I love the World of Darkness system. I love the Cyberpunk genre. And once upon a time, I even went as far as to write up my own home brew rules for running a cyberpunk setting using the Storyteller system (Storytelling? Whichever one NWoD uses.) It’s not a unique idea; World of Future Darkness was a popular online supplement for the old World of Darkness lines. Maybe it’s the fact the WoD game mechanics were inspired by Shadowrun. Maybe it’s the fact that Vampires in trench coats just seem to fit perfectly alongside, well, street punks in trenchcoats.
So today I stumbled across a release over at Drive Thru RPG for World of Darkness Mirrors: Bleeding Edge. I missed out on the Mirrors supplement, but have always wanted to acquire it since it appeared to be the book for folks who wanted to do different styles and genres of games using the WoD system. Part of why I skipped out, though, is because it lacked Cyberpunk. Well, apparently they had started on a Cyberpunk AND Space Opera “shards” for the book, but were scrapped for print space. Now, they offer up the missing chapters as a $5 download.
Bleeding Edge is roughly 23 pages, and the first 3 pages are cover art, a credits page with quick introductory filler, and then a black and white cover page. Hrrm. Compared to the Vampire Translation Guide, which was 50+ pages for 99 cents, this is kinda pricey page by page.
A Quick Run Down
The document gives you a rough introduction to the Cyberpunk genre and its history, which eventually ties in with how the old World of Darkness borrowed heavily from the aesthetic and now, finally, they’re together at last. It then gives us quick introductions to two variant settings: Tomorrow’s Country and Metalground. Tomorrow’s Country is dubbed “The World on the Day after Tomorrow.” Huge sprawling cities, towering buildings, society has had its shares of turbulence, crashes and yet industry and technology marches forward. Metalground, on the other hand, is the hardcore cyberpunk we all know and love. Shadowy dealing, back alley trades, global conspiracies and lots of gunplay. After the brief intro, it dives into the character mechanics.
Bleeding Edge introduces three new types of merits: Origins, Roles, and Plug-Ins. The Origins & Roles are considered “background merits”, which characters begin with 2 free dots in. Origins are the upbringing and social class your character came from…..Bridge & Tunnel, Huddled Masses, Isolated Elite, Synthetic and Outworlder. These remind me a lot of the Hunter “Profession” merits….the more dots invested, the more benefits you gain in terms of cheaper skills, contacts, favors etc. Roles, on the other hand, are the archetypes you’ve come to expect from cyberpunk: Face, Hacker, Killer, Investigator, Courier. These merits are further broken down into 3 specialized fields of those roles.
Interesting footnote: Anyone expecting new or advanced hacking rules (netrunning, matrix hacking etc) will be disappointed. It keeps the same rules from the WoD core rulebook, and encourages peeps looking for something more complex or detailed to reference the Social Combat from Mirrors (or the “Mental Combat” system from Danse Macabre.)
Cyberware, bioware, badass gear and anything else you can think to alter and enhance your bod falls under the categories of Plug-In merits. I’m going to be honest: I was disappointed with this section. Anyone hoping for detailed descriptions and a selection of new abilities, you get 4 examples and that’s it. This section is pretty much a toolkit section, providing broad guidelines and designing your own enhancement merits based on Att+Skill or Att+Att pairings. The part that pisses me off isn’t the lack of an actual cyberware/enhancement section, it’s the lack of pricing guidelines. The closest thing that is mentioned is that if you want to emulate a supernatural power (in this case, Dermal Chameleon skin to emulate Obfuscate) would be paid for in the cost of experience for that power. But as far as designing plain-jane enhancements, we have NO pricing guidelines and only the examples to go by to possibly gauge costs. I dunno, I like some degree of cost guides so the ST doesn’t come off a dick.
- Alienation: This is the new morality aimed at fitting into the cyberpunk ethos. I could take it or leave it; but it was cool they acknowledged that a cyberpunk setting would have a different morality than normal. In this case, it’s a degree of separation from the society or organization they have grown up with or have become accustomed to.
- Loyalty: Probably the silliest mechanic I’ve ever read. You have a pool of “Loyalty Points” to distribute amongst fellow party members. When you assist them, the points become a bonus to their rolls. But if you betray them, the loyalty points become a bonus to your roll. I get trying to stress the feeling of loyalty and betrayal in a cyberpunk setting…..but really? This feels like a mechanic gone astray for me, tacked on under the “wouldn’t this be cool?” factor.
- Organizations: Be it corporation, clan or tribe….the bulk of what makes Cyberpunk tick is the presence of factional authorities. The organizational rules here are interesting….they feel a little silly (especially after reading Loyalty) but I think in practice it could actually be fun. Essentially, you design a stat block for the Organization, and NPC’s you run who are members of the organization may trade out one of their stats or skills for the Organization’s once per scene. It’s an interesting approach to signature styles or tactics of a faction….this might be fun to steal regardless.
Themes & Props
The final section of the document goes over different thematical elements of Cyberpunk, followed by how they apply to their shards Tomorrow Country and Metalground. Initially I glanced over, shrugged and didn’t care for it. But thanks to a brief site outage, I took some time to give it an actual read through. I will give props in that it gives a lot of things to think about, including not only the social and political effects of things like Globalization and Cyberware on a World of Darkness setting. A lot of this document felt like the Supernatural fell to the background, and it would be easy to run a “pure” game that didn’t involve them. But the fluff here definitely gave some ideas and hints on what our monsters are up to in this new age. Fair warning though, this isn’t a detailed thesis section and is just sort of a quick hodge-podge of ideas….if you’re hoping to get exact answers what your favorite clan, coven or court is up to….well, it’s up to you or the ST to determine that one.
I admit that I essentially bought this so I could compare it to the homebrew I made to see if it had any better approaches or not. Originally, I went with 5 templates just like the core 3 NWoD games. After playing Hunter and reading through this document, I think turning them into profession-style merits was probably the better idea, since that opens it up to all of the game lines equally. You’ve already read my gripe on the Plug-Ins, but now I have one other miscellaneous bitching: A lack of payment/rewards. A lot of cyberpunk rpg’s, like Shadowrun and CP2020, centered around earning some creds for that next big fix…..whether it’s drugs, tech or guns or whatever. Since World of Darkness uses an abstract Resources rating instead of money counting, it’s kind of a bummer (in my opinion) to tell the players they have to purchase new tech with their own experience points.
My solution that I used in my homebrew was taken straight from Mage: The Awakening — borrowing from “Arcane Experience” I decided to use “Cred Experience.” It’s a separate pool of XP that can be used in conjunction with your own, but it can only be spent towards things related to the particular type of cred (Street, Corporate, Yakuza etc.) Buying contacts, weapons, skills or enhancements that are specifically linked to the particular “cred” you have. It was a simple alternate rewards system, based on something they already had used…..it’s a shame they didn’t come up with that for this document.
Final Grade: C+
Usually I give big thumbs up to products I talk about on here, and hate nagging and being negative. This purchase skirts a fine line with me. I confess I’m being tremendously picky, though. Before I ever rolled a D&D character, I cut my RP teeth in Shadowrun and GURPS Cyberpunk. I’ve grown up reading Gibson, Stephenson and Sterling. I don’t want to admit how many copies I’ve owned of Johnny Mnemonic. And the fact I killed hours at my last job scheming up my own cyberpunk homebrew for WoD probably doesn’t help my bias, either.
This wasn’t a total wash of $5, but I admit I was hoping for a bit more. A more defined guideline for Plug Ins would’ve changed my tone 10x. I feel like Hunter: The Vigil has better guidelines for cool merits and abilities that could’ve been translated in enhancements here. I admit I don’t own a copy of Mirrors, which may be a factor to ultimately enjoying this product since it was initially a “missing chapter.” That said, it does come off feeling like leftover material that got back-burner treatment. After the Vampire Translation Document, I suppose my expectations were high for this download. Even outside of White Wolf, my expectations for Cyberpunk may be unfair considering Tales From the Sprawl for Savage Worlds is a free download. Hell, for two bucks you can snag Adamant Entertainment’s Terminal Identity and have a pretty complete rpg using d20. Shell out twice as much, and you can just pick up Cyberpunk 2020 or a plethora of other games.
The Origins and Roles are cool. I like the Organizations mechanics. I’d be happy to just make everyone regardless of supernatural template or not pick up “alienation.” But the Plug Ins left a sour taste in my mouth. Call me materialistic….but anytime I browse through cyberpunk related games, the parts and the gear are two of the things I immediately check out. It would be like writing up a dungeon crawl and not offering any spell lists or beastiary, or a supers game without any specific powers. You can do better than that, White Wolf!