An Endzeitgeist.com review
This sourcebook for Cybergeneration clocks in at 82 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 78 pages of content, so let's take a look!
I received this book as a gift for the purpose of a prioritized review by one of my patreons.
So, the state of the world is not a rosy one in Cybergeneration and this book, well it details the ecological front of the struggle of the youth. It also, partially in hindsight, hits close to home. Global warming runs rampant and while industrial pollution seemingly is less nasty in our world than it is here, it still remains a problem. At least, we don't yet have acid rains from Minnesota to New Jersey and Michigan, Illinois and Ohio still have life apart from humans. Still, the uncomfortable feeling remains that the dystopian state of the world depicted herein has a couple of years left to reach this desolate state...
As is the wont in the genre, in particularly considering the theme of Cybergeneration, we have a struggle of the juves versus the man, versus the corporations, which are even more super-villainous evil and remorseless than those we actually have in our world...and that's saying something if you're even remotely interested in the subject matter. So, how did this more escalated exploitation of our world has affected the groups in this dark allotopia? Well, boy scouts have basically become an extended arm of the government and other interest groups, sadly mirroring the recent controversies that have even reached me back in Germany. Girl scouts, alas, are no better in this world. The Cousteau Society has, ostensibly, more influence and radical arms, while ironically, Greenpeace has splinter groups and remains, at least pro-forma, non-corporate. Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy have managed to secure lands and yes, the eurocorp biotechnica may actually make for a devil you could potentially ally yourself with.
Now, obviously, there are several forms of actions that are explained and detailed, from hayduking in the L. A. metroplex area to reclaiming nature, using waste as weapon etc., the pdf offers several interesting ideas - all with "the bad guys" and "the good guys" as a reminder of Cybergeneration's more traditional, comic-book-like stance of good and evil as opposed to most cyberpunk worlds. The actions, in short, can provide for a nice selection of different hooks and angles an enterprising GM can develop.
Very important for the effort and a potential campaign focus introduced in this book would be the care and maintenance of J-Parks - from Jurassic Park, obviously. The chapter begins with an annotated article/opinion piece that depicts the stance of most folk on these institutions and, surprise, they don't like them. The pdf provides a comprehensive and easy to grasp step by step guide to generate your own J-park, including suggested skill-uses and the like...but at the same time, this chapter, to me felt flat of its own potential - while running costs etc. are covered, ultimately, the customization options for the park as presented leave something to be desired - at 3 pages, it doesn't come close to how rewarding such base management can and should be.
After a brief recap of the impact of the dread Carbon Plague, we take a look at two new yogangs, the first of which would be the NeoPioneers, who seemingly combine Wild West romanticism with survivalism, making them a highly individualistic and somewhat conservative entity, represented also by their yogang skill Frontier Guerilla, which combines infiltration, weapon-use and survivalism and is governed by INT. As before, we get information on yogang, slang, etc. - the format of presentation is the same as in the core book.
Beastieboys (and girls) would be what would happen if caring for all life and a really dedicated approach to all life would meet with advanced genetic engineering...and we have a yogang that's into the recreation of extinct species (or potentially new ones!) in a weird blend of naiveté, radical ideology and wide-eyed ecological excitement. The yogang skill, daktari, employs both EMP and INT - EMP for handling animals, INT for the cerebral aspects of genesplicing etc. As such, home incubation sets and genesplicers are included in the new item section and similarly, species-purchases are covered - for example secuity-cybercats. Much like before, these shopping-section are represented visually, simulating windowshopping From VWs (Volkswalkers - that made me chuckle!) to body harnesses, there is some seriously nice gear to be found here.
There also would be a whole new type of mutation to spring from the mutating carbon plague - the Scouts. These guys basically are tinman/bolter hybrids, who look relatively normal - with a crucial difference: These guys can extrude hexite formations that are called probes, linked with a thin wire to their bodies - most of the time, these probes thake the shape of spider-like beings and can be used for, bingo, scouting. These guys begin with the Probe Ops TECH skill at +1 and are highly customizable: Oozing, swimming, flying, multiple senses and special skills are all included - the longer the range, the harder it'll be to perceive details properly. Leashes of these probes have 10 SDP, with quadruple effect of armor piercing attacks, but none via crushing attacks. Scouts have 2 probe spaces per point of BODY and these are evenly divided over the 4 limbs. Additionally spaces used increase the SDP and they may be divided - as a whole, these guys feel like better balanced surveillance riggers to me, to draw a Shadowrun analogue - more vulnerable and less prone to sitting in heavily armored fortresses.
In the thematically fitting and well-written next section, we cover the interaction of hexite armor and high-velocity impacts, scooping up samples via probes or realistic scout sculpting. Similarly, alchemical forgery, building guns into probes and other such tricks are covered.
The next chapter, unsurprisingly, considering the focus of this book, deals with animals -Animal Handling, based on EMP, deals with...you got it. Animal Sense Bonus would be an animal's equivalent of Combat Sense for all but initiative. Identify denotes the ability to discern friendlies and Loyalty is similarly self-explanatory. Training animals by difficulty and a wide selection of stats help here as well, though the scan is not perfect - we have white lines showing up on these pages, denoting potential creases in the book used to scan this.
And that ends the player-section and moves to the GM-part, which includes clarifications, the missing price for the codegun as well as the sample adventure "Where the Wild Things are", which takes up the second half of the book. In order to talk about that one, I'll have to go deep into SPOILER territory, so potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! We begin pretty much in medias res, as the yogangers witness the desperate flight of two yogangers being assassinated by corpsec - the PCs can get a package the poor folks managed to get rid off before security arrived...and yes, the bodies will be looted by the uncaring crowd. Still, this can be a bit of an issue for careful groups: The package obviously contained something that got those folks killed big time. Yes, it's a trope for the PCs to get it - but depending on player experience, they may suspect that they bit off more than they could chew. On the plus-side, from the bike's path to the corpses and vicinity, the module provides exquisite details, making the whole investigation aspect surprisingly easy for the GM to run. Oh, and one of the yogangers survived...so a trip to the hospital, past security, is next up. The PCs, ultimately come upon a kitten doomed to die...who has been modified to be a scanner, scrambling its brain beyond saving. Yes. I get it. 80s and such. It still is a cheap, cheap ploy and potentially frustrating for the players - why shouldn't they have a cool scanner-kitty? The module specifies explicitly that they can't save the kitten by any means, which is just cheap and to me, infuriating and needlessly cruel and dark, particularly when playing with kids. Not a fan.
Anyway, via blatant emotional manipulation, the PCs are thus motivated further (as if that was necessary...) to get to the bottom of the mystery - and the trail leads to the Larson Park raiders, contact with the Eden Cabal and then focuses on the raid of a lab (with EXQUISITE detail regarding security, maps, counter-measures and read-aloud text) and recovery of a gene-splicer (which takes on a slightly uncomfortable turn, considering the violent attacks on labs in the meanwhile since the book's release) - from here on, several clues point towards Death Valley - where contact with NeoPioneers will provide the means to find the final part of the module - and here, things take a turn for the horrific. Know those "secret labs"-horror movies where something went horribly wrong? Well, we have basically one of the best renditions of that trope I have ever seen: An AI, strange and creative mutants, a claustrophobic atmosphere...and finally, the PCs may clear up an interesting mystery, have a hint of a potential source for the Carbon Plague and made a lot new allies - provided they can get out of the whole scenario alive and not be arrested by the adults, obviously. The final section of the adventure is amazing, evocative and fun.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed no glaring glitches. Layout adheres to a nice two-column b/w-standard and the book sports a ton of cool b/w-artwork. The electronic version leaves a lot to be desired, though: The scan-glitches can be found throughout the book and while they don't obscure crucial parts, they are jarring to see. Worse, this massive book's pdf not only clocks in at over 30 MB, it also has NO BOOKMARKS. For a book of this size, that's a big no-go and comfort-detriment.
Edward Bolme & David Ackerman's Ecofront is a product of its time, sure, but many aspects of it remain surprisingly topical, though public awareness of ecological problems has once again waned, as media manipulation, economy and the issues of globalization took center stage in our consciousness. The first half of the book, as a whole, has aged rather well, though some 80s themes would need updating today. The scout represents an overdue addition to the roster, though system-immanently, its inclusion can generate waiting players while he scouts ahead. Still, nothing short of the issues deckers and riggers tend to generate due to the limitations of probes.
There are, alas, some aspects of the book that fall short of what I expected. Number one would be the barebones and lackluster J-park base-building section, which really needed more material and customization options - it feels like an afterthought. Number two is the start of the module. Don't get me wrong: I absolutely ADORE the attention to detail, breadth and scope of it; I LOVE the final area and the wealth of information provided for the GM. The maps don't hurt either. But how it starts is a blatant and transparent emotional manipulation.
Why did this infuriate me so? Well, for one, Cybergeneration's central premise is "good kids vs. bad corporations" - we already know that corps are evil. The module starts off with a frickin' assassination! If that's not enough to draw the PCs in, then what is? We know who the bad guys are. And then you introduce a kitten, just to kill it off? Seriously, that's a level of grimdark misery REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE PCS DO that so won't fit with how Cybergeneration tries to differentiate itself from other cyberpunk games. That is not only railroading, it is railroading coupled with the worst kind of emotional manipulation. Now, here's the thing: I like dark, but it has to be executed well. I'm not screaming "But what of the kids?", mind you - I think that kids can stand A LOT more than what our often disgustingly sugar-coated TV-program and books provide - I am very much confident that kids can grow from confrontation with horrid and dark themes. Heck, as a kid, I loved my Howard, Batman animated series, Last Unicorn and all those delightfully dark children's movies. My favorite Disney song as a kid was Hellfire from the Hunchback of Notre-dame.
But no-win scenarios of pure misery in a game? That's bad adventure-writing and contrivance, regardless of whether your audience consists of kids, adults or both. It also is PAINFULLY obvious, so obvious that even kids got it and were annoyed in my test-run. Finally, it subverts the tone of Cybergeneration, undermines what, to me, makes up its unique selling proposition. More infuriating would be, that, from a purely analytical point of view, this needless tragedy is utterly superfluous. The inevitable death of the kitten is literally, just a plot-point, a means to propel the plot forward and engage players, when, to me, it did the opposite, it sank the complete first 2/3rds of the module, only barely coming back from it in the finale - which is also dark, yes, but here, the tone works and is not reliant on what boils down to cruel plot-fiat.
Yes, I know. It's one point. But it's a big one for me. Still, as a whole, that would not sink the book for me - there is a lot to love here. But the lack of bookmarks and minor scan-glitches add a further level of frustration. I like a lot here, but I also finished this book underwhelmed by other aspects. In the end, to me, this represents a mixed bag. Hence, my final verdict will clock in at 3 stars.