So we played our second session of TRON this past game night. At first I thought Tron would just end up being a one-shot game, but so far it looks like it has some staying power beyond just the light-cycle boardgame and some disc combat. And because of this I had to really stop messing around and create a whole system for running a game in the Tron city of Port1024.
So I figured I'd talk about some of the processes I went through as I've been creating the game.
Tron is a cool world based on what 1982 adults thought video games were about on the inside of the computer. Nowadays video games are ubiquitous, and there are current editions of rpgs that are both trumpeted as and reviled as 'being like a video game.' (*cough* 4e *cough*) So I was a little nebulous about starting/running a Tron rpg at first, because I felt like any mystery video games/computers had for people are long gone, and nostalgia would be the only thing that made the setting fun.
That is, until I picked up this book while persuing the selection at Pegasus Games.
That's right, HP Lovecrafts Dreamlands. An rpg supplement for Call of Cthulhu, that talks about running a CoC game in the world that only exists in most incomprehensible stories that Lovecraft ever wrote, like Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath. While Lovecraft's dreamlands stories were pretty much my least-favorite ones of his to read (Cats of Ulthar jumping to the moon and back? Lovecraft had a wierd fascination with cats), the setting evokes a mystery that I realized is exactly what I wanted to impart to anyone who got "rezzed" into the grid. I mean, when Sark mentions the Sea of Simulation, what the heck is across the Sea of Simulation? Or what do those green grid spiders do that roam the rocky landscape around the port cities of Tron that we see for like three seconds in the movie. So while this book didn't give me any specific mechanics I could use, just reading it got me into the proper creative mindset where I could envision a dream-like Tron world that is worthy of exploring and not just a fluorescent key-hunt through a giant death star.
The second supplement I utilized to actually get mechanics and tables I could use to run a game in the huge mega-city of Port1024 was the Vornheim pdf written by the guy who writes the excellent playingdndwithpornstars blog. This thing is full of good advice for how to run a city without actually mapping out the entire thing beforehand, and being able to build it as the players explore and shape it. It was right up my alley for player-inspired set building. Admittedly its for your basic fantasy type city, but since I could make whatever I wanted for Tron, and I already decided it wouldn't be traditional space marine/sci-fi style game, it works fine for me.
So how do you find mechanics for a TRON rpg that is familiar enough to grasp quickly and yet unusual enough to maintain interest? Easy, first thing you do is steal most of a system with already-functioning mechanics! And its got to have the classes everyone already knows and loves (Fighter, Cleric, Dwarf, etc.), just so we can get right to gaming without a lot of background exposition.
Specifically, Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) seems to be a familiar-enough system to pick up right away and simple enough to not need everyone to read eighteen pages of Feats during character creation/leveling. But what about the User? Any good Tron game needs a User to shake things up. So how did I pick which class was the User? Again, simple! There's already a class called "Magic-User!" Its got User right in there, so...done! The only changes I decided to make to the User was that Users bleed in the Tron-verse, while Programs de-rez (per Sam's fight with Rinzler in Tron Legacy). What does that mean for the game? Well, I figured therefore Users fall unconscious at 0 hp and die at -10, instead of just derezzing (death) at 0 hps like Programs. That would give the already frail (magic-)Users as slight edge in a setting that otherwise has death/derezzing around every corner, especially at level 1.
But a lot about making a Tron game is the set-dressing. Oh, and the puns! Everything had to be renamed to be computer-ized. No matter how ridiculous and tenuous the link to actual computer terminology, I renamed it. "Spells" became "Rewrites," "Clerics" became "Designer Programs", "Heal" became "Patch," "Dwarves" became "Hash Programs" (highly resistant to change and...uh, they often use axes to cut passwords up....I guess?...), and so on. A long-distance sniper rifle type of subroutine/weapon of course had to be called the "Long-range Optical Laser." The players actually got into it (I have a lot of computer-savvy players) and would name stuff themselves as they came across them, saving me brain power in some cases. Especially with the player playing the Mac Program (Designer/cleric), since I'm not overly-familiar with mac programs (but wanted all clerics to be exotic and unusual lost programs on the PC-based system they are inhabiting).
My biggest change though was with the equipment/treasure system. I decided I couldn't call gold pieces "resource units" or something lame like that, I needed something that evoked what individual programs would actually care about while running around an extremely deadly game grid. I also took a lesson from the excellent and underappreciated Tron 2.0 video game (circa 2003) and decided that I would replace "equipment" with "subroutines" that the players would "install." It was only a short leap from there to make money into "memory" and have the characters spend "kilobytes" to install subroutines into their systems.
Wes left some gold tokens he used for a Deadwood game he ran a while back at my house, so I decided to use those to represent kilobytes, and each time they de-rezzed a program there'd be a random 'core dump' of memory, and they could run over and pick it up. At that point they could either keep the 'code intact' and take the (randomly-rolled) subroutine it represents, or roll a d4 (or sometimes d6) to deconstruct the subroutine and take the raw memory, that they could 'spend' later at data access ports they came across (represented here by superballs glued to bases because I'm a modeling genius).
I then made a list of various categories of subroutines and memory costs to use through the games. When they got to a data access port they'd randomly roll to see what category of subroutines they could access. So far they've only seen the "Alpha" (cheapest/weakest) subroutines, but as they adventure they'll be encountering "Beta" and even the powerful "Gold" subroutines.
To represent resource management (and again, taking a clue from Tron 2.0), on each of the players "Identity Discs" (little frisbees with a sheet glued on the inside) I put 5 "slots" they could install their subroutines in. Most utility and combat subroutines must be installed to the identity disc, with the exceptions being defensive subroutines (install straight to the program, and cause various sections of their jumpsuit to light up), and weapon subroutines (counting as basically a two-handed weapon that they have to carry). So far they haven't had a problem with subroutine install space (mostly because I'm a miserly DM..er... MCP?), but in the future some of the bigger/more powerful subroutines will not only cost a lot of memory (Kbs) to install, but will also fill more than one disc slot.
As for the actual game session, it went something like this: After round 2 of the grid battles from the last episode, there was a titanic explosion outside of the NetBios building they were imprisoned in, causing the simulated game grid to crack and a portion of the wall-code to fall and form a bridge to an escape route. At the same time the entrance port opened and they could see guard programs rushing about. They decided to run through the escape route rather than go back to the guard programs and probable re-imprisonment. After traveling through the bios 'tubes, they came across some heavily armored ICPs (Intrusion Countermeasure Programs) dealing with a cracked DAP (Data Access Port). Deciding these guys were too dangerous to talk to, and knowing they were Programs already slotted for deletion, they snuck up on the ICPs and the Webcrawler (Thief) program used his Sequencer subroutine (2 discs instead of 1 when attacking) to derezz an ICP before they could respond. The rest of Programs and User then rushed in to help, while the Designer program used another DAP to trade memory and re-enable her Rewrite access for that day, using a patch rewrite to heal herself. The uninstalled and underappreciated Antivirus program ("Sgt. McAfee") easily mopped up another ICP with an acrobatic melee disc somersault-attack.
Eventually they came to a balcony overlooking the entrance port and saw some ICPs fighting off large green alien-looking programs that were trying to make their way into the central tower. After debating about what to do, and watching the ICPs get derezzed and then immediately re-rezzed into more virus programs, they lept down from the balcony (some characters more easily than others with their Y-Amp/double-jump subroutines) and took the battle to the viruses before more ICPs could be turned.
Here's where things got dicey. I created the virus programs per the suggestions in LotFP guidebook, which I now realize is a really deadly game. I mean, I knew that, but these guys were wily. They weren't strong or accurate, and their hps were totally random, but the main power they had was your basic ghoul/zombie-power, meaning when they derezzed a program it turned into a virus. That's not too uncommon, except it happens instantly with these guys, which can quickly turn the tables on players with a little bad luck. In one case the Webcrawler program was using full parry with his two discs to draw the viruses to him so others could escape, thinking he was safe with his bonus AC. Then Wes made the ultimate gamer mistake, he said "You'd have to roll a 20 to hit me."
Once his Program re-rezzed into a virus (which he had full control over), he and I now both controlled viruses that attacked the rest of the players. Ken's very new Hash program went down next, and now it was me, Wes and Ken against the User, Antivirus program and the Designer program. Wes's power-ed up virus went after the User and cut him down to -3 hps, which would de-rez a program, but instead he bled all over the place, verifying to everyone that he was, in fact, a User.
With this revelation, the Antivirus program scooped up the User and using his Y-Amp subroutine lept down into the elevator shaft in the middle of the room, and with a lucky Dex roll landed safely in a basement level of the NetBios tower, and escaped into the Undernet of Port1024. The Designer program, also installed with double-jump subroutine, followed. They followed the old Prodigy subway tunnels back into the network proper, and decided to hide out, toast their lost fellow Programs, and decide their next move at a major Port1024 hotspot:
The Progress Bar.
Of course, they had to wait to get in. ;)