The Game Mechanic: A Future Near You (Part 1)

Yes, you can actually buy these.

Speculative science fiction has always been one of my favorite genres of literature. I love seeing people put their dreams and ideas of the future to paper, and joining them in looking forward to (or dreading) what has yet to come. I’m particularly fond of older sci-fi, reading through and seeing what they got right and what they never even saw coming.

On the other hand, it can also be a little frustrating to play classic tabletop RPGs, such as the earlier editions of Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun and get pigeon-holed into what the future looked like back in the 80’s and 90’s. Therefore, we are going to take a look at a few speculative technologies that will probably be horribly outdated in another decade or two, but will still feel a little more modern.

Our launching point will be a small handful of personal combat gear, with stats for the Savage Worlds system, and then we’ll spend the rest of the month on implementing the future near you.


Continue reading “The Game Mechanic: A Future Near You (Part 1)”

Old School Podcast: Interface Zero at RavenCon Part 1

My RavenCon 2011 experience continues to be the focus on my posts here at Troll ITC, but this post begins the audio for the final game, and the first convention game I’ve ever run.

This year I ran my first convention game, and not only that but one that used my very own rules created as an alternative to the Hacking/Virtual Reality systems in the Savage Worlds setting Interface Zero.  I’ve written about Interface Zero before and more recently I announced that I’m actually now in a writing contract to create a supplement for release this Fall.  My rewrite is intended to create a fluid group dynamic when players enter the virtual world known as “The Deep“.  The new system is one that relies on a broader set of skills and abilities than the Hacking skill alone for computer user, allowing a team of players to enter virtual reality and retain the diversity of their character features.

In this first part of the session, approximately one hour long, you meet the party and they meet each other, beginning their frantic and harried journey.  One player enters what is referred to in Interface Zero as Hyper Reality, a layer of virtual reality that overlays directly with the real world.  This is something that is actually in the core rule book for the setting and remains mostly unchanged in my alternate version.  Be sure to check back soon to hear some of the new rules when later segments of the session are posted.

As always, this podcast is available right here, and on iTunes.

Note:  At the time this podcast was created I referenced a contract with Gun Metal Games for publishing alternate hacking rules for Interface Zero.  Due to a number of factors, that supplement was never/will never be published.  I’m being consulted currently to work on a different supplement for The Deep, but the rules set used in this adventure did not make the final cut.

Interface Zero Logo

[tags]RavenCon, RPG, Role Playing Games, Savage Worlds, Interface Zero, Actual Play,podcast[/tags]

Play Review: Interface Zero

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.

Booting Up

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.

Plugging In

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.

Logging Off

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.

Interface Zero Logo

[tags]Savage Worlds, Cyberpunk, Interface Zero, rpg, Role Playing, Games, Review[/tags]

Cyberpunk: It’s not dead yet

The last 10 years have been tough for Cyberpunk gamers.

FASA closed their doors in 2001, meaning that Shadowrun seemed to be dead. Guardians of Order, publishers of the Tri-Stat Cyberpunk game Ex Machina, went out of business in 2006. And after four years of silence, R. Talsorian Games, publishers of the classic Cyberpunk 2020, came back with Cyberpunk v3, which was fairly widely acknowledged to be “not a good thing” by genre devotees.

It’s not all bad. The Shadowrun property went from FASA to FanPro and then on to Catalyst, and now the game has a fourth edition out. Both d20 Modern and GURPS have had “cyber” themed supplements released, and there’s an interesting fan conversion of the original Cyberpunk system floating around the internet called Interlock Unlimited.

But recently, something’s changed. Spotted on the website of publisher Cubicle 7 for pre-order, there is a new Cyberpunk game, due out this June, called Genesis Descent. Genesis Descent licenses Interlock, the original Cyberpunk 2020 system, for a new setting using the same themes of corporate greed, political unrest, and high technology. This may be just the thing for people who like the Cyberpunk system, but think the setting’s too dated, or people who just need a change of pace from the elves and dragons in Shadowrun. The site doesn’t provide any information as to whether the game is indeed completely standalone (though at 256 pages, it’s certainly a possibility) or just a setting, but regardless, it will be the first material commercially released using the Interlock system in at least 7 years.

It’s completely unclear how this will turn out, but Cubicle 7, current publishers of the Fuzion-based Victoriana as well as SLA Industries, probably has enough background in the genre to know what they’re doing. The only thing Cyberpunk fans can do is sit on their hands until June, and hope that Genesis Descent doesn’t fall on its face like Cyberpunk v3 did.

From the Cubicle 7 Site:

Genesis Descent is a brand new setting using R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk Interlock system. Life on Earth in 2054 is tough for many. Climate change and natural disasters have not only torn many from their usual way of life, but have also prompted conflict over scarce resources such as water in some areas. Meanwhile, technology brings more and more comfort to the privileged. Political and civil unrest, as well as outright war in some areas, has seen the geo-political landscape change. The empires of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are falling as new countries take advantage of the upheaval to assert their dominance. Amongst this turmoil, corporations have seized the initiative. In many areas, where governments don’t have the resources or stability to protect, treat or feed their citizens, corporations are the sole providers of law and infrastructure. America may have been the first country to send a man to the Moon, but it was a corporation that sent the first man to Mars.

Genesis Descent has three levels of play: Street, Company and Agent. Allowing players and Gamemasters to tailor the type of campaign they wish to play. From the ghettos and organized crime of shattered Los Angeles or London, through the halls of corporate-controlled states and their near orbit control centres, to UNIS Agents working tirelessly to assist governments and keep corporate power in check.

Genesis Descent is a dark, stark techno-thriller near-future setting where the world is falling apart as mankind reaches out to claim the stars…

Cyberpunk and the Interlock system are licensed from R. Talsorian Games, Inc

[tags]cyberpunk, Role Playing Games[/tags]

Blog at

Up ↑