Critiques are the best part about releasing a game for playtesting and public feedback. I was lucky enough to get some criticisms/ suggestions which crystallized some issues I've been turning over in my mind. As I work through those design points, I want to post more here.
Criticism 1: You need to remove all traces of Shadowrun
When I first made Karma in the Dark I never planned to make it a real game. I figured it would be good experience/practice before I focused on my real game, Rootless.
But then as I playtested the game, and worked through design problems, the game became its own thing. Now that I do want to develop it into something real, I need to remove all traces of Shadowrun.
This challenge is amazingly freeing creatively; the first few changes are already exciting me.
CHANGE 1: No use of the term "metatype"
A small change offered an interesting challenge: how do I replace the term "metatype"? The obvious choice is "race," but I dislike that for numerous reasons, primarily that the idea of race is problematic and tied to some historical bias and trends I don't want to automatically assume.
So what's the alternative?
Here is my initial idea. "Metatype" is broken into two new descriptors: heritage and label.
A character's heritage is the identity or culture they identify with. This could be human, elf, orc, troll. Or perhaps in some worlds, players want to distinguish between forest elves vs. night elves, French human vs. Danish human. The level of detail will depend upon the group. This leaves room for PCs with parents from multiple backgrounds (perhaps an elf mother and human father leads to a "mixed" heritage . . . or the PC only identifies with their's mother's elf heritage). It also creates space for adopted PC's; a troll adopted by humans might identify with the "human heritage."
A character's label is how the world perceives them. In that last example. the PC might identify with a human heritage, but have the "troll" label, because that is how the world sees them.
CHANGE 2: Rethink the Matrix and cyberspace
The current version of the game assumes an existence of cyberspace similar to the Matrix in Shadowrun: you plug into it, it's a separate world, hackers leave their body to explore it, etc. This causes a few problems. One, it means hackers are often interacting in a separate place from the rest of the party. Two, it means the Matrix is primarily (or exclusively) used by hacker-types. Three, leaning on this concept of technology limits how I think about cyberspace and hackers.
Initial solution: the "Matrix" (new name pending) is ubiquitous. Closer to the idea of magic in Blades, it is a general concept of the "Wired" that all characters can tap into. (Except probably wireless...so yeah, name pending.)
Technology is available and used by everyone roughly the same amount. This is closer to our modern reality. Lots of people use the internet and smart phones. VR might still be limited to early adopters, but it is available to everyone and becoming more mainstream. Really, the base assumption is that technology, when it works well enough/is developed, will be adopted by the masses. This has been true throughout history. So why make it this separate place only for hackers? That's a reflection of 1980's thinking, when that level of technology still was rare.
In my cyberpunk world, technology (as it exists in that world) is a normal, every day tool for the masses. Hackers do not have a "special" relationship with technology or have access to a different world.
That begs the question: what does a hacker class do?
Being a hacker is about relating to technology differently. Example from today: my boss only uses the most basic, visible functions of Word. When I showed him the hidden designer panel and how to make forms, his mind was blown. He absorbs technology passively; I actively search for ways to make technology work for me.
This is how hackers can be fundamentally different. They don't jump into some separate world, they approach technology as: how can I push this? How can I make this do what I want?
This shift can address another fundamental problem with hackers in cyberpunk games: if they can hack everything, they become overpowered and also one note. I hack the smartgun. I hack the security door. I hack the bank account.
In my game, being a hacker won't automatically give you access to technology beyond what normal people can do, but instead push you towards thinking creatively about how to press against the limits of technology.
So, you hack the smartgun? How? In what ways do you use your tools to break into it?
The attitude I hope to create is exemplified by the "programming" aspect of the Inventor professional skill. With the Inventor skill, players can write simple commands based on "If [X], then [Y]" logic. The professional skill allows players to circumvent an action roll for very basic logic statements.
I want to find a way to mechanically support "hacker" characters in thinking like a programmer in how they approach problems. I'm not sure how yet, but that will be what defines hackers, not traipsing around cyberspace.
Most likely I will need to rename the "hack" action. I would like the action to be closer to the original intent ("to program a computer in a clever, virtuosic, and wizardly manner") but I think the term has too many preconceptions. Using "program" as a replacement may be too limiting as an action . . . still lots of work to do in refining this idea.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.