The Quine Trilogy

The Quine Trilogy
A trilogy of loosely linked games in The Sprawl for Gateway 2014.
Los Angeles, Labor Day Weekend (Aug 29 – Sep 1).
No prior experience of The Sprawl is needed. Participation in all three games is not required.

The Quine Experiment (Sat, 9am)
The wind whips the cold black sea into a frenzy around the legs of the oil platform. No lights, at least not without vision enhancement. Thermo shows movement. Weak glows from bundled figures with far too much firepower. The hacker’s feed is a blinding contrast; a shining white pillar of light with vertical lettering. Quine Virtual Machines: powering your world. T-3 minutes.

The Quine Interface (Sat, 2pm)
When the Sprawl’s largest arcology goes dark and deploys lethal automated defence systems against everyone within a 1000 meter radius, everyone want to know what’s going on. Most of all the owners. Back in the old days they had a saying: “Make em pay when the sun shines.” Yeah. Quine’s over a barrel; it’s time to get paid.

The Quine Denouement (Sat, 8pm)
“There’s a couple of ways this could go down, noob. Either you deliver the package as contracted, or any sorry fucker who cares about you can pick your genetic material out of the dust of this godforsaken place”
“I like the third option.”
“There is no –CLICK– Fuck! All teams, engage!”

The Sprawl is a game of mission-based action in a gritty neon-and-chrome Cyberpunk future. You are the extended assets of vast multinational corporations, operating in the criminal underground, and performing the tasks that those multinationals can’t do, or can’t be seen to, do. Deniable, professional, and ultimately disposable.

Inspired by Gibson; Powered by the Apocalypse.

Straight Outta Chiba: Playbooks and Basic Moves

Today I passed the 50% mark in my final revision of v0.3 of The Sprawl. This mostly involved cleaning up the Playbooks, especially gear and relationship of moves to the new Basic Move arrangement. This afternoon I posted those Playbooks and Basic Moves on Barf Forth. Please read and incorporate them into your games… or tell me why not! All the usual channels are open.

The Cyberware and Gear chapters don’t require much work, so the next big hurdles will be the Matrix chapter (which, from the Matrix moves in the Basic Moves section above, you will note has been significantly revised) and the chapter which actually tells the MC how to run the game. The latter is mostly there in framework, but needs expansion and examples.

My aim is to have the bulk of the work done by Friday night, such that I can finish it up on a couple of flights over the weekend and disseminate v0.3 next week.

The Engine Room of The Sprawl

My post on the Driver sparked a discussion about directives which I have now incorporated into MC’s Agenda. Here are the (now) four things that drive the MC’s moves:

Make the world dirty, high-tech and excessive.
The Sprawl is a contemporary city turned up to 11. The dangerous parts of town are more dangerous; the affluent parts are dripping with excess and guarded with lethal force; the government is more self-serving and corrupt, and more in the pocket of their corporate masters; those corps are more uncaring and arrogant; the technology is shinier and more powerful but used for dirtier and more perverse ends. Everything is dripping with money, dirt, exploitation, power and violence.

Fill the character’s lives with action, intrigue and complication.
In The Sprawl, missions are filled with opportunities for action and betrayal. Make sites inaccessible and heavily guarded not to kill the characters but to challenge them to perform daring infiltrations, engage in furious fight scenes, execute exciting heists, escape double-dealing employers and pull off skin of the teeth extractions. Be a fan of the characters; give them opportunities to be badass professionals.

Be mindful of the characters personal directives and put your bloody fingers all over them.
Moves and directives name people and organisations that the players want to interact with. Be aware of these and tie them into the game as often as possible. As a general rule, a player should have a chance to gain at least one experience from each of his or her directives in every session. That means that those lovers and children, current and former organisations, and enemies and mysteries need to appear frequently. Use those people and groups to pull the players in different directions: divide the group, distract them from the mission, threaten loved ones to compel action. Make the players make hard choices.

Play to find out what happens.
Don’t plan outcomes or storylines; plan starting positions and vectors of action. Set up a situation in which several NPCs and groups with conflicting goals come into contact, insert the characters, then have those NPCs and groups take action in pursuit of the goals and react to the characters’ interference.

Straight Outta Chiba: The Driver

I’m working on the playbooks today. There have been a few minor tweaks to some moves, but the biggest changes are the addition of a couple of sections (name options, tailored directives in a new format, and character creation advice) and the reworking of the Gear section. Here’s the Driver:


Neurotransmitters lick with their chemical tongues the metal and crystal in his head, and electrons spit from the chips, racing along the cables to the engine starters, and through a dozen sensors Cowboy feels the bladed turbines reluctantly turn as the starters moan, and then flame torches the walls of the combustion chambers and the blades spin into life with a screaming whine. Cowboy monitors the howling exhaust as it belches fire. On his mental displays… he watches fore and aft and checks the engine displays and sees another set of green lights and knows it’s time to move. The howling of the engines beats at his senses… the flaming corn-alcohol throbs through his chest like blood and that the shrieking exhaust flows from his lungs like breath, that his eyes beam radar and his fingers can flick missiles forth like pebbles. Through his sensors he can taste the exhaust and see the sky and the prairie sunset, and part of his mind can feel the throbbing radio energies that are the enemy’s search planes…
Hardwired, Walter Jon Williams

Wheelman, transporter, drone jockey. Whether it’s a sleek coupe, a rumbling hog, a drone-rigged panel van or a radar-baffled ex-military whirlybird, when you jack in and feel the wind rushing over your exterior panelling, you own the road and you are the car. When the job goes smooth it’s the easiest gig there is – like a Sunday drive with grandma – but when things turn sour and the team needs a quick exit, well, that’s where you really earn your Cred.

Name. Cartman, Squirrel, Roadkill, Aziz, Tower, Cowboy, Luka, an animal name, a violent name, a cocky name
Look. Choose one from each line:
Eyes: laughing, cool, hard, cold, distant, artificial
Face: blank, covered, attractive, decorated, rugged, thin
Body: toned, lithe, compact, scarred, augmented, flabby, unfit.
Wear: flashy, formal, casual, utility, scrounge, vintage, leathers, military, corporate.
Stats. Assign each stat one of these numbers: +2, +1, +1, +0, +0, -1. Your Cool should be +2 or +1.

You get:
Control Systems: Allows direct neural control of an appropriately configured external device such as a vehicle, weapon, recording device, or hacked electronic system. Choose two of following tags: +encrypted, +relay, +multi-tasking, +relay, +unaccessible.

You get these two:
Wheels: You start with a cyber-linked vehicle. If your vehicle has Power+2, it may start with one mounted weapon system. To build your vehicle:
Choose a Frame: Bike, car, hovercraft, boat, vectored thrust, aircraft, helicopter
Choose a Design: racing, recreational, transportation, cargo, military, luxury, civilian, commercial, courier
Choose a Profile:
Power+2 Looks+1, 1-Armour, Weakness+1
Power+2 Looks+2, 0-Armour, Weakness+1
Power+1 Looks+2, 1-Armour, Weakness+1
Power+2 Looks+1, 2-Armour, Weakness+2
For each point of Power, choose a strength; For each point of Looks, choose a look; For each point of Weakness, choose a weakness. If your vehicle has Power+2, it may mount one weapon system; Military vehicles may mount an additional weapon system.
Strengths: Fast, quiet, rugged, aggressive, huge, off-road, responsive, uncomplaining, capacious, workhorse, easily repaired.
Looks: Sleek, vintage, pristine, powerful, luxurious, flashy, muscular, quirky, pretty, garish, armoured, armed, nondescript.
Weaknesses: Slow, fragile, sloppy, lazy, cramped, picky, guzzler, unreliable, loud.
Weapons: Machine guns (3-harm close/far area messy), grenade launchers (4-harm close area messy), missile launcher (5-harm far area messy slow), autocannon (4-harm far area messy)
Second Skin: When jacked in through your Control Systems to a cyber-linked vehicle:
if you act under pressure, add your car’s power to your roll.
if you mix it up, add your car’s power to your roll.
if you play hardball, add your car’s looks to your roll.
if you help or interfere with someone, add your car’s power to your roll.
if someone interferes with you, add your car’s weakness to their roll.

Choose one more:
Chromed: Choose another piece of cyberware at character creation or in downtime. Describe how you got it and paid for it as usual.
Daredevil: When you drive straight into danger without hedging your bets, you get +1 armour. Mark experience.
Drone Jockey: You start with two drones. For each:
Choose a motive style: Rotor, fixed-wing, tracked, wheeled, aquatic, submarine.
Choose a frame:
Tiny (insect-sized): +small, +fragile, +stealthy, pick one sensor.
Small (rat- to cat-sized): choose one strength, one sensor, one weakness, and one other from any category.
Medium (dog-sized): choose one strength, one sensors, one weakness, and two others from any category.
Large (bear-sized): +obvious, choose two strengths, one sensor, one weakness and two others from any category
For each point of Power, choose a strength; For each point of Looks, choose a look; For each point of Weakness, choose a weakness.
Strengths: Fast, rugged, off-road, responsive, uncomplaining, easily repaired, stealthy, tight encryption, autonomous operation, robot arm, weapon mount.
Sensors: Magnification, IR, jamming, image enhancement, analysis software.
Weaknesses: Slow, fragile, unreliable, loud, loose encryption, obvious.
Machine guns (3-harm close/far area messy), grenade launchers (4-harm close area messy), and personal firearms can be installed in drones.
Weapon Mount: a weapon can be mounted on the drone. The size of the weapon is determined by the size of the frame.
A small drone can mount a gun dealing 2- or s-harm with a range tag of close or less and without the autofire tag.
A medium drone can mount a gun dealing up to 3-harm with a range tag of near or less.
A large drone can mount a gun dealing up to 4-harm.
Eye in the sky: When helping or interfering while piloting a drone, roll+Edge instead of +Links.
Hot shit driver: When you’re driving a linked vehicle in a high-pressure situation, roll+Edge. On a 10+ hold 3, one 7-9 hold 1. You may spend your hold 1-for-1 on the following:

  • Avoid one external danger (a rocket, a burst of gunfire, a collision, etc).
  • Escape one pursuing vehicle.
  • Maintain control of the vehicle.
  • Impress, dismay or frighten someone.

Iceman: When you try to fast talk someone, roll+Cool.
Right tool for the job: You have two additional cyber-linked vehicles (build each in the same way as your custom vehicle).
Sweet Ride: When you hit the street in your car, add your car’s looks to your roll.

Custom cyber-linked vehicle (as described above).
Choose one weapon:
Automatic shotgun (3-harm close messy autofire)
Heavy pistol (3-harm close loud)
Machette (3-harm hand)
Choose one:
Armour jacket (1 armour)
Synth leathers (Armour 0, discreet, subtract 1 when rolling the harm move)
Trauma derms (allows you to apply first aid)

Choose two:
Illustrious: When your desire for fame draws unwanted attention to the mission, mark experience.
Intimate: When you put your friend ________________ ahead of the mission, mark experience.
Rejected: When your former membership of _________________ hinders the mission, mark experience.
Vengeful: When you harm _______________ or their interests, mark experience.

Drivers in The Sprawl
Playing a Driver in The Sprawl puts a spotlight on movement in the game. With a Driver in play, every mission should involve mobility and the chance for high speed chases, interceptions, and extractions. The Driver is more than a high-pressure taxi service. As the Driver, push the team towards mission strategies that highlight your skills, your vehicles and your drones.

The kind of Wheels you choose also pushes the game in a certain direction. A Driver with a powerful racing car will have a different approach to a Driver with a rugged cargo helicopter or a military hovercraft. Talk about your vehicle choices with the other players and the MC; make sure your vehicle choice fits with the kind of game everyone wants to play.

Drone Jockey gives the Driver a lot of mission role flexibility. Drones can be configured for stealth infiltration, high-flying oversight, or combat. All of these roles are useful in both the Legwork and Action phases both as the main agent of a scene, or by assisting a player engaging in some mission activity. Eye in the Sky increases your ability to help or interfere with your team remotely.

Iceman and Sweet Ride give the Driver some muscle in social interactions.

Revising the Basic Moves

One of the most pressing issues in the current revisions I’m working on is in making the Basic Moves work properly. There were three main issues in the 0.2 revision: Maneouvre did what I wanted but in a boring way, I always ended up fudging Fast Talk slightly in play, and Play Hardball just didn’t really work at all.

After coming across this post by Vincent on Barf Forth, I was all ready to rework Fast Talk and Play Hardball into a combined move of some sort, but when I opened up my master document to make some revisions, I saw that I’d already tweaked Play Hardball towards what I wanted. Here’s the new version of those two moves:

Fast Talk (Style)
When you try to convince someone to do what you want with promises, lies or bluster, roll+Style. For NPCs: on a hit, they’ll do it. On a 7-9, they’ll do it, but someone will find out. Advance the appropriate countdown clock.
For PCs: on a 10+, both of the following apply. On a 7-9, choose 1:

  • if they do it, they mark experience
  • if they refuse, they must act under pressure to go against your stated wishes.

The previous version had retained the language of Apocalypse World which was essentially about bartering and trading within a face-to-face society (I’ll do this if you do that). The new version makes the 10+ hit better, and makes the 7-9 cost a hit on the mission clock. Now the move is more suited to a faceless impersonal society where you may never run into the person you’re Fast Talking again. They’re probably just a corporate employee with bigger concerns than whether they let the suit with the plausible story into the warehouse. At question is whether they let you in and whether someone important finds out that they did it.

Note that the requirement for (the much debated) “leverage” is still there in the form of promises, lies and bluster: “I’m a Valdez Combine Internal Investigator. If you don’t let me through this door, you’re in deep shit!” If you threaten violence and don’t intend to follow through — “Open the door or I’ll shoot this lab tech!” (while holding your buddy in a lab coat) — that’s bluster, and falls under Fast Talk. If you intend to follow through, that’s covered by the next move…

Play Hardball (Edge)
When try to get your way with threats of violence and you intend to carry through, roll+Edge. On a 10+, they do what you want. On a 7–9, the MC chooses 1:

  • they attempt immediate action to remove the threat but not before you inflict harm as established.
  • they do it, but they want payback. Add them as a Threat.
  • they do it, but tell someone all about it. Advance the appropriate mission clock.

So once again, at question is do they do it, or do they have some direct or continued effect on the story.

[Edited to make all the 7-9s successful for the player. Thanks Colin!]

Finally, Manoeuvre wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be. I had some good suggestions on this one which made me realise that the main problem was that the results of the move didn’t feed back into the fiction appropriately. This change aims to do that, and reduce duplication with Mix it Up.

Manoeuvre (Mind)
When you attempt to gain a tactical advantage over an opponent, through advanced planning, careful positioning, or clever manoeuvring, choose one:roll+Mind. On a 10+ hold 3. On a 7-9, hold 1. You may spend 1 hold per roll to:

  • Take Cover: Gain +1 armour until you move or are outflanked.
  • Get the drop on them: You are in perfect position to act.
  • Hide: You evade their attention for the moment.
  • Aim: Receive +AP forward (see Weapon Tags in Chapter 7: Assets).
  • Impress, dissuade, confuse, dismay or embolden your opponents.

Note that all of these things are actions that a character could take anyway for fictional positioning. This move is there because sometimes those set up movements add complications to the game, and that’s fun.
There might be further changes here, in terms of adding options to the list. Suggestions are welcome!

There may also be some slight tweaks to the Check it Out and Research questions, but otherwise I’m pretty happy with the Basic Moves.

Back on the Grid

After several months of neglect as I finished writing my dissertation, I’m back working on The Sprawl. I’ve been saving up the feedback I’ve received over that time and I’m currently reading through the document and collating all those suggestions and found errors. The feedback has all been positive. Many of the suggestions I’ve received have been right on target with a part of the game that doesn’t work quite right or needed expansion. Some of the suggestions have helped me think about exactly why something is the way it is and won’t be changing. All of the suggestions and comments have been useful, so thank you!

I have three pieces of news:

  • First, I created a Google+ community for The Sprawl this afternoon, which you can find here: The Sprawl on G+. This will provide a more public venue for discussing various game and design issues, in parallel with the Apocalypse forums at Barf Forth.
  • Second, I’ve started revising the basic moves. Play Hardball hasn’t worked for me (and others) for a while, and both Fast Talk and Maneouvre are in for revisions. Stay tuned for posts on all three over the next week or so.
  • Finally, I’ve started assembling a team to help me with the Kickstarter for the game. Once I’ve completed the current revision process, I’ll be launching a Kickstarter to fund art, editing, layout, and the like. I hope to get that underway by the end of the northern hemisphere summer.

So slip on your Texas catheter, slot your best chips, and jack in for the ride.

Blue Palms Festival Report

I wrote a short piece last month for Beer of Tomorrow on the Blue Palms 5th Anniversary Festival.

The Sprawl v.0.2

After much testing and fiddling and work-induced delay, a beta version of The Sprawl is now
available. Right here.

There are still a few gaps, but I’m happy to have the core of the rules done, especially those things that changed in my mind, my playtests, and my documents months ago, but which hadn’t been coherently available for external readers and playtesters.

California Love

Sean Inman made a list of his top 10 California IPAs. It didn’t look like the list I’d pick so I wondered what my list would look like. Fortunately I don’t have to look that hard, because I have a year and a half of Untappd stats and ratings to look at. However, I have so many rated at 4/5 that it would be difficult to pick between them, so I’ll ignore those and give you just the 4.5s and 5s, here’s a top 6:

6. Golden Road Heal the Bay: My current obsession. Any easy drinking, fruity, session IPA.

5. Tustin Old Town IPA: “Tropical nose, grapefruit palate.”

4. Eagle Rock Populist. I was kinda surprised to see that I’d rated this one 5 stars, especially since I consistently wrote that it’s piney and malty; not usually my bag.

3. Bison Hop Cuvee: “Delicious citrus hop nose with pine palate and moderate bitterness that sneaks up on you.”

2. Alpine Nelson: “First taste is all Nelson hop, second is super bitter, lingering taste is delicious tropical hop oils! One to savour!”

1. Beachwood Amalgamator: “MOSAIC! PASSIONFRUIT! FIVE! In all seriousness, the nose is amazing, the palate is light as all the non-Mosaic hops sneak in.”

Yes, that’s right. The Five Star Beer Whore has only give four five-star ratings to California IPAs. Actually that’s only true if you discount one-off brews. But my main takeaway from this is that there clearly has to be a California IPA tasting night at some point in my future.

Bubble The Bay

Podcaster, fellow AW-hacker, Big Bad Con founder, gaming cheerleader, and all-round great guy Sean Nittner played The Sprawl at Go Play Northwest. Here’s what he had to say about it: The Sprawl at GPNW.