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- Lots of changes!
- New Edges
- First draft of some rules for physical adepts
- Houserules for running in SWADE
- Tweaking Shadowrun's tech level
- Add notes on how to use Furious Magic in Sprawlrunners
- Downtime rules rewritten/clarified
- Power trappings
- Using Bennies to Influence The Story
- Reduce Mod God Edge requirements
- Guns & the Matrix
- Streamline Matrix networks
- Human attributes
- Matrix editing pass
- Cyberskull & torso
- Summoning changes
- Remove skill specialisations
- New "long term project" downtime action
- Added symmetric entropy pools
- New "what's new" section
- Updates – 13 Mar
- Updates – 26 Feb
- Updates – 26 Jan
- Updates – 19 Jan
- Updates – 17 Jan
- Updates – 16 Jan
- Updates – 13 Jan
- Site refactor and other changes
Lots of changes!
Significant overhaul of design and tech of the entire site, moved lots of content around, updated docsy, implemented new inline zippy sections for design notes and examples, added categories and tags to most pages, started building out a “sprawlpedia” tag for setting notes, etc.
But the most important rule change is a fresh draft of my magic rules. No substantive changes to the rules, but rewrote text to be clearer.
Added some new Edges, mostly adapted from Wiseguys:
- Aggressive Driver
- Escape Artist
- Demolition Man
- Getaway Driver
- Friends in Low Places
First draft of some rules for physical adepts
I’ve written some very experimental rules for physical adepts, with quite a lot of changes over core Sprawlrunners / SWADE.
Houserules for running in SWADE
Some modified rules for running that allow melee-focused characters to cover more ground more quickly.
Tweaking Shadowrun's tech level
Over the years, as the in-game Shadowrun setting has evolved across six editions, various in-game technologies have advanced – in some cases, advanced considerably. Modern Shadowrun has nanotech, antigravity, beam weapons, and more. For me, it has gone too far, so I want to tweak it.
I have several (slightly opposing!) goals for how I want my Shadowrun setting to feel, at least in terms of the sophistication of technology. Firstly, I desire a “classic cyberpunk” feel that is roughly aligned with Shadowrun 1/2e and the foundational works of cyberpunk fiction from the ’90s. But secondly, time, I think the cyberpunk genre derives a lot of its power from feeling like it is near-future – and not retro-future or far-future. Character’s problems and the shape of the world they inhabit should feel recognisable to us. So I also want the game world to reflect 20+ years of real-world technological advancement that has occurred since Neuromancer was written. This manifests most obviously in wireless technologies.
- However, I do not want technology to be too advanced. I do not want my game to start to feel more like general sci-fi. ShR 5e and 6e definitely do this, to my mind.
- I don’t want to stuff to work too well. Cyberpunk tech (or at least, the tech within monetary reach of our players) should be like real-world tech: buggy, flawed, unreliable, sometimes frustrating. I don’t want it to have this high-tech sheen where everything works and nothing has any downsides.
Hence: I want to somehow find a way to blend these different approaches. This document attempts to do that for some aspects.
The changes/tweaks I have proposed are more about aesthetics than they are about rules. Nothing here is changed for game balance reasons, and mostly they don’t result in any mechanical changes at all. It’s just about how the fictional world looks, works, and feels.
Tech to remove completely
- Antigravity - I mean, c’mon.
- Practical energy weapons - you can make a laser cannon, but you can’t power it from any sort of man-portable (or even troll-portable) energy cell.
Limiting augmented reality
Reasoning: sophisticated near-ubiquitous AR has the ability to transform the world beyond recognition. Road sights, billboards, car licence plates would be no more. Home appliances would have no buttons or other physical interface. Computer keyboards would cease to exist. This is too big a shift for me.
Datajacks / DNI cannot be used for AR. AR requires realtime integration of synthetic content into your normal senses, whereas simsense replaces your normal senses entirely. In order to add digital content to your sensorium, your sensorium first has to be digitised.
This means there are two ways to get AR features: cyberware or gear.
- For visual elements: either cybereyes, or wearing glasses/goggles/a monocle, or using your commlink. The glasses literally overlay your visual field with the AR elements, which avoids a lot of the complex overhead necessary in a cybernetic approach. As a last resort, you can even use caveman methods - hold your commlink up and move it around, using its screen as a viewport onto AR cyberspace. This has a cost advantage; even the cheapest ’link can do this, and with no additional hardware.
- For auditory elements: either cyberears or wearing earbuds.
- For tactile elements: either cyberarms/hands or wearing special force-feedback gloves. The gloves are quite crude in terms of the “realness” of the feedback they offer.
Without tactile elements, AR control surfaces are downright clumsy to use. Touch targets have to be rendered large enough that the user can use them, and even so, prolonged use is frustrating as mis-taps are just frequent enough to annoy you.
Resolution and focus of AR elements is limited when using glasses/goggles. Reading large amounts of text for long periods is likely to cause nasty migraines.
Combined, these mean that society does not run on AR, because AR has not reached a big enough critical mass so that it can entirely replace other display methods. Street signs still exist. Most restaurants still have signs on the door (except for the occasional hipster speakeasy trying to create some mystique.) Keyboards still exist, as do monitors and TV screens.
AR is more about how you interact with your gear than it is about how the world presents itself to you.
Limiting virtual reality
Reasoning: cyberpunk has armies of wageslaves crammed on commuter trains travelling to vast open-plan offices of beige cubicles and flickering neon lights. Why, if VR is so good? Why don’t people stay home and jack into remote hosts instead? Their employers can still watch their every move.
Simsense requires an extremely high-bandwidth, low-latency connection between the brain and the device encoding the simsense signal. This requires a wired connection. Therefore, a decker must be physically connected to their cyberdeck, although the ‘deck can be wirelessly connected to the rest of the world.
Normal people find it profoundly uncomfortable to be in VR for a prolonged period of time in public areas. The sense of disconnect from your body provokes deep unease and vulnerability. This ruins productivity.
In the workplace, VR is therefore mostly reserved for:
- Elite knowledge workers, deckers, scientists, architects, and the like. These people get private offices.
- Occasional use by wageslaves for eg. telepresence in remote meetings. In short bursts, people are generally fine with it.
Clarifying VR vs AR
Reasoning: this is just to try and clean up the profusion of overlapping interface modes and Matrix stuff that Shadowrun offers.
You are in VR (ie: full simsense, body in ragdoll RAS-override mode) when you are in a host system. All Matrix actions done not in a host are done in AR. The action of entering a host and the action of switching to VR are the same action.
AR hacking is not necessarily done entirely through the datajack’s neural interface (see the next section); many hackers use either physical or AR keyboards and other control surfaces in combination with mental commands.
All VR is “hotsim” and hence has the capability for weaponised software to harm the meatware experiencing it.
DNI is not telepathy
Reasoning: taken to the extreme, DNI starts to feel a bit too sci-fi for me.
Reminder of terms: DNI is Direct Neural Interface, a brain-computer link. RAS is Reticular-Activation System; a RAS override cuts all normal sensory input and muscle control output from the brain. It is most commonly used for simsense VR.
Most DNI can only be achieved via a datajack or trodes. Trodes are very finicky to use; in order to work they have to remain fixed in place on the head. Any rapid movement or jostling threatens to dislodge them. They are not the preferred choice.
As a special case, a smartgun link also achieves a form of DNI via the special connection between the user’s palm and the gun’s onboard processor (see elsewhere in this doc.)
DNI means the user can send commands to their gear by thinking them, but this is a complex process for the hardware involved. Datajacks and trodes find it difficult to clearly read brain activity from a subject who is not in RAS override. The brain stimulation from the subject’s normal senses risks drowning out the brainwave patterns that the hardware needs to interpret as commands.
In practice this means the user must construct quite deliberate, clear thoughts for the interface to read them. DNI controls tend to be simple, eg. on/off switches and “select a setting from 1-10” dials. Composing text via DNI requires the user to think in a clear inner monologue, and can only go at around the same speed as speech. Issuing commands (eg to a smartgun to fire) similarly needs mental effort, and for that reason many smartgun owners prefer to continue to use a physical trigger.
Engaging RAS override (eg when in VR) cuts off the user’s normal senses and muscle control and solves this issue immediately. From the perspective of the datajack, it is like all the background noise of the brain shuts off at once, leaving a much clearer signal for it to listen for. This is how simsense can work so well.
Wireless Matrix interfaces on gear
Reasoning: I think Shadowrun 5e’s wireless gear bonuses and subsequent hacking is immersion-breakingly stupid, and I wish to hurl it into the sun.
Domestic / civilian gear like home appliances are completely controllable from the wireless Matrix. This allows smart home control, AR control surfaces, remote monitoring, etc. It also makes these devices controllable to anyone who hacks them.
For obvious reasons, items like weapons and cyberware are not built like this.
While they may offer Matrix control surfaces, these are strictly for secondary control and user interface only. The device’s primary functions are all controlled via other means.
For example: a cyberarm’s primary control method is the nerve splice between the cybernetic component and the user’s body. This is how the user issues all normal “commands”, ie. moving it around, picking stuff up, deploying cyberclaws, etc.
All except the cheapest models of arm might also offer a secondary Matrix interface. This is used by the arm to present information to the user that cannot be communicated via a nerve splice, such as diagnostics, service requests, user manuals, and the like. If the arm has functions that are too complex to be mapped onto the nervous control, such as a colour-changing surface coating, they may be controlled here via an AR interface panel.
Crucially: hacking attacks over the wireless Matrix can only effect the secondary interfaces and cannot bypass the device’s internal hardware firewall. A hacker cannot shut down or take over someone’s arm, or eyes, or any other cyberware. They cannot remotely detonate a grenade or remotely eject a weapon’s magazine.
Smartguns use a subdermal induction pad mounted in the user’s palm and the gun’s handle to establish an ultra short range private wireless connection that is used for the primary control surface (eg. cybernetic commands to eject magazines, switch firemodes, etc.) Again, a hacked smartgun cannot be instructed to fire, or not fire, or eject its magazine at an inopportune moment.
Reasoning: cyberpunk still has lots and lots of low-paid, unskilled labour. There are warehouse workers, dock hands, construction workers, shop clerks, pizza delivery drivers. They have not been replaced en masse by machines.
- General purpose drone automation is limited by the lack of (controllable) general AI. Drones are heavily used in fields such as construction, manufacturing, and other heavy industry; but they are under close supervision at all times, as the dog-brain will frequently get into unexpected states and freeze.
- As a special case, GridGuide empowers self-driving cars in urban areas by providing a mesh network that drones can use to co-ordinate between themselves. This does a lot to keep the dog-brains within their normal operating parameters. Outside of a GridGuide connection, self-driving cars can handle good conditions, but are easily confused by inclement weather, traffic, and so forth. This manifests as the car either parking itself or bleeping and requiring manual intervention from the passengers.
- Delivery drones are highly vulnerable to hacking and physical attacks, followed by being looted for their parts and cargo. Companies are reluctant to use drones for automated delivery because of this. The cost-benefit is marginal at best, and favours human deliveries in the middling-to-bad neighbourhoods.
Reasoning: full-on nanotech, especially nanoware and nanoforges, pushes the tech level further than I am comfortable with.
Nanotech is in its infancy. It can do two things well:
- Very simple tasks in complex environments. An example of this is cyberware implantation, where nanobots carry out minimally-intrusive installation of subdermal wiring and splicing of technology onto nerve shunts. Viewed from a nanotech scale, these are relatively large pieces of engineering.
- Complex tasks in very simple environments. An example of this is orbital factories that produce nanosteel, aerogels, exotic carbon matrices, and other materials in hard vacuum / microgravity conditions. These nanobots cannot be used on Earth, as they cannot deal with any environmental complications while nudging carbon atoms accurately into place inside a molecular iron lattice.
Most nanomaterials cannot be constructed on Earth. Nanobots cannot achieve precision tasks inside the complex environment of the human body; nanoware does not exist. Nanobots are expensive to produce and are totally tailored to one very narrow task; there are no “general purpose” or programmable nanobots. Desktop nanoforges are not a thing.
(NB: “nanotech” is a misnomer. The ‘bots that carry out the procedures are built on the scale of hundreds of nanometers and operate on material on a scale of, at best, tens-of-nanometers.)
Add notes on how to use Furious Magic in Sprawlrunners
The new supplement Furious Magic has alternative spellcasting rules for Savage Worlds that don’t use Power Points but (IMO) improve on the stock rules for “No Power Points” casting in several ways. Here are some notes on how to use Furious Magic in Sprawlrunners.
Downtime rules rewritten/clarified
I reshuffled the downtime/wealth die/advancement rules into their own small section, and rewrote a few things to hopefully read more clearly. No rules changes though.
Added some kdraft rules for the Heat Die, a simple game mechanic for when the PCs are being actively hunted by forces much larger than themselves.
Added some suggestions (for discussion!) for advancement houserules that we might like to implement rather than considering character retirement when they become very powerful.
Added some more detailed houserules for using NPC contacts that move the game a little closer to those offered by Shadowrun.
Add a draft set of combat magic elemental effect trappings. These rules are only for discussion at this time and are not currently canon.
Also add insulative armour to Vehicle Mods. And clarify that weapon turret mods no longer come with free weapons (this aligns these rules with Foundry.)
Using Bennies to Influence The Story
Added some formal houserule ideas to describe how players can use Bennies during the game for flashbacks. Also condensed game mechanics for legwork and even whole heists using light modifications to SWADE’s Dramatic Tasks.
Reduce Mod God Edge requirements
Reduce the requirement on the Mod God edge from “Repair d10+” to “Repair d8+”. The latter was a bit too high for a secondary skill.
Guns & the Matrix
Add some setting notes clarifying what a “modern” firearm is, in the context of our campaign. Also defined rules for “throwback” guns - ones that have no on-board processing at all, so are unhackable and undetectable on the Matrix, but cost more to acquire and cannot use some accessories.
Streamline Matrix networks
- Dropped PAN/s-PAN/WAN terminology. They’re all just “networks” now. No rules changes from this, it’s just a wording change.
- Changed rule to allow sleaze Hacking versus a network being run by a cyberdeck or dronedeck. However, the owner of the ‘deck can oppose the Hacking roll with Notice; if they get a success, they realise the hack occurred.
- Tiny change to Denial of Service attack modifiers; it’s now the same -2 if the target is in any kind of network, regardless of if that network is controlled by a commlink, cyberdeck, or host.
- Changed tacnet rules. Dropped the “Bennie pool” they used to give, instead:
- at start of combat, one character on the tacnet rolls a Battle test
- Success grants an anti-Bennie
- this can be used to force a re-roll on the opponent’s dice
Lots of changes to magic:
- Arcane Backgrounds
- reduce to only two ABs (physical adept and mage)
- reduce to one skill, now used for all spellcasting and summoning - Magic
- remove spellcaster/summoner split in skills and Arcane Backgrounds
- added reckless casting - spend a Benny to cancel 2 points of penalty on a Magic roll
- Added new summoning traditions page
- Small changes to rules for creating spirits
- Old concepts of greatforms/lesser forms dropped
- Added clarification for spirits that use Powers themselves
- New Power for spirits - Accident
Tiny tweak to the languages and multi-lingual characters; now, “partial” command of the language gives you the language skill at a rating equal to your Smarts die. It used to be Smarts, minus one step. On reflection, the “minus one step” bit feels needlessly fiddly.
Change human racial traits to remove the “free extra Bennie” trait and replace it with “one free attribute starts at d6” trait instead. (I have stolen this from Savage Worlds Pathfinder, and it seems as reasonable a way to make humans at +4 racial bonus as any other option.)
Added some houserules and setting information for languages and multi-lingual characters.
The goal is try and keep some flavour of a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural urban sprawl, and encourage face characters to distinguish themsleves through language skills, while keeping the skill point cost to do so under control.
Matrix editing pass
Substantial edit pass through the matrix section. No big rules changes, just lots of rewording to use consistent terms and explain stuff better.
Cyberskull & torso
Added cybertorso & cyberskull to cyberware.
Some streamlining to summoning
- Drop concept of services, spirits just last some number of hours now
- A raise on the summoning roll makes the spirit tougher instead of granting more services
- Add a reminder to the page about the Power Preparation rule from core SWADE
- Moved all cyberware/bioware/adept powers under a new Augmentations section (this was later removed again.)
- Set out the difference between cyberware (bought with Implant Points) and Bioware (not bought with Implant Points; instead, acts as a trapping for pre-existing SWADE edges).
- Edges that are available as bioware require a trapping ie. they cannot be taken by normal characters / mages.
- Added the following pieces of bioware:
- Adrenaline pump
- Pain dampeners
- Synaptic boosters
- Bone density
- Overclocked / hyperactive platelets
- Buffed/clarified smartlinks.
- Added improved vehicle control rig.
- Added wired reflexes.
Remove skill specialisations
Remove skill specialisations from Sprawlrunners Skills.
New "long term project" downtime action
Added “long term project” to Downtime Actions. Also added a note about how to roll Savage Worlds dice in our Slack channel.
Added symmetric entropy pools
Added a new McGuffin/plot device that can be used to encypt Matrix comms: Symmetric Entropy Pools.
New "what's new" section
Moved “what’s new” to be a proper Hugo blog. Doesn’t mean much for the site, but I wanted to learn about how Hugo does this.
Updates – 13 Mar
- Add some details about criminal SINs to SINs
- Moved a lot of stuff around on the site; there should now be a three-way clean separation between Sprawlrunners rules, Shadowrun rules, and Setting information that is not system-specific
- Moved Matrix setting info to setting/ section; now the Sprawlrunners section only has rules
- Moved this What’s New? page to be a top-level site page
- Moved all my old Shadowrun Matrix stuff to the archive section, as it’s no longer canon in our campaign and not under development any more
Updates – 26 Feb
- Added wireless jammer to electronics
Updates – 26 Jan
- Clarify Hardening / Firewall stats for Matrix devices.
Updates – 17 Jan
- Small tweaks to downtime actions
- Add a new overview page to the Matrix section
- Reshuffle content in the magic section to a more logical breakdown
Updates – 16 Jan
- Substantial overhal of Matrix section; added “combat decking” page, added actions list, moved a lot of existing content around to more logical places
- Renamed “Occult” skill to “Arcana”. Added a new knowledge skill: Corps.
- Add Etiquette and one of either Fighting or Shooting to core skills. (Character’s choice of which they get.)
Updates – 13 Jan
Sprawlrunners houserules stuff:
- Move cyberware to the character section
- Re-shuffle the ordering of the cyberware edges (it’s now Chromed -> Man and Machine -> Betaware -> More Machine Than Man -> Deltaware)
- Remove Smarts requirement from wired reflexes; make move-by-wire require Veteran
- Add grapple hand to cyberware
Site refactor and other changes
Lots of small edits and cleanups all over the site, including shuffling around old content into new places that makes more sense. Tightened up some text in edits and changed some outdate older rules that we were no longer using. Discarded some of my less sensible changes.
Plus, specific other changes:
- Removed the concept of “bioware”, which I only introduced to distinguish between Edges that require an augmentation trapping and cyberware. On balance, I think adding a whole concept just for that was more confusing that just not having one. Now, the Edges page itself just lists the cyberware trapping.
- Reverted the smartlink cyberware back to the RAW version, so it now cancels 2 points of penalty to Shooting rolls, regardless of the source of the penalty.