CBR+PNK ep3 – The Heist

Yes, we came to the end of our “limited series”, and while it was fun, some things just didn’t match our favored playstyle.

Cat Concept – Per Haagensen

In Game

PCs: A-K (Intrusion Specialist), Dr. Morellius (Uplifted Scientist)
NPC: Jack (Undercover Investigator)

Doctor Morellius and A-K prepared themselves. Medical uniforms underneath overcoats to get them through the streets and walkways, casually walking past the loading dock of the Clinic. A quick wave of his copied ID chip opened the service door and the pair were inside. A quick scan of the room showed A-K the security cameras she needed to disable. With a practiced motion she inserted her signal-over-ride devices. On turned to give the all-clear, she sighed. Dr Morellius was standing in the middle of the loading dock waiting for her. Hopefully no one had been looking at that particular monitor. Whatever the case, they were free to move about now.

On the way up they recapped their plan. The Doc was to head to the rooms to pick up the devices, while A-K would keep an eye on the security feed while burning the database. The felt confident and prepared. The freight elevator let them out on the 52nd floor in a storage area. Surrounded by shelves of medical equipment and changing lockers the pair set their plan into motion. Dr. Morellius found a Clinic doctor’s coat and dressed himself, while A-K found a terminal for the supply staff and wormed her way through the internal security. (damn those triple 6’s) She found her own work with the looping camera feeds, and redirected the actual live feeds to her own terminal in the store room. With the good doctor watching over her shoulder they quickly found the two devices and tagged all the security guards walking around.

Dr. Morellius, with A-K’s voice in his ear, walked through the darkened hallways to the “sterile-zone” of the clinic. He didn’t sneak or crouch, but leant casually at various corners and consulted a chart in his hand until A-K told him there were no guards in sight. He didn’t bother to put on any of the protective gear at the entrance, but waved his ID at the doors and entered. The Surgical theatre was clean (as any good medical team would do) but even by the equipment packed in nearby rooms, the Doctor could get a good look at what was going on. Plastic surgery, cybernetic implants, all that was quite clear. But some of the equipment was incongruous – data storage and transfer? Large thawing cabinets? But the key device was waiting on a shelf. The doctor took this and carefully made his way back to the storage center and A-K.

While the Doctor had been puttering around A-K had been continuing her intrusion into the Eden Clinic’s systems. She made herself a new super-user account and started hiding files for later removal. But when the Doctor returned she noticed that the Clinic Security has began to act a little more suspiciously. She found their new comm channel and overheard them taking precautions for a “suspected intrusion”. The pair began to worry, as the last device was situated in a room that looked like a “lounging room” near the recovery suites. A-K couldn’t get a read on how many of those suites were occupied, or by whom, only that there was more security roaming the corridors in the area. Morellius pointed out their heightened alertness and drawn guns. “They are going to over react to any threat”. A-K smiled, “I know”, then set off an fire alarm on one of the outside windows. All the security guards started running down hallways toward the most distant of the recovery suits. “Time to move doc!”

The doctor dashed through the corridors into the lounge. No security guards were left and the last device was open and powered up on a comfortable looking couch. The doctor was about to reach over to collect it when he heard a voice. “Oh, I’m sorry doctor, are we done for the night?” Standing by a kitchen nook was one of the patients. The man had an obviously newly implanted cyberarm, and a shaved head with measurement lines drawn on his scalp. Morellius thought quickly. “So sorry for the bother, our measurements were beginning to look unstable. Perhaps we’ll continue after you’ve had some sleep?” The man nodded while he yawned. “Sure thing.” He took the hot chocolate from the kitchen and walked out of the room. Dr. Morellius then turned to the device, pulled out the cables and closed it.

Meanwhile A-K watched the security team use their ID cards to enter one of the suites. Once all were inside she deleted all of their permissions and listened with glee as the door shut behind them and locked. The banging and screams could be heard from the corridor audio pickup.

Morellius felt strange walking casually through the empty corridors. The pair of them removed their “medical” disguises and tried to call the elevator. Nothing came. Morellius pointed at the sign above the elevator. In case of fire use staircase. A-K cancelled the fire alarm and recalled the elevator. Once down in the loading bay, A-K removed her camera-feed box from its perch on one of the security cameras. Then the pair walked outside and into the waiting limo where Jack drove them away.

At The Table

That was a lot of fun. But not exactly the fun we were expecting. This game of CBR+PNK is indeed written for one-shots (or limited series). The character creation is fast, and it is dead easy to referee. If you are familiar with any “Forged in the Dark” games then it is pretty easy to extrapolate how to play without too much difficulty.

The challenge lies in expectations. This game lets you “tell” a great hi-tech heist/crime story. It feels like a James Bond/ Mission Impossible/ Guy Ritchie film. But for the entire game it really felt like the players were “directing” their characters. In fact there was very little “character” in the characters. The story that came out of it was great fun, but we’d been hoping to have a little more in-character RP.

Even when we tried to go more “in character”, the moment we start the characters doing anything, it falls back into a “directing the character” feeling. I think the biggest issue is the player choices moving from fiction into mechanics.

For example.
Character X is standing at a corner, looking at a bunch of worried looking guards down a corridor. X decides to scream and charge in swinging – hoping that the sudden attack will spook the already nervous guards.
In D&D – the choice is in-fiction (Mr X want to do Y) . Mechanically its a d20+str attack, and the ref can thrown in a moral check based on fiction.
In Blades – also the choice is in fiction. Mechanically its a Skirmish roll. A full success makes them run away, while the risk is that they stick around to fight. (there might be some discussion of controll/risky/desperate, but the final decision is on the ref) In any case there are no mechanical optimisation choices for the player to make.
In CBR+PNK a mechanical choice appears – is this a “smart” or “aggressive” or “empathy” approach (taking advantage of worry, charging in, knowing the guards are scared etc) Then, is it ranged combat skill or close combat skill (what weapon will i use) or maybe influence? Then the player can choose to raise or lower threat and effect…. All of these are possible mechanical differences, but it will appear the same in fiction. ie, the mechanical choice is heavily out of character.

This method in CBR+PNK is somewhat similar to Blades, but the choices are not as “bound to the fiction”. The choices the player makes are less about the character doing things in-fiction, and become more about what the player wants to use mechanically… That “pull back out of the fiction” is a whole thing…. Yes Blades (and a lot of other games) do that – especially in “downtime” but not in the middle of an action scene and not at every choice. This results in the players more often talking about their characters rather than as their characters. It adds distance.

So final conclusion – CBR+PNK is a simplified Forged in the Dark game that is a lot of fun, for a short-run series of games which are essentially a single “heist” or “job”. The characters are highly competent (like super-spies or action-heroes) and as a ref you can happily throw all sorts of problems at them without fear. If you are hoping for something else (different genre/feel/characterisation) then this might not be the game for you.

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