I love John Harper's' indie gem Lady Blackbird with its steampunk setting and its lightweight mechanics. The implementation of Keys is better than the original from The Shadow of Yesterday in my opinion. If you don't know this game, go take a look now!
So, you like it? Can't get enough?
Good news. there is more: Always Never Now is the cyberpunk variant of John Harper's brainchild. It is written by Will Hindmarch. There was a crowdfunding project last year but now you can grab the game for free.
I love ANN just from reading it! I really dig the scenario and the characters. But for me, what really shines is the game master advice. Although tailored to ANN it's totally applicable to other games as well.
Let me give you a short overview of the principles:
1. Facilitate the Fiction
This is about providing the context and details for the game.
Trust but verify.
Building up the fiction is a collaborative act but you can help by moderating that process. Help players reconcile their details. You don’t have to be bossy, just evoke and confirm.
Ask questions; questions are great.
It’s okay to let the players into enemy points-of-view, too. Describe what an NPC sees or hears to highlight the surprising and incredible things PCs do.
3. Information and Choices
Gameplay is a series of choices. Easy choices, hard choices—both are fine. Confusion is poison. Boredom corrodes. Hunting for choices to make isn’t what this kind of play is about. Describe the situation, bring the choices to life with fictional detail and clear (if sometimes implied) consequences, and then let the players decide.
4. Running the Game
When you’re the GM, it’s your job to keep everyone at the table clear on the action that’s unfolding. It’s your job to draw out interesting details and obstacles so that successes are always rewarding and setbacks are always exciting. It’s your job to avoid those cardinal sins of storytelling: boredom and confusion.
5. Finding the Obstacles
What is this scene about? This paragraph is about What's at stake? (to paraphrase Vincent D. Baker).
So what’s an obstacle? When in doubt, an obstacle represents any attempt to take out an opponent or to avoid or overcome a Condition. (A Condition is a gameplay mechanic in Always Never Now but I think you can get the gist.)
6. Calling For Rolls
This one is very important:
Don’t call for rolls just because you haven’t had any in a while, call for them because you want to know if a Condition applies, if a foe is taken out, or if things otherwise escalate in the scene. Rolls represent risk, so always ask yourself before you call for a roll: What’s the risk?
Escalation is a very handy tool in your GM's arsenal.
Escalation is about making the threats and excitement feel serious. It’s about turning the disappointment in a failed roll into a dare to overcome this new challenge. It’s also about pacing. Escalate too much, too fast, and you trap the PCs in a holding pattern where they’re just waiting to roll 5 hits so they can get outof there.
Some tips Will Hindmarch gives:
- Escalate the fiction
- Raise the difficulty
- Add enemies
- Apply a Condition
The last one is ANN-specific but can be used in other games, too. Think of Mouseguard or Fate.
For some of you the principles might sound familiar. I was reminded of the game mastering section of Apocalypse World. Some recent games take some inspiration from it (Spark RPG, I look at you!). That's not a bad thing because AW has sound advice and you can apply many ideas to other games.
So, please take a look at Always Never Now. It's free and I cannot recommend it enough. And one can't have enough cyperpunk games anyway.
Always Never Now