ETHICS IN GAME JOURNALISM DISCLAIMER: I was provided a comp copy by Gun Metal Games to review. I have previously freelanced for Gun Metal Games on Interface Zero, but I had no involvement in this book. This review does contain affiliate links to RPGNow, and purchasing this book via those links may provide me with store credit at RPGNow, which I typically use to buy more books to review. Also, I am a Savage Worlds fanboy.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: You will need the Savage Worlds rules and the Interface Zero book to get the most out of this. It is currently available in PDF from RPGNow and is listed at $8.50.
This is the setting book for Japan in the Interface Zero setting. The year is 2090, the genre is cyberpunk, and the system is Savage Worlds. Gun Metal Games likes kicking out these small, beefy and gorgeous (in a gritty cyberpunk kinda way) sourcebooks to support the game. The book is 67 pages (including covers) and zooms in on Japan in a big way.
It is divided into six sections, the first of which is Life in Japan. Japan in 2090 is largely a military dictatorship, with the Emperor serving as a figurehead while the First General really gives all the orders. The Yakuza are printing weapons with 3D printers for quick, brutal, bloodbath hits, atheists have practically formed a militant religious order called The Setting Sun, and one of the prime forms of entertainment are Kaijuu simulators in which people pilot virtual mech suits against virtual giant monsters, which is really kinda awesome. I'm a little put out that sumo wrestling, baseball and J-Pop are all still "things", but puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) is not. Although, apparently, female cage fights in skimpy costumes is apparently a thing. In Japan, many people have also taken to making a "back up" of people and keeping them in a virtual afterlife, which other folk have a HUGE problem with.
The Characters section is going to provide a good chunk of the crunch, beginning with archetypes like Ancestral Surrogate (people carrying a "back-up" of an ancestor) or the returned, cyberpunk samurais and ninjas. New occupations for characters include Buddhist Monks, Digi-Ink Tattoists, Theatre Performers and Slave Labor. Several new Edges are included, such as Merciful, which lets you avoid penalties for doing non-lethal damage, Blind Fighting, Ancestral Zeek (when the ancestor you are tapping into had power you never knew about, and it manifests in you), Mask Masters (years in theatre have made you a master of disguise) and Nirvana (which makes you immune to Fear and Intimidation due to your enlightened state).
IZ continues their long standing tradition of making equipment chapters easy to read by putting them in catalog format. You can now get "Second Skin", which stacks with armor and slides over your own skin. All the rest kinda run together on me, but that one's pretty sweet. There are also the insanely creepy Bioforms, which are created as pets and oddities for people with entirely too much money. This gets taken to the extreme with the Geisha 2.0 Simulacra, which are often used as "on demand sex bots".
Ten major Japanese cities detailed, from well-known cities like Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka to lesser known (to me) cities like Sendai and Nagano. Lots of interesting stuff here, like Osaka being full of people who had been driven temporarily insane and were then "rebooted", but many of them wound up without memories and so are being given new identities and reintegrated into society. The nuclear plant that was hammered in Fukushima during the 2011 tsunami (though one in-setting commentator calls it a cover up) apparently still stands and is VIOLENTLY radioactive, and sounds like an awesome and terrifying place to have to travel.
A whole slew of Savage Tales set in Japan are provided, ten in all. None of them have any stats provided, so you will to do that work beforehand, as well as sussing out any game mechanics coming into play. Some of these are one offs that you can run and move on from, some of them allude to deeper plots in the setting (like a terrorist group pulling off a much larger and more expensive attack than they should be capable of). A couple of the Tales screw with player control of their characters directly, with one seemingly taking a PC out of the adventure almost completely, which isn't something I recommend.
The Threats chapter provides stats for a variety of enemies that characters are liable to face in a Japan game, like generic stat blocks for Synth Activists (humans lobbying for Synth rights), shinobi and samurai, corporate bosses, Setting Sun terrorists and the bioforms.
SIX POINT SUMMARY:
- Some of the stuff, like geisha sexbots and the bioforms just seem really creepy, but not out of place.
- While I get the need to keep word count down, the lack of any game mechanics married to the Savage Tales makes them less user friendly than I, as a Savage Worlds GM, would like. Two of them essentially removing player control of their characters, especially with one of them being for the bulk of the adventure, gives me pause. That can be kind of a huge turnoff for a lot of players.
- Virtually no wasted space. Double columns of text on the pages, densely packed. Don't let the page count fool you...there's a lot of info here, including great setting elements like the virtual afterlife.
- The amusing and insightful "commentary" for in character message board/social media-like chatter continues, and I almost always love these asides. They add extra context and flavor for the text and they continue to be just the right length and frequency to get the point across without overstaying their welcome.
- I want to run a mission that takes the party into the heart of the Fukushima power plant.
- Some great mechanical tidbits, with multiple Edges and the Second Skin armor really standing out. Ancestral Zeek, Ghost in the Machine, Mask Master and Merciful are all big standouts to me.
I would say this is worth picking up if you're an Interface Zero fan, even if you aren't running a game in Japan (individuals and organizations can travel, after all, and some of the setting elements are entirely too cool to not use). It's certainly not essential, and it's not without its flaws, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.