Street Rats Alpha 3 Released

Street Rats is now in Alpha 3! This update isn’t the largest update ever in Street Rats’ history, but it has some of the largest reaching effects on gameplay and is a marked improvement. There’s not much in the way of new features, but play has been improved significantly. Since you’re probably already privvy to the changelog if you own it on DriveThruRPG, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to you if you don’t yet, since it’s pretty much simple improvement stuff going on.

For more commentary and explanations, read on after the break.

You can get the core rulebook over at DriveThruRPG:

Street Rats has sort of survived its mid-life crisis this month. It’s been in development for something like eight months now, from the first mechanic being drafted to the current system, with conceptualization going back over a year. In November, as I was preparing for release in December, I had a moment where I just had no desire or appetite to continue working on Street Rats, but I kept going (the game was already about three-quarters of the way to its finished state).

A similar incident has pushed the development of Alpha 3. Street Rats was supposed to be everything that I didn’t feel like I got from Shadowrun’s Fifth Edition after its first release: fast, fluid cyberpunk with solid support and an eye to making mechanics fluid. I was really disappointed by the post-launch additions to Shadowrun, and with the way that Catalyst Game Labs developed the setting, so I kicked around my old cyberpunk ball and got to work.

Five weeks ago, I felt like I’d run it into the ground. The playtest session the night before showed that there were infinite loops in the chase mechanic, one of my players had a bad time, and combat had been stiff and drawn out.

I got to work deciding on ways to optimize the game. I still haven’t figured out better chase mechanics, but combat’s been overhauled, as has character advancement.

The first step in overhauling combat was to make automatic fire a threat. In reality, automatic fire is a sign of an amateur, but in the cyberpunk universe of Street Rats, augmentations and high-tech low-recoil weaponry mean that it’s entirely plausible for someone to make automatic fire work.

Furthermore, Protection is cheap in Street Rats (and I’ll get to the Protection overhauls later). Since automatic fire has no way to actually gain damage or armor penetration, and high-caliber rounds mean high recoil and are fired from large hard to conceal weapons and limited ammunition capacity.

This was mostly accomplished as a direct boost to automatic fire; its old mechanic was that a single bullet would be added per Margin. This not only made high rates of fire absolutely undesirable, as there was no chance of landing five bullets from a burst, but the Recoil penalties suffered were huge and rapid.

The initial Recoil suffered from an automatic burst is much lower now (or removed entirely with the appropriate Duty abilities), two bullets hit per Margin, and the main balancing act is reduced to the fact that you need a high-caliber weapon to take down hard targets. This is balanced by the fact that the new removal of hit locations means that Flesh Wounds are easier to accrue to the point where they upgrade to higher-grade wounds.

Both Aimed Fire and Rapid Fire lost one Damage per Margin, replacing it with one Armor Penetration per margin, which makes them retain their role as armor-defeating attacks, but decreases the likelihood of incredible lethality as a result. This further balances automatic fire back into the realm of possibility.

Next, the Protection system has been overhauled. It now is derived from three sources, one of which must be special (like augmentations or vehicle protection). This gives a more fluid and flexible way to play; a character can wear two suits of armor for protection, but doing so is obvious and imposes an Armor Penalty on defense (as it used to) and movement (which is new). Having Toughness means that characters can go into combat with lighter armor and still stand their own, and high-end augmentations add well to that system.

Armor and Hardened Armor have been changed to binary states; you have them or you don’t. They make negative AP weapons less effective or entirely worthless (Hardened Armor also blocks 0 AP weapons). Having Hardened Armor values was useful, but didn’t necessarily factor in to play all that well, as it was based on the basic projectile AP, which meant that 1 or 2 AP projectiles were made much less viable, and FMJ fell from its role as the “vanilla” ammunition type and became a liability; it didn’t do as much damage as HP or pierce armor like AP, and whenever hardened armor was on the field it just got trashed.

Removing hit locations is definitely the largest change in the game. It’s the result of something like fifteen different factors, but there are a few that warrant discussion.

First, hit locations decreased the lethality of the system. This was originally intended, but Street Rats is generous with Instinct for rerolls and it was really dragging out combat. Furthermore, the question of how to handle hit locations was becoming problematic: special effects for each were being tedious to implement and made it hard to put drones and vehicles into the otherwise very unified combat mechanics of Street Rats.

There was no mechanic for differentiating between weak hit locations and strong hit locations (like heads taking less damage than a whole torso), and it generally led to dragged out play. Adding a mechanic to do this would have taken one of the most over-bloated systems of Street Rats and made it even worse.

In addition, hit locations were a huge stumbling block for adding drone and vehicle content. Now that they have been removed, the stat block can also neatly fit a locomotion method entry, which will allow rule distinctions between flying, water, air, space, and ground vehicles/drones.

Finally, there was an unwritten sin of the hit locations, which was the fact that it added complexity in a game that is very much about being high-speed and low-drag. The first combats after removal of hit location in the playtests were fast, adrenaline-pumping affairs. The removal of a roll meant that the gratification of a good hit was less removed from the roll itself. Further, the fact that not every hit really “mattered” in the hit location system meant that there was sometimes disappointment. It just wasn’t a satisfying mechanic, so it was removed.

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