Welcome back. dice fondlers! This week, we’re going to climb into our time machine of choice and set the dial to 200 years into the future to dystopian cyberpunk London. We’re taking a dive into a game perfect for one shots— Canary Overdrive.
At only 12 pages long, Canary Overdrive isn’t the shortest RPG I’ve talked about here on Dashing Nerds, but it’s a close contender. This is a lean, mean game with cybernetically enhanced female spy/assassin/mercenaries called Canaries. Canaries operate as guns for hire to do the dirty deeds the shiny chrome future is built on.
While the game explicitly calls out that the characters could potentially be male/male-presenting, and that the primary focus of the game should be on fun, I prefer to keep to the default setting of female-only Canaries as it plays into some time-honored science fiction tropes.
I mean, the name of the game itself is a reference to Mona Lisa Overdrive by William Gibson, whose character Molly Millions is a perfect example of a sample Canary. Besides, I get shoehorned into playing dudes enough in my video games.
Each character has only three simple stats – Body, Mind, and Vitality. For Body and Mind you choose one of them to have a score of +1, and one to have a score of -1. Vitality automatically starts at 10. The real fun in character creation comes in answering questions like “What is your Canary’s alias?” and “What is your Canary’s darkest secret?”
Action Resolution and Combat
Action resolution is as simple as statistics are. In order to perform a task, you roll a 2d6, add Body or Mind (whichever is relevant), and if the roll is 7 or more, you succeed. The DM (fittingly called the Puppet Master in Canary Overdrive) can raise this number if a task is sufficiently more difficult than normal. However, be warned, these characters are extremely competent and should be making rolls only when dramatically important.
As an example of this, take combat. In order to determine
initiative, the players and the Puppet Master each roll 2d6 and go in
descending order. If a player attacks on their turn, they rolled 2d6 + Body + Badass Weapon (if they have one) and if the result beats the enemy’s Combat Number, they hit. If the enemy is attacking, the Canary rolls 2d6 + Body. If the result is over the enemy’s Combat Number, they dodge. If a player rolls snake eyes, they suffer a complication and lose their next turn.
There are four levels of enemies, each one slowly rising in Combat Number. Grunts, for example, are automatically hit and defeated should a Canary choose to attack them. Similarly, they only hit Canaries on a roll less than 5. Standard enemies have a CN of 7, and can only take a single hit. Elite enemies have a CN of 8 and can take two hits. Boss enemies have a CN of 9 and can take five hits. This keeps your stats simple and lets you focus on the cool setting and world you’re building. When a player takes a hit, they lose 1 Vitality. Should a player lose all their Vitality, their character is dead, and they must make a new one.
In combat, players can also choose to either Use/Interact with Objects, Move 50 feet, or perform a Stunt. A successful Stunt lowers a target enemy’s CN by 1. In order to supplement their combat experience, a character may also equip Badass Weapons or Badass Armor. Badass Weapons add +2 to a character’s Body attribute when attacking. Badass Armor adds a +1 when defending. Simple as that.
Now, this game is really built for one-shots but the
developer was kind enough to include an incredibly useful chart should you
choose to play your characters over a long campaign. This model has players
accrue simple tokens they redeem in order to perform specific upgrades to their
Believe it or not, that’s really all there is to the skeletal components of Canary Overdrive. I told you it was lean and mean, and I meant it. Players should feel comfortable creating characters in just minutes. So put in your favorite cyberpunk movie with a badass cybernetic lady and play some Canary Overdrive.
With that, my fine augmented friends, I am off again. Don’t worry though, I’ll be back soon with another random RPG, but in the meantime…