Actual Play – The Sprawl at GPNW (6/29/2013)

The_SprawlGM: Hamish Cameron
Players: Jonathan Reiter, Morgan Ellis, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: The Sprawl

I’d really been wanting to play The Sprawl for a while. First off it was Hamish’s creation, so I was interested just because of that. Also, I really dig Cyberpunk/Shadowrun settings, but loathe the mechanics/system attached to most of the games. Thirst, it’s an AW hack, how could I not want to play. Hamish has been really working on this too. From his Live Journal post it looks like he’s been taking really extensive notes on this feedback and working a lot of those change into his game to make it better.

Corporations rule the world!

The first thing you do in a game of The Sprawl is define one corporation per player (including the GM) that will be present in the game. They aren’t yours, and you shouldn’t get attached to them because “they are all going to fuck you over” (I think something like that is in the text of the game), but you get to add some flavor to them, and describe the thing that they excel in (though of note, all corporations, or entities the size of corporations, really do everything). We had:

Global News Network – A media corp that reported on the news the created.

Nanotech – An advertising company that used nan0-viruses to infiltrate cyber and wired interfaces to display relevant ads.

Nutrigrow – An agrarian corporation that specialized in fabricated protein enriched food replacements.

Omni Dynamics – “We make everything. And we make everything better.” A consumer products R&D corporation.

Tiaxia – An orbital platform manufacturing corporation. We didn’t realize the real role of these corps, essentially as antagonists, until later in the game, but this was our baseline.

Character creation

Jonathan had an idea from the get go about playing a reporter, so he made PZ, who worked from Global News Network (GNN).

I was attracted the the idea of a character who actually had a moral compass (kind of a rarity in the genre) so I played a Pusher named Dillon Vicara. He worked in an Omni Dynamics manufacturing plant and was horribly burned in an accident that they covered up. After that Dillion had a serious axe to grind with OD and their labor policies.

Karen had a couple different character concepts in mind an eventually settled on a Tech. Eleni, a  gun for hire (or in this case explosives for hire).

Morgan played a Hunter named Frost. She was a South African woman who  believed in getting the job done. She worked for corps, hunting down people, like you do.


All of our characters (I think) had the option of being cyber-ed. The consequences of that however were two very awesome questions.

1. Why did you elect to have a part of your body cut away, and put a piece of hardware in it’s place?

2. Who paid for it? If a corp, are you owned or hunted by them? If yourself is it unreliable, substandard, suffers from hardware decay, damaging,  or cheap.

I really dug these questions. The first because it asked why kind of damaged human being are you. Either you’ve been physically injured and needed parts of your body replaced, or your just fucked up enough to cut out parts of your body to get better versions.

The second, except maybe the cheap option is great because it creates hooks for you in the game. If you’re owned you’ll get bossed around. If you’re hunted, you’ll being chased. If you paid for it yourself, something is wrong with it that you’ve got to deal with. It may just be unreliable, on a miss it’s going to mess you up (Millennium Falcon engaging its hyperdrive anyone) or it may actually be killing you. No matter what though, you’r character has problems right from the get to.

Elini made her own cyberarm, but it was unreliable. A project for her to work on.

Dillion’s eyes were replaced at Omni Dynamics expense to shut him up, but after he went rogue and published their malpractice, now they are hunting him.

PZ is totally owned by GNN, both his body and his contract!


Like Hx or Strings, The Sprawl connects the characters together. In this case Links are formed by going on missions together, or by being connected in some way to the same missions (sometimes on the opposite sides).

Missions also start ratcheting up the clocks (The Sprawl uses a lot of clocks) if the corporations we created. The more people involved on a mission the more links we have to each other, but, also the more the corps clock is moved up, and when it hit 00:00 (Midnight) that means they’ve had enough of us and are hunting us down.

Each of us had done a run against one of the corps except GNN (they, oddly seemed to often be the ones backing our runs), and two runs had been done against Taxia, and not surprisingly their clock hit 00:00.

GM Prep

After characters were made, and our links established, Hamish had us take a break to get coffee while worked our background into a mission. He had two hard points to work with.

1. My character Dillion, had a mad hate on for Omni Corp, and was constantly trying to unveil their inhumane labor practices.

2. Tiaxia Corp had a made hate on for us and was ready wipe us out for the trouble we caused.

The play is the thing

Our “before the mission” moves kicked off the story, which is pretty cool.  PZ got a job to “interview” a corporate exec from Omni Dynamics. All that was known was that she was meeting with some other high level execs from other corps in the Transamerica building soon. The meeting was all hush-hush and the public wouldn’t be allowed in.

PZ assembled a team (us) and we quickly decided to break into the meeting at the TZB and extract the exec so we could question her. We added a side job of robbing a bank on the ground floor of the TZB as a “distraction”. This created some interesting friction between Eleni who as in it all for the money and Dillion who didn’t want to compromise his beliefs just so someone else could pad their pockets.

Of course things we as we expected them to go for about as long as we expected it to, which is to say as soon as we got in the building all the fecal matter hit the rotating blades of a ventilation unit.

Paramilitary dudes in black suits surrounded the building on foot and in air. They landed their chopper and broke into the building, taking a direct path to the same place we were going. Seeing the threat, and not knowing who they were or why they were here, we grabbed our mark and convinced her that coming with us was way safer than sticking around here (dudes in ninja pajamas were assassinating everyone they saw).

She came willingly, as we spent the rest of the game being chased by dudes (who we realized were from Tiaxia Corp, the peeps we had burned well before the mission) and burned all kinds of bridges (with Yakuza, PZs boss, and probably a bunch of poor peeps that lived under the dome).

The final reveal got Eleni paid (the bank was in fact ripped off), hurt Omni dynamics (satisfying Dillon) and got PZ the story! It also ensured that now Omni wanted our heads as well as Tiaxia, and probably several of our contacts. Yep, felt like gritty Cyberpunk to me!

Fun Facts

In twenty-whatever, when Alemeda has been submerged, the SF Bay was covered by a dome and the city sprawled across that and all of the east bay to form a huge urban wasteland. Under the dome, shipping continued, but the light of day was blocked and exhaust fumes could never escape creating a quagmire of smog and refuse.  Yay for Cyberpunk futures!


Thoughts on the Game

The game uses keys from The Shadow of Yesterday to reward XP as well as XP for following the mission. I think this is a great mix of “yes, your characters have a point to prove” and “we’ve got a mission to do”. It also means that if you push your characters beliefs (hitting keys) and complete a mission, you should get an advancement and a bit more every mission (I think the mission offered 6XP total, plus 2 more for hitting keys). My on suggestion would be to put the directives (the name for keys in The Sprawl) on our character tents, so as players we could prompt each other to act on them, and call out when we think they were being used so the player doesn’t have to announce “hey, I did my thing, can I get an XP?”

I’d replace the +cheap option with +dept, unless that tramples too much on the +owned or +hunted options. Cheap seems to be to be the only option that doesn’t cause a problem for the characters.

Is there an end of game mechanic to add links to people? If not I think there should be. If so, I think you should make sure to have that at the end of every game so the players can specify how they’ve grown closer (or farther apart) from each other.

I talked to Hamish about this after the fact, but the game, like my hack suffers from having too much paper work. There is a character sheet, a sheet for how to make your character, a sheet for the basic moves, a sheet for the directives, a sheet for the cyberware, and that may be it, or there might have been on more I’m forgetting. I think a good layout person will help this immensely, by not only figuring out how to fit more on a page, but also organizing the info to be more intuitive. I think this game will look really slick once layout has been done.

Man, Apocalypse World, what is it with everyone in the world (including me) wanting to hack you? My only beef with AW hacks (including my own) is that they all have to spend so much time and energy not just explaining what they are, but also, how they are different from AW. I get why, but it still a shame.