So Kit keeps pestering me to write, and since tonight was particularly productive for developing Piece of Work, I thought I should write about that. Also, I’m in a writing sprint with the indefatigable Nora Last, so apologies if this ends up rushed. It’s for a good cause.

Tonight we settled out how motives work, figured out how to do gear and money, and fleshed out how cyberization and longevity research play into the work economy. We’ve come a long, long way with Piece of Work, and I’m really fortunate to be working with two brilliant designers. What started out as the “most trad game Transneptune will ever write” has become a thing of indie sensibilities after all.

To make sure everyone’s up to speed, Piece of Work is an RPG we started nearly at the beginning of the year. It’s cybernoir—in the same vein as Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell or Alphaville or Automata. You play unemployed people in a future society where citizenship is predicated on employment, forced into crime to survive. It has seen excessive, sweeping revisions since its inception.

The die mechanic for the system is one I find particularly compelling. Roll three dice, take the best two, add your skill. It leads to a very distinctive right-shifted bell curve. We mix it up by having each of the three dice represent something specific—there’s the gear die, the relationship die, and the motive die. These dice can be of varying sizes from d4 to d12, so each time you roll you ask yourself three really compelling questions:

  1. How am I going to do this thing?
  2. Who does this matter to?
  3. Why am I doing it?

Having a mechanical incentive to ask these questions is just the sort of mind-control we want.

Originally we had no die for relationships. Instead, we had separated out gear from cyberware. But our playtests hammered in the realization that cybernoir is not equitably balanced between cyberpunk and noir conceits.  In most cases, you want 9-parts noir, 1-part cyber. So we reworked it to emphasize more noir elements, like who you’re trying to do each thing for.

Another lump fixed recently—an exceedingly trad skill system (Stealth, Melee, Con, etc…) was tossed out in favor of professions (Bartender, Doctor, Mechanic). This allows people the interpretive authority to stretch skills to cover the situations they’re in while continuing to bring people back to the theme of the game: your work.

And rather than track money in the game, we’ve decided tonight to make acquiring new stuff based on your former profession, eliminating any tracked notion of money. Because money shouldn’t be the point of your actions—and when you roll to get a new thing, you end up asking those same three questions: how am I going about this, who do I talk to, and why?

There are so many other parts of the game that have changed since they were first conceived that I think we’ve replaced everything with something that fits in the same spot at least once and added a few things besides. It has produced a decidedly better, leaner, more interesting game, but I find the imagery of cyberizing the game itself to be appropriate. I’m really excited to knock out our next playtest and see how this latest round of edits has shaped the play experience.

  • Personally, I think using motivation and relationships as part of a core mechanic is a very clever idea and more people should try it. 🙂

  • Personally, I think using motivation and relationships as part of a core mechanic is a very clever idea and more people should try it. 🙂

    • Right! We owe a very explicit and real debt to Smallville. Thanks again for it.

      There are some important differences in what we’re trying to model with this, though: one is that rather than an almost-incestuous small-town social web, we want the sort of world where you know someone in every part of the city, and can, readily, say “I know a guy”. Two is that the motivations are hierarchical, based on what makes sense for our conception of cybernoir as a genre and the particular themes of the game. Notably, “for the money” is the d4 motivation. It’s a bit like Maslow.