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
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.
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.
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?