HEAVY WIZARDRY discussion

…as requested by @dominik here, I am starting a thread to discuss my in-progress game HEAVY WIZARDRY.

HW takes classic dungeon crawling and transports it into a Virtual Reality in a cyberpunk/late stage capitalism dystopian world. Players are hackers breaking into corporate nodes to better their communities. The core game is done, currently I am working on layout inspired by the 80s computers and punk zine aesthetic. Still need to write the GM/world section.

This is somewhat experimental design, here’s couple details about it:

  • the core mechanic is taken from World of Dungeons - single risk move with dis/advantage (2d6 with PbtA miss/mixed/hit).
  • modern OSR elements from games like Maze Rats, Knave & Black Hack (equipment slots, items as classes) incorporated into the narrative.
  • Your character sheet is your cyber deck (the hardware you use to access the VR world). You physically cut and paste modules to your sheet to customize it (like you would add expansion cards to a computer).
  • Combat is quick and deadly, PCs can handle some action, but it is better to be strategic (in OSR planning sense) about combat. Most of what you fight is corporate AI manifesting as “monsters”.
  • The game centers around “runs” in the style of Shadowrun and TurboBreakers where you go into a corporate “dungeons” to grab stuff that will help others and fuck shit up for the corp. Characters can only advance by helping their community and hindering the corps. Gameplay outside those runs is hand waved and a part of meta-game.
  • Lastly (and this is main reason the game is not out yet) I am trying to make the layout feel very diegetic (one of the motifs for the game is blending the line between real and in-game world, and between the narrative and systems). The finished game will also work a bit as an art-zine with a strong anti-design aesthetic. You can see couple more spreads here.

Comments and critique welcome. Happy to answer any questions.

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Love love love the layout conceit. In terms of customizing your sheet: is the assumption that users would use a paint / graphics program to play online?

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Thanks - I am glad you like it.

As for online play. Honestly, it was not my priority, so I haven’t given it that much thought yet. Using a graphics program would be one way of doing it, but technically you can just put all the info on a spreadsheet. The only gameplay thing the physical cutting&pasting does is making sure you can fit all your modules on your deck. The rest is aesthetic.

I will look into making it more compatible with online play. Maybe making a website where you can drag and drop modules, and save your setup as a pdf/png?

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First of all: anything that deals with hacking gets me excited. :wink: It’s a sad state of affairs when CP2020 seems to have the best hacking mechanics in RPG (and it’s not even good) so kudos for going in this direction. There was a recent topic about hacking mechanics that went pretty much nowhere so there seems to be some craving that remains unsatisfied.

There are a few things I’d like to know more about.

Are you going for a more gritty and realistic hacking, or are you trying to replicate obstacle avoidance, combat and looting of Knave/Maze Rats wholesale? You’ve mentioned fighting corporate AI and in real life there’s some AI involved in corporate software, even on edge devices, but it’s mostly for business purposes and not for defense (ECS-SRA2020 is a good source of trends if you’re interested). I guess what I’m trying to ask is if you want it to feel right from a layman perspective or do you want IT curmudgeons to shut up?

Character sheet as cyber deck feels very much CP2020 but even in 1990 it was pretty clear that HW is a commodity and SW is the king. So I’m curious how does your hardware-based system work? What exactly are the pieces of hardware representing in game?

I like the concept of runs. Hacking online systems is inherently a guerilla hit-and-run sort of a deal so this feels just about right. I genuinely like the sound of it. :slight_smile: I’m not sure handwaving everything else is correct though. Hacking is very much about building social network of people who aid you in your venture. At the same time there’s a massive amount of distrust and people (rightly so) get spooked easily. I think ther’es an opportunity to introduce another aspect to the hacking game that could work with the same mechanics the techy stuff does. In other words: hard and soft skills are both important to a hacker.

And I must say: Gontijo’s layouts are awesome. :slight_smile:

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Sorry for the long post, hopefully it will be worth reading.

So, the game is more about “straight outta Gibson” TV/fantastical version of hacking than a realistic representation, much more in line with the early Shadowrun and CP2020, where you get an avatar that exists in virtual 3D world. This is mostly because I want the players to be able to “make a change” without having to know much about actual hacking. This is why the main “verbs” of the game map pretty much with dungeon crawling: your avatar breaks into a node, encounters/fights security AI, moves between sectors - all your normal dungeon crawl actions. Players are encouraged to think of creative solutions given the tools they have - the sectors are more like puzzles with multiple solutions, than just combat encounters. So, sadly, no SQL injections or spear phishing, mostly because I don’t know enough about hacking and I don’t know how to gamify it for the table…

…but, saying that, I think there is enough “hacking flavor” in it to carry the idea. Everything is re-skinned in some way, and there are little systems that reinforce the idea of exploring a restricted node (more-or-less procedural things for alarms, spawning enemies, etc.). So long story short, yeah, it is kinda a wholesale reskin of OSR play, but spiced differently.

As for the Hardware and Software, I think the WIP spread showing a sample char sheet will help you understand it:

Hardware is what your character can do mechanically. So, a barebones deck (character sheet) is just couple stats (let you roll the dice) and memory (slots for your software). You can add MODs (expansion cards, etc.) to get some more mechanical abilities (think PbtA moves, D&D class abilities or the special abilities you get from Background & Profession in Neuroshima/Monastyr) - stuff that “breaks the rules” of the game. You get 1 mod to start with, and can get more as you level up. The character sheet minigame, is about “tetrising” your mods on your sheet. Also, each component acts like 1 HP, when you get hit - systems go offline, making your options more limited the more your avatar is “hurt.”

Software is the stuff you take with you inside the VR. It doesn’t really change the the rules of the game, but gives you narrative positioning (and ways to solve those puzzles I mentioned earlier). You have programs, that act like items, and scripts that are kinda like magic.

Lastly, as for everything that is not part of a run is handwaved - I probably explained it wrong. It is not that anything outside of those runs is skipped, it is that the runs are the core of the game, stuff outside is more of a meta-game There are no strict mechanics for that part (kinda like the split in Lacuna part1). In the narrative players are a part of a hacking scene. They have contacts to get new software and hardware etc. This is assumed, but nothing is stopping a group from playing around with it - especially if takes place in VR, as you only have mechanics for those :wink:

The idea of distrust and building a network of people is cool (and yep, very much in the , but I think it would be better served by a mechanical supplement/expansion later on - because I want to keep the theme quite simple to start with - late stage capitalism is bad and only by coming together we can make a change. Until then, I think it can be handled in the narrative :slight_smile:

Hope that answers your questions, let me know what you think.

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Ok, realistic or not, Gibson vibe I can get behind. :slight_smile:

I’m curious how exactly does that work. In the context of corridors, doors and traps, I can see how our intuition about the real world maps to what’s required of a player to succeed in OSR. But you’re pledging Gibson which is slightly more abstract so I’m wondering how the actual run looks like. Can you elaborate?

I like the idea of hardware as gear as abilities as health. This draws from Knave, as you’ve pointed out previously, in a smart way that fits well with the theme. I’m not sure I get how the software and scripts work. Could you explain?

Your comment about keeping it simple (K.I.S.S. as they say) is fair. What you’ve got looks like a good approximation of the theme you’re trying to evoke. This is not what I expected but I must say I’m no less interested than I was before. Thanks for all the answers! :slight_smile:

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So the game’s setting - Dreamscape VR - runs partially on brains of its users. This makes for a pretty powerful mesh network, but it comes with couple of quirks. One of them is that the virtual spaces are created to resemble (and work like) IRL places, because it is easier for the human brain to parse that (and savvy content creators want to get most use of that brain “cpu”).

If we step outside of the narrative reasoning, for the most part you run HW like you would any other - describe “real” places for players to interact with. The benefit of the game being set in VR is that you are not limited by the “setting” as much. One node the players visit might work like a medieval keep, while another might take place on a decrepit spaceship - both “working” like they would in IRL (again, because that brain mesh net thing), even if they are filled themed with corporate branding. You are also free to add more abstract/gonzo elements if you would like - but they should be understandable to players. Think of it as players trying to figure out a magical trap in fantasy setting.

In the book I make an analogy to video games - each node is kinda like its own video game, while each sector works kinda like a level (and video game analogies are explained in the narrative, because most of those sector admins/creators are nerds). Some might have their own extra rules (zero G in a starship for example) and most will have basic restriction protocols. E.g if a door is closed in a video game and you don’t have a keycard, you simply can’t go through it - this is where software comes in place.

Programs (basically items) are kinda like cheats in a video game, but they work within the confines of the game. So you can open a locked door with a lockpick, or overcome the zero-G with some gravity boots. They have to make sense in the narrative.

Scripts (spells) - are full on hacking the video game. They are not limited to what has to make sense within the confines of the game.

I think I am making it more complex than it is - let me paste the stuff from game text, I think it explains it well:

So yeah, at a most basic level HW simply recontextualizes OSR. gaming. This is a game about the low-level hackers who are a part of something bigger. Eventually I would love to make a supplement that lets players become more powerful and really hack the game itself - but I don’t have good ideas for that just yet (and I don’t think it would be a traditional GM & PCs kind of game, it would probably be closer to a story game, maybe even played between the “runs” - ideas welcome).

Also, thank you for all your questions Dominik, keep’em comming. They really help me see where the game might need more explanation and/or tweaking. Thanks for helping me make this game better.

Ok, so programs are (predefined) VR items hacker use and scripts are exploitable glitches. Everything takes place in a place with (potentially) a mish-mash of themes sharing something akin to branding. This branding represents what entity is it that the players are trying to hack into. Is that a fair summary?

Who wields the power to author content? Is everything in the hands of random tables, prepped by GM or do users get some say in this respect? At the very least they sort of define what kind of HW/SW they’re after once they’re outside of the VR, correct?

Is there any (random or otherwise) content that glues the runs together, or is it completely up to the players to figure out the path from start to “target hacked”?

Thanks. Asking questions is help on the easiest difficulty settings. :wink:

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I found it unreadable because of the layout, and couldn’t get past that to even try to figure out what was important and not.

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I would say that’s pretty spot on - even if I didn’t plan it :wink: . Honestly, while the game aims to highlight ideas of anti-capitalism and collective fight against an unjust system, it started as a way to do some OSR dungeoneering that can mix sci-fi, fantasy and pop-culture trappings.

I kinda planned on leaving it up to GM. I usually give some authoring power to the players when I run (“paint the scene,” leading questions and such). Usually on a run you get some random loot, that later can be exchanged for software you want. But, I can see players doing some legwork to go after particular HW/SW. As for gluing it together - you can do it in-world (there are public nodes that can work like towns, cities) or outside the game world with play-by-forum, discord, etc. I actually might write a bit about it in the GM section.

I get it - the experimental layout is not to everyone’s taste - and I am ok with it.

The game is very much style-over-substance in its presentation. This is very much deliberate - the project is part game and part an art experiment. Without the punk/anti-design aesthetic and buying into the tropes it just becomes a virtual reality cyberpunk OSR built around WoDu/PbtA.

I plan on making a text-only /SRD version if you would like to check out the rules in the future.

It’s one thing if it’s an aesthetic choice that folks might not like. This is an accessibility issue for folks who have trouble like I do with busy visual landscapes. Please consider having a separate accessible version available.

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Of course. The main reason behind the text-only version is accessibility and ease of reference. I was considering making it plain text as a reference to early internet culture of textfiles, but now you made me think I should also add a simple layout version as well (that would also be screen reader friendly).

Thanks for your advice Jim - it’s really appreciated.

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