Saturday, 11 December 2010
Interface Zero: bringing Cyberpunk to Savage Worlds
I always felt Savage Worlds was lacking a decent cyberpunk treatment. I know that Triple Ace has attempted this with its Tales of the Sprawl, but what was really required was a larger and more ambitious setting that really does the genre justice.
I've always loved cyberpunk, having really first got into the genre by reading William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive and Count Zero way back in 1995 when I was down with severe flu in only my second week in my new job at the Financial Times. We had a decent public library round the corner, and I managed to borrow the books before the virus struck me down. I found them very impressive, and got my flatmate reading them too.
Ultimately, I spent the Nineties running Call of Cthulhu, but I also played in two epic, epic campaigns. One was my brother's sprawling Shadowrun campaign, and the other my flatmate's even more spectacularly epic SLA Industries campaign. We were living in East London at the time, so it was easy for the GM's to pick up ideas for the dystopian urban decay of 2053 Seattle and SLA's Mort from the environment we were living in.
I'll never forget the search for one serial killer in SLA which took the best part of three years to locate and kill. Every time we thought we were on to him, it turned out to be another copycat killer. It was probably the toughest investigative campaign I've ever played in, punctuated by other unrelated missions we picked up as a team to pay the bills. It was more like a TV series today, with an episodic format, but a major plot thread running through the whole thing, ending in a final showdown in a lab at a hospital, where the elusive serial killer was finally slain by my character in a knife fight.
I've continued to have a nostaligic soft spot for those campaigns, which were sadly wound up around 2002-03. Being a big fan of Savage Worlds, I've always hoped someone would introduce a decent cyberpunk setting, just for the sake of completeness. Along comes Interface Zero this month from Cubicle 7 and Gun Metal Games, and an interesting beast it is too.
Interface Zero originally started life as a non-SW setting, but has since jumped onto the SW bandwagon as it gathers speed. It is what I hoped it would be: a 'regular' cyberpunk setting in that there are no elves or magic or other twists in the tale that might irritate me. I loved Shadowrun, but I know the idea of the Awakened and the Sixth World gets up some people's noses in a big way.
There has been a lot of water under the bridge in the world of cyberpunk gaming since Cyberpunk 2020 was originally published by R. Talsorian in the late 1980s. For starters, a lot of the technology used by our characters in our early Shadowrun games is now a reality. On top of that, there have been a lot of very influential additions to the genre by others, including movies like The Matrix and Strange Days, and the TV series Dark Angel, as well as manga contributions like Akira and Ghost In The Shell. All these are acknowledged in Interface Zero. There's also the introduction of virtual worlds like MMOs to consider; these exist in Interface Zero, but on a much larger scale, and it is nice to see other Savage Worlds settings like Deadlands and Hellfrost existing as popular virtual gaming worlds in Interface Zero.
IZ as I shall refer to it uses the world in 2088 as its start point. It suggests a range of different play styles, from manga to the more gritty street campaign and all points in between (there is scope for Mad Max-style badlands play, or more prosaic mercenary campaigns). We have the obligatory chapters on cyberware, hacking, and gear (a cyberpunk game must have gear). I felt Shadowrun ended up going too far down this line with its massive range of gear - it really was quite mind boggling how much kit you could buy by the time 3rd edition Shadowrun was launched. IZ keeps its equipment list more conservative, but it is good to see a broad range of interesting 'tools' for runners to use, from drugs to micro transceivers, from titanium razor nails to golem mechs. Plenty of really cool hardware that could be easily transposed to other sci fi SW campaigns.
I also like the chapter on street cred, which governs the PCs' ability to access resources, rely on contacts, call on favours, indeed to function effectively on their home patch. This can also affect things like Intimidation and Persuasion rolls in game, as well as your ability to Taunt.
You also don't have to play human characters anymore: there are animal hybrids, androids (inspired by Bladerunner) and even simulacra on offer as PC races. It is a little bit more exotic without going all the way down to the elves and dwarves and pixies of Shadowrun fame.
There is no plot point campaign as such, but there are some suggested adventures attached to particular regions within the IZ world. There is also an adventure generator, which I always like to see in Savage Worlds setting books. I've often considered running a Cthulhupunk game, inspired by the GURPS supplement of the same name, and combining IZ with the Realms of Cthulhu hardback really does begin to make this look like a real possibility. Very exciting.
IZ has a rich setting which encourages play beyond the bread and butter guns for hire campaign: I particularly like the private detective agency campaign seed, and being a fan of the 2000AD Simping Detective series, I feel quite intrigued by the idea of an undercover cops campaign in a 2088 environment (I also really enjoyed The Departed, which probably explains a lot).
Anyway, I feel a major gap in the Savage Worlds pantheon has now been filled, and really can't say there's much that could be added beyond what IZ has achieved already.