents a near future, post-crash society. It isn’t exactly post-apocalyptic, but more just that everything’s kind of crappy. Slackers, economic decay, erosion of liberties, environmental pollution, full-on surveillance state, etc. But on the plus side, biotech superpowers are readily available…though with some non-monetary costs. The power list is interesting, tightly defined, and full off traps for the unwary player. That’s combined with player-chosen weaknesses and ideologies (what you’re for and against). These deeply flawed characters then strive against the background of this dystopian future- trying to figure out what they stand for and what’s worth actually sacrificing for. eCollapse borrows a little from Cyberpunk, but feels closer to Underground.

The rules include an alternate approach to resolution for those who don’t want to deal with the crunch of Wild Talents. Called “Smear of Destiny,” these mechanics sit just atop the main ones in the book. There’s also a substantial section at the end with a full explanation. Unlike some dual-stat books, one system doesn’t get in the way of the other. Smear of Destiny uses a deck of playing cards for competitive narrative resolution, with the red and black of the suits mirroring the question of black and white in the universe. That’s smart given the dramatic focus of eCollapse.

This is core book for the Otherverse America setting, with d20 Modern and Pathfinder versions available. I'm having trouble wrapping my head around the key concept here. The game comes from Skortched 'Urf, publisher of the Black Tokyo hentai-infused setting. OA shares that edge-lord vibe. While I focus on printed products for this list, the core book's significant and the publisher's released several supplements.

What’s the pitch? The Abortion War is the primary incident sparking the dystopian collapse. As the blurb sums it up, "rival Lifer and Choicer factions build their own unique cultures from what’s left. The differences between pro-life and pro-choice, between liberal and conservative, between Christian and Pagan, have been sharpened to a killing edge." The game's primary focus is on military sci-fi, supported by weird powers and combat technology.

Some of the sourcebooks develop this out in different directions. For example, Sexually Transmitted Future details bio-hacking and genetic engineering. The Otherverse setting has other cyberpunk trappings like the worldwide "mesh", restricted AI development, and the security state. The setting uses exaggerated versions of the culture wars as fodder. How much you giggle at that probably determines how much you'll dig this. It’s not my bag and I find it a little squicky.

7. Spherechild (2009)
A German Universal system, the Spherechild core book includes a cyberpunk setting called Icros. Interestingly this setting undergoes major revisions between the first and second editions of the game. They both focus on genetic manipulation and a race of "Wandler" evading detection. It's interesting to see a generic system go in a nontraditional direction with their included cyberpunk setting.

A complete post-apocalypse horror game with a cyberpunk tinge. Yellow Dawn showcases a near-future world which has suffered collapse, offering an emphasis on tech and the occult. I like it because Yellow Dawn seems to actually play with and apply some of the concepts suggested messily by GURPS Cthulhupunk. Hastur's one of my favorite creations within the greater Cthulhu Mythos (and one with several divergent interpretations, see Delta Green: Countdown). The virus which set off the setting’s collapse not only devastates the population, it changes many into travesties. This creates tribes of monsters in the wilderness outside cities. I appreciate the weird mix of tropes all that creates.

The rulebook includes mechanics for hacking, cyberware, and bioware. That's all given a sinister tinge. Designer David J. Rodger has promised a third edition of this setting, compatible with the new Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition rules. (Note: the first edition of this appeared in 2006 and really belongs on that list, but I missed it. '09 was the 2nd edition release date).

9. FreeMarket (2010)
In 2010 Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen released this final, highly produced version of Freemarket. I hunted down a copy a few years ago. Freemarket comes in a cool boxed set filled with booklets, card decks, and cardboard tokens. Usually I dig all those kinds of bits. Freemarket's beautifully produced. It looks amazing. But it’s also opaque. I tried reading the rulebook several times, each time coming away uncertain of the setting and mechanics. Eventually I traded my copy away. I've had to hunt online for descriptions to even put into words what Freemarket's about.

Let me try-- first, Freemarket's a post-scarcity setting. The characters life on a space station, the children of the first arrivals (the Originals). Anything can be fabricated here via 3D matter printers, including life. In this transhumanist setting, death, poverty, and illness are things of the past. The game asks what you would do with "fovever"? It's an interesting premise. Conflict's built purely on personal agendas. It takes the ideas of transhumanism and the technological support system to its logical end. It's cyberpunk in that it confronts those ideas at least obliquely. The concerns here are philosophical; they're even more abstract than the belief-focused play of The Veil.

One of my favorite posts on Freemarket comes from the blog Stuff for Nonsense. Like me they found a mixed reaction to Freemarket online. They have a nice post about opening the box and looking through it.

10. Kazei 5 (2010)
Kazei 5 is a massive campaign framework for HERO System. It jams together anime, cyberpunk, and a host of other sci-fi tropes to create a world of mixed-up manga transhumanism. Think Cybergeneration with less grit or a more diverse power-source version of Bubblegum Crisis. Recommended for those looking for a crunchy setting with anime roots. That's present in the subtitle, "Animepunk Roleplaying." And there's a Cat-Girl on the cover.

Despite that lighter-tone approach, Kazei 5 offers the crunchy set of tools and resources HERO System players look for. It's the closest HERO 6 gets to a cyberpunk sourcebook. But it doesn't dwell on that-- covering cyberware, cyborgs, cyberspace, espers, and mecha in a little over 60 pages. If you know the system, you'll know that's slim. The rest of the book's given to characters (about 70 pages) and the world (150+ pages). It's a dense book done with the trademark tiny font of latter day HERO releases. If you're looking for a kitchen-sink anime-cyberpunk setting (and mechanical sections don't irritate you) this could work.

11. Remember Tomorrow (2010)
A rules-light game aiming for speed and cyberpunk verisimilitude. It opens with five clear setting points. 1. It plays out in Somewhere, an ‘anyplace’ city twenty minutes into the future. 2. People in the setting travel. They’re always in motion and always caught in-between. 3. Everything has a label, a sense of fashion and brand identity. 4. People are wild and stray into new territories of sex. 5. Everyone’s a foreigner here, everyone’s from somewhere else. Not just the PCs but the figures in the backdrop as well.

Remember Tomorrow rotates GM responsibility between the players. We they’re the GM, they set the scene and type—playing with the PCs and factions established. The system combines that with interesting currency rules using Edge dice. Sessions end when three things, PCs or factions, have been eliminated. That’s considered an episode, though a campaign may have multiple episodes.

Remember Tomorrow defines characters simply. They start with a name/handle, an identity (i.e. archetype), motivation, and gear. The last can include cybernetics. This and most of matters of technology are simply fiction. They’re the basis for narration. RT doesn’t even use the light tag-based approach of recent cyberpunk games. Each character has three stats: Ready, Willing, and Able. They’re like Fate Accelerated approaches. Each has a rating and reducing that to 0 writes the character out.

Characters also have conditions describing their advantages and disads. The character sheet lists twelve negative and twelve positive conditions, with checkboxes for them. Finally each character fleshes out character has a goal at the start. After creating characters each player also develops a faction with a few stats and details. These serve as the opposition the GM can swing into play.

The rules discus scene types and how they’re set up (Introduction, Deal, Face Off). These have a light structure and slightly different ways they interact with the edge die currency. Remember Tomorrow resolves challenges simply. Players roll 3d10 and allocate them to their three ratings. Each one equal or below counts as a success. The type of success influences the narration. The game provides some additional mechanics reflecting the gritty, violent, power struggles involving the characters.

Overall Remember Tomorrow’s an interesting framework for running a cyberpunk-flavored one-shot. The structure for the rotating GMs and the scene economy seems cool and doesn’t go too far into the weeds with mechanics. If you’re looking for a solid story-game, it’s a good choice. RT’s flexible and I’ve seen it adapted for several other contexts.

12. Robotica (2010)
A chunky (360 pages) Polish rpg. And it has an English translation from last year clocking in at 472 pages(!). It is notably sequestered in the adult section of RPGNow. And before I go on, I have to quote from the publisher's blurb there:
Clocks are no more mere time counting tools. Every jolt of the pointer is symbolic - ticking is similar to that of a bomb detonator, promising a sudden explosion... It is just an empty hope for a painless finale. Existence is hard to discern from torture. When a man is at the brink of his limits, the fate kicks him in the corner, leaves him to catch some breath. It is back only when the victim is standing on its own again. It seems that torturing a helpless victim is not providing fatum with enough satisfaction.

In this dark future, Corporations have taken over and then abandoned a devastated Earth. You play characters left behind in this wasteland, monitored by the Corps and battling against DESTRO. (note: Not from Cobra, instead a rogue electronic force). Players can be robots, mutant humans, cyborgs, or even weirder things. The game has several modes: pulp to grimdark and smooth to crunchy. It reminds me a little of Systems Failure and GURPS Reign of Steel. If this kind of mechanical dystopian world appeals to you, read the extensive blurb at RPGNow (which has a book length of "about 1,000,000 characters" as a selling point).

On these lists I’ve crossed paths with various Savage Mojo Suzerian products. Until now I hadn’t seen the ethos to them. Suzerain itself is a multiversal setting, something I hadn’t realized (because I’m an idiot). Several earlier products make more sense now. But more importantly the setting’s about being EPIC. DID YOU HEAR ME? I SAID EPIC. The system adds a new tier to Savage Worlds: DemiGod.

Shanghai Vampocalypse reflects with…epic…new powers and abilities for that tier. You’ll need them. In this world, 2048 saw the creation of a nanovirus usable to create vampiric soldiers. You can guess where that goes. The book contains a Savage Worlds style plot point campaign with the players battling against Vampiric hordes to save this decadent, chrome-out future. It leans more towards the Shadowrun side of things with mystic powers and wire-fu combined with implants and hi-tech missions.

If you’re looking for over-the-top, good news.

14. Polychrome (2011)
I've written a couple of times about Kevin Crawford's interesting reworkings of retro game mechanics. His games offer both stand-alone rpgs and a toolbox for GMs. Stars Without Number's one of Crawford's earliest, a sci-fi game with a distinct setting that can be easily repurposed. It reminds me of Eclipse Phase for that. Polychrome's a world sourcebook for SWN, offering a planet of cyber-implants and corporate control of vital elements.

While the book's focused on that, it also shows how you could easily tune Stars Without Number to a fully cyberpunk game. It's a smart demonstration. It includes many of the usual elements like hacking and such. This year Crawford ran successful Kickstarter for a new edition of SWN. I hope this signals a renaissance for it. Perhaps we might get a fully stand-alone cyberpunk game, similar to Other Dust. That’s an all-in-one post-apocalyptic game set within the SWN universe. For those interested in learning more about Polychrome, check out the excellent Grognardia review.

15. Technoir (2011)
Technoir’s a smart game—well-designed and presented. I’d seen it mentioned in various indie game discussions, but never tracked it down. As the label says it’s about technology, cyberpunk in this case, within a noir world. It doesn’t gloss those concepts; it engages with them. It grabbed my attention by not opening with a sole focus on character creation, mechanics, or endless backstory. Instead it combines the former two with a strong emphasis on the GM side of things.

I don’t know if it’s deliberate, but Technoir amuses me because it puts that GM info so early—talking about the genre, how to present it, and overall techniques and advice. The rules are cleanly set out with markers about what’s being discussed. I feel a little irony that a game about a gritty and discordant world should be presented so clearly.

Technoir covers “hard-nosed characters entrenched in the gritty criminal underground of the near-future. They have illicit technology and the talents to use it. They work contacts, exploit opportunities, play factions against each other, and try to come out ahead. It’s the shady stories of hardboiled crime novels of yesterday set in the dystopian sci-fi cities of tomorrow.” The base system’s interesting. Characters have nine “verb” stats (Coax, Move, Prowl, etc). These are rated from 1 to 5. Additionally they have Adjectives, which function like aspects in Fate. Objects follow a now common pattern—using tags to define gear.

There’s only a little more chrome in the character creation section. Players chose three training programs to generate initial Verbs and Adjectives. They then choose relationships and buy objects. The tags here and factors like debt seem like the most complicated part of the game and they’re fairly simple

Players roll different color d6s for resolution. They use a number of white dice equal the related stat’s rating; black push dice from non-stat sources; and red hurt dice for negative penalties. Players roll this as a pool. For each red die matching a black or white die, they remove the pair. The highest number remaining after all removals is the final action value which is compared to a difficulty or opposition rating. It’s a loose and simple system.

Technoir uses the concept of Transmissions. These are random playbooks for a location with 36 ideas and details called plot nodes. These cover exposition, connections, events, factions, locations, object, and threats. The game shows how to use those to build a scenario. It’s a solid toolkit and one worth stealing for other games. The core book includes the Los Angeles Sprawl, Singapore Sling, and Kilimanjaro Ring.

Overall Technoir looks awesome—as a game and a resource for cyberpunk GMs. Next year I hope to have an alt-cyberpunk month where I try my hand at just running indie or unusual cyberpunk games. This will definitely be on that list.

16. Miscellaneous: PDF Only
Selected cyberpunk electronic-only releases
  • Disgenesia: In a corporate-controlled future, you play as “Tetramorphs,” mutants who do dirty jobs for the corps. A biopunk set-up. By Mexican designer Aldo Ojeda Campos.
  • Geodesic Gnomes: A 24-hour rpg from the amazing Dyson Logos. You play ‘gnomes’ scavenging to survive in technological ruins.
  • idee fixe: A large Polish game. People try to survive on the streets in a dystopian future Poland. The translated blurb says, “In idee fixe there are mixed three main elements: technototalitarism, conspiracy theories and local Polish dirt.”
  • Majellan: One of the breed of sci-fi/post-apocalypse games where the new world the PCs settle on becomes a cyberpunk dystopia.
  • Metropole Luxury Coffin: Life, death, and branding in a cyberpunk capsule hotel. 
  • Mirrors: Bleeding Edge: An add-on for the Chronicles of Darkness supplement, Mirrors. It offers another alternate CoD setting: this time cyberpunk. “Dark Shadows-run.”
  • Modem: Focuses exclusively on the hacking and netrunning side of things. You make runs to earn money to make more runs. I’m surprised we don’t see more games with this framework.
  • Modempunk: Here’s a game I had to track down a copy of. You play as sweet underground hackers in a dystopian 1980’s that never was! Comes bundled with the Joints & Jivers rpg (less interesting).
  • OBLEAK: Sometimes a game bears down so hard on a particular grim tone I can’t tell if its parody or terribly sincere.

17. Miscellaneous: Cyberpunk Adjacent
Adventures or borderline products.
  • BRP Adventures and Blood & Badges: Two Basic Rolelpaying adventure collections covering multiple genres. The former has Ruin Nation: To Bite the Hand That Feeds by Jason Williams. The latter includes Out with a BANG by Tom Lynch, a cyberpunk scenario.
  • Deadline: A French near-future, high-tech espionage game. The twist is that the world ends in 47 years.
  • Hot Chicks: The Roleplaying Game: Cyberpunk trappings in places, see my comments here.
  • Maschine Zeit: A sci-fi horror rpg. The themes of machines vs. humanity work well with a cyberpunk frame.
  • Misspent Youth: Kids rebel against The Authority.
  • Nemezis: A Polish setting book for Savage Worlds. The Mutant Chronicles vibe means it has cyberpunk-esque elements.
  • Psypher 2430 Core Rulebook: A core book for the GameAddikts sci-fi setting. Leans to straight sci-fi with some cyberpunk junk thrown in.