The frighteningly possible dystopian futureThe capsule hotel Metropole Luxury Coffin is an oasis of last-chance affordability in a dystopian near future where bankruptcy squads will hunt you down if you fail to pay for walking on the sidewalk. The hotel is where you eat, sleep and scrape out a living, with the lofty aim of having a high enough credit rating to leave. Credit is king and there is so very little of it.
The telephone companies bought the banks and from that simple premise, the twisted world gestates. Your credit rating is called your Face and measured in minutes. Spend all your Minutes on doing things (opening doors, ordering food, etc) and your Face will drop. If your face hits zero, not even the art deco glass door of Metropole Luxury Coffin will open to you. The whole game is set within the confines of the Metropole, whose three hundred inhabitants are all trying to leave.
Vending machines sell you the basics needed for life: food, fashion items and pointless rubbish. Technology hinges around the most important device in the game - your phone and modifying that is as important as improving your character. You don't buy mods from corporations (you can't afford it), you fashion them from the bi-product junk of a consumerist society.
Giving your face styleCharacters have few stats - one for face and one for minutes, beyound that a character is defined by style. Style is everything. Having style means that everyone will know who you are. That you're a somebody. Every character has four physical places they can apply style (Head, body, feet and accessory) and you wear things to represent a brand. A brand is a theme to your character and can be any representation of a modern brand such as cowboy, hip hop, Coca Cola or noir. There is a meaty idea-spawning list to help you choose. You give your brand a name, a description, an attitude (a belief system of sorts), a taboo (what the brand is against) and slang for that brand. Lots of people supporting the same brand is known as a tribe. Face paint and cannibalism is optional.
Imagination of the players is key here, the more tightly defined the brand, the easier the character will be to play and to interact with. In principle, I like systems where the imagination of the player is key. The only problems occur when you're creating characters after an intelligence-sapping day plugged into the work singular collective or when your players think its funny to use brands associated with genocide, extremist politics and My Little Pony. After brand, you randomly get a coffin number. As you advance through the game, you can change tribe, get groupies and improve the technology in your phone.
MechanicsThe mechanics are driven by decks of playing cards - the sort you use to leech money off family at Christmas time with poker (or snap). There are two mechanics, beat (opposed actions) and match (problem solving). In beat, players describe what they want to do and bid using face down cards. If a player doesn't like what another player is doing they can bid against it or support another player (a caveat that would fall on deaf ears in my group of misanthropes). Bid winners tend to get more control than the losers. Character health is reflected in the size of your hand, the more healthy you are, the more cards you have; and bidding you can do. A match mechanism is used for doing tricky tasks and involves the player matching card numbers against the GM. In all cases, players can help or oppose each other. Which I rather like. Jokers are used by the GM to create glitches - malfunctions with modern technology that can get the characters deeper into trouble.
ClunkpunkMetropole Luxury Coffin wisely follows my Guide to Organising an RPG but I would like to see more flesh on the introduction, explained in simple terms. Jargon is good and appropriate in Cyberpunk but I need to be eased in. I am not sure that an thin introduction to RPGs is any other than filler. One should always write for the audience and I imagine that the audience for a free RPG - especially an off-the-wall one - is going to be seasoned players. I am not convinced that a deck of cards feels right for this sort of Cyberpunk. System and setting should blend as one but near-future dystopia doesn't scream 'deck of cards to me'.
ConclusionsHow often do you read a roleplaying game and think "This is different"? Metropole Luxury Coffin presents a novel world that frightens with familiarity and entertains with arid humour. The graphics are evocative and layout appealing. Tight focus allows it to be a very different sort of Cyberpunk or an excellent insert into any existing campaign. Read it for the humour, love it for its setting, use it for its novelty.
Metropole is now on 1km1kt. Links has been updated.[/edit]