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?



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.


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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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Setting: The East Coast Sprawl

Since the late 20th Century, the East Coast of the United States has been becoming more and more urbanized, as cities push their boundaries ever outward.  Eventually, a tipping point was reached and the East Coast became one massive urban sprawl, an unbroken cityscape stretching from Illinois to  Massachusetts, and all the way down to Alabama.

This dense urban area is referred to as the Energy Corridor of Illinois through Alabama or ECILAL (usually pronounced Easel); from the Gulf Oil rigs, energy switching stations, wind farms, and power plants that supply many of the jobs in on the east coast and the majority of the power in the country.

Scattered throughout the ECILAL are a number of arcologies; independent cities enclosed in geodesic domes or other designs that separate them from the rest of the sprawl.  Most of these arcologies are corporate properties, with the largest exception being the New York and DC Arcologies.  The NY-Arco came into being when NYC walled itself off to prevent the city being flooded by rising tides.  The project began as a state-funded initiative, but budget requirements rapidly exceeded the available funds in the state legislature.  Private interests stepped in and bailed out the project in return for a greater degree of anonymity from the state and federal government within the Arcology.  Today, the NY-Arco acts as more of a free-state and a political and corporate neutral zone for commerce.  Of course, there were no such funding issues with the DC-Arco.

Outside of the arcologies you have more traditional cities, with police and state services. Beyond these areas, in the industrial sections, the cities become feral. In these zones, only corporate or state assets are protected . These blue collar districts, if you can call them that, are run by gangs, crime families, or worse. They exist in a constant state of war between factions. This is where the majority of the world is forced to live, surviving in the margins and trying to earn their way into the more protected city zones.

Suburbs have been virtually eradicated, though corporate reserves maintain a semblance of this old life. Walled off from the urban blight, they are protected by corporate security, Even the air they breathe is filtered, masking the grey filth that mars the landscape around them. While everything appears well in these modern burbs, do not confuse aesthetics for true stability. Loss of employment at the host corporation results in immediate eviction and banishment into less stable neighborhoods.

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Character Narrative 6: Vinzent

Music rocked through the crowded club, washing over the tightly packed bodies surging like thumping waves. Vinzent flowed through the crowd, his figure twisting between the dancers as he made his way across the dance floor. He was on fire tonight, working his particular brand on digital magic on everyone within range, controlling what they saw so that they never saw him. He zoomed in on his targets, a small group of Japanese college girls dressed in lolicon, who were in turn scoping out a small group of college boys and giggling to each other. With his Angel gone Vinzent made sure to see what people really looked like before turning up his gear’s overlay. The boy’s were using AR Masking. Maybe boys wasn’t the right word, Not a single one of them in the carefully sculpted herd was actually younger than seventy. There was a momentary pause as Vinzent wondered just how good their Masking was. If one of the boys was lucky enough to take home a lolicon girl, would she feel the aging skin, the sagging flesh, or would her Angel take over and adjust the sensory data so all they felt the hard tight abs of a college bro?

He tagged the girls’ Angels, one after another, feeding them a virus that would would slowly rot their protective IC. He slipped over to the bar, waving down the bartender. He came over to take Vinzent’s order and mixed it slowly, his antique cybernetic arm whirring under its cheap pink plastic skin. Vinzent picked up his drink, a dirty martini, and digitally transferred the payment.

Turning back to the dance-floor, he mentally scanned the progress of his virus while he raised the martini for a sip. The glass remained poised at his lips as a text window popped up in his HUD, demanding attention. The window ballooned open as he focused on it.

BLOCKED USER: The man in the warehouse… Why did you unjack him?

Vinzent felt a finger of ice crawl up his spine. He scanned the room wildly, looking for anything out of place. The window blinked again.

BLOCKED USER: Your pulse rate is too high, there is a non-zero chance of a coronary infarction if you do not calm yourself. I am not the police. Please, answer the question.

Still wide-eyed, he mentally typed, “To open his eyes. Why?”

Across the club, the lolicon girls were hanging on the arms of the college boys now, sipping at drinks the boys had kindly purchased for them. The hack wasn’t finished and the boys were making their move. Instinctively he shook his head, trying to refocus on nothing but the chat window. He had to focus now, BLOCKED USER might say he wasn’t the cops but that didn’t mean anything. There was a lot worse on the street. The bastard could have been some corporate Sam out for house cleaning after Vinzent’s gag on the man.

BLOCKED USER: Your motives were good, but his mind could not handle the reality you revealed to him. He was of use to me, but is no longer functional. As I no longer have an easy entry into his company, I need to make a new one. That is where you come in.

Vinzent’s eyes narrowed. He responded to the message with the universal Credit symbol and a question mark. The mystery man responded with a number with a rather large amount of zeroes.

“I think we might be able to come to an agreement,” he responded in the chat window. “What do I call you?”


The chat session terminated and a map marker appeared on Vinzent’s HUD. He set the martini glass back on the bar and started to wend his way through the crowd toward the exit. Almost as an afterthought, he triggered the second stage of the virus on the Lolicon girls’ Angels.

“Good luck getting laid tonight, Gramps,” he thought as the girls started screaming in the club behind him.

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Technology: Nanotech

Nanites are produced and controlled by nano-hives, small items the size of modern cellphones.  The nano-hive is a macro-scale builder unit, it produces the desired nanite swarm and acts as a central brain, providing orders to the swarm via an encrypted link.  A nanite swarm is produced with enough internal power to function for a preset period, never more than 24 hours.  Some residential-use nanites have a lifespan of seconds, long enough to accomplish their task and return to the hive.  If the swarm cannot return to the hive and recharge, it will deactivate at the end of that period.  Each nano-hive produces a single ‘breed’ of nanites, designed for a specific task.  Some common tasks are: surveillance, medical, construction and disassembly, and nano-hunters.  Construction nano-hives usually double as disassemblers, since they must harvest raw resources to use for construction.  Surveillance nanites are dusted over an area and will record and transmit data from the area on a specific frequency or rotating frequency set as programmed for 24 hours, when they run out of power.  Nano-hunters are designed to find and attack other nanites.  Medical nanites analyze and repair living tissue and administer drugs.

A nano-hive can construct an infinite amount of nanites, as long as it’s provided with raw material.  Standard constructor blocks containing all the elements required for nano-hive production are commonly available.

On the streets and in the black markets, nanites have taken the place of the old standby narcotics of the 20th century.  Medical nano-hives can be programmed to create nanites that will generate narcotic substances that have no natural analog, and continuously administer them for up to 24 hours.  Other, more sinister creations can remap the users neural pathways in ways that Angels cannot, wiping minds to create servile sex-dolls, or mapping totally new personalities over the original.  They can even create “manchurian candidate” style assassins, programmed by nanites to respond violently to certain stimulus.  Rumors abound of even more terrifying applications that completely remap the human genome on a molecular level, creating terrifying chimera-creatures.  If these rumors are true, the proof has been supressed at such a high level that no one has ever been able to find and reveal it.  Blackmarket nanites are sold in individual dose ampules, the nano-hives that produce them kept hidden to prevent the authorities from cutting off the supply.

Nanites can also be used as data-couriers, in a method known as “Ogara Data Sourcing”, or Sourcing for short.  Nanite memory modules equipped with mobility units are dusted into a crowd, where they jump from person to person until they reach their programmed target.  Once there, they burrow into the target’s skull and tap into their angel with the stored data.

Nanites are also used in fabricator technology.  Fabricators are desk-sized units that use pattern programs to turn raw materials into the desired items.  A fabricator can build anything that it has a pattern for, although large items, such as vehicles, may need to be produced in parts and assembled afterward.  Part of the safety protocols for fabricators prevent the nanite swarm from leaving the fabricator, materials must be fed into the unit for it to disassemble.  Patterns for fabricators are purchased via datasea markets, and are usually one-use items.  Multi-use and unlocked patterns are available at much higher costs.

After several highly-publicized accidents with self-replicating nanites, laws were put into place forbidding the design and deployment of self-replicators.  Of course, this does nothing to prevent criminals and terrorists from employing them.  Additionally, it is possible for a swarm of disassemblers to get stuck in “material preparation” mode if connection to the hive is lost, which would lead to the swarm continuing to break down material until it ran out of power.  The Nanite Enforcement Authority is responsible for dealing with such incidents.

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Under The Hood 3: Fast Tracked Character Generation

With the concept of cinematic play and players taking on multiple roles, one thing that came up early on was speed of character generation. We wanted players to be able to jump right into the action. For this reason, generation took a dramatically different path than we expected. When developing the player Network, character concepts are discussed along with motivations, their background culture and conspiracies.

In the first part of character generation players assign values to characteristics associated with these background elements. If you wanted to, game play can begin here. While the character may be incomplete, we know enough about them to get into the action and can fill in the blanks later. Some players and GMs may find it easier to have a stronger feel for what the final character will look like, though.

To complete character generation, players may either pick 5 Skills and 7 Boons to round out the character, or select an Archetype and/or Package which are preset lists of skills and boons around a general theme. Designed to allow for fast play, they narrow down selections to abilities that fit with a theme. For example if someone were making a bodyguard, they might select the following Archetype and Package:

History 2, Strength 4, Dexterity 7, Constitution 5, Sense 9
Fortune 1, Wisdom 6, Intelligence 8, Mental 10, Expression 3
Skills: Career: Bodyguard 7, Perception 5, Firearms 5, Etiquette 5, Martial Arts 3, Lift 3

Better Gear x2
Genegineered Dexterity
Genegineered Constitution
Genegineered Sense
Bone Lacing

This Archetype and Package provides the outline for a very physically adept character with a strong situational awareness and keen intellect. Of course, these natural abilities have been augmented by some serious Geneginering, making the Bodyguard amazingly capable even unarmed. The Package also allows for specialized training to prevent others from being hurt with the Intervene boon, and improved starting Gear.

Of course, Archetypes and Packages are just guidelines. A player may not want to have been generically modified or would like to emphasize more training with their gun or martial arts. There is no restriction in swapping out Skills or Boons to customize the character how you want them. Instead, it serves as a fast and easy guideline so that players can jump right into the action.

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