When you work hard, resupply, keep watch, and keep everything running, restore up to 1d6 Cash.
We don’t know what year it is, we don’t know what is in the water, we don’t know if we’re human, or what human even is anymore. The corps took all that shit. They wiped everything when the change happened. Now we’re here in the concrete under the neon, trying to eke out a life between the manarats and the killdroids. Some of us are tapping into our nature, learning about our spirits and the ether that seems to pervade the world now. Some of us are gearing up, modifying our bodies and cracking systems and corporate security. None of us, though, none of us, are taking this shit lying down. The marble floors of their holodeck parlours and atmocontrolled meeting rooms are gonna run with blood, we don’t care what colour.[a]
Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Kill V. Maim Music Video by Grimes
There exist three levels of reality:
The Spiritual, where our intentions lie,
The Physical, in which we live and breathe,
and The Digital, where our every action leaves a trail of artefacts.[b]
Some people have developed skills and mastery of one or both[c] of the Digital and Spiritual planes. Sometimes this may be as simple as casting a spell or running a program. Other times they may enter the other level of reality, move through it, and manipulate it directly, affecting the physical world in unusual ways.
Pick a city to play in. It might be a real city in the cyberpunk future or it might be a new or made up one. What part of the world is it in? Make sure everyone feels confident playing in the fictional space you're using.
We were so damn worried about making uncaring, all-consuming artificial life out of technology or magic that we never stopped and realised we'd made it out of paper.
Corporations are legal entities made up of legal, human, and technological resources that exist to grow themselves by extracting profit and capital from anything within their grasp.
Corps control different elements of the world and the people in it, which they call markets. They control these in different amounts through products and services. They market themselves with brands made up of slogans, logos, jingles, and pervasive social marketing.
At the start of the campaign each person creates one of the Corps that dominates your city. Work out what they are called, what they control, and how they operate, as well as any logos, slogans, or jingles you like. Create other Corps as they turn up in play.
Between sessions Corps will carry out Operations, actions that affect other corps and often the crew and their community.
Gangs are collections of individuals and criminals that coalesce in the shadows of corporate capitalism. A gang has a name, turf, and a motif. Gangs can carry out operations in the same way corps do.
Then work out what community your characters are all a part of. What crowded neighbourhood, parish, slum, or scrip-town are you all languishing in?
Some contacts are part of your community, some are not. Those that are part of your community are keyed to the spaces on the community map in the contacts list.
Some contacts are solid. Their services cost only 1 Rep and gear purchased from them costs only 1 Cash, instead of the regular price of 2 that these things normally cost.
You can become solid with a contact either by increasing your maximum rep or by doing favours for them.
You can only become solid with a contact connected to your hideout or connected to another contact you are solid with. All non-community contacts are stored in your phone, which is connected to your hideout.
Any time you create a Contact
When you purchase a community upgrade either assign it to an existing contact without an upgrade on the community map or create a new one. Players only receive the benefits of upgrades assigned to contacts they are solid with.
When you purchase a community upgrade, pick a contact from your community map or add one and mark them with an upgrade:
Together choose your crew type:
Rep buys you services and favours, things you can only get in the moment by knowing the right person: A helicopter extraction, the password for an encrypted database, assistance channeling powerful energies. That service can be relied upon until you hit downtime. Buying a service is getting someone to do the thing they do, either to help you out right now in the moment, or to set you up for future success. If a contact doesn't have a specific service, they can help out or try to do the thing for you but it's not gonna help in a meaningful way.
1 service costs 1 rep from a solid contact, all your remaining rep from a contact who is out to get you, or 2 rep from any other contact.
If a service gets a contact to do something challenging, they roll their own action roll with 3 dice for solid contacts and 2 for everyone else, no bonuses.
"Don't worry about the identlocks, Arneson read the passwords off some visiting Golsec guards for us, should make cracking it a breeze."
Roll 1d6+4 for your maximum Rep. Rep starts at its maximum.
Cash buys you gear, anything you can buy from a vendor in the street or back-alley: A protection talisman, a hotcore ram expansion, really big guns. That gear hangs around and can be used again and again until you hit downtime. Gear can be purchased in the moment as it’s needed, it’s assumed you had it with you the whole time. You can flash-back to purchasing it if you want.
1 piece of gear costs 1 Cash from a solid contact, all your remaining Cash from a contact who is out to get you, or 2 Cash from any other contact.[f]
If a piece of gear is stock, name the corp and product name.
If a piece of gear is scratch built, describe at least one of the jury-rigged components.
If a piece of gear is customised, name the corp/product name, and the customisation.
"It's a modified Clarentek 442f Otrifle. The evoclip housing makes it a little less stable but it fires SO MANY force rounds!"
Roll 1d6+4 for your maximum Cash. Cash starts at its maximum.
Strain is a measure of the internal tension of the crew, the stress of each of its members, and the heat the crew generates as they get up to trouble.
Roll 1d6+4 for your maximum Strain. Strain starts at zero.
Choose one or more to describe your crew hideout:
Draw your hideout on the community map.
For every three max Cash your crew has, it gets one piece of crew gear for free.
Gear belonging to the crew does not reset at the start of downtime. For each, answer; what it does, where you got it, and it’s flaw.
More Crew gear can be gained both during play as well as each time the crew's max Cash reaches a multiple of three for the first time.
For every three max Rep your crew has, create a solid contact or make an existing contact solid.
When creating your crew you may put your solid contacts anywhere you like on the community map.
You can mark more contacts as Solid both by getting on their good side during play as well as each time the crew's max Rep reaches a multiple of three for the first time.
For every three max Strain your crew has, one Corp gains a point of Turmoil from the crew.
Each of you besides the GM gets one character to play at a time. Your characters are punks, castoffs and miscreants in this dirty magical metropolis. Work out your your character's stats, but also work out who you are in this world and how you're connected to the other player characters. Work out why the fuck you’re running against the megaliths of capitalist technocracy instead of donning a suit like all the other wage slaves. Where did you come from? How did you end up in this community? What is your role here?
To create your character:
Minor Mind Harm:
Major Mind Harm:
Digital Spheres ☐☐☐☐
Minor Body Harm:
Major Body Harm:
Minor Soul Harm:
Major Soul Harm:
Mystical Spheres ☐☐☐☐
There are three attributes each with three actions.
When you create your character, roll 1d6-1 for each attribute and assign that many dots among it’s actions and special action.
When you perform an action, you roll dice equal to the number of dots you have in that action.
When you perform an action as a part of digital work or mystical work, or where one of your capabilities aids you, you roll dice for your dots for the action plus dice for your dots in the special action.
Mind is the attribute of intellect, deduction, and memory. It is aligned with the digital realm and connected to strongly to the clues, marks, and artefacts we leave in the world as we move through it.
You use your Mind to resist things that are digital, intellectual, or brain related in nature.
Judge is the action of gleaning information and understanding. Judging is investigating, reading, studying, and assessing.
When you are judging, the information is available to you, you just need to extract it from a book or dataset, a person's face, clues, or a situation.
Tinker is the action of changing the properties of a thing. Tinkering is reshaping, reprogramming, enhancing, restraining.
When you are tinkering, the thing itself isn't the problem, it's just that it's not quite fit for purpose, which you can fix.
Skulk is the action of doing things without being noticed. Skulking is sneaking, spying, stabbing, and picking marks, locks, and pockets.
When you are skulking the most important part is the whether or not anyone knows you did or are doing it. Taking something out of a pocket, logging into a system, or putting a knife in a dude aren't hard things to do. They're just hard things to do discreetly. The trick, as any good magician will tell you, is to pay more attention to your mark's attention, than they do.
Digital Work is the special action used when interfacing with complex technology.
For each dot you have in Mind, you gain influence over one Digital Sphere.
Digital work can take a bunch of forms. Maybe you jack in and navigate through cyberspace while your body lies unconscious. Maybe you remote control machines and drones through special apparatus. Maybe you’re just real good at fiddling wires and buttons or maybe you load disks up into your deck and sling programs from your terminal.[i]
When you’re doing digital work you can use actions to manipulate anything mechanical or digital that falls within the spheres you have influence over.[j] You might use Wreck[k] to make a car engine blow up if you have influence over Motivators, or if you have influence over Homunculi you might Build a program or AI to help you with a task.
Body is the attribute of athleticism, muscle memory, and physical sensation. It is aligned with the physical realm strongly connected to our present experience of the world around us in the now.
You use your Body to resist outcomes that are related to physical bodies and action.
Scrap is the action of going toe to toe with something with mutual intent to harm or overcome one another. Scrapping is punching, shooting, slashing, tackling.
Scrapping is about trying to overcome direct opposition. If you're trying to shoot or hack or mess someone up and they're putting up a fight, or maybe you're up in the business, trying to avoid having your own day ruined, then that's when you're scrapping.
Scramble is the action of getting from where you are to where you want to be. Scrambling is running, jumping, climbing, swimming.
Scrambling is about getting somewhere that is hard to get to. When the most important question is whether or not you get from A to B, that's scrambling.
Wreck is the action of damaging and destroying things. Wrecking is breaking, rupturing, eroding, injuring.
The sole focus of Wrecking is destruction. When you Wreck something you make it not do the thing it does anymore. You make machines stop working, make walls stop being in your way, and make people stop walking, talking and breathing.
If you're just trying to change how something works, you might actually be Tinkering. If you're trying to make it do something new, that's probably Building. If you're just trying to make it do something different right now, that could be Swaying. If it's putting up a fight, there's a chance you might be Scrapping.
Capability is the special action used when using your capabilities as part of an Action
For each dot you have in Body, you gain one capability. Describe it.[l]
Capabilities are anything your body does that doesn’t come on the standard human model. Maybe[m] it’s cyberware, maybe it’s genetic, maybe it’s magical alteration. Get creative, think about your capabilities alongside your look and hard limits.
Soul is the attribute of intentions, feelings, and social bonds. It is aligned with the mystical realm and connected to our emotions, hopes, dreams, and subconscious minds.
You use your Soul to resist things that are mystical, social, or emotional in nature.
Build is the action of making something new. Building is constructing, growing, mending, forging.
After a Build you should either have something new or something should do a thing it didn't do before. It's about creation rather than change.
Consort is the action of closing the gap between yourself and another person.
Consorting is befriending, socialising, listening, and carousing.
Consorting is all about being social and building relationships with people without specifically trying to impose your will on anyone. You might have a specific goal you're trying to achieve but if you're letting it come to you through your bonds with others, that's Consorting.
Mystical Work is the special action used when interfacing with magic, spirits, and mystical forces.
For each dot you have in Mystical Work, you gain influence over one Mystical Sphere.
Mystical work comes in all shapes and sizes. Some folks speak with spirits and corral them to their will. Others leave their bodies to enter the ethereal plane and interface with the world of thoughts, auras, and energies directly. Some simply memorise spells and incantations to manipulate arcane forces, or let themselves become conduits for magical energies, ready to be unleashed at a moments notice.[o]
When you’re doing mystical work you can affect anything that falls within your spheres with your Actions. If you have influence over Water you might Tinker the rain into razor sharp sleet, or your influence over Rot might let you Consort with your flesh eating disease to find a mutually beneficial arrangement.[p]
Describe your character’s appearance and demeanour.
Are they three feet tall, or eight? What colour is their skin? Is their hair dark or light? Kinky, curly, wavy or straight? Are their ears small or large? Pointy or round? What parts of them are cybernetic, if any? Do they have tusks or fangs or horns? What colour and shape are their eyes? Are they elegant or clumsy? Warm or cold? Muscular or lithe? How do they dress? Bright colours and crop tops and headbands and sneakers? Combat boots and mirrorshades and armoured jackets? A very fine suit? Flowy bullshit and bird feathers? How gay are they? Like, super or not very?
What does your character look like in the ethereal where our appearance is dominated by our emotions, beliefs and desires?[q]
What does your character’s representation in the digital look like, where we are an amalgam of our words, images, links and brands?[r]
Also what do people call them and what are their pronouns?
What service do you provide in your community?
Create or name an existing contact that you are reliant on or one who is reliant on you and mark them on your community map. Work out what service they provide.
Once everyone has placed a contact on the map, either choose one or create a new one with whom you have a history of some other emotional connection to. What feelings are invested in them?
Your character might have one or more hard limits, such as PTSD, a scarred aura, or a missing limb.
Sometimes your hard limits might reduce the number of dice you roll for an Action. Sometimes you might not be able to perform a specific action at all without help.
Don't trivialize your fucking hard limits. They're optional. You can choose to not have any. Sure you’re bulky and don't like cilantro and don’t know how to swim but unless those are things that are actually messing with you on the regular maybe hold off? We want a way to show how disability impacts our characters as real people in the world, and in doing that it’s important to respect the experience of those that deal with these issues in our own world.[s]
Make note of the cultural backgrounds and belief of your character. How radical are their politics? How much of the narratives fed to them by corporate culture do they buy into? What kind of connection do they have to their ethnic heritage, if any? Do they follow a spiritual tradition? Players and the GM are equally responsible for painting the world In Which We Live And Breathe vividly with the colours and textures of diverse ethnicities, genders, abilities, and cultures. Don't accept boring and offensive tropes and stereotypes, treat all characters in the game with the basic respect of recognising their complex humanity.
As the GM it’s your responsibility to convey the world In Which We Live And Breathe with the players.[t] The world is a grungy cyberpunk fantasy with dirt in the corners and acid in the rain, but it’s also often gonzo as heck. There are elves and dwarves and gnomes and goblins and ogres and cyberninjas and sentient battletanks and shamans and wizards and hackers and corporate assassins and ghosts and murderAIs and dragons. All of this somehow exists in the same place but not without friction at the edges. Show contrasts between the rich and poor and the shoreline between where those worlds meet. Litter the world with opportunities for the players to take some back from those with more. Corps are the bad guys here, the players are never gonna change the world but they can hurt the corps and carve out a space for them and their community.[u]
When you first start playing In Which We Live And Breathe, go through character and crew creation with the other players, asking lots of open leading questions, getting details and elaborations on the choices they make, and then drop them into the world. Start with a bit of onomatopoeia (“bang!”,”thud!”,”hisssss…”) and reveal the tense spot they’re in. Some kind of situation that demands action. Put something they care about in the way of danger or put something they want within reach. Ask them questions about it: “Why are these bikers after you?” “What is supposed to be in this vault?” “Who is flying this plane?” Use the first session especially to build out the world, find threats and mysteries to explore later and get an understanding for the direction the story is heading. Ask so many questions, it’s all about getting the players to help you build a map and chart a course on it.
Whenever the players roll less than 6 on an Action roll, you will need to make a move. Say “let's see here” and then choose a move that makes sense in the fiction and helps you express the game’s themes if possible. If the players look at you to know what happens next, you also need to make a move. Making a move is just saying what happens next in the story, specific moves are just prompts to manipulate the fiction in a certain way, making things interesting and moving the story forwards. Try some of these:
Make them roll to not get hurt, physically, digitally, or spiritually, it's all the same, give them a new Hard Limit, rip their fuckin arm off, kill them. You don't go up against the corps without taking a few blows.
Let them know what's happening soon, or far away, or what will happen if they do the thing, or what will happen if they don't. Give hints and clues the size of fuckin billboards.
Make their move work but not quite how they wanted. Maybe it affects way more than intended, maybe the result is kinda shitty, maybe they get the wrong target, maybe let them know what the cost is and see if they still want it.
Just make shit worse. Split the party, corner them, have them run out of time, give them ugly choices, have shit happen off screen like burgling their home or tailing them or abducting their boyfriend. If there's a Corp that has Turmoil from the Crew, get them involved.
Take away their gear, cut off communications, blow up the orphanage that they care about so much, kill the guy they're supposed to protect. One handy guide here is to look at their gear and see if it's custom or scratch built, those elements are waiting to malfunction.
You can remember these with the handy acronym: FATES
When the players go looking for rumours and trouble, first make sure they know any current headlines from Behind The Curtain Operations. Then get their crew type, their contacts and gear, and the game's Corps and Gangs in front of you and then make a move.
Most of the time that move will be advertise but not all the time, don't let them get complacent.
If you’re still struggling, hit up the postings at iwwlab.machinespirit.net !
If you need an NPC or players want to randomly roll a contact, here’s some tables we prepared earlier:
Character art is by Kagato who you can find at https://twitter.com/kagatoactual !
Thanks to D. Vincent Baker, John Harper, Adam Koebel, Sage LaTorra, Kira Magrann, Andrew Gillis for designs I have built upon.
Thanks to Emily McAllan, Luke Jordan, Melody Watson, and many many others for their support and guidance.
This work is based on Blades in the Dark (found at http://www.bladesinthedark.com/), product of One Seven Design, developed and authored by John Harper, and licensed for our use under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
[b]god fuck you're so good
[c]this sounds like a mix of two sentences. "developed skills" and "in the mastery of".
[d]Let's get down to business. To defeat. The hunnnnns.
[e]I approve this message.
[f]this mechanical consistency between cash and rep is awesome.
[g]page numbers would be dope here, so as a reader i know that these unknown factors are coming up soon. makes me feel prepared.
[h]along the same lines, a bit here talking about how this sheet is where you'll keep all the information will make it flow with the text easier. i like the placement of the character sheet here because it brings some visible organization to the knowledge i've gained so far, and leads into what i don't know yet. dope.
[i]I think you can switch tones here and replace "maybe" to frame the explained as examples. from there i would feel a sense of being handed badassery, like "go do these things". right now it feels like, "i dunno, go do some things."
[j]this sentence fried my brain.
"Digital work allows you to manipulate tech in the spheres you specialize in," or something? idk.
[k]"can" instead of "might" maybe, if you're down with the tonal change.
[l]do you want them to describe it on paper, to the table, or both?
[m]would dig a period here for the impact. tone thingy as well if you're into that. i'm selling cars out here. buy my honda accord. or a VW beetle that hasn't been serviced in 22 years. idk. it's late.
[n]i love you
[o]THIS THAT GOOD SHIT
[p]THE FUCK?!?! this is dope as hell.
i'm going on a smoke break here. you don't actually need to know that, but i'm tellin ya.
[q]I'm back. This is sick.
[t]this sentence made my dick hard. i love the title of this game.
[u]this whole paragraph is fucking CHEF KISS.