member, 141 posts
Thu 23 Jan 2020
at 04:00
The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
Hi All -

I'm looking for a less crunchy cyberpunk game with more room to focus on story as opposed to mechanics. I want some mechanical resolution system, but one that works with/forwards the story instead of requiring you to pause the story to work on the mechanics.

The Sprawl RPG has currently caught my eye as a potentially suitable system and has been on my mind a lot the last few days.

I'm not yet at the point of being prepared to run a game (hence my post here instead of the Interest Check forum), as I am still doing my research/due diligence on the system.

I know it is a Powered by the Apocalypse game, and I have no familiarity with that system at all. Thus my questions to the community:

1) Is The Sprawl RPG a game system that works well in the PBP medium?

It seems like it has a lot of back-and-forth between players and the GM, so I was wondering if that would be too cumbersome for online play.

2) How hard it is to execute the concepts/principals behind the system?

I'm not afraid of crunch; I'm a longtime Shadowrun GM and am currently running a Blade of the Iron Throne campaign with lots of homebrewed additions, so it's not mechanics per se I'm concerned with.

On the flipside, I've had a very hard time actually executing the concepts behind Fate Core, as I can never seem to integrate Aspects consistently/successfully into the games I tried running despite them being easy mechanically to understand.

So in a nutshell, the mechanics behind The Sprawl are easy enough to understand, but I am not sure how easy the concepts are to integrate into a game, especially a PBP one. I have no prior experience with PBTA systems, so I don't have a frame of reference to even take an educated guess.

Thank you in advance to anyone who takes the time to provide insight!

This message was last edited by the user at 04:01, Thu 23 Jan.

 member, 2138 posts
 Firing magic missles at
 the darkness!
Fri 24 Jan 2020
at 15:25
The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
PtbA games are funny beasts. They depend a lot more on the chemistry between the players, and between the party and the GM, than they do anything else. If you get the right four or five people together, they sing like nothing else does. But if you get one person who's not doing it right, it can sink the whole operation. And that tendency is even stronger in PbP, where you can't just clear up a disagreement in two seconds and move on. Little gripes and conflicts linger for days and days.

Anyway, some specific things I've noticed after failing at PtbA games over and over:
-Players tend to want to end every post with a Move. It makes sense, that's the main way they interact with the system and the world, but the way PtbA games are structured, Moves generate narrative, so if everyone is doing one every post, the actual game just dissolves in a sea of random events.

-When I run PtbA games, I try to set expectations that the game should be something l like 80% freeform, at least at first, until everyone finds their feet. If something actually triggers a Move, fine. But if you don't set that expectation, I find players try to twist their posts into something that will trigger a Move, and that causes even more issues. So that's my first screen: players who don't like freeform, or don't 'get' freeform, tend to have trouble with on-line PtbA. Even combat (especially combat), dice-game players want to do a thing, roll a dice, do a thing, roll a dice, but that's not the way PtbA works.

-Find ways to skip over discussion steps, within reason. This is also part of the freeform thing. If you're fighting some mooks, and they're not threats, then tell me me what you do, tell me how well it works, tell me what happens. You don't need pause after telling me, in freeform, how your Adept ninja-kicked the crap out of a pair of security guards. Just narrate the whole fight for me. Even if the post involves a Move - so long as the result doesn't require an MC Move as a response (which usually means, so long as you rolled over 6), just tell me what happens. Around a table you can just be like "I ninja-kick them" and the MC can be "They're all busted up" and you're like "Did I break his face" and you're like "You totally broke his face, he's crying" and you all cheer and move on, but on PbP each part of that exchange has a 24-hour delay and everything grinds to a halt.

-Expanding on that a little, it's sometimes beneficial to say to a player 'this is the situation, tell me how you handle it.' And let them finish the scene however they like. Sometimes that means their role slides into the MC's a little. That's not how these things usually go and it can be a hard transition. That's my second screen - writing in a co-GM way is very different than writing in a purely PC way, and some people don't like it and can't do it well.

-The combination of these things, above, mean that trust between participants is HUGE. You're letting a PC loose in a game world with very few mechanical constraints on what they can and can't do. Most of what dice tell you in a PtbA game is what happens when you successfully do the thing you were trying to do. So if you're like "I stomp my feet and cause an earthquake that levels Tokyo" the only thing stopping you is a general consensus to not be a jerk. But not everyone has the same definition of what being a jerk entails, or what's reasonable, or part of the general consensus. So when someone does go too far, instead of everyone freaking out and just typing MARY SUE!!!!!11!!1!!!111rofflecopter in bold and flouncing, there can be a gentle correction, maybe a small retcon,  and everyone moves on. But even when they work well, those things slow everything down (again, think of a simple that's too far - is it? - it is - what was too far? - that thing you said - I'm sorry - that's cool, just take it back a step - Cool I will - with a 24-hour delay between each part, and with everyone else having a day to voice their opinions about it before a ruling can be made, added to difficulty in effectively communicating tone over text).

-That's why chemistry is so important. And why one bad actor can just wreck an otherwise amazing game. So when I pitch games, I spend a lot of time (too much really) discussing tone and mood and genre conventions and general expectations. And when I get a group, the first thing I do is "Tell me three things that Cyberpunk means to you." so we can make sure we're all playing as much the same game as possible. Is your Cyberpunk about hope? Or hopelessness? Is it about remarkable individuals standing out in an ocean of dystopian conformity? Or are they regular people forced to reckoning with things they're not prepared for? How gritty? How grim? How granular? All these things become much more important when you don't have a robust, simulationist system to smooth over the rough spots (like, in D&D, it does't really matter if your Sword and Sorcery is Conan or Jackie Chan, you have a bonus to hit and a damage dice and that's just it).

-I don't use this one myself, as I'm not on-line often enough for it to be practical, but I've seen MC's use the rule that, whenever anyone's post invites or requires an MC move in response, everyone just stops posting until that Move happens. It's a very, very, very good way to control the narrative flow, but at the price of momentum. And, in my experience, momentum is the second most important factor in a PbP game lasting. But YMMV.

The main benefit of PtbA games on-line is how fluid they are. Combat boring? Just end it. Scene not working? Hard frame a new one. Because the base expectation is that the system is not modelling 'reality' but rather guiding narrative, you have a lot more freedom to move things forward and guide them to interesting places without getting stuck on Tracking rolls or failed Knowledge checks.

And, when it's the right group, being able to download some of your lower-stakes GM duties is absolutely electrifying. But with the wrong group, it's a disaster.
 member, 142 posts
Sat 25 Jan 2020
at 04:19
The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
Thank you very much for that detailed breakdown, that's exactly the kind of analysis I was hoping for! If I end up running a game I will definitely look to your post for guidance on setting it up.

Do you think that it would be workable to 'black box' the game system? This might cut down on the back-and-forth if I decided as GM when a Move was made, made the roll for the player, and then just presented a choice to them based on the roll. It seems like that's a bit outside of what PBTA games are intended to be like, but on a PBP medium I wonder if the improved efficiency would be worth it?

It might also address some of the control/trust issues by presenting a more defined/controlled suite of options to the player instead of leaving it open ended, as well as make things clearer for those who lack experience/familiarity with the underlying intent/premise of PBTA games.

Any thoughts on the viability of that approach?
 member, 7154 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Sat 25 Jan 2020
at 08:59
The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
I'm not familiar with PbtA as a system, so I can't offer anything on that.  I am, however, in a couple of 'black box' games using other systems.  And one of them didn't start out that just ended up fitting the styles of the players...we say what our characters are attempting to do, the GM rolls dice as he deems it necessary, and informs us of the results of our attempts.  And it runs very smoothly.

However, it is something that the players have all been okay with, and if you plan to run a game that way, I would STRONGLY encourage you to spell that out from the beginning...some players love it, some players are ambivalent about it, and some feel cheated if they aren't solely responsible for their own dice results.  I don't think opting to run it that way would hurt your chances of fielding enough players to run a game.
 member, 2139 posts
 Firing magic missles at
 the darkness!
Sat 25 Jan 2020
at 23:36
Re: The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
Do you think that it would be workable to 'black box' the game system?

I've never run a black-boxed system, so I don't have a ton of experience, but so many Moves in PtbA require the player to make choices (on a 10+ chose two from the following list, on a 7+ choose one, etc) that I'm not sure it would decrease the back and forth. You would have to roll, and then present them with the choices, etc.

My instinct is that the actual mechanics are simple enough that handing them to the players just makes sense.
 member, 181 posts
Wed 18 Mar 2020
at 04:35
Re: The Sprawl RPG and Play-By-Post Medium
I completely agree with truename, on all points.

My experience with PBTA games at the table and online has made a few things very clear to me about those games. They are awesome. Here are a few of the personal lessons Iíve taken away from my pbp games (lessons for me);

1) a smaller party is better. I have a hard time saying no to good character concepts as a GM/MC/DM. PbtA characters are able to overcome obstacles better than many other starting characters. Their moves have greater consequences on a move by move basis. Having 3-4 characters is just right for me. More than that and their ďcool thingsĒ overlap too much and I find it hard to give each of them the screen time they deserve.

2) PbtA players tend to push boundaries that other rigid system players donít. Iíve been emotionally attached to some of their characters simply because of how vulnerable, open and real they can be. Iíve never seen that in dnd.

3) players that donít get it. Just. Donít. Get. It. The player agency is incredible and many gamers donít handle it well. The ones that do though, as truename said, are electrifying. They will amaze you.

4) be very careful with anything you havenít play tested. The rules are so simple they are easy to imbalance. Iím sure youíve had that oh crud moment of giving too much awesomeness to someone just to have to real it back in. A lot of fan made playbooks are broken and not obviously so.

Take all that word vomit as you will. I love AW and PbtA and pretty much only run those games now. In the games that arenít of that system, Iím constantly trying to use the AW tools.

And... the Sprawl looks really slick.