Jeremy’s Guide to Writing Transmissions

So a lot of people have been talking on twitter, forums, and blogs about writing their own transmissions for Technoir. This is amazing. This is exactly what I was hoping for. I want to help you as much as I can to do this. …and do this well. …so you will do it more. So I decided to write a brief guide explaining my process as I’ve written the Twin Cities and Los Angeles transmissions.

Exposition

Write three paragraphs about your city. One is about its unique take on technology, one is about the environment in the region, and the third is about its society—especially given the influences of technology and environment. Think of what themes you want to address with your transmission and talk about them here. This is the most wordy you get to be in the entire document, so enjoy that freedom while you can.

The Nodes

You’re going to come up with 36 nodes. Six connections, six events, six factions, six locations, six objects, and six threats. Each one is going to have a short, one-line description. Don’t write so much that you explain what the node is—write just enough that the GM reading is inspired to define what the node is herself as she connects it to other nodes on her plot map.

Connections

Come up with six connections. It helps if they’re part of the criminal underworld in some sense, because that’s what ties the protagonists into the seedy underbelly of the city. They should be characters who you can imagine as both best friends and bitter enemies with the protagonists depending on the context. They could very well start as one and quickly become the next.

Connections stats

Connections are made to be on par with new protagonists or one step better. You can distribute 18 points among their nine verbs with three adjectives or your can distribute 21 verbs and four adjectives if they should be a bit more powerful. Pawn shop owners, drug dealers, and scientists should probably be on par. Crime bosses and deadly assassins should probably be more powerful. Assign whatever objects seem to be appropriate. There isn’t a lot of space here to list out the object stats, I figure the GM can pop open a player’s guide for that and pick whichever upgrades seem appropriate at the time.

Favors should be assigned to fit the connection’s character concept. There isn’t any formula to who gets what favors or how many. I would make sure that shark and splice are represented at least once. You don’t have to have all the favors in your transmission. Twin Cities doesn’t have chop. It helps create a meaningful difference between the transmissions. Want chop? Better head to L.A. or Detroit.

You’re going to want to wait til your done creating all your nodes before you make the connections’ lead tables.

Events

Come up with six events. This one is the hardest section for me usually. Look at other transmissions for ideas. But try think of things that could only happen in your city as well. Crazy weather is good too as it makes a cover for other nefarious deeds. Keep them open so they can be things that have occurred, are occurring, or threaten to occur in the plot. Keep them open enough that many of your connections, factions, and threats can be responsible for them.

Factions

Come up with six factions. Here’s where you’re really going to nail down the theme of your city. Twin Cities is about cybernetics, so there’s two corporations here that are big on that. Here are the big categories I think of when I’m trying to come up with factions: corrupt government, heartless corporations, political activists, fringe religious groups, large gangs, organized crime, and secret societies.

Locations

Come up with six locations. Try to think of the most cyberpunk places in your city. These are set pieces for cool scenes to play out. What architecture in your city sets it apart and how can you represent that as a location? My favorite location in the Twin Cities is the skyways. They seem futuristic (even though they’ve been around as long as I can remember), and they’re awesome for chases and urban labyrinths. There are actually probably a lot more than six locations in your city that you want to talk about. So you can hide other locations in the other nodes by mentioning, in their descriptions, where the connections hang out, where a faction meets, or where an event takes place.

Objects

Come up with six objects. These are your classic MacGuffins! The things everyone in the story wants to get their hands on. Prototype tech, money, drugs, scary-ass weapons, doomsday devices, statues of birds. Some can be cool weapons, implants, vehicles, or other gear that are usable by the protagonists. These can be a cool way to add new technology into the setting. Twin Cities has a full cyberbody.

Object stats

Just come up with the capabilities of your object and codify those as tags. Use the tags of the existing objects catalog as a guide. Add some cool story tags like stolen or fingerprints or tracking device.

Threats

Come up with six threats. These are teams of people that are designed to fight protagonists. Each one should have at least two heavies and anywhere from zero to four henchmen. Envision your favorite cyberpunk and hardboiled scenarios in your head and think of who the heroes would be fighting. Those are your threats. Security forces, teams of assassins, military units, gangs, and so forth.

Threat stats

Make sure each threat has a name. Heavies should be made with 21 points distributed between the verbs and four adjectives (one step better than the protagonists). Henchmen are made with 18 points among their verbs and one adjective. Write a list of objects, fully statted out, that cover everything they have together. Then you can just name which of those objects each individual has in their own section. Just come up with whatever objects are appropriate for that group. You can even make up custom objects that aren’t in the object catalog or anywhere else (but try not to go to that well too often).

The Master Table

The master table is pretty easy to come up with. It’s just all of your nodes listed out in order. Each row is one category with the nodes listed across the columns alphabetically. There’s an equal chance of rolling any node, so the position doesn’t really matter as long as you list each node once.

The Connection Lead Tables

These tables are a bit harder to do. You’ll want to open an extra copy of your transmission so far so you can scroll through one copy while editing the tables on the other. Each node should be represented twice among all the lead tables. I try to make sure that a node is in the un-connected column of one table and the connected column of another table—that’s just something I shoot for, it’s not absolutely necessary. If you look at the existing transmissions, you will notice that each row of the table is a particular category.

Other than those guidelines, I just try to think of what nodes in the city that connection is most likely to know about and fill the table with that.

Credits

Make sure you go back to the beginning of your document and give yourself credit as the author of the transmission. I’m planning on releasing the transmissions under a creative commons attribution license at some point, so according to those requirements, make sure to credit any transmission authors you borrowed stuff from. Make for damn sure you credit anyone who helps you playtest the transmission.

I hope this helps you as you embark on creating your own transmissions. If you have any questions, please post them here so others with the same question can learn as well. And as you get some practice with this and come up with some tips and advice of your own, I’d love it if you would share.

And I want to see your transmissions too! Let me know if you post them on your blog or to forums. And feel free to email them to me. I’d be happy to look them over and help you out with any issues.

Leave a comment ?

13 Comments.

  1. A couple of other notes:

    1) It’s pretty hard to come up with all 36 nodes at one sitting. I usually come up with 3-5 in each category, then let it sit for a couple of days, and then come back and fill in the remaining slots.

    2) Name your connections ambiguously. The more gender-neutral their names are, the easier it is for the players and GM to pick their gender as they come up in play. This helps the connection fit whatever sexual/gender preferences the protagonists have if you want to start some romantic tension.

  2. Next week I’m actually going to be trying my hand at making a Transmission. Thanks for the advice and words of wisdom!

    -EF

  3. It’s funny you say that Events are hard. I found that part easy — once I knew the setting, I knew the horrible ways I could make my setting troublesome, but what things would be important to people — especially in a virtual world — were tough.

    Which goes to show how differently wired we all are.

    - Ryan

  4. Thanks for this! I am working through ideas for Seoul (my home for more than a decade now) in all its imbalanced progress; pitting clay-brick squalor against tech so sharp it makes the Edge bleed.

  5. I really Dig the Transmissions. The Mix of background information and adventure generator is almost brilliant. Heck, the format would be a great asset for pretty much any RPG Out there.

  6. addendum: Maybe this guide should go into the basic ruleset too?

  7. Chris Clouser

    Jeremy, thanks for this. I used it (and your sample transmissions) to generate a transmission for the Philly area – I used to live near there, and figured, what the heck – let’s give it a try. I posted it over at RPGNet in this thread, and it’s directly available here.

    Looking forward to actually getting a chance to test this game out!

  8. There is a ton of good stuff in there, Chris. Awesome job. I can’t wait to give it a try.

  9. What are your thoughts on multiple or alternate transmissions for the same city/area? I have some ideas for a Twin Cities one that takes it in a different direction, but of course there is already one out there for it.

  10. There’s always room for more stuff in the same area! I see it just like adding a transmission from another city. Nothing wrong with staying “at home” and just adding more and more stuff!

    Besides, diversity is good!

  11. I think it’s a great idea. Obviously there are more than 6 connections, locations, events, ect. that can happen in any city. The tricky thing will be making clear that it’s a different facet of the same city or an alternate reality to that city.

  12. Lady Blackbird and Implied Setting :: RyanMacklin.com - pingback on August 16, 2011 at 11:20 am

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