Technoir – Thoughts

My regular gaming group is currently taking a break from Burning Wheel to try out some other games. The last two sessions we’ve checked out Technoir.

It’s a bit like a more narrative-focused Shadowrun (without magic or humans). Which I’m okay with. I’ve always enjoyed the genre/setting of Shadowrun, but the last few times I’ve played the system has kind of fallen flat for me.

Note: I haven’t actually read through the rule-book, so this is all from the perspective of a player and only what I’ve gathered through a couple sessions. There are likely some things I don’t totally grok.


Everything in Technoir revolves around applying adjectives to people and things. These could be positive (perhaps to yourself or allies) or negative (enemies). These adjectives have narrative weight as well as mechanic weight.

Everything is accomplished through the use of verbs (that you’ll have a rating in between 1 and 5). Examples are Prowl (for sneaking and such), Hack, and Shoot. You’ll gather a number of dice equal to your verb rating, describe what you’re doing and roll.

However, you can add to your dice pool with the use of Push dice. If you can narrate the use of positive adjectives (every character will have some number of these), or bring in items and their adjectives, you can bring in a push dice per adjective. Rolling Push dice discharges them temporarily. In general this means they won’t be of use when defending yourself against NPC’s and such. Push dice are also how you create more permanent adjectives. By winning you get to apply a Fleeting adjective (lasts until the end of the scene), but by spending Push dice you can make adjectives last much longer (more on that later).

When you roll, you’re simply looking for the highest number shown. Once you’ve determined your result, then whomever you’re acting against can choose how they react. However, they don’t roll, they simply describe what Verb they’re reacting with and if they have uncharged Push dice those can be brought in with appropriate adjectives. If they can meet your highest roll with Verb rating+push dice, then your action fails. Otherwise, they get to apply an adjective. Also, multiples do count. So if you rolled 2 5’s and the best your opponent can muster with a Verb and Push dice is a 5, then you win. Two 5’s is better than 1 5. Or just having a 6 would definitely win.

The last piece is Hurt dice. If you have any negative adjectives that would apply to the action your taking you have to roll a die for each adjective. Whatever number (or numbers) they come up as will negate any of those same numbers rolled on your normal pool. So if you roll a couple 5’s in your pool, but you roll a Hurt die that comes up a 5, then those are all negated.

Push Dice

So, Push dice are actually a closed economy that I find really interesting. When the game starts, every PC gets 3 push dice. And, like I said, uncharged push dice can be added by narrating in positive actions (either on offense or defense). Also, push dice recharge fairly quickly. Whenever you’re about to roll to do something (in Technoir, this is called Contention), your Push dice automatically recharge. But, depending on how much is going on in the game, you could be sitting there for some time with discharged push dice and not have much to help out defensively.

When you add in Push dice to a roll you now have the option to spend them. If you win, any adjective you inflect is Fleeting and will go away automatically once the scene is over. These should be relatively minor things, like maybe Grazed, Winded, or Distracted. However, you can spend a Push die to make an adjective Sticky. This makes it stick around longer (basically until the affected person takes action to get rid of it). These are more serious, like maybe Injured. Lastly, you can spend two to make it Locked. It’s basically a more severe form of Sticky adjectives and are more difficult to get rid of. This might be something like Maimed.

So, where do push dice go when you spend them? To the GM. This is the only way the GM can get Push dice and the GM can spend them exactly the same way you do. When the GM spends her dice, it goes to the player she applies the adjective to.

This is a really awesome closed economy. You can be totally conservative and never spend Push dice, which means the GM won’t get any. But without spending push dice you cannot create lasting effects in the game world. Any victory you have will only be fleeting as adjectives you apply go away quickly. So there’s a huge incentive to make use of your Push dice and give them to the GM to apply longer-lasting adjectives and the GM has those same incentives if they really want to put the hurt on the PC’s, she’s going to have to pony up those Push dice. I absolutely love this aspect of the game.

Injuries & Improvement

Speaking of incentives, I really dig the way injuries and improvement play off each other in Technoir. Anytime you fail a roll you get to mark that Verb as being “primed”. Then if you ever get a Sticky or Locked negative adjective that describes physical/emotional/social loss/damage you have the opportunity to improve any primed verbs as part of treatment (this must be announced prior to any rolling).

Depending on the type of damage, you or a companion might be rolling Treat (although Operate and Hack are possible). Added in are any Hurt dice from negative adjectives. The goal is to roll better than a 4 (so you either need 2 or more 4’s or a 5 or better). If it succeeds the treatment works and the negative adjective goes away. If it fails, then you have to wait until you get another Sticky or Locked adjective before treatment can begin again.

Whether or not treatment is successful, if any Hurt dice are higher than the Verb you’re trying to improve, then it’s rating goes up by 1 (max 5).

So, the thing to take out of this is 1) you have to fail at some point to improve and 2) you have to get a Sticky (or worse) adjective at some point before you’ll have the opportunity to improve. That means you have to spend Push dice or the GM will never have the opportunity to place Sticky or Locked adjectives on your PC. Also, the more negative adjectives you have the more likely one of the Hurt dice will roll high enough for you to improve, but the more likely some Hurt dice results might prevent the treatment from being successful.

Also, locked adjectives are much harder to get rid of. It generally means having to spend a bunch of money — for instance if you were maimed, someone may need to get you a cyber-torso or something. That reduces it down to a Sticky adjective, which can then be treated normally.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed the game. The tricky part is coming up with good adjectives. If you’re inflicting something fleeting you can’t give something like Dying. And if it’s something Sticky it shouldn’t be something like Out of Breath. As you play it’ll be obvious when an adjective is a bad fit, but not always right away. There were a couple instances where someone had a negative Sticky adjective, but then it didn’t really make sense once the scene was over. It should have either been Fleeting or had a different name so that it made sense that it would stick around until the player did something to address it.

There seems to be a lack of helping rules. It feels like a big gap, because there were plenty of times we wanted to be able to help one another, but not all games need helping rules, and I think I’d want to play more than two sessions before I decide how big of a deal it is not having them.

There also didn’t seem to be away to do anything without direct opposition. And maybe that’s okay, maybe it’s more smooth to just let something happen if there’s not real opposition. It was just a little weird at times where it seemed like there should be ┬ásome chance of failure. On the other hand, in at least one case where it didn’t seem like there was clear opposition we did think some up that made sense. So maybe it comes down to having a really clear picture of things for the table to play off of.

There’s a bit of behind-the-scenes GM stuff that goes on that I wasn’t really privy to. The gist seemed to be based entirely on a plot map that is built as people interact with relations (including during character creation). The more relations are contacted and used the more important they become to the plot. I certainly like the concept of that and it seemed to be interesting what little of it we saw in two sessions.

I would absolutely play this again given the chance. I really love the Push dice/adjective/injury/improvement economy. It’s really well-done and clever.