Hypercorps 2099 (5e)
This massive campaign setting/toolkit clocks in at 190 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page backer thanks, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 4 pages of advertisement, leaving us with 181 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 kuo-toa 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 Strength (athletics)-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 skill uses, 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.
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. It also makes spellcasting unreliable, unless you have the Scientific Wizardry feat, which, among other things, makes your spells bypass resistances and immunities of the spells of anyone who does not have this feat…which is a pretty OP thing that imposes a further feat-tax on defensive/buff casters, which, considering 5e’s prevalence of concentration-durations and less intricate stacking mechanics, isn’t necessarily something I think that the engine needed. Purists of 5e may also notice that the traps for the hypernet do feature attribute damage, something pretty rare in 5e, and wording-wise a component phrased slightly differently – personally, I don’t object to these components, being used to them, but it is still something to bear in mind if you are particularly purist in your sensibilities.
That being said, with “Jarrikol”, an unbound AI and a quasi-devil/deity of the hypernet, various environments and e.g. Veranthea, Mike’s first campaign setting as a kind of game server, the hypernet still remains a very evocative and unique place that features some excellent ideas to scavenge and develop; as before with murderball, we focus on the grand picture here, though the servers, somewhat like sub-planes, do have their own rules.
After our trip to the technology side of things, the next section of the book deals with magical Kathmandu, where sacred creatures 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 legendary item, ready to be wielded by those pure of heart, 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 a feat found herein can be taken as one of the crunchy tidbits suffusing the book that is evocative, but could use some increased precision: It allows you to increase spell levels by inflicting damage to yourself. Does this require a Constitution save? While the maximum increase is capped by both proficiency bonus and exhaustion gained, RAW the feat may be read as to allow for the casting of spells increased beyond one’s theoretical knowledge.
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, though there also are some odd aspects: DM-1, for example, is vulnerable to critical hits; 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, 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, an artificial 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 6 templates to enhance creatures encountered before providing the stats for genetically engineered 4th Reich soldiers, the gigantic dakai, drones, hyper lycanthropes/vampires, the nigh unstoppable Kawsay Sach’aqa plant monster, 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: The book introduces two new skills, both of which are based on Intelligence, these being Law and Technology. 6 new kits represent the respective tools for hyper gameplay. The high-strung super-hero-esque stories at the center of hypercorps assume for the chance of success in even relatively strange circumstances and allow for collective checks that allow for the addition of their bonuses; as such, team maneuvers can be significantly higher, DC-wise. 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 (see DMG) 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. The GM-section similarly sports one-page templates for steam-punky pseudo-Victorian gameplay, WW-era, 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 tradition, the Cyber Ninja Rogue (Heja MGS!), the Cyber Samurai martial archetype, the mechwarrior sorcerous origin – these pretty much are self-explanatory representations of their respective tropes. The netjacker rogue archetype would be basically the combo rigger/decker and the veloces is basically a speed-themed monk. These, while generally good renditions of the core aspects of the respective roles, ultimately felt a bit less inspired to me – the Netjacker, in PFRPG its own class, is only a vanilla rogue until 3rd level, which can be pretty disheartening, for example. I think that more than one of these options could have carried its own alternate class. We also receive 5 backgrounds, though these lack goals, etc. – they only cover the proficiencies and features as well as a random aspect.
A crucial component of any cyberpunk game lies in the customization of pretty much everything cybertech related, gun-or similar equipment-related. Weapons and armor come with 4 upgrades each and we get 11 cybertech enhancements as well as some serious equipment – with hoverboards, C4 and all in between, including drugs, covered. Firearms require a bonus action to aim to add the proficiency bonus to atk and otherwise act as crossbows for feat-etc. purposes. They also deal serious damage. Autofire guns can instead use the bonus action to fire a second shot at disadvantage, while bullet sprayers may target cubes; damage-type switchers and stun-guns…the rules are pretty concise and yes, vessels are also featured. Still, 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. As a minor nitpick, RAW, the ammo can be scavenged after firing guns, which makes no sense.
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 and an associated template; if you’re a veteran, think of that as a gestalt; if you’re new to the subject matter, think of it as getting more bonuses – a total of 3 feats, up to +5 proficiency and hero points – the hyper score determines the total of hero points you can have at any given time. From an aesthetic point of view, the table has a type-setting glitch that should have been caught. Hero points are more potent in the game, allowing for example for a roll to be treated as a natural 20. The hyperscore also allows for ability score increases beyond 20, add attacks, gain more hit dice as well as better initiative. To work in conjunction with the super hero theme, going hyper may also entail gaining one serious hyper flaw – from weaknesses to addictions and the like. Hyper feats allow you to gain monster qualities, hyper items, better cybertech…you get the idea. These hyper feats (and attribute traits) are generally grouped in 4 routes of being hyper: The Abbernaut is basically the guy that receives monstrous abilities; the meganaut is the regular super; 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.
Now I mentioned hyper abilities; you can choose up to ability modifier such traits for a given attribute – a character with Dexterity 18 could have, for example, up to 4 of these with the right hyper route. These allow you to add bonus damage to attack, provide advantage on associated saves, provide sage advice as a reaction – but generally, they allow for the more efficient use of the respective engine; think of these as enhancers; you get more reliably good at using the attribute in question. In short: The book advances this aspect in depth, not in breadth.
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. When trying to get temporary goods and the like (most of which are illicit, obviously), the GM can roll 1d20 + wealth ability modifier; the result times 100 bytecoins is the cap; said sudden influx of non-permanent equipment, obviously vanishes again. This is a simple abstraction, but one that streamlines getting gear and arguing over who pays for what.
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 and Rich Howard 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.
Still, to reiterate the strengths and weaknesses of this book: On the downside, we have a few minor instances of imprecision here and there and the organization; hyper scores and pretty much all relevant game-play mechanics in the end and the sequence of their presentation make the rules-chapters in the end feel a bit less easy to grasp than they could be; Usually, you begin at the bottom, with abilities and here, hyperscores, and then move into the particulars. Anyways, apart from this didactic gripe, 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 rules presented are pretty simple and easy to grasp; the escalation of deadliness of both PCs and adversaries generates an interesting playing experience, with e.g. damage threshold rules being applied to some critters etc. The hyper routes cover the vast majority of common superhero tropes in a basic system that you can learn within 5 minutes…but they also, once again, are just that – the basics. If you wanted to play Magneto, for example, you’ll strike out.
In short: The hyper score engine, while solid, could have used expansions. On the other side, it does already allow for an impressive array of modifications and options. In short, 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 actions 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 provided 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 potential. 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. You will find precious few of the legendary NPCs featured with less than 100 hp; Vlad-y boy actually has more than 400. Even among the unnamed NPCs like security officers etc., you will not find an entry below 30 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 very hard for me to rate this; as a reviewer, I can complain about the few formal hiccups I noticed (“proficiency modifier” instead of “proficiency bonus”, nonstandard sequence of that in save-DC lists) – but they tend to, for the most part, not reach the levels where they’d negatively influence rules. 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 3 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.
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 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 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 book here on OBS!