World Building: The Datasea and Hackers

Of all the Cyberpunk concepts one of the most iconic is cyberspace. Even cybernetics take a backseat to the way the net defined the genre.

We first talked about the Datasea here.

Glass Shadows ramps up the Net. Here, the Datasea is a ubiquitous, always on, wireless network which permeates all aspects of modern life.  On the surface, the average Datasea user sees both an augmented and virtual reality overlay that provides context to the meat world around them.

Virtual interfaces for communications and storefront displays from which users order single-use fabricator patterns, and even virtual brothels, are commonly available. Diving deeper into the Datasea, the user begins to come across darker things; black market nodes, comm-boards that contain cryptic messages intended for unknown operators, AI-run data havens, and all sorts of fun and nasty little pockets of VR. Literally every technological device in 2112 is Datasea enabled.

The average Datasea diver stays close to the surface, where things are safe. Hackers, on the other hand, almost compulsively dive deep.  So many hackers are the kind of people who just want to know everything and can’t resist a challenge.

The first thing a hacker learns is how to stop paying for Datasea access.  After that, things get interesting.

In addition to their skills in computer systems, bypassing intrusion countermeasures, and tearing through firewalls like tissue paper, hackers can take Boons that allow them to act as a central communications node for their team. The Hacker provides instantaneous communications between Operators without those pesky phone charges, or risk of data recorders.

Hackers can scan the data that an Angel sends to offline storage, allowing them to read a person’s memories and even inject false memories or thoughts.  As a capstone ability, a hacker can even take total control of an Angel and puppet a person through their implant. And you just thought getting that Angel meant always looking up the answers on E-Cyclopedia.

To be the best, a hacker requires a diverse skill set and multiple Boons. Some specialize in one thing, such as communications, or data relays, while others have more diverse but less effective skills. However, the rewards of being a full on, dyed-in-the-wool, hacker are well worth the investment.

Some of the Boons available to Hackers were inspired by this wonderful short film, Sight. In it, a programmer for the company that developed and marketed an Augmented Reality overlay called Sight goes out on a date with a woman, and the date doesn’t in a way either person expected. The film also gives a wonderful example of how VR and AR overlays work.

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World Building: Genegineering

It’s time to look at alternatives to Cybernetics. We originally discussed Genegineering here.

Genegineering began with the concept of cloned bodies, available for sale or rent for digitized human consciousness. Thus was born the idea of the Kevin­™ and Kate™ model clones, their faces representative of a generically wholesome brand name. However, life would be boring if that was all that Genegineering had to offer.

Let’s start with organ replacement and muscle grafts. For the right price, have your filthy homegrown guts swapped for a Genegineered stomach with a nest of symbiotic digestive worms. Of course, this is just the start. Opting for more invasive genetic restructuring, the Geneineered can surpass normal human potential.

Originally, there were a number of Geneineering Boons, each one giving a character some minor advantage. This was simplified to give players a better selection, and better overall advantages.

It was during the re-imagining of Geneineering that Chimeras were fully introduced …

<Transmission Interrupted>

The Animal-Spirit Preserve is not a lie!

 Are you Gene-Different?

 We can help you release the animal spirit within you.

 Animal-Spirit Preserve 1.454159, 37.364287

 You do not need to suffer anymore.

<Transmission Resuming>

 We had discussed the idea of spliced human and animals, mixing human and animal DNA. People could now opt for retro-viral remapping rewriting their genetic code.

The idea grew out of a discussion we had about a bar bouncer being implanted with vat-grown gorilla muscles, becoming more of a gorilla than a human. Today one of our signature characters, the Hacker, Red, is a fox chimera.

Genegineering Boons improve the character in a different manner than Cybernetic Boons. Mechanically, Cybernetics increase skills and Armor, while Genegineering improves Attribute rolls. Both have a capstone boon that allows Physical Attributes to improve past human limits.  Genegineering boons, outside of the Chimera boon, also provide an almost undetectable advantage for characters that choose them, whereas Cybernetics are more obvious. The  capstone boons for both Genegeneering and Cybernetics are mutually exclusive.  At some point in the chains, you have to commit to one or the other to reach your full potential.

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World Building: Cybernetics

Cyberpunk and Cybernetics have been a mated pair from the beginning.  I had a number of goals when it came to cybernetics and Glass Shadows. In addition to the traditional chrome and steel, I wanted to offer an alternative to implanting hardware.  We call it Genegineering, more on that next week.

We originally covered cybernetics here.

There needed to be a balance between works such as Ghost in the Shell and Appleseed with Neuromancer for our cybernetics. More so, Glass Shadows needed to be Transhuman.  Instead of the increasingly popular Cortical Stack found in stories such as Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan and games like Eclipse Phase, I wanted something closer to the Cybernetic Shell present in Ghost in the Shell.

Taking that idea a step forward, I created the “neural anchor” which creates a digitized copy of a human consciousness. Unfortunately, the host brain is destroyed in the process, and must be replaced by a cybernetic equivalent.  The digitized consciousness, referred to in the game as a Rider, provides the character with immortality through backup, and the ability to move between bodies.

Replacement bodies, “Kits”, could be anything from a mostly meat clone with a Cyberbrain, to a fully cybernetic replacement with zero meat left. A full cybernetic Kit could appear mostly human, all hardware underneath a flesh-like synthetic skin, or something completely inhuman in appearance. Kits built for specific environments or heavy combat might only vaguely resemble the humanity they left behind.

In the background information and narratives, look for elements of cybernetic-induced dysphoria.  That awkward feeling that a part of you, that cybernetic arm, for example, is not really a part of you.  It belongs to someone else and that other person controls its actions.  Dysphoria is a common reaction to major cybernetic replacement. The feeling becoming stronger and harder to cope with as the flesh is replaced.

To help adjust, people are sedated post op, and take drugs to relieve the symptoms as they adjust to the new component. Some people, Headcases, cannot adapt, their grip on reality slipping away. Most Headcases have the decency to tear themselves apart, something you can do once your manipulators are made of titanium and Kevlar; alone, or taking some unfortunate doc with them. Others experience strange feedback between implants and neural commands. This can lead to any number of odd behaviors, such as eating spark plugs, or drinking motor oil. There are some Headcases that do choose to self-terminate, and in doing so cause as much harm and destruction as possible before suicide by cop.

Players can chose related Drawbacks based on these symptoms. We designed these drawbacks to create interesting elements that add to the character’s story. Can player characters become a full on mass murdering Headcases?  Sure, but it should be through an agreement between the player and the gamemaster and have some reason for happening that moves the story in an interesting direction.

 

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World Building: The ECILAL

We introduced the ECILAL back in this post, and it has since become the expected default play area. The Easel, as residents tend to refer to it, grew out of my research into Megacities, megaregions, and feral cities.

For those of you unfamiliar with these terms:

  • Megacity: An urban area that exceeds 10 million residents.
  • Megaregion: A chain of roughly adjacent metropolitan areas joined by urban sprawl.
  • Feral City: A failed or failing metropolis, where anarchy rules and strength is the only power.

They say that writers should start with writing what they know, and since I live in a dystopoic nightmare-future of surveillance and conspiracy… I mean, on the east coast of the United States… the world of Glass Shadows finds its home there as well.

The east coast today is home to three separate megaregions: The northeast megaregion, which runs from Boston down to Washington, DC, the Piedmont Atlantic megaregion, which runs from Raleigh down to Birmingham, and the Florida megaregion, which covers pretty much all of Florida.  The Great Lakes megaregion is generally considered to be in the Mid-west, but even today, it has almost started to overlap with the Northeast.

While designing the ECILAL, I tried to extrapolate how the entire region might grow without the restrictions of zoning laws or environmental regulations. Starting today reaching forward nearly a century to the world of Glass Shadows, I could see leaves of urban expansion stretching out form the branches of the highway and interstates. It was easy to see the sprawl continuing to expand until these megaregions met up. Throw in a few Arcologies (Hello, Manhattan! Hi Detroit!), and corporate protectorates (Good morning, Harmony Heights!) in heavily populated areas, and you have the ECILAL.

Looking at current events and the trajectory of Detroit, in Glass Shadows it continued its slide into a feral city. Detroit is now a wasteland of city ruins with a single corporate Arcology giving those outside its walls the finger. The residents who could not flee in the wake of the collapse remained. Ruled by violent gangs, the area is in a constant state of flux.  As the megacorporations begin to move into the area to try and “mine” it for recoverable materials, brush wars erupt between poorly armed insurgent-style gang-bangers, and corporate security with heavy, military grade equipment.

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Under the Hood: The Network in a Nutshell

In Glass Shadows, the players take on several personas. The first player role is the Handler, someone within one of four factions competing to control the future of humanity. These characters work behind the scenes to advance their faction’s goals.

At the start of a campaign, the player selects their Handler’s faction, motivation, interests.  This Agenda defines the Handler, what are they interested in, and what do they get out of working behind the shadows?

With each new story the player’s write down a short “pitch” for an operation. Operations are jobs, or mission they would like to play through. Their Handler’s motivation and interests should frame this pitch. The GM then reads all the pitches to the players and the group votes on which is the most interesting to pursue.

Once decided, the players will pitch ideas for Operators, those brave fools that will execute the op.  The Handler selects another player’s Operator to be the lead. Once the Operators are created the Handler will reach out to this Operator to begin forming the team.

Players can create Operators by selecting an Agenda for the character along with an Archetype, Package, and Loadout. Each of selection frames the Operator’s key strengths, Boons, and starting gear. The process takes around 10 minutes.  

The players also discuss how their Operators are linked together. The lead Operator then sets the scene and in-character play begins with the lead Operator meeting with the Handler, discussing the operation, and recruiting the other Operators. The Handler and Operators drive the opening narrative, as well as key scenes through the operation. The GM merely observes character interactions and asks questions.

The GM takes a more active role once the group is together. Describing scenes and placing obstacles designed to highlight the relationships, skills and abilities of the Operators, as well as introducing twists to the story. Skill tasks and combat resolution are quick and easy die rolls + stats and skill bonuses vs. target difficulty numbers. 

Designed for quick access and ease of play Operators can be used for later operations, or if a new set of skills is required, the players can create new team members as needed. Building out a dynamic network of personalities and interconnections the people and faces that stand with you one day may be on the other side of the barrel the next.  That’s just the way things work sometimes. Life’s cheap, buy a Tac Helm. 

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UPDATE: Where the heck have we been?

[SIGNAL ACQUIRED]
[DECRYPTING]

[TRANSMISSION BEGINS]

Hello again, faithful readers! After a year of hiatus to deal with my son, work, and attending University, Glass Shadows is back on track and barreling toward publication at a breakneck pace.  In the last two weeks, we’ve completed the background setting material, completely re-written the character generation chapter, simplified some of the Boon trees, and started work on the Gamemastering chapter, which is now the last unfinished chapter.

The new background material includes an overview of how the world got the way it is, a detailed timeline from 2018 to 2112 (Present day for Glass Shadows), and a detailed look at the ECILAL Sprawl, which covers almost the entire east coast of the United States.  Following that is a close look at  other locations in the United States and around the world, including one in orbit! We’ve also included details regarding the technology prevalent in 2112 and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, as well as the scum that live on the streets.

We redesigned Character Generation for the dynamic network play-style to take between 10 and 15 minutes for each Operator. Gameplay is now focused more heavily on the Players, giving them the responsibility of selecting and defining Operations, gathering their group of Operatives together and interacting with each other and the world. The Gamemaster works with the players to create memorable characters and operations. As the players create their network, the Gamemaster is given tools to highlight the characters’ specific strengths, and drive interaction in the adventure to come.

The Boon trees involved with Cybernetics and Genetic Augmentation received a major overhaul, to give control that is more creative to players regarding what specific cybernetics they may have, and adding additional weight to the bonuses they receive mechanically. This required an overhaul of all of the character generation packages and Kits that used cybernetics or genetic augmentation.  In the process, we also redesigned the packages to ensure that every one of them had options for cyber or genetics.

We’ll talk more about what we’ve done and provide some samples of actual text for you over the next few weeks.

[TRANSMISSION ENDS]

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Character Narrative 8: A Virtual Meeting, part 1

The virtual conference room was built within a private server deep in the Datasea. Vinzent’s virtual body rezzed into being, standing near a plush leather executive chair at the end of the long table. The room was posh, sleek, with contoured mirrored walls. The soft corners appeared seamless and lacked any door. The black marble of the conference table sparkled with constellation-like patterns that reflected the flow of information throughout the Datasea. Unsurprisingly, Archimedes was already there, sitting statue-like in another chair at the far end of the room. The image of Archimedes at the table wrapped into the infinite mirrors around them.

Looking at the unflinching image of the man before him Vinzent couldn’t help but wonder if he ever slept. It wasn’t like you could really see how tired someone was in the sea but there was something too punctual about Archimedes. Taking a moment to make himself comfortable in the plush chair Vinzent composed himself to try and speak to what he realized was an unblinking figure before him. It’s not who you are it’s how you show yourself in the DS, Vinzent reminding himself.

“We have a problem. I pulled the last week’s worth of surveillance data from the cameras at the Memory Bank, and the incidental cameras nearby, and ran them through a filter looking for patterns.” A silver disc rezzed into his hand and he threw it toward the center of the table, where it expanded suddenly into a full digital display showing scenes from outside the Memory Bank. The scenes flickered over and over, changing every three seconds.

“They’re good… I almost missed them even with the program flagging their activities.” He highlighted a dark-haired athletic man, dressed like every other guy on the street, and then a waifish young woman, a mid-ranged clone body dressed in back-alley rags. “They show up, over and over again.” It had been the slick Kit and rags combo that really tipped Vinzent off but he wasn’t going to start chirping his own praises. Even if he was rather proud of himself.

“They are also observing the area, then.” Archimedes said simply.

“Casing it, yeah, that’s what I figured,” Vinzent continued, looking troubled. “Maybe we should delay the operation…”

“Negative,” came the terse reply. “Delay without additional information may impede goals. These observers may operate with objectives contrary to current plans. Begin gathering data on this pair.” Holding up his hand the data feed stopped. Making a simple motion to come hither the images rewound until paused again. With another simple gesture the image of the woman’s neck was blown up to encompass the table. “Stock body, manufacturing code at hairline.”

“Begin there, either the pair is untrained or could not alter the body. Possibly a rented host Kit. Once their goals are understood, we may work in tandem or alter the timetables to execute before these operators.” The man went silent as he returned to running through the feed, isolating images and sorting them on the screen. “Repeating structural observations, implication, demolitions, need to remove parts of structure.”

Collapsing the images Archimedes returned the disc to Vinzent. Who was this guy? Something about Archemedes scared the hell out of him. At the same time, if he was going to war, this was a man he’d want as a general.

“Log all data on observers. Report, twelve hours.” Archimedes’s virtual body rezzed out of the conference room, leaving Vinzent to mull in silence.

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Setting: The Datasea

The Datasea is an outgrowth of the Internet of the 20th and 21st century.  As computer technology progressed, wireless access and storage became ubiquitous and inexpensive.  With the advent of Angel technology, the majority of the population had a computer in their brains and Augmented Reality overlays on everything they saw.  These technologies combined to create an expansive virtual reality world without limits.

Even users without Angel implants can access the datasea, using portable computers called Shoulder Angels, along with AR glasses or contacts and skin-tight AR gloves.  For the truly destitute, terminal kiosks are available for use free-of-charge in most areas of the sprawl.  Although these kiosks were built to withstand punishment, in many cases they have been stripped for parts, leaving only spray-painted shells behind.

The most popular locations on the Datasea are the Bazaars, expansive virtual reality marketplaces. These virtual shopping hubs have become the Datasea equivalent of real world malls. Bazaars attract retailers around themes or economic scaling with high and low-end shopping locations and specialty shopping locations. At the right Bazaar anything can be found.

Looking for the Personal Maker codes for the latest fashions? Let your Angel whisk you away to Milan-UnCom, a twenty-six story rotating megaplex of art and fashion. Here you can find all the top designers, latest accessories, and talk to consultants on trending fashions to stay on top.

Maybe you’d like a deal on something a little more functional. Need codes for a SSI Caseless Rip Cord? Perhaps something to take your mind off the hard realities you are forced to live with. Then let your Angel take you to Black Jacket Ranch. In this forty-acre recreation of an Old West ranch, shoppers can find top weapon designers, virtual ranges and The Saloon, where everything is legal when it’s virtual.

There are hundreds of different Bazaars. The top ten are large structures serving virtually any need and constantly vying for larger market share. Niche locations like Milan-UnCom and Black Jacket serve the more specialized audiences. Bazaars typically have social spaces allowing for general interaction and many niche places have at least on black out area for unmonitored anonymous commerce.

Where else would anyone want to go?

For users who require true privacy, temporary hosts can be allocated in an instant and populated with Augmented Reality Constructs (ARCs) to provide a space with any theme the user desires.

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Under The Hood 4: Action and the Non-Combatant

When all hell breaks loose you want to be the guy with training, guns, and all the right answers. Lets face it through, those special operatives with years of training make up less than a 1% of the population. The world of Glass Shadows needs those special operators, but it also needs the investigators, data analysts, correspondents, and the myriad of other critical roles needed to keep everything moving forward.

There are any number of scenarios where you’re not going to want that Frame Pilot with guns blazing. There are times where stealth, connections, or social skills will be far more important in accomplishing matters than just blowing things up and moving in the troops. If there weren’t, this would be a very different world.

This doesn’t mean that characters that lack combat ability wont ever get caught in a dust up. Good people die every day. However, just because a character lacks traditional combat skills doesn’t mean they are completely out of luck when things go pear shaped. The Open Action System rewards creative play and Boons that allow characters with a variety of skills to make useful and interesting actions in combat.

Included below are five Boons that capitalize on a characters non-combat skills giving them additional options or advantages in a fight.

Combat Analyst (Intelligence)
Requirements: Intelligence 6, Analyze Skill
With this Boon, the Character is able to pick up on patterns within battle and adapt accordingly. The Character may declare dice for Initiative a 6 before rolling.
Activation Time: Free, Cost: 4 Energy per die.

Deceptive Moves (Expression)
Requires Expression 7, Subterfuge Skill
The Character has a talent for misdirection. If you’re not paying attention you’ll miss them.
The Character may use their Subterfuge as a Supporting Skill for Armor Strength. During this time the Character must be able to speak.

The Character may convert this Bonus to Weapon Strength on a single attack. They cannot use this Boon again in the same scene after using Deceptive Moves in this way.
Cost: 5 Energy per Turn
Activation Time 1 Action.

Dodgy (Dexterity)
Requires: Dexterity 7, Movement Skill
The Character knows how to move, they may not know how to fight but they know how to move.
The Character may take one Active Defense per turn with no loss of actions for that Turn.
Cost: 10 Energy.

Lucky Shot (Fortune)
Requirements: Fortune 6 (Attribute), Intuition Skill
No one can predict the flow of combat, but sometimes what should be a negligible blow is instead crippling. On the Character’s next attack roll the Character may use their Intuition as a Supporting Skill, they inflict a minimum Damage equal to their Intuition + 1 Wound for every 10 points of their final Attack Value, regardless if the attack would have done damage or not. NOTE: Players should describe how the Lucky Shot inflicts its Damage and Wounds after attacking, usually unrelated to their attack itself.
Activation Time: Free, but may only be used once per session.

Shell Game (Expression)
The Character has a way of making their target’s focus on the wrong thing.
The Character may take an action to make a Fast Talk roll against the Target’s Mental + Concentration. On a successful roll the Target suffers a Penalty equal to the Character’s Fast Talk Skill for the next Turn.
Cost: Standard Action Cost

While each Boon requires a different Skill, both the Boons and the Skills easily fit a Grifter or Con-man build. This is a character that that relies on luck, charm, and deception to get what they want. A full build of our Grifter may also include the Slight of Hand and Perception Skills, both fitting with the overall concept and adding a few new possible cons to their repertoire.

This is only a small cross section of non-combat Boons available to characters. Players shouldn’t be afraid to mix and match combat and non-combat abilities as there is never a perfect build for every job. That’s why there’s the Network.

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Character Narrative 7: A New Body for Akiko

Opening her new eyes, Akiko stared at the stock white ceiling of the Body Farm’s upload room.  The techs had left her to adjust in peace.  Before dumping her retirement Kit, she had signed off on the waivers. Standard protections in case they couldn’t get back into the room in case of emergency. Stark white tile, as bland as the techs faces. They may have been her eyes adjusting, screwing into her new sensor relays.  Everything was fuzzy the first few minutes after upload.  Blinking, her eyes seemed to be adjusting.

The new body felt tight, stiff, that was really the way to describe it. Fresh meat, the muscle hadn’t been worked in, or maybe her brain was just getting fat. Either way, it wasn’t what she was used to.  After twenty years in CED, it was a Duty Kit or nothing. Now she was trapped in consumer grade, meat, it would do through.  Flexing her wrists Akiko could feel the difference already.

Readouts flashed on the integrated neural display, basic HUD, with a few bells and whistles thrown in for the meat head crowd. The display reported the status of all of the augmentations this body had.  Had she ever cared about the exact number of foot pounds she applied when making a fist? Not really, but it was a nice touch, a reminder she was in an upgrade.

It was a stock Mizushima Warfighter, female model.  Not many augs, but it was better than the government- issue retirement package. Lifting her slender hand, she flexed it before her eyes, noting the tell-tale crinkles of subdermal K-30 Kevlar lacing under the RealSkin exterior. Would it stop a jacketed forty-four cold? No, but it was another nice touch.

It would do.

Sitting up slowly Akiko took in each sensation. It was never a good idea to jump right off the table till you were really sure of where the body’s center of gravity was. Especially when still connected to the monitors and feeds. Rolling her shoulders she let the weight of her arms drop, yeah it was going to take some getting used to.

Directly across the room from her, the wall turned from white to reflective silver, showing Akiko how she looked now. Her naked body hardly seemed twenty, slender and well-muscled with short brown hair that came just to the top of her shoulders. Mizushima model A27 eyes sat in almond-shaped sockets with the epicanthic fold she’d requested, the color shifting from brown to green to blue depending on how she held her head. Female, she had said it before but that too would take some getting used too. Gender didn’t mean anything to the force. You got your police meat and you ran with it. Funny how after so many years things like are you a boy or girl stick with you. Looking down at her hips, Akiko suppressed a brief smile before sliding to her feet.

She stared at the mirror, lost in her new reflection. The features were all to her specification. Who was she looking at through? Her Angel chirped, drawing her attention back to the task at hand.

Slipping fully off the table, she tested her balance and was moderately pleased with how the body reacted.  Standing was easy, now she put weight on the Kit and it reacted as she expected. As the Angel expected, it was already piping in micro corrections and sensory feedback updates processing the change for her so it felt almost natural. Or, as natural as any body-swap felt.

She crossed the room and stepped into the dressing area to find the clothes that Cyril had left for her. Looking at the array of bag-lady rags, she wondered what the hell kind of job this was. She’d need to change the hair and skin, simple cosmetic shifts otherwise those rags and this body were going to stand out.  In the end, they were trivial changes, cosmetic; it was what’s inside that counted.

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