Sunday, May 26, 2019

Electric Sheep

Electric Sheep is a fantasy cyberpunk hack based on the extremely influential Lady Blackbird game but it's a bit of a strange Frankenstein of other games.

Unlike Lady Blackbird the game doesn't strongly define a situation or a clear relationship setup between the characters. Even more strangely it doesn't really describe the character very much at all. It's clearly intended to be a much blanker canvas than Lady Blackbird.

The basic system is the same, you build pools of dice (d6) based on the traits on your character sheet that are relevant to what you are trying to do. Rolls of 4 to 6 are a success and the GM decides how many successes are required to achieve the character's outcome.

Failing a roll either allows the GM to escalate the situation or the GM can give a character a Condition (this part of the game is drawn directly from Masks) which can only be cleared by taking a specified action in a downtime scene.

The pool refresh scenes were something I really liked in Lady Blackbird and I feel their replacement here with the more prescriptive cues from the Conditions is inferior.

Recovery scenes allowed people to explore the relationships between the characters but with conditions you now have to be looking to hit a particular beat within the scene, such as hurting the other person in the scene which doesn't sound like much fun for the person on the other side.

What does work better than the original though is the stronger game structure which is based around the idea of missions. Lady Blackbird starts strong but then tends to lack the conclusion that a good one-shot needs.

Here the missions allow you to control when to end the game and the experience system allows some kind of evolution of the character in a small amount of real-time but a potentially longer span of time than the manic 48 hours of Lady Blackbird.

Each mission is made up of steps that have associated dice pool difficulties. The players know the sizes of the each of the pools but the GM assigns the pools to the challenges.

The game provides some standard missions such as infiltration, ambush and net run but it feels like the GM is meant to come up with a mission and it attendant stages more on the fly. It feels like the good parts of Shadowrun Anarchy with a kind of clear act structure.

Presumably the magic starts to flow when the GM can chain together these missions to give a narrative arc to the campaign or one-shot.

Electric Sheep is a Frankenstein's monster, but one of great taste, it borrows liberally from many excellent sources but the assemblage is the less than the sum of its parts. I'll want to play it before I pass my final judgement but I suspect that I'll want to hack it more than play it straight.