“So, we’re out, huh? I mean we’re out: this is retirement money. This is ‘go legit and buy an island’ money.”
-Hardison, Leverage, “The Nigerian Job”
One of the things I find Shadowrun and other cyberpunk “let’s be criminals” roleplaying games do poorly is the whole money thing. Shadowrun never gave good examples of what one would expect to get from a criminal gig, and they’ve got a whole economy built in the game, down to the cost of a combat knife. Yet in play, the protagonists seem to live paycheck to paycheck. There’s no real incentive to do criminal work when the same amount of income (or more) could come in from a safer job elsewhere.
The Sprawl abstracts this with a concept of Cred, which is money and reputation. You stake some of your Cred on the job, which goes away, but could come back plus more once the job is completed. This makes sense as a measure of reputation, but Cred is also tied to money, which just doesn’t work in my brain, as I discussed a few months ago. That’s the big thing about Cred that sits poorly with me: you spend Cred on your reputation at the beginning of the mission, then spend Cred in mission just to keep your gear up to professional-criminal level specifications, and at the end of a successful mission your Cred might actually decrease. Retiring from the life, going legit, and buying that island seems nearly impossible.
If the main thing about Cred that bothers me is having Reputation and Money combined, what happens if we separate them?
Let’s say that Reputation is what you stake on the job. It’s your standing in the shadows, how important you are in the criminal community. We’ll look into this in a bit, but for now we’ll look at Money and how I’d start changing things around.
The first thing we’ll do with Money is say that you always get paid enough to scrape by. It’s the gig that keeps you in the biz, keeps you sharp. The pay you get from the gig pays for the food, the ammo, the rent, the trid unit, the power, the cyberspace access fees, all that stuff that just keeps you going. It’s not enough for us to really care about.
What we do care about is a status track for Money. We’ll call it the $ track. Once you fill the $ track, you can take the major advancement Retire to Safety. We’re splitting the box into two sections, available funds and banked cash. The track begins with three boxes that are solid squares — you can spend these $ on mission. The rest of the track are in shaded boxes, representing $ that’s stashed away in a digital vault up on Zurich Orbital. You can’t access these stashed resources.1 When adding $ to this track, always fill from left to right.
You’re going to start with some of this track filled in. You’ll also add to this track by selecting either The Job Pays Well from the Get the Job move and/or You Are Paid In Full from the Getting Paid move. Selecting either of these gets you +$ to add to your $ track, selecting both gets you +2$. You don’t select either option? You don’t get to increase your $ track.
$ that can be spent on a mission can be used to fix broken stuff, replace missing limbs with metal and wire, or be used as [gear] spends during a mission. We’re limiting this to reflect the game genre of having enough to get gear, but also being able to eventually buy one’s way out of the biz.2
Limiting our criminals to 3$ for available funds requires minor changes the fair prices (page 128) in the game. We’ll still keep the 1-Cred and 2-Cred levels at 1$ and 2$. We move the 4-Cred things — stuff that would normally wipe out a character’s available funds — down to 3$, which would. 4$ buys you the 8-Cred list items, but that means you’ll have to pool together $ to make the buy. If It’ll Cost You Extra, we raise the price by 1$.
All playbooks begin with 3$ instead of 5 Cred with this cash-on-hand limit and reduction in cost. Because we don’t stake Money on a mission now, I’m okay with starting $ at that level.
Overall, this seems like it will work.
So, let’s see what else impacts Cred.
There’s a Hustling move for the Fixer3 and two of the options for that move add 1 Cred for completing. Both options (Deliveries and Brokering Deals) could have cash payoffs, so let’s just say either one grants +$. Because this is one of the few non-mission ways to gain money, perhaps the Fixer has four available funds boxes on the $ track instead of three.
Also in the Soldier’s playbook, they have an Exit Strategy move. Selecting that when everything goes to hell means you leave something behind, but you can still complete a mission objective, get the entire team out fine, get out clean, or keep “your staked Cred”. That last thing is really reputation.
Oh, while we’re on this playbook’s move, here’s something interesting I found out about the Reputation side of Cred in The Sprawl: There’s very little in the game that deals with Cred as reputation from a game mechanic standpoint. It’s basically staking Cred and one other move (Lie Low). My first instinct would be to treat any Reputation element as a tag. However, I don’t think it’s fair to give a Soldier character (and only a Soldier character) a move that triggers a tag like +unprofessional or +disreputable.
Maybe instead, that last option is the Soldier can choose to increase a relevant Corporate Clock?4
The last playbook-specific thing is the Tech’s Expert Breadboarder move. (This actually isn’t in the playbook, but in the Maintaining Cyberdecks section on page 137.) If someone has that move, they can spend a few hours and 1 Cred to restore a cyberdeck to almost the ratings it had at the start of the last mission. Spend 1 Cred more to fully get it shiny as new. While I was thinking of just doing a 1$ spend to get the cyberdeck up to speed, but applying +patched-up to it if you don’t have Breadboarder, requiring non-experts to spend 1$ more to remove the tag…That just seems overly convoluted and more expensive than fixing anything else in the game. Instead, let’s just let cyberdecks get repaired like everything else and Breadboarder just behave like it does in the playbook.
So we only have the two major advances that deal with Cred.
Rewind a Corporate Clock to 1800 hours and Retire to Safety both require a massive expenditure of Cred. These aren’t really reputation-based. One is a bit of a bribe, the other is a direct payment of cash. We already talked about Retire to Safety by maxing out your $ track. Rewind a Corporate Clock is an expense that you can tap into your banked $. With a 15$ track, I’d say 7$ has to be spent, and it’s all got to come out of your hidden bank account. 8$ if you’re doing a mix of cash on hand plus banked, maybe.
The only thing in the game, aside from staking your Cred on the outcome of a mission, that deals with reputation is the Lie Low move (page 219)…although it also has to do with money.
Your Lie Low action requires you to hide in the shadows for a time, long enough for people to start forgetting about you. But we can just rewrite this to say that when you’re out of the biz, you’ve got no income and have to start burning your savings. With our scaling fair prices down and our staring Cred dropping to 3, this move should cost 3$. That might have to come out of cash on hand and the “I’m gonna buy an island” fund. And if all of our crew doesn’t have 3$, the ones that don’t have it all have to spend all their $ (0, 1, or 2), and then choose enough condition tags to make up the difference.
Lie Low: When everyone goes to ground until the heat dies down, each character pays 3$ or all their $, whichever is lower. Lower all Corporate Clocks by 1. If a character cannot pay 3$ , they choose one option from the following list for each $ they were not able to pay.
- Someone gave you sanctuary. You are now +owned. Choose who owns you.
- Someone loaned you cash. You are now +indebted. The first $ earned goes to removing that tag. Choose who you owe.
- You couldn’t shake everyone. The MC chooses one Corporate Clock. That Corporate Clock is not lowered by 1.
- One of your contacts was roughed up when trouble came looking for you. The next time you Hit the Street, even if you roll a 10+, the MC will choose an item from the 7-9 list. If you rolled a 7-9, the MC’s choice is made before you make your two selections.
And that’s pretty much it. Cred is now $, we don’t deal with reputation as a thing that needs game mechanics. We watch Cred using a $ track with a limited amount of available funds, reflecting how I see the current method of Cred works. Allowance for a big score that lets characters escape the shadows.
- Normally. [↩]
- Or rather, buy things that aren’t just even bigger guns. There’s more to life than just crime and guns. [↩]
- For my game, I don’t think we’d use a Fixer as a playable character concept. In a Shadowrunlike game, the players’ characters work for a Fixer. [↩]
- After playing the game at PortConMaine, we had some post-game discussions. This tactic seems like it’s okay early on in a campaign, but turns into a really a hard choice later. [↩]