Technoir: the Push Hack
This post will require you to know two things: about Jeremy Keller’s RPG, Technoir, and about the 2009 film Push. If you don’t know either of these things, well, the Technoir Player’s Guide is a free download and Push is available on the Internet, I’m sure. Check both out. Also: potential spoilers.
At JoshCon, a large group of us were watching Push on cable after breakfast, waiting for more folks to show up for gaming. I’m a fan of this movie. Afterward, I said “okay, I want to run that with Technoir.” Four people agreed, including Jeremy — which is novel, to have someone else run your game for you. We settled on the Hong Kong Transmission, of course, and I outlined the basic idea for the hack: in character creation, you picked one of your verbs to be your “psychic” verb, and you could narrate doing things with that verb psychically rather than just physically.
(This gets to the idea of the primacy of the impossible in games, which is a bigger topic in general than this execution of it is.)
There are nine verbs in Technoir, which you can see on the character sheet: Coax, Detect, Fight, Hack, Move, Operate, Prowl, Shoot, Treat. The four players each took: Move, Operate, Prowl, and Treat, so we worked more on fleshing those out than others. But if I’m pressed to give a short description for each (and by writing this blog post, I am):
Oh, I should say that because it’s Technoir, this has a cyberpunk twist to Push. So…
- Coax: Implant suggestions in the minds of people whose eyes you meet (even with mirrorshades on) — “pushing” from the movie. This means you can actually roll Coax for things that would be unreasonable and automatically failing, like “put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger.”
- Detect: Psychically feel things through other senses — tracking people by sniffing their stuff and having that imprint in your mind, psychometry, ESP, things like that. Get information that’s impossible for a normal person to get because it’s esoteric or distant. Sniffers & watchers have two different flavors of Detect.
- Fight: This is what we see a lot of in the movie, using telekinesis to augment punches. It could also be a psychic battle mind, akin to how we see Sherlock Holmes fight in the recent Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes flicks.
- Hack: Psychic hacking. Who needs an uplink when you can just think your way into a machine. The upside: you don’t actually need equipment, as you are the equipment and can only be accessed yourself by other psychic hackers or counter-intrusion equipment written specifically to deal with hackers. In a sense, though, cyberpunk already does this, so Hack is about unnatural access rather than unnatural action.
- Move: While this verb is typically active in a different way, I’d treat it as basic telekinesis. Movers from Push do this. Granted, that blends with using telekinesis to Fight, which is where this hack slightly unravels.
- Operate: Since Operate is about piloting and using machines, similar to Hack & computers, this is psychic piloting, driving to machines at the same time with your mind to calling out to your car from a distance. My description sounds weak, I think, but I would totally Jason Statham up this fucker. (Which I believe Jeremy did, as he chose Operate.)
- Prowl: Bending shadows around you, muffling noise, even cloaking yourself from psychic detection. The shadow does a bit of the last one, though it’s not an action we can see.
- Shoot: Here’s another case of battle-mind. Someone who is utterly prenatural, with limited future-sight when it comes to using guns enough to know how to use her gun to do unnatural or surprisingly safe things. Knowing where ricochets will hit, seeing the vectors and executing them, all that jazz. I recently watched the Thai flick Demon Warriors, and the badass gun character has death-sight. So it would work like that, I’d think.
- Treat: Psychic healing. The stich in the movie did this. Cam Banks played the Treat, and he was a mob doc who put in implants psychically so that they healed & integrated faster. Given how the stich worked in the movie, I might allow this to bleed into a combat role as well, since she fucked up the mover just by touching him.
Later we added a five player who arrived, who took Coax. I’ll admit that some verbs are stronger than others, but then I’ve only run this hack once so I haven’t refined it. I’m open to discussion on tweaking it, though. (Or maybe even decoupling from Verbs, being their own thing to choose. That sounds rather interesting, too.)
Partway through the game, we collectively realized that the game’s promise of psychic awesome was constrained, because we were given areas of primacy, we needed to create an analog to gear for psychic powers in order to both allow tags to be added for dice, and reinforce how your specific power works. For that, I’d add as the last slot of gear “Psychic Tags”, where I’d put those tags.
Unlike with regular gear, you can’t use that core bit to add a die. That’s essentially covering “you can do this weird psychic thing”. But you can add dice with the tags underneath.
If you are shaky with your powers, you have one tag. If you’re decent with them, you get two tags. And if you’re a world-class psychic, you get three. I don’t have a sense of how once “levels” between them; these were made on the fly to mirror the movie, where some characters we less confident in their powers than others.
There are other things that could be done to this hack, but that’s an exercise for the future, and for you readers.
 As is Carl Rigney, who has a Don’t Rest Your Head hack with it called Don’t Push Your Luck.