Tag Archives: Hacks

The Sprawl’s Missing Move

Cyberpunk image of someone shopping at a kiosk

Ai Art image (“Cyberpunk Shopping Kiosk”)

We finished a really fun campaign of The Sprawl a while back, and it’s been rattling around in my mind. It’s a great game, but it has a few assumptions and structures which are essential to play that have some inobvious elements. The one that sits most strongly in my mind is the Hit the Street move.

This is the move that players use to get things like gear and information. It’s one of the big drivers of play because as a move it’s a generator of problems and motivations to bring things to life, and it’s also the gateway to other moves like getting cyberware. However, it can feel a little odd to invoke for things that seem like they should be much lower stakes or a normal part of life. I know that I, at least, was a little bit leery to engage it for the simple reason that it’s a bit like playing with fire. I was happy to do it when I was looking for that sort of scene, but in other situations, it felt like too much.

And that was a very practical problem. Because we didn’t use the move as much, it also meant we didn’t use the Create a Contact move nearly as often as we could have, and in turn, that meant we gave up one of the more fun knobs in the game. Now, for our particular game, it worked out ok because we had a number of invisible compensations, but that doesn’t seem like a very sustainable solution.

The trick, I think, is to add one more basic move to the game (as well as a couple more item tags). It’s a very simple move, and critically, it’s a move that I think you can safely introduce to any Sprawl game without concern because there’s a good chance it will never get used, but by never getting used, it still provides value.

Sounds weird, yes. But roll with me – here’s the move

Hit the Kiosk (Cred)

When you go to to the store to buy something like a civilian, you can spend cred to buy gear or other services.

    • Any gear acquired has the legit tag
    • If you spend an extra 50% (round up) the gear has the luxe tag
    • If you double the cost (minimum final cost of 4 cred) cred, it has the super luxe tag.
    • You can use this move to buy cyberware without making the Go Under The Knife move. If so, the but the cyberware has the owned tag.

So, there you go. For color “the Kiosk” is really any shopping opportunity, ranging from a high end showroom to whatever your amazon equivalent is, and if your cyberpunks want to be good consumers, then shopping is a breeze. Most of these things even come with free shipping! Why would you ever Hit the Streets and deal with all that uncertainty?

New Tags

Luxe – It’s really nice, and obviously so. Exactly HOW it’s nice is up to you. It might be more obviously decorated or of a fancier brand. Perhaps it’s a limited edition, ultra rare collectors item. Whatever it is, anyone in the know is going to notice.

Super Luxe Oh, sure, that ultra rare collectors item is nice, but did you know the creator had 5 initial prototypes with unique engraving and three of them were destroyed in a workshop explosion, and the rest of the line is based off the remaining two? One of them is in that big glass case in the foyer of HQ. Oh, the other? Well, let me show you something.

Legit – this item was procured in the correct manner, and complies with all regulations and agreements associated with its extended usage contract. It is properly registered in all appropriate databases, keeps its licensing current and of course allows authorized access for maintenance and compliance purposes.


If it’s not obvious, legit is very much like owned as a tag that is there to be an absolute lighting rod for complications. Exactly what sort of complications will depend a bit on the specifics of your setting, but for most things, the easiest way to think of it is like a smartphone or an EZ-Pass[1]. It leaves a trail, is easily compromised by folks with permissions, and it could even show more sophisticated behaviors, like geographic awareness. Guns might not be able to fire in places like airplanes or secure corporate facilities.

For the handful of things that may not have built in smarts (like, say, explosives), the legit version still has a serious data trail that goes back to you, and can include things like unique molecular signatures in explosives, effectively giving an explosion a serial number.

Implicit in this is the idea that the gear that characters use has the serial numbers filed off, so to speak. However, it’s also been done well enough that it doesn’t immediately raise red flags as being off the grid. For that, see the Street tag, below.

Optional Tag: Name Brand Products

If you want to lean into the setting a little bit more, an alternative to the legit tag is a “brand” tag. To set this up, take the corps in your game and have the table come up with a couple product brands that corp is behind. Feel free to have fun with this. Once you have this list, you can now use these all as tags which serve as some combination of legit, luxe and super luxe. There’s no real mechanical change, but knowing which corps are behind which brands may help provide a bit of direction to the complication that arise.

Optional Tag: Street

If you use the legit tag and have a sense of how it fits into the world, consider also introducing the street tag.

Street – This is an off the shelf item that’s been hacked, modified or has otherwise violated its TOS. It’s still entirely usable, and no longer has the drawbacks of a legit item, but the modification is also obvious to inspection.

In practice, this draws a different sort of complications – Street items are going to triggers sensors and alarms in the sort of places that pay licensing fees.


To make the subtext into text – this is not a move that the characters want to make. Buying over the counter is convenient, and may be great for civilians, but you absolutely don’t want to be trying to raid a Labryintel facility with guns running Labryintel software.

Rather, what this does is make it very clear *why* you are hitting the street, and maybe gives a little nudge in that direction.

1 – This is an American thing, I dunno what the equivalents are elsewhere, but it’s a little transponder like widget you put in your car so you can drive right through tolls and have them auto-charged against your account. Super convenient, and also an incredibly efficient way to track where your car goes.

Buying Trouble

A Fate Die Rolling Variant


I’ve been running a lot of games in the Blades in the Dark family lately, and enjoying it a lot.  I really missing having aspects as a knob to turn, but it’s full of other shiny bits.  The one that I really enjoy is the mechanization of the complications as something orthogonal to difficulty.  It’s an idea that exists in other forms in other games, Fate included, but it’s a tricky piece of tech that I’ve sometimes struggled with.

This is, hopefully, the end of the struggle.


This rule has only two parts: Complications, and Buying Trouble


Complications are twists on a situation.  Stylistically, they have a fair amount in common with aspect compels, but mechanically they are separate from the aspect economy, and are instead tied to the situation at hand.  Aspects are fertile ground for inspiration for complications, but it’s bad sport to use a complication for something which is more appropriate to a compel.

Complications are created as a result of rolls, and it’s important to remember that the complication should never negate the success. The complication is *something else* going wrong – it may complicate the situation (thus, the name) but it should never devalue the success. Specifically, if the player takes a complication in order to avoid a problem, the complication should not be that problem. 

 Complications might include:

  • The arrival of opposition
  • Unwelcome information being released
  • Resources being used up
  • Flumphs

Complications come in 4 different levels

  1. Annoying – These are minor complications – maybe a small resource loss or a moment of slapstick.  
  2. Inconvenient – This complication is making the current situation a little more difficulty.  It might require another roll, an unexpected resource spend or otherwise keep things from going quite as smoothly as hoped. As a tip, this is *roughly* the severity of a compel. 
  3. Problematic – The complication is a problem of it own, and needs to be dealt with or avoided. 
  4. Disastrous – Things Go Bad.  This complication is a BIG problem, and is likely to totally upend the situation.

Buying Trouble

When a player rolls dice, they have the option of dropping all dice showing minuses to ‘buy trouble’.  Doing so changes the result of the die roll, but introduces a complication  of a level equal to the number of minuses spent.  


Finn is picking a lock, because RPG Conduct Code demands that all examples include at least one door.   His player rolls – – + +, for a net zero.  Finn could take that, but he’s in a hurry – the guards are coming and he’s tight on time, so he buys trouble, and changes his roll from a 0 to a +2 and the GM is free to introduce an inconvenience.   

The GM should explicitly NOT have the effort take longer, or have the guards show up as a complication – that’s exactly what the player was buying trouble to avoid, so it would be a Jerk move.

If Finn’s been making trouble elsewhere, this would be a great time for that to be found out, and perhaps have an alarm go off.  This is going to make things harder, but it doesn’t create an immediate consequence.

But supposing he hasn’t, the GM might have the door go someplace other than Finn’s player expects.  Perhaps his map is wrong, or he picked the wrong door, and now he’s lost, or in an awkward location.

If Finn had bought more trouble (say, he’d rolled  – – – +), then the door might go someplace like a closet, or to a room where the staff are preparing a meal, and now he has a whole new problem. 

Using These Rules

You can drop these rules into any Fate game, and they’ll work fine.  However, there are some interactions that are going to be worth watching.

First, in games where there are a LOT of Fate points in play, this is going to be a less appealing option, because the mechanical utility of this approach depends on the pressure to offset a bad roll.  If fate points are bountiful, there’s very little pressure to take consequences.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – presumably the many fate points mean that compels are keeping things plenty interesting, so complications are less necessary.  This rule still works in those games, it just may come up less often. 

Second, this approach synergizes well with having aspects flip dice rather than give a flat +2, because it keeps bonuses bounded, and it introduces a bit of a dynamic of using aspects to avoid trouble when appropriate. 


Nuanced Trouble

There may be a temptation to let players decide how much trouble they want to buy (rather than have it be all or nothing) .  That’s fine, and it’s a reasonable option, but it has the risk of introducing analysis paralysis.  Don’t use this option if your players are going to take more than half a second deciding how many minuses they’ll spend.

Closed Economy

For players who like to constrain the overall Fate Point budget in play, consider this option:  

  1. The GM starts play with a fixed pool of Fate Points (say, 1 per player)
  2. When the player takes a complication, the GM may opt to take a number of Fate Points equal to the level of the complication.
  3. The GM’s Fate point pool is limited to those on hand.


Aka “The Morgan Rule” – If you want to steal Devil’s Bargains from Blades, they can turn blanks to plusses.  Not sure if this really works, but – putting a pin in it as I think.


So, this is pretty much version 0.1. I’m genuinely excited to try this at the table and see how it evolves. I suspect the closed economy option has got a lot of legs, because I think it might be a real solution to the se’f-compel issue. My biggest concern is to see how well it plays with the flow of fate points. They might be complimentary, but there’s a non-zero chance of them tripping over each others shoelaces, in which case this might be the basis for something else entirely.

Bites in the Dark

Wolf’s Head in front of the moonScott Parker shared a great post on his experience using Blades of Fate to run a Dungeon World game, and that got me thinking about probability1 which lead to all this.

I ended up talking a bit about my love of the Blades in the Dark dice pools on twitter, and specifically how well it combines with Don’t Rest Your Head. For the unfamiliar, DRYH uses different color dice to represent different ideas (like exhaustion, discipline or Madness), and when you roll a set of dice, the color of the die you use influences the outcome, both narratively and mechanically.

As with most die pool systems, it meshes very easily with BITD’s model of success and partial success, and I have been kicking around a few different things that could use this model. In the process, I came up with a quick add-on hack for Blades that at up several tweets, and I figured I’d gather it in one place.

And with that preamble out of the way, I present…

Bites In The Dark

(Title courtesy of @krenshar_posts)

This is a hack for playing werewolves (or something similar) in Blades In The Dark. In the absence of a lunar cycle, this idea is designed to model the kind fo fiction where the narrator talks about “the beast” in the third person while describing what it smells or does or wants. It’s an unwelcome presence that offers power but also threatens to overwhelm.

I’m agnostic regarding how someone becomes a werewolf, but once they do, there are two mechanical effects.

  1. Create a clock for that character labeled “THE BEAST” and set it to four wedges.
  2. The character receives one “moon die”. This should be of a visibly different color from their other dice. Assuming your Blades dice are black, white or silver is appropriate.

The moon die (or dice) should be rolled alongside the player’s other dice. When the player chooses which die is used for the result of the roll, and they choose a moon die, that has the following effects.

  1. Narratively, The Beast has helped drive the outcome, and that should be accounted for descriptively.
  2. Gain another moon die.
  3. Mark off a wedge of The Beast’s Clock

If the player uses multiple moon dice (such as for a critical success), then do these steps for every die used. This may exceed the size of the clock (in which case, don’t worry about marking any further) but it will increase the number of moon dice held by the character.

When the Beast’s clock fills, that means the character transforms and loses control. This effect can be resisted, but Moon Dice aren’t used on that resistance roll, and at best it will merely defer the effect until the end of the scene.

Upon transformation, the following happens:

  1. The GM takes control of the character and describes what happens. This is going to be gruesome and bad, and probably make for consequences for everyone. I strongly discourage the GM from outright attacking the rest of the crew, rather, let the Beast rampage, and let the consequences flow from that. The GM also controls when, where and in what condition the character returns, but she should be mindful of pacing this.
  2. If this happens while the crew is on a job, tally up the number of moon dice held by the character. After heat is calculated, add that much heat to the total.
  3. If this happens between jobs, treat it as if the character had run amok (See below).
  4. Clear the clock and reset the character’s moon pool to 1 die.

New Downtime Action: Run Amok

When the Beast threatens to run wild, sometimes the best solution is to let it. You take yourself someplace isolated and let the beast run wild, but the consequences of this can be dire.

Roll the character’s moon pool taking the best result (this roll won’t accrue wedge or moon dice), then consult this chart:

1-3 – Nobody important died. A few greased palms and charitable contributions should be able to smooth things over. Someone needs to spend 1 coin to cover this, and if they cannot, then take the 4-5 result.

4-5 – The Beast’s rampage is a subject of gossip, rumor and no small amount of fear. Start a clock labeled “Fear of the Beast Passes” with 4 wedges. Until it is cleared, jobs generate 1 extra heat, and indulging Vice clears one less stress. If this effect is triggered again while the clock is active, increase its wedge count by another 4.

6 – Hunters arrive to pursue the beast with steely glares and weapons of silver. The first time this happens, they are a tier II gang with a -1 relationship with the crew. The second time, the relationship drops by 1. The third time their tier increases as more hunters arrive. After that, it’s War.

6+ – One of the following happens:

One of your crew’s allies was attacked and has been infected.
One of your crew’s enemies was attacked, and has been infected.
Your worst enemy knows you are The Beast
Your closest friend/love knows you are The Beast.

After this roll and effect, clear The Beast’s clock, and return the Moon Die pool to 1.

Notes For Clarity

  • The player explicitly has the option of not using the Moon dice in a result. That choice it kind of the point.

And that is pretty much it.

Options and Variations:

There are a LOT of options for how to tweak this, mostly because there are a lot of different things being a werewolf might mean at the table, so these allow some tweaking.

Some of these options are also possible for ideas which are similar to werewolves, but thematically different. Deals with dark powers, sinister magical weapons, a personal Hyde or ripper – all of these things and more can be modeled with these rules with some changes in color, and possibly by picking slightly different options.

Magical Effects
If the player wants to do something that should be impossible, but makes sense under the auspices of the Beast (like, make an impossible jump, or track someone through a crowd by smell) they they can do so, rolling only moon dice and resolving normally. Since this guarantees that moon dice will be used, it also guarantees triggering a moon die gain.

It’s worth noting that this is potentially very powerful – allowing the “impossible” in Blades removes the one check against runaway player action (the GM not calling for a roll). It can get around tier issues and generally allows for very big results. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to be very aware of and in alignment on. It also should be reflected in the scope of potential consequences when the Beast gets loose.

Gentler Lycanthropy
The player is not obliged to roll moon dice, though if they do, they must roll them all. Rolling moon dice is treated as accepting a Devil’s Bargain, so they cannot be further supplements.

This slightly constrains the bonus on the rolls, and makes it much less likely that the character will lose control. That removes a fair amount of the risk from the system, but sometimes that’s appropriate. This is suitable for games where the beast is more controllable by its nature, or for ones where something else is keeping The Beast in check (for example, this rule might only be in play so long as the character is regularly taking Wolfsbane infusions, or at certain times & places). An advantage of tying this to something in the fiction is that its loss is now a viable (and toothy, ha ha) consequence.

Less Predictable Clock
Set The Beast’s clock to 8 wedges, but change the process so that when a moon die or dice are used, do the following.

  1. Incorporate the Narrative
  2. Increase the character’s moon die pool by the number of moon dice used.
  3. Roll all moon dice and take the best result. Increase The Beasts clock 1 space on a 1-3, 2 spaces on a 4-5, 3 spaces on a 6, and one additional space for each additional 6. The good news is that this roll does not trigger any additional moon die gain.

I went with 8 wedges here, assuming 2 wedges per roll, but that’s going to be unevenly distributed, and it can go much faster if the dice are unkind. The upshot of this is that the number of moon dice the character is holding will be much less predictable when they transform (so the mechanical effects are less predictable). This is also, frankly, a little bit meaner, especially since it feels more generous (8 wedges!).

Werewolf Healing
Transformation (either in play or RUnning Amok), clears any wounds the character has.

This is super kind – healing is a pain in Blades – but it’s kind of thematically appropriate.

Temporary Power
The assumption is that this state does not go away, but it’s entirely possible that after transformation occurs, that’s it. The possessing spirit flees, or the drug wears off or whatever.

In this case, transformation should have a very specific meaning or cost, something that makes it a Damoclean sword hanging over the character.

Fatal Power
The flipside of Temporary Power – once the clock fills, that’s it, you’re done. In this case, I strongly suggest that the transformation remain in the player’s control, since this is their moment of going down in a blaze of glory.

This works well with Gentler Lychanthropy, but without it you can get a great Strikeforce Morituri vibe.

Ratcheting Doom
Start the Beast’s Clock at 2 wedges higher than normal. Then, every time it’s cleared and reset, it has 1 fewer wedge. When the clock has zero wedges, that is the final transformation. There is only the Beast now.

This one will take a while to go through, but it has a certain charm for games long enough to sustain its arc. The one thing I don’t like so much is that the moon pool gets smaller with each iteration, so while it represents burnout pretty well, it’s less well suited to the idea of the beast growing stronger.

Edit: Got a great suggestion from @thedicemechanic for this that solves the problem.  Each time the clock resets, the reset moon die pool is one larger, and a wedge of the clock is filled in (rather than getting smaller). So, first time it resets to 2 moon dice, and the first wedge is filled in.  Second time it resets to 3 moon dice and the first two wedges are filled in and so on. This gets the ratcheting, but ALSO keeps the mayhem going. 

Heroic Alternatives
It’s worth noting that this also works for more heroic games. The “transformation” could just as easily be the equivalent of a Limit Break. This scratches the surface of a much bigger alternative, but if anyone is looking to do an Exalted2 or Final Fantasy hack, this option might be helpful.

  1. Specifically, the fact that a critical point about Blades of Fate is that it absolutely privileges success as a consequence of an even distribution of outcomes. This is neither a bug nor a feature so much as something to be explicitly mindful of when choosing it. If you want people to mostly be awesome but occasionally surprised by twists, it’s a good approach, but if you expect the dice to provide more complication, it’s going to seem too easy. To my mind it relies on compels to make up that gap, but the exact balance will absolutely have a component of taste to it. ↩︎
  2. In thinking about this, I realized that BLADES IN THE SUN is a fantastic ideas that I don’t have the time or energy to pursue right now. ↩︎

FAE: Lords of Intrigue

So, here’s another FAE hack that I’m calling “Lords of Intrigue”. This is a bit of a stunt, and if you spot the gimmick, then it will be pretty obvious, but if you don’t, fear not, I’ll explain at the end[1].

Another FAE hack. This one does not have a cunning name yet. The Fate Freeport Companion can be a bit of a help in this one.


Rather than the usual approaches, characters have the following 5 Approaches:

  • Arcane which covers the magic of wizards, but also scholarly understanding of the world.
  • Commercial Trade and business, as well as most day to, non-adventurey interaction. Commerce’s penumbra is quite broad, and if there is no other applicable approach, then Commerce is probably correct.
  • Pious Covers matter religious and clerical, but also matters of the heart. Swaying or understanding emotions fall under the auspices of piety, as does endurance.
  • Sneaky covers matters covert, from stealth to theft, and also speed and agility.
  • Violent as the name suggests, covers fighting (including sneaky fighting). it also encompasses strength.

These are not fairly distributed approaches. The simple reality is that Arcane and Pious are less useful than the other three. This is intentional – Arcane & Pious are the gateway to magical abilities, which broaden them significantly.

Players distribute the following array of bonuses: +3, +2, +2. +1, +0 among the 5 approaches. They also select aspects as normal – the Freeport guidelines may be useful in this regard as the expectation is that aspects will be along lines familiar to any D&D player.

Stunts are allocated based on approaches. You may take 2 stunts from under your +3 approach and 1 from one of your +2 approaches.

For Pious and Arcane stunts, look to Freeport (or some other magic system of your choice).

Violent and Sneaky stunts are (hopefully) fairly self explanatory.

Commercial stunts work a bit differently – each stunt represents a resource. The resource may either be something permanent (like an ally, a holding or a title) in which case the character gains a bonus aspect to reflect that. Alternately, it may simply take the form of liquid assets, and may be tapped for a +2 once per session any time money may lubricate matters (and like money, this bonus can stack).


The expectation is that characters are agents of a mysterious patron in a fantasy city. They will have some descriptive goal, like, say “Eliminate the Undead Coven” but they will also have a mechanical element of challenge to them.

That challenge will be rated in five different ways: Priests, Mages, Warriors, Thieves and Resources (and, yes, they correspond with the approaches), which are referred to as opposition. So, for example our undead coven quest might have a rating of 2 priests, 2 warriors and 1 Thief. That might be expressed as

Eliminate the Undead Coven

Those values are used by the GM to create a story for that quest as well as to set some mechanical thresholds. Each opposition represents one aspect (usually, but not always a person) and a +1 to the baseline difficulty. So, in our example, matters of religion and violence have a default difficulty of 2, and sneaky stuff has a +1, and it might have the following aspects:

Brother Malvolio, the mad street prophet (P)
The Secret Chapel in the Sewers (P)
Rotting Soldiers (W)
The Grave Cannot Hold Us (W)
Shadow Hunters (T)

I don’t know about you, but once I’ve laid out those aspects, I’ve got most of what I need to make this a mission.

The City

The problem is, of course, that these things never go in a straight line. I have all the elements in place for the adventure, but I don’t want to just point the players at it. How do I handle the investigation element?

The city gives me what I need, or more specifically, the locations in the city do. City Locations are treated similarly to quests, though rather than having a opposition, they merely have occupants, which are rated in the same fashion. For example, an arena where gladiators duel might have two Warrior occupants, and be noted as

Triumphant Field

As with quests, those turn into two fighting related aspects, such as:

Olivia One Eye, Gladiator Trainer (W)
Always More Hopefuls (W)

When players go an engage one of these places, then you connect two aspects of the same type to give the players a clue. For example: a conversatiosn with Olivia (W) might reveal that she saw a Gladiator get killed and get up again (The grave cannot Hold us) and she can tell the players where to find out more.

This may not be enough to crack open the case immediately, but it should be enough to get things started. If the players then engage some other aspects (perhaps some P and T) then they should be able to put together a full picture. As a rule of thumb, if the players visit places with enough occupant aspects to total up to the opposition aspects, then they should have enough to bring matters to a head.

In this case, for example, suppose the players visited

The Smiling Tiger Tavern(TT)


The House of the Sun(P)

Then they should be pretty close – maybe close enough that good skill rolls and clever play might get them there. If not, then

The Cathedral(P)

Should push things over the top. There is no obligation to make players go through all the hoops, rather, as they go through more hoops, you should be making things more and more obvious.

Also bear in mind that players will hit occasional dead ends. If they had cone to The Magical Academy(W) or The Grand Bazaar(RRRR) then it might have been a fun scene[2]but it would not get them any closer to the Undead coven.

Anyway, this is still rough around the edges, but I think it’s a fun start.

  1. This is basically written with the idea of using a copy of Lords of Waterdeep (A fantastic boardgame, also available on iOS) as a game generator. I think most people who have played it immediately realized it that almost any game of it could be used as the backbone for a cool urban campaign. This is still pretty rough – I haven’t figured in the Intrigue cards, and I still want to figure out how to use the Lords and the Factions (though my instinct is to use the factions as an excuse to rip off 13th Age Icons.  ↩
    Screenshot 2013-12-16 21.50.25

  2. And maybe useful for a different quest, if players are pursing more than one quest at a time.  ↩