What I played this week and what I enjoyed about it*

Been up to my ears in actual honest to goodness role playing gaming this last week. Three different sessions that lined up thusly:

D&D 5e with my usual weekly group. We wrapped up the first scenario at level 3 and the guys have voted for more. 

Savage Worlds in Glorantha GMed by Gaz, our very occasional exploration of the setting with a slightly rotating cast of pcs. 

Into the Odd with six players, from scratch, to explore the game for the Smart Party podcast.

Now, I enjoyed them all, and for different reasons. One of the things I liked most was watching the dynamics of the players as each session unfolded, seeing what decisions were taken, and why. Basically, the point of role playing games, you never quite know how it’s going to turn out. One of my faults as a GM is to try to second guess the players a bit too much, and to add explanations to their actions. I’m trying to improve them in my mind, but of course it can come across as smothering other people’s ideas. I can watch myself more readily these days, and playing in someone else’s less game always helps.

In each of the three games, options were offered to the players. Sometimes it was a matter of left or right, sometimes it was ‘what do you do?’ and sometimes it was a pause after an NPC had stopped talking which prompted a response. What I find fascinating is the differences in reaction from the three games. Yes, there were different players and systems, but actually I think the setting prompted different reactions and turned each game into something a little unique.

In our D&D game we are playing in a setting I made up, which is simply a sub-tropical, slightly piratical, Wild West smash up. It has all the basic D&Disms and the party contains a Druid, a rogue and a paladin. We all know the generic D&D world really well, and it means we can act within it with confidence. When presented with a big black dragon, in a dungeon, we knew what the world expected from us. When we had a bunch of deviant lizard folk chanting in a debased temple, again, we played with assurance. The setting reacted as we expected. 

In Glorantha, all the players are new to the setting. Gaz is our guide, and we’ve explicitly signed up for a grand tour. For me, that makes us travelers and explorers first and foremost. When the setting interacts with us, I’m less sure of my responses. Does my cult get on with their cult? What do either of us think about the Lunars? Are troll kin suffered to live? Basically, when is violence considered appropriate and what are the consequences?  I’m learning as we go, without having to do homework, and things are clicking now. 

Lastly, Into the Odd, a game that looks like fantasy from the outside but with exotica like ether and gunpowder. The players and I explored the setting through a ‘dungeon’ scenario and explored the characters at the same time. There is simply no right or wrong to actions taken, and that became quite clear quite early. In this game, you can kinda do what you like, and precedent doesn’t count for much given the custom nature of the expeditions. I found it fascinating to see how quickly it came to guns, and how readily it came to looting. Not a problem in the slightest, just interesting to see what the default adventurer behavior is.

All these games are essentially exploration games, which are my favorite. And I think my favorite way of playing these, is with a basic understanding of boundaries, but with lots of possibilities within them. Basically, murder hobo as lifestyle choice works well. Or a nicer term, adventurer. I like games that allow you to be an adventurer, and give you adventures to go on. That sounds like every game out there right? But I don’t think it is. And I might bang on about that another time. 
*a long running thread title on UKRoleplayers.com that has gone untouched for a while unfortunately. 

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Android : Netrunner RPGs – The Future Perfect

The Smart Party

Episode 29 – Android : Netrunner RPGs
(a.k.a. The Future Perfect)

Special guest time! UK Netrunner National Champion (and avid roleplayer) Alex White joins Baz and Gaz to talk about the Android : Netrunner universe and how or why you’d play there. It’s not all dark dystopia or combat chapters, new ideas via old science fiction and bright ideas emerge – join the gang on a trip through an engaging setting and discover what you could do with it.

If you want to help the lads with their endeavour to bring you the future in RPGs and give up their Day Job, maybe encourage them to write up the A:NR rpg, you can become a Patreon and support their podcasting efforts!. Or simply drop them a line with your questions, comments or things you’d like to talk about and they’ll see what they can do.

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Combat in a Netrunner RPG

Is there any? I think perhaps there is not very much. Which has come to me as a bit of a ‘huh’ moment when trying to pull together a set of RPG rules for playing in the Netrunner world. Some of this thinking crystallised with this conversation with my good mate Gaz over on the What Would the Smart Party Do? podcast.Combat is a mainstay of the vast majority of RPGs right? It tends to get it’s own chapter, and that means sub-systems for equipment (ie. weapons) and healing etc etc. Even in games that treat combat like any other regular task or conflict, it’s still assumed that at some point in the scenario, it will come to blows. So, without even noticing, I assumed that a Netrunner game would need a combat system.

The evidence suggests otherwise. Out of my collection of thousands of Netrunner cards, I can think of only one that really represents an actual weapon; the Unregistered S&W.

ffg_unregistered-s-w-35-honor-and-profit

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a fair amount of violence in the Android Netrunner world, both in the Net and out of it, but it’s rarely mano-a-mano melee stuff, or gunfights in dirty alleys. Meat Damage is a thing in Netrunner, and there’s a preventative measure in the form of cards like Plascrete Carapace. Even so I don’t really get the impression that these are round by round, roll initiative type tasks.

netrunner-plascrete-carapace-alt-artNetrunner-Private-Security-force-PSF-Alt-Art

Rather, I think there are quick, dirty, extreme instances of violence, as epitomised by Weyland Corps classic Scorched Earth or Traffic Accident plays. These wouldn’t get played out as round by round actions, if anything they might resolve in the background.

All this came to me while trying to figure out how i would swet up a Netrunmner campaign using Fate Acclereated as a system. It’s a fave of mine, and does well with dramatic characters who do dramatic things. It’s also incredibly versatile, in that you can apply the FAE rules to everything, not just the PCs.

The first step is to come up with Approaches (attributes, kinda, sorta). These are the ‘skills’ that will be rolled against in the game whenever there’s doubt about outcomes. The original FAE approaches would do as they are, but why not put some Android flavour on them?

My first pass came up with:

  • Killer
  • Decoder
  • Fracter
  • Events
  • Resources
  • Hardware

And as soon as I’d written them down I realised they werre very much Runner approaches, and I really want to have Corps available to play in my hack. Well, no-one says they have to be identical (remember; one of my goals is to maintain the asymmetry from the card game) so for Corps I came up with:

  • ICE
  • Assets
  • Upgrades
  • Operations
  • Clicks
  • Credit

All the words are Netrunner jargon, and the top three in each list are specific to events within the Net where the Runner attempts to break into the Corps servers. I’d use them outside of the Net too, simply by extrapolating the scope of the word. For instance, see Killer as Dexterity, Decoder as Intelligence, and Fracter as Strength and you’re half way there. For a Corp exec, he rolls ICE whenever he’s trying to attack or defend an agenda against a  runners schemes, literally. Or she rolls Assets when she calls in favours, or Upgrades when she needs the right kit in the right place.

At one point I had Violence as an Approach, for both Corp and Runner, but as explained at the top of the post, I’ve moved away from that now.

Stress boxes can be ported directly in from FAE, all I need is to use Net, Meat and Brain damage as consequences.

I’ve got some great ideas for stunts, each tied to the faction of the PC. For starters:

  • Anarch: Attack (virus)
  • Shaper: Overcome (Shaper bullshit)
  • Criminal: Create Advantage (sneakdoor)
  • Jinteki: Overcome (1000 cuts)
  • Weyland: Attack (tag n bag)
  • Haas Bioroid: Defend (glacier)
  • NBN: Create Advantage (fast advance)

The last thing to explore is Aspects, and they are usually straightforward, but I have Trouble with a capital T. In Fate games, the trouble aspect is vital, it’s the one that keeps the game moving forward both narratively, and as a driver of the Fate point economy with it’s compels. However, in Netrunner, the characters don’t have much if any disadvantages present on their cards. There’s more info in the fiction, and in the big box Android board game that predates the cards, but… I want to be true to the cards where I can.

So a possibility is to give out a standardised Trouble aspect to everyone, which is “never enough time or money”. In other words, have the GM throw various spanners in the works by using clicks and credits to pressure the PCS. That’s very true to the card game, and the PCs can respond with their own schemes to mitigate that trouble.

Which means altering the Corp approaches. Bugger. Unless I use Bad Publicity as a generic trouble just for the Corp? Interesting!

Netrunner-kate-mac-mccaffrey-digital-tinker-00003

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Building an Android: Netrunner RPG

Netrunner is a brilliant card game set in the Android universe from Fantasy Flight Games. It is joined by a big old board game (the original Android), as well as another game called Infiltration. In order, the games address; hacking corporate servers, murder mystery and heists, all set in a cyber filled setting in a near future Earth.

Netrunner is the daddy of the games, and one of the things I really like about it are the stories that pop into my head while I play it. The cards have wonderful art, and some micro flavour text that really helps bring the world to life. Add in colourful characters, and plausible tech, and you’ve got a world ripe for an RPG.

FFG don’t have any plans to make one, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere. Among the current crop of systems, there are plenty of contenders; Technoir, FATE, the Cypher system, Powered by the Apocalypse, A Dirty World, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk. Blades in the Dark, Leverage, you name it… But I don’t think there is anything there that is just right. So I’m thinking about why that’s the case and what I would do about it if I were to design an Android RPG from the ground up.

Here are the aspects from the card game I’d like to emulate in an RPG

Asymmetry
Netrunner features two sides, the Runner and the Corp. They play by similar, but fundamentally different rules. Also, you play both in a full game, one of each. For an RPG I admire asymmetrical design anyway. Normally that means different rules for the GM and the players. I wonder if there is room in this design to have players play both a Corp and a Runner at the same time. Picture a double sided character sheet, where one side is perhaps played as an opponent to other players. A bit like the Shadow mechanic from the old Wraith game.

Factions
From a setting perspective, there are no good guys and bad guys. The Corps are not necessarily ‘evil’, and the runners are far from ‘good’. As such I need to think about the sort of characters in play. I don’t want it to be as simple as a team of runners versus a faceless corp. The corp side is full of brilliant characters too. I’d like to leverage that. Factions are a thing in the card game, and I want to see faction choice mean something mechanically in the RPG. Being an Anarch should matter. So should working for Weyland.

Time and Money
There is never enough of either in the card game. The pressure of both is a fundamental driver in the game, but I don’t want to be tracking individual credits or minutes during the RPG. A level of abstraction is necessary, but i want them both to be important to the game, more so than encumbrance, or other mechanical add ons from other games. I’m thinking about Stress tracks from FATE, or Clocks from Blades, or some other kind of resource system.

Netrunning
Clearly the core activity in the card game, and equally clearly, no good as the core activity in a team based RPG. I don’t want to exclude it entirely, or make it so abstract that its no fun to use. At the other end, I don’t want to simply use the card game as the Netrunning phase. It needs a middle ground. I think ideally a Run should take a few rolls of the dice, like a small combat. I would boil down a lot of the programs from the card game into their sub types to help with this (Sentry, Code Gate and Barrier ICE, countered by the ICEBreakers; Fracters, Decoders and Killers). Perhaps the trinary rolls from PbtA games would suffice? For bigger more important runs, I think the game could accommodate some granularity, up the kind of levels seen in other games combat chapters. In fact, traditional combat is not going to get much bandwidth in this setting.

These are the central concepts of Netrunner for me. All the games I mentioned earlier can handle some of these, but none of them really get them all.

What would you do with system to hit those concepts hard?

 

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Troll in a boat +1d8 stirges

Our new D&D 5e campaign is now officially underway with two sessions under our belts. I’ve enjoyed running these sessions immensely. Pulling together the game has been largely stress free and not too labour intensive, ever since I told myself to not stress about about it so much and to do less prep. Funny that.

I’m running a setting that is a blend of loads of different bits and pieces. I do have a map, without too much detail, of the region. I have a background, which takes about a minute to explain. And I have a scenario, which is pulled from a few different sources. What I do is grab a published adventure that is broadly in line with what I fancy running, whether by geography (it’s based in a swamp/desert/planes/city) or by plot, or even level. Then I sit down and write notes on it, just like when I used to revise from textbooks back in school. Often this means copying out the maps and annotating them then adding in a few stats from the MM to get me by.

Then I bring those notes to the game and run solely from them.

The temptation to bring the original module and scour that at the table is huge, but im resisting. It’s means I have to improvise more, but I do have a decent skeleton to build on. Example time! The party are travelling through a swamp. My encounter table has loads of stuff on it. I roll up some benign lizardfolk, and make an encounter. Cool, Next I get a couple of Giant Frogs, and they easily devour the party and I have to save them with fiat and an NPC. So far so good. But I’m already thinking about something more three dimensional and start pulling together a few threads.

How about 1d8 Stirges, 1 troll and a sunken ship?

That’s three encounters which i blend together in front of the guys. The ship is rolled over and broken in the foggy swamp (miles from the coast – mystery!). It’s breached in many places. The party rogue wades/swims/scouts it out. Hears a low rough humming which he makes out as a sea shanty. I’ve literally just decided the troll in the ship is a bit piratical. The troll rummages about in the hold while the rogue watches. He disturbs a nest of stirges that flap about and fly at top speed out of the ship and across the water – straight into the rogue. The party fight off the bloodsuckers and press forward to investigate. I have the troll emerge from the hold. The party try a couple of shots, but the paladin is the first to break.

Now we have a chase! I knock up 6 party success boxes and three troll success boxes on my notes. First to fill theirs gets what they want, which is either escape or a tasty adventurer meal. We roll skills, and narrate the chase.

All good clean wet fun for all.

Could have planned all that stuff out. Could have made maps, minis and special chase rules. Didn’t. Worked anyway.

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Squeezing the juice

How much of your game book are you actually getting use out of? I was thinking about some of the games I love and realised that I’ve little to no chance of ever seeing all of it in play. Take D&D frex. Even with 5e there are so many races, classes, spells, abilities, items that I’m only going to see, what, 5% of in play? And that’s without getting into adventures and campaigns let alone new settings. 

D&D is king of content so perhaps not a fair example. 

Ok then, Apocalypse World. I love every playbook and want to play in every possible apocalypse. That’s years of play! Not complaining as such, just wondering about how thinly I usually spread myself among my games. 

Being honest, I think I tend to skim the cream off of most games I have. Every intent of drinking the whole glass, but other things tempt me, and I just… don’t. 

Thing is, I’d like to really master a game. Not just be ‘good’ at it, but rather, have a deep and broad experience of it. Exploring all its nooks and crannies. Knowing it inside and out. I’m close to that level of mastery (for want of a much better word) with a handful of systems  

If a new game pops up that I’m interested in, I’m now thinking, how much will I see?

Is it just me?

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Rogues: Bent Twig

By Joe R Lansdale. 

Couldn’t have more of a different tone from the previous story. This one is all smart mouthed world weary detective noir set in modern Texas. The dialogue is really interesting, and full of colour. No idea if folk really speak like that as my knowledge is based almost entirely in Smokey and the Bandit. 

Also, properly violent. Tarantino violent. 

This story displays the thug end of the rogue spectrum, with wit and vigour. Makes you wince though. Gaming wise there are possibilities for Unknown Armies or modern Cthulhu what with the corrupted church stuff. The protagonists do actually behave like PCs, so perhaps lift the plot for a short one off. 

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