Friday, January 25, 2019

Cry Dark Future: Re-Visiting Chargen

What I really want to write about today is race and racism (especially as it pertains to American politics), despite knowing how well that type of conversation tends to go over. However, I've been fighting a cold for the last couple-three days so my brain isn't putting thoughts together all that well at the moment.

Let's talk game design instead!

Cry Dark Future (CDF) sets up chargen much the same as Shadowrun 3E: assign a number of priorities (abilities, skills, resources, metatype, and magic) and build your character. It does use random dice roll for abilities, but these get adjusted depending on A) priority assigned to abilities, and B) metatype (character race). Very standard Shadowrun-y though skills are quite different (and far more limited in number), seeing as how we're using a B/X chassis and not SR's "dice pool" system.

Yes, player characters earn "levels" through the accumulation of experience points, just as in D&D; these influence things like hit points, attack ability, saving throws, and skill use. No, there are no "character classes" as CDF attempts to adhere to the "open build" format of chargen found in all editions of SR (a list of pre-built "archetypes" are included in an appendix).

Magicians in CDF are a bit of a divergence from standard SR: although spell-casting ("theurgy") uses a SR-style "pain for play" format, instead of D&D's Vancian "fire and forget" system, the Hermetic/Shamanic dichotomy has been junked in favor of a Sorcerer/Witch system heavily inspired by David Chandler's Ancient Blades trilogy. However, since the spells are still of a Build-Your-Own variety these (mostly) comes down to setting color: a sorcerer might throw a fireball while a witch causes someone's explosive ammo to have a disastrous "malfunction." Sample spells are provided (in yet another appendix), but it's still more "open" than the kinds of spell lists found in D&D and its ilk (Palladium, DCC, etc.).

Other than some simplification (and B/X system-appropriate modification), cyberware is, more-or-less, similar in nature and use to SR. No, there is no essence loss; characters instead lose charisma as they become more inhuman monster and less flesh-n-blood (shout out to Cyberpunk 2020 and cyber-psychosis!). Works great in practice, but for chargen it's still the arduous math exercise, balancing resource expenditure with CHA limits with character effectiveness and "theme." That is to say, it takes a while if you're wanting to "build your own 'borg" (as opposed to using a pre-gen). Of course, the equipment section itself isn't much lighter than a standard SR manual, so just selecting gear for a character with high priority resources is going to take a while regardless of how "cybered" she is.

SO, just continuing where I left off, here's some of the changes I was thinking about making:

  • Drop the Shadowrun "priority system" completely. 
  • Institute a class system...probably something closer to X-Plorers or Holmes then B/X, but I could do  "metatype as class" similar to B/X (in which case all trolls and dwarves, etc. would look...roughly...the same). Random rolled abilities would lead players to consider a particular class over another.
  • Roll skills into classes (similar to X-Plorers).
  • Adopt either a Vancian or "pseudo-Vancian" magic system, advancing spell power with level of experience. Different magician types would have different spell lists (true Vancian), or might keep a slightly more open approach (or incorporate parts of SR's "open" design...such as with regard to conjuration and astral projection). Might still keep "pain for play" because I like the whole concept of "everything costs something."
  • Reduce available gear/weapons/cyberware that can be purchased at the beginning of the game; probably based on a random roll (similar to "starting gold" in D&D) though modified based on class selected. This probably means no helicopter gunships for starting characters, unfortunately, but it will give them something to work for.
  • Possibly change cyberware to increase in effectiveness depending on level...though as I write this I intensely dislike the idea. Cyberware (especially the potent stuff) should be equivalent to a magic item in D&D. A low level character with a +3 sword gets a lot more benefit from the item than a high level character, even though the effect remains the same...but the low level character probably isn't going to be able to access the type of adventure where such an item would be found.  I prefer simply limiting starting cyberware to off-the-shelf basic models rather than SOTA (state of the art) stuff.

Doing these things wouldn't alter much of the game, or require substantial re-writing (well, except in the Character Creation and Magic chapters), and I think it would give me a game a much more D&D-flavored spin: characters would start more gritty and have a reason to "adventure" (to improve), while providing an easier method of generating new characters to replace the casualties of the setting.

What do folks think (especially people who are interested in the game)? Would this be straying too far from what folks hope for or want out of such a game? Should I be snorting less effective cold medicine? Let me know!

; )


  1. Frankly, I was expecting B/X style classes and Vancian casting. To an extent, I'd thought that was the point. If you're just going to replicate SR directly, why not just use SR (yes, yes, to get rid of dice pools—a laudable goal in itself, to be sure)?

    1. @ Faol:

      It's hard to remember my original thinking. I suppose I simply LIKED the original chargen process (including spell creation) and simply wanted to modify it to run in the B/X system. After all, I am the guy who wrote up 100 new SR archetypes for fun.

      But having thought of it over the last 24 hours, I think it would be much MUCH easier to switch to a class based system, even a "race as class" system...the only thing you lose is mages of the dwarf/ork/troll variety (and who really enjoyed playing troll "combat mages?").

      Vancian magic, too. Why should you simply be able to download spell formulae from from (or whatever the SR equivalent is)? D&D has rules for spell creation (duh) so why not start the kids with a list?

  2. I think it needs to down to what game you are trying to make. Are you merely writing a Shadowrun lite - where everything is essentially the same as SR but a bit simpler, or are you trying to take the SR concepts and use those to build a BX game?
    From my POV, I'd like to see you go back to your BX roots. Class based, though it's easy enough to keep race and class separate. Vancian magic works, but some sort of fatigue-based system may have a more SR feel to it. Summoning and ritual magic too.
    Cybertech and equipment sounds good - cheaper off the shelf stuff is all you can initially afford, but in time you can source the good stuff through your contacts as you grow in experience, reputation and get richer.
    Skills should be tied to classes and not a freeform system. Protecting archetypes ties it to a BX mindset. Now I'll have to go back and look at X-plorers again. It's been a while.

  3. So the priority system is essentially about balance, and only after about giving a choice. So do something like Into the Odd (which the blogger at Wyrdspeak utilizes here: such that rolling lower ability scores gives you cooler starting gear/neater abilities. That way you can encourage standard archetypes (Deckers tend to not be very tough etc.) but still start with standard B/X random ability scores. You could even keep race separate from class this way by having Trolls roll 2d6+6 for Strength, basically leaning into traditional SR characters without guaranteeing them. It also significantly establishes setting by incorporating it into chargen, while also stripping out the (tedious in every SR game I've played) shopping trip to start the game.

    1. @ Unk:

      Huh. That’s not bad (tying random ability scores to resources), but it’s a little fiddly for what I have in mind.

      Also, I kind of like a lack of balance (random talent) when starting and allowing experience (i.e. advancement/levels) to be the great evening factor over time. Feels more like real life.
      ; )

    2. As I've said, I'd split race from class, probably doing it the way BFRPG does, with 3d6 ability rolls arranged to taste. Ability minimums needed to choose the various races (essentially what they are now for elf & dwarf, probably a STR min for orc, and something pretty high in STR & CON for trolls).

      That forces players to prioritize scores based on race or class.

      For starting cash, 3d6 for a tiered selection more like the priority levels from SR than x10 or x100 starting credits.

    3. @ Reese:

      Yep, you've pretty much read my mind on all of it EXCEPT that I'm doing race as class.

      Writing it up now.
      ; )

    4. I'm still really, really, really wanting this product. I'm also sure anything you come up with will be (Mad) Genius. I also like the aforementioned suggestions.

  4. Really it's your game at the end of the day, but take a look at the game Arcana Rising - it does a pretty good OSR urban fantasy that you might be able to get some inspiration from