The Tech

Since I released the alpha draft of The Sprawl a number of people have been kind enough to read, play and comment on the document. This week, I’ve started a fresh writing and editing pass to fix and add a number of things. One thing I worked on tonight was standarising the gear list, including giving The Tech some gear. I think I’ve finally got this playbook to a point where I want to play it and thus, can sell it to players.

I’m still not happy that it’s the only playbook that breaks the naming convention though.

Hackers get all the glory, but you’re the one who actually gets things done. Deck took a couple of pellets from that security team? Call the Tech. Need a bus wired to blow? Call the Tech. Need to lay twenty-two klicks of hardline from the grid to your desert hide? Call the effin’ Tech. At least the jobs pay better than crawling around some ceiling ducting in a Sprawl tenement.

Look. Choose one from each line:
Eyes: focused, excited, artificial, squinty, impatient, calm, appraising
Face: plain, friendly, nondescript, weathered, expressive
Body: muscular, wiry, compact, thin, flabby
Style: utility, military, corporate, street, scrounged
Stats. Assign each stat one of these numbers: +2, +1, +1, +0, +0, -1. Your Cool and Mind should be +2 or +1.
Cyberware: Cybercoms (2 tags), Cybereyes (3 tags) Cyberarm with implant tools, Control Systems (2 tags), Data Storage and Interface (1 tag).

Expert: Choose two areas of expertise:

  • Vehicles & Drones
  • Cybernetics & Biomodification
  • Hardware & Electronics (You can maintain cyberdecks)
  • Software
  • Armaments
  • Medicine & Pharmaceuticals (When you apply first aid, roll+Mind.)
  • Chemistry and Explosives (Ignore the dangerous tag for explosives.)

You start with a workshop appropriate to your expertise (e.g. surgery, electronics workshop, garage).

Customiser: You can identify and examine new or complicated technology related to your area of expertise, and add modify technology which with you are familiar. When you try to modify a piece of tech, tell the MC what you want to do and discuss what tags or game effect that modification will have. The MC will tell you the requirements in terms of:

  • time
  • tools
  • parts
  • help from contacts
  • more research

Choose one more:
Analytic: When you check it out, roll+Mind instead of +Edge.

Blend In: When you try to look inconspicuous, roll+Cool. On a 10+ no one thinks twice about your presence until you do something to attract attention. On a 7-9, you’ll be fine as long as leave right now, as soon as you do anything else, your presence will be suspicious.

Bypass: When you attempt to bypass secured electronics, roll+Cool. On a 10+, you successfully bypass the system without leaving a trace. On a 7-9, you bypass the system, but it’s a mess and will be obvious to anyone who sees it.

Chromed: Choose another piece of cyberware.

It all fits together!: At the start of a mission, roll+Mind. On a 10+ hold 3, one a 7-9, hold 1. Spend your hold 1 for 1 at any time to ask the following questions:

  • What does _____ really want out of this?
  • How do _____ and _____ relate to each other?
  • What does ______ have to do with all this?

Jack of All Trades: Choose one more area of expertise.

Obsessive: When you shut yourself away with a problem or piece of cutting edge tech, make a research move. You may spend 1 hold to ask any question about the problem.

On it: When you help a teammate, roll+Cool instead of +Links. If your areas of expertise were central to the help you gave, mark experience.

Toolkit and gear appropriate to your areas of expertise, goggles (2 tags), van (1 strength, 1 weakness)
Armoured clothing (armour 0, +discrete, subtract 1 when rolling the harm move), holdout pistol (2-harm hand/close discrete quick reload loud), encrypted jamming communications relay.
Armoured jacket (armour 1), Assault rifle (3-harm near/far loud autofire), Fragmentation Grenades (4-harm hand area reload messy), Gas Grenades (s-harm hand area reload gas).

Better Action Through Currency

One area of play that I am conscious of streamlining or avoiding in The Sprawl is the planning paralysis phase that often seizes groups, particularly in Modern/Near Future/Sci-Fi settings. Another important Apocalypse World hack currently under development is The Regiment by Paul Riddle and John Harper (check it out, it’s awesome!). In considering how to adapt their idea of Battle Plans to streamline mission planning in The Sprawl,@dmgallo, SoCal game collaborator extraordinaire, inspired the idea of a kind of hold currency that could be earned during legwork:

There are two special types of hold: +intel and +gear. Characters in The Sprawl are all professionals; they may not always act like it, but they prepare like it and they have the experience you’d expect from professionals. You as a player, on the other hand, are probably not a professional shadow operative. These two currencies, +intel and +gear, allow you as a player to retroactively narrate that professionalism and planning into the action when it becomes relevant, rather than spending hours of game time planning every contingency. Do some legwork; find out the story; get some +intel and +gear; act boldly. The Sprawl is about action, not planning.

So +intel and +gear allow the player to add fictional positioning in terms of, respectively, some piece of information or of gear that would give them an advantage at whatever point they spend it. What I haven’t yet decided on is whether they should automatically come with a +1 forward towards completing the action, or whether the player would have the choice of changing the fiction or taking +1 to complete some established action.

At any rate, this has implications for three important moves in particular. The two main legwork moves, Hit the Street and Research, and the basic mission set-up move, Get the Job. Accordingly:

Hit the Street (Style)

When you go to a contact for help (including finding specialists, street doctors, new cyberware, buying gear and fencing hot items), roll+Style, on a 10+, choose 3, on at 7-9 choose 2:

  • They have what you want, immediately.
  • You get a little something extra… (+intel or +gear)
  • It doesn’t attract unexpected attention, complications or consequences.
  • The price is fair.
  • You can pay them later.

Research (Mind)

When you investigate a person, place, object, or service using some sort of library, dossier or database, ask a question from the list below and roll+Mind. On a hit, take +intel; the MC will answer your question. On a 10+ the answer your question generously, and answer a follow-up question as well. On a miss, the MC will answer your question… then make a move.

  • Where is ______?
  • How secure is ______?
  • What people or places are related to ______?
  • Who owned or employed ______?
  • What is the value of ______?
  • Who else has an interest in ______?

Get the Job (Edge)

When you negotiate about a jobs pay or conditions, or accept a job without negotiation: Roll+Edge, 10+ choose 3, 7-9 choose 1:

  • The employer provides useful information (+intel).

  • The employer provides useful assets (+gear).

  • The job pays well.

  • The meeting doesn’t attract attention.

  • The employer is identifiable.

One big advantage here is that it gives some mechanical teeth to Get the Job, which was previously rather loose. I’m less sure how I feel about the interaction between +intel and the list question format of Research. I like the restricted question list, especially now that the questions on it are both thematically focused and cover just about every relevant situation. Certainly it’s been some time since a player couldn’t access the information they wanted through the available questions. Is one list question (plus follow ups on a 10+) better for the game than one list question (plus two list questions on a 10+)? It seems worth playtesting at least.

Crew-laborative Fiction

One of the aspects of our Conquering Corsairs Kickstarter project that I’m most excited about is presence of collaborative fiction authoring. At the Explorer ($15), Ship’s Mage ($55) and Crew Chief ($70) backer levels, or by adding $5 to the Sailor ($25) or Buccaneer ($45) levels, you get to contribute to the colour and backstory of the world and its factions.

I think of this as getting my Dungeon World in your board game.

That’s a misattribution, of course. Dungeon World isn’t the origin of the idea of a GM devolving authority over the setting to the players of a game.¹ However, it is one of the games I run the most in that mode, particularly in convention play. In Dungeon World, the key GM principle for this is “Ask Questions and Use the Answers”.² This is especially useful in character generation (“So you’re a dwarf? What are dwarves like in this world?”) but it can also apply any time the players ask about some aspect of the setting (“That’s a good question! But why don’t you tell me what the king of the elves is like?”). So, ask questions; easy enough. But there’s more.

In Apocalypse World, Vincent Baker extrapolates on how the GM should react to these answers in three ways: 1) by embellishing the imagery, 2) by incorporating it into the overall vision of the game, and 3) by referring back to the answer during play. The first reaction adds a layer of consistency to the new colour, ensuring it fits with the other great ideas contributed by the rest of the table. The second reaction inserts the new colour into the overall vision for the setting tone which then reflexively produces new layers of consistency for future answers. The third reaction reinforces that the players’ contributions are meaningful. The second does this too, of course, in that player contributions help build the overall setting tone, but nothing brings the meaningfulness of a player contribution into sharp resolution like the explicit reintroduction of that contribution by another person at the table. RPGs sing when everyone at the table is actively engaged in the creative process at as many levels as possible. The technique of distributing authority in this way is one of my favourite tools for increasing player buy-in.

And this isn’t just for the players’ benefit. It can be fun to make up a elaborately detailed world and present it to my players in the manner of a tour guide. I’ve done plenty of that over the years; it can be an interesting and rewarding style of play. However, these days I like to turn up with a bare bones outline, a handful of ideas, and a good knowledge of the tone and genre I want from the game and mix that up with the creativity from the table as it happens. I can be surprised not just by the players’ actions, but by the direction in which our shared world evolves during play. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of gaming for me.

Now I’m excited to see it in action in another medium.

Rob and I have been playing Conquering Corsairs for a while now, and we have a good idea of the general tone and flavour of the ships and the factions, as well as a fair few war stories from various iterations of the rules and differently themed cards, but while we could present a completed world, it’s much more fun for us to incorporate ideas from the people who are excited enough about the concept to contribute to the kickstarter campaign. For the backers, I hope the knowledge that you contributed to the colour and history of the Silver Seas and the factions and ships that battle to control it!

The Crew Chief level (at which you get to describe the captain, crew and history of the eight ships in the full game) has proved popular and is almost all sold out, but there are plenty of opportunities to back at the Ship’s Mage level. The questions at that level (listed on the website) will serve as thematic starting points, signposts and guidelines for our work on subsequent expansions. You’ll be defining the history of the world, as well as the future of the game.



¹ I first encountered it where I encountered many of the gaming precepts I hold dear these days: on the Sons of Kryos podcast.

² In Apocalypse World, this principle is called “Ask provocative questions and build on the answers”, see AW p.113.

Kickstarter is Go!

After many late nights and long weekends of crunching rules, juggling numbers, and playing for me, Rob and a host of playtesters and collaborators (especially David Gallo and Becky Sanderson), our creation is preparing to enter the world.

I’ve designed, tweaked and hacked a lot of games for my own use over the years, but this one’s come the furthest in terms of completeness (that is, being-able-to-be-played-without-me-facilitating-ness). Now it’s the final phase, in no small part owing to the energy and steely focus of my good friend and collaborator Rob.

One of the coolest things about working on this project has been the awesome art Rob commissioned early on from Kaitlynn Peavler (@thedandmom). She has a fun style that works for both cute character art and dramatic nautical scenes. Her visuals have definitely brought the project to life in a way I wouldn’t have considered before we started working with her on this project. Her delightful image for the Sailor card is a link to the kickstarter:

Conquering Corsairs Kickstarter

First Batch NZIPA

It seems fitting that my first beer post, and one of my first posts on my new site, should include a picture of what amounts to a public test batch of one of my favourite beer styles, Epic Brewing‘s First Batch NZ IPA.

I’ve had this domain for a while, and it’s needed a redesign and update for almost as long, but now with a kickstarter campaign for Conquering Corsairs and external playtesting for The Sprawl looming, ever closer, a more focused online presence seemed appropriate. We’ll see how this goes!

First Batch, Otematata


Another of my hobbies is fire staff spinning. When I buy gear commercially or want to find instructional videos, I go to Home of Poi. I also have a collapsible LED staff from Flowtoys.

CBD Burning