Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Interface Zero - Cyberpunk Savage Worlds Style

These are mean dudes for a mean world.
We've got a ton of great settings for Savage Worlds in recent years. I'd argue that SW is as close to a universal generic rule setting as we can hope to have as D&D 3.5 was for its generation. Part of the appeal of SW is that it presents a very stripped down - but still tactical - combat rule set. Let's not forget that you can get the Explorer's Edition (current form of the rules) for $10.00. And then there's the extremely versatile powers system.

All of this adds up to the fact that the world of SW setting books can be a little competitive as SW Game Masters have a lot of choices in what they want to run. I recently received a review copy of the pdf for Interface Zero (IZ) from Gun Metal Games. Keep Reading to find out what this meaty supplement has to offer to SW Game Masters and Players alike!

The first thing you'll notice is just how much bang you get for your buck - IZ weighs in at a hefty 300 pages. The pdf runs for a paltry $15.99, so if you think you want to give it a shot, I'm going to save you some reading - the thing is worth it. From the looks of Gun Metal Games' (GMG) website, IZ is just the first book in a planned line of products to support this weird cyberpunk dystopian setting. Of course you probably want more information, don't you? Of course!

Chapter Breakdown

To be honest, I'm not sure how they could expand on what they give you in IZ. Here's a quick rundown on the chapters. Chapter 1 - History 101 - this is your major setting chapter. Because IZ takes place on Earth in the year 2088 GMG has given us an extensive history leading up the year 2088 and then tons of actual world information in the "Life in 2088" subsection of the chapter. Chapter 2 - Systems of Control - is the meat of the book and what makes IZ stand out from other SW settings. We get rules to make combat more deadly (more on that below), rules for cyberware and hacking, and a system for keeping track of your street cred. Did I mention this was a cyberpunk game? It really is and creates rules that address some of the biggest conventions of the genre.  Chapter 3 - Character Creation - is a nice aid for the steps needed to make truly awesome cyberpunk characters. Chapter 4 - Gear - contains tons of really neat weapons and items appropriate for a high-tech and dangerous world.

Historians will look back and say "2088 was a weird time."
The second half of the book focuses on information and tools for the GM to use in IZ games. I don't mean to gush, but this is an incredibly complete collection of character hooks, basic scenarios, and badass bounty hunters. It's about 80 pages of pure GM goodness and is something I haven't quite seen to this extent in any other SW product. The chapters are as follows. Chapter 5 - World Overview - provides a ton of location-based setting information. Chapter 6 - Game Master Section provides advice on running Cyberpunk games and includes a random adventure generator. Chapter 7 - Savage Tales of 2088 - is 40 pages of hooks based on geographic region and provides a random bounty generator to come up with bounties for your characters to hunt. Chapter 8 - Threats - provides NPC's both big and small to use in any great cyberpunk setting. From gang members to hackers to cyborg monsters, Chapter 8 has your enemy needs covered.

There are two sections I really want to focus on beyond just a description of the contents. Combat and hacking. I could got into a lot of detail on the setting content, but honestly it'd probably lose some of its kick in the translation. Instead, I'll just comment on the flavor of cyberpunk offered in IZ. First, it's a fairly straight-faced setting. A lot of the time cyberpunk can be very tongue-in-cheek (think Paranoia). IZ is not this. It presents a harsh dystopian society full of cut-throats and backstabbers. It's impossible to tell if the corporations or governmental militaries hold more oppresive power, but needless to say, your character is screwed and has to fight tooth-and-nail to make it through another day. Perfect stuff for a good cyberpunk game.


Here - you're going to need this.
I like it when SW settings tweak the rules just a little bit to better match the flavor of the genre. Of course the basic wound and combat mechanics found in the Explorer's Edition is universal and works quite well for most settings. That being said, some variety and exploration of the rules is still quite nice. IZ uses the gritty combat rules found originally in The Moscow Connection One Sheet offered from Pinnacle. I'm not going to go on and on about the gritty combat rules as you can find them for yourself on the one sheet. However, the two key parts are thus: no soak rolls to avoid damage, and damage works very quickly as you have to make vigor checks whenever you take a wound - possibly resulting in incapacitation - very deadly! Wounds are also made intentionally meaner in IZ than the standard wound table found in the Explorer's Edition.

While the gritty combat rules aren't original to IZ, it shows the intent and thought put into making SW work right for the setting. It also shows how cool Pinnacle (producer of SW) is in allowing GMG to reproduce the gritty combat rules and use them in their product. This is a bit of a tangent, but I really like this sharing and cooperative philosophy Pinnacle has developed with producers of SW-compatible books. They specialize in making it easy, and I think it's one of the main reasons SW has taken off as much as it has.


Boot Up or Shut Up indeed.
To be honest, I don't know a whole lot about computers, and I know even less about programming. A lot of it goes straight over my head. If you're like me, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the depth and variety of options available to interact with cyberspace. Of course I knew a part of this was going to come up this being a cyberpunk setting and all, but IZ goes into some areas where I can tell I'm way out of my comfort zone.

Of course, if you are like me you'll greatly appreciate the cheat sheets they offer for hacking (as well as the other subsystems that change or add mechanics) that simplify the whole process. The cheat sheet breaks down hacking into a very manageable two step process. 1. Make a check based on your gear and skill against a target number of 4 + modifiers based on how hard the system is to hack to get past the system's firewalls and 2. If you're successful, follow the rules for manipulating the hacked system as you want. This involves making another check, but there's a ton of rules here for different actions to take once you're inside the system. They simplified it quite a bit but give you numerous options. It's like they say at the beginning of the Systems chapter - they worked to be comprehensive without getting too complex.


Here's the big question for any reviewer to answer - should you buy this? The simple answer is yes - if you like cyberpunk as a genre, you should definitely pick Interface Zero up for a spin. To be honest, cyberpunk is not my setting of choice, but I know it's rather prolific in science fiction and general nerdery, and I love reading new Savage Worlds supplements. To that end, this is a great product that helped me to learn more about how the rules presented in the Explorer's Edition can be expanded and worked on to make a setting's genre shine. It's also a great setting book for general cyberpunk playing. It's not overly-laden with Savage Worlds lingo or rules, and the setting of Earth 2088 is incredibly well fleshed-out as a setting to be used with any system. If you like Savage Worlds or have an interest in cyberpunk settings, it's a great product that can offer a lot of fun.

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