Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tommy's Take on Interface Zero: Savage Worlds Edition

Holy smokes.

Interface Zero: Savage Worlds Edition is my first experience with Gunmetal Games, and they know how to set up a PDF.

Full bookmarked, fully searchable, layered, with a table of contents AND extensive index, each of which are ALSO fully clickable. Even at 300 pages, there is no reason not to be able to navigate all around this PDF with ease...so, strong first impression right there. The book is black and white, with some nice, atmospheric pieces of art.

I'm not gonna lie...I don't have a ton of experience with cyberpunk role playing, but attaching it to Savage Worlds is a great way to get me hooked, as I would try pretty much anything at least once under Savage Worlds.

INTRODUCTION

The introduction starts with a three(!) page glossary of common lingo in the world of Interface Zero in 2088. Some of it is lingo being used now "n00b"...others, like TAP, are native to Interface Zero. (TAP is a microchip stuck inside everyone's head...or pretty much everyone, at least). I won't go into massive detail here, but yeah, three pages of lingo. For a casual game, might be a bit much...but it is aided by, again, some common terms that exist today, as well as common terms from cyberpunk fiction.

The opening fiction is nice, too...with an artificial life form waking up. Sets the stage very well and drew me right in.

HISTORY 101

This is the timeline of events, starting from 2010 and ending in 2088, to show where the world went to pot. It chronicles the rise of the corporations, which is hasted by the collapse of governments. We get the standard "oil bad" argument, though I did like how eco-terrorists only made it worse by unleashing an oil eating bacteria.

In May of 2028, the Middle East finally erupts into a nuclear war...which in turn causes India to unleash nuclear weapons on Pakistan...which led to near cataclysmic fallout that ultimately killed about 1/7th of the population.

Rising sea levels push population centers inward, and about ten years later, the world comes out of The Death (as the fallout was called) changed...but intact. In 2060, the US finally gets a President from Oklahoma, but of course he's a tyrant who wants to rule with an iron fist, sparking a new civil war.

Humans are replaced in the workforce by simulacrums...but economic conditions have not improved to where humans can afford NOT to work...thus people are scraping by, starving, and blaming simulacrum for it.

Through all of this, humanity is not only gradually expanding into space, but they are expanding into virtual reality and "hyper reality" as well.

This is just a VERY broad generalization of the world's history, which runs about 11 pages, in well-written, easily digestible "Timeline" format.

Once we hit 2088, the book goes into greater detail, through the voice of "Billy Black Eyes", who tells us about the world as it is today.

We learn that due to modern technology, the rich are functionally immortal, while the poor are pretty much screwed. The middle class has vanished, and you're either wealthy, or you're living on ugly, dirty streets.

Also, remember that part about how the rich are functionally immortal? It's because they are allowed to "dub" themselves...making back-up copies of themselves, essentially.

"Humanity" now encompasses humans, Humans 2.0, simulacrums, hybrids and androids, all of which we will get into later.

Genetic engineering is commonplace, from people who rewrite their DNA for the traits that they prefer (plastic surgery to the next level), to people who are spliced with animal DNA to become human-animal hybrids.

Parts of the world are also pushing for the Omega Protocols, which would help prevent the fear that an AI would evolve beyond human understanding, and essentially become a bigger threat to humanity than anything before it. Many nations are skeptical...I can see how that would be a problem.

The virtual world is accessed through the TAP, which virtually everyone has implanted in them, and which is also called "Interface Zero"...if that tells you how important the TAP is to the game.

Finally, in 2088 people with psychic powers have suddenly emerged...and no one is quite sure why they are how they are, with theories being that they were genetically engineered, or that they had latent abilities awoken by their TAP.

The history section is very atmospheric, and does a nice job setting the stage for the nihilistic dystopia of Interface Zero.

SYSTEMS OF CONTROL

These are some of the setting rules for Interface Zero, starting with the combat system, which uses the grittier rules of The Moscow Connection, meaning that no one can make soak rolls! As well, a character can become Incapacitated off of a single wound!

Next, we get to Cyberware, which comes in four "grades": Gutterware, Streetware, Hyperchrome and
Milware, inn ascending order of worth. If you need cyberware, you can get the cheap stuff...but there will almost certainly be consequences.

Rather than just having a list of items, IZ provides a list of effects...you can add effects onto each piece of cyberware, but over a certain point, you have to start adding defect points. And the cheapie stuff starts off with defects anyway.

The effects come in three levels, with level 1 providing such diminishing the chance of hitting an innocent or ally with firearms, redundant organs, night visions optics and +1 sub-dermal armor. Level 2 effects include emotion blockers (resisting Taunts and Tricks), personal airbags(!) and retractable claws. Level 3 effects include jump jets, a vehicle control interface and chameleon skin.

Defect points are penalties to cybertrauma rolls, which come up when your cyberparts get banged around. A handful of sample cybernetics are included as well.

From there, we get a list of the Edges and Hindrances that are removed from the setting (like anything arcane), as well as details on how some of the existing edges have been modified.

Connections, for example, are a much bigger deal in this setting than they are in a lot of others.

I won't go into heavy detail on the Hacking rules, but this is where we learn a lot about the TAP, Hyper Reality (the computer reality overlaid onto the real world) and Virtual Reality (the cyberworld). I have to admit that this took a couple of readings, due mostly to outside distractions combined with all of the specific terminology used. One thing that I thought was very cool, though, is that IZ uses Hyper Reality to explain "Hollywoood Hacking"...that is, a good hacker in Interface Zero can hack pretty much *anything*, including vehicles and weapons. In fact, reality is pretty maleable for a great hacker, due to the Hyper Reality overlay.

The Street Cred rules help govern how you can call on your connections and gain assistance from them, with every character getting two free favors per rank, plus one for every 10 Street Cred points they have. Characters can call in more than that, but their reputation starts taking a hit over that.

A handy chart is provided showing Street Cred modifiers.

Speaking of handy charts, the chapter ends with a handy cheat sheet of all the Hacking/Cyber Combat/Programming rules.

CHARACTER CREATION

IZ starts the character creation chapter off a little different than the normal Savage Worlds book. Rather than targeting character concepts, it encourages you to approach the group concept first, along with common themes for those groups, and THEN individual concepts. Some of the group concepts include gang members, military, troubleshooters and hackers.

Character creation is pretty standard stuff, beginning with race...and yes, there is more than just human.

Yes, you can play a Human, which follows the standard rules.

Androids are an option, and they have the Construct monstrous ability.

Humans2.0 are the genetically bred humans...and they may be a bit much. In their racial abilities, they have four "pros" to two "cons"...I could see the argument for dropping the free Edge for Humans2.0, with everything else they get.

Hybrids are pretty cool, being a mix of human and animal DNA. It is essentially the Fantasy Race creation rules, though you are meant to hew to a specific animal theme. Luckily, a series of packages for common animals are also provided. Although, Hybrids gain a free Edge on top of everything else and, again, I'm not sure I would allow that myself.

A simulacrum is a biological construct designed for work, recreation or combat.

Hacking is officially added as a Skill, and it makes sense given how prevalent it is in the setting.

One new step is Occupations...you are expected to name your character's job, which determines their starting credits, as well as the amount of credits gained with each Advance. Additionally, suggested contacts and Edges are listed for each profession.

Several new Edges are present, such as Emancipated, which frees an Android, Simulacrum or Hybrid from their owner. Gun-Fu Edges give you some neat tricks when using Guns in close combat, with Gun-Fu Legend allowing you to Aim while moving! Several IZ-specific professional Edges are present, as is a list of Hacking Edges.

Three Hindrances are included, and two of them are HUGE: Unplugged (you start without a TAP!) and Shell Shock (you start every combat Shaken!)

A handy summary table of all of the new Edges and ends the chapter.

I dig the races, although I would definitely cut out the Free Edge for everthing that isn't a baseline human or Simulucram. A free Edge is incredibly versatile, so to have that as well as other Kewl Stuff is a bit much.

GEAR

I love this chapter...not because I'm a die-hard gear junky, but because it is written as a "Malmart 2088 Spring Catalogue". Every item gets its stats...but in goofy, over the top, catalogue entry form.

My favorite armor is, by far, the Executive Decision Business Suit: A business suit that provides armor protection AND a potential bonus to the Exec's first attack while wearing it (if they are taking the opponent by surprise).

The Butterfly Sword, Chain Sword and Rockeet Hammer are all pretty impressive in the mail order weapons department.

The guns are absolutely frightening, ESPECIALLY with the lack of Soak Rolls. I mean we are talking some craziness, like pistols doing 2d8 damage to small burst templates.

Experimental energy weapons are also available, as is a large listing of vehicles from cars, to motorcycles to hovercraft.

A selection of Golemmechs is included, which is the IZ term for mecha. A list of standard features starts it off, and then five specific mechs are presented.

Malmart also "sells" cyberware from a variety of dealers, including Doc Pango, a street doc who is going global and sells "affordable" cyberwear...just, you know, good luck with that.

A handful of drugs follow, complete with addiction rules. To make it doubly bad, you can gain noticeable benefits from drugs...providing a compelling reason to use them in certain circumstances. Not a huge deal if you have a high enough Spirit, though, in some cases.

The Gear chapter veers into some nice "flavor" entries, like Dominator Pizza, which puts their delivery people through a rigorous, 13 week training camp under grueling conditions so that they can make sure you get your pizza in the urban sprawl in under 30 minutes.

It's also good to know that, in the future, Deadlands is an incredibly popular MMO...and I gotta say, this gave me the crazy idea of having...something...come through the MMO into reality for an IZ game. Stone, maybe? NAH...that would be far, far too much.

The Gear chapter is very extensive, with a lot of examples of each type of entry, yet written in an interesting manner (while still being easy to find the relevant game mechanics). I'm not one to out and out cheer for an equipment chapter, but this was very nicely done, providing some cool, over the top options in an entertaining manner.

WORLD OVERVIEW

The chapter begins with the Central African Union whose story is, honestly, kinda inspiring. After oil collapsed, Africa was left to fend for itself...and rather than die out due to AIDS and poverty, it got tore down and then rebuilt itself as a viable power in the world.

Simulacrum in South Africa are treated to the worst of the racism and slavery that blacks suffered under the South African rule...this opens up some interesting arguments for a game set in and around the Central African Union, though they are some touchy subjects.

The Chinese Mandarinate is the top superpower in the world, but rules entirely by economic power and not military power, having decommissioned their military and now propping up the states under their rule. They have also been working heavily on a solution for the population issue, by attempting to genetically engineer children that will lose all gender characteristics at puberty.

Techno-Shogunate Japan is home to the world's oldest living human population, with a workforce made up almost entirely from simulacrum, which outnumber the humans in Japan now. However, the simulacrum bred in Japan are also the most "human" Simulacra out there, as they are not raised ENTIRELY in tanks.

The Greater Eurasian Union doesn't sound too shabby...with boredom apparently being the biggest problem. Although human nature + boredom does tend to = bad news.

The India League became a series of city-states after the nuclear fallout hit and pretty much killed farming, and India has also become THE entertainment capital of the world over the last 20 years, especially when California finally completely collapsed.

The Middle East is more peaceful than it has ever been...mostly because it is a radioactive wasteland.

North America has gone from three countries to nine, as the US, Canada and Mexico have all broken apart into smaller countries in the wake of the changes over the last several years.

Oceania are the island countries of the Pacific, where many people fled to as the rest of the world was collapsing, including the man-made island MU - so named as a tribute to the mythical Atlantis.

Brazil has come to largely dominate South America in most ways...and outside forces seem to be bitter at just how little Brasilia seems to have suffered.

The Free City of Chicago is covered in detail, as an example of the Free Cities in what used to be the US right now. Chicago has grown in size, and is now divided into four major sectors.

Central Chicago is home to the business district, as well as the Gold Coast, designed for the affluent. It also houses the Eden Complex, which was meant to be an underground population center, but the criminal elements have begun to overrun it, and it is now "Coffin City".

The North Side is Neo Suburbia, a place you can go to escape the craziness of the inner city.

The South Side is also known as Urban Hell, and is actually outside of what used to be Chicago proper, as the former Gary, Indiana is smack in the middle of Urban Hell.

Last is the Wild, Wild West side...which is still a nicer place to be than the South Side. Chicago has a 48% unemployment rate, which also means there's a pretty big crime rate. Several street gangs are mentioned in this section, starting with the Chrome Reapers, who will jack your cyberwear...yeah, out of your body.

Of course, there is no police force any longer...just contracted security forces. Well, there is the Chicago Defense Force...but they are only deployed for ABSOLUTE emergencies.

The chapter also covers the major corporations and entertainment sections of Chicago, providing a lot of good information for launching a campaign set in Chicago, or using it as a template for your own Free Cities.

GAME MASTER SECTION

A lot of the information here is pretty standard stuff for a GMing section, although the "conflict" section is nice, as it gets into some of the broader conflicts available in a cyberpunk setting, like Reality vs Virtual Reality, Megacorps vs Megacorps and so on.

A large section is devoted to controlling cash flow in your game, which is a much bigger deal here than in a lot of games, as cash can rule EVERYTHING. In fact, a handy table is provided that not only breaks down the common jobs for each character rank, but the standard payouts for those jobs. A number of tips are also provided for keeping available money down, including guidelines for "Cost of Living" expenses to be deducted from the characters' cash balances.

While there is a LOT of great advice for capturing the bleak, cyberpunk "feel"...I absolutely love the Random Adventure Charts.

Seriously...very little fills me with joy like Random charts. Using d12s, you can generate a Contractor for the job, the Mission itself, Urban or non-Urban locations, the MacGuffin (if needed, this is an object that is at the center of some missions), Innocents (in some missions, someone may be endangered), the Antagonist, Twists and Complications, and Dramatic Conflict (optional, but awesome).

A Domain Generator is also present, for rolling up a network on the fly, when the PCs start hacking into something you hadn't prepared for, with a decent list of sample domains, just in case.

SAVAGE TALES

Savage Tales are short adventures, and IZ includes 11 of them, spread among Japan, the Eurasian Union, The India League, The Middle East and North America.

Among the eleven tales are WIDE range of missions and objectives, showing off both the quirks of the setting and the breadth of options available for adventures. My personal favorite starts off with a simple "seek and destroy", but actually involves a group of awakened Dubs...although the mission to keep Hollywood from rising again is pretty cool, too.

In addition, 21 adventure hooks are included, which can be used as inspiration or expanded into their own adventures.

Finally, a Bounty Generator is included, which starts with rolling for the target, their crime, the location, the target's true disposition (guilty/innocent/complicit) and notoriety (the amount of the bounty).

Did I mention I love random charts?

THREATS

These are the relevant game stats for the things your PCs are liable to have to fight (or team with).

Bio-Horrors are up first, and include Beetle Rats, Cyber Sharks, Toxic Roaches and - yes - random generators for making your own bio-horrors.

Also included are three sets of stock stats for Cyborgs (including one Wild Card), three types of Gang Members (with a Wild Card), three common Hackers, three Ismist Activists with a Wild Card terrorist leader, three stock Law Enforcement officers, three stock Simulacra, four military sets with two Wild Cards, standard criminal Mooks with two Wild Card underground types, and a number of catch-all stats like Bounty Hunters, Bloggers, Detectives and Media Icons.

Five AI programs are included as well, all Wild Cards, with Subsentient Programs that are almost always Extras.

The book ends with the fully clickable Index, a Campaign Tracker sheet, a printable sheet of Favor Counters, a page for Program and Domain cards, NPC stat cards and a two page character sheet.

THOUGHTS

Impressively comprehensive.

I do have three gripes: I really think the Free Edge is either given out too often OR, and this may be radical, I would recommend giving baseline humans two Free Edges. Why? Well, the setting is so lethal anyway, why not? And it does give humans a very compelling ability against everyone else. Just a thought. I would definitely give it a go as-written first before changing anything.

There is a ton of terminology to get used to, so I did have to do a bit of re-reading...but that's something I would get used to over time.

Finally, there is a bit devoted to talking about the emergence of the Psions...and they are not mentioned anywhere else in the book. My understanding is that the Psion splat it meant to be the first supplement for IZ, but SOMETHING in this book, even NPC guidelines (saving the PC option for the splatbook), would have been great.

On the flip side: Seriously, between searchability, clickable index and table of contents, plus bookmarks? There is no reason not to be able to find something in this 300 page tome. At ALL. Just an amazing bit of work there.

And, as I noted above, there is just a TON of material in here. Stats, Edges, information, fluff, rules, jeez...just an incredibly loaded book that's easy to navigate around to boot...and seriously, I LOVE random charts...the random adventure generator here may even be better than the one for Thrilling Tales. I don't know how to praise it any higher than that.

If you like Savage Worlds and cyberpunk, there is no reason not to buy this. There is plenty of information here that you can use to get a game going, and the setting is broad enough that you have a LOT of options to play around with for your campaigns. On top of it, there is plenty of room for expansion in future releases.