L5R Cyberpunk Ideas

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Anego by Guweiz

While waiting for the new Legend of the Five Rings from Fantasy Flight Games to arrive here in the Philippines, I figured I might as well write up a fancy take on an alternate setting I’ve been playing around with in my head for it.

Classic L5R has always been in Feudal Magical Alternate Japan, so I figure remixing it to a cyberpunk setting would be interesting to see. Here are a few elements I’d use in the setting.

Cyber-Spiritualism

The kami play a huge role in Rokugan, and I don’t see that spiritual aspect of the setting going away with the advancement of technology. Instead, I see them working together, with Data or Information becoming recognized as an element. This won’t make it a Ring just yet, but enterprising sages and shugenja have discovered a means to commune with the data kami in order to compel the spirits of the machine to grant boons.

These can take the form of coaxing better performance from devices to even housing data kami intelligences inside shrine crystals laced with nanotech interfaces. These crystals glow when housing data kami and are often integrated into online devices such as cellphones and datapads. The crystals can also be slotted to things like power armor or weapons. Shrine crystals can be as small as an earring (a fashion popular among more courtly samurai) or larger ones like the fist-sized crystals used by power armor and the lantern sized ones that often power the siege engines of the Kaiu.

Th data kami are a true intelligence as opposed to “Virtual” or “Artificial” versions and require upkeep in terms of both prayers and offerings and a healthy and (ideally) positive relationship with their partnered companion. An interesting side effect is that these data kami can communicate directly to non-shugenja through the use of whatever interface they’re attached to.

Tradition x Innovation in Chi

In addition to the discovery of the data kami, technological advances have been combined with traditional Rokugani medical practices to result in some very interesting advances. Pioneered by the Agasha Family, the Dragon Clan have been able to use microscopic nanomachines in ink to print tattoos onto the human body.

These nanite tattoos draw on the person’s Chi as a source of their power. The more capable the user is with manipulating their Chi, the more efficient the tattoos become. These tattoos resemble a cross between traditional mandalas and a circuit board diagram and glow when active.

This process has enabled the Dragon Clan to improve upon their specialties, with an average Kitsuki Investigator now being capable of analyzing evidence samples by touch as a miniaturized forensics suite has been tattooed onto their hands.

The improved man-machine interface made possible by nanite tattoos lend themselves to a secondary innovation: Cybernetic prostheses.

Overcoming the Weakness of the Flesh

Not surprisingly, it was the Crab Clan that seized the opportunity to build upon the Chi interfaces to generate cybernetic limbs for injured samurai who lost limbs during their service to the wall. While initially a sign of favor from the clan, some of the more extreme of the Hida have begin to voluntarily replace healthy limbs to enable them to do their duty better.

The Kaiu Engineers pride themselves with the perfection of their cybernetics. Bolstered with the medical knowledge of the Kuni Witchhunters, the Kaiu cybernetics are some of the most advanced in Rokugan, featuring a feedback loop coursed through a data kami shrine crystal embedded in the limb to provide lifelike tactile sensation while remaining impervious to pain.

Each of the clans has spun off on the application of data kami towards their respective specialties:

Crab

The defenders of the wall have little use for aesthetic applications and have mostly focused on military applications of this technology. Data Kami are housed in large shrine crystals inside power armor and vehicles, while the Lord Hida’s Eye orbital satellite is practically a temple of data kami floating in synchronous orbit to monitor Shadowlands activity.

As mentioned above, their cybernetics are among the most advanced, with individual Kaiu engineers devising more creative means to hurt shadowlands creatures with built-in weaponry everyday, ranging from concealed monomolecular edged knives that deploy from underneath the wrist to eschewing traditional limbs altogether for guns or other implements of destruction.

Crane

Perhaps not surprisingly, the children of Lady Doji have largely avoided the more blatant aspects of this new technology. Cybernetics are unheard of in all but the Daidoji family, and most of the Asahina prefer to remain devoted to the five elements rather than delve too deeply in the nature of the data kami.

The Kakita Artisans, however, have been quick to embrace one aspect of change: that of being able to dominate the entertainment industry. Well aware of the effect of cultural dominance, the Kakita and the Doji have worked tirelessly to train a subset of data kami to specialize in being able to shape opinions and trends in society through the internet.

Dragon

The Dragon have become a dominant force in medicine with the advent of the nanite tattoo interfaces, and they’ve devoted significant time and energy to finding even more means to blur that line.

Rumors persist that some of the Togashi Tattooed Order monks have been able to directly enter the infoscape with their minds in a technological version of astral projection.

Lion

Rather than obsess over specialization, the Akodo Family of the Lion Clan have directed the Clan’s efforts towards adaptability. Among all the Clans, the amber Shrine Crystals of the Lion are the most flexible. Housed in a universal frame, the Lion Shrine Crystals accompany the samurai everywhere on their swords, or upon their ashigaru light combat armor.

Each Lion Samurai is trained to work with his data kami from the first day of training. There are many like it, but this one is theirs.

The information from these individual Shrine Crystals are actually fed into a massive underground data center in the Kitsu Tombs, which is capable of projecting real-time positioning and health information Lion Clan command staff, allowing for unprecedented tactical maneuverability necessary to take on the threats of the modern age.

Phoenix

The Phoenix Clan excel in their own way. Unsatisfied with simply relying on technology, the Phoenix have rolled out a secret project: The Four Noble Beast Division. Chosen from their most loyal Shiba Samurai, each is subjected to extensive cybernetic reconstruction, essentially turning them into supersoldiers whose bodies house their own heart-sized Shrine Crystals.

Unlike most Shrine Crystals however, the kami that inhabit these are patterned after the Four Noble Beasts: the Azure Dragon of the East, the Vermillion Bird of the South, the Black Tortoise of the North and the White Tiger of the West. This four-man team of samurai represent the very best that the Phoenix Clan can come up with, and are sworn to defend the Clan at all costs.

Scorpion

The Clan of Lies have their own innovations, focused mostly on the Data Kami themselves. Their Shrine Crystals are inert, capable of housing the Data Kami without letting off the tell-tale glow. This means that they are often nondescript, and almost mundane, such as a particular button in a suit, or a tie clip.

Their work has been focused on training their Data Kami in the art of infiltration and sowing disinformation. Soshi hackers are among the most feared for their ability to think around a problem and direct their data kami partners with near-surgical precision.

Unicorn

The Unicorn Clan’s appreciation for versatility and mobility is one that is reflected on their applications of this technology. All Unicorn clan vehicles have housings for Data Kami, that allow for automated driving and a host of stunts that would be something right out of a videogame. Most combatants would consider letting go of the handlebars of a speeding motorcycle to draw and fire twin sub-machine guns at a pursuer to be suicidal, but the Unicorn Data Kami allow for their samurai to pull off such stunts with ease.

The Ide on the other hand utilize Data Kami to break down language barriers, and have been using discreet scanners to identify telltale biometric signs of a person’s emotional state in negotiations to give them the upper hand.

Clearly this take on Rokugan can still go a LONG way, but this is a sneak peek into what I’ve got in mind if I ever get to run this!

[Let’s Study: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4e] Part 1: Introduction

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My first exposure to Warhammer was through a (then) tiny hobby shop called Neutral Grounds, which first introduced the tabletop miniatures wargame to the country. Being more of a fantasy fan than sci-fi, my brother and I pitched in to buy a starter set and we dove head first into the setting.

The heady mix of bleak grimdarkness with hilarious comedic elements slipped into it was an instant hit for us and we played a good long while.

After my lead-pushing career ended, I turned my attentions to the Roleplaying Game hobby, glad at least that Warhammer Fantasy existed there as well! I was fortunate enough to play in a campaign of WHFRP 2e under a friend of mine, and I remember having a lot of fun.

Which brings us here today.

With Cubicle 7 holding the reins, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay returns in with a 4th edition. I grabbed this PDF from DrivethruRPG as soon as it became available as a pre-order purchase, and that’s what I’ll be using for this series (at least until the full version becomes available)

That’s enough storytelling from me, so let’s cut to the chase and get started!

Introduction

Cubicle 7’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay doesn’t waste a lot of time. The book opens with a quick introduction to the hobby and the setting, as well as notes on how to best use the corebook. It’s punchy, and gets right to the point, quickly ushering you to the setting section, which is a splendid set of gorgeously illustrated pages containing letters talking about the empire from the point of view of a propagandist and from someone who had boots on the ground.

While I did complain about letters in my Vampire: the Masquerade 5th edition series, this one is blessedly short, with the longest piece of writing being only 5 pages long from a single point of view. Add the fact that rather than belabor the point, much of the letter is a briefing document for a snapshot of what to expect in the Empire. Good stuff!

Next up we’ll be taking a look at building a character for the setting!

If you’d like to check out the preorder link, it’s over at DriveThruRPG for $29.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 11: Review

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Vampire: the Masquerade’s 5th edition knows exactly what it wants to be, but has only a hazy, drug-addled recollection of how it got there.

Given that it’s a product of a new (and different) White Wolf, I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise. They marketed V5 as a triumphant return, a reinvention of an old favorite to a new generation of fans.

What we got was a powerful remix. Sacred cows are gone (and I’d be lying if I didn’t miss the other Clans that they removed from the game) and new systems are introduced to zero in on the core thesis of the game: Vampires are Monsters, and you’re playing one.

The morally bankrupt nature of the Vampiric condition is the highlight of this edition, and the Character Creation and Hunger / Blood Resonance mechanics tie into this beautifully. You can’t help but feel pity for these wretches that eke away an existence in the night, decking themselves out with superficial symbols of power and prestige in some bizarre mockery of life when in the end all of them are less than human.

But where the game stumbles is in making the reader feel for the setting. Beyond the Vampire’s personal struggles, the whole community angle of Clans and conspiracies has been effectively swept away. Old players find that the staples of Kindred society are reduced to ashes, while new players are left to play out smaller scale games in hopes of scrabbling for influence and territorial rights in the local community of Kindred.

In terms of presentation, while the layout is elegant, I’m not entirely sold on the use of photos for the art. It’s not a major nitpick, but I’m just not a fan of that approach.

With regards to the shocking and questionable content in the book, I feel that V5 wouldn’t have made it’s case that Vampires are monsters without them. That said, the entire premise of the World of Darkness is that it’s a game and that people shouldn’t go about emulating the behavior of the depraved monsters that the Vampire are presented as. Adding both the Mature Content Advisory and the advice in the Appendix for playing responsibly goes a long way to establishing that fact.

Overall, I’m finding V5 to be something of a mixed bag. The Personal Horror angle is definitely something they achieved, but they abandoned much of what made the eternal struggle angle interesting. If this is the start of the World of Darkness, then it’s not exactly the best gunstart I’ve seen.

If you like the promise of personal horror and you’re not too invested in the past, then V5 is still a good game to get into. If you’re an old hand appalled at the changes to the setting, then the mechanical elegance won’t save you, and you’re better off sticking to your old editions.

You can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 10: Chronicles, Tools & Appendices

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So you’ve got your player characters, and the city upon which to unleash them.

Now what?

Chronicles

The Chronicles chapter addresses that issue by inspiring Storytellers by providing a host of Chronicle Ideas, as well as a guided tour of how to dredge up drama and interesting stories by looking at the conflicts inherent to the setting.

There’s a good range of scales provided in this chapter, and advice ranges from street level games where issues of turf and gang-wars are the norm, to more political games.

The chapter also goes into detail on how to run a campaign, from handling the spotlight to managing the villains, whether they be other vampires, the Second Inquisition or worse.

Tools

The Tools chapter is where the Storyteller goes for their Antagonists, Equipment and Loresheets. There’s not much to say here, except that there’s definitely going to be Werewolves, Mages, Changelings and Wraith in the future… with Hunters likely being there as well.

Given the whole Second Inquisition thing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hunters were a big part of it.

Appendices

The book concludes with three Appendices: Standard Feats, Projects and Advice for Considerate Play. Standard Feats talks about the usual rolls that you might encounter in a game and how to manage them in play. Projects introduces a subsystem that allows Vampires to undertake long-term projects, like establishing a drug empire in a city.

But perhaps the most important of all is the last one. Advice for Considerate Play is an essay about how to run Vampire responsibly, going over all the best practices in making Vampire a safer experience for everyone. There’s solid advice here on handling delicate issues such as identity, fascism, and sexual violence in a manner that is safer.

Add to that is advice on what Safety Tools can be used in game to make sure that people can tap out before things go wrong. I’m glad to see these because awareness for the need of these safety tools and the tools themselves isn’t exactly common knowledge, having them here helps a lot.

Overall the Chronicles and Tools Chapters are pretty utilitarian. They cover all the bases and are valuable to Storytellers looking for inspiration for running a new game of Vampire with the new edition.

After being exposed to the horrible things that Vampires do in the World of Darkness, it’s a good thing to end with that last appendix. It’s a much-needed section that I’m glad was there, and I would mandate the presence of these in play if the Storyteller intends to run Vampire as-is, without diluting it from how it was presented in the book.

Finally we’ll have a Review of V5 as a whole in our next and final entry in this Let’s Study series.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 9: Cities

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More than in any of the other games in the World of Darkness, Vampire concerns itself greatly with territory. As such, being able to define the city in which a Vampire chronicle takes place is a big deal.

This chapter covers a good amount of detail as to what your considerations should be in putting together the details of the city, as the way that things are divided among the Kindred is a reflection of the policies of the Prince or the Council in power.

The city as a character is explored in detail here, with attention to how a well-designed setting can spawn story hooks simply by existing. There’s a strong sense of an ecosystem (or at least a food chain) at work here, and even the most green of neonates find that nothing they do is without consequences.

Basic things like feeding rights and territories add up to a lot, and the chapter goes into depths as to just how far-reaching the consequences are in meddling with the status quo. Regardless of where you are, whatever happen in the city affects you.

While perhaps not as sexy as the other chapters, the City Chapter is one that I appreciated for it’s near clinical take on the way that the city acts as an ecosystem and how the Kindred’s actions are influenced by the city and vice versa.

Next, we’ll be taking a look at the Storytelling Chapter, the second to the last installment of this series!

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

[Let’s Study: Vampire the Masquerade, 5th Edition] Part 8: Advanced Rules

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My earlier observation on the Rules chapter was that V5 was a very simple rules system, approaching a more narrative style of play than what it used to be. This isn’t really a problem given the nature of horror games needing less mechanics getting in the way of the story and the fear.

But for those who are looking for it, V5 also provides a grab bag of optional rules that add or subtract layers to the base system. Some of these options make the game even more freeform than it already is, while others (like the combat rules) move the game closer to more traditional rules of Vampire.

I won’t go into full detail for these systems right now, but covered are:

  • Rules for handling Scenes and Modes
  • Extended Tests
  • One-Roll Combat
  • Additional Combat Options (specific maneuvers)
  • Movement in Combat
  • Initiative systems
  • Hunting systems
  • Kindred Intimacy
  • Memoriam (a flashback system to allow for some level of dramatic editing)
  • Prestation (a favor trading system among the Kindred)

On Kindred Intimacy

I’ve seen some very disturbing things so far in V5, and at this point I’ve come to the conclusion that playing a Vampire means accepting that your characters will be monsters. The section on Kindred Intimacy in particular is bound to squick a LOT of people, as it presents “sex” as it were between Vampires to be a high-risk affair as one could easily end up blood bound to the other.

The fact that the game itself has explicit rules for how a player character can manipulate a vampiric partner to succumb to temptation and their limits to bind them to the player character is a major red flag. It’s got shades of all sorts of power disparity, sexual assault and rape in big red letters.

And yet, if you stop to think about it. That kind of atrocity is what Vampires do.

Yes, it’s ugly, and uncomfortable, and I hope to god you never resort to having to employ the rules in any of your games, but the fact that it’s there is a strong statement to further cement the thesis: Vampires are not nice people. They’re monsters.

Moving on, we’ll be looking at the rules for Cities, the hunting grounds of the Kindred.

If you’d like to read along, you can grab a PDF copy of Vampire the Masquerade 5e from the World of Darkness Website for $24.99

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