The Sprawl: First Thoughts

Hurray for insomnia! I got through my first reading of The Sprawl last night and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Observations and whatevers:

* Reminds me a lot of a PbtA-ized version of Blades in the Dark in many ways: heavy procedural focus on jobs, heists, gigs, etc. Also like Blades, it looks like you need to work to bring the non-job game into play. Other Blades tech: competing you’re-fucked/you’re-done clocks that can get ticked. It’s one of my favorite BitD bits so yay.

* It has these Key-like XP triggers called Directives, which I like very much: basically two things that, when you engage with them, you get an XP. It’s a little programmatic, as PbtA tends to be, in terms of narrow thematic focus for each playbook, but it looks like this is where the not-job juice comes from. Have to see it in play.

* I just want to run a game with four or five Driver playbooks now: The Dom, The Brian, The Letty, The Mia, and maybe The Roman.

* I’m not super sure how many times you can really run the game before it gets a little stale! I’m basing that on what looks like some procedural resistance to introducing non-job content into the game. Yeah so while there’s these Personal Directives that are XP carrots, there’s no formal between-job play time in which anything happens. The play order is super explicit: you get the job, you do the legwork, you do the job, you get paid. There’s no downtime phase. So it’s on the players to chase their extra XPs (they’re also getting XPs for completing stages of the job), and I guess on the GM to remember what everyone’s Directives are. I’m super curious to see how it plays out.

* Love the Agenda, Principles and the Threats. The Headline Threat (some big force-of-nature type thing, like a disease or a societal shift) is particularly tasty, nice job on that one. The Corporate clocks look great. All that stuff looks functional and on-point.

* I kind of bounced off the Matrix rules. It’s a whole separate section — as it should be, no complaints — and for whatever reason I kind of glazed over. Cyberpunk 2020 damage maybe, dunno. Concerned as always that a free-standing hacking system means folks sit on their hands while the netrunner has fun, hope this isn’t the case because it’s singularly responsible for putting one of my favorite genres on my don’t-play list. But it looks like the netrunning is supposed to create real-world effects that your non-hacker characters react to, which you know…good common sense solution.

* Nothing jumps out as a deal breaker or problem. Lots of stats and I don’t loooove that. Iffy outside-the-gig content engagement but I might be wrong about that. No questionnaire to line up a relationship map! That bums me out, and I can’t eyeball just how well the existing system works: it’s a round-robin thing where you describe an awesome job you led, and then everyone else on the team chimes in with how they helped. Ehh…I like the Headspace procedure better, although it’s long as hell.

This goes on my run-soon list!

0 thoughts on “The Sprawl: First Thoughts”

  1. Nice. I read the PDF back when it first dropped, and I’m eagerly awaiting my POD version, along with a bunch of other drivethru crap I ordered all at once. My home team has a strong enough love for cyberpunk that I will probably end up running either this or Headspace, whichever arrives first, and given the apparent maltreatment of the HS books by some shipping company or another, I think The Sprawl currently has the edge.

  2. What’s the resistance to adding a simple “player turn” ala Mouse Guard into the thing, where players simply do their downtime schtick and try to get some XP? I haven’t read the Sprawl.

  3. I played a Hacker in one of Hamish Cameron’s games at GenCon last year and….yeah, while I was in the Matrix, everybody else sat on their hands. But, unlike virtually every other cyberpunk rpg I’ve played, it wasn’t a problem. It was just another way that the spotlight moved around, no different than any other time that happens in any PbtA game.

    So, while the “problem” still exists, because of how PbtA games are much more deft at switching between PoVs than trad games are, the “problem” is not really a problem at all.

  4. Maybe not the place to discuss it, but can you tell me why you like those BitD clocks? They’re one of the parts that dragged the game down for me and I wonder if I’m looking at them the wrong way.

  5. I got to play a hacker at BBC and when we got to the part where it came to the matrix I did kind of feel like everyone else was left sitting on their hands. That said it was only like two or three moves (as opposed to the private-combats of say Shadowrun) so it didn’t occupy any more screen time then the plots Infiltrator or Pusher were getting up to.

    I haven’t gotten the chance to play it outside of a convention setting so I unfortunately don’t know how much the lack of non-job content becomes an issue.

  6. Your driver idea cracks me up (although the Driver’s consistently been the biggest problem in my campaign largely because of how their vehicle stats work).

    One of the things about Legwork is that you often also get other jobs and side-projects. Hitting the streets usually leaves folks with some side problems which spin out which then leads to the Legwork phase acting as Downtime. It’s also usually where I introduce personal stories and drama. In general it works ok – but I think your fears are probably legit.

  7. There was a bit of talk about hacking and crosstalk at the table over in Morningstar’s thread the other day.

    Short form: Some people like the idea, others don’t.

    Slightly longer form: Folks who like their games like a movie don’t like it, as they want everyone at the table to be able to audience scenes they aren’t in. Other folks like it, as it lets the focus stay on someone for some time while letting others stay engaged in character.

    Potential issue: there’s a bit of player skill/focus that may be involved that folks didn’t seem to discuss a lot. Crosstalk yay/nay may be less the issue in some specific cases than crosstalk that refocuses, remains relevant, etc. For example, even in movies there are often fast cuts, and in games there are frequently voice-overs or radio calls from absent team mates. So having some methodologies and guidelines may be in order.

    Other thing: You have pretty much, with this review, confirmed that this is the PtbA game I WILL play with my brothers this Christmas, and that this is the PtbA game I WILL NOT play with Mo.

  8. Keith Stetson some very quick thoughts on the Blades clocks and why they work (ish) for me:

    * I think it’s a great visual to have on the table to remind folks about both their goals and ambient threats during the job.

    * Ticking down clocks gives me a way to bleed off failures/complications into an abstracted “later but game-changing” space. One problem I, personally, have had running PbtA-style games is that I tend to escalate soft moves into hard moves pretty fast. I like the one-shot amped vibe! But it’s frustrating to players. Blades and I assume The Sprawl I think implicitly includes “make them feel like badasses” under the “be a fan of the characters” aegis, and jobs spiraling into fiascos does not serve that principle.

    * I think there are some best practices, at least on the Blades side, to having enough but not too many clocks up and running at once. The system can’t protect us from over/underusing them.

    * In The Sprawl there are lots of clocks, but they don’t get created ad-hoc, I don’t think, the way they do in Blades. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds: you have abstracted counters for tracking total failure vs. total success, as well as a few standby clocks (Corporations each have a clock, as do Threats) into which you can bleed off failures/complications. But you don’t run the risk of having a table with like 20 clocks that nobody can keep track of.

  9. Micah Shaeffer yeah I’ve got the Eclipse Phase library. The writer gives it away, which is amazing. Totally, totally not the system for me but the material is extraordinary. Love reading it but I’m never gonna run it. LMK what you think if you join that game.

    I think there’s a Fate adaptation available or in progress, and I might take a look at that.

  10. Interesting. I like the concept of how clocks track things, but in practice I found it to work more like the effect of the move is fill in three clock spaces and then justify that fictionally. It became more of a clock-space-filling-game than anything else.

  11. Keith Stetson yeah, it can get that way too.

    One thing that I found I had to get myself past is describing what ticking off a segment looked like. In AW, each segment means something, right? But in BitD they’re just event hit points.

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