Chatty Plays: Freemarket Part 3, Ghost’N’Breakin’

This post chronicles the second half of our Freemarket game.  You can follow my post on character creation here and my recounting of the first half here.  Let’s conclude our David vs Goliath story of stolen sex toys designs, covetous enlightened blanks and subtle revenge.

Quick dramatis personae reminder:

  • Jack Knife (Yan): Jack of many trades and Body-Artist.
  • Paul Demetrios (PM): OCD Investigator, think “Monk”.
  • Coleco (Franky): Recycler and builder, “the old fashion way”.
  • Flint (Mike): Decked out Enlightened Interface Fetishist. Think Cyber-Jesus

Challenge 3: I’ll Know What I Want When I See It.

Mike: I want Flint  to infiltrate the Grindstone Cowboys compound, do some snooping around to find where stuff is, find the guy he doesn’t remember and get his Interface!

Chatty: Yeah, you’re familiar enough with the way the Station works that you suspect your memory was altered since yesterday. That’s a good challenge. After that you guys will do something about the stolen toy’s designs?

Franky: Exactly!

(Total Transparency: I’m taking significant artistic liberties with the actual dialogues.  I tell an accurate true story but I will fictionalize the details… because I can, he he he)

A note on team challenges and the task resolution system I alluded to in the last post.  In order to initiate a challenge, a character is better served by having the proper skill or one Geneline tags fit with what they wish to achieve. In our case, Flint had the Ghosting skill (Stealth + Thievery) while the others had Genelines tags that could help. For example,  Paul’s “Investigative” and Jack’s “Creative”.

Pixel-bitching aside: Yes, that means that there’s going to be some sort of “tag” whoring going on at the table… at least, I expect some because it’s part of what I consider  part of the “entertaining your GM’ experience.

Chatty: So are you joining this challenge or not?

Player X: I don’t know… I don’t see anything relevant…

Chatty: Oh come on, you aren’t allowed to be boring, entertain  me! (/Aside)

Thus, Flint and Paul infiltrated the HQ (the game suggests to always handwave the “getting there/getting in” parts of ghosting challenges and focus on the actual jobs). The other PCs monitored things remotely, ready to jump in if things became violent.

It’s also worth mentioning that generating NPCs in this game is wonderful.  You either assign stats on the fly or follow a fast series of card draws from the GM’s deck to generate Genelines, Experience, Interface and Technology (always relevant to the challenge at hand).  You then assign a Flow score, name the character and you have a NPC to keep for the rest of the campaign.

Anyhoo, with a series of awesome hands (and a crappy one on my side) the players aced the challenge yet again…

Chatty: Okay you found the guy you were looking for and tailed him to a “blind” corner of the HQ, now tell me how Flint’s going to rip a piece of interface from him!

Mike: Hmmm, how ’bout it’s a brain chip with a very particular design?

Chatty: Cool, so you knock the guy senseless and rip it out of his skull!  Good job, next challenge!

Challenge 5: Buggy Forbidden Pleasures

Franky: We want to hack the Cowboy’s protected systems to corrupt the design of the sex toy they stole.

Chatty: That’s going to be a great finish to end the game, let me generate the security expert of the system.  He’ll represent the HQ’s overall security, the systems counter measures and the protective layers of software between you and the designs.

(i.e. mechanically that just means the NPC’s stats, the game makes no true difference between stats/tools/setting when representing opposition)

Once again, the players won by a large margin.  I drew badly again (there are times like this). Just so I don’t sound more like a broken record, here’ s an example of how narration and the mini card game interacted.

While Coleco was busy hacking the system, Flint was sneaking in the compound, looking for places where he could weaken security and cause diversions.At one point he met a burly guard and Mike (Flint’s player) drew point scoring cards, which usually translated in successful mini-scenes.  Looking over Mike’s character sheet I saw that his Geneline is “The One” and has a whole cult thing going, so…

Chatty (As the guard): It’s…. YOU!  I can’t believe it!

Mike: Huh?

Chatty: The guard shows you he wears a pendant of the cult of the New Order.

Mike: Awesome!  Can I ask his help?

Chatty: Fire away!

And thus Mike sent the guard to pull a general alarm, emptying the MRCZ’s huge compound while the rest of the party finished their job.  At the end of the challenge, Frank decided to change just one tag of his original design to make it slightly less interesting than his own revised one and not overly awaken suspicion.  This also gave them enough “victory points” left to spend on full Flow rebates, putting everyone well over 30 each and scoring them a piece of “data”, the game’s other currency (data can be analyzed, gifted, injected as memories, etc).

And so I give you:

The Toy: Ephemeral, Inconvenient, Pleasurable

Yeah, my players are still shy about the game’s possibility.  In a world where death is a minor inconvenience at best (often only making you miss your next appointment), I would have LOVED to see “explosive” or “infected” as a tag instead of “inconvenient”.

And thus was our game completed.  We managed to play 1 challenge per player which is an average session and the game lasted about 3-4 hours which factored in some book digging and general goofing around.

Are we to be Freemers?

I’ll let the players chime in if they feel like it, but based on the feedback I got, my players were willing (and some even eager) to keep playing next month.  I really would like to see how the game evolves over a few session.

More specific feedback:

PM thought the game played out a LOT better than his expectations.  While initially confused about the skills and actual “mission” of the game, the relative smoothness at which everything meshed together delivered a very satisfying experience for him.  He got to act out mini-scenes as an hyper-focused OCD character and we all enjoyed it.

Franky was blown away at the sheer madness of the adventure hooks and the fast pace of the game.  He NEVER expected that I would choose his “Sex Toy” memory to drive a session, much less have it generate hours of fun and mirth. He did have some trouble “getting” the mechanics of the game from how scoring worked to how each experience could be used.  His was a good example where what a player thinks a skill should do, and what the designers decided it would, can clash.

Yan liked the mechanics of the game.  He was intrigued by it and I saw his tactician’s brain engage into furious activity a few times, confirming that he grokked the game fine.  He did mention that he felt the setting was far too constrained for what the game’s engine could achieve.  In that he felt he could tweak the skill list and general assumptions a bit and make this into a full blown “British Sci Fi” game capable of emulating the stories of Vernor Vinge and Peter Hamilton.

(I think it would take more work as the game system is a lot more interconnected than what they experienced so far… but I consider it a good sign when Yan’s dormant designer genes wake up)

Mike didn’t offer direct feedback, but he’s become my “mine canary” to detect a game’s “frustration pocket”.  I saw his steam level rise when he played bad hands over several challenges.  That’s why I’m happy that the last 2 challenges that featured him on the front line turned out nice and that he got his spotlight time.  He does seem to have some trouble finding ideas and ways to create a narrative with the game’s mechanics… but I think that’s a challenge of story-driven game themselves and I know he’ll warm up to it…

Hell, he did blow us away during our Fiasco game.

And me? I love the game.  I’d totally play a 2-4 session mini-campaign like we did with Apocalypse World before moving on to either Burning Wheel, Leverage or possibly that new game I’m working on.

Props:

  • The game is one sweet piece of play tested integrated clockwork engine with a simple yet rock solid setting
  • The pace is perfect and answers my current needs as a time-pressed gamer.
  • The ways you can screw with players even when they “win” is sublime and I can’t wait to turn the “evil” dial a few notches.

(Slight) Cons:

  • The rule book’s landscape format and layout, took the “easier to learn, harder to reference” approach that makes for more page flipping hunting for Flow costs and the like (Index is very solid though, I need to tab the book with posts it)
  • I’m still unsure about a few things about running challenges (like using bugs, and what to do when running out of options when you have no bugs) but one or two sessions more and I feel I could run the game at cons without any problems.

I hope you enjoyed this little series.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions!  I’ll do what I can and I’m sure the designers aren’t too far. 🙂

Comments

  1. “Full blown” might be asking a lot but, I do think that it could be re skinned with relatively few changes to fit other sci-fi setting.

  2. The core engine is definitively exportable. As a commercial product though, it is one of those things where it’s engine, Setting elements and graphic designs are so intrinsically linked I don’t think a supplement featuring extra-station action would be plausible.

  3. I agree.

  4. Luke and I wrote a fully fleshed-out fantasy hack of FreeMarket. It wasn’t fun! The setting and mechanics are so wrapped up in each other that attempting to remove one will kill the patient.

  5. @Jared: Baring that saying “what if we hacked this game?” is a classical geek reflex of a subset or RPG geeks when they meet a cool game, do you think that the mechanics could be jostled to accommodate a broader slice of the “transhuman” sci-fi genre?

    That being said… the more I play with it (both at the table and as mind experiements” the more I see how tight it is. I get it far more now than when I talked to both you and Luke at Burning Con. It does what it was designed to do exceedingly well. I’m eager to see how it will play in my hands once I master it like I master 4e/Mouse Guard and other games.

  6. I think that any re-skin if ever it is done would need to be in a setting where the inter connectivity of the individuals is as present as it is in the unmodified version.

    That being said I don’t think it’s worth the effort… It’s fun as it is. It was a speculative observation from my part. Which I have no intent of trying out… 😉

  7. Hiya Phil (et omnes),
    Thanks for the kind words. I’m curious about the reference-ability comment you made. What did you find missing from the front and back of the character and MRCZ sheets?

    -L

  8. @Luke: Hey bro, Ya know…this is one of those brainfart moments that come between playing the game and writing the post. While I clearly remember the page flipping and mumbling about finding this and that… it never occurred to me to reach out and use the back of Character and MRCZ sheets… even after the PLAYERS STARTED DOING IT!

    Must be a GMing atavism whereas I consider the book to be my go to resource in all cases.

    Now that you mention it, apart from reading what Experience X did vs Experience Y (like the true difference between Recycling and Cultivation or Shaping vs Social Engineering) the info is pretty much all on the character sheet.

  9. Have been oogling FM since well before it was released, and Chatty’s posts now reminded my to go purchase it. The third world US dollar currency rates helped too 🙂

    Eclipse Phase opened my eyes to transhumanist RPGs, but I was disappointed with the rules engine and the ENORMOUS setting. FM should be right up my story-gamey alley. Excited!

  10. Nice challenge arcs, if I can call them that! You had a very nice game there, Phil et al. — good premise, cool characters, nice challenges and great finish.

  11. Keith Fyans says:

    @Curious Luke: In play we found the same issue when starting when referring to the “opposition stats” that different challenges have (ie: the Geneline/Experience/Tech/Interface they have). I’m going to be making up a cheat-sheet later this week with all the info on it (I’ll post a link here when I’m done), but I don’t see it as a big flaw with the game as you would have needed a whole other sheet added just for that info.

    If you could make an official version for the site that would rock 😉

  12. Keith Fyans says:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/48322507

    Done, though before last weeks session but was unable to upload from work… going to beautify it next =)

  13. Hey, thanks for writing this up. I’m not usually a fan of APs, but Freemarket is a major exception, I love reading APs from this game, it’s so crazy-cool. I have the Freemarket boxed set, and am very much intending to run it for some folks, including my complete RPG newbie fiance and her 17 yo son. My questions are:

    Did you create the rival MRCZ during the player’s chargen, before that, or after in response to what they came up with?

    Did you create any NPCs beforehand, or were they all on the fly?

    Did you map out any section of the station, or is that just my old RPG geek habits refusing to step aside?

  14. @Sigmund: I’m glad you liked it.

    For your questions:

    1) All MRCZ the players interacted with were taken from their memories. The Grindstone Cowboys happen to be described in the book (that’s where my players took them during char gen). The one MRCZ I created was the Krishna Revivalist… an on the spot improv thing.

    2) All NPCs were made on the fly, using the “Draw cards from your deck” methods described in the book’s last chapter + added a one sentence concept to each.

    3) Nothing was mapped. I described areas as we went along and players built on them to describe what they did in return. The Grindstone Coybows area is HUGE (it’s a tier 6 MRCZ) so I added cafeterias and recreational areas that players snuck… but I mapped nothing in advance.

    Apart from reading the book cover to cover twice and reviewing how intertwined the game’s core mechanics are (start at a point and follow how Tags, Tech, Interface, Data and memories interact), I didn’t spend more than 10 minutes away from the players to prep that game…

    Off course, a lot of the prep is done at the table during character creation… it’s just that it’s the players doing the work while you guide the whole thing.

    Best of luck. We’re playing again this Sunday

  15. Thanks a bunch, very much looking forward to reading more Freemarket insanity 😀

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  3. The @chattydm blogs about, & I quote, "stolen sex toys designs." http://bit.ly/h1vpoI Some hot, hot rpging going on over there I tell you.