Tuesday, July 11, 2017

History of Cyberpunk RPGs (Part Three: 1995-2003)

SHOW CRASH
If the last list covered the boom times, this one covers the crash. In this period we see a massive drop-off in new cyberpunk rpgs. Of the existing ones, only Shadowrun, NeoTech, and Cyberpunk 2020 kept up with new releases. Shadowrun itself moved from FASA to WizKids as the former shut down. They in turn licensed it to Fantasy Productions who in turn got bought by Topps who then licensed it to Catalyst Game Labs. The only thing WizKids actually did with the license appears to be the bizarre 1:12 scale collectible miniatures game, Shadowrun Duels.

R Talsorian underwent its own shake up. In 1998 Mike Pondsmith moved to close out the company’s operations, making it a part-time endeavor. The game industry had begun to contract, “The previous few years had been terrible for the industry, and this was something that Mike Pondsmith as president of GAMA was very aware of. GDW shut down in 1996 and TSR and Mayfair Games both died in 1997. West End Games was destined to enter bankruptcy a few months later, while FASA would shut down in 1999, the same year ICE would enter bankruptcy.” Designers & Dragons Vol. II (p. 297). R Talsorian would return in another form in 2004, but for the moment the company that set the standard for cyberpunk had been shuttered.

Despite that we do see new cyberpunk products over these years. It overlaps with the d20 boom so a few of those books pop up here. But we see fewer new conventional cyberpunk rpgs. Many of the items on this list hybridize cyberpunk with something else or have fragments of that genre in a larger whole. Some listings may be controversial, many reflect my continued struggle defining this genre.


THE DIAMOND AGENT
While I’m focusing on core books, I include a few notable sourcebooks and supplements (by my reckoning). Ironically, I only list books with a physical edition. I might include an electronic release if they’re notable and of significant size. Some selections came down to a judgement call. I’m sure I missed some, so if you spot an absent cyberpunk rpg from 1995-2003, leave a note in the comments


Not a core book, but a strange beast I had to comment on. GURPS Cthulhupunk's officially licensed from Call of Cthulhu, so it has a lot of the CoC elements in play. That works for and against it. On the one hand if you know the original rpg’s material, you'll find all the expected bits: books, specific monsters, particular cults. On the other, if you're not familiar with it, that might confuse you. The odd order of presentation doesn’t help. 

GURPS CthulhuPunk presents a specific future. A world-shaking virus and the '06 global stock-market crash light the fuse on this detailed timeline. That leads up to an extensive overview 2045’s world. Like the Cthulhu side of things, the cyberworld on display assumes players know the cyberpunk tropes already. It feels like a fan mashup. We know you dig both of these things, so we're going to give you a toolbox to run these campaigns. Want some more obscure details, we have you covered. There's a lot of world-building here, making this very much a GM's book. Like many GURPS sourcebooks there's an emphasis on information and setting. It's up to you to pull out bits and figure out how to use that at the table.

It isn't bad, definitely better than I recalled. It has a couple of weaknesses, the first being the lack strong synthesis between the two halves. We get a couple pages of Lovecraftian tech hybrids, but otherwise it’s just classic CoC concepts reskinned. It also has a truly ugly cover. On the other hand, the interior art's fine. In that period Steve Jackson had Dan Smith drawing everything. I had an artist friend freelanced for SJG. Every set of notes he got back boiled down to "make it look more like Dan Smith."

Cthulhupunk won’t be the last time we'd see Lovecraftian cyberpunk. We’ll get Yellow Dawn in 2006 and in CthulhuTech in 2007. More on those next time.

Some people in my group loved Bubblegum Crisis. As can happen, their overweening enthusiasm drove me off. I’ve had to start from scratch with this. Bubblegum Crisis has a group of armored vigilantes and private eyes, called Knight Sabres, battling a conspiracy of mad robots and cyborgs (called Boomers). It's a near-future anime world. The cyberpunk elements take a backseat to drama and tech. Like Patlabor, AD Tank Police and even Ghost in the Shell this anime takes its cues from Blade Runner. Createda fully fleshed world, explore a slice of it, but don't waste time explaining all the other bits. Just run with it.

The Bubblegum Crisis rpg is a love-letter to the series with tons of illustrations, plot speculation, background, gear write ups, and NPCs to satisfy any fan. This material begins on page 51 and runs through the rest of the 168-page volume. We have drawings of every vehicle, robot, gun, suit, and tech-y thing from the series. It’s a little overwhelming for someone coming in from the outside. Still I appreciate this new take on near-future superheroes: it's more Spider-Man 2099 than Legion of Superheroes.

I sometimes get R Talsorian and Dream Pod 9 mixed up. They both worked heavily with cyberpunk and anime influenced material. But R Tal has a distinct style in these anime games: dense, boxy, and full of crunch. Bubblegum Crisis uses Fuzion- an engine closer to the abstraction of Savage Worlds than the tighter balance of HERO or even GURPS. As crunchy as this system can be; it is densely and quickly presented. The headings make it easy to find things and the order's logical, but the text size and design makes it hard to read. Or I’m just old. Or both.

This got two sequel releases: Bubblegum Crisis: Before and After and Bubblegum Crisis EX. The choice of game system used signal a major change for the company. Interlock had powered Cyberpunk 2020, but now we saw on emphasis on R Talsorian’s semi-crowdsourced Fuzion engine. Eventually that would lead to the Cyberpunk 3.0...but that's a tale for the future.

Rifts trips me up on these lists. It's the ultimate kitchen-sink rpg, eclipsing even TORG. It's a single setting with many disparate elements. That includes cyberpunk bits, mostly in the form of cyberware (the Dragon cyborgs of Japan, the sinister experiments of Mindwerks). While those elements appear throughout the line, I've chosen Juicer Uprising as a good representative. The Juicers of the title have augmented their talents with chemical infusions. Originally developed as a super-soldier serum, in the Rifts world that process has expanded to enhance a variety of roles. The Juicers embody the idea of humanity trade-off for tech enhancements. As in Cyberpunk, these can lead to a variety of physical and mental problems. 

Juicer Uprising has some interesting ideas about the culture and role of these characters. That's overshadowed by the mechanical material, but it offers food for thought. Getting at that requires going through a ton of gonzo crazy from Psi-Stalker Juicers to Atlantaen Juicers to Undead Juicers. The book’s title refers to an meta-plot event, an organized attack by Juicers on Coalition cities. That uprising comes following the revelation that government and corporate agents had been tricking innocents into becoming Juicers.

Cyberpunk through the Rifts lens shows it can become a kind of techno-fetish, uncritical, style-based element for games. It takes the anime over the Gibsonian route. That's not necessarily a bad thing. But it’s several stages removed from the source ideas.

4. Taiga (1996)
Taiga's mostly a post-apocalyptic game. However their third edition included more cyberpunk elements. Outside the cities, the wilds have a Mad Max look. Inside, corporations and high-tech firms rule a dystopia. That society isn't the focus of the game, but enough is there that several sites list it as cyberpunk. That clearly didn't sit well with the designers. As mentioned on RPG Geek, the next edition changed things up,
"However, one of the most obvious changes for players of earlier versions is the removal of cybertech from the game. In Vuorela's words "Taiga is not a cyberpunk game. Earlier versions did include rules for using and implanting cybernetics into characters, but they have been removed from this version because they attracted too much attention and disrupted the lotek-atmosphere of the game."
nice.

5. Waste World (1997)
This is another one of those cases where a fragment of the game contains cyberpunk material. As I described it on my post-apocalyptic list…
METAL. METAAAAAAL.

...was the voice screaming in the back of my head as I read through the game blurbs. Descriptions and reviews suggest Waste World’s a combination of Heavy Metal and WH40K, set on a single war-torn world in the future. It reminds me of Mutant Chronicles, with its crazy array of character types, war as the only future, and competing national battle forces (including another Shogunate). WW’s designer Bill King worked on that game as well. Waste World also feels like a more controlled version of Rifts. It embraces a high-tech post-apocalypse where decadent and decaying technologies desperately battle it out. Cyborgs? Check. Symbiotic Armor? Check. Mecha-Ninja? Check.

It is those tech-dominated megacities and their corporate overlords that just edge this on to the list. Despite looking like a kitchen-sink, over-the-top game, many reviews love it. In part they enjoy how much the game buys into its own craziness. But most also point out how the game replaces "c" & "ck" with "k" throughout ala Mortal Kombat. Waste World did well enough to support a starter pack, GM screen, and two substantial splat books the same year.

6. Zaibatsu (1998)
“Roleplaying the Corporate Wars of the Future.” I'd planned to skip this since RPG Geek ID'd it as electronic only. However French site Le Grog mentioned a physical edition. I wasn’t sure if that's true. But I then I found a complete copy online-- at an old Angelfire page. So I had to include it for that web-retro element.

It's then appropriate that Zaibatsu acknowledges and addresses one of the core limitations of cyberpunk gaming: being outpaced by the real world. "Forget cybernetics in the traditional roleplaying game sense; with tech out of date as soon as it leaves the production line, no sucker is going to trade meat for metal if his new arm, say, will be redundant in two months. Now, updating the meat, that's something else... By the time we build a "stronger, faster" cybernetic arm or leg to replace the real limb, we will undoubtedly be able to regenerate a limb with clone technology. It's not too far away. The next step is to augment the DNA to grow a stronger limb, and after that use DNA viruses to alter existing limbs." 

Zaibatsu's all about street samurai. While you might come from various walks of life, you're caught up in the wars between powerful corporate entities on the streets of 2030 Tokyo. It has a fairly light resolution system married to a long list of skills, backgrounds, and other chrome. It includes extensive setting material on the corporations, Yakuza, and Tokyo itself.

7. Aberrant (1999)
Ok, ok, I know. I’m crazy.

Bear with me. Many games on this list seem cyberpunk tangential. They borrow elements and ideas, rather than offering a full cyberpunk package. That holds true with Aberrant. But I'd argue the presentation of future tech and culture in this game's more cyberpunk than many other self-described cyberpunk games. It's also eerily prescient in its take on the media, internet culture, and things like having to rent TV programs individually. If you want to see cutting-edge, near-future world-building check this one out.

Aberrant looks and feels different from earlier superhero games, except maybe Underground. It brings the setting- deep, rich, and complicated. It tailors the superpowers to that world, leaving out anything which doesn't fit. It wants to be high-octane, furious, and over-the-top. But it may go too far in that direction. Aberrant suffers from some of the problems facing other high-powers WW products (Scion, Exalted). The mechanics spin wildly out of control when you hit higher power levels. Many people ran successful campaigns using this system, but balance and rules density kept me away.

Despite that I love the Aberrant's setting. It presents consistent and smart near-future world-building. More than nearly any other supers game, it considers the implications of powers and new technologies on the world. While Underground goes for parody through excess, Aberrant explores consequences. It makes uncannily accurate predictions about near-future tech- like streaming TV programs requiring individual purchases. It explores new areas for supers games- including religion, wrestling, and even celebritydom. However that richness actually works against Aberrant as a campaign setting. For one thing, there's a strong and heavy metaplot running through the material. In other rpg lines (like Vampire or Mage) you could easily work around that. But the smaller size of this line makes that stick out like a sore thumb. It potentially pushes the PCs out. I would read an Aberrant novel or comic series. Critics suggest Story Gamers are frustrated novelists and Aberrant feels like an example of that.

The density works against the game in another way: player buy-in. Players have to read all of the setting material to really get the concept and tone. There's almost too much, especially with a genre usually given over to lighter settings and themes. Aberrant's dark and paranoid- reflecting White Wolf's approach but also reflecting a shift in comic books. White Wolf published many supplements for Abberant and they were among the earliest games sold as pdf.

My brain lumps this together with SLA Industries and A|State. Perhaps it’s the dystopian atmosphere, the infernal overtones, and the singular city. But at the same time, I associates Obsidian with other games of similar look and design- WW products, Armageddon, and a host of literally & figuratively darker games. A cover by Christopher Shy closes the deal. Overall Obsidian gives an impression of nihilism, but different from something like Kult..

Obsidian takes place in the year 2299. For many reasons, Hell has cracked open and spilled onto the Earth. That has blasted and destroyed the world and overrun it with demons. The survivors managed to build a massive single city housing all of Earth's remaining population. The city itself is a Dredd MegaCity-like dystopia: stacked, packed, and crime ridden. Somehow this city possesses high technology (cybernetics, for example), but lacks science. Instead it relies on various forms of mysticism. It has many cyberpunk trappings: cyberware, corporate PC types, security hacking, etc.

Beyond the walls infernal forces haunt the wastelands. But they're also contacted and interacted with inside the city. So pretty much everything's dark, decaying, and despondent. I know I'm not doing justice to the material, but part of the problem lies in not having a great sense of what the players actually do. That's usually my entry point for grokking rpgs.

Obsidian did well, with a striking product that small publisher Apothis Consortium got into major distribution. Part of what's interesting about this game is the diversity of opinion about it. It’s hard to get a real picture from the reviews. For example some praise the presentation while at the same time talking about how hard it can be to read. In 2001 Apothis Consortium released a revised second edition. They supported the line loosely, with four substantial setting sourcebooks. However the last of these came out in 2007.

Part of Guardians of Order's "Ultimate Fan Guides." These books offered Big Eyes, Small Mouth system mechanics alongside an anime series’ reference guide. Most of these lean towards the latter, offering not that much in the way of rules beyond some adjustments and statted out characters. They're more interested in being fully-fleshed episode sourcebooks. That material takes up the first 80 full-color glossy pages. The last 40+ are the rules in black and white. 

Serial Experiments Lain isn't a series I've watched, though now I'm intrigued. I remember seeing it at Media Play in an overpriced DVD set, back when that was the only way you could get anime mainstream. I’ve reading enough to know I had to stop to avoid spoilers. It's on Crunchyroll, so I'm going to have to watch it. Serial Experiment Lain's clearly a rich and layered series. I hadn't realized it comes from one of my favorite creators Yoshitoshi ABe. The Google summary states "An adolescent girl develops a unique connection to a virtual reality network known as The Wired." It categorizes the series as Cyberpunk, Psychological horror, Science Fiction, Drama, Mystery. 

GOO went a little overboard with some of these fan guides. For years you could find them in discount bins. That being said, they're a good resource for BESM fans and gamers who like the source series.

10. Digital Burn (2002)
As far as I can tell, Digital Burn leads the d20 cyberpunk pack. It came from Living Room Games who also worked on a lot of Earthdawn 2e. DB looks classic cyberpunk, complete with a digitally altered photo for the cover. This uses the d20 Modern SRD. It actually comes out a couple of years before d20 Future or even d20 Future Tech. Neither of those went full cyberpunk (the closest being a short biopunk campaign seed), so you had to turn to these kinds of supplements. 

Digital Burn offers the expected material for a d20 book: some setting development, nine advanced classes, many prestige classes, new feats, and updated skills. That's complemented by 33 pages of cyberwear for characters. The Netrunning section follows the usual approach, with a direct neural interface being the fastest and most dangerous way to hack. This isn't a particularly deep sub-system, instead using the base mechanics to simulate battling into a system. A dead product, Digital Burn isn't available in pdf form currently. For a deeper review, see here.

11. Transhuman Space (2002)
Transhuman Space has always seemed like cyberpunk’s know-it-all big brother. It gently pushes Little CP aside and says, "Yes, that's all fun and good, but let me show how real sci-fi would do it." That isn't true, but it’s a dumb impression left with me. Some of that comes from GURPS’ mechanical stiffness. But more of it comes from the presentation. Transhuman Space aims to look more like hard science-fiction. The cover suggests old school, while the interior illustrations have a weirder look to them. They're more Dune than Neuromancer. Yet it still feels grounded. I'm reminded of the Planetes manga, about low-orbit debris collection. 

Set in 2100 Transhuman Space blends radical tech developments (biotech, nanosystems, conciousnes transfer) with a focus on more "realistic" worldbuilding. It's still radical and fantastic, but has fewer of those 'wait, what?' moments. YRMV. There's an extensive timeline, gazetteer of earth, and a look at in-system space development and exploration. It's dense and while it contains a lot of mechanics, there's also a wealth of ideas about cultural change and posthumanity.

Steve Jackson released many supplements in this series: Broken Dreams (politics), Fifth Wave (a deeper gazeteeer), High Frontier (all about space) and more. I particularly dig the Toxic Memes sourcebook. This covers methods of social engineering. I recommend that to any cyberpunk GM thinking about media and information control. In fact, I'd recommend Transhuman Space as a whole. I don't run GURPS and I wouldn't run this setting, but every book has amazing hooks, tech, and details you can steal for any cyberpunk game. 

Transhuman Space has a coherent and complete vision of the future. It's amazing in that. But it’s also a little offputting. The setting's so developed and info-rich that I haven't found a good entry point. I'm not sure what players would do in this game or if they’d have room in anything but a niche campaign. That's not a bad thing and may reflect a failure of imagination on my part. Transhuman Space remains a valuable resource for me.

Based on a comic book and Sci-Fi channel web series I'd never heard of. It's a chaotic, kitchen-sink set up that mashes Tank Girl, Aeon Flux, and 21st century Metal Hurlant. I turn to the publisher blurb for clarification, 
“Set in a fantastic 31st Century New York City, where giant worms offer a clean form of public transportation, and New Jersey has become an armed and deadly enemy, players explore the political and spiritual tensions among the City's dwellers– or simply kick some righteous ass. Undo the evils of those corrupt religious creeps, the Patahn Pahrr; explore life with sentient insects like the cultured Cockroaches and the nefarious Caterpillars; hobnob with outsiders like teddybear scientist Dr. Yoshimoto and Chi-Chian herself. “
That wasn’t that helpful. The game itself is appropriately gonzo, with a host of skills and powers in multiple categories. To quote Dan Davenport's RPGNet review, "Overall, the setting has the feel of goth-tinged cyberpunk by way of a really bad acid trip, complete with talking bugs and weirdo spirituality." The game comes from the same publisher as Continuum: Roleplayingin The Yet. Chi-Chian's weird and if you're looking for a Burroughs-ian anime-esque cyberpunk-tinged game, this might be for you.

13. C.O.P.S. (2003)
Police and Law Enforcement have always been a niche but important part of cyberpunk roleplaying. It makes sense given genre sources like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell. Cyberpunk 2020's Serve and Protect set the bar for cop supplements. Shadowrun had their parallel with the Lone Star Sourcebook, detailing that private security corporation. Our group never played police; they never fit with the dominant “ragged mercenary” campaign  theme.

I've left a couple of other future police-themed rpgs off this list. The most obvious omission is Judge Dredd. While I think Dredd itself influenced cyberpunk aesthetic, the rpgs themselves never felt cyberpunk. On the other hand, there's Berlin XVIII, a French game first released in 1988. That takes place in the post-war 2070 Berlin Metroplex. Everything I read about that made it seem like Dredd, with inspiration drawn from Blade Runner and Hill Street Blues. Now I'm less sure that it's not cyberpunk. The same for Los Angeles 2035, a flash in the pan game from 7th Circle. That seems more like a near-future 87th Precinct game. Again, as these lists roll on the lines become blurrier. 

C.O.P.S. comes from the same publisher as Berlin XVIII. It is set in 2030 Los Angeles. Like Cyberpunk 2020, the world’s in crappy shape but not exactly post-apocalyptic. California has seceded from the Union in the face of a rising US conservative movement. You play members of C.O.P.S., the Central Organization for Public Security, the elite unit of the Los Angeles Police Department. The game presents Los Angeles Night City style, breaking down districts and peppering descriptions with alt-media marginalia. 

Being only slightly in the future gives C.O.P.S. its cyberpunk feel. It's a recognizable, decayed tomorrow through a European lens. It's also a game which burned brightly and fast. In two years, they released more than a dozen supplements, most of them 128 pages or more. These included equipment books (Hitek Lotek), criminal sourcebooks (Gangsta Paradise), and weirdness (Helter Skelter). Each contained linked adventures, broken into two seasons. Those seem to connect to a metaplot. It’s amazing to see a massive, well produced rpg which came and went in just under two years.

Vajra Enterprises. Of course this game comes from them. They revel in the strange and unusual, making rpg settings unlike any other. Consider KidWorld, post-apocalyptic children; Hoodoo Blues, magical-realist American south, or Tibet, a historical-political semi-fantasy rpg. They have a vision and they carry through with dense, well-developed games. Their base system, ORC or Organic Rules Components, isn't exactly my bag, but it doesn't get in the way of the ideas. 

Fates Worse tThan Death is a love-letter to cyberpunk and a reaction to the way it had been treated in games and other media. Designer Brian St. Claire-King says, 
“My goals with Fates Worse Than Death were lofty: to describe one city in such detail that countless game sessions could be spent exploring it, to create a street level urban adventure game where the city’s underdogs are its heroes, and to create a game which keeps alive everything I love about cyberpunk while avoiding both kitschy nostalgia for the genre as well as some of its more dated themes and concepts. “
Fates Worse Than Death gives us a detailed look at Manhattan 2080, an massive inner-city ghetto in a technologically advanced world. Those who have fallen out or want to escape from society have come here. Despite that players can play one of three classes: Indies, those with wealth; Wells, those living on public assistance; and Street People, who may be homeless and/or criminals. This is a dark but different world. Early on in the book we get a full-page table comparing Fates to standard cyberpunk. It's an interesting cross-section, showing how the setting remixes the concepts. For players of The Veil, I recommend checking this out for ideas about themes and beliefs. The game clocks in at 465 pages and more than half of that's world building and GM tools. 

Fates isn't for everyone. Cyberpunk purists may be put off by the psychic powers and mention of aliens. But these are minor bits than can easily be cut or ignored. More offputting may be the questions of class the game raises. Issues of wealth and poverty often get ignored in rpgs. Beyond taking some limiting disads or having to run jobs to get cool equipment, we don't deal with the gritty awfulness of the destitute. I can only think of a few other games that include these issues (Kingdom of Nothing for example). 

The core book’s massive and worth picking up. On DriveThru, they promise to donate a book with every purchase. You can also opt to pick up the Fates Worse Than Death "Spare Change" edition. This cuts out much of the material, leaving only the rules for playing street people. Fate can be ugly in places; you can tell it’s an older game by the graphic design. The designer acknowledges that age. In his forward to the pdf version St. Claire-King suggests options if players find the game a little too crunchy. It's a nice touch and a peek behind the curtain of game design (and regrets).

15. OGL Cybernet (2003)
Mongoose Publishing released a series of complete genre-focused games using the Open Game License. These included Ancients, Horror, Steampunk, Wild West, and Cyberpunk. Cybernet's a dense book, it has a lot of ground to cover including the d20 basics. Characters have occupations in addition to classes. These can give extra skills, feats, and wealth. Five of the classes are: the Connection (Fixer), the Corporate (Corp), the Soldier (Solo), the Webcrawler (Netrunner), and the Professional (Cop, Media, Rockerboy). A sixth, the unfortunately-named “Jacker,” doesn't have a Cyberpunk 2020 parallel. It's a rogue-thief type class covering all kinds of criminals from Yaks to Robin Hoods. As always with d20, you also get Prestige Advanced classes.

Most of the book's given over to character creation and its associated systems. That includes the obligatory equipment section complete with full page lists of guns and weapons. The actual mechanics are d20 heavy- with maneuvers, grappling, object & vehicle rules, tracked rep and allegiances. A few sub-systems get extra attention including eight pages on future drugs. Cyberwear's covered in 19 pages, which seems short compared to the attention given other elements. Hacking gets the same space. The rules don't seem bad. They're closer to Cyberpunk 2020, with decks, loadout programs, and abstracted challenges as the stages in a run. 

Cybernet's decent if you're looking for a d20 based system to do cyberpunk. But it lacks much in the way of GM support or setting. It assumes a generic, plug-in-your-own world. That's fine. The class choices set some of the default setting assumptions. But there's almost nothing to assist the GM in coming up with cyberpunk play. No adversaries, plot hooks, strong genre discussion, etc. While I found some flaws with OGL Wild West, at least it had some of those tools.

16. Virtual (2003)
I'd be oversimplifying by calling this Tron or ReBoot: the RPG, but not by much. Virtual's part of Fantasy Flight's Horizon line of d20 setting books (alongside Grimm, Redline, and others). In Virtual there's a war inside the data world, with intelligent programs as combatants. A small portion of these have awoken, given them independent sentience. I like that other programs may have a limited sentience, able to interact, but operating under constraints without an awareness of them. 

So...meta-NPCs.

Characters have a heritage (Absorber, Controller, Destroyer, Hider, Infecter, Resister) reflecting their original purpose. These affect attribute bonuses, special abilities, and personality. That's combined with a form: their set avatar in the online world- which also gives bonuses and limitations. Finally each has a class (Antiviral, Battle AI, Messenger, Programmer, Thinker, or Webcrawler). It's a smart set of easily grokked options. The rules offer revised skills, feats, and gear. I dig that equipment can be modified by adding subroutines. Programs can also use "rewrites" which are effectively spells. The rules include some new spells as well as conversion notes for existing PHB magics. 


You get a lot of the background detail through the rules, but the final thirteen pages covers the setting on its own. Players can battle against program overlords and dangerous viruses. It's clever, fun, and not overdone. Virtual could be offer an interesting parallel game for an AI-rich cyberpunk. The actions of one reality could have an effect on the other. While Virtual is only tangentially cyberpunk it offers new ideas for interacting with the online world.