Tuesday, August 23, 2016


(Art is from here.)

The Sprawl is an outstanding RPG. A Powered By The Apocalypse game, it provides a strong mission-based structure to sessions. This isn't just a conceit about why all the PCs are together (missions and paydays) - the game is split between doing legwork and carrying out the mission. Custom moves around getting the job and getting paid bookend it all, with the PCs picking whether they get paid in full, betrayed or set up, and whether they can identify their employer.

Legwork is about planning, but the PCs can't sit around in a squat or atop some abandoned building and Make a Perfect Plan. They drive around and get into rolling gunfights and get caught surveilling places. They make up contacts and hit them up for gear or rumors. They throw parties and start whisper campaigns and replace fallible flesh with machine. They hack corporate subsidiaries and buy guns and wire up knockout gas satchel charges.

The Legwork clock reigns in the PC preference towards a perfect plan. Unused portions of that clock get added to the Getting Real Paid roll at the end, which determines if the PCs get paid and get away, or are on the run, chased by vat-grown assassins. The legwork clock can also advance the mission clock, which, when filled, means they have failed.

Legwork lets the PCs pick up gear and intel, which are specific, game-mechanicy things. If you have a move that gives you [gear], it's abstract until you need it. If you have [gear] and get up to a sealed blast door, it's a D4 charge and a remote clacker to detonate it. If you come across a keypad-blocked entryway and have [intel], you know the passcode, or you know how to blackmail a security guard, or you know the walking route and schedule of the armed patrols.

The mission clocks lets the failure of an action ratchet up tension wherever the mission is. Alarms go off, people go on the alert, guards start searching for fake ID passes. You get to the end, the mission is a flub, and people either escape or get caught or killed. As it goes up, security locks down the building, calls in armed assets, and the MC moves get harder and harder.

(Art from here.)

Surrounding the missions are clocks for corporations and threats. Corp clocks let you know if they're aware of the PCs, and if they're hunting the PCs. Threats are non-corporate antagonists - lone gunmen, aggressive hacker collectives, replicants coming into the workforce, grey goo or plague outbreaks. They let the MC create ongoing consequences for people the PCs screw over in the course of their work. They might kill some random wannabe runner asshole, only to find out his cousin and said cousin's gang are looking for who did it. Maybe some corporate wage-grubber the PCs charmed into helping them gets cyborged out and trained as a corp sniper, thrown into the corp penal legion, but given enough spare time to start hunting the PCs. Maybe giving Mr Johnson those blueprints will let him test nanohive builders on the a PC's apartment block, killing hundreds.

The playbooks are quite fun. There's a few that might not fit with every group - a legit Reporter hanging with Killers and Soldiers? - but in general they're easy to throw in wherever, and lots of fun. Techs and deckers will get people past ubiquitous electronic surveillance, infiltrators will do the same against humans, killers will kill, drivers will drive, pushers will brainwash people with their fervent beliefs. The damage model is much closer to classic Apocalypse World than Dungeon World, with health countdown clocks and a harm move.

All in all, quite a fun system. I've an AP with my brother-in-law and nephew to write up, and am running this on Roll20. It's been a great deal of fun so far.