- Hein RagasNetherlands
Nijmegen[Insert another witty message here]
The Sprawl is a cyberpunk game using the Powered by the Apocalypse. Its default setting is like the sprawl as depicted in William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive) -- though the players are encouraged to make the sprawl they play in their own. It is mission-based, so the players are a group of 'professionals' who get hired by corporations to do their dirty work for them.
Every player gets to create a corporation -- their character has done a mission against that corporation, and the other characters could have joined in. This creates bonds, but it also increases the 'corporate clock' for that corporation.
As is usual with PbtA games, the game has some Moves that everybody can use, and some Moves that are unique to the different playbooks. They are all very thematic for the genre: the Driver, the Fixer, the Hacker, the Infiltrator and others. The Moves are inspired and help define the role of the character in the group. The common Moves are also quite thematic.
Legwork and Mission phases
Where the game really shines is in the structure of missions, and through the use of clocks. Every mission has two phases: the legwork phase, where the characters gather equipment and information that can be used during the mission. These two, '[intel]' and '[gear]' work like Dungeon World's adventuring gear: if you found out you need something during the mission phase, you can spend one of these to get what you need.
You get these two resources through your contacts -- there's Moves for that. Of course, sometimes your contacts need something in return, too...
But every miss during the legwork phase will advance the Legwork Clock. This signifies that it's becoming obvious that the characters have been asking questions and are up to something! If this goes on too long and the Clock reaches 00:00, the target of your run is starting to suspect something, and the Mission Clock is advanced!
Likewise, once the Mission is underway, every miss advances the Mission Clock. This signifies how alert the opposition is. Again, every miss during the mission advances this clock, and at every step the defenses are upped. At 00:00, the mission is a failure and the players can narrate how their characters escape. Failing a mission does cost reputation though!
Of course, there's a good list of cyberware to choose from. Some character types get cyberware as part of their playbook, or as part of their gear. Everyone can get more cyberware during the game. However, cyberware is expensive -- so either you get a corporation to pay for it (which mean they own you) or you get something in a backstreet deal and hope for the best...
Of course, accessing the Matrix and hacking your way through he various systems is a big part of the game. The chapter on the Matrix details the various 'nodes' that the Hacker can encounter during their raid and what they can do there. For instance, a building security node can access cameras, whereas a production control node accesses the machines that actually produce stuff in a factory. There are 'routines' that a Hacker can trigger to get something done.
And of course, there's ICE -- the traditional danger for Hackers! In this game, there are three types: red, blue and black, in escalating order of danger. Triggering an ICE will also advance the Mission Clock, which means that misses in the Matrix will also make the lives for the operatives 'on the ground' more difficult.
This also means that hacking is not it's own mini-game that is completely separate from the rest of the game -- it's really in 'real time'.
The Corporate Clocks
During the missions, the corporations might be alerted by what is going on -- especially if the mission is aimed at one of them. This signifies how aware the corporation is of the actions of the characters -- and how annoying they find them. When the clock advances, someone in the chain of command will get fed up with these pesky characters and turn up the heat. At 00:00, the corporation is done with you -- and the shit will hit the fan!
What I like about it
My only experience with a mission-based cyberpunk game so far has been with Shadowrun with a single GM, so take what I say here with that in mind.
In Shadowrun, you are basically on your own. You have to take care of every eventuality: if it turns out that you would have needed a Rigger to get away, and you don't have one in the group, you're toast. This led to a lot of 'analysis paralysis' in my group: we went over every plan umpteen times and prepared for every mishap. We spent a year of sessions preparing for a single run!
In The Sprawl, that's all nicely abstracted away. I like the Moves "Get the Job" and "Get Paid". A lot of the 'superfluous fluff' of those tense situations with Mr. Johnson is just done away with. Having [intel] or [gear] to spend allows you to jump into the Mission without having prepared for every single contingency.
Another thing is that while the characters may be disposable assets to their employers, the MC is reminded that they should design missions that the group of characters might actually pull off -- after all, their employers want them to succeed.
And the Legwork and Mission Clocks also make it impossible to just keep on legworking on and on and on -- there's a definite cut-off and then it's off to the races!
All in all, The Sprawl is an action-packed look at the mission-oriented cyberpunk genre, with competent characters who can get themselves out of a pinch if needed. And always, the corporations are looming over everything else...
- [+] Dice rolls