Session Structure and Mechanical Overview

This page is intended as a brief overview of the concrete gameplay in a Sprawl game.

Moves: Sprawl, like other PbtA systems, very clearly places the fiction first in game mechanics. This means that even though a lot of actions are determined by Moves rolled with a 2d6 (either generalized Basic Moves or specialized ones granted by your character's Playbook), the descriptions of those actions are always center stage, both to ensure the continuous flavor of the game and to give the GM ammunition for the consequences. The 2d6 roll is divided into three result categories: 6- is a miss, 7-9 is a weak hit and 10+ is a strong hit. Depending on the Move the action falls under, the results in those categories will vary, but generally, the miss and weak hit are where the GM is able to introduce complications, glitches or hard choices to the scene. A lot of those adverse effects are in the hands of the affected player, as well — it's a collaborative story, after all.

Mission start: First of all, the Sprawl system structures its gameplay around missions, divided into two major phases, Legwork and Action. A mission begins when an employer contacts one or more PCs, or vice versa, to offer them a job. If the PC is interested, negotiation rolls are made to determine if the employer is willing to offer help or, for example, identify themselves. The employer is not the PCs' friend, and it always helps to have leverage on them, as well. After this, the session moves to the Legwork phase.

Legwork phase: The Legwork phase is the phase in which the PCs investigate their target(s) as well as make acquisitions and preparations to compensate for the inherent uncertainty in the upcoming Action phase. Depending on the mission, the Legwork phase can take place over different lengths of time, usually anywhere between a few hours or several days. You don't get to kick back despite the peaceful-sounding name, though — the Legwork phase can require infiltration, violence and even other, smaller missions to support the more traditional intel gathering.

Action phase: The Action phase, then, is everything that happens after the point of no return. It usually takes place over a much shorter period of time and in more detail than the Legwork phase. The PCs execute their plan to the best of their ability, but there are always complications, moreso if the target catches wind of the mission against them, and the PCs will need to respond accordingly with backup plans and any [gear]/[intel] resources they've accrued. The Action phase is generally divided into several sub-objectives called Mission Directives, and the interests of third parties or single PCs may give rise to Secondary or Personal Directives that everyone may not agree on.

Legwork and Action Clocks: As the PCs gather unwanted attention during the Legwork and Action phases, the Clock for that phase advances, denoting how much the target knows about the team's plans. The Legwork Clock is much softer in its effects: if it is very high at the end of the Legwork phase, it only bleeds into the Action Clock a little, meaning the Action phase will have a higher time pressure on it. For the Action Clock, the GM follows a mission-specific list of thresholds triggering complications, such as the target convoy's security being beefed up or old security credentials being flushed from the system.

Getting paid: Once the PCs have fulfilled all of their objectives or had enough and bailed out, they will need to lose anything that's on their tail and then rendezvous with their employer to get paid. As one might guess, this is not straightforward, either. Maybe the employer wants to betray the team and keep their money, or a rival corporation might have found out about the meeting and dropped by to interfere or get revenge. The rolls to determine this are easier if the team managed to keep a low profile or shift the blame elsewhere. After these matters are resolved, the mission ends.

After the mission: Whether or not the mission ends in success, and whether or not the team gets paid as planned, experience is awarded at the end of the mission based on any Directives completed. The PCs' interpersonal and corporate relations have time to develop for better or for worse, giving plenty of excuses for peaceful downtime scenes and ominous foreshadowing. But the sprawl doesn't rest, and sooner or later there will be a new job waiting for any team that makes it through in one piece.

In the other games I've run, the sessions (usually split into separate sessions for Legwork and Action) have run for about 5 hours total for a mission, but those weren't on IRC, so it's anyone's guess whether this medium would be slower or faster to run!

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