Sprawlscape, Session 0
Sprawlscape is a dirty cyber megapolis in a deck of cards. But how does it work at the table?
I want to start this post with some lateral inspiration. I owned few Sim City CG decks but the game was rather bad. The idea of a card game to create city, that was good. I completely forgot about this game until few weeks ago, I still haven’t found my old deck!
The biggest lateral inspiration is perhaps Arkham Horror LCG. I love the game: every scenario comes with set-up instructions. Investigators travel through different areas on the board looking for clues. Every card can be a room, a neighbourhood, a dungeon, a forest. Each card is double-sided: when a place is reached, you can flip the card to see the secret of the location. The game design of this thing is incredible, seriously.
I will try to go through the process we used during our Session 0 playtest. Here is the Session 0 flowchart, it haven’t been edited yet and the layout is still crap, it will look way better!
I will probably add a note about using your favourite safety tools. With my group we don’t use them but it’s just because we know each other for 20+ years and we always talk after sessions, so I know already what topics I should avoid as a Commissioner. Even after 20 years, I keep my eyes peeled for red flags of discomfort, nobody wants that!
We were building Kybele remotely: 5 players, my camera fixed on the table.
Each player built a neighbourhood, by drawing 5 cards and positioning them in a grid-like fashion.
We were using normal cards and I was writing all relevant info on pieces of paper.
The playtest table looks like an awful mess, but it worked!
At the end of the session 0 all Players had a stake in the city: contacts and enemies, friendly organisations and evil corporations they wanted to bring down. One of them worked in a radio, another one was part of a rebel group that wanted to bring down the Cathodic Church, another one was being badly exploited by the Manican Bay corp, the local Amazon.shit. All these things were randomised but the Player got to decide their own agenda (Steven decided his character wanted to torch the Cathodic Church, another Player might want to join it and become a TV priest or something).
After few days, I took a new deck of cards and recreated the city. It’s my Killer Bees Deck by Ellusionist.
There’s a lot of info encoded in each card. We used casino fiches to highlight the transport system and some more stuff.
Blue fiches: Waterways
Red fiches: Monorail
Grey fiches: Underground. All Spades sectors are completely built upon and receive no sunlight. They are known as “the Dark”
Green fiches: Lifts to the Greens, the middle class city built on top of the Suburbs. (building the Greens require a similar process but use a different set of tables.
Each piece of paper contains the basic info of each Hood (once again, 5 cards=1 Hood, but of course you can make them bigger!).
The info are: Hood name, contacts (friends and foes), main transport hubs, notable building and gangs. Riot and Control clock levels. Yes, each Player keep track of the info relevant to the hood they built.
Let’s see the neighbourhood that Steven built,
The cards: Ace and 7 of Spades, 6 and 9 and 10 of Hearts.
He named it “Rondò della Forca’ (more or less translates into Gallows Roundabout).
Let’s check what these Sectors are! If using a standard poker deck, we open the Sprawlscaper engine on the SS manual.
The hood Rondò della Forca is composed by: The Hospital, the Breeding Pit, Lost Arcades, Ruinous Garden, and Night Market. It sits at the edge of the city, mostly underground (spades are “dark” sectors, connected by metro), Hearts sectors are not served by any public transport (the “Heart” terminal, the number 2, is a Cab terminal).
Let’s see the description of each Sector:
6 of Hearts: The Hospitals *(sector type: Complex)
Resounding corridors, empty wards squatted by unauthorised medics, deceased forgotten on stretchers. Low fee and zero help. A Union funded ward take care of workers and their family. Credits and contacts give the chance of a better treatment.
Ace of Spades: Breeding Pit (sector type: Plaza)
Obsolete Single Cell Protein facility once feeding the entirety of the district. A dark sphincter vomites conglomerates of proteins in spasms. Beggars and metal armadillos pester the area.
9 of Hearts: Lost Arcades (sector type: Mall) this one is being rewritten. The lost arcades are the old city, a once prosperous Sector now neglected. Vintage artifacts are being excavated from ancient underground facilities and sold in the arcades.
10 of Hearts: Ruinous Garden (sector type: Maze)
Once a small city wood for logging, now a hobo hideout reclaimed by nature. Thick canopy, home for the orphans and the luddites. Overgrown crumbling brick buildings, tree villages, dangerous fauna, pagan rites.
7 of Spades: Night Market (sector type: Market)
Part wet-market, part thieves’ market. Workers from the factories started coming in the area to sell quarries and nick-nacks after their shifts. The makeshift stalls quickly metastasized becoming a chaotic suk of epic proportions.
The MegaDeck are still work in progress but you can see some of the cards here. The toponimy notes on the cards are spark table material.
The Hood is done. What other information do we have? We can make each Sector even more unique by using the Sectors’ features on the table, or interrogating the d4 table on the edge of each MegaDeck card. A d4 can be left on the card to show at a glance what kind of additional features the Sectors have. Sectors’ Features are not fixed but they can change from one visit to the next.
While rolling for additional features for the Ruinous Garden , Steven got a “3”: A gang hideout!
We decided the Garden was a contested area for two warring gangs, so he proceeded to roll on the Gang table to see who they are: MARADONA MADONNAS vs MK ULTRAS.
The Hood is now building itself: a somehow forlorn area at the edge of the city, mostly unreachable by public Transport. It’s the Old Town: an Overgrown maze-like Garden contested by gangs, the Ancient Arcades, the obsolete Breeding Pit, the creepy Hospitals. The commercial heart of the hood is the Night Market, which can be reached by Metro, one stop away from the Breeding Pit.
RIOT AND CONTROL
Let’s check what the Riot and Repression levels are: Steven drew two cards: two Clubs, corresponding to 2 ticks of the Clock (6 o’clock). Not too bad, the situation is somehow stable, but it’s getting hot. Any spectacular action can tip the balance and accelerate towards chaos, or gentrification.
Once all Hood were created and named, Players proceed to create their character. We used the Network 23 character creation process. Mothership can also be used, in that case you need to decide if the PCs ship is docked at Point Disappointment on top of Kybele or if they’re starting their adventure here to venture for the stars (are they escaping from something? Where can they find a crew to get away from the Blue Planet?
Steven rolled a random character from N23 Rose of Thoughts, we flipped a card to decide if the char was native of Kybele or a migrant from the Concrete Jungle. Red card: migrant. So we interrogated the “Jungle” column.
6 Red. The corresponding thought is CLOCKWORK INSURRECTION. Here is the description from N23 manual:
Revolution is not a dinner party. Loose cannon of permanent riot and violent insurrection, you keep in motion stirring the anger of the oppressed. No compromises with the Moloch and the districts, their sock-puppets!
BOMBER: create explosives and timers out of household items. 1c10 damage, EXP 6. When trying to do it quickly, something might go wrong.
SOAP BOX: you can use Manipulation to gather and indoctrinate crowds willing to listen to you.
Then we get to randomly pick two Contacts from the NPC tables. The Suit identify the credit level. Hearts: infrared (illegal, outcasts), Diamonds: Red (workers, smalltimes), Clubs: Green (middle-class), Spades: Blue (super rich).
Steven’s contacts are Jonas Enoch (green) and Johannson.
Optician. Maniac Monogod believer. He stole a DNA scissor machine from the Citadels to create biblically accurate Cherubims (half-man half-animal). The device did not come with a user’s manual, he’s renting a body-mod parlour to experiment with it on unsuspecting customers.
Secret son of Jarry “the Face” Johannson, one of the most powerful politicians of Kybele. Conor severed ties with the family and he’s squandering the credits he managed to steal. Romanticize poverty but never gives a dime away. Always dreamt to be part of the action, frequents illegal races. He’s obviously being scammed by con-men. A private security firm is looking for him.
Steven chose that Enoch is an enemy and Conor is a friend.
GET A JOB
we rolled a random between the 6 employers in the manual. Guess what? Steven got the Red Gloves, the rebel faction. It very well fits his Clockwork Insurrection character. We decided he just crossed the Wall illegally and got some connection with the faction.
At this point, all the other Players had created the same thing: a Hood, a Character, contacts, connection with a faction/employer.
I let them decide where they want to stay. They decided for the Night Market: not too central, well connected, a good hiding place. The players decided they’re renting (they had enough money during the char creation).
We decided the accomodation at random by rolling on the d100 building table. 36: Cathodic Church.
So they’re sharing a flat in a boarding house on top of the Cathodic Church. The Church use this cheap housing to attract new people to the Church. Steven won’t have any of it, the Cathodic Church must burn, he said, that’s why his char is staying at the boarding house.
If you never heard of it, do yourself a favour and watch David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, it’s an incredible film.
So, here it is. More or less the Session 0 went like this, except that meanwhile Steven was creating his Hood, other 4 Players were creating theirs, so they became interconnected. I was scared that the Session 0 flow would’t work for an online session but it did end well eventually, we all had fun and towards the end everybody had a character with a very strong personal agenda in mind. There were already places which caught their attention and wanted to visit, they had personalities they disliked and friends to catch up with.
All in all, we had a very good time, spending a Session 0 doing Shared world-building is something special which already gives lot of ideas about what to do next. The characters will tell you what they want to do and who they’d like to interact with.
Can’t wait to start playing again!