What’s on my shelf 3: The Indie Corner

Next up in exploring my physical collection I’ve got the indie corner and at first glance it’s a little underwhelming. Not because of the games that are present but because the vast majority of my indie collection is digital. It’s one of the things I’d like to amend going forward, especially once we get back to in person conventions and I can buy directly from the creators.

So what’s present? The first call out, over on the very right, is Crystal Heart from Up to Four Players. It’s an amazing setting for the Savage Worlds system and I was lucky enough to write one of the stretch goal adventures, Ghosts of Iron. It was my first (and currently only) time working as a freelancer and something I’m keen to do more of once I whittle down my own project list.

There are a smattering of PbtA and Fate books, both systems that I enjoy but haven’t latched onto the way the wider market has. I used to own more but have sold off bits here and there over the last few years. Surprisingly I only acquired a print copy of The Sprawl after releasing The Synth Convergence at the end of 2019. The most recent acquisition is Black Armada’s Last Fleet, which is essentially Battlestar Galactica with the serial numbers filed off. Despite loving the concept and genre I’ve yet to get around to reading it.

Dotted amongst those is a rather eclectic selection, a number of which came out of the Scottish indie scene between 2008-2011. I was fortunate to know and mix with a number of the designers that were around Glasgow and Edinburgh at that point and without it I doubt I’d have gotten in to indie gaming to the extent that I have. From that period Remember Tomorrow remains one of my go to references for Gibson flavoured cyberpunk and goes nicely with The Sprawl and Technoir. Unfortunately somewhere along the way I lost my treasured fold out copy of Hell 4 Leather. It’s a game that I love and was my first real introduction to narrative, GMless gaming.

The thing that I’ve really come to appreciate with indie games, and even more so with those I own digitally, is the sheer range of systems and the stories they tell. With ZineQuest having only recently finished I’m looking forward to seeing what the latest round of games from new designers look like and adding them to the shelf.

For those that might be wondering the full list of games in the photo is as follows:

  • Last Fleet
  • The Cthulhu Hack (and Mother’s Love adventure supplement)
  • Technoir
  • 2 copies of BESM 2nd edition
  • Remember Tomorrow
  • Goblin Quest
  • Piledrivers and Powerbombs
  • Fate Accelerated
  • Fate System Toolkit
  • Fate Core
  • Scum & Villainy
  • The Sprawl
  • Dungeon World
  • Crystal Heart
  • 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars
  • Best Friends

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.

RPGaDay 23rd August

23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My immediate thought is Technoir, it really excels at having a minimalist future vibe that is clear, concise and easy to read. Those last aspects are particularly important due to nature of the information RPG books have to convey but where Technoir excels is that it achieves this while maintaining an appearance that suits the genre. Many books will lean heavily on one aspect over the other and at the moment there does appear to be a push towards more graphically complex books that lose clarity and readability. I’m of the opinion that this is partially down to the multi-facetted role that game books have.

tn-pageAt the simplest level they have to convey the rules of the game, in a manner that is logical and clear. Fate Core is a prime example of a game that achieves this, with a heavy lean towards the technical. It clearly lays out the mechanics of the rules in an unambiguous but also rather flavourless manner. The book is also well indexed and easy to flick through when double checking individual rules / aspects/

Which leads me on to what I consider the second level of game book design, enjoyability. Regardless of whether or not it impacts on playing a game I’m of the opinion that a game book should be enjoyable to read. Fate Core is an example here of where the writing puts me off, the first time I read the game I found it a slog, to the point that it put me off the system. The interesting contrast? I’d previously read the original Dresden Files RPG and really liked it, the style of that book helped me learn Fate because I was enjoying reading it. That game sacrifices a lot at the base level of clarity due to being heavy on the visual aspects of layout so I think somewhere inbetween is best. Amongst the Fate material I’ve read Atomic Robo probably achieves the best balance of clarity and enjoyability.

The final layer for me is inspiration. How well does the game get me to want to run it. A lot of this comes down to the writing and its ability to convey setting information (generally I’m not a massive fan of setting neutral systems) but the visual presentation also plays a part. I know there may be the argument of ‘well I can already use my imagination’ but to me that doesn’t really work. Just because I can imagine it doesn’t mean I will do so in the way that the designer intended. Having those visual elements is, therefore, important to me though once again it is possible to overdo them. It’s all about the balance.

Review: Technoir

Image

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.

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.

DresNoir 03 – More training

The previous post covered the introduction of four new training programs, Cop, Wizard, Being and Spirit. It also alluded to a restructuring of the remaining trainings in order to associate each with different Verbs from those found in the core Technoir setting. Below is the new verb tables, grouped first by training and then secondly by verb.

Training Verb Verb Verb
Being Fight Prowl See
Bodyguard Fight Operate Treat
Cop Fight Operate Shoot
Criminal Move Prowl Shoot
Doctor Detect Operate Treat
Escort Coax Move Treat
Investigator Coax Detect Prowl
Spirit Coax Move See
Practitioner Detect See Shoot

and ordered by Verb

Verb Training Training Training
Coax Escort Investigator Spirit
Detect Doctor Investigator Practitioner
Fight Being Bodyguard Cop
Move Criminal Escort Spirit
Operate Bodyguard Cop Doctor
Prowl Being Criminal Investigator
See Being Spirit Practitioner
Shoot Criminal Cop Practitioner
Treat Bodyguard Doctor Escort

DresNoir 02 – Training programs

In Technoir training programs form the root of character attributes by allowing for the selection of verb. DresNoir takes the basic concept and then shakes things up a bit. First though we need to exchange the Hack verb for See. See is the supernatural equivalent of the Detect verb, allowing characters to utilise abilities such as a Wizards Sight, see the true form of entities and see through illusions.

I’ve included See as the new verb for a couple of reasons. Firstly because its not a verb which can be used for all magic based rolls in the way that Cast, my original choice, could. A verb focused solely on performing magic would have been over powered and over used simply because magic can be employed to achieve a wide range of outcomes. Tracking spells and fireballs are completely different and should therefore utilise different Verbs (Detect and Shoot in this example). The second reason is more subtle, having Detect and See allows for two very different types of perceptive characters, especially useful when it comes to mortals. As a cop Murphy is used to scouring a crime scene for clues but as a mortal has little chance of seeing through magical illusions. Separating Detect and See therefore allows for the creation these subtly different characters.

Now, onto the actual trainings programs. Four of the original programs, Engineer, Pilot, Solider and Courier are out, replaced by Cop, Practitioner, Being and Spirit.

Cop
A street cop, who over the years has had their eyes opened to the existence of the supernatural.
Verbs: Fight, Operate, Shoot

Practitioner
A practitioner is an individual possessing magical talent. In the mortal world this most commonly takes the form of witches, wizards and warlocks.
Verbs: See, Detect, Shoot

Being
Supernatural entities with a leaning towards physical strengths such as werewolves, trolls and vampires
Verbs: See, Fight, Prowl

Spirit
The second type of supernatural entity, these creatures are possessed of grace, beauty and raw emotions, favouring subtle means of tempting and ensnaring mortals. Fairies and White Court vampires are amongst the most common examples.
Verbs: See, Coax, Move

In addition to these new training programs each of the remaining original programs have been shuffled around and therefore do not match with the original verbs assigned to them. We’ll cover those programs in the next post.

DresNoir 01 – A Technoir hack

Technoir is a rather nifty tabletop RPG created and published by Jeremy Keller (the site for the game can be found at http://www.technoirrpg.com ). The game, in brief, is a mash up of two genres, near future cyberpunk and gritty hardboiled / film noir investigation. It’s a game where nothing is as simple as it first seems and where the protaginists will have to take a beating if they want to get solve the case. It is, therefore, ideally suited to a Dresden Files hack.

But wait, doesn’t the Dresden files already have an official RPG? Yes, it does (more details about it can be found here) and I own that as well.

Technoir however has something that the official RPG doesn’t, it’s lightweight, both in a physical sense (1 small book vs 2 large hardback books) and in the rules sense. This makes it well suited to running occasional one-shots and pick up games, especially with the availability of the Transmissions, a system for generating an adventure on the fly. Given my ‘regular’ gaming group is now ~500 miles away a lightweight and quick system is just what I need for the occassions when we get to game face to face.

Hence DresNoir, a hack of the Technoir for use in an urban fantasy setting, which I’ll be posting up in segments as I work on it.

Now for the legal bits. The Dresden Files is copyright Jim Butcher. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons as a derivative, noncommercial work. Technoir is copyright Jeremy Keller. The material included here and in subsequent posts consists of new rules and material to supplement the original game, which will still be required in order to use this hack.