Playbooks in the Net


You with the cred.

You wanna buy some tasty new playbooks? I got updated errata, print friendly and full colour; legal, letter… maaaan, I even got that good A4 shit. All wrapped up in a tasty tasty compression algorithm.

Wait, what? What do you mean you can download that for free. What are you, some kind of shadow operative?!

Oh. Okay then. I’ll leave you to it then.

The Sprawl playbooks now have a newly updated new zip file, ready for your cyberpunk mission requirements. Enjoy!

//Out of the alley, into your drive..

Sounds of the Sprawl

Backers of the Kickstarter will remember that one of the reward options was a small collection of cyberpunk background sound loops custom made by Wes Otis of Plate Mail Games. Well, I’ve been meaning to make an official post here for a while, but you can pick up any of those background loops from the Plate Mail Games store at DriveThruRPG. That link takes you to PMG’s cyberpunk collection, but they have a background loop for just about any situation these days, including 155 that he made for Monte Cook’s Numenera. Wow. That’s a lot of sound, Wes!

PMG’s current kickstarter is coming to an end. It’s for Kobold Press‘ Midgard setting for 5e, so if that sounds like you, you have 10 days to take a look.

I recently sent a big pile of words for PMG’s Rothaen setting to Wes too. I posted about that here during that Kickstarter; look out for the final product later this year.

//Bathe it in static..

November Metric

Incoming intel…

Prepare your datajack for a driveload of global cyberculture, friend.

Remix your mind and your DNA with the transhumanists of Tangaroa. Screen yourself from the UV, the corps, and the nanobots in Aotearoa. Swim through the stifling oppression of law and history in the capital of the European Federation.

Resist the corporate boot crushing the last bastion of North American freedom. Blow over the agri-prison baseline and the voodoo hooks of the Big Easy. Slink out of the lab and into the streets with keen eyes, sharp claws, and a vengeful mind.

Circle with the sharks of the Global Giant of Africa: smell the fire in their spirits and the spirits in the fibres. Dance from terrace to tower in the Paris moonlight, rapier in hand, honour in mind. Take down the fat cats and the dirty dogs with anthropomorphic abandon.

Play in the Caribbean sand or slog through the Florida swamp at the nexus of terrestrial and orbital borders. Fight your way free from the bleeding edge of militarised capitalism at the fractured terminus of a new Korean cold war. Kick against the current in SoCal’s melting pot of simsense dreams, global commerce, and covert water wars.

Twelve new ways to experience The Sprawl. Are you ready for the November Metric?

November Metric is a 150 page setting supplement for The Sprawl. It includes twelve settings ranging from arcologies to sprawls to nation states to cat-based conceptual overlays; you can use them as-is, or mine them for inspiration for your sprawl.

Check out the awesome cover art by Vira Sakhniuk!

At the moment, November Metric is only available in PDF. We’re working on the Print on Demand files, so physical copies should be available in a few weeks. [Print and PoD are both now available on the DTRPG page!]

November Metric was originally funded as Stretch Goal 003 of the Kickstarter (backer update here). The next supplement will be a book of ten missions in much the same format as “The Kurosawa Extraction” example mission from the book.

// take [intel]

I’ve started a Twitch stream and a YouTube channel.

My goal with this stream is to discuss game design, especially my game designs, through a variety of lenses. I’ll try to organise the videos into appropriate playlists. The first playlist I’ve started is // take [intel] // Game.Stream (embedded below) which will include any video game play streams which are primarily relevant to cyberpunk and The Sprawl.

I’ll start here, but in the future you can expect design sessions, movie commentaries, question and answer sessions, ancient history related game play, and perhaps some dedicated cyberpunk video game playthoughs. There might eventually be some tabletop play, but initially, I’ll be focused on formats that I can slot into my schedule when it’s convenient for me, rather than trying to juggle the schedules of multiple people.

Hamish del Rol

A month or so ago I posted on my Google+ page that I was available for podcasts and Angel Garcia immediately made me put my money where my mouth was.

Last week Angel and his co-host Edgar interviewed me live on their YouTube channel Hijos Del Rol (Story Always). They ask questions about my start in running and playing games, the genesis of The Sprawl, kickstarting and the publishing process, some design questions which I hadn’t thought about for a while, the excellence of acquire agricultural property and Dread, some structural insights into the mission phase, and my future publishing plans, including some hints about Touched.

Check it out!

The Taseki Empire

The Realms of Rothaen is a dark pulp fantasy setting with a modern edge, densely layered with story hooks that will allow groups to tell amazing tales and shape the world. The books will be written for Dungeon World, but will have plenty of scope for adaptation to other systems.

The kickstarter is in its final week now. If it funds, I’ll be doing some of the writing. Many of you are familiar with my writing in the realm of cyberpunk, but here’s a taste of the kind of fantastica I’ll be summoning forth for this project!

The Taseki Empire

The tune Chantor Kilida-to-Gipoti was humming reached a natural pause as he crumbled the last carbonated pieces of the lilyroot into place to complete the circle. He made a sweeping gesture with both hands and almost fumbled his new tune as he remembered his lack of magical servants. Pause. “Keke-da!” Resume. His two assistants rushed forward out of their dozing to light candles and drip wax in the three pointed star formation. He sighed internally, careful not to disrupt the rhythm of his new tune as the spell started to take shape within the careful binding structures he has assembled. As he wrestled the magic inside the bindings into the shape of a viewing portal, the bead of sweat that rolled from his brow was not from the ambient humidity–he had lived in Taseki all his life, he was used to that. The sweat was fear. He could feel the air chill in the room as the curse siphoned off any residual magic outside the bindings, lacing its way with icy fingers through the extremities of his body. As it stopped at his diaphragm, and the bindings held, he grimaced, satisfied, and focused his attention fully on the luminous portal at the center of the three-pointed-star. “Por-tal!” he sang, “show me the da-ay, the em-pi-re fell.”

That day had been a long time coming, but for most of the Chantors and Song Magi of the Taseki Empire, it was sudden, shocking, and brutal. For centuries, the Song Magi of Kipata, the 1st city, had expanded their magical and political influence through Taseki-Kadi, the land mass that foreign scholars and sailors now call Murwata Island. Their society and government was collectively shaped by the magical chants, canticles, arias, and madrigals sung by generations of practitioners of the Taseki magical tradition. In time they came to be guided first by the leading Song Magi, and then by the Chantors of the Forty Cities. The island thrived, the people were content, the Song Magi grew prosperous… and divided.

As far as Taseki historians, arcanists and antiquarians have been able to piece together from sparse written evidence and the fragments of magical divination from the time before the curse, out, the Taseki magi-musical tradition (or Song Magic as it is commonly known) was based on the magical principle of the Harmony of Voices Unified. In essence, this principle held that by acting in magical concert, the magic of the song was amplified, and the different parts and harmonies of the singers would exert a cohesive influence on the whole spell. The particular styles and expressions of individual singers would weave together to form a stronger magical harmony.

The Taseki Empire

Murwata Island is over 3000 miles from end to end. As long as the Chantors of the Forty Cities maintained their commitment to the Harmony of Taseki-Kadi, the Empire remained strong, but local divergence in tradition inevitably drew the attention of some Chantors away from the Harmony and it weakened. At least, this is the prevailing theory among the historians in what remains of the Taseki Empire. What is not debated is the Day of the Curse.

290 years ago, on the day of the Festival of Lights in Sogado, the 34th city, the Harmony failed and Taseki-Kadi ripped apart. Waves of magical energy resonated throughout the island, sundering the magical communications networks that kept the Forty Cities harmonized. Civilization as they knew it was destroyed. From the ashes emerged the Murwata Island they now know: the rebel republic of Wisgo, the poisoned lands of Malo (formerly Sogado and its neighbours), the lee-lands now called Chrysom, overrun by barbarians.

Now the Forty Cities exist in the archaic name of the Harmony only. The Song Magi of Taseki are divided under the yoke of the curse. Choral singing attracts demonic forces so the magi sing alone. The Harmony is broken. Factions within the remaining Thirteen Cities pursue their own goals. The Reunifiers plan to recover Taseki-Kadi by conquest. The Reharmonizers hope to resettle the Lost Cities and re-sing the Harmony. The Seekers focus their individual energies on discovering the origin and workings of the Curse and reversing it. For the Arians are united only in their belief that the Curse arose because the Harmony was too heavy; the way forward for each of the remaining cities lies in local variations of the Taseki traditions. The various factions use, abuse, and collaborate with the peoples and groups of Malo, Chrysom, Wisgo and beyond to serve their own vision for the cities of the former Taseki-Kadi, and their interpretation of the Harmony of Voices Unified.

Play to find out…

  • What exactly happens when Song Mages sing together?
  • How does the Curse affect mages from other traditions?
  • How did certain Song Magi know to hide on the eve of the Day of the Curse?
  • What gives the Songgrove the power to amplify the Harmonies?
  • Were the volcanoes of the Lavaspine mountains active when the ruined cities in its foothills were built?
  • Secretive cults from before the Curse still tend to the ancient mounds that dot the plains and jungles. What lore do they preserve?

The Sprawl on IPR

After a sell-out debut at Gen Con, The Sprawl is back in stock at Indie Press Revolution. IPR stocks the NOON softcover version of the game in a Print+PDF bundle or you can just buy the PDFs on their own. This is the same set of three PDFs you would get on DTRPG: MIDNIGHT, NOON, and B&W. If you are a retailer, or you want your FLGS to stock The Sprawl, this is by far the best way for retailers to get hold of the game.

I’ll also be participating in the Bits and Mortar program, so if you buy the book from your participating FLGS, they can hook up with the PDF as well.

AAR: Operation Angel Basin Missions

Between May 27 and May 29, a team of four MCs ran a series of linked missions set in a collaboratively generated Sprawl.
This was Operation Angel Basin.

You can read the initial public pitch here and the discussion of the setup session here.

After the setup session on Friday night, the four members of the MC team spent about 30 minutes discussing the setting that had been created and spitballing ideas for how it could link to the clone ideas we had come up with in advance. The setup session gave us some corporations to insert into certain roles: which corp was leading the field in clone research, which corps knew about that research and wanted a piece of it, that kind of thing. We also had some specific colour and technological information that we could link in (those picites would play a major role in what was to come). Also importantly, we had some major clock states, including Ares Manufacturing at 0000 and GeneSense at 2200.

Session 1: The APL Infiltration

Saturday morning was a slow start. The morning slots are never as well attended at Strategicon, especially among the BarCon crowd that make up a decent proportion of the story game community there. Late night room parties will do that to a crew. Rob and I had discussed our mission options over breakfast and we both had ideas ready to go. As it turned out, we only had one table, so I ran a mission I called The APL Infiltration.

We wanted the first session missions to establish the setting. Because of the way the clocks turned out (Ares at 0000), this mission was also a great chance to establish Ares as a major villain of the series. The team were offered the opportunity to clear their name with Ares by recovering the data stolen in the last links mission, the mission that had moved the Ares clock to 0000. The data turned out to be in an underwater research lab run by a secret division of GeneSense that the (happily) +owned Genesense Tech had not heard of (hooray for shadowy organisations!) Right off the bat, I was using the two highest clocks established in the setup session.

The great thing about having a corp at 0000 in a starting mission is that when the characters miss a roll, there’s a really good source of hard moves right there just waiting to complicate things before you have to push up the Mission Clocks. Sure enough, they missed a research roll pretty early and were soon in a firefight with an Ares kill team. That put the team on the run and they were happy to be infiltrating an ultra-secure facility out of Ares’ reach. They recovered the data and ended up selling it to the Pixie Killers.

This mission was pretty traditional, but it set up a lot of recurring plot activity. All four of the characters in this mission made an appearance in the final missions: two as NPCs, two as essentially the main protagonists (Liam Ride [Driver] and Amity [Hacker]).

Two of the corp cards and a player-doodled map!

Session 2: The Murder Line

The Saturday afternoon session was also only one table (I played). This time the game ended up pushing a lot of buttons and establishing a clear moral compass for certain characters.

The goal for the second session was to establish cloning as a technology. The mission was to infiltrate a hospital and eliminate some plague victims who were going to be released into the sprawl, but once the characters got in they discovered that it was actually a batch of force-grown clone babies. They were in a situation where the characters were being paid to kill the babies (which weren’t prepared to do), the characters didn’t have the means to rescue them right then, and the players didn’t have time to leave, make a new plan, and return to rescue them. They walked away, which wasn’t a satisfying end. (My character didn’t walk away, and became an NPC instead.)

There was a lot of discussion of the game afterwards which can be boiled down to three ways to make this kind of bait and switch work:

  • Give lots of information in the Legwork Phase: have the characters find out what was really going on through research, assess and hit the street.
  • Get through the Legwork Phase quicker: give the players time to realise the shitty reality, retreat, regroup, and come back to be Big Damn Heroes.
  • Build in a way out: think of how the characters might use things in the fiction to adapt to the situation and build them into your Legwork answers from the start. If there’s a big thing that might need to be removed, add a loading dock; the characters can call in a favour from a contact on a fly. If there’s a remote, nefarious plan afoot, build in a matrix kill switch. Remember that you’re going for an action, intrigue and complication, not hyperrealism and the horror or powerlessness in the face of inhumanity. Well, there’s a certain amount of that implicit in the corporate vibe of cyberpunk, but your agenda says action, intrigue and complication.

That aside, this session established a powerful emotional motive for Liam Ride, and established Memory Solstice as a major player in the clone game.

Session 3: The Two Where Hamish Was Absent

This session had two tables playing. I didn’t participate here, and instead played a game in the next room, interspersed with occasional visits. Our goal for this session was to reveal more of the corporate machinations behind the clone activities so that the characters would have a good idea of what was going on in time for the final session.

Session 4: The Skyline Switchback

The final session also had two tables playing, most of whom had played in at least one previous session and included Amity at one table and Liam Ride at the other, both of whom had played in two prior sessions and had thus established a lot of history with the world, the NPCs, the corporations, and the other characters.

This is the session where these multi-session con games play off. You have some players who have seen a lot, some who have seen a little, and some who are new and the interaction between the players and characters is great to see. As MCs, we didn’t have to do much explaining, just the occasional, “X works for Y” and all of a sudden the wheels are spinning and the web of intrigue is unfurling before you in the words of the player explaining it. Magical.

We had set up these two missions to potentially connect, hoping for a scene where the two teams meet, discuss the nasty BS the corps are having them do, and make a combined plan to turn the tables. I was also hoping for some movement between tables. That didn’t really happen.

We sent both teams up a space elevator to do things at the top: steal a thing and implant a virus. The two goals weren’t in direct competition. We didn’t want to moderate an 8-way PvP arena fight. However, PCs being the wonderfully imaginative creatures that they are, my table decided to avoid security on the space elevator by going up a competitor’s elevator and flying over (Liam Ride was an ex-”Rock Jock”, an asteroid-dragging space pilot). Liam’s team found out that the virus that Amity’s team was implanting was going to bring down the space elevator, but Amity’s team thought Liam’s Team were trying to stop them completing their mission! Amity’s team continued and spent the second half of the session sabotaging and then trying to repair the space elevator while Liam’s team made a whole new plan to burn Ares and spent the rest of the session enacting it.

Another way we made use of the previously established story was by bringing previous NPCs and PCs into the story and killing them. Picite plagues are a bad scene, my friends. That led to some frantic cross-table messages and phone calls, as well as some ominous “they don’t pick up” moments.

Final conclusions.

Having run three events like this now (the previous two were Living Dungeon World games), there is definitely a tendency for players to want to sign up for the big conclusion without playing through the build up. I definitely get that, but it does mean that you will end up with more players at the end than at the start. It can be harder for players who try the series at the start to get a place in the final game if they decide they like it.

This was the first time I had dedicated an entire slot to the setup. We definitely had enough players that we got a great setting and had a lot of fun. All of those players came back for at least one game (except for one emergency situation). We also had several drop in players who didn’t come to the setup session. We were prepared with three tables in our room and four MCs; we certainly used all the space and staff in the setup session, but we only ever had two games going at once, so we had extra capacity if necessary.

Deploy Physical Assets // Print on Demand is here!

The second round of proofs came in this week and I made them available on Friday. The quality on these latest proofs is the same as the first set (which you might have already seen on Google+ or Facebook), but there are a couple more options. Here’s a rundown of the four versions available.

There are two layout options, MIDNIGHT and NOON, each of which is available in softcover or hardcover. All are colour.

MIDNIGHT is white text on black background. The hardcover is premium paper and the softcover is standard heavyweight, so the blacks and colours are deeper and richer in the hardcover.

MIDNIGHT hardcover (p.119):
MIDNIGHT hardcover (p.119)

MIDNIGHT softcover (p.119):
MIDNIGHT softcover (p.119)

The part of these that I really like is that if you slightly fan the page edge, you can see the chapter divisions really well. You can see this on the right side of the two MIDNIGHT photos above. This was a cool surprise — to me! Aaron planned it because he’s a pro.

NOON is black text on white background. The blacks and colours are deeper and richer in the hardcover on this version as well, although because the base is white the difference might not be as noticeable.

NOON hardcover (p.119):
NOON hardcover (p.119)

NOON softcover (p.119):
NOON softcover (p.119)

One oddity I’ve noticed so far is the cover finish. When I ordered the first proofs, the hardcover had a matte finish, the second proof had a gloss finish. As far as I can see, this isn’t a toggle that I can control. I’ve sent an email to DTRPG technical support asking about this. My preference is for a matte finish, so if you want a gloss finish, I suggest you get in quickly in case they get back to me and change it. Ideally this would be something that you could choose when you order a PoD from DTRPG, but it doesn’t seem to be.

Questions or comments are welcome here or on social media.

AAR: Operation Angel Basin Setup

Between May 27 and May 29, a team of four MCs ran a series of linked missions set in a collaboratively generated Sprawl.
This was Operation Angel Basin.

Here’s the initial public pitch. I had a couple of goals for this project. The first was to play a series of linked games, something which my schedule hasn’t allowed recently. The second was to generate a Sprawl collaboratively with a larger-than-normal group. In these posts, I’ll be giving my report in regular text and my analysis, suggestions and thoughts in italics.

Before the convention, the MC team (4 of us–Thanks to Rob, Colin and David!) had brainstormed an overall theme, some implications, and potential mission ideas. The theme was “Cloning”. We had a general idea of how we wanted the plot to progress and what we wanted to be revealed in each of the four slots.

We began on Friday night with a setup session. This was scheduled from 8-12, but we gave stragglers time to arrive and ended early, so it was more like a leisurely 3-3.5 hours. This was the plan:

Welcome and Introduction

(Explain cyberpunk? Explain The Sprawl.)

We had allowed space for 16 players at the setup session. As it was, we had half that, in no small part because of the way I had structured the event. One of my unanswered questions when I developed this concept was “how many players would skip a full gaming session of a 2.5 day convention to participate in a setup session. It was great to see enough interest in the concept that three groups worth of players (including MCs) did so. All the players were familiar with cyberpunk (never a given at a convention or even just a regular gaming table) and all but one had played The Sprawl before.

Bathe it in Neon

Explain overall location for our Sprawl: Los Angeles 2050

  • Have each player give our Sprawl one piece of cyberpunk colour.
  • Centrally locate these so the players and GMs can refer throughout.
  • Ask questions about the colour and its implications for this cyberpunk future.

The colour that characterised our Los Angeles was:

Continuous rain
Low-grade flooding
Flying cars
Skyscrapers to the stratosphere
Holograms in the mist
Ads on the clouds
Blues and greys and chrome
No AIs… yet
Governments are irrelevant
Sub-molecular robotics (Picites, by analogy from Nanites)

So, a mix of typical cyberpunk (especially Blade Runner) with some unique characteristics. The last item in particular ended up having a major effect on the game.

Rob had a set of portable dry-erase sheets which stuck to the walls (mostly!) with static electricity. We wrote all the cyberpunk colour, Corps, and area descriptions on those so everyone could see them and refer to them throughout.

Make Everything Corporate

  • Each person writes the name and major focus of a Corp on an index card.
  • Explain it to the group.
  • Writes it on a commonly visible surface.
  • Max of 2 minutes each.

The Corporations that ruled our Sprawl (and their main area of operation) were:

Virtua-Combine Electronics (virtual mining)
Sands-Olson Network (media)
Memory Solstice (VR, media)
L.O.B. Co (consumer goods)
Fullerton Universal Kinetic Unified (heavy industry)
Ares Manufacturing (heavy industry, especially asteroid mining)
Google ID (financial)
Verizon-Blackwater.Gov (police and municipal services)
Athenatech (cyber & bio-tech)
Isis and Osiris Inc (rejuvenation technology)
GeneSense (pico-bio-engineering)

That gave us a good range of corporate specialisations.
The time limit was a precaution, but it wasn’t necessary in this case.

Make The Sprawl Dirty, High-Tech, and Excessive

We divided the room into three groups to create three different sections of the Sprawl.

  • Build part of Los Angeles at each table
  • Where is it? What makes it different to today? What makes it cyberpunk? What makes it special? What is its reputation?

Each group had one MC, while I acted as the interface between the three groups. Listening in to their ideas and communicating relevant bits to different groups (for example, the two weather control elements, and the extension of the 10 Freeway to Catalina.

The three parts of Los Angeles that the players created were South Bay-Long Beach, Orange County and the Channel Islands-Cataline Marine Sprawl.

Make Everything Personal

  • Pick playbooks and make characters.
  • MCs ask questions: What makes the characters distinct from other characters with the same playbook? Where are they based?
  • MCs ask the cyberware questions. Who are they +hunted and +owned by?
  • MC’s record answers and make notes on the characters.

As players finished creating their characters we transitioned into a 5 minute break. I began to circulate the sign-up sheets for each of the four game slots.

Entangle the Characters in The Sprawl

We then moved into the modified Links Phase.

  • Each player writes down on an index card a kind of mission their character participated in, the target corporation, and one playbook that their mission requires.
  • MCs collect the cards and arrange them into an order.

This was the part that had the most potential for problems. We had to rearrange the players into two groups of 4, run a brief links mission, then repeat the process three times so that every player got to play out the links mission they wrote down. As it turned out, we didn’t have any trouble.
Our considerations when arranging the missions were:

  • Aligning the required playbooks. So if there was one Hacker and one mission required a Hacker, that mission couldn’t run at the same time as the Hacker’s own mission.

We started by looking at the requirements. If there were multiple missions that required a certain playbook, we started with those to reduce the chance that we would be stuck later.

  • Shuffling the characters to create a thick network of links.
  • Balancing the corporations that were targeted to create drama.

We had two or three runs against Ares and GeneSense, so we started with missions against those two, and ended with missions against those two. Establish the clocks early. Give opportunity to finish with dice rolls with real consequences.

  • Run the links missions.
    1. Go to table, quick intros
    2. Do the scene/mission
    3. Lead player makes the Links Mission Move (a custom move for this Operation)
    4. Characters gain Links as usual.
    5. Repeat until everyone has been the lead character on a mission.

The Links Mission Move
When the corp investigates who messed with their shit, the MC determines which stat best reflects the progress of the mission. The lead character rolls that stat.
10+: The corp doesn’t find much. Describe what they find and increase that Corp Clock by 1.
7-9: Choose one:

  • Someone was running a scheme and you fucked it up. Who was it? The MC will create a Threat and increase that Threat Clock by 1.
  • Whose DNA was left at the scene? Increase the Corp Clock by 1.
  • Who did the Corp catch up with later? The MC will make a move with serious future implications.
  • You were home free until ______ sold that paydata. Take +2 Cred and Increase the Corp Clock by 2.

6-: They’re on you like rice on a California roll. The Corp Clock increases by 3.

As we wound down, I circulated the mission sign-up sheets again.

Think Offscreen

Thanks to a lot of 6- rolls, the clocks escalated quickly! Notably, Ares and GeneSense were 0000 and 2200 respectively. That decided which corporations would start at the center of our story.

Based on the created characters and the post-Links clock states, we whittled down the list of corporations that we needed to think about. The Corps that were central to the series were:

Memory Solstice (VR, media)
Ares Manufacturing (heavy industry, especially asteroid mining)
Isis and Osiris Inc (rejuvenation technology)
GeneSense (pico-bio-engineering)

Corps that played a small roll were:

Sands-Olson Network (media)
Google ID (financial)
Verizon-Blackwater.Gov (police and municipal services)
Athenatech (cyber & bio-tech)

Corps that were only used for colour were:

Fullerton Universal Kinetic Unified (heavy industry)
L.O.B. Co (consumer goods)
Virtua-Combine Electronics (virtual mining)

Several Threats were also generated by character creation, most notably the Pixie KIllers, a gang/resistance organisation dedicated to keeping humanity free of picites.

Read about the Missions here.