Wednesday, June 30, 2010


While a few of my PCs own vehicles in this campaign, they're effectively multi-passes but cooler. The rigger has a souped up car, while two others own off the rack bikes. They'll all drive separately when they're performing legwork, but any time they expect trouble, everyone packs into the car. So, much like hacking rules, vehicle rules are really designed to meet the needs and desires of the one player in the campaign who uses them.

Quick note, my rigger hates drones. He thinks they're boring. Thus, they're not part of this ruleset for moment because there's no call for them.

Vehicular combat has always been a popular thing in theory. Who doesn't love a good car chase with explosions and heavy weapons thrown in for good measure? But, as always, complex resolution has slowed our vehicle scenes down to a crawl. Going into this, I wanted to preserve the ability to customize a vehicle in multiple ways, but I wanted a resolution system that remained quick and simple, preferably one that hewed close to the character resolution mechanic, since that would flatten learning curve.

First and foremost, to use the same resolution mechanic, I need to plug the methods into vehicular knacks. It seems simple at first, but on second glance a good number of the methods seem inapplicable, while others carry too much of the burden. After much back and forth with our resident rigger and some work on my own, this is the breakdown as it currently stands. 
  •  Razor - Since this is the default combat method, this is what you use when using your vehicle as a weapon, i.e. ramming or running over an enemy.
  • Fixer - As always, Fixer is the method used when someone else is doing something on your behalf. Thus, if a contact is doing something in a car, this is the method used, regardless of maneuver or action.
  • Data Rat - This method covers more than knowing the specs of the car, though it covers that too. This is the general use method, making it the go-to method in all sorts of situations. Many stunts and maneuvers use this, including positioning and dodge checks in vehicular combat.
  • Face - This method means more than talking about vehicles, though it can be that. This is the method used when trying to falsify markings, plates, etc., in short, getting the vehicle to lie. 
  • Sleaze - This is the method used when trying to avoid detection from enemy sensors or security systems, or eyes. Tailing someone, flying nape of the Earth, etc., all of these activities use Sleaze.

With that out of the way, we need stats for the vehicles themselves. While Feng Shui's vehicle statblock has a definite appeal (speed and armor), I want a few more than that so that there's more on the vehicle to modify mechanically. Still, too many attributes makes using a vehicle complicated and the system itself involved. So there must be a happy medium. After some back and forth, I've got a small list of 4:
  • Size - this is a rough representation of how large the vehicle is. An old Shadowrun book once noted that vehicles are resilient not because of their structural integrity but because of the amount of open space that exists within them. A bullet might punch straight into a car's cabin, but a shattered window and some ripped upholstery won't degrade its performance. This stat represents the basic damage resistance of the vehicle, but it's not armor. Instead, a vehicle's size rating reduces the attacker's method (almost certainly Razor). Any dice that come up normal hits but don't meet the reduced method hit, but don't count toward increasing the damage.
         For example, a character with a 5(3) die pool shoots at a car, which is size 2. He rolls 5, 3, 2, 2, 1. This would normally be 4 hits, since everything but the 5 is under his method. However, the car's size reduces his method to 1, meaning only the 1 can stage up damage. The other hits count toward successfully shooting the car, however, meaning that if the driver puts some yin dice into dodging the attack, he still needs to generate 4 yin in order to completely dodge the incoming fire. Only the 1 increases the damage, however.
         In order to represent the destructive power of heavy ordinance, I'll probably assign a size rating to weapons as well. Most personal weapons are size 0, but the big guns would have higher values. A weapon's size rating works in the opposite way from vehicular size. The method of a roll applies normally, but you can apply extra dice to your damage, if not your attack. For example, a character with a 5(3) pool and a size 2 weapon rolls 5, 3, 2, 2, 1, he could use everything but the 5 to negate his target's yin dice, but if he does hit, he can use the 5 to stage up damage.
  • Maneuverability - In Shadowrun 4, this is a number that runs from +3 to -3, with 0 being average, and it represents how responsive the vehicle is. I'm going to invert the value (making the positives negative and vice versa), and use this as the shot cost modification for vehicular actions. By my reasoning, a more responsive vehicle means less time executing a maneuver and fighting the thing into place.
  • Speed - Shadowrun 4 lists this as kph. I see no reason not to keep it exactly as is. I don't see myself attaching any special mechanics to it, but it's a good stat to have. Usually, you get in a vehicle to go fast, so it's good to know how fast you can go.
  • Durability - Vehicles in Shadowrun 4 have a Body stat. For ease of conversion I'm going to take that stat and use that as the highest ranked wound box the vehicle has, then break the remaining track into L/M/S/D brackets as seems appropriate. For example, if a vehicle has a body of 10, it'll have the same exact damage track as a PC. If it has a body of 16, there's going to be 16 boxes on that track. I don't have any hard rule for how to break the boxes into levels, only that light should have the most, moderate the second highest, etc. 
  • Armor - I throw this in here only because most vehicles have some kind of inherent armor listed. I'm going to convert this exactly as I do personal armor: cut it to 1/3 and use a healthy amount of rounding and judgment calls.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Damage recovery is going to be a big deal in this game, and I say that not only because I expect my PCs to get hurt a lot. They will; it's how they roll, but healing is important for another reason entirely. In this party, I have a mage, who naturally knows the heal spell, but I also have a physician. He's an adept with magically boosted medical skills. For this reason, it's important that mundane and magical healing both be powerful options, but that are different, thus allowing both characters to be effective, but in different ways.

I'll start with magical healing. We already know a few things about it: it's focused, since it applies to a specific wound; and it's near instantaneous, since you cast it in combat and see results right away. To make medical healing different, the easiest thing to do would be to invert those traits. This makes medical healing general with a time delay.

So when you cast a heal spell, you pick a specific wound, i.e. one box on the condition track. The successes you generate on your test reduce the box by that amount. If you pick box #3, and you score 3 successes, you heal that wound completely. If you score 2 successes, the wound moves from box 3 to box 1. Thus, using magic to heal someone who's taken a lot of wounds is theoretically possible, but it's an exhausting procedure, since every spell comes with drain. This makes it good for battlefield triage, but poor for long term care.

And that's where medical treatment comes in. Well, almost. In order to figure out how medical treatment would work, I figured I needed to know how someone would heal naturally, and then allow medical treatment to enhance that process. So, for starters, a character recovers a number of points equal to the rating of his Endurance knack every day. Apply this to every wound at once. Effectively, this means at the end of every day, you slide all your damage boxes down a number of spaces equal to your Endurance.

There's a caveat to this, however. You can only heal if you're resting in a location with a lifestyle rating equal to or greater than your highest wound level. Thus, if you were in a low lifestyle apartment (let's call that rating 4), and you had a serious wound (box 8 filled), you would not heal at all. Even if you had damage in boxes 1-4, the 8 would prevent you from healing because you're too badly wounded to recover in such poor conditions.

Here's where the doctoring skill comes in. The doctor makes a roll, and can apply his successes to the lifestyle of the surroundings, which raises them for purposes of healing. Thus, with a trained physician, you could recover from a serious injury in a dirty crash house, but your doctor will need to tend to you throughout that process until you can heal on your own, and each day requires another roll.

As for injuries, they'll require 3 hits on a sorcery test per level. Yes, this means a deadly injury needs 12 hits to be healed. That's intentional. I want injuries to have a serious risk of lingering. You add to your damage bonus considerably by accepting an injury, so there needs to be something in place that prevents their easy removal in combat.

This means my players will be looking at the doctor to treat their injuries most often. Lower level injuries can be treated within a scene or two, but the heavy ones will likely linger for days. I'm thinking of giving each injury a base time and a success threshold for successful treatment. Any additional successes over this threshold can be applied against recovery time, with some minimum time applied per level so a deadly injury isn't negated in an hour because of a fantastic roll. Medically assisted recovery requires only one successful roll, but assumes the physician will be providing treatment the entire time. Interrupting this treatment (say, by separating the physician from his patient) negates the treatment.

Friday, June 25, 2010


When I was first introduced to Shadowrun, it was college, and second edition was in full swing. It being a college game, we had our regular crew, but there were often visitors who'd want to play a session while they were there. They weren't necessarily familiar with the game, but they wanted to give it a go. The GM would tell them the same thing every time:

Play a street sam.

Why? Because they were the easy option. You take a guy, throw together some attributes and skills, and then stuff him full of the basic implants and he's ready to go. In game, he doesn't have many fancy options to manage, and any active bonuses he has can be written into his attribute and skill numbers and promptly forgotten about.

Somewhere along the way that stopped being true. Implants became more sophisticated, the catalog grew, and eventually playing a street sam had all the complexity of any other character type. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, it puts the street sam on the same level as his magical compatriots in terms of depth of play and character planning. However, it also meant that Shadowrun was suddenly without an "easy" option that you could throw to new or casual players as a lifeline in a rules dense game.

Given that the sam in our game is played by a someone who prefers not to wrangle with deep rules (in SR4 he wasn't interested in modding out his gun because he didn't want to deal with long lists of components, and even preferred single fire to burst because he just wanted to roll some dice and drop some baddies, not do a math problem every combat round), I've decided to make the sam option the easy one as much as I can. Again, catering the game to my group and all.

What's that mean? For starters, it means I'm likely going to have to break one of my own rules: no dice beyond 10. I think the easiest way to represent most cyberware is as a bonus to die pools, and combined with higher knack ratings, that will push the character's pools over 10 in some cases. Even in the most extreme cases we're probably talking 4 extra dice though, and given that starting characters can't have knack ratings above 7 (and will only have a single knack that high), this isn't a gross violation. And if sorting an 11 die poll takes longer than a 10 die pool, the difference will be nominal.

Rather than convert every single piece of gear in the extensive catalog of Shadowrun, I've decided the best thing to do is convert gear as needed but create some general guidelines to speed the specific cases when they arise. To that end, I've decided cyberware, and all artificial augmentation for that matter, will do one of two things:

Allow the character to do the impossible.
Not all implants boost your natural talents. Some of them are like tools that have become a part of you, and let you do things no human, no matter how talented, will ever do. This includes things like having electromagnets in your palms, high frequency transmitters and receivers in your head, and an air tank with a 2 hour capacity in place of one lung. For most of these I anticipate no rules being required; they just do what they do. If you've got an air tank, you can hold your breath for 2 hours. If you don't, you can't.

Add more to what your character already has.
The most popular cyberware is the kind that's true augmentation, which takes what you can do and makes it better. Wired reflexes make you faster. Dermal armor makes you tougher. Muscle replacements make you stronger. A smartgun makes you a better shot. For the most part, these can be represented in die pool bonuses, and I think I can yank them straight from SR4 with little modification. For example, the smartgun implant gives you +2 dice when firing a smartgun. Yoink. Taken as is.

Now, this does require a little finessing in some cases. Muscle replacements add to a character's strength, except I got rid of attributes. I do have the Might knack though, so the implants could add its rating to that instead. More generally, I could simply say the character gets the bonus dice whenever physical strength is an important component of the test.

How about dermal armor? This lets the character resist damage by adding bonus dice to damage resistance tests. Except I got rid of damage resistance tests. In this case, I decided to give dermal armor the ability to soak incoming damage. How does one soak damage in Shadowitz? Injuries. For each level or dermal armor you have, you can take one additional injury per wound level. Wouldn't you know that there are four wound levels (L/M/S/D) and four levels of dermal armor? Seems like a perfect fit. So if you have rating two dermal armor, you can take two light and two moderate injuries instead of one each. Those bonus injuries can't be tagged by your opponent, because your armor prevented you from suffering any real damage. I realize this makes the implant ablative when the original wasn't but I'm willing to roll with the difference for the moment and see how it fares in playtest.

And then we get to the all important speedware. In Shadowrun you live and die by your reflexes, and the SR4 initiative system is nothing like mine, so how to represent the increased speed here? As it turns out, the translation isn't 100% clean, but there's some strong correlations.

First, the queen mother of speed: initiative passes. Initiative passes in SR determine how many times you can act, and that's what a high initiative is all about. In Shadowitz, the way to act more often is to reduce the number of shots your actions cost. The best speedware in the Shadowrun grants three additional initiative passes (high end move by wire systems might grant more, but no one in my game has expressed interest in it, what with the outrageous essence cost, money cost, and nasty side effects). Three points doesn't sound like a lot, but when a semi-automatic weapon costs four shots to fire, someone with topped out wired reflexes could do it for a single shot. That's fast.

Sounds perfect. And no, I'm not worried about shooting a gun for one shot, because if the guy doesn't roll dodge into that he's going to get pumped full of lead with no chance to resist or defend once someone returns fire.

The other side of initiative augmentation in SR is the reaction bonus. This is what you roll when you roll initiative. Shadowitz has an initiative pool too. So I could port that over as is. However, I've got one other thing in my system that SR doesn't: initiative method. It seems like there should be some kind of augmentation available to increase this score. It'll likely have to be a case by case call, but for the moment I'm thinking that any implant that adds to your reaction and your initiative passes will add its reaction bonus to your initiative pool, while anything that adds only to your reaction increases your method. I say this without pouring through the hefty implant catalog available, so something might trip me up eventually, but for the moment it seems like a good solution.

Oh, and what about essence? Well, what about essence? Let's bring that over 100% intact. Characters begin with 6 points of essence, and all cyberware costs exactly what the books say they do in terms of spiritual integrity, or neural integrity, or whatever representation of essence you want to use.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Hacking, part 3: Programs

With the basics of the hardware sorted out, at least in a rough draft, it's time to turn to the question of software. Programs are essential to hacking because everyone knows that they're how computers work. We're far enough along in technological development that anyone who'd want to play a hacker knows it's not just about what kind of system you're running, but what's running on it.

That said, I've yet to read any cyberpunk fiction, and certainly no Shadowrun fiction, that makes a big deal about the software. Yes, you can argue that the Chinese code cracking software that Case uses at the end of Neuromancer to hack the Tessier-Ashpool mainframe was a big part of the story, but I'd say it wasn't. It was an important component in enabling the hack, but what did Case do? He opened the program and proceeded to do something else for 10 hours, be it simstimming into Molly's body, talking with Armitage, physically moving to another vessel and getting involved in a gunfight. The program wasn't part of the story.

Fiction that puts characters into the Matrix is about what they do, not so much what they're running. So I want programs to take a back seat to action. I want them to make life easier, but I don't want them to dictate what a hacker can and cannot do in the Matrix. If someone's playing a nova hot codeslinger who writes all his code on the fly, I want him to be able to.

My idea for the moment is to turn code into a supplimentary knack or sorts. Rate every program 1 - 10 just like regular knacks, but you never roll a program. You fold it into whatever skill you're using to perform a Matrix action, and your knack rating is modified by the program rating. No program? No problem. Fold it in as a rating 0 knack. That'll hurt, but it won't knock you completely out. And if you're really hot stuff, you'll be okay anyway.

There are a few places where this falls down, but they're both obvious and easily fixed. These would be the utilities that function more like gear than knacks. In most cases we're talking combat utilities. That's fine though. Let's just make the base attack power equal to the rating of your attack program (meaning it's 0 if you're not using one, plus any yang dice you generate in your test), and your armor... I don't want armor running to 10. I could give it a rating equal to the step instead, which tops at 5 points. That's still a lot, but you need top grade software to get that. Maybe I'll look at that again when it gets used.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hacking, part 2: Commlinks

I've decided to start with commlinks in figuring out the role of gear in hacking because a link should probably only do a few things, whereas a program list might wind up being rather extensive. The question is, what does a link do?

In this case, I don't know that Shadowrun is going to be much inspiration, since all the elements involved in hacking all do the same thng: they add dice to your pool. Certainly that makes things easy, but given my drive to keep the die pool low that's not an option for me. So a commlink needs to be something more than a collection of dice.

I took a little time and scanned what cyberdecks did in earlier editions of the game, as well as how they worked in some others, but for the most part they seemed to be pretty consistent in offered abilities. Beyond the obvious, I don't feel like I took away a lot I can use.

One thing I do like from SR4 is the divide between link and operating system. I'm not sure why I like it so much, maybe it feels more like actual computer technology than an interface that's 100% hardware. With that in mind, I sat down to sketch out some abilities a link might offer. Here's what I'm working with at the moment:
  • Active Memory - This is the number of programs you can have running at once. Nothing groundbreaking here.A common theme among nearly all games with deckers is that the quality of your deck determines how many programs you can load, and oftentimes what the max rating is. Rating I'm shifting elsewhere, but quantity I'll stick here. This is a hardware aspect.
  • Firewall - Shadowrun 4 started calling a link's armor rating "firewall" instead of "hardening," which is what is used to be called when it was all hardware. Firewall sounds better to me, more like the way it's likely to work. Given that I want to have some sort of armor utility when I get to programs though, I'm thinking this will be the link's damage capacity. Obviously it's a software aspect.
  • System - Here's where we stick the cap for program rating. Since I want this to reflect overall performance in a big way, I'm also considering giving the System rating in bonus dice when you go VR. Because of that, the rating needs to be kept somewhat low, probably a max of 5. Thus max program rating is twice the system, since programs will likely run to 10. This is a software aspect.
And that's all I've got for the link stats. Seems a little paltry. Maybe it's me and my compulsion for symmetry, but it feels like there should be an even number of factors for hardware and software, which I'm lacking at the moment. Well, that's for later.

Onto damaging this piece of gear. Links get beat up when hackers take them out for a spin, assuming it's not the meat brain getting burned. Now, I've seen two different ways of dealing with non-meat damage in cybercombat. One does damage to the deck's hardware, and one attacks either its programs or the icon that represents the hacker. Given that SR uses the latter, I'm leaning toward making some sort of system like that. I want running the Matrix to feel like running the Shadowrun Matrix as much as possible, and a big part of that is taking hits to your online persona.

If I want a consistent game design, I'd slap a condition monitor on a link that behaves exactly the way it does for characters in the real world. That would make sense and provide less to learn. However, I keep getting hung up on if and how meat damage and Matrix damage interact. Do they? Are they cumulative? They shouldn't be, given that no other damage in the system is. Yet if they're separate it makes for a very tough hacker, since he can take hits across three different damage tracks (stun, physical, and Matrix).

Instead, I'm going to try something different. Commlinks have a different kind of condition monitor than the hacker himself, and they track damage differently. First off, I'm making the decision that 99% of the IC out there that attacks a link does so to crash it, not slag it. Thus it's all data damage, not hardware. This means damage to the link is in the form of lag, buggy applications, and crashes. In short, system performance.

The resulting damage track works like this: for each point of System you have, you have one level of health. Each health level can take a number of points of damage equal to your Firewall. This works similarly to hit points, in that damage is cumulative. When you clear out a level, you lower your System temporarily. This reduces the max rating of your programs and subtracts from your die pool if you're in VR. When your last level zeroes out, your system crashes and needs to be reformatted.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Ah, hacking. Back when it was called decking, it was the bane of Shadowrun, and indeed any cyberpunk game. In fact, the guy who was the long running Shadowrun GM before I began running the game had a house rule that said all deckers had to be NPCs. He refused to allow PC deckers and didn't want to know anything about Matrix rules.

Then SR4 came and introduced Augmented Reality as a viable interface in addition to the traditional Virtual Reality where you leave your body limp and project your mind into a computer generated world. In AR, you see everything as an overlay of the physical world, and can interact with the virtual world via a popup window, controlling your Matrix persona as if you're playing The Sims. It's slower than VR, but it's faster than tortoise terminals (which are ancient history), and allows you to interact with the Matrix while physically present and capable on a run.

My hacker loves AR so much that he has an aspect called "VR is for losers." Back when we played SR4 by the book he never, ever went into VR. Not once. And he was so good at what he did that dropping into full simsense mode never seemed necessary.

I give you this preamble because hacking is an aspect of my game that's used by one character and one character only. While AR and the proliferation of commlinks means anyone can get onto the Matrix and perform some basic functions, my group is decidedly old school. The Matrix is for deckers, or hackers to use the new common parlance (really, decking is so 2050s). Not only did no one else have any rating at all in computer skills, but one character took the trait inept and applied it to computers, one character didn't buy a commlink, and one character had the gremlins flaw.

So hacking is all about one particular character in this game, and because this rules set is designed for my group in particular, and because this player has some strong biases about what he does and how he thinks things should work, these rules are more heavily influenced by a single point of view than others to date.

With that out of the way, let's move into the nuts and bolts of hacking. My design goals for hacking are:
  • Model task resolution and combat on the existing system as much as possible
  • Balance the role played by equipment and character ability
  • Make a significant performance difference between AR and VR while keeping both attractive
  • Make Matrix opposition easy to stat and run
I'll get to hardware and software later, but something that is absolutely vital to me in this hacking system is that the character's knacks be at the core of all rolls. Something that we noticed in SR4 was that there were some situations in the Matrix where your pool consisted of a hardware and a software rating. Maybe this was to encourage greater use of the Matrix, since you didn't have to spend precious karma to be good, and every runner winds up with extra nuyen eventually, but it didn't register with my group. No one spent their cash to get online except for the hacker, who was going to do it anyway. Given that, all rolls in the Matrix, every single one of them, needs to key off a Matrix knack. A better commlink and good program load should help you, but at the core you need to know what you're doing.

Since I don't use attributes, I don't have to figure out how they too become a part of these die pools (and thank the spirits for that). Methods do raise a question though. Say you've got a nova hot hacker who's a wiz at cracking IC and nabbing paydata without anyone noticing until days later. You'd represent that with a high Sleaze rating in Shadowitz. So far, so good.

Except that said hacker would also be a ninja in the real world because of that same rating, and all because he knows how to slip past scan programs in the Matrix. You run into something similar for all the methods. An expert in slinging attack programs and corrupting source code is also an expert in physical combat. Someone good at spoofing false credentials is a master of the con game.

That doesn't feel right at all.

So I'm proposing the concept of "worlds." There are three worlds in Shadowrun: the physical, the Matrix, and the Astral. You use different aspects for each, and you assign them at character generation. One of these worlds is your primary. You get 35 points to buy your methods for your primary world. For the others, assuming you have access to them, you have 25 points to buy your methods, and they can be as different from your primary set as you like. So you can be well connected in the real world, but deadly and sneaky in the Matrix, for example.

25 points is a little skimpy, but it's still enough to give you a good method or two, and since it is for your secondary world, it should be the set you use less.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sorcery, part 3: Mana

Mana is the magical energy used in sorcery, and it has nothing to do with today's quandry. No, instead I'm tackling a pair of spell types: the mana bolt/ball and power bolt/ball (and associated touch variants) spells. These are unique among the Shadowrun grimior because they damage a target's aura, not his physical body.

At the core, they work the same as other spells in Shadowitz: force of the spell is the base damage, with yang dice adding to this and yin dice resisting drain. So far, so good.

Where we get into trouble is how these spells work in Shadowrun. Unlike elemental manipulation spells, which produce gouts of flame, acid, electricity, etc., mana and power spells automatically bypass armor. Furthermore, while a target resists power spells with his Body as any other damage resistance test, he resists mana spells with Willpower instead. Thus, a well stocked combat mage knows powerbolt for elf, and manabolt for the troll.

I've been wrestling with this for a long time. Without a damage resistance test, how do I properly represent the resilience to these spells. I worked out a number of solutions:
  1. Knack = threshold. In this scenario, a target's knack rating in Endurance or Resolve (the closest analog of Body and Willpower I've got, respectively) becomes the base success threshold for these spells. This means that all targets would have a base of 2 instead of 1, and it could theoretically mean you'd need 10 successes to affect a resilient target, should his knack be that high. But a 10 score is high, and I mean high. Still, the more I thought about it, the less I liked it.
  2. Knack = casting penalty. If you've been with me this far, you know I never considered reducing a mage's sorcery pool by his target's knack. Losing dice is not the Shadowitz way. But converting a number of dice equal to the target's appropriate knack seemed like a possible way of representing his innate resistance to the magic. Die penalties make things harder, but far from impossible. I return to the problem of scenario #1 however: a high defensive knack has the potential to overwhelm these spells. I don't like that. Spells pay in drain, while guns do not, and targets don't inflict penalties on shooters because of any ability they have. Moving on.
  3. Step = threshold. This is almost the same as scenario #1 above, except that the numbers are a lot lower. Now, it's the target's step rating in a knack that determines the success threshold. Thus even if a target has a Resolve of 10, the threshold to hit him with a mana spell is 5. That ups the difficulty without making it crazy. However, it requires making a calculation for every target, and even if it's a small one, it can slow things down if you do it enough. So, still not loving it.
  4. Knack = damage mitigation. When I hit this point I knew I was reaching. High Endurance and Resolve knacks already grant additional damage boxes, so what was I thinking here? I was thinking that Resolve grants bonus stun boxes, but mana spells, which are resisted by Resolve, deal physical. So what if mana spells with a force less than a target's Resolve knack do stun instead. Or... my mind shot off into some half formed idea at this point, but I shut down that line hard. This was getting so complicated that it was rediculous. Which brought me to the option I settled on.
  5. Screw it. That's right, screw it. Does there need to be some special resistance represented in these spell mechanics? Why? For bullets, you have to fold a defensive knack into your pool, and that's that. Why not do the same for these? You want to resist a manabolt spell? Fold Resolve into your die pool and use the resulting yin dice to resist. In the end, I decided there's no real reason to do anything special with these spells at all. Making them work like every other spell, weapon, etc. in the game might rob them of a little bit of identity, but makes using them much easier and makes the game easier to learn and play. In the end, that's a bigger win.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sorcery, part 2: Healing

The basic spellcasting rules I came up with cover a lot of ground, but there are some special cases that require additional work. The first that comes to mind is also one that is going to see heavy use: healing. Anyone who plays a mage in Shadowrun and doesn't take the heal spell earns the instant enmity of the group. After all, manaballs are nice, but everyone knows the mage is there to heal. He's like the Shadowrun cleric, just with more offensive punch.

The heal spell works like any other in Shadowrun, and thus in many ways it'll work just fine in Shadowitz, with one major exception: the target number of the spell is based on the essence of the person being treated. In my system, the target number is going to be based on the method applied, like all other rolls.

This divide of technology vs magic is integral to Shadowrun however; every mechanic in the game that deals with magic has it at odds with technology. The two simply do not mix, so factoring this into my game is essential to preserve the proper feel.

For the moment, my plan is to use a two tier method system when it comes to healing. It makes things a little more complicated, but piggybacks on existing rules, so I'm hoping actual play isn't impacted much.

Okay, so essence in Shadowrun runs from 0-6, with 6 meaning a healthy person without any systemic alterations, and thus easiest to heal. Below 0, you're either dead or a cyberzombie, and I'm not offering cybermancy to my players, so it's not something I need to worry about. That spread is very close to the range of method scores, and the entire time I worked out possible rules for healing, that essence score kept staring at me.

When casting a heal spell, the wizard uses his method to determine successes as normal. However, he can only apply those dice that roll under the target's essence (minimum of 1) to the heal effect. Those that roll over the target's essence but below the mage's method can be applied to drain as normal. The mage cures a number of points equal to the successes applied to the spell, up to the force.

Now, here's where the difference in wounding comes into play. Since each box of damage is a different wound, it's very easy to track what the mage can and cannot treat with magic: he can cast heal once per wound box. The box he selects also sets the drain for the spell. If he doesn't score enough successes to clear the box out, he reduces it by the number of successes instead. So if a mage scored 3 successes on wound box number 6, he'd erase the mark in box 6 and fill in box 3 instead. But if box 3 is filled, the wound would roll up to the first vacant box as normal. If that's wound box 6, well....

This makes the minor wounds significant but not crippling, which I like. Two characters with box 10 filled are both in rough shape and both have the same die penalties, but the one with a lot of lower boxes filled as well is going to suffer mechanically in a different way.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Mechanics and flavor design principles regarding magic never made it to either of my initial lists, in large part because I was drawing from the broader body of cyberpunk literature and not just Shadowrun. Obviously, there weren't mages and spirits running around any of the other stories I considered. Still, it's a fundamental part of the game, and my party has a mage in it.

Shadowrun's spellcasting is of a particular flavor, and in order for it to feel like Shadowrun, these things need to be represented. In my mind, the two biggies are drain and overcasting, in that order.

The big problem with drain isn't the concept, but how to avoid extra die rolls. I've got offense and defense in combat down to a single roll of the dice; I don't want every spell to require two die rolls just because it's magic.

The easiest thing to do, both for me in design work and players learning the game, would be to take what I've got and apply it here. That is, your spellcasting successes get divided into yang dice, which power the spell, and yin dice, which resist drain. In fact, this gets easier yet, because with this setup, I can likely use Shadowrun's grimior, and the drain formula for each spell. So mages can select the force of their spell, with the force determining the base power of the spell, and the same roll resolves both casting and drain. However, because a player can split the dice as he likes, there's a small tactical element to casting. It's an additional step, but I like giving the player that control.

This leads to the issue of overcasting and pretty much solves it at the same time: use existing SR rules. That is, if you cast at a force equal to or less than your magic, drain is stun. If you go over, it's physical. Simple enough, and very easy for existing players to make the transition.

The one wrinkle is if a mage wants to dodge incoming attacks and cast a spell. I'm tempted to say yin dice can do double duty on this. So any yin dice spent to resist drain aren't used up; they can also be used to defend against an attack. Though in this case, the mage would have to combine dodge into his pool to use them that way. I don't want to make a player split his dice three ways (spell power, drain resistance, and physical defense) because with the goal of keeping die pools low, a three way split is brutal.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Most of my current crew likes playing humans, which I like only in that it's actually representative of the population breakdown of Shadowrun. Even by 2072, humans are the overwhelming majority of the world's population. So to have a nearly all human group means my team of shadowrunners accurately represents that distribution.

That said, there's also a player who is, well, let's call him an elven enthusiast. "I'm an elf. That makes me better. Check it out, it's right there in the name. Homo nobilis. Nobilis. I'm nobilis, bitch!" Yes, that's a real quote.

So, obviously, I'm going to have to create some metahuman rules. Besides, if I don't, someone's going to want to switch characters to a meta just because Murphy's Law applies to gaming as much as it does to the rest of life.

The thing is, when you look over what being a metahuman gives you in Shadowrun, it's all about attributes. Okay, being a troll also gives you some armor and natural reach, but even so, good and bad, it's all about attributes.

I dropped attributes from this game forever ago.

There are other aspects to being a metahuman. Not many, but they're there. Dwarves and trolls suffer from being a different size than the rest of the world, and thus face increased equipment costs as well as general inconveniences.

Now I have rolled some attribute-like qualities into the knack list, but I don't like the idea of giving out free knack points for being a metahuman. Thus far my incomplete character creation rules don't have much use for build points. You buy ranks in your methods, but everyone starts with the same number of empty slots for knacks. Mucking with that complicates things more than I care to do.

So what about making metahumanity an aspect? Every metahuman species has negatives as well as positives (except for elves, who take no penalties and only gain attribute bonuses, probably because they're so nobilis). Still, every single metahuman is going to face racial prejudice at some point, and that's a viable negative quality. For the other metahumans, there are other negative qualities that can be inferred from their attribute penalties. Likewise, the invokable bonuses can be applied to situations based on the bonus attribute points they gain.

Under this system, a dwarf could invoke his racial aspect to gain a bonus for any resilience task (physical or mental), and anything that extra strength could assist. That same racial aspect can be compelled to make someone the dwarf needs to deal with a racist, or in situations to make his shortness or slow running speed a more pronounced problem.

Orks and trolls present a little bit of an extra complication in that they gain increased damage capacity by way of hefty body bonuses, and natural armor in the case of a troll. Aspects won't help here, since there's no damage resistance roll, so there's be nothing aspect dice can enhance. Since damage capacity no longer has anything to do with attributes, I'm going to give them extra damage boxes instead, and since trolls are sort of more ork than ork, gaining the same kinds of bonuses, just more of them, trolls will either gain more bonus boxes or bonus boxes of a higher level. I'm leaning toward the latter, but honestly I'm not sure it's an issue I'm going to need to deal with anytime soon. In all my time playing Shadowrun I've seen ork characters, but I can't think of a single troll.

I see metahumanity as an aspect to have a number of things going for it. I can give bonuses to the players when appropriate without having to muck with the numbers on their sheet at all. They invoke their racial aspect like any other and get 2 bonus dice. All I have to do is define what those dice can apply to, and the attribute bonuses they used to gain are a great guide for that. And by making it an aspect, I work in the cost of being a metahuman without throwing any other aspect of character design out of whack. Methods and knacks can remain exactly as they are.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Aspects, part 4: Edge

So if invoking an aspect gives you bonus dice in exchange for spending something, and compelling aspects are supposed to give you something, that something needs to be defined.

Spirit of the Century uses a currency of fate points. These are what you gain for compelling aspects, and they're what you spend for invoking them. If I understand things correctly, they serve no other purpose than to power aspects. And that's just fine.

Shadowrun 4 has something called Edge. Edge points can be spent to enhance your die rolls in various ways, and I appreciated their inclusion because it gave me a way to reward players on the spot for play that enhanced the game. Instead of handing out bonus experience, which didn't come until the end of the run (possible several sessions away), I got to give them something right then and there. That immediate reward felt stronger to me. Plus, I've found with rare exception players like to have a small pool of bonus resources available to them. Even though it's been years since I last ran it, I still hear about drama dice from 7th Sea. In fact, I received several requests to include a drama die mechanic in this system.

My one and only problem with drama dice was that in the various 7th Sea games I ran, the race to acquire drama dice often became a jesters' convention as everyone shot for the punchline or funny bit that made everyone laugh. I'd reward bits of heavy drama too, but for the most part people latched onto being funny. But in Shadowitz, tying this reward to aspects means that there's a more focused way of getting the reward, and they're only funny if the aspect is funny. Given that I don't run funny Shadowrun games (not that we don't have plenty of laughs at the table), the aspects shouldn't be funny, and thus the players will receive rewards for play that reinforces my vision of the sixth world, and it'll be right there on their sheets.

So I'm adopting edge into Shadowitz as the currency of aspects. Spend it to activate them, earn it by compelling them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Aspects, part 3: What They Do

Now that I've made the decision to replace generic flaws with personalized aspects, the question of how they work still remains. Prior posts made the case that getting bonus character building resources and earning extra experience were both unsatisfactory for my purposes.

If you've taken a look at how Spirit of the Century uses aspects, you probably have a good idea of where I'm going. If not, aspects in that game can be good, bad, or both. To use an aspect to your benefit, you spend a fate point and invoke it. You then get a bonus to your roll because of the aspect. If the aspect has a negative quality to it, you gain a fate point if you active the aspect to complicate your situation. The GM can also compel a negative aspect, activating it when he thinks it would make things interesting and awarding you a fate point for your trouble.

In Houses of the Blooded, John Wick goes one further and makes all aspects double edged; every aspect has both a positive and a negative side. He does this because of the specific theme of his game, but I'm taking this idea for my own system for very different reasons. By my reasoning, if aspects are both bonus abilities and flaws, they stand a better chance of seeing use in game. If I know my group right, they'll start by using the positive portions of the aspects first, but as they get more comfortable with the system in general and their own aspects in particular, they'll bring the negative side into play.

That's all well and good, but what do aspects do in Shadowitz? Since the game's core resolution mechanic relies on accumulating successes, the easiest thing to is to make aspects give bonus dice when invoked. Yeah, this will likely violate my 10 dice max rule, but I'm willing to be a little flexible. Besides, since aspects require the expenditure of something to use, they're more likely to be edges that the PCs pull out when they need something extra, so most die pools will still likely stay within the 10 die barrier. I'm going to say an invoked aspect gives you a bonus of 2 dice on the roll. That seems significant without rocketing the die pool numbers into the land of unreasonable.

On the flip side, when compelled, I'm leaving these ill defined mechanically. Instead of inflicting a mechanical penalty, I think it would be more interesting if the negative side of aspects had a role playing concept. This doesn't have to mean that negative aspects are irrelevant in combat, just that they have role playing applications instead of die mechanics. For example, in thinking of aspects for my current party, I have a couple of ideas already.

One character is a street sam played by a man with a particular love of the sacrificial last stand. It's manifested in many a game, and everyone is well aware of it. This player derives a special joy from plugging a doorway with his character and firing until his guns are empty and his body has gained 40 pounds of lead weight while he covers his teammate's retreat. Now, after he drops the rest of the team runs back into danger in order to retrieve him, which defeats the purpose, but that's a communication issue they're still working on.... One possible aspect for this character:

Runners, You Are Leaving!
  • Invoke - Gain 2 dice for any combat action that obstructs the opposition from pursuing your teammates. Yes, this includes killing the pursuers.
  • Compel - You'll cover your team's retreat, but won't be a part of it. Stand and fight for them.
Another player I have has a stated love of melee mages. In fact, in this game he specifically made a very different mage because he said that he always plays the mage who wants to fight hand to hand. The thing is, I don't think I've ever seen him actually play that character type. So, why not give him what he wants, and reward him for playing to type? Given that his mage is a shaman, this gives me the following idea:

Counting Coup
  • Invoke - Gain 2 dice when casting a combat spell with a range of touch.
  • Compel - Your desire to fight in close overwhelms your sense of tactics. You must move to melee on your next action, abandoning cover and ranged combat options.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Aspects, part 2: The Theory

Last post I mentioned finding a mechanical system used in Houses of the Blooded and Spirit of the Century called aspects. What are they? In short, aspects are short bits of descriptive text that define something about the character. They could be quotes, blurbs, or whatever else is appropriate. You can take that concept and apply it to characters almost anywhere, from "Hulk is the strongest there is!" to the Knights of Solamnia and their code of conduct.

When I originally read about these, my thought was to use them to represent the list of flaws that Shadowrun provided in its books, because it was a big list. However, unlike weapons and armor, I decided not to use the game as inspiration for my system. Spirit of the Century doesn't provide any aspects at all beyond a small number presented as examples. Instead what it does is give a general mechanic for the benefits an aspect provides, and then leaves the details up to the player. In that game, aspects are supposed to be personal things tied directly to the identity of the character, who he is and what he's done.

I like that so much better than creating a list of prefabricated aspects and letting my players choose. Not only is it less work for me, but it makes creating a character persona and identity an essential part of the character creation process. Now, in order to completely finish your character mechanically, you have to have an actual character concept beyond class and combat objective. There's none of this "I'll work out the personality once we start playing." You don't have to write a novel, but you do have to have some idea of who your character is and what's most important about him (if not to him).

Most importantly, by letting the players create their own aspects, they tell me what buttons they most want me to push. If this works, they'll provide me a list of ways they want me to mess with them, make their lives more difficult, and in general create more dramatic complications. But because they've tailored these flaws and worked them into the story and identity of their characters instead of choosing them from a generic list, they'll be more personally invested in these flaws and will play them because they're a part of the character, not some checklist for rewards.

At least that's the hope.