(It has been pointed out I should be referring to myself as the Architect when I'm talking about the Matrix. Very true and very cool, but perhaps I'll save that for the credits page.)
Us Canadians have the pleasure of a long weekend (Correction: Us Ontarianians) that's been used for two ends. One, helping Lady Warden rearrange the living room and rewire the entertainment centre. Two, sit in front of this computer while the sun shines and pop out thousands of words on how the Matrix and the Optional System go hand in hand. How well have things gone? Let's just say there's no longer a glare on the TV during the day and I look paler now than when the weekend started.
Challenge Is Where You Find It
As anyone who likes to think of themselves as an RPG designer should, I did a quick search for other Matrix RPGs (all freebies) to see what's been done before. An interesting note is that no one likes the sequels. One RPG in particular, There Is No Spoon, comes right out and insists any player who mentions Reloaded or Revolutions be slapped in the face. Ouch.
I've never had a problem with the sequels, but completely understand where everyone else is coming from. We humans just can't shut up, can we? Blah, blah, blah, so much doubt and existentialism when machines are not trying to wipe us out. And the ending really turns a lot of people off. So knowing that everyone incorporates only one-third of the material out there, I had my edge. Much like the Star Wars RPGs of old, I could build a Matrix RPG for different timelines. For now, we're going with post-Revolutions.
Hack Points. No, I Don't Mean Spitballs!
Lucky for me, Lady Warden (formerly known as Mrs. Warden) was also in a mood to watch some Matrix ass-kicking and we plowed through the trilogy these past couple of days. Then were so worked up, we skipped to all the awesome fight scenes in numerous other movies. Guys, it is so hot to watch your woman get excited about fight scenes... but that's neither here nor there. As 24 frames per second passed before our eyes, I made notes on what Trinity and Morpheus could do to establish the basics of the monitor creed.
It hit me early on that I had a flaw in how the Optional System worked in a Matrix setting: difficulty dice. By design, if a monitor wants to jump from one building to another, they shouldn't have increased difficulty dice to impede their progress. Yet simply removing the dice seemed counterintuitive. The laws of physics developed for the Matrix were programmed to simulate the real world; monitors learn to hack that program temporarily or how it affects them and circumvent it. Difficulty dice should still apply; that's why Neo falls the first time. Everyone does.
That's where hack points were built, the middle finger to things like gravity and physics. When a monitor enter the Matrix and does their thang, they can accumulate a pool of hack points to achieve numerous ends as demonstrated by this bullet list.
- Hack points can be spent to remove difficulty dice. When your character rolls a dice option against difficulty dice (not another character), they can spend at least 1 hack point to remove a difficulty die of their choice; this can be done before or after difficulty dice are rolled. (I prefer after because then you're sticking it to the Operator. Hey, that's me!)
- You can redeem 1 hack point to gain +1d4 bonus dice to a single opposed roll. Remember how bonus dice come with a price? Oh yeah. When your bonus dice explode, you risk alerting an agent to your presence. When you first enter the Matrix, you can roll 1d4 bonus dice to start with that many hack points. Once again, if the dice explode...
- There are more stable ways to earn hack points. Whenever your Team enters a series (earns 3 successes in a row), everyone gets a hack point. When you gain the edge over an opponent, you gain a hack point. When your master dice explode, BOOM! Hack point.
This essential benefit to break the rules is the core of the monitor creed. From there, we make room for the Matrix master stat. Whenever a monitor operates inside the Matrix, they apply their master stat to every roll. When that d12 rolls across the table, it boosts your kicks, aim, firepower, jumps, and everything else we want to achieve in this game. Accessing this master stat unlocks a monitor's powers, such as Bullet Time, Manipulation, and There Is No Spoon.
Using the Matrix as a springboard playtest also means the first draft rules for guns had to be finalized. Guns have a significant impact on the OS compared to our previous fantasy playtests, though it depends on the genre of action you wish to mimic. Gun fu films (meaning anything made by John Woo) let someone take a minimum of 5 shots to the chest before they begin to falter, gritty noir will barely let you take a bullet to the shoulder. Then there's the availability of guns in the Matrix. Um, they're all immediately available in the Construct. You want a rocket launcher? Grab one on your way through the Construct before hitting the mean streets of Matrix 2.0.
(Luckily, you never see anyone exchanging money for goods or services, so I can put off developing a financial system for this game. Rocket launchers are free, you just need your parents' permission.)
For the Matrix RPG, I wanted guns to have a serious impact but not kill a character with one good shot. When confronted with an agent, you'll want to fire off as many rounds as possible to increase your odds of survival, yet maybe slip the pistol back in its holster and whup that program good with a little jujitsu. So two adjustments were made to the standard fantasy campaign rules:
- All heroes (monitors) in the Matrix have 20 hits instead of 10.
- Firearms inflict lethal damage, meaning they cause twice as many hits as other weapons. Certain firearms, such as the handgun or various pistols, do not have bonus hits and only list "lethal damage." For these weapons, you only cause the hits you roll. Bigger firearms, like the shotgun and machine gun cause lethal damage and provide bonus hits.
These alterations allow you to have longer unarmed fight scenes and make guns deadly. At least, that's the plan. We all know that nothing consistently works out on paper the same as it does on the table. What do you think?