Dec 212016
 

Hypercorps 2099

This massive book clocks in at 206 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page backer list, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 197 pages of content, so let’s take a look!

 

In 1876, the first time traveler managed to slip back 200 years back in time; this introduced ripples and other types of rifts to our world, bringing elves, halflings, etc. to our world as emissaries of magic. Ever since, the world has not been the same – Hypercorps 2099 is an allotopia, where time travel super soldiers and the like have influenced our history; where a dark elf assassin started WW I, where hippies discovered vancian casting and AI has developed – it is 2099 and the world is a radically different blend of cyberpunk aesthetics, fantasy and superhero aesthetics. The currency is bytecoins and, as a whole, it is interesting to note the highly unconventional theme of the setting: Unlike pretty much every cyberpunk game I know, Hypercorps 2099 feels less gritty, more light-hearted. To get a good idea of how it feels: Picture yourself as a child; you and your friends have just read Neuromancer for the first time, eaten a metric ton of sugar and discussed the ups and downs of various superhero comics and the LotR-movies; put these things in a blender and there you go. Alternatively, think of a less grim Shadowrun, with a massive sprinkling of M&M thrown into the mix.

 

As has become the traditions with Mike Myler’s campaign settings, the book presented here falls on the high-concept end of things; Hypercorps 2099 does not concern itself with the minutiae of the particulars, instead focusing on the big picture of high concept adventuring. This focus also means that the advised gameplay does not begin at 1st level – instead, the book recommends starting with the 2nd or 3rd level and a hyper score of 1 (more on that aspect later); while gameplay before is possible, the engine of materials used herein makes it less the focus.

 

This focus, for example, also is represented in the way in which the book focuses on the urban environment: The land between the sprawls is generally a corporate-owned place and due to easy transportation and virtual reality, there is considerable less need for traditional forms of contact. From this general perspective, we move fluidly into an example environment, namely what has become of Cleveland: From gangs to the never-ending tram to the hypermax penitentiary and the tainted waters of lake Erie and its water gangs (containing aquatic weirdness alongside wererats), we receive an interesting sketch for a campaign region to develop.

 

This depiction, then, proceeds to introduce us to Murderball: Think of that as basketball with a non-bouncy ball and a goal…as well as the explicit goal of kicking your foe’s behinds and potentially, killing them. Players require a hand and no vehicles or explosives are allowed and there are quite a few different score fields, from deflector fields to those that have a tendency to phase out. It is quite nice to see the different score fields using different formulae to calculate their AC, though the actual gameplay rules for catching and intercepting are a bit simplistic, boiling down to relatively simple checks. What makes the game as a mini-game interesting would be the weird effects that the murderball stadium may feature – from neuralshocks to magic-impeding tricks, the effects per se are pretty nice, though purists may scoff at one of the precise wordings here; similarly, e.g. a hazard-level lightning effect sports no average damage value. These are not crucial hiccups, though this would be as well a place as any to comment on the depth of the setting material presented: If you’re like me and read the murderball-passage, you may very well smile at the idea; at the same time, though, the execution could have carries so much more: Unique fields, more and different balls, etc. – this is not intended as a disparaging comment, just as a n observation that the highlight-reel-style nature of the book does not have the space to develop all components to their full potential: Murderball as such could carry its own supplement and certainly can be developed by an enterprising GM into the primary focus of a whole campaign – but what’s here, ultimately, remains a basic framework. Whether you like that or not, ultimately remains up to your personal sensibilities. That being said, unlike in the 5e-version, the sanctioned items for different positions and high emphasis of PFRPG on item-choice, the game presented here actually works better than in the 5e-iteration and can, as a whole, be considered to be a more reliable experience due to the throwing rules employed here.

 

Pretty much every cyberpunk game has its take on virtual reality and the same holds true for the hypernet that the year 2099 features: Creatures entering the place generally can do so via a variety of means; the place, as a whole, is presented pretty much as a plane, with highly morphic properties and several unique aspects. An important component that accompanies this would be the fact that you use your mental attributes instead of physical ones when in the hypernet – which obviously means that the big, bad bullies will probably be pretty weak around here. While time-honored mechanics-wise (the same mechanics have been used since the days of old for the realm of dreams or similar excursions), this also means that fighters and similarly physical characters won’t have that much fun in the hypernet. In the PFRPG version of this massive book, novel planar traits and a somewhat more forgiving take on the use robots etc. in the hypernet render the place a novel, fun and extremely creative environment, full of vast narrative potential and mind-boggling wonders…

 

That being said, with “Jarrikol”, an unbound AI and a quasi-devil/deity of the hypernet, various environments like e.g. Veranthea, Mike’s first campaign setting as a kind of game server, the hypernet remains a very dangerous, but also evocative and unique place that features some excellent ideas to scavenge and develop. The section also provides some nice traps/haunts that represent dangers of the hypernet their mechanical representation is significantly smoother than in the 5e-iteration. As before with murderball, we focus on the grand picture here, though the servers, somewhat like sub-planes, do have their own rules. Have I mentioned that the darknet is controlled by demons and devils? Yeah…tread carefully.

 

After our trip to the technology side of things, the next section of the book deals with magical Kathmandu, where sacred creatures (CR +2) and dimension-hopping are part of the expected fare; street elementals roam the streets and the tunnels of sand can have truly unpleasant consequences. Similarly, the zodiac defenders, champions established and named after the signs, are mentioned. The alternate timeline provided for Latin America similarly is a detailed, varied section – where e.g. the saber of Bolivar is a powerful CL 20 artifact and both PMCs and continental threats loom. Yes, including the fourth reich.

 

Beyond the confines of Latin America, the flying city of Lucrum, under the command of the hypercorporates, makes for a mobile flying fortress and quasi-autonomous zone; from the direct context of the brief history, one could picture this place as somewhat akin to MGS’ Outer Heaven under a corporate leadership, with a heavy dash of hypercapitalist Orwellianism. The deadly and powerful RAUs, the rapid assembly units, may make for feasible targets to deal with the threat…at least theoretically.

 

If you are looking for more of a classic cyberpunk experience, you may want to look towards Neo York, where we receive rules for rogue automated vehicles as well as brief dossiers on how the old crime syndicates have reacted to the changed realities and options of 2099; corporate politics also congeal here, with a vast array of hypercorporations and their agents playing the grand game here. Wallachia has, in Hypercorps, become a force of its own, as Vlad himself has returned to claim his throne., creating a haven for the undead, with respective statutes governing daily life. The Blood Magic tradition, represented as 3 feats: Unlike the 1 5e-feat, these 3 provide a complex and precise take on the concept of blood-powered metamagic that also prevents abuse. Kudos!

 

But let’s move on to organizations, from anonymous to the church of cthulhu, derklitz, a synthpop-celebrity worshipped as divine, to the hypercorporations (including necromanagement, known for undead slave labor), the respective brief entries are nice, though one, Xypher Media Institute, is oddly missing the alignment note.

 

After this, we dive into the critters/NPCs…which are BUTAL regarding both damage output and defenses; DM-1, for example, has a nasty mechwarrior suit; the dog-faced Sergeant K-9 (groan-worthy pun worthy of yours truly there -well-played), powerful Rabbit, Deadpool lookalike Big Cheez, super-ganger Deathslide…there are a lot of unique champions herein on both sides of the spectrum; Aurora, infused with positive energy and sworn to hunt down Vlad Dracul (CR 33), for example…or what about BioSpecs CEO, who may be under the influence of the suit she created. Archangel stand-ins like Deathwing, former Cthulhu-cultists turned hero, Edgar Allen Poe (a very powerful psychic, obviously), an elven temple champion that looks like an angel, a good undead gunslinger…oh, and the author has played the first season of the gloriously insane Sam & Max Telltale games – Roy G. Biv can be found reincarnated as King Lunar here. A bear-anthro called Kodyax may be a nice nod towards the member of the roleplaying community, the less-known superhero…or something else. Devil-blooded legendary netjackers, the legendary invisible assassin Nevidimy, the Native American spin on Captain America and the construct S.H.E.R.L.O.C.K. with the superb agent of the highest rank…well, you get the idea. The dramatis personae herein could be taken from the pages of golden and silver age comic books, a theme further underscored by them having their own fonts/logos for their names. And nope, I have not covered all of them.

 

The hyper bestiary begins with 5 templates (CR +1 to +2) to enhance creatures encountered before providing the stats for genetically engineered 4th Reich soldiers, the gigantic dakai, various drones, hyper lycanthropes/vampires, the nigh unstoppable Kawsay Sach’aqa plant monster (CR 27), robo T-Rex and dragons…there are quite a few of interesting critters here.

 

All right, so by now you’ll have an idea how the setting feels and works regarding its aesthetics and motifs, so let’s get into the nit and grit: Athletics collates Swim and Climb, while Perception is replaced by Awareness. Search is used instead of Perception to find secret doors etc. and there also is Knowledge (technology) and Use Technology. Vehicular Control is based on Dex. All skills come with notes for which classes they are available and, if required, sample DC-tables. Whether you like the split of Perception remains a matter of taste.

 

The higher power of both PCs and adversaries means that the game as presented here, ultimately is more lethal and the book does provides notes on how to handle this. Both XP-progression and the use of hero points are strongly encouraged and GMs can look forward to skyscrapers used as dungeons (see the recent, horribly underappreciated Judge Dredd movie for inspiration there!) and there also are several security systems depicted. Unlike the 5e-version, which oddly put the attributes in the back, this one’s organization is a bit better, following the basic skill-collation up with info of aforementioned new attributes: The book also introduces two new attributes, namely luck and reputation. Luck is 10 + 2 x hyper score; Reputation is 10 + 2 x hyper score + Charisma modifier. PCs get contacts equal to the reputation modifier. These scores, however, have hard limits: PCs can only use luck equal to the attribute modifier times per day and reputation only once per modifier per week and they need to request those checks. While seemingly odd, this little operation can actually be pretty helpful for creative games that feature an experienced GM. While testing this, a player invoking luck had e.g. an elevator containing a hostile team stuck for precious few rounds to make an escape. A group shares one wealth score, which is equal to all luck and reputation scores added together, divided by the number of characters. The pdf does provide an easy formula for covering one’s tracks. GMs also receive various security systems.

 

The GM-section similarly sports one-page templates for steam-punky pseudo-Victorian gameplay, WW-era and the contemporary age – while these are appreciated, I think that full-blown books for them would have probably been the wiser choice here; at basically one template each and a couple basic pieces of information, they don’t cover the basics.

 

That being said, the book does feature several archetypes to fit within the context of the game: The Ballistics Brawler monk archetype, who gains flurry with guns and may use ki instead of grit at -3 levels, the Cyber Ninja, who gets less sneak progression, but drones (Heja MGS!), the Cyber Samurai samurai archetype, who gets cybertech instead of mounts and features the order of the street. Netjackers may elect to become mechwarriors – which basically completely rewire a large part of said new class. The netjacker The netjacker base class receives d6, 2+Int skills per level, 3/4 BAB-progression, good Ref and Will-saves and proficiency with simple weapons and one exotic weapon of their choice. They also are proficient with light and medium armors and 1st level netjacker begin play with an installed hyperjack and digiboard.

Netjackers are all about controlling robots – when in combat while controlling robots, they take a -3 penalty to AC, which is reduced by 1 at 6th level and every 6 levels thereafter. At the beginning of a day, a netjacker chooses either a proxy or drones, both of which are collectively known as robots.

Robots progress with a 3/4 BAB-progression, d10, 6+Int skills per HD, only bad saves, AC-bonuses that scale from +0 to +16, Str/Dex-bonuses that scale up to +6 and scaling upgrade pools and bonus HP for proxies and drones. Proxy upgrade pools scale up from 3 to 26, bonus hp from 2 to 46. Upgrade pools for drones scale up from 1 to 9 and bonus hp from 1 to 24. Proxies act upon your initiative -3, drones at initiative -6. Sharing senses can be accomplished as a standard action -proxies can furthermore act as if properly possessed. Drones, obviously, as less powerful robots, can instead offer more than one active at any given time- 1st level netjacker can have 2 active, +1 at 8th and 16th level and possess these drones as well Netjacker receives scaling bonuses to Technology-related skills and at 2nd level and every 2 levels thereafter, the netjacker receives a hacking talent. Some sample proxie base forms (3) and two sample drone base forms (2) are provided.

These talents allow for the sabotage of armor, equipment, etc. – personally, I’m not a big fan opposed level checks used – especially since the wording could be read as a fixed value or as an opposing roll – not sure which it is: “The netjacker makes a Use Technology check opposed by a level check (her target’s hit dice +1 per 2000bt of the item’s value).” – Granted, this is a minor glitch and more a matter of taste, so no biggie. Better hoverboarding, becoming invisible to tech – some nice options.

At higher levels, coordinated attacks allow the netjacker to expend actions of robots to grant himself a hyper bonus and further scaling hyper bonuses are interesting. 10th level expands the list of available talents to provide advanced talents, 17th level nets +1 standard action in the hypernet and at the capstone, the class gets dual initiative a limited amount of times per day- once in the hypernet, once in the real world.

 

The Veloces, chassis-wise, does look a bit like a bland monk-reskin at first sight; however, unlike in the pretty disappointing 5e-iteration, the class can stand on its own: Basically, it is a take on the Flash, Quicksilver and similar speedster characters. Yes, if you’re fast enough, you’ll run on walls, punch foes with incredible potency, etc. Self-haste and similar tricks help make this variant a fun addition to the roster, with a ton of talent-customizations and proper player agenda.

 

A crucial component of any cyberpunk game lies in the customization of pretty much everything cybertech related, gun-or similar equipment-related. Opposed to the 5e-version, the engine allows for several unique tweaks: Including DR-granting armor, a significant array of firearms that feature takes on automatic and semi-automatic fire. They, unsurprisingly, also deal serious damage. Autofire generates lines of fire, semi auto guns allow for Rapid Reload like shots. The pdf also features proper stats for various vehicles, including hoverboards. While smoother executed than the 5e-iteration, this may be the one aspect where I sincerely feel that this book falls short of its own ambition – perhaps I’m spoiled by years of Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, but equipment-wise, Hypercorps 2099 simply doesn’t have that much to offer – the modifications are nice, but nowhere near fulfill the needs of my group.

Now, so far, the most crucial rules-difference has not yet been covered – that would be going hyper, becoming basically a superhero. This is represented by gaining a hyper score. Hyper score allow you to gain access to hyper bonuses, which stack with every bonus, even other hyper bonuses. They do not, however, allow you to stack two identical effects. The hyper score is a 10-level progression, somewhat akin to mythic tiers and hyper bonus scales up to +5 over this progression. Hyper score also determines the maximum amount of hero points you can hold and provides up to 5 hyper feats, but also 2 hyper flaws over its progression. Hyper bonuses thus gained pretty much apply to almost anything and thus, the table features a handy CR-increase for your convenience. Oh, the table also nets you more hit points and ability score increases. Hero points work in different, more potent ways for hyper characters, allowing for brief scene-control, for example. Hyper characters also gain more attacks, heal quicker, grant themselves a kind of advantage or benefit, a limited number of times from FF’s Life III, becoming very hard to kill.

 

A lot of customization options happen via the respective hyper feats, which allow you to scavenge progressively better monster qualities, implant more cybertech, (de-)activate technological devices at range, etc. Better planar adaption to magic within the unreliable hypernet, a proper secret identity (into which you can change at Superman-in-phone-booth-speed) or hyper vehicles – the selections provided here are versatile and fun. Hyper flaws would be the unique Achilles heels you’d associate with superheroes and villains – from requiring an object to tiring exertions, these flaws represent a fun, identity-constituting element.

 

Beyond the basic hyper score and its consequences, the pdf assumes a type of 5 different hyper routes: The Abbernaut is basically the guy that receives monstrous abilities; the meganaut is the regular super who enhances hyper attributes; the hypernaut is the guy who gains the hyper powers; the parallel is the gestalt-spellcaster and the savant is the non-magical gestalt who gains more non-magical tricks; depending on the route chosen, you gain different arrays of hyper flaws.

 

Hyper powers are grouped by 3 tiers and their general rules are presented in a concise and easy to grasp manner; some may be taken multiple times and they do NOT screw around. What about time stop for two rounds or any villain’s favorite gambit, cloned simulacra? Talking to the city (breaks into “The Spirit”-impression) or fabulous wealth…some seriously cool stuff here. Now I mentioned hyper attribute traits – these would basically be abilities grouped by attribute which allow you to perform those heroic acts: Ignoring conditions, throwing huge things, being ridiculously likable, auto-skill check successes…basically, these would be the tricks that make you more of an incarnation of the things you’d do with the respective attributes.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are pretty good; while I noticed a couple of minor hiccups here and there, as a whole, the book is very readable and the majority of the rules language is similarly precise. The most prominent glitches are minor typesetting hiccups. Layout adheres to a two-column full-color standard and manages to cram a TON of text into the pages of this book, making it look somewhat busy, but also getting you maximum bang for your buck per page. The pdf sports a ton of artwork, which ranges from often used stock to original pieces; most of them adhere to the comic-style flair that fits well with the theme, even though personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the style, I appreciate the very high art-density of the book. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.

 

Mike Myler, Savannah Broadway, Luis Loza and Michael McCarthy deliver a book that deserves being called unique; I have literally never before seen a take on cyberpunk that emphasizes the at times cheesy superhero-esque components that e.g. high-powered Shadowrun etc. tend to feature. The flavor of the setting is unique and it has this gleeful over-the-topness that makes you smile – we don’t get sharks with lasers, we get dragons with lasers. This would perhaps be the best way to look at this toolkit/campaign setting. If you expect copious information on the minutiae of daily life, an exploration of social dynamics and the more subdued aspects of cyberpunk, including what “humanity” means…then this is probably not for you. If you, however, want to blow up skyscrapers, crash-land flying cities into legions of genetically-engineered nazi-drones or test your superhuman strength against a ginormous plant-monstrosity with your pal Edgar Allen Poe riding a hoverboard…then this will be just what the doctor ordered. This setting polarizes. Chances are that you already know whether this is for you or not at this point.

 

To state this loud and clearly: The PFRPG-iteration of the book is better than its 5e-version; we get more artistry; variant classes instead of short archetypes, a more pronounced compatibility with established material, etc. Even the structure of how rules are presented is more concise in the PFRPG-version. Anyways, like the 5e-version, players who expect a ton of customization and tweaking options will be disappointed to see the scope of both equipment and cybertech; the chapters do their basic job, but not much beyond that. On the plus-side, the PFRPG hyper-score rules are more elegant and versatile and allow for more options and their rules are presented in a pretty simple and easy to grasp manner; the escalation of deadliness of both PCs and adversaries generates an interesting playing experience. The hyper routes cover the vast majority of common superhero tropes in a basic system that you can learn within 5 minutes…and while you get the basics, I really hoped to see more powers here…though access to SPs of PFRPGs vast array of spells means that you’ll have more options with this iteration.

 

In short: The hyper score engine could have used expansions. On the other side, it does already allow for an impressive array of modifications and options. Pretty much every aspect of this book can be seen as either a feature of as a bug; I frankly could wax poetically about the sheer density of amazing over the top action for pages on end…or, I could complain for the same length about aspects that could have used further fleshing out, in both mechanical engines and environments. Ultimately, to me at least, this book feels a bit like it tries to do a bit too much at once; a focus on either campaign setting or cyberpunk/superhero-rules would have allowed the campaign setting, which is pretty intriguing, more space to shine and provide enough room for the equipment and super-aspects to grow. To my own sensibilities, the compromise of packing both into one book ended up making them both good, no doubt about that…but also made them fall short of their own, significant potential. Less so than in the 5e-version…but still. The short non-2099-era sketches of e.g. the WW-age in the GM-section would be the culmination of this aspect of the book: Well-intentioned though they are, they are too short to be of significant use to pretty much anyone.

 

The aspects where I definitely cannot complain in any way would be the powerful NPCs and the creatures: Exceedingly powerful, these beings unanimously have this glorious sense of irreverent humor, this sense of anything goes. Extra brownie points if you get why Poe needs to eat a pomegranate every day to retain his powers, for example. These are also the aspect of the book where, no matter how you look at it, it delivers: Bosses with SERIOUS staying power abound, in spite of the increased power-level – so if you’re looking for epic boss fights and a somewhat video-gamey-sensibility to accompany the flavor, well, here are foes that can take the punishment. The adversaries in the book are very, very nasty; Vlad-y boy will wreck you. Even among the unnamed NPCs like security officers etc., you will not find entries with low hit points.

 

These NPCs and creatures also represent perhaps the best litmus-test on whether you’d like this: If you can smile at Sergeant K-9 or at some of the other beings here, then chances are you’ll find a place in your heart for this book. If the gritty day to day survival aspect of cyberpunk and the transhumanist questions are what brought you to the genre, you will probably be less excited about what you find herein. In short: This may not deliver in grit or detail, but it represents a delightfully gonzo, over the top experience. It is more superhero with a cyberpunk aesthetic, not vice versa.

 

It is very hard for me to rate this; as a reviewer, I can complain about the few formal hiccups I noticed – but as a whole, the PFRPG-version is better. Apart from that as a formal complaint, the vast majority of gripes I could potentially field can be mitigated by simply stating that the intent of the book, the focus, is different. The more action-oriented among my players really liked testing this; the detail-oriented planners were significantly less taken and impressed…which also eliminates this means of determining a rating for this book.

 

Personally, I am torn to an extent beyond what most books manage to elicit – I adore several aspects and the vast imagination, but also bemoan the scope of the equipment aspects and power-options, both of which combined could probably fill a book of this size on their own regarding the amount of material you could make for them. On the one hand, I could argue for a 4 star rating; sober me complaining about the hiccups, the fact that the book’s all over the place and that almost all aspects could have used more coverage. On the other hand, though, I could also start gushing and rambling about the awesome concepts, the glorious critters and the sheer glee that oozes from these concepts and proclaim this a 5-star masterpiece with a uniquely fun and gonzo aesthetic. Additionally, the PFRPG version provides a bit more care, feels a bit more streamlined and routed in the aesthetics of the system than the 5e-iteration.

 

The truth for you, my readers, will quite probably fall on either one of these two ratings; either you’ll really like it and disregard what could be construed as shortcomings or the shortcomings weigh more heavily for you than the boons this offers. As a reviewer, I can understand both positions and thus urge you to select yours. I, however, cannot rate this as both and thus will settle on a final verdict in the middle, at 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5 due to in dubio pro reo. If you have the luxury of choosing your system, I’d suggest the PFRPG iteration.

 

You can get this massive setting/toolkit-book here on OBS!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

Comments

  2 Responses to “Hypercorps 2099”

  1. Oy, reading that was a thrill!! We worked *crazy* hard on this book and knowing that the Pathfinder version is up there with Mythic Adventures fills me with joy–my mad scheme was a success! 😀 (also did you see we worked a mythic fella in there? One of several PCs I’ve played in the past?)

    Anyone interested should grab the four free PDFs (including an adventure http://hypercorps.com/downloads.asp) and let me know how their adventures in the future go!

    Also the Luck attribute? I love that elevator thing. You are using it exactly right. I have a hard time *not* using it now so be wary though–it will worm its way into your dice!

    Thanks for the intense critique! Super stoked you liked the book. ^_^

    • Heja Mike, thanks for commenting!

      And yep, I noticed both you and your significant other’s hypercorps avatars.

      Luck indeed is an elegant and fun mechanic and I’m looking forward to analyzing FAMOTH (already in queue) Specimen and Thrillville should hit site soon. I honestly believe this book is extremely expandable – pretty much everything from hyper abilities to hypernet and regions could yield its own book.

      Cheers and thanks!!

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