Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Technoir 1.0

Technoir looks very interesting. This cyberpunk roleplaying game by Jeremy Keller is one of the projects I chose to back on Kickstarter, largely due to my like of his earlier game Chronica Feudalis. The book has yet to go to press, but Jeremy recently made the pdf available to the backers of the Kickstarter project and put it up for sale online.

While I don't normally read entire rulebooks in pdf form, I made an exception for Technoir. There were two reasons for this. The first is that, when reading a pdf, books laid out in a digest format are easier for me to read than those laid out in the more standard 8.5x11 size. As long as the font isn't too small I can read it on my Kindle, and if I'm at the computer I can read it two-up on the screen, just like I would if I had the print book in hand.

The second reason that I read the whole book in pdf form is that it's a very interesting read. The most interesting part is the combination of Transmissions and plot maps. A transmission is a setting outline that consists of a very brief description of the technology, environment and society of the setting followed by six each of contacts, events, factions, locations, objects, and threats. Astute gamers will note that six each of six different items makes for an array of items that can be randomly selected by rolling 2d6, and that's exactly what the GM does to generate a plot.

As the players create their characters, the GM randomly rolls for three items to make up the starting plot map. They then associate the three items to each other, noting the reasons for the connections. Meanwhile, the players will reach a point where they give their characters connections. They then have the ability to call on those connections for favors prior to the start of the game. If they do so, those connections are added to the plot map. By the time all of this is done, the GM should have a starting situation for the players to find themselves in just as soon as they've finished their characters, or shortly thereafter.

As play progresses, the plot map will grow as either the players bring in elements through their actions, or the GM adds additional elements to keep the story going, either rolling to bring in new ones, or choosing appropriate ones as the situation warrants. Eventually, the GM may even bring in elements from an entirely different Transmission if the story moves beyond the bounds of the beginning one.

I'm so interested in this concept that I started building my own Transmission even before I finished reading the rules. I'm not sure yet whether I'll try using it when running the game for our group, but it's certainly a possibility.

The rest of the game is interesting as well, but is going to take some getting used to. It's all about applying "adjectives" to other characters. In the case of mooks you can apply the adjectives of "unconscious" or even "dead", but that's not allowed when it comes to more important characters, which looks like it might takes some getting used to.

Normally conflict scenes in RPGs have a well-defined end-point: when one side runs out of hit points the conflict is over. This applies even in many newer games which feature social conflict, as they often feature what is essentially a pool of social hit-points. Since this doesn't happen in Technoir, it's going to be up to the GM and players to decide when conflicts end.

Players are going to have to decide for themselves when to give up since they can't just keep going until they run out of hit points. If their character gets "bloody" in pursuit of a goal they have to decide if it's still worth it. Mechanically they can continue on, but does it make sense in terms of story if the character doesn't value the goal that much?

GMs need to make the same decisions for the major NPCs. The following questions have to be asked during conflicts:
  • What are my character's goals for this conflict?
  • Have those goals been met?
  • Is it still worth pursuing those goals in light of the damage taken?

Of course, it is still possible for characters to die as a result of conflict, it just won't happen until the conflict is over. At that point characters roll a d6 for every physical injury adjective they've taken. One "6" means they are dying, and two means they are dead. This means that a determined character can continue to pursue their goal no matter what damage they take, but in the end could find they've expended everything they had to do so.

In this game though, dead doesn't necessarily mean dead dead. A "dead" character can still be saved, but if the attempt fails, then the character is permanently dead.

The basic mechanics of the game interest me as well. It uses three types of d6: action dice, push dice and hurt dice. When you perform an action you take a number of action dice equal to the value of the "verb" that you are using (verbs being stats), plus you can add a push die for every adjective you have that helps you, as long as you have enough push dice in your pool, and finally you add one hurt dice for every adjective you have that hurts you.

When you roll the dice any dice that match a hurt die are removed. You then look at the highest value of what's left. If there are more than one of the highest value then that value X becomes X.1. You compare the value to the target number, and if it's higher the action succeeds, and an adjective is applied to the target. The target number is the value of one of the target's verbs which the target can raise by using their own push dice.

Any adjectives applied this way are "fleeting" and are easy to remove. If the player or GM wants to make an adjective last longer, then they must spend push dice to do so. One die makes the adjective "sticky" and two makes it "locked". These dice are then given to the controller of the character affected.

This last bit adds in a nice pacing element to the game in that players start out with all the push dice. The GM can't do anything permanent to the players until they start doing serious stuff to the NPCs. This should allow for the game to accelerate at a pace influenced by the players.

Overall, I'm looking forward to getting this game to the table, and hope to follow up with my observations after we've done so.


Jabbott said...

I wanna be a hard-boiled detective!!

J. Griffin Barber said...

Release date for us peons?

Fulminata said...

Latest word is that the print version won't be out until September at the earliest. The pdf is available now at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.

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