TTRPG Roll 23-8: Unlocking Code Warriors (Nerdburger Games, 2023)

I’m not sure where I saw Code Warriors Roleplaying Game first. I think it was on Twitter; maybe Jim “The Gascon” tweeted about the Kickstarter campaign. I took a look, saw the hardcover book plus pdf were only $40, and so for no particular reason I went ahead and pledged. Now that I have the hardcover book in hand (a mere three months after the campaign funded) I realize I made a grave mistake.

I should of gone all-in for $60 and got the custom dice with tin box too.

With all the hullabaloo surrounding Wizards of the Coast and the Dungeons & Dragons Open Game License (OGL) [which I wrote about here, here, here, and here] it could be very easy for me to all-but-ignore my newest roleplaying game (RPG) arrival this week. That would be a real shame for Code Warriors is an unabashedly takes many otherwise “standard” RPG tropes and repackages them into a very modern setting with slick rules that scream FUN even when darkness nears.

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Code Warriors, by Craig Campbell with artwork by Dan Morison from Nerdburger Games is not my usual RPG. Actually, I don’t think its a usual RPG by most measures for most people:

CODE WARRIORS

Upgrade Your Code, Avoid Deletion, Survive the Collapse, Rebuild Your World.

Life in the System was simple. Every program had a job, and every job was important…or so it seemed. It was an ordered society that functioned well…or so it seemed. 

Then the Collapse began. The System is breaking down. Chaos reigns. Aberrants abound. The old structures are gone. Everything is falling apart, in some places, literally. 

Now you, a program, can be whomever and whatever you want to be. And that’s a good thing, because the System needs you. This may be the end. Will you say, “Goodbye, world.” or will you fight for a new one? 

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Code Warriors front cover, back of the book
Code Warriors from Nerdburger Games

Physical Digital

For a game that is all about digits inside a box, the physical hardcover book for Code Warriors is old-school, dead-tree gorgeous. As the Kickstarter campaign described it, “The book will be an offset print run from Jostens. Glossy paper. Sewn binding. Rich, vibrant color.” The artwork by Dan Morison goes a long way towards helping players immerse themselves into the setting. I have to say, for a setting as potentially “dark” as Code Warriors can be, the artwork is actually very “bright.” While some might think that dichotomy would break the setting, it doesn’t here.

“Bright” art from Dan Morison in a somwhat “dark” setting (Photo by RMN)

System re(Setting)

Code Warriors is, in essence, a post-apocalyptic RPG setting. As the Kickstarter campaign hinted, “The computer is crashing. It’s the apocalypse. Think Tron meets Mad Max with a host of other sci-fi and apocalyptic inspirations thrown in.” 

It’s gloriously…simple.

Before the Collapse the computer was inhabited by many programs. It was an ordered society. But now, the Gods of Microsoft have added yet another system update and the operating system is, literally, becoming a blue screen of death (OK, that last line is not in the book but you get the idea, right?).

Code Warriors takes what we see happen in a microsecond and expands it into an entire world ripe for campaigns and adventure. You and your group must navigate this collapsing world. The book gives you three options, or Play Modes (p. 13), for how hopeless you want the setting to be:

  • Easy Mode – “In easy mode, the world of the System falls into disrepair, but it doesn’t come to an end. Instead, the characters expereince the breakdown of society and then everything kind of evens out at a typical ‘post-apocalypse movie’ level.”
  • Hard Mode – “This mode involves the System coming to an end…eventually. Characters live through the decay of their world and see things get worse and worse. There’s good news though! Complete collapse can be prevented. This will probably be difficult and will take much of the campaign duration to accomplish, but it’s possible.”
  • Hopeless Mode – “In hopeless mode, the end of the world is coming…and there’s nothing the characters can do to stop it. It’s just a matter of time before everything is gone. This mode is more about the struggle—with no win in sight. It’s about what the characters do with the time they have remaining. Do they help others survive? Do they pillage and plunder in one last hurrah? Perhaps something in between? It’s about the journey in this mode.”

Regardless of the Play Mode chosen, Code Warriors leans hard into the many tropes of post-apocalyptic adventure. The end is coming…but how will YOU, a program, deal with it?

Program Install

Player characters in Code Warriors are of one of seven Program Types. Reading down this list, I think it’s easy to see the various well known, well worn, RPG character archetypes. While that sounds like a negative, the archetypes in Code Warriors open a simple door to many adventure hooks. The seven Program Types (p. 35) are: listed below along with the Kickstarter campaign “creative” descriptions:

  • Av: Celebrities, influencers, and entertainers
    • Avs are game programs who are now thrust into a real, life-or-death game where their celebrity might help and might hinder
  • Brow: Explorers, diplomats, and librarians
    • Brows are internet and system browser programs who are dealing with a world where information is no longer reliable
  • Op: Technicians, operators, and administrators
    • Ops are operating system and background programs forced to traverse a world that no longer operates they way it once did
  • Pix: Artists, builders, and fixers
    • Pixes are graphics and modeling programs that find themselves with a new world to repair…or rebuild
  • Proc: Laborers, clerks, and haulers
    • Procs are word processing, email, and spreadsheet programs who no longer have to toil at their workaday jobs
  • Rec: Guards, spies, and detectives
    • Recs are audio, video, playback, and editing programs who now deal with a world in constant flux and need of recording
  • Sav: Soldiers, scouts, and lookouts
    • Savs are screensaver, cleanup, antivirus, and scanning programs suddenly battling a host of threats greater than they’ve ever seen before. 

Character creation in Code Warriors is what I describe as “narrative-buy.” You have to chose three Anchors (adjectives or short descriptive phrases) and three Foci (ideals) before distributing points amongst four Traits (Body, Mind, Charm, and Heart). Your character has several Standard Features dependent upon the Program Type. You then select Specialties (skills) and buy Optional Features and Gear. Again, very simple in both how you create a character and the rules written for it.

D@5HL@N3

Take for instance D@5HL@N3 (simply called ‘Dash’). Dash is version 1.0 of a SAV program. Dash’s three Anchors are Critical, Loyal, and Resourceful. Dash’s Foci are Ideal (Ordered), Protect, and Private. Traits are Body 3 / Mind 2 / Charm 1 / Heart 2. Standard Features are Massive 1.0 and Virus Repair 1.0. Specialties are Fighting and System Knowledge. Optional Features are Installed Shield 1.0 and Installed Sword 1.0. Dash also carries a Holo Tool and System Scroll and has one Juice “banked.” Creating this character took less than 10 minutes!

cwOS

The “operating system,” or RPG system used in Code Warriors is called the Roll-Track System (p. 16). Each character has three tracks (Skill Track, Juice Track, Overload Track) that are constantly being marked or unmarked during play. The Skill Track is improvements; fill this track to gain an Advancement. The Juice Track is your inner reserves combined with raw energy from the world around the character; spending Juice provides bonuses or unlocks certain abilities or is simply currency. The Overload Track is the chaos within the character; filling this track means the character now has a Glitch (which is not always a bad thing for some Glitches are positive).

The core mechanic in Code Warriors uses a d8 dice pool rolled against a Target Number (usually 5-8). The number of d8 rolled is determined by the Trait used (usually rated 1-4). In order to succeed, at least one die must equal or exceed the Target Number (p. 18). Bonuses, Advantages and Disadvantages, or spending Juice modify the number of dice thrown.

For instance, Dash (from above) is fighting a Code Zombie Aberrant (a type of monster). Assume this particular Code Zombie is a weak one with a Challenge Track (or hit points) of 2. Code Zombies are considered “strong” and fight with a Target Number of Body 6. Dash has Body 3 and is using the Fighting Specialty so rolls 4d8. Let’s assume Dash really wants to get this fight over with quick so they spend one Juice making it a roll of 5d8. The rolls are 8, 2, 2, 6, 6 for three hits which exceeds the Challenge Track for the Code Zombie which de-rezzes and disappears.

All told, the Rules chapter of Code Warriors is covered in a mere 15 pages. Simple, straightforward.

(de)Coding Code Warriors

During a campaign of Code Warriors, player characters will progress through a series of screens Scenes which will usually have Challenges within them. Using The Challenge Track System (p. 109) the GM will be able to track the number of hits needed to defeat the challenge, as well as note Milestones that introduce a twist or something that escalates the threat.

The System in Code Warriors is described with a simple gridded map. It is inhabited with Non-Player Characters (programs) and Abberants (monsters). The Game Master (GM) section has lots of clues as to what is—or could—happen in the System. There are many familiar tropes here but, in what I think you can see is a theme of this post, they serve as simple, uncomplicated ways of fleshing out the society of the collapsing System.

Code Warriors is a relatively simple RPG system with a rich setting that derives from many familiar tropes but is assembled in a fresh and enticing manner. I don’t see Code Warriors as necessarily the basis of a long campaign, but it is perfectly serviceable as a one-shot or for short campaign arc of several sessions.

//OPEN FILE//

With all the controversy over the Open Game License this past week, I think it is also important to point out that Code Warriors is NOT Open Content released under OGL 1.0a but is copyright 2023 by Nerdburger Games.


Feature image courtesy RMN

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2023 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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