What Do I Know About Reviews? Cyberpunk Slice (Modern AGE)
Today, let’s look at a world where technology can make human beings obsolete. Corporations find ever-increasing ways to dehumanize the population in the pursuit of profits, and governments only care about maintaining what power the corporations reserve for them. No, we’re not talking about the news, we’re taking a look at Cyberpunk Slice, a supplement by Green Ronin Publishing for their Modern AGE line.
I was not provided a review copy of this, and purchased the copy I am using for my review. While I have played the AGE system at conventions, I have not run the game or played in an extended campaign. I have reviewed multiple other AGE system products from Green Ronin.
This is a PDF-only release at the time of this writing. The PDF is 59 pages long, including a credits page and a table of contents. The rest of the page count is dedicated to game content. There is a two-column layout that should be familiar to anyone that has seen the Modern AGE books, and that layout is clean and easy to navigate. The artwork in the book is full color, and is licensed, thematic artwork.
How It Unfolds
Cyberpunk Slice has the following sections:
- Cyberpunk Characters
- Cyberpunk Equipment
- Game Mastering and Cyberspace
The introduction explains that the supplement doesn’t attempt to create a specific cyberpunk setting for the game but is built to be a toolkit for emulating whatever cyberpunk settings Modern AGE gamers might want to explore.
There are several new player character options introduced in this section. The first of those options introduces the ability to choose between a biological or synthetic body. Baseline Modern AGE uses backgrounds as the character’s origin point, but the Threefold setting (reviewed here at Gnomestew) introduced ancestries, similar to what you might see in Fantasy AGE or other games.
The choice between a Biological or Synthetic body isn’t unlike the Ancestries found in Threefold, except that instead of replacing characteristics from the character origins, Synthetic characters pick two Abiotic Vulnerabilities, which biological characters don’t need to worry about. These can include needing a fuel source, being able to have your body hacked, being obviously synthetic, or being vulnerable to strong electromagnetic fields. You don’t heal naturally, but it’s harder to kill you, and you have an easier time fitting cybernetic gear into your frame.
Because the choice between biological and synthetic bodies may interact with other optional rules later in the book, there is also a section on Noetic, Somatic, and Mixed abilities. This is a breakdown of what your character “takes with you” if their mind somehow moves to another body.
The book also adds eight new backgrounds, noting that many Modern AGE backgrounds still work in a cyberpunk setting. The new backgrounds in this book include backgrounds that relate to gig workers, hazardous environments, criminally run societies, communities isolated from modern technology, nomadic characters that are forced to travel due to housing issues, characters that spend most of their time online or working on electronics, and the elite scion of technology companies.
There are new focuses introduced that relate to working in virtual reality, controlling drones, fighting in power armor, and spotting anomalous objects in code. In addition to these focuses, there are also new talents, which enhance your ability to wear armor, fight hand to hand while using cybernetics, perform tricks with drones and remote vehicles, fight in cyberspace using an avatar, and work on synthetic characters.
The book introduces the following new professions:
It also adds several new drives to guide character development and roleplay. These include:
Addict is perfectly in keeping with the genre but is going to need to be handled with care. I do like that between the professions and the drives, this covers a lot more than just cyberpunk where you get a job and do dirty deeds for dirty bosses. You could use these same tools to play characters in a neighborhood trying to help an abandoned neighborhood survive, or people on a quest to bring down at least one of the big corporate overlords.
There are three new specializations (like subclasses or prestige classes, if you haven’t spent much time with AGE games), including Cyborg, Kinetic, and Virtualist. The cyborg goes all-in on cybernetic augmentations, the kinetic is a specialized mercenary, and the virtualist is someone comfortable inside of cyberscapes.
Since most of these elements are modular, they work with different options that have appeared in other Modern AGE books. For example, when I reviewed the Modern AGE Mastery Guide, I was pretty fond of bundling the level-based abilities into the Combatant, Expert, and Operative classes, and while those would still replace the professions introduced in this book, they still work with the backgrounds, focuses, talents, and specializations introduced here.
While Cyberpunk Equipment does, indeed, introduce a host of different items and different templates to add to existing items, one of the most interesting parts of this section involves the idea of Brands. This touched on the idea that corporations have reputations in cyberpunk settings, and those brand names may mean that some equipment could be modified to show what that brand is known for. Even though the supplement doesn’t do a lot of worldbuilding, in this case, we get new corporations as example brands:
- Appsoft (computer hardware and software)
- Asher-Tesser Realities (AI and virtual reality)
- D|Z (audiovisual tech and fashion brand)
- Longquan Sword Military Industries (small arms, combat implants, and close combat gear)
- Penumbre (luxury bags, scents, clothing, and fashion augmentations
Even though there isn’t much world-building, the corporations in this section include ties to England, Germany, China, and Belgium. I wanted to call this out because the book doesn’t drive hard for Japanese companies the way a lot of early cyberpunk material did (and in some cases, still does).
As mentioned, in addition to new weapons like the various monofilament arms, different templates can be added to technology in general, automated AI-driven devices, and weapons.
This section runs the gamut from new armor, drones, vehicles, exoskeletons, medical equipment, drugs, and computers. There is a section on resource modifications for different levels of portability in computer interfaces. The section on vehicles separates automated vehicles from drones and gives stats on some items that push the boundaries between drones and fighter jets.
We don’t get a lot of detail on exactly how computers function in this chapter, outside of portability and power needs and how that affects price. We also don’t get any details about augmentations, but that’s because the next chapter is . . .
Cyberpunk Slice points out that some Modern AGE game supplements like Threefold and Lazarus touch on cybernetics, but what is presented in this chapter is meant to be less concerned with the specific settings mentioned and more in tune with broader cyberpunk tropes.
At the beginning of a campaign, the group can decide if a setting is going to be low augmentation, medium augmentation, or high augmentation. This will determine what the capacity is for taking on cybernetic augmentations. In a low augmentation campaign, characters will start with 0 capacity, meaning if they get any augmentations, it will be detrimental to the character. Characters can gain increased capacity by forgoing their usual benefit for gaining a level and instead increasing their capacity.
Over the years, some of the themes of early cyberpunk have been challenged. With more and more people living with prosthetics, acting as if augmentations might make someone inhuman feels ableist. For people that gain access to gender affirmation surgery, it can feel bigoted to cast any kind of body modification as unnatural or unhealthy.
Cyberpunk Slice addresses this by pointing out that procedures like gender affirmation, cosmetic modifications, and prosthetics don’t interact with the rules for augmentation. The rules only exist for those items that grant a character ability beyond human parameters. Even then, unlike the cyber-psychosis of ages past, having too many augmentations is more about not being prepared to juggle all the power requirements and software to nervous system requirements.
There are multiple options to model being overwhelmed by augmentations, from ability score modifications to occasional damage done to the character, but by far the most interesting option is Complication. Depending on how far a character exceeds their capacity, the GM gets several points to spend to trigger events from 1-point complications (an augmentation fails to work for one round while it reboots) to 6-point complications (the character has to make Willpower tests to be able to take actions as their systems start shutting down).
There is an augmentation catalog in this section. Most augmentations take one slot, but some can be worth a variable number of slots (implanted weapons for example), and some are worth two slots. There is also a particularly fun 0 slot implant that lets less than scrupulous employers or authority figures install a Kill-Switch. It’s noted that having Kill-Switch counts as a four-point complication all on its own.
Many of the implants interact with Modern AGE’s skill system. For example, in some cases, they allow a character to trigger a stunt without rolling doubles and paying for that stunt. Some augments allow for multiplying the range of movement, senses, or carrying capacity. There are also targeting systems, wall-crawling modifications, and a whole host of other useful modifications.
One mod might sound familiar. The brain backup creates a backup file that stores a character’s consciousness right up to the time of death and can be re-sleeved into a new body with a similar device already installed.
In addition to the catalog, there are several more “freestyle” augmentations suggested. For example, if you want to emulate some of the extraordinary powers in Modern AGE, you might only allow them to be used if a character has cybernetics that emulate those abilities.
Game Mastering and Cyberspace
This is a slightly odd chapter, in that it seems like it’s going to be a general GM advice chapter, as it discusses the origins of cyberpunk, various themes, and new directions that cyberpunk has gone in more recent years. It touches on more near-future cyberpunk and more removed themes of transhumanism.
But then, we get various ways to handle Cyberspace.
If you have played other cyberpunk games over the years, seeing a specific section on cyberspace may cause you to brace yourself for a side system that takes three times the time and energy of anything else in the system. Thankfully, like a lot of more modern cyberpunk games that I have seen, this goes the route of making cyberspace and hacking analogous to other systems in the game.
This section recommends that if a character is doing something simple and limited in scope, like breaking into an electronic lock, you can resolve that kind of “hacking” as basically a regular skill check. Just like someone can smash it or hot wire it, a hacker might just be able to overwhelm it with numbers.
On the other hand, when dealing with computer security and breaking into important systems, information assets have traits like Power and Spec for acting against a system, and firewalls have Structure (Health), Integrity (Toughness), and Crypto (Defense).
There are three different paradigms mentioned. Virtual combat, semiotic cyberspace, and regular hacking all might be used to evoke different genre tropes. Regular hacking is more a matter of someone throwing their intrusive programs at a firewall until it falls. Virtual combat usually involves characters taking on an avatar and acting against an artistic representation of the defenses. Semiotic cyberspace is similar to virtual combat, except that characters are fully immersed in a virtual reality that imposes more physical rules, meaning that the avatar of a character may have to spend time walking to get to a location to break into a system.
Virtual representations of computer and security functions allow characters that have abilities geared towards virtuosity to shine, as they are used to operating with avatars and symbolic interpretations of computer functions.
Since this is Modern AGE, this wouldn’t be complete without a set of stunts specifically crafted for hacking. These involve some potentially nasty effects, like Antipersonnel Countermeasures, which can damage someone else hooked into the system.
The final section deals with characters like synthetics that can be hacked. It details what it takes to take over the body of the character, as well as the harm a hacker can impose on a person vulnerable to these kinds of attacks.
While this supplement is short for a game like Modern AGE, it is packed with concentrated options for a cyberpunk campaign. Even when it cites cyberpunk tropes and origins, it does so succinctly. It also does a good job of navigating around some of the worst baggage of cyberpunk. The rules for components like cybernetics and hacking, which can get bogged down in other systems, retain the same level of rules texture that is common to the core game system of Modern AGE.
Even though the objective wasn’t worldbuilding, I would have loved example brands for each type of equipment presented in the equipment chapter. I also would have liked a “good” brand and an “it’s all we can afford” brand for general comparison. But again, this wasn’t about world-building.
Qualified Recommendation–A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.
This product is short and to the point. If you like Modern AGE, and you like cyberpunk, this should be an easy purchase to make. The book itself is extremely efficient in what it does, and that’s providing genre content for Modern AGE. There is a part of me that wishes there was a little more discussion of genres of cyberpunk (like the various Mutants and Masterminds books that addressed different eras of comics), but that’s not what this product was about.
Hopefully, someday we’ll get a chance to see something that delves more fully into different genres of cyberpunk and different campaign frameworks with the same level of concentrated game content.