Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tommy's Take on Boston: The Broken Cradle of Liberty

First off, I don't normally comment on the covers as such, but the cover to Boston: The Broken Cradle of Liberty invokes a great mish-mash of westerns with cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic coolness that it has to be given a thumbs up...and, aesthetically speaking, the book only gets better from there.

Gun Metal Games has made it a point to release some of the most functional PDFs on the market, and Boston not only maintains that tradition, but steps up the production values by several notches, complete with a gorgeous new layout scheme.

While the Interface Zero corebook focused its light on Chicago the most, this sourcebook is devoted to giving you everything you need in order to play in Boston in a $9.99 PDF from RPGnow, or in a preorder bundle from Cubicle 7.

Another great touch that must be mentioned is the side column on most of the pages: It's the transcript of a Wikileaks-like site called Declassified, in which in-universe users are commenting on the main text of the book...and the writers have NAILED messageboard banter and comments with disturbing accuracy. Given that the text is presented in a narrative fashion, this is pretty cool as it gives "two sides" on many of the situations.

BOSTON IN A NUTSHELL

Pretty much what it sounds like. In addition to a detailed discussion of just how crapsack Boston is, with the corrupt police, "hostile sectors", and so on, you get the Declassified truth about just how crappy it is. If the oppressive martial law state doesn't get you, the terrorist dissidents just might...(well, unless you're a Wild Card, of course).

Worth noting: Game stats show up in Declassified, including Cabbies...why Cabbies? Well, they ARE heavily armed.

The various neighborhoods are broken down, with an overview of each (such as the affluent Beacon Hill and the affordable, and liveable, South Boston) as well as the specific locations in each that are most likely to be of use to PCs and GMS. They tend to strike the right balance between giving you plenty of information set the stage and bring Boston to life, without over detailing the setting. Again, the sidebar provides relevant NPC stats, from specific people (A South Boston mob boss) to relevant generic types.

Next we are treated to the major organizations (as well as the underground's relevant thoughts on them), such as the Atlantica Federal Government, the Atlantica Police Force, "freedom fighters" (or terrorists, depending on where you stand) The Scions of Liberty, and so on.

CHARACTERS IN BOSTON

A few new Edges and Hindrances are given, my favorite being Off The Grid, which means you don't exist in the system. However, you can still have alternate IDs that DO. A pair of new occupations (Fisherman and Pharmacy Tech) round out the section.

MALMART UPDATES

The Interface Zero equipment catalog gets an update complete with a humorous Malmart Spambot in the Declassified sidebar.

Amy's Surplus has armor and outfits, while What The Dickens has Victorian themed clothing for those needing some "theme" with their cyberpunk.

New weapons (I like the exploding satchel, myself) are also included, and some vehicles ranging from armored taxis to LAV-Loaders (for the more industrial types). Also, there are hilariously overpriced hair implants, which prompts a great exchange in Declassified by one user who is opting to stick with their stylist, while another tries to convince them that it's totally worth it if the company continues to provide proper support for the implants.

CITY TRAPPINGS

Originally, Trappings were mostly just flavor text in Savage Worlds, but at the complaints of even some diehard players, they began to take on a life of their own, adding small, relevant modifiers to a situation. Boston takes it a step further by adding Trappings to the Boston neighborhoods, while establishing a system that can be used with any city setting.

For instance, someone entering a shop on Beacon Hill (which has the Fat Cats trapping) will wind up paying more for their goods if they don't look like they already have money. (Yeah, it sounds like a silly contradiction, but it happens).

Ten trappings are given in this book, pretty much covering most of the neighborhood types you're liable to find in Boston. A simple, but cool, system that I'd like to see more of (and not just in a cyberpunk setting).

THE GANGS OF BOSTON

The sidebar has some premade gangs and relevant NPCs (like the Chinese gang The Crazy 88s and the Hybrid pack called Full Moon) but ALSO has some charts and guidelines for generating your own gangs (including a gang name generator). There are five different types of gangs (Punk, Hoodlum, Thug, Racketeer, Guardian and Degenerate) with a list of common activities they are likely to be involved in. There's even a location chart for generating bounties that replaces the Chicago specific chart from the Interface Zero book.

ADVENTURES AND PLOT HOOKS

Boston includes two adventures, the first being a freelance job for the Boston Museum of American Literature, attempting to secure some documents important to American history from a very exclusive location on Beacon Hill. As is common for IZ adventures, if the team takes the job, they are given free reign to scout out the situation and decide how to proceed, but of course, it can't go COMPLETELY painless...there just wouldn't be any tension in that.

The second one involves the group being hired to investigate a blackmail situation in which the victim is having an affair behind his wife's back...with a member of a rival company. It doesn't feel quite as developed as the first one, but has a very interesting hook to it.

The book ends with half a dozen short plot hooks, from tracking a serial killer to a race track offering big payouts to a seeming stalker situation that is much more to a tagalong reporter to a contract involving taking out a new gang to preventing the destruction of the Boston Sea Wall.

THOUGHTS

Page for page, this may actually be the strongest entry in the Interface Zero line thus far, and at the least it is a very promising template for future city books. While some may balk at $10 for 60 pages, none of it feels wasted, with the Declassified stuff being a hilarious diversion when it's not shedding light on the information presented in the main text.

While there isn't a ton of mechanical stuff present, which may be a downer for some, the mechancs that are present are well placed, and I especially love the City Trappings. This is also the "prettiest" IZ book to date, with the new layout looking amazing. The content impressed me enough that I didn't mind the full-page art pieces (there weren't many, but they were there and they did do a good job of setting the tone).

That said, for those wanting tons of mechanical support (say new Edges and Hindrances), there aren't enough here to buy the book for those alone and, as noted, the second adventure definitely feels like it requires a bit more development for the GM than most of the adventures do, but these are minor gripes. Boston: The Broken Cradle of Liberty, does a great job of bringing the city to life for Interface Zero GMs and players.