This is an odd duck of a game. Rich asked if I wanted to play in a Skype game with him and I’m always up for trying new things (especially if they are one-shot games) so after a little schedule-fu we found a time to play. The game is set 20 minutes in the future, or at least that is the tag line. Actually it set in a very Blade Runner future, perhaps with a bit of Strange Days mixed in. That sort of set me off right from the beginning. I like a game to be very honest about what it is about, instead I get the feeling it is trying to be too cool for school and hoping the readers (and players) will adopt the same attitude.
The play however, really impressed me. Since I’ve never played with Rich or Arnold I can’t say whether that came from the players or the game (or a mix) but my hunch is that that it was the players.
We had a total of 12 scenes in which we introduced our three protagonists (held PCs), their goals, three factions and their goals, and then most interestingly to me (and what tickled my simulationist buttions) some of the surrounding characters. I’m genuinely interested in some of the NPCs (or non-help PCs) and I’m glad that the game encourages (or just allows) the players to pick them up and spin with them.
We also brokered some deals and saw a few throw downs, thus trying out all three scene types in the game. I’ve got to say some unexpected things went down, especially with the involvement of a gang that Arnold created which at first seemed so out of their league compared to the other factions but because of their accessibility to the protagonists ended up playing a major role in the store.
The protagonists introduced were all compelling to me for different reasons.
Arnold started off with a giant cybernetic bear with laser claws. It was his inner six year old voltron power ranger fettish coming alive. He was called the Ursinator-5000 or just U5 for short. I liked U5 because he immediately relaxed the tension of the game. I really don’t care if I get things “right” in a world with a cybernetic bear. I mean, how can you break genre or mood when that has been introduced? Plus U5 gave me some immediate leads for my own introductory scenes, both for my protagonist (Case) and for the faction I created (NAZCorp).
I followed up with Case, actually a character I took out of the book, a hacker, who in very Pi style, was on the verge of figuring out the “system”. Of course doing so meant severe self-imposed neurochemical modifications that were killing him. He was the scientist filled with his own hubris and dying because of it but still not willing to stop. Case is in a wheelchair and his body is falling apart by the minute. This is a fun archetype for me to play because they are both very driven (thus constantly making their scenes actionable) and also very vulnerable (thus constantly having rooms for complications and twists). So far he actually has been coming out of top (due to some lucky die rolls) but I don’t think that will last for long.
Rich has a sweetheart of a character, Apple Pollock, a dealer on the street who is out of money and can’t afford to pay for any more time with the Doll (AI pleasure bot) Jade Snowflinch. She’s in love with Jade and wants to get her out but is broke and has troubles of her own. Rich introduced a “cyber” scene of their fairly amorphous intimacy that was quite powerful. Apple, however fell on tough times, apparently she owed the Spiders money and they came to brand her as one of theirs for not paying up.
Here is the character map, a google doc that we used throughout the game, adding characters and factions as we went, and most importantly using to reincorporate the existing characters into new scenes.
Probably impossible to read, for a better look, go here
First and foremost Rich, Arnold and I all get pretty excited about pretty similar stuff. We spent probably the first thirty minutes of the game just talking with each other about various nerd topics. In game I would have called this tangenting (or worse) but as a first time interaction (and over Skype no less) this was an important time for us to start learning about what makes each other tick.
Reincorporation was huge in this game, which I really like. We were all constantly finding ways to bring the existing elements together and tie them up in each other’s business or complicate them. There were several aids to this. First was looking at the google doc (above) the whole time. We were staring at the faces of the characters and so naturally compelled to bring them back into the story over and over again. Second there was a mechanical impetus to use existing matter because it meant that a) you didn’t have to make up new stats, goals, etc) and that b) you were validating the creations of another player. All very rewarding.
We had some great twists. Apple loves Jade, but Jade has a dream to find her own identity. Will that have a place for Apple or will she just feel like Apple was another John that paid for services. U5 has upset everyone in his wake, including the Spiders and now Case has made a deal to chase him down. What will happen when the man who can communicate with machines with his mind meets a cybernetic entity?
We chewed up twelve scenes in a couple of hours and saw lots of advancement in the story, things were happening.
What happens next was always easy to figure out. It’s just a matter of picking up a couple pieces of the story and figuring out how you want to play with them. -> Lego pieces (characters, factions, scene types, etc)
What could have improved
The resolution system seemed very tame. Like who won and who got to narrate what and how things happened in the fiction all seemed to be a matter of consensus between the players. I’m not saying there weren’t mechanics for this, but the mechanics felt very bare and open and required a lot of player adjudication.
I’m glad we only had three players in the game, because otherwise there would have been an extreme amount of downtime. The game is played in a very round robin style, which I enjoyed because we each liked each other’s stories and we each tried to contribute in ways we could, but I definitely got the sense that at times we were waiting for our scenes to come up and that would only be exacerbated with more players.
Plans for next game:
- Case is coming down hard on U5
- Jade is going to continue pursuit of her own identity.
- Lo Fang is getting a story of his own. He’s not just the thug we think he is.