The Sprawl: Upon Further Reading

Okay, I’ve been through the text of The Sprawl a couple more times. A few things jumped out at me that I wanted to share, mostly because when I type things they stick in my own head better. Also there are questions and maybe the hardened old vets in the audience can help me out.

* +owned doesn’t seem to actually mean anything specific, and is a fictional positioning tag like +hunted. True? How are folks using +owned? What implications and consequences are there for ignoring your owners? I was kinda sorta thinking defying either of those tags might have clock implications (legwork, action, threat or corporate) and I suppose prescriptively/descriptively they can and should. Anyway, looking for advice here.

* Turns out there are some attempts at pulling in non-job content in a more formal/procedural way. The stuff Jason Morningstar was talking about — the cross-talk, the using tech and scene design — is also nicely covered in the text itself. But also that happens, formally, when you cash in your Links for an XP. There is a downtime phase but it’s never called out as such in the list of phases.

* On that note, there are a few things that are mentioned only once. The text requires a pretty close reading to get it all! The big one for me is staking your own Cred on a mission when you take it. It’s mentioned in Assets (and oh I do love it, especially the “if you stake 3 you also advance your Legwork clock” rule), but lordy it really ought to have been brought up whenever the Get the Job move is mentioned.

* There are a lot more clocks in motion than I first realized. Wow. Threats look like they crop up pretty organically as well, both as reasonable and interesting wrinkles during your first-session setup stuff, and as a result of various moves. That’s great! But I confess I’m feeling intimidated about doodling up prescriptive/descriptive details for every clock at every tick. That’s dozens and dozens of fictional triggers. I suspect, Blades in the Dark style, they’ll end up being all-or-nothing tickers: oh hey, the yakuza’s clock hit midnight, okay game on. Which means giving up on the descriptive upticks.

* I feel iffy about Conduct an Operation. Is that just a one-and-done thing for side gigs where everyone agrees you could just kind of offscreen it? The way it’s listed in with the Mission Packages chapter is a little confusing: I thought those were session frameworks! But they’re probably more flexible than that, yeah? I do love camera-control rules like this so it’ll probably prove to be super-useful, right now it just feels vague.

* Really liking Hamish Cameron’s take on the Blades thing where you abstract out most of the mission planning. The [intel] and [gear] economy is really sharp. Top marks. My players ground up against abstracted mission planning in Blades because they didn’t understand flashbacks, and once they did understand flashbacks the sessions got weighed down by consequence failures in the flashbacks, ugh. This looks much slicker. Looking forward to playing with it.

* I am a tiny bit dismayed that nearly all the Get Paid outcomes strongly imply that clients want to screw their contractors. Thematically and genre-loyalty-wise I totally get it. That’s what Gibson does a lot. But that also kind of grinds up, in my mind, against a couple things. One, it makes being +owned a universally bad thing. Nobody wants to be +owned, whereas in The Real World there are many, many people who deeply crave loyalty and stability. I think it would be an interesting ethical choice, you know? Like, maybe you really do want to be +owned and you’re okay with it (and as a result, you get +1 forward on Get Paid if you’re the mission lead negotiating that). It probably says a lot about the sheer volume of criminal operators if they’re so disposable that you can assume you’ll be disposed of.

For another, it raises very old questions that have always lurked at the back of my mind about one of my favorite genres: where’s the punk in cyberpunk? Maybe that emerges organically from the Personal Directives? The fact that everyone’s scraping up Cred to (probably) retire in peace strikes me as just un-punk, maybe even anti-punk, as the rest of the genre. This isn’t the game where that gets answered, but it sure is the game where it gets asked again.

I suppose we should take “corporate employers” as very broad, and that dogmatically organized groups of any kind can and would hire criminal specialists to do things. Maybe not anarchists, they can’t get their shit together. But well organized leftists, radical environmentalists, whatevs, I guess they can be employers too. I’ll need to prompt that a little, I think, during first-session setup talk, otherwise we’ll end up with five Evil Corporations.

Anyway! Super looking forward to our three session run. Fingers crossed.

0 thoughts on “The Sprawl: Upon Further Reading”

  1. I think you can get to the “damn the man” punk aspect more through certain playbooks, such as the Reporter (which has some strong Transmetropolitan influences) and Pusher.

    Also, as you noted, the directives can drive that quite a bit, especially Compassionate.

    Jason’s highlights aside, our game hasn’t had a lot of progress so far- we play short sessions, so after three of them we’ve gotten through character creation, basic world-building, and the legwork phase of the mission. It’s probably running a little slow because we are doing more in-character side dialogues (about the wedding the Hacker’s parents are making him go to during the job, for example).

  2. The Get Paid move is one of my favorites. When I ran a SR campaign one of the hardest parts was this expectation of Mr. Johnson not being trustworthy. Double crosses are a staple of the game. But its left up to very much GM fiat. With Get Paid its mechanized and better yet left up to the players. So they know when the punch is coming. The way its connected with legwork feels really solid to me as well. Like you blew up too much dust with this mission, so that’s probably why your client is trying to tie up loose ends. Tech and Intel are very powerful but filling up that legwork clock is also very dangerous and costly.

    As for the Owned tag. In my head I’m picturing  “Escape from New York” as far as implications. I.E. we’ve implanted this virus into you, and unless you do what we say you have 24 hours to live. Yeah I know maybe not that extreme, but I feel like that’s the reference material. Yeah some people may want stability but the characters you’re playing are always ‘disposable assets’.

    The sprawl reads very much 80’s cyberpunk to me. Cyberware and tech come at a cost, and are something you are driven to. Never something you would elect to do normally. I guess what I’m saying is mechanized capitalist dystopia is a feature not a bug.

  3. Another direct influence is Neuromancer, where Case gets his nerves fixed by his employer but they also add toxin sacs to his bloodstream to make sure he does the job.

  4. I think it can, but not necessarily. In our game the Infiltrator is +owned by the local crime syndicate, and the reason they chose is “loyalty”. So when they tell him to take a job, he’s doing so out of a sense of honor. When they inevitably ask him to betray the Hacker, who is +hunted by them, we’ll see how that triangle plays out…

  5. “where’s the punk in cyberpunk?”


    You have provoked thought. You knave.

    (Looking forward too this one. I’ve skimmed Sprawl but not dug in.)

  6. In my game, the Pusher and Tech both lean kinda “punk”.

    The former is part of a pro-tech co-operative/commune thing that’s 50% pop Buddhism and 50% socialized healthcare. He wants to tear down the corps to make the best enhancements free to all! Except for the one that +owns him, of course…

    The latter is more of a doom-and-gloom DIY punk. The world is going to shit, and anyone who is still meat in 50 years might as well be dead already. Change ’em all and change ’em now!

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