For anyone who ever dreamed of hacking a megacorp, then jumping from a space cruisers overhead with guns blazing just for sheer effect, opportunity may have finally arrived.
Always/Never/Now is a tabletop, cyberpunk RPG that uses a branching scene system to keep the action alive. Freelance writer Will Hindmarch, said he and a group of friends came up with the game back in the 90s, and created an entourage of antiheroes to live out the adventures.
“The game was originally set in a more dystopian place, with the Earth all but trashed and the hyper-rich dwelling on space stations overhead,” Hindmarch said via e-mail.
Yet this changed as things moved forward, yet they soon found Earth was a more interesting place than far-off space stations for high-stakes action and one-liner-filled stylish stunts. Hindmarch said, at the time, “I was steeping myself in Bond movies, early Gibson novels, and the films of Quentin Tarantino, John Woo, and Robert Rodriguez and so on. Being who we were, our play was highly cinematic.”
“I hacked a rules system I loved at the time into something that was all about leaping from speeding vehicles and martial-arts battles against cybernetic samurai,” he said.
Thing really hit a new level, however, when Hindmarch came across Lady Blackbird. He said “something about its descriptive action just spoke to me. I knew it would be a good fit for this kind of action.”
They created set playable characters, complete with histories and that represented “the wittiest, most cunning parts of ourselves … These characters combine their action-hero capabilities with a bit of weathered humanity. I find that compelling, personally, so I hoped others might share my interest.”
“I also thought that playing characters with an implied history—characters with pasts, who had grown up a bit—would be a fun starting point for players new to these characters, too,” Hindmarch said. “It can be fun to start off with an implied but unwritten relationship, making up references and allusions during play.”
To help keep the action going, Always/Never/Now is based on scenes that work like building blocks. These give it a branching story where the player’s decisions can lead to action sequences, or to other routes—the player can decide whether the adventures are quick, or almost non-stop.
“This makes it easy to take the components of the adventure—the action scenes and the secrets revealed and all that—and deploy it in reaction to a freeform play style where the players can meander and explore a bit more,” Hindmarch said. “The scenes imply a lot of the larger world and the GM is welcome to extrapolate from them, to use the action sequence I set in Mumbai as a set piece in Denver (or wherever), if she so chooses.”
The benefit is dynamism, he said. “The core adventure is pretty well structured but the scenes come apart easily for GMs who either want to play the story differently, surprise their players, or even make a sequel out of the scenes they didn’t play the first time through.”
Hindmarch will be releasing Always/Never/Now for free. This came after a highly-successful campaign through Kickstarter, where he raised funds for the release.
This decision came about for a couple of reasons, the first being reach. “I wanted the maximum number of people to be able to play this and let me know what worked about it for them and what didn’t. I wanted this to be in front of a big audience,” he said.
The other point was that Lady Blackbird is free, and “I thought it was a good idea to follow in its footsteps, even if I was adding a whole lot of additional material to my project,” he said.
He referred to the game as “a valentine to my players and to Lady Blackbird, and I wasn’t sure people would want to pay for that, honestly.”
But he also wanted to see what the reach could be if he made it free. “I’m curious to see where it might end up and who might read or play it,” he said. “Lowering the barrier to entry means it’s likely to take a longer, more exciting trip and I’m likely to get intriguing data on how far it roams.”
[box_light]Photo, “Maze In City of Night,” by Flickr user Toshihiro Oimatsu[/box_light]