In the year 2088, the interface has been eliminated. The Tendril Access Processor creates a direct link to the brain, downloading the user’s entire consciousness to a virtual-scape known as The Deep. This is Interface Zero, this is Savage Cyberpunk.
Interface Zero has been waiting in my rpg queue and calling to me since the day I got it. I love Cyberpunk games and I love the Savage Worlds system, so this should have been a match made in heaven. The book makes heavy use of “in character” writing and flavor text, which immediately started to spawn bits of ideas in my mind about the kind of stories I could tell. I imagined tales of corporate espionage and crooked cops, gritty private detectives and serial killers that use biofeedback programs in The Deep to assassinate unsuspecting schmucks trying to give their computerized avatars a dirty kick. All of the components for some fantastic science-fiction plots are present, but unfortunately trying to dig into those pieces can be a frustrating exercise.
While I was preparing for my session, I found myself getting “lost” in the confusing layout of the book. Mixed slang and acronym references made it extremely difficult to search back through the book, even with the search-able text PDF I was using. I appreciate the effort Gun Metal Games put into making the world seem believable with colloquial language, but there is a line between creating a world and making a game. Sadly, I think the line was crossed.
In spite of struggling with the book’s organization, my excitement to jump in and play was undeterred. One thing the book does very well is draw you into the feel of the setting; every weapon or armor is branded and information is given about each company that makes the equipment, as well as slogans such as, “Act of God Armaments: Peace Through Overwhelming Firepower”. The whole thing sort of captures this dark future reminiscent of the Robocop movies, things are so awful and humanity has fallen so far, but at least we can laugh at a few tongue in cheek jokes. I found it very easy to craft my initial story ideas for Interface Zero, and using some of the flavor text from the book, my players were able to drop right into this new universe and have a pretty good understanding of the world around them.
In our one-shot story, my group fought corrupt police forces, raced away in an SUV, and were chased down by a Golemmech mechanical armored suit. Action and intrigue were high while the players sought to investigate their bad setup and to clear their names. In time, they decided to attack the mega corporation that wronged them in the only way they could get answers, by hacking in through The Deep.
In too Deep
Sadly, in gaming, no matter how much fun the session is, it can be marred by one bad scene. When the players first entered the virtual world I gave them a chance to design their Avatars. Because Avatar depictions are completely independent of actual stats, their representation online could like like anything they describe. Some chose Avatars similar to their “real world” character designs, while others took far out and wild designs. The player made descriptions were completely free, as well as funny in some cases. But sadly, when the dice began to roll in The Deep, the fun started to dwindle. The mechanics for determining the stats of the virtual character bring the simple systems of Savage Worlds down even a step further, everything about the character including his new Defense and Firewall scores, which replace Parry and Toughness, are all derived from the Hacking skill. This boil down of characteristics leaves little room for variation in The Deep. These constraints are not limited to the player experience, in The Deep, all combatant programs used by the Game Master are given a description regarding their appearance, and in some cases a special ability, but for those programs, their dice rolls are all derived from the network or Domain they run in. This makes for some very repetitive Hacking/Combat experiences within The Deep.
Another concern regarding The Deep is the “magic” system replacement used within. Players can run or even create their own programs, which, for some reason, have limited uses per purchase or creation, as opposed to perhaps a Power Points system typical to Savage Worlds. Descriptions and use of these programs are very basic, and the list is particularly short, making combat in The Deep even more repetitive. During our session, the play actually became so intolerable, that I offered the group the chance to skip the scene, everyone hurriedly agreed. I wrapped up the fight with some description, gave the party the Hacking roll successes needed to find the information they needed, and moved on to the next scene, logged out and moving on to spread the word of the corruption of their corporate conspirators. Recharged and excited to move on, the energy picked up in the room as the players returned to their “skin” and didn’t rely on only Hacking roll after Hacking roll.
At the end of the night, ultimately my group was thrilled to have played, but in wrap-up conversation we realized that everything they enjoyed about the session wasn’t because of Interface Zero, but because of the Savage Worlds backbone it used. From a Game Master’s perspective, Interface Zero provides a fun universe to run adventures in, but my frustrations experienced with the layout and writing left something to be desired. I know that Interface Zero has been released previously under the True20 system as well as Gun Metal Games’ own Modern20, but I’ve not read those versions of the setting. I am curious to see if some of the confusion in the face of overused acronyms and slang could be remedied by reading the older editions, but any newly released product for a different system should be able stand on its own.
A great deal of effort was put into this project, but I think it is no coincidence that a book so hard to follow lists eight different writers in the credits. If I were to run a sci-fi based Savage Worlds campaign, I think there’s a great deal I can pull from this book to enhance those games, but I would most certainly exclude or completely rewrite the rules for The Deep to allow for more varied and effective character builds that do not rely entirely on the Hacking Skill. Dark futures and corporate overlords make for incredibly fun and dangerous game worlds, but for the price of this book and the issues I experienced, I just can’t recommend it as a purchase.
[tags]Savage Worlds, Cyberpunk, Interface Zero, rpg, Role Playing, Games, Review[/tags]