Will: Hi Fraser, as a big fan of the Veil and Blades in the Dark, I’m ecstatic to hear that I can finally get my hands on Hack the Planet. Obviously, Veil was PbtA while Hack the Planet is a Forged in the Dark game. How did you settle on Forged in the Dark as a framework for this design?
Fraser Simons: I decided on Forged in the Dark because I knew the concept needed to have a crew of people working together toward a common aim, and Blades in the Dark already provided a great rules framework for that. It also parallels the cyberpunk sub-genre in the design goal of having marginalized, impoverished people in an underworld or sub-culture that defy the law and take back power, along with reclaiming the agency that's been taken away by the system of government and the policing of policies that benefit the 1%. My previous design work didn't have a specific setting like Hack the Planet does. The faction system was ideal for laying out the specific setting elements I wanted to have, while also leveraging xp rewards for the notion of contributing to the culture of a place packed with climate refugees. So while I could detail faction elements, I could also leave a blank space for players to wonder what culture could be like in a superstructure packed full of different people. And reward them for doing it!
David: Do you have an elevator pitch that you would use to describe the game?
Fraser: You play a crew of people who hack themselves off the grid of a corporatocracy and enter a criminal underworld in order to earn a living, subvert the status quo, and expose the ways in which the system is stacked against them.
Will: The game is set primarily in Shelter 1, a technological refuge from the effects of climate change. Do you have a favorite moment from one of your home games that best gives life to your internal vision of the shelter?
Fraser: Interestingly--probably because of the tag line--almost every group I've run the game for seem to gravitate toward really holistic relationships with their environment. Green space is often sparse and cherished because, well, with Acts of God about, it's hard to have a green space that's safe. A group of Cleaners (mercs for hire) called The Constant Gardeners made their base and home inside a dilapidated building that collapsed in such a way as to shield it from outside. Over time it became a community garden and the source of some long-term projects. They repaired some of the surrounding structure to allow for more housing and had a gazebo. Another crew chose to be vice dealers. They developed a drug that simulated being in sunlight that didn't burn. They ran a shop called The Blue Oolong. While running both of these (as well as other crews) I made sure to cross over some of these things. The garden became a thing in one game, The Blue Oolong in the other. The cross-pollination was an emergent thing that really brought the game to life. It sold me on placing an emphasis on the players crafting culture in the fiction and being rewarded for it.
David: You mention players being rewarded for crafting culture in the fiction; can you say more about that? Is it mechanically enforced?
Fraser: There a number of xp triggers the players can earn in a session. There are three sets; one set is if "you expressed your beliefs, drives, culture, or background", which makes it explicit. But to be honest, the game was already doing this and I made sure to dedicate some text to discussing his in the book (as well as the intent behind it). It was already part of the Blades in the Dark rules framework to ask questions and incorporate the answers into the fiction, and a GM naturally asks questions of the characters that would fall under the xp triggers; it's just an additional cookie for answering as a player. The rules drift is in placing a heavier emphasis on playing to find out and internally interrogating how you think a place with these setting elements would present. As a player, you have explicit space in the game to extrapolate cultural elements that make up a part of your own identity as a person, into your character in this near future.
Will: What is your favorite mechanical drift from the core Blades rule set?
Fraser: I like how I've complicated the stress system further. People who play a lot of Forged in the Dark generally have system mastery over the stress mechanics. The addition of a stress track that increases a player's total stress complicate what a player will end up doing with their xp. When they end up doing scores and becoming flush with money, it even further complicates their choices, as they can then also afford to get cybernetics. Spending resources, including stress, to get another action dot. Whether you're playing a short campaign or a long one, the changes to stress are probably my favorite to interact with.
David: What’s the number one thing you hope players of this game will get to take away from it?
Fraser: I hope people get inspired by the pairing of climate fiction with the cyberpunk sub-genre. It would be wonderful if people realized there’s no maps for this territory. There’s room to tell new and interesting cyberpunk fiction that’s prescient and iterative, which doesn’t need to exclude what people continue to job in the space.
Will: Thanks Fraser! I think I speak for both of us when I say that we can’t wait to get this to the table.