Aug 262013

It’s been a while since the last update on the up coming Cyberpunk computer game, but since we have a new edition of Shadowrun, plus a PC game too, the interest in the Cyberpunk genre is obviously still high. With that in mind I thought I would try and capture a few important things about people in the dark near future interact with each other. The problem with that is that not every game set in a Cyberpunk world has the same values. My last game using the CP 2020 for instance didn’t really live up to the style over substance and chrome chrome chrome ethos that’s mentioned in the book. Instead it was a much darker take, with cyberware being sinister and the thought of wasting money of frivolities rather than necessities would have seemed very strange indeed.

images (1)So instead of trying to capture the feel of an entire genre, I am picking a setting that I have reviewed in the past and thoroughly enjoyed: Kuro. If you’ve never come across the game or just prefer a more traditional future noir game, then it’ worth remembering that the Japanese are currently the predominate producers of personal electronics – including computers – and robotics, which will surely set them up well to be an important culture in any Cyberpunk future. So here are a few things worth bearing in mind when dealing with the Japanese either socially or in business.

  • The business card. In Japanese culture, the business card is even more important than the calling card was to the Victorians, and has similar uses. There are very important differences though, and the devil is very much in the details. If one is handed to you, it will be while the giver is bowing towards you, presenting it with both hands. You must reciprocate this action. Bow a little deeper to show respect to the person giving you their card, and make sure you take it with both hands. When you have it, take very special care of it. Whatever you do, son’t just slip into your back pocket while the giver is still in your presence. In fact, never stick it in your back pocket, as sitting on it would be a grave insult. Keep in your wallet or in a special case for business cards until you can put it somewhere safe in an office. You see a business card is more than just someone’s contact details. It is a promise that the person will take your call, and maybe even a personal meeting. Keep all such cards safe, as you never know when it may be required to make a call to that one person who can help you out.
  • Being a Gaijin. Unless your game is particularly focused in such a way, it’s probably unlikely that everyone will be Japanese. In dealings with Japanese people, those from outside the country will of course be afforded all due respect – more on this later – but they are still outsiders, and will never have the access or acceptance that fellow countrymen will receive. never draw attention to this, instead do what you can with the help you will be given. You may never be accepted into the inner circle, but it is possible to make very good friends with individuals within said circle and get them to act on your requests.
  • Respect. By far and away the most important thing to the Japanese is respect. For elders, for superiors, for anyone deserving it, and for anyone that is newly introduced. This might seem strange to western eyes, but rather than run the risk of not showing someone the respect that they are due, a Japanese person will show a complete stranger total respect. This comes across very clearly if you walk into a Japanese store. The staff working there will treat you like royalty, bowing deeply and making sure that everything is to your satisfaction. This even runs counter the above point about foreigners in Japan, they will be also be treated exceptionally well by strangers rather than them risking offending anyone by not showing them the appropriate amount of deference.
  • Conflict Avoidance. The point on respect above ties in nicely with this one. It may sound like a lazy stereotype, but it does seem to hold up the vast majority of case; a Japanese person is likely to go to great lengths to avoid any type of conflict or unpleasantness. This means making sure that you show the correct amount of respect, always erring on the side of caution by going above and beyond what might be expected, but this desire for peace and calm runs through most day to day activities. In a working environment for example, it would be unheard of for an employee to complain about their company, coworkers, or superiors whilst at work. Outside of work though there exist a social contract that allows workers to gather together and imbibe alcohol and get all their complaints of their chests without ever worrying about the consequences. It would in fact be a massive social faux par to even bring up these grievances the next day at work.

So there we have it, a far from complete list of social guidelines for dealing with what could quite likely be a dominant super power in a Cyberpunk future. Most of the credit should go to the excellent writer and blogger Héctor García and his excellent site and book, A Geek in Japan. Most of the points in this book have been researched through reading his work, and if you have any interest in checking out more on contemporary Japanese culture, I can’t think of many better places to start.

Feb 082013
Click for Kuro page

Click for Kuro page

Welcome back everyone to this, the final part of my review of Kuro, published by Cubicle 7. If you’re feeling a little left behind, all of the previous reviews can be found by clicking the following links. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. This will be a slightly shorter review than the others, mainly because a lot of the things that excited me about the last part of the book are chock full of spoilerific goodness, and I don’t want to ruin the surprise for anyone who clicks the word Kuro above and buys their very own copy of this awesome game. So, broad strokes for this one then…

First off we get some great pieces of inspiration in the form of several secret societies and clans that one could encounter while playing Kuro. The descriptions given are short and to the point, leaving a lot up the GM about how to write them into a campaign and even how to present them. What’s never missing though is a seed of inspiration. Without fail I could think of a use for every group in this section, and there were a couple that I think could be seeds for an entire campaign without too much effort. This is exactly the kind of thing I want, and one of the reasons why I don’t tend to buy full expansions for games these days; give me some basics, then I want the game’s designers to trust me to do something with their product, and not prescribe to me exactly what I should be doing with it..

Following on from this we get some choice nasties to play around with. These run the gamut of ghostly apparitions, creatures from Japanese mythology, and even a Lovecraftian feeling horror or two. All very well done, with stats beneath the descriptions; and these cover motivations, personalities and the physical look of the creatures too. Again, we have plenty to work with here, but I found myself thinking of them more as bad guys to be inserted, rather than plot hooks. Might just be me though…

We also get some Kuro themed GMing tips. This seems like quite standard fayre, but with some nice touches. Kuro probably won’t play like most other games, due to the characters you will be playing and their individual motivations. Time is well spent here going over this section in detail to give yourself an idea of everything that is possible, and how to avoid falling into some clichés of the genre. We also have a whole bunch of examples of the genre, and again, this is worth paying attention to, as everything could be used for more plot hooks and ideas.

We end with a introductory adventure, and I don’t want to spoil anything other than to say that it looks like a very strong way indeed to get a disparate bunch of people into the thick of the action without too much exposition as to the whys and wherefores. Based on my own experience of character creation – done before reading the adventure – there would be little to no challenge getting him involved in this plot, and I think the same could be said for any character that could be created.

All in all then, a rather nifty end to the book. Setting the GM up very well indeed for whatever concepts get thrown at him, and making sure that they should have no problem maintaining the right amount of fear and suspense.

Feb 042013

Click for Kuro website

For those just joining us, you might want to jump back a few pages, and take a look at the previous parts of this review, looking at the setting information, and character creation. Now, if you’re all caught up, we’ll take a look at how the system works.

Carrying on from character creation, you will remember that each character has a list of eight traits, spit into mental and physical, and a whole bunch of skills and specialisations. All these numbers are used to work out the likelihood of passing or failing to perform anything other than simple actions. To give you an example, I’m going back to my still unnamed spoilt brat gambler kid I made earlier. Although his primary focus is his gambling hobby, I picked out a couple of extra skills that would be useful for him. Within the ‘Deception’ skill group, gambling was an easy choice to turn into a specialty, but right there next to it was sleight of hand. Had to be done really didn’t it? In a situation where the character needed to palm a card and replace it to give himself even a chance of staying at the table, he would need to make a skill roll. Difficulty would be set by the GM and then the dice wold be rolled.

As this is a test of manual dexterity, the base statistic is easy to determine, but the game encourages creativity in this regard, with no solid tie-in between skill and trait, instead allowing the players and GM the chance to play to their strengths, wherever able. In this case it’s fairly straightforward, but there could be an argument made to use Charisma instead to distract the other gamblers, but that might be a stretch. So, we take the trait number, and grab that many six sided dice; in my case a paltry two. We then take a look at the score I have in the skill. Deception comes in at three points, which would be correct for any specialisation that falls under it, unless you’ve whacked a few specialisation points in it as well. I did that very thing and raised my sleight of hand to lofty height of four. This means I have no ‘Gimikku’ (gained if a specialisation hits five points) to give me any extra bonuses to this roll, so lets just take a shot at it. I roll both d6, and add the skill rank to the total.

Here’s where it gets interesting though, and reminds why I love games where the system becomes more than just a means of randomising success, and instead adds to the feel of the setting. Not only does it throw in my favourite mechanic - that of the ‘exploding dice’ – but it adds its own touch. In Japanese, the number four is ‘Shi’, which also means, quite literally, death. This means that any roll of a four on a d6 is not included in the final score. Might seem harsh, but what with exploding dice, I think it should balance out with no real problems. It also gave me an idea for a particularly sinister house rule.

Imagine a skill check that is almost too important to fail, but fail it does. All because of the player staring down at the dreaded number four on his freshly rolled dice. If the four was included, they would have just scraped by. If only there was something to be done. As the GM, you offer to put that malevolent die back into contention, on the understanding that Death will notice, and seek recompense. Maybe not straight away, and maybe not to anyone immediately connected to the PC, but Shi will take its due…

You must also take into account the degree of any success or failure based on how far away the result was from the target number, but this is simple maths and should not impede game play at any time. All this sounds great so far, but as mentioned in the last review, there are five different ‘Gimikku’ and I think that until the players get a few games under their collective belts, this could slow things down without a cheat sheet for each player. A minor quibble at most though, as I think the system stands up very well, both in how it allows players a certain freedom to play to their strengths, and how well it helps with immersing the players into a highly superstitious game world.

Combat works much the same as regular skill checks, although a lot more of them will be opposed checks, which work exactly as you would imagine them to. One addition I do like though is the simplicity of the combat maneuvers that are available. In either close combat or at range, you can choose to sacrifice accuracy for damage or vice versa. Both are simple to work out, and mean that players can once again adapt to suit the strengths and weaknesses of their characters. Add to this a bunch of situational modifiers that should be fairly standard to most people who’ve played an RPG with a tactical combat system, and you’re done.

So far, I have to say that I’m loving what I’ve been reading. the system seems to flow quickly while being easily adaptable to the fluid situations one would expect to encounter, and even a few one might not. Number of dice plus modifier might seem a less than simple way to calculate a chance of success, but having played original Deadlands for several years, I can attest to how quickly it becomes second nature. There’s just one bit left of this review, and if I get the chance I will treat you all to the GM’s section by the end of the week.

Jan 222013

kuro-cover-500-233x300Welcome back everyone to the next thrilling installment of my review of the wonderful little game Kuro, brought to you by the fine fellows Cubicle 7 Entertainment. I left you last time with a taste of what the world was – Japanese horror mixed with cyberpunk – and how it was presented to you by the book. Following straight on from there we get to character generation, so I thought I would give it a shot myself.

If anyone has read my Gnome Stew competition entry, they will know that I’m hoping to run this game myself at some point this year, so I had a rough idea about the type of character I would expect to see. For this example, I thought I would try for a spoiled little rich kid. Someone with no issues in his life who just indulged in his hobbies while the world around him was falling apart. Little would he expect that before long, his own existence would prove to be just as fragile as a house of cards, and when you have more to lose, it can be a lot more painful when it finally collapses.

So, the first thing the book asks for is a concept. That was sorted pretty quickly, along with age and social standing. Next we work out the points allotted for the characteristics based on our young buck’s age. I had decided to make him younger than the average character; this would mean a slightly smaller pool of points, but since I wanted him to be naive and sheltered, this made perfect sense. What comes next in the book, that doesn’t make so much sense. After telling you how many characteristics there are, and how many points you have to spend on them, there is no indication of what these characteristics are until several pages later. I kind of understand why they dropped some pregens in here now; if people wanted to get straight into a game it’s useful to have them good to go. I wasn’t looking for anything pre-created though, so there was a lot of scrolling back and forward through the pdf to get to the info that I needed. Once you get over that jump though, the information is very well presented in a way that makes sense. The stats are laid out nice and neatly, and the derived attributes are easy to work out and are all pretty intuitive. If you’re curious, I took a hit to a couple of stats to get higher scores in some key areas, and ended up with the fewest hit point it is possible to get, but a bloody high defense score.

Next we turn to the skills, and once again I was cursing my choice to play a younger character. The game lays it right out there that doing so will be a hindrance, and should only be done with the GM’s permission, so It was in fact my own foolish choice. Skills in Kuro are split by type, and your skill points are distributed into these categories. Each set has a list of skills beneath it, and each is now set to the level of points you have put into the whole group. For instance, I picked the firearms skill set, and set it to three points. I wanted to be able to play with handguns a bit better than that though, and luckily, Kuro had me covered.

After assigning skill points, you get specialisation points. Since each skill set has a list of individual skills, you can chose to excel in certain specific fields. In my case, I whacked three specialisation points into handgun – bringing the score up to six – and then could only hope my character could lay their hands on one. With my other points distributed amongst the skills and specialisations I wanted, it was time to move on.

Or should I say back a bit, because once again, having the pre generated archetypes in the book before I had finished creating one of my own had confused me. Next to a lot of the specialisations on the archetype, there would be an extra word in brackets. I had to scan back a couple of times, even resorting to a search on the pdf until I was convinced I hadn’t just missed something, and could carry on. Eventually I found out what these mystery words alluded to, and was pleasantly surprised. For each specialty taken above a certain level, you can choose a special trick for it, like adding an extra dice, or a permanent bonus. Lovely idea thinks I, and so I spend a few more minutes adding in some extra words. Not many, but if you’re going to create a standard character, you do get a lot more options. How this will play out during the game remains to be seen, and I can picture the need for crib sheets to begin with to remind the players what each word gives them, but we shall to wait and see…

Final touches next, and this means shopping. Luckily the game assumes that people will have the basics, plus whatever else they would be expected to have for their chosen career. I know a lot of people who find sifting through equipment lists to be the height of tedium, so they could probably jump right past this. I like equipping a character though,so I lost a good couple of hours going through the wares on offer. I have to say, Kuro shines when it gets the chance to dazzle me with cyber tech.

Page after page of things and stuff, with plenty of price lists and stat lines for people who only want the basics, and well written details for people like me. I particularly liked the inventiveness which they’ve applied to making this game feel so fundamentally cyberpunk. I could wax lyrical on this for another thousand words, but my word count is already starting to look strained under the pressure, so I’ll just say that the time was well spent, and I totally winter stealing some ideas from this for my current game. Honest. I would have preferred a few more pictures of some of the more outlandish pieces of future tech, but that’s a personal issue, and I’m not the one paying for artists.

Apart from the fine tuning, that’s all you need to know about breathing some life into a Kuro character. All in all, ignoring my shopping spree, I was done in a little over half an hour, and I can’t see even inexperienced gamers taking too much longer. If you are planning creating the entire group in one sitting though, I would advise you to make a little character generation pack for each player, with the derived stats calculations and the two pages of skill lists on it. Otherwise you’ll be spending most of the time waiting for the players to pass the book round to each other.

I’ll continue the review next week, looking at the rules of play. For now though, this game still receives two very enthusiastic thumbs up from me.

Jan 172013

This mini blog is part of Gnome Stew’s New Year, New Game challenge. It will all be posted on the actual page, but I wanted to pop it here too so I can put in all the links for people to follow to get a better idea of the type of game it will be.

Game: Kuro

Adventure: Ravaged.

My Sunday night game group fell apart recently, and since then the efforts of myself and two others have been directed into getting a new group back together. It seems appropriate that this will happen soon in the new year, and that my first choice will be a game none of us has had any experience of before. The game in question is Kuro, and I’m going to be GMing it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, more than one of the gamers in our new group has never role played before, and another is still a relative novice. That means that if I pick a system that no one has payed before, we have a level playing field. Secondly, Kuro just looks amazing; it fits into two of my perfect game slots, covering both cyberpunk and horror.

What will the game be about?

The demise of a wealthy family. All the PCs will be off the same large and sprawling family that has managed – so far  - to stay on top after the Event. That will all change quickly though as their fortune gets destroyed through mismanagement and corporate attacks. The players will then be forced to fell from their ivory towers, taking what they can carry plus any onboard cyberware they’re lucky enough to possess, and try to escape the body jackers who will be after them for anything of value that can be used to pay off the family debts. Will they go into hiding, seeking refuge with criminals and other unsavoury characters? Will they fight back, trying to right the injustice, and hopefully figure out what laid them so low in the first place? Due to the open world nature of my game plan, it all rests in the PC’s hands. But even as they work to put their plans into motion, the supernatural nature of world they live in will be pushing against them. For the first time, they will be unable to hide away from its horrors.

Potential problems

With inexperienced players, I may have to jostle the group along a little more than with a seasoned group, but any trials on my part will be a learning experience for them. I hope…