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.

Seattle Pilgrimage

This time my beer consumption was completely divergent from Beer of Tomorrow‘s, regardless, here are my alternative picks.


I was in Seattle for a gaming convention (my con report is here), but I’m not one to attend an event in another city without fitting in some tourism, regular and culinary. With the help of a handful of twitter interlocutors, local guidance, and the internet, I found several places and beers worth talking about.

A Silver City St Florian IPA at The Collins Pub.

In more or less chronological order, I present:

The Your Black IPA is a Porter award: Naked City Black Hops CDA which turns up the roasted malt and turns down the hop finish. Made especially notable because the server at The Collins Pub had just told my compatriot that the porter had blown and the closest thing remaining on tap was a stout. No mam, you are incorrect! But most importantly, it’s an excellent beer, no matter what you call it.

The tap list at The Collins Pub.

(The Collins Pub is right by the Pioneer Square light rail station, so it’s a perfect place to meet people arriving from the airport.)

Most Eyebrow-Raising Flight: Elysian Brewing had two flights on offer at the Capitol Hill Brewpub location, one with their regular beers and the other with a special selection of limited or seasonal beers. Obviously I went with the second. I did intend to return for the first, in particular to try the Avatar Jasmine IPA, but the weather was so hot and sticky all weekend and the air-conditioning so absent, that I couldn’t bring myself to repeat the 20-30 minute uphill walk. I’ll get you next time, Jasmine IPA!

The tap list at Elysian.

The flight I did try, however, did not disappoint. The Ruin Rosemary Agave IPA integrated the respective ingredients sublimely; the Oblivion IPA had an apricot frozen yoghurt nose and despite the final coffee and bread notes, was the palest brown ale I’ve ever seen; the Oddland Peppercorn Saison blended white, black and pink peppercorns with a deft touch; the only disappointment was the Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale, which had a nice nose, but a boring palate. Admittedly, if you say your beer has orange, I expect ORANGE, but the palate just didn’t deliver what the nose promised. Despite the names and ingredients, none of these beers were particularly intense or aggressive, just very well done. A statement which could well be applied to my experience of the Seattle brew scene as a whole.

(Elysian Brewing’s Capital Hill pub is around the corner from Skillet Street Food‘s restaurant and a little further from Canon: Whiskey and Bitters Emporium bar, both of which I highly recommend. In another direction is The Pine Box, perhaps more one for the locals than the visitor looking to try Washington brews, nevertheless well worth a visit; 33 taps on high rotation and displayed live on two large TVs reminiscent of Hashigo Zake in Wellington. Something else to add to my list of similarities between Seattle and Wellington.)

Pork belly and cornmeal waffle at Skillet.

Mixing a delicious Islay-based cocktail at Canon.

Salmon at Canon.

Finally, Best Quality Brew Pub Disguised by Tourist Tack: The Pike Brewing Company. Hidden away in the most touristy part of Seattle and decorated to revel in a tourist trap vibe, my suspicions were instantly buttressed by the rehearsed and overly deferential pater of the bartender. I hadn’t specifically planned to visit what seemed like an obvious tourist trap, but I went in to use the bathroom and kill 30 minutes before meeting a friend for more downtown wandering. Wow. Their standard tasting flight was so good, I ended up staying for a second flight and a light meal. The first flight comprised Naughty Nellie (a golden ale, but more like a pilsner), Pike Pale (quite sweet with honey notes), Pike IPA (meh), Kilt Lifter (a balanced blend of sweetness, smoke and a hint of hops), Pike XXXXX (a stout tasting of chocolate and soy sauce), and Monk’s Uncle (a very drinkable apple and wine triple). These were all very competent and interesting enough that I really wanted to at least try the Octopus Ink IPA, and that was the second flight clincher. Passionfruit nose and palate in a Black IPA? This would be in the running for the best beer I tried all weekend. In fact, I’d have to consider it for a half-year top five list. The Doubble Troubble DIPA was also lovely and tropical.

Every now and then Mt Ranier would leap out at me from behind buildings.

Seattle, I raise a glass to you! My next Seattle Pilgrimage will be inspired by more than just Shadowrun and the Seahawks!

Hah… “just”!
Shadowrun Seattle Sourcebook

“Your cyberpunks are no match for my crew”

Notes from yesterday’s playtest by @AdamUltraberg of

Today I went to a special playtest-gameday a few towns over, and it was a wonderful, completely worth-it trip.

I helped playtest H Cameron’s Sprawl (An Apocolypse World hack).
It started with world creation (everyone named a corporation and what it did), character creation, then “heist creation.” The only rule was we had to include a reporter.

My group featured Global News Network’s Social Media Superstar ‘Grant Access’, an 18 year old hacker named Nezumi, and a geneticist named Angel-17.

Oh, and my character, Oakley Djinn. Oakley was a Lifeworks TV celebrity, “a cybernetically enhanced mouseketeer.” With a friendly face, subdermal six-pack-abs and white hair, he was the ultimate party starter. Originally introduced as a Cousin Oliver character, he’d failed to catch on outside the teen girl demo despite endless repackagings.
He was also a killer, but memory erasure made him forget it. He was happy go lucky and started play with a katana the size of a boogieboard.

Here’s how backstory was generated: Everyone around the table had at least one mission that they’d gone on already, and it had to involve the person next to them, but could feature everyone. If you were involved, you got a +1 bond, but that corporation was pissed at you for some reason.

Grant covered Wipe (a data-erasure company) putting backdoor info on all Lifeworks cyberware. Nezumi helped expose this, which effected Oakley; Angel leaked relevant day.

Nezumi, when she was 15, used mining explosives to write Oakley’s name on the moon.
Oakley saved the president of Lifeworks life from the vat-grown assassins Angel made. No harm, no foul.

So, we kind of collaborated on creating our mission: Xeno Corp offworld mining had irregularities with its travel schedule. Everyone who went on vacation would return either early or late, and have exactly the same experiences. The Yelp reviews were basically identical.

While Grant and Nezumi caught on to this, we had to find out how Oakley got into trouble. Well, he complained in Rolling Stone that he wasn’t allowed to travel into space. Unaware that it was due to his memory erasure, he started #SendOakleyToMars.

Our mission begins in media res. We’re in a helicopter, headed to an Arcology near Catalina Island. A VP of Xeno Corp has a hard drive with all of the relevant data.

How did we requisition this helicopter?
FLASHBACK: Grant Access is arguing with his editor. (He rolled a 4, aiming for a 7). His editor gives him shit:

“You have a lead…is this a lead for a story you owe me from LAST WEEK?

Grant accidentally pitched the story as follows: “Is YOUR apartment building as safe as you think? We’ll show you LIVE as we break into the most secure suites in the world!” The editor sends him out.

In the chopper, Oakley monologues to the cameras. “OK, sorry, complete sentences. When we were riding on the helicopter, I felt…”
Nez freaks out over the recording. She gets out her deck and reprograms them; they’re now looping, replacing her face with a mouse (her hacker symbol), and cutting in random footage of Oakie’s movies.

The building calls our chopper and asks us what the hell we’re doing. Oakley announces that we’re the PARTY PATROL, and that there’s a very special birthday girl in the arcology!

This bafflegab continues; of COURSE nobody’s heard of the party, it’s a secret. And it makes a weird sense; if Justin Beiber showed up to give the boss’s daughter a surprise party, you’d go out of your way so he didn’t leave.

Angel smashes a sedative patch onto the butler before he can call upstairs. Oakley yells PARTY PATCHES! and applies one from his own supply to himself, getting a little tipsy.

As Nez goes through the security system, Oakley leads the group upstairs. Grant starts Fox-Newsing the security guards (“Who are you working for? Do your parents know this? Aren’t you ashamed? You are ON TELEVISION!”), getting us into the security room.
The head of security FINALLY gets in our face, and Oakley yells “Bro. BRO. Dude. DUDE, BRO, DUDE.” When that doesn’t work, Oak backhands the guy against the wall, knocking him out instantly. We’re left with the Media Manager.

Oakley apologized, kinda, and, as I had to leave the session, revealed the second part of his plan.

He’d live-tweeted the group’s exploits and was now throwing a FLASH MOB PARTY! He had to party with the people (part of the move’s cost), so I took my leave; I had to go.

Adam’s report can also be found on the Something Awful forums.

My summary of the rest of the session continues:

When Oakley left to party with his flash mob, the Media Manager tried to escape. Angel tranqed her but she had a reaction to the drugs and Angel couldn’t help her before her medic-alert bracelet called a emergency response team. In order to keep the response team away from the condo, Angel dumped the Media Manager in an elevator and sent her down to a lower floor, but was spotted by security as she did so.

Back in the security office, Grant Access and Nezumi loaded all the hard drives into a bag and headed for the helipad.

Angel managed to lose security in the crowd of partygoers around Oakley and met Grant and Nezumi on the roof. As the chopper came down, a squad of Xeno security guards burst onto the roof to arrest everyone, but Grant Access went live on the air to seal their escape. Down in the condo, Oakley partied on…

Nezumi contracted a courier to deliver the required hard drive to her fixer (Jack of Spades) and the agreed-upon fee was deposited into the team’s accounts. Nezumi sifted the remaining drives for paydata but didn’t turn up anything notable.

This was the first outing for the Reporter and Tech playbooks and for the new Matrix rules. The changes to last didn’t come into play at all, but the playbooks worked well. I have a few tweaks to make to both, as well as some good ideas for Monsterhearts-style “Playing the X” sections.

Another Weekend of Beer

Once again, my weekend involved three beer events of which two also involved Beer of Tomorrow, so I present my alternative picks to John’s.

I haven’t been to Mohawk Bend as often this year as in the last couple, so Christina’s farewell party was a great excuse to revisit one of the best tap selections in LA. In fact, the tap list is so good it’s easy to miss hidden gems, so I did some homework beforehand and made a short list of beers that I hadn’t tried that I wanted to: Hangar 24’s 2013 iteration of Vinaceous, GRB’s Aunt Sally, Rubicon 25th Anniversary IPA and TAPS California Gold XPA (I also wanted to re-try and rate Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye). Now Mohawk only do pre-set flights (boo!) but I thought I spotted a flight that would help with my list but when it arrived it was clearly not what I had ordered. I was about to complain to the bartender when I realised the classic Mohawk Bend error: they don’t cycle out old menus well enough and I had been looking at an old version.

Fortunately, that error led me to my first pick of the weekend, Best Flight That Destroyed My Ability To Smell Anything But Spruce. That went to the Stone flight: Self Righteous, Enjoy By 7/4, RuinTen and RuinTen on Cask. Boy oh boy was that an arboreal assault. All good beers, but I did feel like the figurative pine tree that they inserted into my sinuses detracted from my ability to really enjoy distinct subtleties of the beers; in particular the Enjoy By 7/4.

Mohawk bend also brought my second pick: Best New Beer I Thought I’d Tried Before. I’d seen Smog City’s Amarilla Gorilla IPA all over the place and for some reason I thought I’d tried it and not thought that much of it. Nope. It has a great tropical passionfruit nose for which alone I would considering ordering a pint. The palate doesn’t quite live up to the nose, but provides a solid base for the aromatic notes.

(As for my pre-made wish list, I didn’t get tothe TAPS California Gold XPA or Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye and Mohawk had tapped out of GRB’s Aunt Sally. Hangar 24’s Vinaceous (2013), was better integrated than the 2012 brew, but without the weird/awesome winery nose and, Rubicon 25th Anniversary IPA was unremarkable.)

Finally, Sunday was the monthly Nerd SoCal game day at Game Empire in Pasadena, conveniently opposite Lucky Baldwins‘ second location (Trappiste) so over a ridiculous looking Steak and Mushroom pie (i.e. bowl of stew with an enormous poofy hat), I sampled a few of the IPAs on tap as part of their IPA “festival. I’d seen this month long event advertised when we assembled here after last month’s game day and was excited that I’d catch the end of it, but I have to say it was a bit disappointing. First because it didn’t seem like they had any more IPAs on tap than they usually do (10 or so, including Doubles, Imperials and Belgians) and second because few of those were very interesting or unusual. But it did lead me to the Best Beer I’d Forgotten I Liked, Rogue’s Brutal IPA, again with some passionfruit on the nose.

Passionfruit hops is my SHIT!




A Weekend of Beer

Between a beer and board games evening on Friday, a birthday party at Beer Belly on Saturday, and the Firestone Walker/Food GPS CollaBREWtive Brunch on Sunday, my weekend was quite beer-centric. Two out of three of those events also involved Beer of Tomorrow, and since John just posted his picks of the weekend, I’m feeling inspired to do the same.

Lured by the promise of Mosaic, I was excited to try Golden Road’s Heal the Bay, but it didn’t really deliver on those delicious passionfruit flavours for me, so my Mosaic Brew of the Weekend goes to Beachwood Brewing Hopular Mechanics. The tropical notes on the nose promise more than the bitter pine and grapefruit palate deliver, but that nose is good enough that I would consider buying a pint on that basis alone. That said, it’s no Amalgamator or Epic Mosaic, the two all-time kings of this particular hill.

And the award for Coffee I Was Most Inspired To Hunt Down goes to…

My next pick is for Coffee Brew of the Weekend. I tried a lot of good coffee beers over the weekend, so shout outs to the crisp refreshing palate of GRB’s Mildly Handsome, the chocolate richness of Abigaile Brewery‘s Black Mass Porter and the spice and molasses of Beachwood’s System of a Stout. I also liked Firestone Walker’s El Diablo. I’d have to try this side by side with Parabola, because I didn’t taste the coffee in this one, such was the domination of Firestone’s usual (and excellent) bourbony monster.

But there were two stand outs. The best was probably Eagle Rock’s Panama Pale Ale in which the tropical notes of the Tierra Mia beans perfectly complimented the hop notes of the pale ale. However, as an experience, the Cismontane/Caffe Luxxe Hopfee Continuum was the most fun. This comprised four brews, the baseline “Straight Up” was a malt forward pale ale (also labeled as “a Belgian/American blonde hybrid”…) which was modified first by dry hopping with Super Galena, second by the addition of Testa Rosa Dark Roast beans, and finally by both. Of these the straight dry hopped version was my favourite, and the final dry-hopped plus coffee brew was a bit too delicate for the serving temperature (if your mouth goes numb, you need to warm it up, people!), but as a four-brew tasting package, it offered an excellent chance to compare the same beer in different phases of life.

Biggie ups to Cismontane and Caffe Luxxe for having a water station on their table.

My final pick is an odd one. I had an unusual opportunity over the weekend to try several no-doubt excellent beers that were past their prime: three by Mikkeller and one by Stone. I had already had the Enjoy by 05.17.13 IPA when it was fresh with vanilla and fruit on the nose and a big hoppy palate. close to a month after its expiry date, the nose had mellowed into a delicate tropical affair and those big hop flavours had sunken into the malt base. Still good, but not amazing, and not so much to my taste. A useful object lesson in the life-cycle of hoppy beers. I have no comparative data on the three by Mikkeller, I think its fair to say I love their work. I’ve had ten previous brews by the Danish gypsy outfit and all but one have been at least 4 star beers (the one was 1000 IBU Ultramate, so it’s excused). So I was disappointed not to try the Mikkeller 19 (a reference to the number of hop varieties within), the Hop Series Amarillo, and the Hop Series Citra in their prime. Nevertheless, even in quite sub-optimal conditions, the tangerine and peach notes in the Citra were delicious, so it’s my Expired Beer of the Weekend.

The street art in this part of Downtown is amazing.

Okay okay, one more: Angel City Brewing Pickle Weisse. It tastes of freshly brined pickles. If that sounds like something you want in your mouth, do that. This is my WTF Beer of the Weekend.

Regular pick of the weekend? Maybe Kinetic’s White Thai. Jasmine. Lime. Mmm-mmmmm.

Advancement: Directives and Personal Directives

As is often the case in AW hacks, straight stat highlighting often doesn’t work when you fiddle with the stats and the moves. I’ve found that to be the case in The Sprawl. Accordingly, I’ve been talking about changing the advancement system for a while; several months ago I had the idea to use the concept of Keys from Clinton R. Nixon’s excellent The Shadow of  Yesterday. The following is still a work in progress, especially as regards the specific Personal directives listed, the wording of those that are listed, and the number of experience per advance. Comments welcome, as always.


When you create a character in The Sprawl, you’ll select two Personal Directives that they follow. Choosing a Directive tells the MC that you want to see elements that play on, towards and against that Directive. For example, if I choose the Compassionate Directive, I’m saying that I want the game to include people in trouble so that I can choose to find out in which situations my character will choose to help them and in which situations he will not. In addition to these Personal Directives, every mission will include a Mission Directive. These give you signposts for the actions the mission requires, and reward you for taking concrete action towards the Mission. As you act towards completing the mission, you will mark experience. Each time you mark five experience, you’ll choose a new advance for your character. After you’ve gained five advances, you’ll be able to choose advances from an additional list. Some of these additional options have additional requirements or costs that must be met before they can be selected.

It’s important to remember that in The Sprawl, planning doesn’t advance your character or the story. Be bold! Take action!

Personal Directives

If life was just the mission, it would be pretty easy. But in The Sprawl, there’s always life beyond the mission. Directives are the motivations, problems, connections, duties, and loyalties that throw you curve balls, pull your focus off the task at hand, and generally complicate your shadowy, illegal career.

Here are some examples:

Behavioural Directive: You have some kind of personal behavioural restriction or code: a religious, moral, professional or the like. When following that code inconveniences you, mark experience.

Compassionate Directive: You have a soft spot for the weak and powerless. When you helps someone who cannot help themselves, mark experience.

Deceptive Directive: Sometimes your entire life is a lie. When you pass yourself off as someone or something you’re not, mark experience.

Filial Directive: You have a mentor who gives you advice. When you follow that advice, mark experience.

Financial Directive: You loves wealth. When you come out of a deal richer than you expected, mark experience.

Hierarchic Directive: You want power. That’s all. When you improve your standing in a society or organisation by improving your own position or impairing someone else’s, mark experience.

Ideological Directive: You have a strong belief that guides her. When you act, or persuade others to act, primarily according to your belief, mark experience.

Illustrious Directive: You’re in it for the bright lights. When you publicise your activities unnecessarily, mark experience.

Interlinked Directive: You are part of an organisation that makes occasional demands of you. When the organisation’s demands are a primary influence on a decision, mark experience.

Intimate Directive: You have a close friend who is more important than anyone else. When you make a decision influenced by that friend or the friendship, mark experience.

Masochistic Directive: You thrives on personal pain and suffering. When you are hurt or wounded, mark experience.

Protective Directive: You have a ward who depends on you for security and protection. When you protect or make a decision influenced by that ward, mark experience.

Prudent Directive: You always seek non-violent solutions. When you avoid a potentially dangerous situation, mark experience.

Rejected Directive: You were part of an organization, but they kicked you out. When your former status influences your current activities, mark experience.

Revelation Directive: Something is being covered up and you intend to find out what. When you discover something about the conspiracy, mark experience.

Vengeful Directive: You hate a particular organisation or person. When you harm the subject of your hatred or their interests, mark experience.

Violent Directive: You enjoys overpowering others in combat. When you overcome a problem using direct physical violence, mark experience.