I had the privilege to play a 4 hour demo game with Luke (thanks to Gnome Stew‘s DNAPhil who invited me) and the game blew my mind away. I was dumbstruck by the originality of the game and its sheer scale as an engine for trans-human Sci-Fi stories… Even though the action is entirely confined within a lone space station.
I finally got a chance to play it with my friends about 3 weeks ago and I’ve been wracking my brain to find a way to convey my impressions of the game without falling all over the details of the game.
Then I decided to dive in and share how our character creation session went. But first, context!
The implied Setting
Freemarket follows the adventures and tribulations of members of a MRCZ (pronounced Mercy) who strive to bring change and new trends on board a Space Station parked at a Lagrange point between Saturn and Titan, one of it’s moons carved out and turned into one ginormous solid-state data storage vault.
The Station is home to 80 000 nigh immortal, cyber-wearing, telepaths who thrive on access to instant Data and a strange mix of status, influence and power called “flow”.
The parallels to current social media is evident, that’s why I once described it as “What if Humanity and Facebook merged and caused the Singularity?”
Apart from that (and a few more details about the Sapient computer running the whole place), the setting is left undefined, open for players and GM (called users and superuser respectively) to build a different one with each campaign.
Founding The Fixers MRCZ
Like many recent RPGs, character generation is a group activity that supposedly takes about 2 hours. We ended up spending more than 3 hours, getting confused and hung up on some elements and being challenged with a few sprees of analysis paralysis to the tune of “gee man, I don’t know what the game is about so I don’t know what I should create”.
Aside: That’s where I see what mastering the rules of a game can be very useful for a GM. Luke breezed us through it in less than 2 hours by pushing us at just the right places and not sweating that we didn’t get everything perfect… just “right enough”. The lessons I learn from the guy never cease.
Character generation is done by following very well described steps. It is one of those supremely clever combinations of setting creation, party cohesion and character background building. Here’s the rundown and what my players (Yan, Mike, Franky and PM) chose.
Clade and Generation
While nominally the “job” of the PC it’s actually the character’s concept in a short phrase. Players choose it first to help them conceptualize what they want to play. Generations represents how remote each character was from the original settlers of the stations (that’s about 40-45 years old now): Seconds (kids of originals), Thirds (kids of seconds), Blanks (Artificial humans with implanted memories) and Immigrants(Born off Station). The group ended up with:
- Mike: Blank, Hardware Interface Fetishist
- Yan: Second Gen, Body Artist
- Franky: Immigrant, Old Tools Replicator
- PM: Blank, OCD Investigator
Up next came the character’s genelines which are names representing what “genetic family” you ail from and 3 “tags” that defined your genetic background. Tags are adjectives that qualify the inherent potential of your character like “flexible” or “Lightning Quick Reflexes”. They have a direct impact in the game as any character can invoke thematically adequate tags as the driving ability of a challenge. The book provides example Genelines with pre-selected sets of three tags each, but players are encouraged to design their own.
- Mike, “The One”: Obsessive, Wired, Religious
- Yan, “Michaelangelo”: Creative, Serene, Sure Handed
- Franky,”Dell Amico”: Merciless, Technical, Old World
- PM, “Monk”: Investigative, Obsessive, Chameleon
Each character has experience in a few fields which represents the game’s skills used in the card-based challenge system (more in part 2). The game has 14 such skills, ranging from Breaking (destroying objects and structures or hacking into software), Ghosting (Stealth, stealing, tracking), Mobbing (Creation and installation of Interface) to Wetwork (Temporarily killing).
Aside: Yeah, dead people get re-printed and lose memories, depending on how completely”deathed” they were.
This is one of the places where the game explodes in story possibilities. The players can do SO much with these 14 skills it’s unbelievable and they can only bring about changes in the setting and story by playing challenges with those skills.
For example, they could use Ghosting to track a sneaky, discrete courrier they heard about. Then, they could play a Wetwork challenge to discreetly wipe him out and grab that ancient computer disk it transported. They could then use breaking to find and extract Data from the disc. That data would then be Thin Sliced (another skill) to give the Data specific meaning within the setting. That Data could then be flooded (another skill) in someone’s brain by stealing one of the target’s memory (yet another challenge). Finally the players turn that stolen memory into a song (using the Ephemera skill) and blare it across the station to create a new Meme.
That would be a pretty typical Freemarket session. This is pure Peter Hamilton, Wiliam Gibson and Vernor Vinge Sci Fi stuff.
Our crew chose a mix of experience that gave them a pretty badass rep. Their choices told me that they wanted to create cybernetic/software implants and tech, repair and create tech with tools, create art, investigate interesting data and do some killing on the side.
I think my gang wants to be a futuristic A-Team. I’m cool with that.
Interface and Technology
Each character has several pieces of Interface (Implants, both hardware or software) and technology, pieces of equipment that help characters in various ways in challenges. Interface are involved in error correction, helping circumvent failures during challenges while technologies can support (or replace) the experience used in a challenge.
Players can select them from the book, but they are also encouraged to create their own by making up snazzy techy names and adding three tags to each that identify what skill they are related too, what their function and so on. This is another great occasion to have the players define the setting by introducing trademarks and designer names to some of the tech they used.
Here’s a few from the group:
- Morphological Retina: Breaking, Ocular, Duplicating (Used by PM’s investigator)
- Swiss Army Hand: Recycling, Old World, Technical (Used by Franky’s Old Tool Replicator)
- TAC 10 006: Wetwork, Neural, Reflex Booster (Used by Yan’s Body Artist)
- Optic-BF (i.e. Brain Fryer): Wetwork, Optical, Scambler (Used by Mike’s Fetishist)
- Light Katar: Wetwork, Sword, Plasma
- Adaptive Perfume: Flood/Bleeding, Chemical Scent, Adaptative
- Mech’s Bench: Recycling, Mechanical, Old World
- Monofilament Garrote Nail Jewel: Wetwork, Close Range, Stealth
You can see that my players are expecting to fight a lot… I shall try not to disappoint them.
The last part of character creation is the creation of long term and short term memories. This is the aspect of the game that made my head explode. Players are required to create 2 long term memories (one life changing, the other from childhood/creation) and 1 short term one (form the day before). Each memory is a sentence made up of three out of five imposed elements: person, place, object, MRCZ or action.
The sheer genius of this is that the GM then uses those to create his adventure by mix and mashing them up (more or less eliminating prep time). But the game takes an all new level when you realize that since the technology exists to steal, inject, influence and blend memories of all station residents, including the PCs, there’s really no way to know how real each memory is, if it’s your own or who the hell put it there!
So let me conclude this post with my PC’s memories:
OCD Investigator (PM)
I was fired from the Operators MRCZ because I wouldn’t stop investigating the theft of the Micro Nova Missile Schematics
I created the buzz around the popularity of the KIS3 MRCZ by discovering the band’s emerging music style.
Yesterday, an anonymous passerby told me that my memories about one current investigation had been replaced.
Old Tool Replicator (Franky)
Miro, my brother, involved me in a failed old tech transaction and forced me to flee and go into hiding on Freemarket
I found specs for a FTL starship on an old computer I was recycling
Yesterday, I built a sexual-tool for Serina of the Ambassadors MRCZ
Body Artist (Yan)
I printed Shanon Apple, an extremely popular Blank that is part of the Kis3 MRCZ
I created a revolutionary, very efficient Blank design that I hid in a old relic satellite
A negotiation session with the Arachne Textile MRCZ went badly as members of Gunz4Hirez stormed in and deathed almost everyone before getting gunned down themselves.
Hardare Interface Fetishist
Korg, the 1st generation creator who printed me incorporated numerous interfaces as an experiment but ended up rejecting me, horrified with what he created.
I found an ancient brain chip interface containing the Prophet’s proselytizing of the Coming of the New Order.
Yesterday, I pinged a member of the Grindstone Cowboys MRCZ and found an Interface I MUST possess.
So now all I have to do for the next game (tomorrow) is to create 4 plot hooks (one per player) by mixing and mashing all those memories by, for example, picking the name in one memory with the place of another and adding an object from a third one. Then present it to the players and see how they’ll react.
I just can’t wait to see how it’ll turn out. Expect a play report!