I keep mentioning on twitter and other places this thing called a TransMission I’m working on for my new game. I figure I should talk a little bit about it so people know what the hell I’m talking about.

First off, the game is a hardboiled near-future RPG called Technoir. You play characters embedded in a criminal underworld who use high-tech cyber implants and other gear to exploit opportunities to try to get out of it.

A TransMission is a GM tool. It’s a short booklet of game content that is designed for GMs like me. That is, GMs who don’t like to prep, who like to improvise their adventures at the table, but often get stuck with blank page syndrome when it comes time to do so.

More specifically it’s a list of plot nodes. Plot nodes here are connections (NPC contacts), interests (NPC Macguffins), threats (NPC badguys), factions, events, locations, and objects. It has stat blocks for everything that needs stats for easy reference during play. On the back page, it has a big master table the GM can use to roll up a random plot node at any time.

None of the nodes really do anything by themselves. A prototype cyberlung is just a prototype cyberlung after all. But once you link one node to another node, say that cyberlung to the Daedalus Innovation megacorp, then it starts to make a plot. Maybe Daedalus is trying the steal the designs for the cyberlung? Maybe they’re the rightful owners of it and they’re trying to get their stolen prototype back. The nodes are pre-packaged, but it’s the GMs job to define the relationship between each node.

Player characters start knowing three of the connections in the city they start play in. Each connection has its own random table that points to a subset of the nodes in the TransMission. This allows players to lean on their connections for information. When they do so, they roll a die and new plot node is generated. At which point the player character gets some information from the connection, and the GM adds the node to the overall plot map.

Each TransMission is localized around a particular city. So there will be a TransMission for Mexico City and one for Singapore and one for New York for example. The characters can hop around from city to city, generating new plot nodes in each one, and a much more global conspiracy will be generated as a result.

There will be some tweaking as the design continues through the playtesting phase, but I’m already stoked about how fast and effortlessly this creates the webs of conspiracy you find in noir films and hardboiled novels.

And I should mention that yes, TransMissions are a total ripoff of Fiasco playsets. Mechanically they’re a different approach, but I was totally inspired by how Fiasco’s random elements inspire story and the model of easily digestible downloadable booklets that expand the game’s playability.

  1. More things should rip off of Fiasco. \m/

    - Ryan

  2. This is an excellent idea. It’s exactly what I’ve been needing to run a very player-driven plot that often means I can’t prep and must do most everything off the cuff.

    I can see making up a few key TransMissions in prep time, brainstorming a bunch of nodes that I don’t have to even know what they are, and then let the play determine what new nodes to develop as the story moves. It reminds me of Chris Perkins’ article I don’t know what it means, but I like it where he promotes adding story elements that seem cool even if you don’t yet know what they ultimately mean to the story.

    I can see an amazing fan-made database of hundres of diverse Transmissions and plot nodes that would make running this game a breeze, and each story would be emergent and fascinatingly unique, even with a relatively small set of plot nodes.

  3. Presenting Background part 2 « Steampower Publishing - pingback on April 29, 2011 at 6:43 am

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