Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Running Shadowrun with Fate

I'm excited about the upcoming release of the Fate Core rules. As a backer of the project's Kickstarter, I've been privy to the early drafts of the new rules, and they address a lot of the problems I had with Fate as presented in Spirit of the Century. I'm keen to run a campaign with the new rules (eventually) and I've been considering the idea of using them for a Shadowrun campaign. Of course, this means that I'll have to figure out how to handle Shadowrun magic and cybernetics using Fate.

Cybernetics will be tricky, since I think I'll be handling them much differently than a traditional roleplaying game would. Games like Cyberpunk and Shadowrun contain a variety of subsystems to limit how much cyberware a character can possess. Limiting factors can include any or all of the following:
  • Financial cost
  • Health effects
  • Psychological effects
  • Physical size of cybernetic implants
  • Effects on other character abilities, such as magic
And, of course, Cyberpunk and Shadowrun both come with extensive catalogs of cybernetics for players to browse through and choose from.

It seems to me that the shopping lists and fiddly rules run counter to the principles of Fate. The new rules explicitly state that it is the default assumption of a Fate game that all characters possess the tools of their profession, and that the use of these tools is "baked in" to standard skill rolls. Mechanics will have tools; warriors will have swords. A mechanic wouldn't have a skill bonus for having a toolkit; rather, the mechanic would receive a penalty if, for some reason, the mechanic was temporarily deprived of his or her tools. Equipment only provides bonuses if the equipment is particularly exceptional or unusual.

Extending this to Shadowrun suggests that all characters would be assumed to have the basic cybernetics required to perform their jobs on with a level of competence on par with that of their peers. Hackers should have commlinks loaded with hacking software; street samurai should have smartweapon links. Pretty much everyone should have AR (augmented reality) implants of some type, since access to AR is a basic requirement for survival in Shadowrun.

What about things like infrared and ultraviolet vision? These would be fairly common implants for certain character types; should we assume that characters have them by default? Quite possibly, I think. I expect that I would need to determine what a "default" set of cybernetic implants looks like. (Similarly, supernatural vision might be a default ability for nonhumans such as elves and dwarves, and such characters might receive these abilities for free if they taken an appropriate aspect to identify themselves as nonhuman.)

If a player wants his or her character to gain some specific game benefits from cyberware, I can see two ways to do this. First, the player might choose some sort of aspect for the character, such as "All Cybered Up" or "Elite Cyber Special Forces" or "Prototype Deltaware" or some such. Then the character could invoke this aspect for bonuses at appropriate points during the game (making impossible shots with firearms, making impossible rooftop leaps, etcetera). The GM could compel these aspects as well. For instance, the character who used to be part of "Elite Cyber Special Forces" might have government-installed shutoff switches in her cyberware, which might get triggered by government agents at the worse possible time.

The player could also invent stunts to gain consistent and specific benefits, such as:
  • Safe Aim: the character's smartgun link is programmed to avoid collateral damage. The character can ignore up to -2 worth of penalties that would be incurred if the character is trying to fire at a target who is concealed within a crowd.
  • Threat Detection: expert-system software within the character's cybernetics is able to monitor environmental factors and measure the probability that the character is about to be in physical danger. The character gains +2 to resist being surprised.
  • Firewall: the character's implanted wireless link is shielded against hazardous signals. The character gains +2 to defend against cyberattacks launched through the Matrix that might cause physical harm.
This raises certain questions about what happens if characters are suddenly forced to use non-modern equipment, such as guns without smartlinks, but I'll post my thoughts on that tomorrow.