Thursday, December 30, 2010

Basic Resolution

When I set about putting together a system for this game of reluctant heroes, I knew I needed a choice between being heroically badass and staying home with the family at its core. More than that, I needed this choice to be one that you made mechanically as well as narratively, and you needed to do it as part of almost any action you took in the game. If you chose to be badass once in the beginning of the campaign and then proceeded along apace without any further consideration, it would be a failure of design. You can get a basic overview of how that worked out in this earlier post. It's sparse on details, and that's because when I first started working on the game, that was the first idea I had. It describes a mechanical representation of the narrative conflict, but has no further detail because I hadn't worked out the underpinnings of the basic mechanics yet.

So, with that general idea of hope vs. destiny in mind, I set about trying to create a basic resolution mechanic on which this other ruleset could rest. I really liked the complete simplicity of the Jedi Duels dueling mechanic in that you rolled a pool of dice, stripped out anything that rolled a 1, and then counted up the rest. No modifiers to complicate pool ratings or target numbers, just look for the single dots and do a quick count. That raw simplicity was something I wanted to replicate in this game, not because I anticipated hyper-frenetic action that needed lightning fast resolution, but because simpler is often easier, and I wanted this game to be easy for both players and GM. My thinking was that if there wan't much to learn and manage in terms of rules, everyone at the table, GM and player alike, could concentrate on their characters and build a more compelling story together.

I began by setting a single TN for all die rolls regardless of circumstance, as many die pool games do today, and screwed around with various ways of constructing the pools. As time went on, I wound up including or changing rules that marginalized the dice more and more in the favor of simplicity until I hit a wall and was left floundering. I stayed there, making no progress for about a week when an idea struck me that took away all my problems and dropped the complexity of the resolution through the floor.

Get rid of the dice entirely.

I've never played a diceless game. I've heard of a few, but I had no idea how any of them worked. All I knew was that they did in fact exist, and some people swore by them. So, I figured I'd give it a shot. It seemed to be where my process was headed. So, dice dropped out of the equation entirely and the basic resolution mechanic became one of blind bidding. Your pool is comprised of hope and of destiny (I'll talk about the differences between these two in a later post). If you want to do something, you bid points from your pool toward your action. When you're done bidding, the GM tells you if you succeed or fail. Simple as simple can be.

I'll talk more about using your effort pool next time.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Heroes of Destiny: The Requirements

Step with me into the way back machine as we return to a topic I touched on and then never mentioned again. I speak, of course, of Heroes of Destiny. As I mentioned when I first introduced this game, this project had its genesis in a friend's insistence that I design an RPG that was completely unfettered by concerns of intellectual property and copyright. No more creating mechanical systems for other people's worlds as I'd done with Jedi Duels and the two incarnations of Shadowrun I'd taken stabs at. It was time to do something 100% original in both mechanics and setting. Then I could sell it.

The problem was, I didn't need another game. I wasn't getting to play the two games I was already trying to run as it was. How was I going to work in time to test a completely new RPG, which promised lots of interruptions in play as we rejiggered the rules time and again, when I couldn't get people to show up for games run with stable rule sets?

So instead, I decided to put the project back on my friend, who was thinking of running something, and I told him I'd write him a game he could use. We had a series of conversations after that about what this game would be. I found great success in using the 3 question method when beginning Shadowitz, and I wanted to follow suit with this game.

For those unfamiliar with the three questions of RPG design, they are:

  1. What's the game about?
  2. How is it about that?
  3. How is that fun?
I felt pretty confident I could answer numbers 2 and 3 on my own, but I needed that first answer from him. We went back and forth about a bunch of stuff. He wanted a detailed world, something in the fantasy genre, and a game in which the opposition could be predominantly human (or demi-human). Monsters made poor drama, he thought. It was too easy to solve every problem with slaughter. Better to have an opponent who was more like you, where killing the opposition wasn't a clean moral decision or the easy fix. 

This, by the way, is why his games are awesome. 

Anyway, all of that was good information to have, and I noted it all down, but it still didn't say what the game was about, so I pressed. 

"Adventure." No, that's not what it's about. That's what they'll be doing. 
"Fantasy." No, that's the genre.
"I guess I've always liked stories about reluctant heroes who'd rather not be questing. You know, like in Gladiator." *record scratch*

He did that on purpose, I'm sure. Gladiator's my favorite film of all time, so of course that would resonate with me. I'm also a big fan of pathos whenever I get a chance to play rather than run. Happy is boring. You always strive for it, but there's a reason fairy tales stop the telling once the protagonists hit a happy point. There's nothing more worth saying. The way that Gladiator wrapped a heroic struggle around a core strive for simple happiness that ran counter to all that badassery was awesome. It's also something I'd never seen done in an RPG. That was what this game was going to be about. 

Now, something else I learned from Shadowitz is that the 3 questions are a fantastic starting place, but they're not the totality of useful basics. So, once I had that very cool answer to question #1, I looked back at the list of notes I had from our other conversations and put together a short list of goals that would serve as my objectives in this game's design.

So, here's what I'm after in designing Heroes of Destiny:
  • Make the choice to be heroic a hard one mechanically
  • Place an emphasis on character identity over powers/abilities/equipment
  • Keep magic rare and special; it should not become a utility
  • Make the game mechanics simple, quick to learn and quicker to use
  • Mechanics on the GM side should be minimalist, leaving him free to spend the bulk of his attention on the narrative at all times

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Role of Players

Last time I talked about the role of individual players in truly giving a game wings. However, as anyone who played any White Wolf or White Wolf inspired game of the 90s knows, individually compelling, proactive characters alone won't make a game go. Vampire and games of its ilk introduced a whole new level of character depth into role playing, but it did so in settings riven with conflict.

Now, that's great. Anyone who's read anything about fiction knows that conflict is what creates and drives a story. The thing is that the situations present in those earlier games set up deep intra-party animosity. Everyone hated one another, and while characters in those games were often proactive, rarely were they working toward the same goals.

That sounds really interesting in theory. Even as I wrote that last sentence, I got a little quiver in the imagination at the possibilities. However, in actual play I never saw it work well. More Storyteller games were spent screaming at and plotting against one another than actually doing anything. I even remember one game where the players were so worked up that they actually told the GM to shut up when he tried to move things along.

I remember once I ran a D&D game that I tried to make character oriented. There was plenty of questing and the like, but I tried hard to get it to ultimately be about who the characters were and who they became. It worked, to an extent. The characters mostly had well defined personalities and many of them routinely engaged the world at large. The problem was, they all did it individually.

One character decided he wanted to play an evil character, which I allowed as long as he would work with the rest of the party. He said that would be fine. And he did. He worked with them, helped them track down needed information, most certainly stood by their side in combat, all of it. He also, on his own, plotted how to kill all of them after the campaign ended so he could destroy the world and turn it into a massive necromantic planet. In fact, he spent 99% of his time plotting what he'd do after the game ended. One session, this bled into the ongoing campaign. He took some actions that would help him later, post game. It didn't really screw with the party, but it definitely wasn't something they were cool with.

Another character was a strict moralist. Any time the party did anything that he didn't personally agree with 100%, he'd refuse to participate. This party at one point decided they needed to break into a bank vault to recover some potent magical items. Said items belonged to people long dead (the party's prior incarnation, in fact), so it was only stealing in the technical sense, but this character wouldn't stand for it. When the heist went bad and magical security responded, he stood there and let the party deal with it without him. He wouldn't aid them in what he judged to be a crime. So, they lost.

Individually these were interesting characters. But they clearly didn't work together. In fact, no character in that game worked with any other. And as you might imagine, the campaign didn't go very far.

Now, the idea that players should work together is hardly new. But it does seem to be an unfortunate dichotomy that you either get a passive group, or a splintered party filled with individuals chasing their own agenda.

Back to that old storyteller setup for an example from the other side. I ran a game once where all the characters were elder vampires recently elevated to the status of archon and invited to a city to serve the prince directly. For those not familiar with the jargon, they were basically cops with a lot of authority and political pull. And because they were all functioning with the same mandate, the party as a whole had a unified goal. It was pretty general, and there wasn't much direction in how they were to go about it, which meant plenty of room to argue over procedure and proceedings, but everyone was on the same page as to what needed to get done. It was awesome.

Where all this rambling and piling of anecdotes is leading is this: everyone always talks about how hard it is being the GM. Read any book with a GM section, or any book on running a game, and you'll see a line somewhere in the introduction that states how much more difficult it is to be the GM than the player. After all, the player just needs to show up.

I've come to believe that's antiquated thinking. Being a mediocre player involves just showing up. Here's the real rub though: the GM absolutely cannot tell a tale without the help of his players. Can't be done. He can try; he might even get the illusion of a story, but it's almost certainly going to feel like a B-movie, full of missed potential and lacking much depth. Truly great stories in any medium is borne up and carried on the backs of vibrant, compelling characters. And those characters are the one thing that GM has no control over. That's in the players' hands.

Being a good player involves creating a compelling character, i.e. one worth telling a story about, and then actively telling that story using the tools the GM provides. Being a good player group means you do so collectively, working with a number of other people who also have compelling characters and story interests of their own. Ask anyone who's done it, collaborative writing is much more difficult than writing something on your own.

The GM's (falsely) assumed task is to write a story solo. The good player's task is to write a good story in cooperation with the others at the table. That's rough. It's really rough. But the payoff can be rich indeed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Role of the Player

Many people tell me that as a GM it's my job to tell a story, and their job as players to experience it. Likewise, many of the books on my shelf define the GM's role as the storyteller as well as the judge and adjudicator. It is the GM who creates the plot, makes the individual scenarios and scenes, creates and plays all the NPCs, and pretty much puts everything together for the players to consume.

That's wrong.

I'm at a point where that's not even an opinion. It's just wrong.

I've written plenty of stories. Those are my stories. I've also run a lot of games. Not a one of those are my stories. The difference is that when I'm writing, the protagonists are my characters. I control all of them. They say what I want them to say when I want them to say it. They only do the things I want them to do. Never do I have to deal with someone deciding not to deal with the problem at hand because he'd rather bed down with sexy young thing. But I've had that exact situation in RPGs lots of times.

That's not an indictment of my players, by the way, but a demonstration of my point: a game is about the PCs. Any GM who introduces his own PC tends to become unpopular right quick. Players want to be doing something, not watching the GM play his own characters. But if the camera is on the PCs all the time, how can they not be responsible for the story?

There is a way that it works, and it goes back to the roots of our hobby. When you're playing a dungeon hack, you need someone to tell you that there's a door in front of you, and that it opens to a 10 x 10 room with an orc standing in front of a chest, and if that chest is locked or trapped. Now, there is a way to put this in player hands, which John Wick described in his dirty dungeon, but that came out decades after the first adventurers trudged into multi-level subterranean death traps, and while what he suggests works, it's not necessary as long as your game is mostly about killing monsters, avoiding traps, and recovering treasures in a physically restricting environment, which is exactly what a dungeon crawl is.

Once you get out of the dungeon, however, things begin to break down. Now there's more to do, more directions to go. It's no longer a choice between two doors. Once out in the open, you can potentially go anywhere, talk to anyone, do any number of things. With this literal opening of horizons come the potential for different, more character involved adventures. Have a look at Shadowrun. Yes, you've got top down GM runs it all adventure design, but the situations and settings are far more open. Instead of working inside a restricted map, you've got a whole city of places you might go, not all of them relevant to the mission at hand. Players can talk to the "wrong" people, go to the "wrong" places, and wreck all kinds of holy hell with your pre-planned story.

That's not to say that you need to make every detail in your world germane to the mission at hand. Instead, I argue that it means the players need to be more involved in these kinds of scenarios. They can passively accept the plot crumbs you toss and dutifully try to find the end of the trail. They can decide to make their fun by messing around with the characters they meet. The can do these things, but the game will be flat, no matter how intricate and interesting you make the underlying plot.

The only way to make the game really come alive is for the players to tell the story. The GM is a facilitator to this, an assistant ghost writer who can help put the character in positions that make his story better. But it is the role of the player to create a character that has a personal agenda that synchs with the GM's campaign, and who can pick up and own the game after a time. Someone who will proactively get involved in the situations. Someone who will talk to NPCs. Someone who will go out into the world, who will take actions, who will help drive the game forward and not plant himself and dare to be moved by anything.

I'm not talking about "problem players" here. People who play these characters aren't looking to crash your game, and they're not taking their fun at others' expense. They make characters with histories that tie into your campaign, but once everything's up and running they don't really touch the big picture except when you make them.

For example, you have the strong silent warrior. He's basically a good guy, but he's gruff and tough. Think Batman. Scary, not approachable, but still a hero. This character wants to do the right thing, but he won't go to social events; he won't say more than what's necessary to NPCs; in short, he's going to stay insulated within himself and while he'll go on whatever quest the campaign asks, he'll only go when the plot demands. It's all up to the GM to make anything happen.

Then you've got the jester. He's the guy who is often good for a ton of laughs at the table. He likes the mood light, and his character doesn't take things any more seriously. He'll trip up NPCs and prank them for the laughs of the party. When the party needs to board an abandoned space hulk that might be home to dangerous xenos or rebels, he'll bring a tray with tea and cookies to make a good impression. When he takes a serious injury, he describes it as a stain on his silk shirt. Again, he's going to jump at your plot points and he's going to try his damndest to complete the adventure successfully, but his eye is looking for ways to introduce the silly wherever he goes, and that light touch means that he's never responsible for anything in the story.

I've run into many players who default to one of these character types in a game. All of them want to play, and want to do so constructively, but their default disposition puts the campaign at arms length from them. They are involved, but only so much, and getting the game to move can be difficult. Again, for something like a dungeon hack this isn't a problem. If you're looking for something more involved, more character oriented, as many games try to deliver these days, you need more involvement from your players.

This can be a scary thing for some. Graham Walmsley discusses some of this in this book Play Unsafe, specifically the idea that coming out of your shell in an RPG makes you as a player vulnerable, ergo the title. However, having looked over the games I've run and played, the best ones weren't the ones in which the characters were well developed, had histories, personalities, or any of that other stuff. They were the ones in which the players got involved at a story level. They invested in the campaign personally and worked to change the situations I gave them through the lens of their of characters.

There's no mechanic to make this happen, but I'm absolutely convinced it's an essential element to running a truly top tier game.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spontaneous Shadowruns

Back when I was putting together the FTD version of Shadowrun, I put forth a method of creating missions on the fly. This method borrowed heavily from Wilderness of Mirrors, a spy game by John Wick. I've both played Mirrors as written and used its mission generation method in Shadowrun, and in both cases it's worked out well. But there's one thing that didn't quite make the transition: the double-cross.

Now don't get me wrong, there's most definitely an intrigue mechanic in Mirrors, but it doesn't create the same kind of backstabbing that's so prevalent in Shadowrun. Mirrors is all about not being able to trust your fellow agents. Shadowrun is all about not being able to trust anybody except your fellow runners. The shadowrun universe doesn't count on your fellow players putting a slug in your back, but it most certainly does encourage the GM to stuff the world with sleazy Johnsons who refuse to deal straight with you.

The way this usually manifests is the mid-run twist. Something happens after you're in the thick of things that changes the whole scenario, and you've got to adjust on the fly, and maybe extract some vengeance in the process. Here are some examples I've run across, kept vague so as to keep the spoilers to a minimum:

  • The team is hired to kidnap someone. Later, the target's kidnapped again, and the heat all comes down on the runners. 
  • The team extracts someone from a high security area. Only after they have him do they learn his family is under guard in another location, and will be executed in short order unless he returns, or they're extracted as well.
  • The team is hired for an extraction, but it turns out that the entire thing is a publicity stunt so the Johnson can sell a client on better security. That upped security was not part of the plan, and they're looking to silence the intruders.
  • The team extracts a low level employee who is the unknowing recipient of experimental cyberware, complete with tracking chip. The security response is far out of proportion with what was expected, and giving him back isn't a simple fix.
  • Solving a murder case leads the team to a secret corp bioweapon, the key to which is embedded in the missing corpse. Of course, they don't find out about that until they've already handled the body and it's mysterious implant.
When I went over all the upsets that occurred in the scenarios I've run, I found that while a large number of them did in fact deal with the Johnson screwing over the party, that wasn't the defining element of them. It was a manifestation of it, for sure, but there were other possibilities.

I've taken to calling this element "the twist," and it amounts to this: runners almost never wind up doing the job they were hired to do. This might be because of deception. It might be because of misinformation. Regardless,  the twist changes their mission objective and gives them something else they need to do. This second thing might be for pay, or it might be for something less tangible, like vengeance, survival, or even simply moral compulsion (as rare as that seems to be in Shadowrun).

The problem I kept running into is that when using the Mirrors method of creating a scenario, everything's in the players' hands. You get to muck with it a little bit once underway, but really it's the players who do most the work. And if they're putting together the mission parameters and providing you the opposition, how does a twist work? At its most extreme, players in a Mirrors game even define the objective (I've done that a couple times, and it's surprisingly effective). It's pretty hard to create a twist if you don't even know what the purpose of the mission is.

The solution I came to is to break mission creation into two parts: the job they're hired to do and the actual job they need to complete. Use the Mirrors method for that first part completely unaltered. If you want to define the objective, knock yourself out. If you're comfortable giving it to the players, that works fine too. Play it out until the players have hit a good stopping point. This might be when they achieve their initial objective, or when they come to a particularly dramatic moment.

At that point, break. Everyone goes head down on their notes for a specific period of time. Could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or you could even break for dinner and think it over while you eat. During that time, everyone mulls over a possible twist to throw the mission as it stands into disarray. In effect, you're sharing your "muck it up" power with the players this one time. Anyone can suggest a twist. The person you're looking for isn't dead, but is a slave held by the Yakuza. The datafile is actually a budding AI that's going to have its code dissected. There's another team that's been hired to do the same job, and it's now a shooting war to determine who gets paid. Run wild.

The GM ultimately gets say over what the twist is, but once it's established you can either run the remainder of the scenario off the cuff, or you can have another planning session, done exactly like the prior one.

Incidentally, if you still want to keep the shocker element to the twist reveal, have all the players work on their ideas alone (no collusion), and submit them to you via secret ballot. You can then read through them all, pick the one you like (or maybe even combine a couple), and implement them when the time is right. In fact, if you do it secret ballot style, you can put twist planning right after the mission planning, and then introduce it when you feel it has the most impact.

There's one other element to this, and that's the reward. There should be a reward for getting screwed on a routine basis, and there most certainly should be a reward for screwing yourself. Trust me, if players aren't rewarded for it they become a cynical bunch indeed. However, that reward differs depending on if the twist comes from the GM or the players. I'm an ever bigger believer in the idea of player involvement in story creation, and I'll talk about that more in a later post, but because I want to encourage the players to generate the stories about their characters, I'm inclined to give a bigger reward for twists they create than ones I hand to them.

What's the reward? Well, that depends. If you've not noticed yet, I haven't mentioned a specific system outside of Wilderness of Mirrors, and that was to cite where the methodology of player-generated missions discussed here came from. This post isn't tagged with Shadowitz or FTD. You can use this method with any mechanical system you like, whether you run the game with one of my systems, and of the official games published by FASA or Catalyst, FATE, Sorcerer, Feng Shui, or anything else you like. So the specific mechanical benefits really depend based on your system of choice. This would be a poor post without some recommendations, however.

For GM twists, I'd give a bonus resource. Shadowrun 4e has a pool of Edge points. Wilderness of Mirrors has a control pool. FATE has fate points. Give them edge, control, fate, or whatever else the game's got. Almost everything has a mechanic that gives players an expendable resource. If it doesn't, give it to them anyway. This could be bonus dice or bonus points (the former more applicable to die pool systems, while the latter's more suited to single die systems, but of course each system needs to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis). This gives the players a little extra oomph. It's a nice thing to have, but it's not extraordinary.

For player twists, you can give a similar bonus, though it should be greater, since they did more work and are more involved in the game because of it. However, I think that something mechanically different might be better. Consider giving a pool to the whole party. You might call it a "screw pool." Drop a number of points into this pool equal to how badly the twist fubars the mission, and the PCs in particular.

Anyone in the party can spend a point from the screw pool, as long as what they're doing is directly related to the mission and getting out of whatever terrible situation got dumped on them. So using it to track down the dirty Johnson is cool. Using it to seduce a pretty face is not. No, I don't care how stressed out your character is and how a little relief will allow him to pursue his other goals more effectively (yes, I've had this particular discussion).

What can this pool do? Off the top of my head, I have a few ideas:

  • Lower the difficulty on a check by one level
  • Increase the level of success by one (assuming the check already succeeded)
  • Grant an automatic critical/max damage (assuming the attack landed)
  • Give limited narrative control for one outcome (or more if your game already grants this to players)
Obviously it's all very rough yet, but this moves mission planning more toward an at the table part of the game thing, and away from homework for the GM that's going to get scattered to the winds anyway, and it does so in a way that allows you to incorporate THE fundamental aspect of shadowrun gaming: getting screwed.

You thought I was going to say guns, weren't you?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Physical Mages

Long ago on this blog I said that physical adepts were my favorite character type to play in Shadowrun. That's only technically true. From the moment I read about them I've been fascinated by physical mages. The idea of a character who has the full understanding of mana manipulation and channels it though his body to physically augment it lit my mind on fire with possibilities.

But anyone who knows anything about Shadowrun knows that's not what physical mages are. Instead, a physical mage is a physical adept who can spend his power points to pick up one additional, special power: sorcery. His score in this power is his effective magic score when determining what spell force he can cast safely. In all other ways, he's a physical adept like any other.

Again, after all the whining I've done about the complexity and variety of mechanical systems in Shadowrun, I should be lauding the hell out of this. It introduces a new idea, but it does so in a mechanically minimalist way and makes heavy use of existing rules. Use standard sorcery rules for the physical mage when he casts spells. Use standard adept rules when he uses any of his other powers. Nothing new to learn outside of that one little note as to how he straddles the line. Really, as far as rules in any game go, it's pretty simple.

Unlike technomancers, I've gotten to see a physical mage in play. I myself was not allowed to play one in college (the GM outlawed the character type; I think he was sick of sourcebook material by then, since we had a werebear and otaku in the party already), but in a semi-recent game one of my players selected that as an option. My first thought was "awesome!" Awesome, unfortunately, didn't describe the final product.

That physical mage took 4 points of spellcasting and sunk the last two into astral perception. Totally by the rules, but I defy anyone to tell me that's the concept this archetype was really designed for. After a few sessions the player converted to a full mage and got the ability to summon and astrally project in exchange for giving up, well, nothing. Woo! Rad.

It's true, that's not the way the text implies physical mages will typically turn out, but it is true that they will most often be mediocre spellcasters and mediocre physical adepts. Oh, it's the power of generalization, Cliff! You want to do lots of stuff in a game of specialists, you need to suck at them! I disagree. No, you can't have a generalist who has the same level of ability in all his fields as a specialist has in one, but I maintain that a physical mage need not be a generalist. After all, an even more fundamental rule of the game should be that the options are fun, right? If an option doesn't add to the fun of the game, what's the point?

To that end, I propose the following redesign of physical mages: instead of making them adepts who can also cast mage spells, let's make them mages who can cast spells that boost their physical performance. There are some out there already. There's a small spate of attribute boosters, armor, increased reflexes, etc. Adepts have a few powers that function like spells also. Boost, for example, gives you a temporary pump in an attribute, but it wears off and inflicts drain afterward.

I started with that idea, but eventually drifted a little farther afield from this. I like the idea of a physical mage's powers being temporary, invoked boosts, I'm just not sure I want there to be a success test for every single one of them. See, when a mage casts a spell, he's often using his magic to accomplish an action. If a physical mage casts a spell, it's going to be to boost his own capabilities. He'll then roll a skill or an attribute to accomplish his task. A mechanic that doubles the number of rolls a player will make to accomplish something isn't one I want to introduce into the game. But that temporary, invoked boost, that's spot on. That makes all a physical mage's powers feel more like spells to me. The adept subconsciously channels magic through his body, turning it into a sort of supernatural talent. The physical mage, on the other hand, sculpts the magic into whatever he needs it to be, using his own body as the lens. He's the master of somatic sorcery.

My mind wandered to some of the other incarnations of Shadowrun I've run in the past. One of them used the Feng Shui system. Now, I like Feng Shui; I think it's approach to things actually fits my current group very well, but they insisted that it didn't feel much like Shadowrun using those rules. And, well, I can see their point. You know what though? The fu powers of that game use exactly the mold I'm talking about here. Those who are properly trained get a chi pool, which they can use to fuel a variety of fu shticks. Pay the points, activate the power. No roll required.

How do you get that pool? Excellent question. Let's base it on your Magic score to start with, and then throw in a power that adds to your pool instead of giving you a new ability. Speaking of which, these will advance like physical adepts. While they are mages, they're not really throwing around spells the way sorcerers are, nor are they peeking into the astral plane, binding spirits, enchanting talismans, or anything else like that. The more involved rules of initiation are there specifically to put the brakes on the rampant power growth of full mages. Physical mages, as described here, aren't mechanically primed for that kind of power leap, so let's advance them the way we do physical adepts.

Now, in Feng Shui, you get your chi back every round. This being Shadowrun, and sorcery being something that comes with a price, I think that creating some other kind of recovery mechanism is in order, probably something keyed off a character's Resolve knack. Maybe you get your Resolve step rating back in magic every round. That's right, round. Not action. You've got to make it all the way around the shot clock before you get some mana back.

You want more? I think there should be a way for you to get it. Let's call it a centering roll (which would normally mean that only initiates can use this, but let's make centering available to them without making them initiate like mages, since they're not using sorcery) that uses the following procedure:

  1. Select the number of mana points you want to get back.
  2. Roll centering with that number as the threshold.
  3. Divide your pool between yang (which go toward your threshold) and yin (which counteract drain)
  4. Success restores the mana to your pool instantly. Failure means you recover nothing.
  5. Succeed or fail, you now take drain equal to the amount of mana you attempted to restore.
  6. Resist drain as normal. 
  7. You may choose to take injuries instead of marking wounds after the drain check, just like a normal wound.
While I haven't done it, I'd seriously consider modelling physical mage powers off Feng Shui's fu and gun shticks. Many of these abilities have a structure like: "Hit x mooks with your attack, where x is the amount of chi spent on this action." Others have a flat cost associated with them, but that needs to be paid every time you want to use them.

Creating a separate list of powers for physical mages serves to not only tailor them to their specific mechanics, but makes them mechanically distinct from physical adepts. Much like the new rules for adepts set them apart from street samurai without either hobbling the adept or overshadowing the samurai, the rules for physical mages provide another avenue in which a player can play a physically powerful character who is distinct from those who follow other paths. That's the hope anyway. Obviously I've tested none of this.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Technomancers are a relatively new phenomenon in the Shadowrun universe. The idea of people so gifted they could interact with the electronic world of the Matrix without a cyberdeck first appeared in the Sixth World over a decade ago in the form of pre-teen super-deckers called otaku. Technomancers are what happens when both the kids and the technology grow up.

Technomancers are the grown up version of otaku. They can interface with the Matrix without electronic assistance interface devices, and they're old enough to drive and buy beer. Also, since the world's gone wireless, so have the Technomancers, who all have the biological equivalent of a wireless ethernet card buried in their gray matter somewhere.

Mechanically they're extremely similar to mages. Where mages cast spells, technomancers manipulate code. Where mages can perceive and project into astral space, technomancers can interact with the Matrix in augmented reality or full immersion virtual reality. Mages summon spirits; technomancers summon sprites.

Truth be told, it helps a lot to flatten out the learning curve. After all, didn't I just spend last post lamenting about the nightmare that was trying to learn a series of unrelated game systems all to run a single session with a diverse group? Yeah, I still don't miss that.

However, I'll also admit I'm torn on this one. From a straight game rule perspective it makes whole tons of sense. But from a setting perspective, there's a cognitive disconnect. Shadowrun has, from the very start, drawn a stark line between magic and technology. You can't establish line of sight on a target for purposes of spellcasting using electronic surveillance. Cybernetic implants detract from your ability to perform magic. Etc. Technology and magic have been at odds and utterly incompatible from day one. You could dip into both worlds; I've known many a character who did. But there was always a fine art to pulling that balancing act off. The system didn't support the idea that such a decision was easy.

Making the newest, super high end hackers feel almost exactly the same as mages flies in the face of that. It just doesn't feel right. You want to begin moving them closer together as the 6th world grinds on? I'm okay with that. Really, I find mixed genre worlds fascinating more often than not. So sure, let's do it. But maybe we can start the integration with something a little more granular.

My idea for a technomancer rewrite is pretty simple: pattern the new hacker after an adept, not a mage. In essence, a technomancer under this system is a near supernaturally gifted hacker. He still needs a commlink to get online, and he still uses programs (though he can opt not to, like anyone). However, he's so talented that he can make Matrix constructs roll over and beg. He's the wunderkind who's going to debug his utilities and tweak his firewall all while disarming the databomb on your target paydata and crashing the black IC protecting the node. And yeah, he might have a kick ass agent program loaded up with custom software, but it's still a modified agent program, not a sprite summoned from the depths of the Deep Resonance like an elemental spirit.

Again, let me state that I'm not opposed to technomancers who are so attuned to the wireless world that they work it like magic. However, it feels like an awfully big step to take given the decades of stark divide set up in the cannon literature.

So, mechanically, how does this technomancer work? He gets access to special skill booster powers, all of which key off Matrix skills, or have to do with Matrix only actions. I've got nothing more than sketchy notes on this, but I can provide some examples:

  • Hardware - this category encompasses all the custom Matrix surfing 'ware that the technomancer made or modified himself. A few of the powers I began to write for this category included things like Overclocking, which gave a boost to Matrix initiative at the cost of program load capacity, and Networking, which let him link multiple links together in order to get a performance boost.
  • Software - the programmatic version of hardware. Rather than just provide bonuses to existing programs (because while the whole +1, +2 thing is useful, it's also kind of boring), I tried to introduce new options here. File Compression added to a link's program capacity, but increased the load time to bring something online, for example.
  • eSocial - this category didn't have anything to do with using computerized tools. Instead, technomancers who dipped into this power pool were masters of interpersonal relations, as long as they occurred online. They could utterly burn someone in a Flame War (allowing them to accomplish the nearly impossible: win an argument on the Internet), charm someone via chat window, etc. None of this worked face to face though. It needed to be the kind of anonymous interaction you can only find online. 
  • Hacking - like software, I tried hard to stay away from simple bonuses to mundane actions, and instead tried to make this category one that emphasized how amazing the character was at infiltrating secure systems in other ways. Mostly I did this by finding more ways the character could use Hacking. For example, once per session per level of the power, the character could roll his Hacking knack instead of Resources when buying something, representing the spare cash he managed to pick up on an incidental, on-the-fly hack.
Under this system of rules, technomancers would still lose resonance, or whatever else you want to call it, for cybernetic implants with one important exception: any cyberware that is primarily used to perform or augment Matrix tasks does not cause this loss. Cranial commlinks are kosher, as would be the math CPU and encephalon implants. You want a datajack? Perfectly cool. You want a cyberarm with internal shotgun and integrated smartlink? Go right ahead, but it's going to knock points off your resonance and cost you some natural edge you've got when running in the wireless world.

Yes, this begins to blur the line between magic and technology. I'm fully aware of that. Truth be told, I think that's an interesting way to go, and I applaud Catalyst for taking that step. It's been more than 60 years since the first UGE births, and the Great Ghost Dance didn't follow all that much later. Moving these two setting elements into closer alignment is a good thing. I'd just prefer it took a few baby steps in between first.

Monday, December 6, 2010

New Character Archetypes for Shadowitz

In one of my last mentions of Shadowitz, I made mention of a new take on physical mages and technomancers, and promptly said no more about them. Oops.

Now, I don't have hard rules for either of these, because my group is pretty happy with the characters they have and no one wants to play one of these, but I've kicked around the ideas anyway. While both would require more development to flesh out the specifics and turn these into character packages that offer the same robust options that other character types have, I think there's a lot of work done in the system to support them already.

See, while I've read endless pages of posts on various Shadowrun forums about how it was a feature, not a bug, that the game was actually a 4 in 1 kind of system, with rules for running the Matrix having nothing in common with rigging, which was entirely different from physical combat, which only had some minor similarities to magical and astral tasks, I claim from nothing more authoritative than my own personal experience that it didn't come off as much of a feature. I didn't like it. In fact, the last by-the-book Shadowrun game I ran ended not because the story ended, and not because of some irreconcilable intra-party conflict (a historical favorite), but simply because I couldn't stay on top of the rules anymore. The decker had bought the advanced Matrix books, the mage was looking into metamagic options, and then the rigger bought a drone and wanted to start getting into electronic warfare. When a physical adept killed a dragon with nothing more than a knife and some externally sustained spells, I knew I was clearly missing some very important stuff in the flow of the game, and no matter how much more I studied, I was going to get buried in the details, so I called the campaign to a close. Besides, that intra-party conflict was coming soon.

That experience has led me to design rules with a particular methodology. All aspects of play don't have to be identical. In fact I think mechanical differentiation is necessary in order to emphasize character differences. That's my big complaint about technomancers as written in 4e, in fact. While I haven't given the rules a thorough playing, on the page they look and feel an awful lot like sorcery, just in a different setting. Anyway, there should be mechanical differences, but, and here's where I break from many prior versions of Shadowrun and a whole lot of other games too, those differences should be on the character side. On the GM's side of the screen, I'm shooting to make everything pretty close to uniform.

From my own experience, I know that I'm not going to use a ton of fancy mechanics in a fight. I might trick out a couple of NPCs to try something in a scene, but if I go into a combat with 6 NPCs each loaded up with options as richly as my PCs, 90% of that's not getting used. Either I'm going to forget about them, or, more likely, they'll get mowed down before they get to most the fancy stuff.

And to be completely honest with you, my "to do" list for my campaigns does have NPC creation at the top, but it's to create interesting, recurring characters. Yeah, I do prep for my adventures, but often I'm scribbling down combat stats an hour before game time. It's much more important for me to get the personalities of play in place, and maybe review whatever notes I had on ongoing PC plot threads and the like. That sort of thing will see more use in the game, and will make the game better than any number of mechanically intricate combat opponents will.

So what's any of this got to do with technomancers and physical mages? Truth be told, not much. However, the above explained stance informs my design ideas for these two concepts in that any additional options will all be on the player side to manage. If one of my players does wind up playing a physical mage or technomancer, my job in engaging him will not change. I'll still be rolling the same dice in the same way for the situations. The same basic system runs all character types now, and will continue to.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Madness Made Real

I had a chance to put the madness rules discussed earlier into play, starting with explaining them to the players. The good news there was that they were easily absorbed, and the player most likely to use them most heavily liked them right away. Score!

We got down to the business of play, and things chugged along without a hitch. The group was in a pirate town trying to keep their heads down while making repairs to their ship before heading out in search of a lost relic when the group scholar, and budding madman, was singled out by a scoundrel for a high stakes game of chance in a tavern. All proceeded normally until a wager went sour and a fight broke out.

C'mon. It's a swashbuckling game, there was an inn, and it was in a pirate port. Who didn't see that coming?

At this point there are two party members in the bar. There's Mr. Suave, the budding madman who prides himself on fabulous hair and is even better known for his relative frailty and aversion to melee combat (though he's rectifying that), and then Dr. Destroyer, who's a little bit of a scholar and much more of an ass beater. Everyone knew what Dr. Destroyer was going to do, but Mr. Suave had a plan. We rolled initiative and he began to describe in cool, confident tones exactly how he was going to twist this situation.

That's when I tossed him a madness point, and, like a scene from Jacob's Ladder, he begins to see... things among the press of violent human flesh. Vile, loathsome things. And not just any things, but things. You know. Them.

I invoked Mr. Suave's fear insanity, and instead of whatever "I'm so cool I don't need to fight" thing he was going to do, he spent the round curled up in the fetal position under the table screaming.

Next round comes, and Mr. Suave asks me if he can act if the action is based on fear. That sounds fine by me, so I let him declare. In his panic-addled mind, he fixates on the scoundrel who started the fight. Clearly he summoned them, and thus needs to be put down. So he draws a pair of knives and proceeds to tackle the man and cut him to ribbons. He even throws in his madness point in order to emulate insane strength. He does so much damage he kills the scoundrel. That even came with a "Sorry, Clifford. I know you don't like these games to go killer, but I'm kind of crazy right now." As it turned out, I completely agreed with him.

The following round I let him recover his senses, and the rest of the brawl just realized someone had been killed. Mr. Suave beat a hasty retreat (burning a drama die, and thus getting rid of the madness point in the grip), while Dr. Destructor held the door long enough for him to get away. Or, that was the plan anyway. Instead, Destructor decided to brawl the whole bar himself, 1 on 20, and won. He's like that. He got himself a drink before heading out to find Mr. Suave.

This has been the only time we've used madness so far, but the initial impressions are good. All of the mechanics associated with this little rules bundle seem easy enough to use at the table, and parallel rules everyone's already familiar with, which means almost no learning curve. The one thing that's different, the grip of madness, has so far presented no difficulties. Mr. Suave asked once for a refresher and from then on seemed to have it well in hand. I anticipate getting an opportunity to use these a lot more in the future, and we'll see how they stand the test of time. For a maiden voyage though, so far so good.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Cost of Madness

Last time I introduced the idea of madness points as an alternate reward for invoking insanity "hubris." But in that post I said that I wanted madness points to be darker than drama dice, to have a few thorns of their own that make handling them uncomfortable. Even the boons of madness come with a price. Let's talk about that now.

Mind you, said price can't be too steep. Madness points are supposed to ultimately be a good thing, remember. As much of a good thing as any reward for slowly losing your mind can be, anyway.

There's one other consideration when coming up with these rules of which I remain cognizant: simplicity. If I overly complicate the rules the player who dives most fervently into these madness rules will let me hear about it. He's a big fan of simplicity, not because he's lazy, but because he thinks overly involved rulesets detract from gameplay and, ultimately, are stupid. He still touts red box D&D as having 14 pages of rules and being a complete game unto itself. We argue over "complete" all the time, since he says filling in the gaps is a GM's job, but that's not a discussion germane to this post.

So, bad but not too bad, and mechanically simple. That's a pretty broad set of parameters. What can we do with that.

After much pacing and conversation with Boaz, my dog, here's what I've got: Boaz is very supportive but not a deep well of ideas. In the end, his contribution was a request for a belly rub. As for the game, I'm thinking that madness points have two stages to them:

Mad Strength/Clarity
These are the unspent madness points. Until they're spent they don't do anything. They just sit there. If you never want to use them, don't. They won't hurt you. The way I figure it, these are the things that take a little of the edge off the pain of suffering a madness attack. If you're willing to suffer those penalties without reaping anything for the bother, that's bad enough. So hoard your points all you like.

The Grip of Madness
Once you spend madness points, they go into a separate pool. Put them in a cup or a bowl or something like that to separate them from the unspent ones. This represents the downside of the madness rush that granted you a bonus. If the 1k1 bonus they gave you on a roll is like an adrenalin rush, the grip of madness is like the weak, trembling comedown off that rush. You will overcome this eventually, but in the meantime it eats into your capacity to function. 

Every time you roll a drama die, remove one die from the cup. Don't roll it, just take it out. That drama die doesn't explode. Note that you only reduce the madness dice in the grip for rolled drama dice, not drama dice spent on sorcery or swordsman techniques. If you don't roll the die, and thus don't have the opportunity to see it explode, this penalty isn't a penalty, and thus doesn't apply.

You also remove one die from the grip each time you roll a 10 on any other die. For each normal die that comes up 10, take one madness die out of the grip and throw it away. That 10 also doesn't explode because of this.

Once your grip is empty, all of your dice explode normally.

Now, there's one other part to this that I should note, because it's a way around the penalty for being in the grip of madness: spend a madness point. 

That's right. Any roll in which you spend a madness point, and thus tighten the grip, you're not subject to the penalties of the grip. Sure, it dooms you to a spiral of accumulating and spending madness points until you're largely incapable of accomplishing anything but the most basic of tasks without resorting to that gibbering strength you've been cultivating, but hey, that's voluntary insanity for you.

It's important to note that madness lingers. This means that your madness pool, along with your grip, carry over from session to session. So there's no sidestepping this penalty by hoarding your madness points all night and then blowing through them in the last few rolls of the evening, filling up the grip right before packing it up for the night and then starting the next session with a clean slate. It doesn't work that way. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Madness Points

Last post I talked about introducing a creeping insanity system into 7th Sea, and how I modeled it after the hubris system. In that, I said a player would have to spend extra in order to counter my offer of a drama die. I'm currently rethinking that. While the underlying idea is sound (make madness more insidious than any other purely human character flaw), the mechanics still feel like they softpeddle the idea they're trying to convey. Drama dice are all about heroism and drama. Something about giving a madman the ability to jauntily vanquish a cluster of inquisitors seems wrong to me at a fundamental level.

Clearly, there should be some kind of benefit to having an insanity attack; being able to roll a mythos lore knack now and again to recognize certain rites or translate arcane texts is not tradeoff enough for suffering an ongoing malady of the mind. Yes, yes, I understand that Lovecraftian horror stacks the deck against the investigators and that Call of Cthulhu is one of the most fundamentally unfair games on the market because the genre itself is very much unfair. I know that. But I'm not running CoC. I'm running 7th Sea, and I'm bleeding in mythos elements gradually. Therefor, I want a more give and take kind of mental flaw system. Yeah, I really want to pound foolhardy scholars in their frontal lobes, but I want to give them a hard candy afterward to entice them to do it again. More than that, I want to give them that sucker to make the overall experience fun. If all that waits for them is madness and death with nothing good along the way, they'll do that annoying player pragmatist thing and stay away from the death trap.

Players, man, all looking to preserve their characters. I tell ya....

I'm sure my work with Fate's aspect system has no small part in this desire. The idea that if you offer the right incentive, players will willingly crank their own thumbscrews is one that resonates deeply with me. I love anything that promotes greater player investment in the game and their character. I have what I think is a largely typical group of players. Nearly all of us cut our teeth on red box D&D and moved through the early TSR offerings, ultimately each picking unique paths of later games from other companies. One thing that nearly all these games of the 80s and 90s had in common, however, was the game structure that the GM was in charge of everything, and the PCs played their character. Good players were ones that picked up on the crumbs the GM threw out and played nice with one another.

It's a tried and true method of gaming, one that goes all the way back to its roots, but it's one that leads to player passivity. Even today, most of my players tell me things like "this is your story, and I'm really interested in seeing where it goes." That's great that they're into it, but it's not supposed to be my story. It's supposed to be theirs, and I'm just helping tell it. At least that's where I am right now.

What's this got to do with giving out drama dice? Aspects, drama dice, these things are rules designed to encourage greater player activity in certain ways. They're rewards for playing penalties, and they're rewards that happen right then and there, on the spot, that can be used immediately or stored away for later. Bonus xp is great, but if the flaw gets you killed, you'll never get to use it. But bonus dice, well, you can use them whenever.

So I want to give out dice for madness penalties, but I don't want them to be bright and shiny things indistinguishable from drama dice. I bought a handful of gold colored dice just to hand out as drama dice last time I ran 7th Sea, so we're talking literally bright and shiny. Madness dice should be darker. They can provide a bonus, but I want them to feel edgier, prickly, less wholesome and maybe not entirely safe.

This brings us to madness points. They'll work like drama dice, but they're separate because the devil, or in this case the Old Ones, are in the details. Spending one still gets you 1k1 to a roll, but you can't use them to buy off a madness attack. You can still use drama dice for that, but I have a feeling in the end that'll be all you're using drama dice for in that case.

You can use madness points for just about anything, but not quite everything. They can apply to nearly any physical action, representing a sudden manic burst. You might not look suave when bolstered by insanity, but it can get the job done. You're in a fight and the shadows flicker in just the wrong way. Suddenly the mask of sanity slips and you glimpse the true face of your opponent. These aren't church men after you, but deep ones. You fly into a berserk rage, madness flooding your muscles with insane strength as you rip your foe apart. It's not pretty, but it works.

Similarly, you can use madness points to help you in any mythos check, be it recognizing a particular beast, deciphering some scrap of foul pictographic script, or gleaning some buried truth from historical record. In this, it's a simple matter of your mind becoming more accustomed to the alien thought patterns necessary to make sense of the sanity blasting truth that most remain blessedly blind to.

You can also use madness points when making fear checks, provided the check's not against some mythos monster. You've had a peek of the true horror of the universe. How can a master of the Rogers school possibly stand against that? You're so numbed by the overwhelming truth, nothing else can make you quake.

You can even use madness points to assist in wound checks. Sure, those wracked with madness in Lovecraft's stories tend to be frail and ill of health, but if we expand our view to something a little wider than Lovecraft's own world we find many examples of the mad exhibiting not only great strength, but great resilience as well. Again, this is 7th Sea, not CoC. I'm willing to make that stretch in this game.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Madness

You knew this was coming. You can't play any game with Lovecraftian mythos involvement and not eventually talk about losing your mind. To leave that part out is simply inappropriate.

I knew I'd have to deal with some kind of sanity system in 7th Sea eventually. What I didn't expect is that one of the players would latch onto forbidden texts right away and spend every last moment of free time plumbing their blasphemous depths for every kernel of forbidden knowledge he could dig out. Serves me right for beginning yet another campaign without having every last mechanical contingency planned out.

So far I've been winging it. I knew that I didn't want the mythos lore skill to be something that you picked up like anything else in the game. Spending xp and getting additional points in it made the entire thing too mundane, too normal. So I tied it to an open research roll. The player's been rolling his research knack and I've been keeping tabs on his total across all the rolls. As he hits certain benchmarks, I award him with a new dot in the skill. So far he's managed to get two dots.

As for the downside, well, that turned out to be a little more elusive, but as of our last game I believe I've gotten it. Each point in mythos lore now comes with its own arcana. As soon as you gain the point, you also gain the arcana. These are like hubris, in that I can toss a drama die at the player and he'll suffer the effects, but unlike normal hubris, he can't buy these off with a drama die of his own. I might allow a 2 for 1 buy off so as not to remove all control from him, but I'm designing these to be deeper and darker than your standard heroic foibles.

I have a little work left on the list of madness arcana, but here's what I've got so far:

  • Obsession - you've uncovered something. You don't know exactly what yet, because you don't know enough to make sense of it, but it's clearly something, and something big. It gnaws at your thoughts constantly with the promise of amazing knowledge, especially when you're doing something else. When this arcana activates, you must drop whatever else you're doing and devote yourself fully to furthering your research into the unknown. 
  • Fear - you've uncovered something, and now what has been seen cannot be unseen. You still don't know what's out there exactly, but you understand enough to know that the world is nothing like you thought it was, and it's not safe. Anywhere. There's something out there, something sinister, unresistable, and while your prior ignorance didn't protect you, it did protect your peace of mind. Things, crawling, sucking, things lurk... somewhere, and one day they're going to, well, that's not entirely clear, but it won't be pleasant. This arcana functions similarly to the Cowardice hubris, but can be activated at any time, since it's not man you're afraid of, but things far beyond his ken. 
  • Insomnia - your mind won't stop anymore. It runs through the litany of blasphemy you've learned in the day, and puts on plays of horrors in your dreams every time you sleep. You awake not refreshed, not even exhausted by night terrors, but trembling to the core from the sensation that every time you dream they can see you, and they draw you to them. The dream world is theirs, and you are sucked closer to their forbidden cities awash in nightmares and insanity with every slumbering breath you take. When this arcana activates, you cannot sleep that night. You do not rest, and therefore cannot heal.
  • Illness - The forbidden lore you've uncovered inflames your mind. The knowledge is so overwhelming, so conceptually difficult, that it takes tremendous amounts of will and mental contortion to make sense of what you're discovering, and even then you only get half of it. Perhaps it's the late hours and little sleep, perhaps it's a physical reflection of your fevered mind, but you're not well. You're pale, bedraggled, you have a fever, and might be a little shy of lucid sometimes. At least that's what others tell you. In those fugues you feel you're at your clearest, and the jumble of knowledge begins to crystallize. When this arcana activates, you lose 1 die from all Wits tests other than mythos rolls but gain 1k1 to mythos rolls. This adjustment lasts for the scene. However, every mythos roll inflicts (1+x)k1 of flesh wounds, where x is the number of raises you make. 
The list isn't in a set order, though I think the order presented above is pretty good. That leaves me one short, but I've got a little while before I'll need all 5. Back to the notebook....

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Changing Raises

One of the things that the roll and keep system introduced to our group was the idea of raises, deliberately increasing your own target number in order to get better results. It was revolutionary for us at the time. All of us had grown up looking to see of that magical "natural 20" popped up on the attack roll, and while other games, among them Shadowrun, had long ago introduced the idea of incremental success, putting that power in the players' hands was wholly new. Needless to say, my group took to it immediately.

The problem I've had with it as a GM is that players often refuse to stop when they hit their target number. When rolling 5k3 and looking for a 15, it's been my experience that they'll reroll every 10 they get and tabulate the result all the way to 63, even though all they need is that 15, and in fact it doesn't matter mechanically if they rolled 15, 16, 63, or 163. Hit you TN or don't. All that incremental stuff got taken care of when it came time to raise.

I get the thrill of the high roll. Really. It doesn't happen often, but I do occasionally play an RPG instead of run one, and my luck with dice is such that any time I break into double digits I'm elated. So I do understand how awesome it is to roll high. But the thing is that it takes time to tabulate those towering results, and if you already know whether you've succeeded and how well, everything else is wasted time. I've tried to push on as soon as I know that the player made the roll, but I've actually been shushed with a "I'm not done yet!" before.

And then there's the fact that even though the roll and keep system has been around for a decade now, it's still close to unique, which means that my players consistently forget to do it because it's unlike any other rule they're exposed to. This often leads to much head smacking and cries of "I should have raised," right after the dice clatter on the table.

So I took a page from one of Mr. Wick's more recent games: Houses of the Blooded. In this, there's a still a raise mechanic. It's called wagering, but in effect it's the same thing. However, instead of inflating your target number, you remove dice from your pool. Your target number remains unchanged.

I began using this rule for a few reasons:

First off, it keeps target numbers low. The average target number is 15, and it's always 15. You want to raise 5 times? Drop five dice out of your pool and look for a 15. You don't have to calculate that 5 raises on a 15 makes the TN a 40, and then begin adding your dice toward that number.

By extension, it makes high raise rolls faster, not slower. Since a pool in which you made a lot of raises is now smaller than normal, there's less dice to count. And my players like to raise, a lot. They're good at what they do (by my design; I prefer stories about competent heroes, not bumbling idiots, though I do know some people who prefer the latter), and they want to show it off. It's not unusual for them to call 4 and 5 raises in their area of specialty.

By requiring the player to modify his die pool before he rolls, it places the focus of the raise not on an abstract target number, but on a collection of dice he holds in his hand. Every time he picks up those plastic bits, he's got a physical reminder to raise. Since we've switched over to this method, some players have complained that they didn't raise high enough, but no one's forgotten to raise on a roll.

Finally, and this is purely a taste thing, it places a limit on raises. I don't have a problem that 7th Sea lets people raise to the heavens, and sometimes I even encourage a little outrageous raising as the GM. However, this particular campaign swings back and forth between two tones. Most of the time they're galavanting about the globe on missions for the Explorer's Guild. However, they're actually members of Die Kreuzritter, and they occasionally have to bury artifact finds or make scholars hewing too closely to a dangerous discovery disappear. More than that though, they've discovered some cult activity that's far more sinister than the typical Legion cults. These cults have sporadic appearances in obscure historical records, such as an ignored field report found in Explorer archives about something called the LeGrasse expedition to the Midnight Archipelago. It seems LeGrasse encountered natives performing blood rites while chanting about something called Cthullhu, or R'yleh, or something like that. My own party stumbled onto this only after rescuing someone from a group related to some sea beast called Dagon.

I do love me some near-super swashbucking action, but when horrors from beyond time and space begin to creep in, I like that the die drop method of raising places some mortal limits on the players. It's something I can play up as they sink deeper into the horrors they uncover in an attempt to protect the world.

Monday, November 15, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

It had to happen eventually. I haven't run a session of Shadowrun in about a month, maybe six weeks. We're in that long rear view that makes specific dates a little hazy. On top of that we're now into November, which means holiday season. Between now and sometime after New Years, my group won't have a single weekend available to them. I think we're at a point where we won't be laid up until after Valentine's Day, though that used to happen too.

I can tinker with Shadowitz more, but I've already played around with a lot of fundamentals of the game. I've adjusted target thresholds, wound penalties, and healing rates. I've also expanded the rules associated with the heal spell, for all the use that'll get. After I tossed out my take on technomancers and physical mages I started running dry on ideas. At this point I can't realistically revise the system without playing it, and for that I need a group. I won't have a group for another 3 months at the earliest.

That doesn't mean I haven't been gaming, however. It just means I haven't been running Shadowrun. I'm actually running a pair of games at the moment. Shadowrun meets on weekends, when it does, and the other game meets every Wednesday after work. We play for 3 hours, then go home. The sessions are short, but they're frequent, which lets us make progress. It's less tolerant of messing around because of the short game time, which means that sometimes the group doesn't make any appreciable progress, but by and large they chug along just fine. It's a schedule that's worked out a whole lot better than meeting on weekends. I might be kissing the idea of a weekend game goodbye next year and only run something on weeknights (one game at a time though; I've got limits).

What this means is that I've been running a 7th Sea game pretty consistently for the past several months. In fact, it's seen a ton more action than Shadowrun has, by a lot. I didn't redesign this system from the ground up like I did with Shadowrun. I have made a few adjustments to the rules, but we all went into this game thinking the rules worked just fine. They were, after all, designed by the esteemed Mr. Wick, and our group tends to like his mechanics (even if they'll rib me about saying so).

While I don't have a ton of material to post about modifications to the mechanics of this game, I figure it's worth posting about, given that it's most of what I'm doing in gaming these days. So, the next few posts will involve the tweaks we've made to that system and why.

Friday, November 12, 2010

New Post Schedule

Scheduling games has been difficult for me, and I don't mean a little bit of a hassle. I mean full on war against multiple difficulties. Between the ever more busy weekends for my players, and demands of my own (like a last minute unannounced family visit or requests for help with taking care of nephews), I haven't gamed in a while, a month I think. Maybe more.

When I do get to run a game, the one that runs is the one that I haven't written. I'm actually running a game more or less out of the box. Yeah, there are some little tweaks to the mechanics here and there, and I'll be discussing that in the near future, but for the most part the system's not mine, and it's tried and true. The group's happy with it, and in fact asked me not to spend time redesigning it from the ground up. They'd like to just sit down and play this time.

That means I'm running out of material. Sure, I've got lots of ideas yet, but I can only progress so far on theory. At some point you need to play the game to really review and revise it. I can do some crappy alpha testing on my own, but that's all. The only playtester I have available to me is me, and I'm hardly objective or diverse. Now, I have discovered quite a few things by sitting down with some dice and a set of rules and running through some scenarios, so I'm not about to dismiss self-testing by any means. But if I've learned anything from this Shadowrun campaign it's that there's a lot that only comes out after you've sustained play for a period of time. On light contact, for example, both the resolution and combat system worked perfectly well. And they do work, but they're not quite right as is; that only came out after I got to witness a large number of combats over a myriad of situations. That's not something I can do by myself.

In light of that, I'm going to adjust the blog posting schedule. It will continue to update routinely, and it's not going away by any stretch. However, instead of a M/W/F schedule, I'm going to post on M/Th. That gives both you and me time in between to actually use the material in our games, and come up with substantial things about which to write and comment, instead of resorting to filler that doesn't do anyone much good.

So, check back on the new days and I'll continue to have material on the various RPGs I continue to tinker with, and any other projects that happen to crop up.

See you then.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Recovering from Stun

With all this talk of wounding and healing, it dawned on me that stun damage gets left out in the cold a little bit. There's a note in the healing section of the book that notes you can drop a stun wound by 1 per hour of rest, but outside of that, nothing.

The primary reason for this is because my group doesn't deal in nor receive a whole lot of stun. That's partly my fault. After all, I could design opposition that's not using kill tactics, but so far lethal responses have been par for the course in the team's runs. Whether they're breaking into a clinic that's secretly doing blood magic in a secure basement level, taking down a bigoted policlub, or breaking into a megacorp site, lethality seems to be the proper way of things.

Actually, there was one place where tazers and gel rounds were appropriate, which was when the team broke into a publisher's building to steal a manuscript, but they so overwhelmed the opposition between fast talking and local Matrix control that they were in and out without firing a shot, so they didn't deal with stun in that run either.

In fact, since we lost the mage, stun's pretty much disappeared from the game. But it shouldn't, and that's certainly no excuse not to have clearer rules on how to recover from it anyway, because it's a fundamental mechanic and the need for it will arise eventually. Sooner if said rules aren't in place, I'm sure.

The thing is, recovering from stun doesn't have to be hard, mechanically I mean. Stun damage knocks you around a bit, maybe leaves some light bruising, and either gives you a headache or leaves you exhausted, but in the end even the worst of it is still superficial damage. You can drop from it, yes, but you're going to snap back from it pretty quickly.

Recovering from stun wounds is automatic with rest. No rolls needed. How about stun injuries though? I think the easiest thing to do is take the recovery rates for physical injuries and translate them from days to hours. As long as you rest in that time, your injury drops a level automatically. So if a physical injury takes a week to heal, it takes 7 hours as a stun injury. Laid up for a month? That same injury on the stun side sticks with you for 30 hours. In other words, take some ibuprofen and take a very long nap.

And that's stun. Simple and about as complete as you'd ever need. Done and done.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Changing Penalty Dice

Last time I talked about increasing the number of penalty dice a wound slaps you with. This time around, I'm going to throw out a small rules tweak mostly geared toward cleaning up play a little, but that also adds a splinter  to the pain wound penalties inflict.

Penalty dice are d9s. Roll a d10 and reroll if you come up 10. Just ignore it and roll again. We did this because my group thought d8s didn't inflict enough of a penalty and d9 was 33% worse than a d6. Sure. Okay.

But why not just make it a d10? Mathematically speaking it's a little less clean, but in gameplay itself it's smoother. I've seen a lot of rerolls to get around those 10s, and while some people have die roller apps that they can program to use a d9, there's still plenty of people who like picking up oddly shaped plastic pieces and tossing them on a table. I'm one of them.

So let's skip the rerolls. Penalty dice are now d10. Yes, that worsens your odds a little more. They're penalty dice. They're supposed to hurt. And hey, it's not like you're rolling pools of d12s. That would hurt for all sorts of reasons. You ever notice those dice have a tendency to keep rolling right off the table? It does so more than any other shape, except for maybe that golf-ball looking d100 one of my players has.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bigger Penalties?

Something I've noticed in combats is that some of my characters are very good at what they do. I mean very good. No one's got a knack higher than 7, but between cyberware and aspects, some of them can chuck some mighty die pools indeed.

Now, when they get hurt some of those dice transform into penalty dice, and this does cut into their odds of success. But let's face it, when you've got 12 dice in your pool, transforming 4 of them into penalty dice doesn't have that much of an impact. Especially when those penalty dice can come up successes, just less often than regular ones.

We've been playing this system for a little while now. I've given out karma a number of times. I don't think anyone's bought anything with it yet. At all. The sam at one point asked about getting an implant upgrade, but outside of that, everyone is so confident in their abilities that they've not even considered trying to learn what it takes to increase anything on their sheet (even though it's not hard, I swear).

Clearly, being hurt doesn't hurt enough. I wanted to avoid a death spiral situation where the heavily wounded had no chance of ever succeeding in anything, but in so doing it looks like I've soft-peddled the characters to the point where they aren't bothered by wounds at all.

What to do?

I like the idea of penalty dice instead of straight up die pool reductions. Penalty dice mean that the player will always have something to roll, even when badly hurt. The odds go down, certainly, but they never go down to nothing, and with a decent method they even stay pretty reasonable. This means that a horribly wounded character can still accomplish some of the simpler tasks as long as he stays within his strengths. If he needs to venture into unfamiliar territory, he might be hosed. But hey, I'm okay with that. As long as the character has some recourse available to him, it's up to the player to leverage his remaining strengths.

So I'm pretty committed to the idea of keeping penalty dice for the moment. This means the easiest way to make wounds matter more is to increase the number that each wound category inflicts. Right now it's a simple 1-4 for light through deadly. Clearly that's not enough. So I'm proposing a new scale:

  • Light = 1
  • Moderate = 3
  • Serious = 6
  • Deadly = 10
That ought to bring the pain much harder without installing a death spiral. It also makes the prospect of taking an injury more interesting again. When I made injuries worse, it took away their appeal. After all, you can just suck up the wounds and just deal with it until you think you might get taken out, and then take the injury. Now you're looking at way more die penalties. Maybe taking the injury early is a better idea. Of course, taking that injury means more now as well, since it'll stick you with any subsequent wounds for that much longer...

My real hope? Making both more painful makes combat itself more meaningful and promotes a slightly more defensively oriented combat style. Months of play and the only person to ever generate yin dice on a roll was the mage when he cast spells. We'll see.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Heal Spell Revisited

When I first converted the much valued heal spell from Shadowrun rules to Shadowitz, I left it largely unaltered.

  1. Choose the wound box you want to heal and roll your dice. 
  2. Divide your hits between yin and yang.
  3. Each yang die drops the wound by 1.
  4. Each yin die drops your drain by 1 (drain equals the wound you tried to heal).
And that's that. Truth be told, it means that magic's pretty good for dropping a single wound down to more manageable levels or getting a single low to mid ranked wound off your grid entirely. But if you're really chewed up and have more black on your condition monitor than white, magic's a pretty poor alternative to medical treatment. I liked that. Not only does it keep the science aspect of the sixth world up there in importance, and along with it street doc contacts and DocWagon contracts, but it also balances the load contained within my own party. We had a mage at one time (he's since left us, though we don't take it personally outside of one player looking at the empty chair every game and saying "douche"), but we also have an adept with a skill focus on doctor. This breakdown of ability made both mage and medic important in their own ways, with neither better than the other. 

Except that the heal spell didn't have any rules in it for healing injuries. With the ratcheted impact injuries have on the healing process, that's a question that's going to come up, if we ever get a mage at the table. But hey, I'm an optimist, and I've got some time to spend answering these potential questions, and in general it fills out the game even if we're not using those rules at the moment. So I'm going for it. 

Injuries are supposed to be a big deal. Wounds hurt. They replace your normal dice with penalty dice and make it harder to succeed. Injuries hurt in more ways. Though they don't change your die pool at all, they are negative aspects that can give your opponents bonus dice when whupping up on you. They also make those wounds, which give you penalty dice, stick around for much longer. And they themselves have abysmal recovery times, so you'll be carrying them around for a while.

So why would I want to make them easier to get rid of? I want to give the players options. More than that though, I think that magic needs to be able to deal with injuries in order for it to remain anything close to respectable when compared to modern medicine. Still, I intend to keep the cost high.

If we're going to do this, we need a couple of things:
  1. How to assess the target threshold
  2. How to assess drain
The rest, factoring in the target's essence, rolling the dice, etc., can follow the existing procedure. No need to completely reinvent the process. 

So, threshold. When healing wounds this was really easy, since each wound has its own number. Subtract the yang of the spell from the wound number and drop it that many levels. Injuries, however, don't have numbers. They have levels. Still, these levels represent a range of wound boxes they encompass, so let's say that the threshold for healing an injury is equal to the lowest wound box in the injury's range. 

Why the lowest? Honestly, it's because of one thing: I want there to be more than a single point difference between serious and deadly injuries.

This makes the target thresholds for injuries as follows:
  • Light = 1
  • Moderate = 5
  • Serious = 8
  • Deadly = 10
Now, there's a big difference between magically healed wounds and medically treated ones: success on a magical healing check means the wound is completely healed. As in all gone. Medicine drops it by a level, where it can be treated again. Magic makes it all go away at once. It's a pretty hefty difference, but that's part of the reason for those target thresholds.

Yes, this means a light injury is ridiculously easy to heal, but a medic can heal these without making any roll at all, so I'm okay with the low threshold there. On the other end of the spectrum, you need 10 hits to get rid of a deadly injury. 10 hits is a lot. Even if you do manage to make that, it means you probably aren't saving any of those hits to help you with drain. And that means you're taking some hardcore mana burn to pull that off. 

On that topic, let's talk drain. While the idea of being taken out trying to heal an injury has its appeal, for the sake of simplicity let's say healing injuries causes injuries, in this case stun. So drain for healing injuries is a stun injury of the same level you are attempting to heal. Your yin dice can reduce this, however it's not a 1:1 reduction in drain the way it is for wounds. Again, injuries have ranges of wounds they encompass. For drain reduction, start at the highest wound rating within an injury, and drop it by 1 for each yin. When you run out of yin, find the corresponding injury level. That's what you take in drain.

For example, let's say your friendly mage chummer is trying to heal a serious wound. He generates 3 yin on his test. He starts at a serious stun injury in drain, which includes box 9 at its high end. Subtract 3 from that for the 3 yin, which brings him to 6. Wound 6 falls within the aegis of a moderate injury, so he takes a moderate stun injury in drain.

Since a mage doesn't take any wounds from healing injuries, he's never going to be taken out by doing so. While that may seem weak, it also means that it locks his stun boxes in place, meaning that a simple rest after combat might not have him up to full capacity when it comes time to start slinging the mana again. This means that the party needs to judge whether it's worth knocking their caster down a few pegs for the next few scenes every time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Healing Pain

I've been going over the new healing rules I laid out a few weeks ago. The ones designed to make injuries more painful, and I'm wondering if they need an even sharper edge. I don't want the entire party sitting in traction for the duration of every session, but clearly making combat something from which you can bounce back with ease has robbed violent altercations of any sense of danger. Most times it's all guns and attitude from your best mindless action movie. That's cool every so often. Really. I'm a big fan of big action sequences. But when that's all you've got, like anything, it tends to get old.

So, a few weeks ago I tossed out the idea of making injuries lock all wounds in that level in place. A serious injury would prevent any wounds in the serious range from healing, for example. Moderate and light wounds would recover normally during that time, however.

How'd that work out? Well, honestly, I'm hoping someone could tell me, because I haven't had an opportunity to playtest those rules yet, and right now it's looking like my Shadowrun group won't have some communally open time on the weekends until next year. We're looking at another 2 months before we get together again at the earliest. Bummer.

In the meantime, however, I'm giving some serious thought to tweaking those proposed and entirely theoretical rules again. It's a simple tweak, easy to implement, but with an even greater impact on injuries and wounding. It is, simply, this:

Injuries lock in place all wounds at their level and lower.

Thus a moderate injury prevents not only moderate wounds from healing, but light ones too. A deadly injury means none of your wounds can begin healing until you recover a little and at least drop the injury a level, at which point your deadly wound can drop to a serious, but is again stuck until that injury drops another level.

This makes injuries hurt. The bonus dice I can get by tagging the condition is a mechanical price players have to pay, but they're willing to hand me that capacity quite readily. It gives them a few extra rounds of action, and then they'll drop anyway. Following the fight, they hole up for a few days, clear out their wound track and head back out there to bust some caps and some heads. Couldn't be easier.

Now, it's entirely possible that with this set of rules in place the players will continue to engage in frequent, all offense combat with no thought to self-preservation and just sit as invalids for longer stretches of in-game time. Getting hammered in rough combat isn't always a deterrent. I remember a supers game in which I was a player. I was the most violent member of the group (always against the bad guys though), and when confronted with tough opponents, I'd frequently just continue to hammer away at them even when it didn't work. That, however, was largely because I was frustrated with the game and it's complete lack of consequences and character.

I've talked to my players in this campaign, and they assure me they love the story and the developments that have arisen with certain NPCs recently (a character's daughter who had been missing turned up as a new member of the Universal Brotherhood), and they really look forward to what else is in store.

So if I take them at their word (and I've got no reason not to), I have to conclude that their combat actions are a result of mechanical implication. That is, getting hurt doesn't matter. You might drop in the fight, but you'll be back up in no time. If I want fights to be tenser, I need to make the damage matter more. And since I'm not willing to introduce harsher wound penalties (death spirals have never proved fun to play in any game I've tried), I'm left with making the characters suffer their wound penalties for longer periods of time. Using this new method it's entirely possible that the characters will enter into a second combat still wearing the marks of the first.

My own playtesting begins whenever I can gather the troops again next year. Until then, if anyone else gives this a whirl, drop a comment and let me know how it worked for you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Playtest Results: Aspects - General Guidelines

We've tackled aspects as contacts and aspects as a way of fleshing out your magical abilities, but that still leaves the broad expanse of everything else. That's a lot of ground to cover, and it contains a lot of possibilities. Thus, it's harder to break into neat little categories. Something I discovered as I began reviewing the aspects that one of my players sent me is that there's such a broad array of possibilities here that its best to provide a better idea of how aspects are supposed to work in broad terms and let the specifics fall out in a case by case basis.

Double Edged
Waaaaaay back in the beginning of this blog I listed some of the components I considered essential to this particular game. Among them were broken characters. In cyberpunk stories everyone's got personal problems, and deep ones. Eventually I decided that instead of creating some sort of disadvantage system, I'd roll the "broken" idea into aspects. Thus aspects give you some cool bonuses, but they also drag you down, and since the only way to power those bonuses is to compel those penalties, you get reason to play those flaws.

The key here is to make the advantage and the drawback revolve around the same theme. The two don't have to have anything in common mechanically, but they should derive from the same source.

Expand Your Character, Not His Abilities
Aspects give you mechanical bonuses, but their real purpose is to make portions of your character's, well, character pop in the game by attaching a mechanic to it, not to jack up your already boosted knacks to even higher levels. Thus you should draw your aspects from who your character is, not what he can do. Yes, a kickass hacker might have a customized commlink that he can really redline, but at that point it's just a bonus and it's boring. But if your hacker was a child prodigy who created a new kind of microprocessor for Renraku, and then fled with the prototype installed in his 'link, that's different. Now the aspect is about his genius and the trouble it caused him. The downside of the aspect could be that Renraku's again located him, either on the Matrix or in the physical world, and they'll be dispatching some Red Samurai shortly.

Be Flexible
In general, aspects give a +2 die bonus to a specific kind of die roll, but it doesn't have to be that way. These are narrative tools, so start with the rule-less description of the aspect. You're writing a mini-story about something to do with your character. From there you can extrapolate the rules as you need. You'll probably need to write some original rules material at some point following this approach. That's perfectly fine.

Something I noticed is that a lot of people assumed that since aspects typically add 2 dice to something when invoked, they must subtract 2 dice when compelled. Not necessarily true. In fact, in most of the aspects I provided to my playtest group didn't inflict any die penalties. They put the characters in difficult situations, either by the reactions of others or forcing destructive behavior on them (that whole "broken" thing again). These kinds of flaws impact the game much more than a simple die penalty, so don't be shy in keeping the drawbacks in the realm of role playing. Unlike traditional flaws which may never come up, the role playing difficulties of aspects have to come up if the player wants that edge point.

Since I work well with examples, here are a few from my game:

Drug "Expert"
You've got a monkey on your back, and his name is Morphine. Somewhere along the way you got hooked on the painkillers you administered to your patients and now you use a whole lot more on yourself than to assist those under your care. However, it's given you a lot of practice in how to best administer the stuff.

Invoke - +2 dice when using painkillers as part of a medical check
Compel - the craving calls and you get high. You'll function at reduced capacity for the remainder of the scene

Warbringer & Peacemaker
This customized pair of pistols was a gift from your fiancĂ©e, before the team got burned and possessed and you had to go on a manhunt to kill those infested. They're high quality and made specifically for you and your smartlink, meaning they just feel "right" when you fire. Unfortunately, you used them extensively when on your manhunt, and they're better known than you are. Someone sees those and they think "team killer."

Invoke - +2 dice when firing the guns
Compel - you've got an awful reputation, and these guns are tied up in that. When this aspect is compelled, someone recognizes the guns, and therefor you. That's the end of any negotiations right there.

You've got yourself a girlfriend. Not just any girlfriend though. She's a serious hottie. Oh yeah, and she's a porn star. She gets around, no, not like that. Well, yes, like that, but in other, more professionally useful ways as well. She knows lots and lots of people, many of whom would love to do things for her, and she's not only got access to money of her own, but can smile up dough out of many adoring men as well. Unfortunately, she knows she's queen of her world right now, and expects to be pampered and treated appropriately, which means you must be ready to drop everything at any time and attend to her.

Invoke - gain +2 on any spending roll. She may serve as a fixer, putting you in contact with others, especially those in the entertainment industry. Finally, if the risk isn't too great, she can do a little work herself, posing as the attractive girl who distracts the guard with flirtatious chatter while the team sneaks past.

Compel - Sasha wants attention in all its forms. Thus she tends to call at odd times, like when you're in the middle of a negotiation or a job. And if you don't respond to her demands right away, you're likely to pay for it, literally. She got all the access codes to your accounts from you a long while ago, and despite your promises to yourself that you'll change your passwords, she always gets the new ones out of you. If you don't give her what she wants when she wants it, you can expect to take a big financial hit as she engages in intensive retail therapy to sooth her hurt feelings. Credit injuries are not out of the question.

Automatic Jack
As the proud owner of a surplus Russian Federation SPk-23 "Stali Bagor" combat-ready human augment, you're used to getting admiring looks and confused stares.

Invoke - Among the savvy, this has a certain chic to it and to the posers, it just says badass milsurp. To say nothing of its vastly over-engineered robust qualities far beyond a modern namby-pamby unit, this thing takes abuse. It is the AK-47 of cyber-limb replacements. When you get hit, you can take an injury to the arm instead of to your meat. It costs 1 edge point per level of injury, and that injury will knock your arm offline, but it can be repaired with much more ease than your body can. 

Compel - Cutting edge? Sure…30 years ago. Its been well used, and its been known to have the occasional minor glitch in use, make the odd noise, etc. To say nothing of the fact of the matter of having an inelegant piece of Soviet technology grafted to your arm, in the wrong circles, it might be considered….gauche. Some call it retro, others call it ancient tech that only gutter runners would stoop to.