roleplaying games

Review: Interface Zero 2.0, Fate edition

I received the print version of Interface Zero Fate edition right before Thanksgiving, and as of this past weekend read it in full. That said, I also played in a short campaign using the playtest rules last year. Both reading the book and my experiences playing the game inform this review.

My first experience with Interface Zero was the first version of “2.0”, which was written for Savage Worlds. I enjoyed the world quite a bit, and a lot of the crunchy bits that are necessary for a Cyberpunk game (cyberware, hacking, drones and vehicles) were very nicely done. In running the game in Savage Worlds, though, I found that the balance of the game was more towards cinematic action than anything else. It boiled down to Savage Worlds as a system: it runs fast and loose, but a lot of the complications that Interface Zero tried to add in weren’t meshing with the system. The lack of attention given to corporations also stuck in my craw, as organizations and their power are thematically essential to my view of Cyberpunk as a genre.

Considering the rules density of Fate as a default, I did not go into my read of the game expecting that this version would resolve any of the issues I had with Interface Zero in Savage Worlds. The playtest reinforced this view: because we ported our characters from the Savage Worlds version and the campaign wasn’t all that gritty to begin with, it played more or less like the flavor from Interface Zero written into Fate. Now that I’ve read the new rulebook, I can see they’ve greatly improved things.

This version of Interface Zero uses fairly straightforward Fate Core, with a modified skill list and variable character builds depending on starting power level. Aspects, stunts, refresh and skills work more or less how they do in Fate Core. While Fate has a relatively pulpy feel straight out of the box, there are a few modifications made to make things a bit more Cyberpunk-y. First, armor and weapons are scalable, giving three basic combat damage levels: Upgraded weapons, upgraded armor, and standard (you could upgrade both weapons and armor, but there’s no statistical effect other than making hand-to-hand combat less dangerous). Beyond that, light armor has no numerated protection in the standard rules, making it quite expensive to get any real damage reduction (which I like). Cybernetics was mostly left alone; this is a good thing because the Strain system manages to be the most elegant balancing mechanic I’ve seen for Cybernetics thus far. The choice to give strain a basis in the two stress track skills instead of one or the other means that there’s a much wider range of builds that can incorporate a lot of cyberware. The porting of the cybernetics list was done fairly well, though many of the cybernetics are only specified through Aspects. Many items throughout the game are specified solely through the Aspect system, making it clear that this version of the game doubles down on Fate’s unique mechanics.

Fate’s system of mechanical differentiation boils down to Aspects, which are descriptive qualities that can either be invoked (using that property for a bonus) or compelled (having the downside of the property trigger a complication). In Interface Zero, every character, location, and object is riddled with Aspects. The section that illustrated to me how elegant this is was the beginning of the equipment chapter of the book. Each brand name introduced for equipment was itself an Aspect, and the book described when these brands could be invoked or compelled. That, right there, is how you Cyberpunk in Fate. The system of location aspects takes the location tags system from the Savage Worlds version and adapts it, and in the context of Fate it works a lot better as a subsystem that can be interacted with. Organizations have aspects as well, but the organization rules are a lot more meaty.

Organizations are the clearest example of using the Fate Fractal for something different. The Fate Fractal is a term used by the Fate developers to describe how any object in a game of Fate, whether real or metaphorical, can be described as a character with aspects, skills, and even stunts (the best example of how far afield you can go, in my opinion, is the “Fight Fire” setting from Fate Worlds: Worlds on Fire). In this game, organizations are characters, and they have both aspects and skills. The book goes through a skill list for organizations, and details rules about organization v. organization conflicts. Even though mechanically it’s just an extension of the Fate rules, this is probably the best set of organization rules I’ve seen this side of Reign. Because the rules re-use character skills, the system provides a lot of depth without adding an undue layer of additional crunch.

On more broad notes, the book, like the Savage Worlds version, is very well done. I appreciate both things that were added (the full dubbing rules are here, in the Savage Worlds version they were added in a splatbook) as well as taken away (taking out the Chicago map allowed for some more page count in the world section and made things a bit more even-handed). The basic system of race/career archetypes remain, and were well integrated into the core character Aspects system. I also enjoyed the fact that the Trouble Aspect and Stunts were nailed down with example lists; coming up with a compelling Trouble out of thin air is one of the more difficult parts of Fate character creation.

My one issue with this version is interesting but possibly inevitable, considering Interface Zero was written for two (and soon three) completely different rulesets. To enjoy this game, you’re going to have to like Fate. The number of Aspects in play, from characters, inventory, locations, and the in-game situation itself, is going to be vast. The number of compels and invokes available is similarly vast, and to really go cyber-nuts with all the sweet gear you bought, you’re going to be looking at two, three, four invokes possible that all need to stack in a relatively coherent way. For this to work, the Fate points need to be flying, and everyone at the table needs to be compelling, invoking, and just generally willing to engage with what’s called the “Fate Point Economy”. Funny thing is, I think this is probably the version of the system that will work the best for my type of group. Savage Worlds has all the mechanics but is a bit too loose for them to be coherent, while Pathfinder will be able to incorporate all the mechanics but likely do so in a very constrained way to make the game fit into a class/level structure. In Fate, having the fractal means that this relatively crunchy game boils down quite nicely. It also means that if your group has issues with meta-game currencies or narrative mechanics, this will drive them up a wall.

In some ways, I’m kind of sad that my Interface Zero game was run before this version came out. Fate works better than I thought it would for this, and the author’s choice to really double down on Fate’s mechanics was a very good one. This game ends up sitting in the middle of my range of Cyberpunk systems, more grounded and crunchy than The Sprawl but significantly more narrative and abstracted than GURPS or even Cyberpunk 2020. I enjoy the worldbuilding, but for multiple reasons if I were to run this game it would be in my own setting. Fortunately, thanks to the systems for locations and organizations, it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to strip out the setting and still use this system. If the amount of thought I’m giving to adapting the system is any indication, I am very positive about running this game in the future and think it’s a great addition to my Cyberpunk RPG library.



Review: Cyberspace

Fact is, the 1980s were the time that roleplaying games really exploded. While Dungeons and Dragons was a child of the 70s, the 80s were a time that the corpus of games got a lot bigger, and some great mechanical and genre innovations came out of it. We got GURPS from the 80s. We got Paranoia from the 80s. We got Champions and Toon from the 80s.

We got Cyberpunk from the 80s.

The first wave of Cyberpunk roleplaying games came out over a very short time period. Cyberpunk 2013 was the first, released in 1988. Cyberspace and Shadowrun both followed in 1989. Cyberpunk, in my opinion, had the best mechanics of the three. Shadowrun, more objectively, sold the best. Cyberspace trailed the other two in popularity and adoption, and while a “second edition” was published (little more than a new print run with errata), Iron Crown let Cyberspace die on the vine and focused on their more successful fantasy game, Rolemaster.

At this point, I’ve run five full-length campaigns using Cyberpunk 2020 (including one with a GURPS kitbash), played in two full-length campaigns of Cyberpunk 2020, run and played numerous 2020 one-shots, and played in two full-length campaigns of Shadowrun as well. Cyberspace is, as the third member of the Cyberpunk RPG first wave, notably absent. So what did I do? I bought the book from a used book retailer on Amazon, and then last night I read it, cover to cover.

Cyberspace is based on Rolemaster, as is pretty much every product Iron Crown released (Rolemaster, Spacemaster, MERP). In fact, the book contains conversion notes for Spacemaster, in case you wanted some sci-fi crossover. The thing about Rolemaster is that it doesn’t have a unified mechanic. As an example, GURPS has a unified mechanic…roll 3d6 and your target number is your skill score. Though there are tons of modifications the system can throw at you, all rolls boil down to rolling these three dice and looking at your skills. In Rolemaster (and therefore Cyberspace), while there is one die mechanic (1d100), there is not a consistent way to determine success. Instead, there are tables indicating what happens for each range of dice results. Every type of maneuver has its own table, meaning there are somewhere on the order of half a dozen tables with results ranging from roughly -100 to 200. There are another half dozen critical hit tables, and another half dozen fumble tables.

Weirdly enough, this doesn’t affect the actual mechanics too much. This method adds some granularity to roll results, and actually reading the tables I thought it was pretty cool that margin of success had codified results. Here’s the problem, though: the raise mechanic in Savage Worlds also codifies results for margin of success, and for that to work you just need to divide your margin of success by four. In Cyberspace, you calculate the roll, find the table, read the table, and then determine the result. In a typical combat round you’ll be consulting at least two tables, and that’s if you already did out the calculations for your attack bonus and skill modifiers beforehand. So my main fear, not yet substantiated through play, is that this system is going to be slow. It’s also much more math-intensive than most modern systems, requiring the addition and subtraction of 2-3 digit numbers every roll. The main reason this is a problem is that both of Cyberspace’s competitors were much, much better in this regard. Cyberpunk is roll against a DC like D&D, and add your straight stat and skill rank. Shadowrun is a dice pool system: roll dice and count the 5s and 6s. Easy.

The combat system is based on simultaneous task resolution. The players all decide what they’re going to do, write it down and give it to the GM. The GM then resolves actions in order of what they are, with each action subtype having a ruling on how they affect either each other or subsequent actions. So ranged attacks go first, and are always executed. That means that if characters are shooting at each other, getting shot doesn’t actually affect whether or not you get your attack off. Melee attacks, on the other hand, are resolved based on an initiative order, with only identical initiatives resolving simultaneously like ranged attacks. There’s a lot of more detail in the combat system…mostly illustrated through tables.

Character creation is both very interesting and very problematic at the same time. The problematic aspect I can get out of the way at the outset: the first thing you do when creating a character is rolling 1d100 for 11 stats. That’s bonkers. I mean, people complain a lot about 3d6 for D&D, but 1d100 is completely random. You could roll below 30 for every stat while your table-mate rolls above 75 for each stat. I’d immediately houserule this to something less random, like 5d20 or 10d10. After that nonsense, things get better. The professions in the game are different packages of skills, and don’t provide many restrictions in the way of what skills you buy, merely varying amounts of start points and future XP costs. One thing I actually really like is that skills at character creation is divided into two parts: you first get a skill package based on your upbringing which is tied to social class, and then you get to the part where you buys skills based on your profession. There is a more detailed background section which is optional but too cool to actually ignore, it serves the same purpose as Lifepath in Cyberpunk but in my opinion is a lot less stylish.

The hacking and computer rules…where to start. First, I’ll concede that all hacking rules, especially very old ones, are pretty bad. Add to that that the technology assumptions are wildly inconsistent. What really bothered me about the technology in the book was how it seemed to jump from incredibly prescient (in 1989, the authors assumed in the future we’d have smartphones with full-featured CPUs, way better than the Cyberpunk phone assumptions) to incredibly stupid (the entire section on cyberdecks seems to have no real idea how a computer works). The worst is that these two things combine themselves. For instance, the authors describe memristors and MRAM with clarity…and then say you’d make a CPU with them (the confusion between processors and memory is a strong theme). They also describe the difference between a high-level programming language and a low-level machine language, even identifying that different processor types have different machine code…and then go ahead and include a table of machine languages based on software type…which makes absolutely no sense. In Cyberpunk 2020, the technical detail in the hacking section was thin…which as I see now was for the better because it prevented the authors from making technical error after technical error after technical error.

The setting material is good, similar in feel to Cyberpunk 2020 but with more detail. I do like how the main city in the book is San Francisco…as much as Night City was a neat setting in Cyberpunk, sticking a fictional city halfway between San Francisco and LA always felt weird to me. As Shadowrun was originally set in Seattle, this continues the trend of the west coast being the fictional Cyberpunk nexus. Cyberspace also goes into more detail with arcologies, space colonization and environmental damage, aspects that were important in Cyberpunk 2020 but glossed over.

Overall, Cyberspace is solid compared to its two contemporaries, but is definitely going to be a very different game. Like the system it’s based on, it’s designed to produce consistent roll results that are clear and easy to adjudicate. Also like the system its based on, it does this through miles of tables which make rules referencing during play essentially a must. This game, like Rolemaster, is designed to be crunchy and give strong mechanical support in deciding actions. It also leans on the 80s standbys of random character generation and lack of enforced game balance (though it’s nowhere near as egregious as, say, Rifts).

I’m incredibly curious to see how this game actually plays. I have a feeling that running online is going to be all but impossible unless I convince my group to all get their own copies of the book, though it may well be that I could run in a way that only the GM is looking up results on tables. I also have a feeling that if we felt FFG Star Wars could be slow in combat, we’re in for a very rude awakening.

Ultimately, I see why this game exists and why it still has fans. I can’t say for certain how I feel about it compared to Cyberpunk 2020…from what I can tell Cyberspace has a much more robust ruleset in terms of exploitability, and both the character creation and advancement rules are better from a mechanical perspective (Lifepath still has more style though). But until I try running this thing and dealing with all of these tables, I don’t really know how the core game plays compared to others. When comparing it to my broader game collection, though, it’s hard to see my interest in this other than as a historical artifact. Cyberspace could compare favorably with Cyberpunk 2020, but with Interface Zero, The Sprawl, Technoir, and others gaming has continued to move beyond the design principles of the 80s. Even GURPS, with its own design roots in the 80s, has improved significantly in its four editions, becoming an easier toolkit while still maintaining a good amount of heft. Though I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen, reading Cyberspace made me understand perfectly well why it was the third place finisher in the first wave of Cyberpunk games.


Review: RimWorld

Pablo was a real hardass. Late 40s, good with a gun, had his hair up in a mohawk, not a style popular with other colonists. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but if he let you in you had a friend for life.

The raiders gave the colony plenty of time to prepare, but they came heavily armed. Usually the raiding parties were from the Green Tarsier tribe to the south, but these pirates had high-powered rifles and body armor. Pablo was one of the first to the perimeter. He took a hit from a sniper rifle and went down before the fight really even started. It was a tough fight, but after a couple hours of bullets flying, the pirates were repelled. The colonists even took the sniper rifle that hit Pablo as a trophy.

McClure, the surgeon, patched Pablo up as best he could. But even after the bleeding stopped, Pablo wasn’t walking. It was at this point…that I opened up the health tab in Pablo’s character menu, and saw that his leg had been shot off.

This game. Holy shit, this game. To get the basics out of the way, RimWorld is The Sims, in space, with guns and a tech tree. Or to put it another way, if you loved the idea of Dwarf Fortress but bounced hard off of it every time you actually attempted to play, RimWorld has almost as much depth but a learning curve that’s actually human. And graphics, too!

I wouldn’t say the graphics are a selling point, but they’re easier on the eyes than playing Dwarf Fortress in ASCII. They’re fairly similar to Prison Architect, in my view, being cartoonish and simple, but RimWorld has far fewer frames of animation than Prison Architect does. And ultimately, that’s OK.

All right, enough with the comparisons and carrying on. In RimWorld, you control a group of colonists who have crash-landed on a remote planet, a “RimWorld” in the game’s parlance. You must help them set up a colony so they can survive, thrive, and maybe even get back off the planet. Like in Dwarf Fortress, you don’t directly control your colonists, instead you set up orders for them, either in terms of construction or in terms of work orders on production equipment. They will then follow those orders based on a priority queue and their own personal moods and needs.

While the graphics are simple and cutesy, the simulation and AI around your colonists is miles better than what The Sims had in 2000. Your colonists will tend to their needs and generally be productive, getting things done unless their mood gets low enough to cause a mental break. These breaks can be mild (locking themselves in their room, wandering around in a daze), moderate (binge eating, binge drinking, getting really stoned), or severe (forgetting where they are and stripping naked, going bezerk and shooting people), and if your colony is a high stress environment they’ll happen pretty often.

What makes your colony a high stress environment isn’t always (or even often) you, though. Colonists will fight, fall in love, break up, get hurt, get pets, and a whole bunch of other things. The amount of detail is quite impressive, and it all works together. Let’s go back to my example of Pablo. Pretty much all of what I wrote about Pablo was specified by the game logic, including the fact that he was coolly received except for one or two very loyal friends. So he got shot, and I didn’t realize the shot had taken his leg off until I checked his health panel when he was in bed. OK, so while I hadn’t discovered prosthetics in the tech tree, I did know how to make (I’m dead serious) peg legs. So I set up an order for McClure, the surgeon, to perform the operation “install peg leg”. Well, the surgery failed catastrophically. So McClure spends the next six hours patching up the leg he had tried to cut open, there’s blood everywhere…Pablo somehow survives. But the colony is out of medicine, and it’s the dead of winter so the healroot (herbal medicine crop) won’t be ready until spring. Pablo is confined to bed for a month until I order the colonists to harvest the healroot early so Pablo can get his peg leg. The second time around, the operation is a success. Pablo is still a hardass, and after contributing to the colony for another couple seasons, he’s shot again in a pirate raid. This time he doesn’t make it. McClure still sometimes goes out and visits Pablo’s grave.

These are the kinds of stories this game generates, and it’s amazing. I’ve had one wedding, one engaged couple break it off, and one colonist who had lost his wife…only to have her come running out of the woods after escaping from slavers. One of my colonists is a 76 year old woman with dementia…a brilliant scientist who sometimes wanders around the colony late at night, forgetting where she is. As our tame red fox (the animal systems are also great) has gotten older, he too has developed dementia, and is also prone to wandering around, confused. When the game informed me that the two of them had made an emotional bond, it was strangely gripping.

Rock Paper Shotgun wrote a column about using procedural generation and deep simulation for storytelling, talking mostly about apophenia, or the human tendency to create patterns from randomness. RimWorld is the primary topic of that column because it hits the sweet spot of multilayered complexity and accessibility. The mechanics are distilled down to somewhere between The Sims and a reasonable real-time strategy game, but the layers of simulation create a lot of subtlety. I’m still marvelling over the fact that a late-game technology is ground-penetrating radar, which allows you to drill for resources. The agriculture system is a great example of finding the sweet spot between depth and accessibility: you can create a zone for growing, and then pick the crop, and be done with it, for the most part…or you can create a hydroponics system and grow crops indoors. The power system allows you to build solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal power plants and fuelled steam turbines, as well as batteries for backup or for moderating renewables. Installation is simple drag and drop, but the simulation ends up being quite satisfying even to me…and I research power systems for a living.

The downside to covering so much simulation in a limited set of mechanics is that there are limited ways to convey all the information. In the world view this is mostly fine, and anyone familiar with the realtime strategy genre will be familiar with clicking on an item to see its status. Here, though, it’s good to know there is a “next layer down” button. In agriculture, for instance, clicking on an active field will generally get you the plant you click on. To get the field itself (which is how you change the crop assigned to grow there) you need to click the “next layer down” button. With people, though, the information screen has five tabs: Needs, Gear, Character, Social,  and Health. As my experience with Pablo above showed, you need to review all five of these at given moments. While there is a certain sense of overload, RimWorld does better conveying dependencies and incomplete workflows than something like Dwarf Fortress. As an example, batteries in the game can explode, and they will do so when they get overloaded, overheated, or wet. The game tells you this. The game leaves you to figure out that you must keep batteries dry by putting a roof over them. I figured out the hard way that that means roofing them and keeping them outside, because if you put them inside and they explode you’re dealing with a very large fire.

Once you’ve gotten basic survival out of the way, the game’s trade system means you can support your colony in a wide variety of ways. You can become a space brewery (or a space grow op). You can become an outfitter, making clothing and equipment and selling them. You can mine. You can imprison people and trade them to slavers. You can make a space hotel. Even as I’ve played through most of the tech tree with my current game, I find myself itching to try all sorts of different things. There are a lot of things the game can do that I haven’t dug into yet at all.

In conclusion, RimWorld scratches all the right itches for me, and has been deeply compelling. Not only did I pay full price for this game (something I rarely do period and essentially never do with Early Access games), I knew immediately I had gotten my money’s worth. As the game is still in Early Access there are likely more features on the horizon, which could be very exciting.


roleplaying games

Review: The Sprawl

Hamish Cameron’s The Sprawl became available in print yesterday. I’ve been watching this game so intently that when I saw the Tweet from @TheSprawl_RPG, I clicked straight over to DrivethruRPG and bought it.

This is a warning that, for multiple reasons, this review may seem biased.

You see, I love the Cyberpunk genre. I’m a cynic and a futurist, which is a perfect combination to get drawn into the worlds imagined by Gibson, Stephenson, Effinger, Cadigan, Sterling, Beukes, Bacigalupi…the list goes on, and well into the present. Literary theorists may disagree, but I do not see Cyberpunk as a movement restricted to the 80s.

Cyberpunk 2020, though, was a game restricted to the 80s. While the thematic material and system kept my group playing 2020 into 2011, it is dated, in terms of setting and to a lesser degree mechanics. Ever since I wrote my first Cyberpunk 2020 conversion for GURPS, I’ve been searching for a replacement.

Cyberpunk games have all been “mission-based” to one extent or another. Until I read The Sprawl, I didn’t quite understand why the game was highlighting this, and was a little worried that I had bought a game that was more narrow than my campaigns would mesh with. Once I read the game and understood how it was designed, I was pleasantly surprised.

Cyberpunk games follow a typical arc, one that was pioneered more by Shadowrun than anyone else. The characters are a team of professionals who are contacted by a fixer (known colloquially in Shadowrun as a “Mr. Johnson”) who has a job for them. The job involves discretion and often violence, and there is a promise of a payout at the end. The characters go and do the job, dealing with obstacles in the form of guards, automated defense systems, computer security, and whatever else is in their way. As they make their way to the objective, they then must escape the environment with their lives and the target, be it data, money, a piece of technology, or a person. At the end, they try to get paid, and often the Mr. Johnson betrays them or the corporation they just infiltrated follows them to the rendezvous and ambushes them in a hope to knock off both the team and whoever was paying for the job. Being betrayed by the Mr. Johnson is definitely a Shadowrun trope.

The Sprawl takes this arc, and all of the conflicts that happen within it (finding a job, prepping for the job, doing the job, dealing with the fallout, trying to get paid) and mechanizes all of them. And because this is Powered by the Apocalypse, it does so without feeling overwhelming. But the big thing for me is that now I have mechanical tools to do things that otherwise I was just keeping track of  in ad hoc ways. Which corporations have it out for the characters? There are corporation clocks to tell you that, and rules for advancing them. Will the target of an op figure out something is up? The legwork clock tells you that. When does the mission go tits-up as the security squad arrives? Consult the action clock. This game has given me rules for everything in a cyberpunk game that has made me say “I wish I was keeping track of that better” in previous games. The rules interaction with the countdown clocks is also more concrete than it is in Apocalypse World, something some GMs may see as unnecessary but I find quite welcome.

Another reason I believe (though this one may need to be tested in play) a Powered by the Apocalypse system works so well for Cyberpunk came from a conversation I was having with one of my players about 2020. He said 2020 was his favorite system for Cyberpunk because the lethality gave it a level of tension, and random events made things interesting. Tension and lethality are two things Apocalypse World does very, very well. We are wrapping up a campaign in Interface Zero, and while I like the game quite a bit, Savage Worlds as a system is designed for genres where the characters are heroes that will succeed. Fights against mooks are too easy, and fights against named wild card NPCs, while much more challenging, begin to violate cyberpunk genre expectations if they’re used too often. The new version of Interface Zero in Fate may work better, but only due to the social contract between players and the GM…Fate has the same genre inclinations as Savage Worlds.

So The Sprawl uses mechanics and feel from Powered by the Apocalypse to emulate cyberpunk games that have come before it. And core mechanics, namely social and combat mechanics, are mostly unchanged from Apocalypse World, using moves that require a 2d6 roll. Beyond that, there are a few things added. First are personal directives. Personal directives are, essentially, motivations for the character outside of getting the mission done. Things like money, family, vengeance…now, this structure isn’t new, in fact it’s kind of a throwback to personality constructs from World of Darkness games. The fact that the author chose to include personal directives in this game indicates two departures from Apocalypse World: structure and scope. In the case of structure, the addition of personal directives serves the same purpose as including more explicit instructions to advance countdown clocks. In Apocalypse World, players are encouraged to think about their characters base desires, and gives mechanical allowance (but little direction) to act on them. Cyberpunk as a genre is not about desire, or survival. Every character in The Sprawl is given the same long term goal (Get out, retire, etc.), and personal directives give them a personal spin on this. Between personal directives and links, the character relationships seem more detached in this game than in Apocalypse World. While that’s certainly genre-appropriate, I don’t think it’s how I’d play it when I do run.

The second major addition is a set of hacking rules. Now, hacking is the thing every cyberpunk game tries to add, and most of them fail at. Cyberpunk 2020 had a very complicated system that while genre-appropriate and kind of interesting, fell flat in actual play. Shadowrun’s hacking system was similar, saved by the grace of everything in that system being equally complicated; equally bad does not lead to good, however. Interface Zero had a more usable hacking system that was simplified enough, but fell prey to the Shadowrun 4th/5th gambit of “even your guns are hackable” which strained reality and made players paranoid instead of encouraging engagement with the system. The Sprawl has a hacking system which is complicated enough to be interesting, simple enough to be fun, and keeps the risks logical. Cyberdecks have four stats which determine its defense, power, and visibility. When the MC uses ICE, he can attack programs or the hacker themselves, but must get through the deck defenses first. And only when connected to another network is the hacker at risk of getting their cyberware hacked. Though the 80s tropes of the VR matrix of computers is used in the text, the rules treat computer networks more like filesystems, which satisfies my suspension of disbelief. Being so different than most of the other Apocalypse World-derived rules, I will say that hacking looks good, but will reserve judgment on how it works until I run a game that uses it.

All in all, I’m excited about The Sprawl. I have a lot of ideas about what I’d want to do with it, and coincidentally it fits in to a niche my group needs right now with its session-by-session structure and solid links between episodic and continuous play. I may give an update once I’ve actually played the game, but between how well it read and the bones it’s built on, I think I have enough information to be properly enthusiastic.


The Sprawl is for sale on DrivethruRPG.