Monday, August 30, 2010

A New Book

FTD Shadowrun is now available for free on the bookshelf. It's pretty stripped down, just like the game itself, and unlike Shadowitz, I've not had opportunity to playtest it. Remember, my group's not been able to meet much lately, and when we do, they all want to play the campaign. Something about continuing the story and sticking with a system now that we've jumped three times. Players, I swear. So picky.

So if you do happen to put this little packet to use sometime, I'd love to hear how it's turned out for you. Feedback is certainly welcome.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scenario Design in FTD

With characters, and by extension NPCs, taken care of, the last of my goals is to find a way to make scenarios completely off the cuff. Even the most stripped down system requires heavy prep when you get into scenario planning. Again, that would be fine in a standard setup, but when the game comes up spontaneously something faster becomes necessary.

With minimizing prep in mind, I return to the scenario prep method used in Wilderness of Mirrors, which puts it all on the players in an interesting way. They make the scenario as part of the game, and then I as the GM have license to change key details as they progress. Oops, the person you're extracting switched offices last week. He's actually three floors up now. That sort of thing.

The one thing this doesn't facilitate well is the double cross, which is a Shadowrun staple. Runners are hired for something, and then halfway through they discover that the job is actually nothing like what it appeared on the surface, and said revelation turns out causing a whole lot of problems that weren't there initially. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure how to work this in, but I anticipate getting practice on various theories. Right now I'm thinking it'll be some on the fly riff on the existing way the rules suggest you alter player provided details. It deserves more thought, and it's the one lingering issue. We'll see what I come up with in time.

In the meantime, suggestions are welcome. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Extras, part 4: Magic

And now we're to the thorn in my development side, always. Magic. I can usually get cyberware and general physical conflict worked out with a little tinkering, and then toss in adept powers for good measure, but sorcery and conjuring always gives me headaches. If ever there was a mechanic where I'd want to invoke this system's name, this would be it.

Even throwing away most the details, it still winds up more complicated. So here's the breakdown:

General Magic
Magical activities are qualities. You want to perceive something astrally? Roll your Assensing quality. You want to engage in astral combat? That would be Astral Projection. Each spell is it's own quality too. So is summoning and banishing. Yes, that's a little rough, but you get free qualities for being a mage the same as you get free cyberware for being a sam, and in my experience mages in SR only cast a handful of spells anyway.

Whenever you cast a spell, you roll the appropriate spell quality. The GM also rolls the spell quality, with a TN set at your Runner Type, or spellcaster quality, whichever is more appropriate. Any successes on the GM's roll turns into drain damage, which are downshifts, not actual damage. You can allocate any successes you get on your roll to offset this damage. Anything you don't spend there applies to your spell effect.

Summoning works similarly to spellcasting: roll your summoning quality opposed by the GM's roll. However, this time you choose the TN for your roll, and the GM gets the appropriate bonus. Thus, if you choose an Average [0] roll, the GM gets 2d6 + 0, and your TN is a 7. You may allocate any successes to drop this drain as normal.

If you succeed, you summon the spirit. It has a number of qualities equal to the TN of your roll. Thus, an Average spirit would have 7 qualities. You can assign them to whatever seems appropriate to the spirit type. Any additional successes over what you needed to summon the spirit gives you an additional service; base summoning gives you only one.

Banishing is a straight up combat roll opposed by the spirit. If the spirit wins the exchange, it causes damage in the form of drain. If the banisher wins, he reduces the services the spirit owes or, in the case of free spirits, reduces its qualities as per normal damage.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Extras, part 3: Adept Powers

The simplest solution to handle adept powers would be to make them qualities, but despite my desire to keep this game simple, I did want to make the different character types different. Since I already used qualities for cyberware, I went looking for something else for adept powers.

I borrowed from Swashbuckers of the 7 Skies and introduced techniques: little boosts that aren't qualities themselves but provide bonuses to your actions under specific situations. Like everything else in FTD, I gave adeps 1 quality per rank in the appropriate Runner Type.

The difference between these techniques and the additional qualities that the other characters have is that these techniques don't provide any flat bonuses like qualities do, but instead make existing qualities better by adding dice to the roll (but the adept's still got to discard all but 2). It's perhaps a little bit of an academic difference, but again, I'm not sweating the details here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Extras, part 2: Matrix

Ah, the Matrix. You know, I could represent it with qualities, just like everything else in FTD, but for this I'm going simpler yet. The reason is that this is a realm that's likely to split the party. Never, ever have I seen a group where everyone's equipped to go VR, even with the new accessibility options in Shadowrun 4. This means I want a resolution mechanic that's even faster, so that we can handle the hackers and technomancers and then get them back to the meat world with the rest of the party.

So I'm ripping the mechanics for this straight out of a game called There Is No Spoon, a game designed to model the action of the Matrix movie. It'll require some reskinning, since the meat world of Shadowrun looks a lot like the digital world of the Matrix movies, but the rules are about as simple as they can be, and that's very important.

As to how you get your Matrix scores, that comes off your Runner Type quality. If you've got a Runner Type that's involved with the Matrix, like Hacker or Technomancer, then you get that quality's rank in points to build your Matrix persona. It works well that characters in There Is No Spoon are built on 6 points, since that's the maximum value for a quality. This means it scales perfectly, and yes, I think you could probably make a passable hacker with only 2 points.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Extras, part 1: Cyberware

I said at the beginning of this that I wanted to account for cyberware without a lot of detail, but still have it in there. So what I've done is make cyberware its own category of qualities, and you get access to them if your Runner Type is one that has cyberware. These are free qualities, by the way, equal to the rating of your Runner Type quality. So, if you have a +4 in Street Sam, you get 4 cyber qualities.

And that's that. It's pretty easy to model cyberware as qualities, since qualities are free form and descriptive. All you've got to do is describe the implant's benefit. Dermal Armor can be used as a physical resistance quality. Smartlinks add their score to gunplay rolls when using smartguns. Wired Reflexes add their rank to your initiative total and give you one additional action per round per rank. Etc.

What about essence? Well, what about essence? Forget essence. It's a setting particular part of SR that's there to instill game balance. It's been worked into the game fiction, but really, it's not important. With a one shot kind of setup, advancement's not a concern, and now that ware is represented in qualities, it's going to be bought with xp, so essence isn't as important, since he has to advance at the same rate as everyone else anyway. Essence is one of those details we can stop tracking. Away it goes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Other Qualities, Good and Bad

Want to be a great diver, but you took Hacker as your Runner Type? You can be. Just assign a different quality to your character. Runner type rolls up all your archetypal skills into one package, but you've got other qualities available to you. These others are more specific, but they let you broaden your character's capabilities a little bit. So that hacker can be a crack wheelman too with the Street Racer quality.

However, one additional quality you get is, just like in the core PDQ rules, a weakness. In my game, I'm defining weaknesses in a particular way. They can't compel a particular behavior, but must constrain other actions. For example, a popular drawback in many games I've played is something like Impulsive, which translates into "go wander off on your own and do what the sign tells you not to do." Another that's shown up a few times is Fascination: Fire, or some pyromaniac variant, in which the character is compelled to light everything on fire.

Rather than encourage chaotic behavior, especially in situations where time's limited and we need to finish the run that same night because there won't be another session, I'm ruling a weakness in this game must constrain behavior in some way. For example, our resident hacker had, back in the SR4 days, a Strength, Body, and Will of 1. In this system he'd have the weakness of Weak. Anytime he attempts to exert himself or resist anything, he takes a penalty. I have another PC whose character comes from a rural community that's rejected a lot of modern tech, so in FTD he'd have the weakness of Luddite, for which he takes a penalty when using any hi-tech device.

These are very broad weaknesses, but given that a combination of a Runner Type and other quality can result in some impressively high bonuses, the players should still be sitting on a high pile of bonus points.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Runner Type

Characters in FTD use much the same setup as those in PDQ's core rules: they have a bunch of positive qualities that are strengths, and a weakness. These are all player-defined, free form descriptions that can be nearly anything. If they can describe how a quality applies to a situation, they get to add it to their roll. Simple.

However, in looking at the preview for Swashbuckers of the 7 Skies, I saw a modification to this setup that really struck me: the swashbuckler forte. Basically, this forte defines your overarching quality as a swashbucker. It's like an especially broad quality. For example, typical fortes in this game include fencing and acrobatics. But swashbucker fortes can include musketeer and pirate, which apply much more broadly.

Now, I've seen plenty of PDQ offshoots that give you categories for which you must assign some of your starting qualities. They're called Core Qualities. Things such as motivation, past, etc. They're great ideas, and they could be applicable to the world of Shadowrun, but again, in terms of a pickup game I think such character concerns are largely unnecessary. They could see use, especially if there's a bonus granted for acting a certain way, but when designing something to be played as a series of one shots, deep characters aren't the order of the day. At least not in the overwhelming number of one shots I've run. When running a game in which there are no long term consequences, most of the people I know tend to really let go, meaning they become wildly violent and insanely wacky. You could play a deep one shot. I've played in a few of those, and they were phenomenal, but they are far from the norm and not what most my gamer friends look for in one shots. Campaigns, sure. One shots, almost never.

So instead, I'm going to leave out mandatory quality types that flesh out character. Someone could use these qualities for motivation and past if they chose, but it's not necessary.

Thus, in FTD, you get 6 totally free-form qualities, plus a Runner Type quality. This is the SR version of a swashbuckling quality; it defines in very broad terms what kind of runner you are and what your skills are. I'm thinking players can use the archetypes provided in the core SR books over the years. Hacker, Street Sam, Radical Eco-Shaman, Smuggler, Drone Rigger, Face, etc. The idea is that if something you're trying to do falls under this quality, you get it, so it encompasses a wide base of skills. So you can use your Street Sam quality in a fight, when talking to certain kinds of people, and it also determines how much cyberware you start with (more on that later). Your Hacker quality determines your skill in the Matrix (also later), as well as general computer skills and your ability to interact with certain kinds of people.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I call the new system I'm using FTD. No, it has nothing to do with floral delivery services. FTD is an adaptation of Atomic Sock Monkey's PDQ system. PDQ stands for Prose Descriptive Quality. Since I draw on it so heavily, I thought a three letter acronym seemed appropriate. Mine's based on the attitude I went in with: Forget The Details.

See, when I designed Shadowitz, I was creating a system for a serious game that modeled the cyberpunk genre as well as I could make it, and included details in it both for genre considerations as well as player sensibilities. But pickup games don't require that kind of consideration. People don't tend to make deep characters for one shots: they're going to play once and then throw those characters away. In a setup such as this, I'd argue that 90% of the stuff I designed for Shadowitz is unimportant, and maybe even gets in the way.

Instead, I need something that provides some basic abilities, a quick combat mechanic, and otherwise gets out of the way. It does need to handle magic and artificial augmentation, as well as vehicles and virtual reality, since all of these are part of Shadowrun, but it doesn't need to do so in excruciating detail. As long as the players feel their characters are represented in the proper way, the level of detail probably doesn't matter.

So, my goals for FTD are as follows:

  1. Minimize mechanics so that there are almost no rules to remember or adjudicate, and what's there is flexible enough to be broadly applicable. 
  2. Provide some way of representing and simply handling all character aspects, from cyberware to sorcery.
  3. Make NPCs so easy to create that they can be drawn up on the fly, including all gear.
  4. Re-design scenarios such that they can be run almost entirely off the cuff, since pickup games occur without warning and I'll likely have nothing prepared. 
Notice there's no genre considerations this time. That's because I don't think genre's all that important in this situation. I sprinkle in the proper setting scenery and everyone will be happy. No one's looking to feel the dehumanizing aspects of hacking perfectly healthy body parts out and replacing them with chrome, for example.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Introducing the Bookshelf

If you're a regular here, you might notice a little change in the page layout. Over on the right is a new section, a link list called the Bookshelf. This is where you'll find download links for any development projects I blog about here that I turn into a full document. Shadowitz v1.0 is currently up and available for download. Maybe in a little time FTD will be too.

So have at it. If any of the work I chronicled here caught your interest, the Bookshelf now contains all of it in a single manual, with some of the rules updated from the original blog posts on account of playtesting results. If you do put any of it to use, I'd love to hear how it worked for you.

The New, Even Lighter SR System

With Shadowitz largely complete (there's a little more development detail as I flesh out the notes into something fuller), but the next game on the distant horizon, I'm left with a lot of gaming energy sitting around unused. I have the opportunity to run a pickup game every now and again, but nothing regular. Besides, I've got a regular game, it's just, well, irregular right now.

So while I search for the social calendar version of a fiber supplement to get my game back on track, I engaged in a mental doodle of sorts: I designed another version of Shadowrun. Which brings me to this series of posts. The goal this time around was to create something so simple that people could pick up and play at a moment's notice. Shadowitz is simple, especially compared to some of the crunchier systems out there, but it still takes a while to pick up and go, especially when you take all the various gear options into account. That's all well and good for a dedicated campaign, but for a random "Hey, we're not doing anything. Wanna game?" setup, it's too much.

That's what I set out to address with this system, and while untested, I do believe I'm there. So, I'll be detailing what I've come up with in the next few posts.

For any interested in the original Shadowitz system, yes, I still plan on putting up the rules. I think it's a solid system and would love to see it get some use. It's become quite popular among my crew, and if I can give it multiple homes, that would be a great thing.