New Release: The Synth Divergence – A Technoir transmission

The Synth Divergence: Liverpool Corporate Authority – A Technoir transmission

In the wake of the rising cost of air travel and development of clean propulsion methods the city of Liverpool has returned to its roots as a hub of ocean shipping. Thousands of workers have flocked to the docks in search of employment, managing a never ending stream of bulk cargo. Then came Synthetics, true artificial consciousness with the potential to upend the economy. As their numbers increase so does their dominance in the workplace and the careful balance between workers and the Corporations hangs by a thread.

This is the Synth Divergence – A transmission for Technoir, the game of high-tech, hard-boiled roleplaying.

Building on the success of my work on missions for The Sprawl during the past year The Synth Divergence remixes the material into a Technoir transmission centred around the city of Liverpool and its dominant Corporate Authority. Where The Sprawl is built around action oriented missions Technoir spins the cyberpunk dystopia towards noir investigations with intuitive mechanics that weaves a web of intrigue and connections as the plot is revealed.

Inside the transmission you’ll find the 36 connections, objects, locations, events, factions and threats used to construct the plot map and draw the characters in to the investigation. These include The Auctoria super-luxury hotel and CHES, its resident Synth, MetroNews, the custom Manta-Masti sports car, legendary racer Fabio Scorpius and a host of additional nodes inspired by the city of Liverpool.

You can pick up The Synth Divergence: Liverpool Corporate Authority now from itch.io and drivethruRPG for $3.

Review: Technoir

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This review was originally published at http://nearlyenoughdice.com/review-technoir on the 24th of November.

Mix one part cyberpunk with equal measures of hard boiled investigation and film noir before pouring into a glass made from a lightweight rule system. Serve in a smoke filled bar, under the shadow of a looming Corporate skyscraper and you’ve got yourself Technoir, an original RPG by Jeremy Keller and published by Cellar Games. It is available from www.technoirrpg.com and on RPG Now.

Overview
One of the early RPG successes from Kickstarter Technoir is a cyberpunk styled game heavily flavoured by hard boiled detective fiction and film noir. The game is presented in a compact and beautifully laid out form, small enough that its easy to just slip the book into a bag just in case you get a chance to play it. If you’re looking for long sessions of planning, stealthy infiltration and stats for an endless list of cybernetics then I suggest sticking to Shadowrun. Technoir is about bold and reckless action, its about causing trouble because you can and flinging accusations just to see what sticks.

Rules
Technoir uses a lightweight rules system built around the use of Adjectives, which describe the result of actions, properties of objects and relationships between characters and their connections. Want to shoot somebody? Then you might apply the adjectives of Suppressed, Bleeding or even Scared; it all depends on how you want to affect the target and how long you want the Adjective to last. In a similar fashion Adjectives may be applied to represent emotional or situational (Distracted, bored, lustful etc) effects, describe the properties of items (Sharp, Rapid-fire, Expensive etc), and define the relationships between characters and their connections (Respectful, Loyal, Indebted etc).

Actions are attempted by generating a pool of d6′s, formed from characters attributes (Action dice), positive adjectives they can draw on (Push dice) and negative adjectives affecting the character (Harm dice, of which a character has a limited number). These are rolled together, with Harm dice cancelling out any positive dice of equal value, and the highest remaining die then compared to the target number. If successful the adjective is applied as desired.
It is here however that the Push dice really come into play as by default Adjectives applied through a successful action don’t last for long. If you wish to extend the duration of the effect, for example upgrade a ‘Suppressed’ to ‘Bleeding’, it requires that a Push die be spent, transferring it from the Player to the GM. In this way the game brings in an ebb and flow of power that fits well with the noir genre implied by the games title. At the start of each adventure Push dice reside with the PCs, allowing them to quickly investigate and get the information required to work out what is going on. As the dice flow to the GM the balance shifts and the PCs start to run up against larger challenges, difficult to overcome without the boost provided by Push dice. Here the GM can then start to really hurt the PCs, applying longer lasting adjectives (which confer Harm dice) but in order to do so must once again spend the Push dice, returning them to the control of the players. Finally the PCs, bruised and beaten but in possession of the Push dice, are in a position to uncover the truth and take out the bad guy at the centre of their troubles.

All in all the system works well and finds a good balance by bringing together traditional mechanics (rolling dice), player narrative (adding adjectives) and genre (the Push dice economy) into a single cohesive system. My experience with the system so far is that it works best when an adventure is spread over 2 or 3 sessions, one shots limit the impact of longer lasting adjectives on NPCs as they don’t appear in enough scenes. Longer adventures however and the PCs build up too many negative adjectives, severely limiting their effectiveness. The only real issue I’ve had with the system is getting to grips with the focus on character versus character conflicts, as the GM is advised to avoid rolls that don’t involve manipulating / affecting another character in some way. This makes sense from both a genre and system perspective, as applying adjectives to say, pick a lock, doesn’t make a big impact if that lock is never encountered again. I suspect part of my issue with this is that my NPCs are probably the weakest aspect of my GMing so only time will tell as to whether I can get a handle on this aspect of the game.

Transmissions
Transmissions, which make up a substantial portion of the book, are a system for the generation of on the fly adventures which are generated as information is uncovered by the characters. Each Transmission forms a small setting, something which is mostly absent from the main game, however even these settings leave much up to the imagination of the GM. There are 3 Transmissions included in the book itself and each contains within it a series of contacts (NPCs who can provide favours to the PCs), locations, events, factions, threats and objects. At the start of the adventure the GM takes 3 of these elements and uses them to form a story seed, as the PCs explore and investigate they draw in further elements which the GM connects to that initial seed. For example if a PC goes to a contact to borrow some money that NPC is added to the plot map and suddenly they may be connected to a spate of kidnappings the PCs are investigating, maybe she’s involved in laundering the money of the gang involved or her son is one of the individuals who has been taken. The plot map, generated from each of these elements merely provides the links between points in the adventure, its up to the GM to decide what those connections are.

The Transmission system works extremely well, allowing a GM to generate a plot as it unfolds and as the PCs are drawn into the adventure. Of course this requires the GM be comfortable with working out details on the fly but even if you’re not comfortable with this the framework provides an easy to use, pre-generated set of points which can be used ahead of time to plan an adventure. There are a number of Transmissions which are already available and with their simplicity its easy to write more focused around your city or setting of choice.

Customisation
While the game is written from a cyberpunk perspective the relatively limited nature of the setting material makes the system extremely easy to adapt to other settings. As part of the Kickstarter project the author has already released MechNoir, which shifts the focus to Mars and adds in rules for the use of Mecha and is planning to release HexNoir, a magic / fantasy based adaptation for the game. From a personal angle I’ve been working on an adaptation for running games within the Dresden Files universe (which can be found here on this blog). This coupled to the compact size of the book and ease of writing new transmissions means the game is on my list of systems I’m happy to pack in my bag while travelling just in case I can slot a session of it in.

Wrap Up
Technoir is a game that I would definitely recommend to those who are fans of the cyberpunk genre, especially if they’d rather focus on the motivations and conflicts of characters as opposed to the stats of a particular piece of cyberware. The system underlying the game is distinct, easy to learn and encourages the styles of play expected of by the genre, with the added bonus of being easily hacked to fit other noir influenced settings. All in all definitely a game that I am glad to have taken that Kickstarter gamble on.

Mark of the Dragon – The Dragon Clans

The Dragon Clans are a faction of my own devising for use within DresNoir, as while the Dresden Files has touched on Dragons relatively little is yet known about them. Presented here is some initial background for the mortal agents of the Dragons

Amongst the supernatural entities known to have great influence upon the mortal world the Dragon’s are perhaps one of the most powerful but also the most inconspicuous. While they crave power and wealth over the mortal world they seek it indirectly and individually. There is no Great Court of the Dragons, no families ties or stable alliances. Instead there are the Clans, the mortal servants who serve, their loyalty passed down the ages from one generation to the next.

It is unclear when the first of the Clans were formed. The feudal society which arose in early medieval Europe represents the earliest confirmed existence of the Clans as families swore their allegiance to individual Dragons in return for the power required to maintain and expand their holdings. Patronage by a Dragon brought these houses not physical strength nor supernatural power but cunning, intellect and longevity beyond that meant for mortal man. With it they directed the path of European development for centuries, building up great power bases capable of subtly nudging a society one way or another.

Until the Industrial Revolution that is.

With the lightning development of technology over the following decades came social upheaval and change at a pace the Clans were unprepared for. Through the first half of the twentieth century over half of the known clans fell as their power bases crumbled under the dual onslaughts of Capitalism and Communism. Those that remained were greatly diminished, clinging on to inherited wealth in a world where their influence brought ever decreasing returns.

The Clans of today are a shadow of what they once were and, if desired, can be loosely placed into one of three groups.

The Broken Clans are those which lost everything, their power, their wealth, their patronage. In the modern world it is unlikely that the descendants of these Clans are even aware of their heritage or the power that may still flow through their blood.

The Fallen Clans, like the Broken lost everything they once possessed. But they still remember and seek to regain their positions of power in society. As the ambitious and jealous outsiders the Fallen Clans are perhaps the most dangerous for they have nothing left to lose. This overt posturing has drawn the attention of the Dragons and many have are now covertly testing members of the Fallen, waiting to see if they are ready to return to positions amongst the worlds elite.

The Risen Clans, after weathering the storm that was the twentieth century have settled themselves into new positions. In place of the inherited lands and house politics has come economics and stock holdings. The Clans have shifted their power to the board room, as CEO’s, venture capitalists and board members. Multinational corporations, industrial giants and enterprising starts ups, all have been pulled into the webs of influence wielded by the Clans.

The Mark of the Dragon has returned to the world, and it reaches further than ever before.

Technoir: Upping the Tempo

One of the central aspects of the Technoir system is that of the Push dice economy, which are passed back and forth between players and GM in order to apply adjectives which last beyond the length of the current scene. For a full adventure, run over multiple sessions this works well. Unfortunately for a single session one shot adventure it leaves the pacing on the slow side, especially as many NPCs are unlikely to feature in more than a couple of scenes.

Upping the tempo is relatively simple, achieved through the addition of a new type of adjective, that of Instantaneous. Here’s the new rule in full:

  • Instantaneous adjectives slot in as the new default result of an action and do not require the spending of any Push die. The chain therefore now consists of Instantaneous – Fleeting – Sticky – Locked.
  • Instantaneous adjectives last until the character has taken their next action.
  • The cost to apply all other adjectives increases by 1. So Fleeting now costs 1 Push die, Sticky 2 and Locked 3.
  • Apart from the change in cost all types of adjective continue to function as before.

By introducing this rule players are thus encouraged to spend Push dice more freely in order to apply adjectives which last the length of the scene. In turn this provides a greater supply of dice to the GM who should spend them regularly in order to apply Fleeting adjectives on the PCs. This relatively simple change therefore not only ups the tempo of the game but increases the frequency with which players are handed a physical object, a technique which I’ve found does wonders in getting their attention and drawing them further into the narrative.

The Plot Map

Adventures in DresNoir, as in TechNoir, are designed around the Transmission system. Transmissions define a set of plot nodes for a given city which can then be drawn into the plot as PCs lean on their connections for information. As the game progresses these nodes are linked together, allowing the GM to generate the plot on the fly until they have that ‘ah ha!’ moment and suddenly work out what is actually going on.

The final plot map for the first DresNoir playtest ended up looking like this:

Transmission map for DresNoir playtest

This map was generated from the Transmission I’d written especially from the game (which will probably be called “November Rain: A Glasgow City Transmission”). The starting nodes were Central Station (the main train station in Glasgow), a Trio of Daggers and an Abandoned School. Character creation drew in the connections of Sama (an unchosen Summer Court changling) and Sir Ronald (a White Council mage). From all of this came the opening scene: A triple murder on the sleeper train which had arrived from London. The victims, three esteemed members of the Invictus, a small Occult organisation, who had come to Glasgow for a meeting with Sir Ronald. Found clasped in each of their hands was an ornate dagger engraved with a coat of arms, a coat of arms also found on an abandoned schoolhouse where a young changling was currently living rough.

That was the opening, from there the plot developed considerably but that’s another post.

DresNoir 05: Connection Favours

Each connection in a transmission comes can confer one or more types of favours to a PC. These are the suggested favours for using with DresNoir connections.

  • Shark – Can provide the PC with 10RP, which must be repaid at somepoint in the future.
  • Brew – Can sell the PC up to 3 potions, each at a 2RP discount.
  • Date – The connection can attend a function with the PC as their +1, gaining the PC access to events otherwise out of their reach.
  • Traverse – The connection knows the ins and the outs of the Nevernever, they can provide passage there and back again to a few relatively safe locations
  • Imbue – Skilled in the manipulation of magical energies this connection is capable of creating a single focus or charm item. The focus or charm tag is provided for free, any other tags must be applied and paid for as usual at the time of creation.
  • Bail – The connection has some influence with the police, or maybe they just have cash to spare. Either way they can get a PC bailed and out of custody, though they probably can’t get the charges dropped altogether.
  • Backup – Can provide physical assistance in the form of 2 henchmen level characters who will assist in one or two relevant scenes

DresNoir – 04: Objects & resources

Purchasing equipment in DresNoir follows the same basic system as described in the core TechNoir book, each PC begins with 10 Resource Points (RP) (replacing the Kreds of TechNoir) which they are free to spend on objects, adding tags as required. Of course this now being an urban fantasy setting the tags of each object need to reflect the world and genre, tags relating to the Interface are, quite obviously, out.

But what about items of a magical nature?

Glad you ask. Items strongly related to magic require their own special tags, specifically Charm, Focus or Potion. By having these tags present additional tags, which bestow unusual or magical properties may then be stacked onto the item. During play these tags may not be employed when it comes to using push dice, they merely provide the foundation onto which additional tags may be attached. Charm and Focus tags cost an 5RP in order to apply to an object. Potion tags cost 2RP to apply but are single use items.

Charm – Charm tags are applied to objects onto which have been imbued with medium to long term magical properties. An individual charm should have a single central function which is reflected by each magical tag. For example a compass with embedded with location / tracking spells may have tags of charm and locate in addition to the mundae tag of navigation, which give it a final value of 7RP (5 for the charm, 1 each for locate and navigation). Charmed objects may be utilised by any individual, regardless of their magic rating.

Focus – Where charm tags are applied to objects with a predetermined purpose Focus tags are applied to objects utilised in casting magic on the fly, providing a boost to the concentration and discipline of a practictioner. Subsequent tags then describe what the focus has been designed to boost. For example, an individual specialising in earth magic may have a pair of boots which are central to their spells by forming the link between them and the ground. They may then have tags of focus, earth, lift attached however as a focus item the lift tag could be employed in lifting people as opposed to rocks.

The focus tag, and those associated with it may only be emplyed by those with a magic rating of X or higher as they require a willful expenditure of magical energy. This however comes with its own highs and lows, or Boost and Feedback.

Boost – Magic is frequently fueled by strong emotions, be they positive or negative in form. Following a roll utilising an item with the focus tag a player may choose to boost the result by taking the lowest harm die and rerolling it as a temporary push die before retotalling their result. In order to do so the character must have an existing strong emotional adjective avaiable, which can be positive or negative. If the scene resolves around a connection then the relationship may be relevant. Good examples would be lust, angry, enraged, hopeful.

Boosting however comes at a cost, as immediately following the roll the character gains a new, negative adjective, regardless of whether the roll was successful or not. The first time a boost is utilised in a scene they gain Tired as a fleeting negative adjective. If they boost again it is upgraded to a sticky Exhausted adjective and the character gains a push die from the GM if available.

Feedback – Feedback is the expression used to describe when spells go completely out of control due to a character pushing themselves past their limit or being just plain unlucky. Mechanically feedback occurs when the hurt dice cancel out ALL of the action and push dice which have been rolled. If the GM has push dice available the the GM may choose to apply an immediate negative sticky adjective related to the action they just spectacularly failed at. If the no push dice are available, or the GM decides not to spend them then the character gains a fleeting negative adjective instead. A player may choose to boost a roll in which they have suffered feedback however they will then be subject to the negative effects of both, even if the new result is not a zero. If the boosted result is still zero the player suffers only a single instance of feedback, not two.

Potions – Potions are single use magical mixtures presented in the form of a drink. They typically have one or two, well defined effects in order to keep their resource cost down. While potent mixtures this is achieved by concentrating the magical effect into a shorter time frame. Characters must declare they are drinking the potion and for the remainder of the scene the character has access to the positive adjectives that were attached to the potion during its creation. Attaching an extended duration tag to a potion does exactly that, carrying the effects over to the next scene if appropriate. Potions may be consumed by any individual, regardless of their magic rating.

When used to apply negative adjectives potions function as before however for the scene the adjective manifests as negative hurt dice. In order to do so the target character must first be convinced (or forced) to drink the potion via an appropriate roll. On a success the target character recieves each of the adjectives associated with the potion. Push dice may not be spent to upgrade these adjectives from fleeting to sticky.

As always the trick to tags is finding the right level of specificity. A tag such as shield is probably too broad as it could be applied to pretty much any situation. Ballistic shield, fire shield, ice shield would be more appropriate tags and there is nothing to stop them being stacked upon one another, in this example in order to provide defences against a greater range of attacks. When it comes to magically infused items adding additional tags to existing items is labourious and resource heavy. Should a character wish to add additional magic related tags to an existing item the cost is equal to half the current value of the item, including those related to the mundane function of the item.

Rather than listing an extensive number of magical infused items I’m going to stat out just a few in order to provide examples, with the magical attributes denoted with an (m)

Charms

Compass
Tags: Navigation, charm (m), locate (m)
Cost: 7RP

Warded door
Tags: Reinforced, sturdy, charm (m), threshold (m), explosive runes (m)
Cost: 9RP

Foci

Earth Boots
Tags: Focus (m), earth (m), lift (m), sturdy
Cost: 8RP

Wizards staff
Tags: Focus (m), detect (m), throw (m), fire (m), rapid fire (m)
Cost: 9RP

Potions

Invisibility potion
Tags: Potion (m), visual concealment (m), silent movement (m)
Cost: 4RP

Love potion
Tags: Potion (m), lustful (m)
Cost: 3RP