The Contract is a TTRPG that capitalizes on the extraordinary freedom of choice offered by a GM while minimizing numerical, mathy gameplay better suited for computers. It does this not by eschewing rigorous systems altogether, but by offering advancement in the form of increased utility rather than numerical bonuses. Instead of a Character improving in terms of how much damage they can deal, how well they can take a hit, or how big of a monster they can slay, they grow in their ability to break the rules.
What is "Fair?"
In The Contract, you can easily create a Contractor that starts as the world’s best marksman. They will be able to pop the head of a twenty-victory Contractor in a single attack. How is that fair? Well it isn’t if you contrive a situation with a fair fight.
But there are no fights without context. How did our Contractors meet? Why did one decide to kill the other? This is where the seasoned Contractor thrives. They are worth more alive than dead. They know what might drive the novice to violence, how to avoid it, and when to act first. Hell, at a twenty-victory difference, your marksman will be working for the senior Contractor, and they may not even know it.
You see, a Contractor is forged in The Games, and The Games are not fair. Contractors are charged with winning a footrace against someone they cannot beat. They cannot roll to win. They must use their creativity, and the incredible freedom empowered by the GM, to blaze their own path to victory. Contractors drug their competitors, blackmail the judges, and doctor the finishing-line video.
Powers are not numerical bonuses. They are tools for learning about and controlling situations.
Play the Situation, not the System
In some RPGs, there is an unwritten rule that the straightforward approach is sufficient. This happens because the system supports it. Encounter tables clearly define expected outcomes of fights. Get into a fair fight and you will walk away with a few scrapes that’ll heal with a good night’s rest.
In The Contract, you are charged with killing the monster in the penthouse suite. You have guns, but so do they. Kicking in the door and opening fire may very well work, but if you avoid taking a bullet to the shoulder, the wrist, or the eye, it’ll be by blind luck. Do you pursue a plan that risks a permanent, debilitating injury? Rappelling from the roof and opening fire straight into the baddie’s bedroom is better. Impersonating a valuable client and luring them into an ambush on your own turf? Now we’re talking.
And why not? Powers in The Contract may empower you to scale a glass wall, disguise yourself as a loved one, hack the IRS, and more. Powers add tools to your tool belt.
Balance is maintained despite the fact that Contractors may play in Games with Characters that have as many as 10 Victories more than them because player ingenuity makes up the difference. The senior Contractors may have more tools, but watch the newbie players run inside the mob’s hideaway to fight their way to the kingpin. Watch the veteran Player without a single Gift board the exits shut and light the place on fire.
Why urban fantasy?
The Contract is tuned for urban fantasy settings because the real world is a box that everyone is familiar with. If a situation goes off the rails in a starship or a demonic dimension, the only things you have to work with are what the GM has established. If you are attacked by a monster in a convenience store, you know that there may be a gun behind counter, the ceiling is made of those flimsy tiles that can be pushed away, there's a walk-in refrigerator, a back door, security cameras, etc.
Having the common frame of reference gives Players more tools to form creative solutions.
And you can still take a starship to the demonic realms from time to time.
This philosophy empowers Contractors to be truly unique, not just in their flavor but in their capabilities. A format that provides a justification for getting these Contractors together (the Games and the promise of Power) further unshackles character design, allowing Contractors to adopt unique and conflicting goals. They may have little in common. They may fight with each other.
The combination of these two design elements opens the door for dynamic inter-character interactions. You do not have to meta-game to make a group of super-friends. If one Contractor is a vampire and another is a priest sworn to destroy vampires, well . . .
The Games are deadly. People Die.
But I don't want to die
Don't worry. Living is not as guaranteed in The Contract as it is in some systems, but it is still largely up to each Player group to decide how much death they want in their games.
That said, the real possibility of death empowers the stories of Characters in a way that is difficult to reproduce. Even throwaway Contractors will earn your respect by facing real danger and succeeding against all odds. They make enemies. They lose friends. Not NPCs, but real Characters who breathe with the life of other Players.
Contractors will more easily tell a vibrant, engaging, and human story than characters that sit glistening but inert in a safe harbor.
The Contract has been purpose-built for this sort of gameplay, battle tested, and tweaked for decades. It has a unique power. It will take you on one hell of a ride.
Don’t believe me? Try it out.