For those of you who have gotten to know us over the time that we have been active in the tabletop roleplaying space, you’ve probably figured out that both Joann and I really enjoy cyberpunk games. A REALLY lot. It was, quite literally, how we originally met and became friends. A lot has happened since then. We have discovered new systems, developed new ways of thinking about games and running them, and watched as the intellectual property that introduced us has been turned into a gasoline-fueled dumpster fire. That last one breaks our hearts to say.
Because of that, and our love of the genre, we’ve spent a lot of time hunting for a replacement that would give us that feel, not just mechanically, but in depth of setting and richness of lore. Where we could create characters and drop them into what felt like a living, breathing world that we didn’t have to invent out of whole cloth. We’ve done that. And we’re going to do it again. We’d even do it for this if need be, but we can both be incredibly lazy sometimes and it would be nice not to have to do everything.
That search was where I first ran across the property Interface Zero by Gun Metal Games. Interface Zero is a dystopian cyberpunk game with setting developed by Peter J. Wacks. The second edition of that game has been released for both the Savage Worlds system and FATE Core. In this review, we’ll be looking at the FATE Core version which was funded by Kickstarter in November 2015. We purchased the Print on Demand version from DriveThruRPG. The book is, as most of the other offerings we have ordered in this manner, nicely put together. While the hard cover binding is not the most sturdy method of doing so, it is not bad, and will likely hold up as long as it is treated well.
Like the other FATE offerings by Evil Hat Productions, the book is set in 6 x 9 format. The cover is glossy and does not have the soft touch that the other FATE books tend to have. The artwork on the cover and in the book is sharp, vibrant, and evocative. The pages are of heavy paper, non-glossy, and the ink seems high enough quality that it will not smear easily. The binding appears to have used adequate glue to keep the pages together even when opened wide.
One of the very first things I noticed about this book was the amount of time and attention that went into laying down the setting and lore. At the beginning of the book, there are 29 pages of introduction, fiction and chronological lore to give the reader a general feel for what the setting is, what has happened to get there, and what the general feel of the current year is. In addition to that, the history text is set up both in language that doesn’t get boring like many similar settings. It also uses a familiar gimmick to the old world books and rulebooks of the system we mentioned that was a dumpster fire earlier where in-game personalities break in to offer their color to a given historical event or topic. Then, at the end, there is another 133 pages of setting describing what the world and the lore look like geographically, both on Earth and in what we’ve colonized in space. That’s a total of 162 pages of lore for a Gamemaster to go in and sink their hooks into.
The next thing I noticed had to do with the rules. While it states on page 43 that the GM will need to know the full FATE Core rules, the book itself provides something of a prime for new players to help them get up to speed on terms like Aspects, Invoking, Stunts, Fate Points, etc… The explanations are bare-bone, but examples are given in an effort to be helpful. In my opinion, with a GM that already knows FATE, this would easily be enough to take someone from not knowing FATE to being able to play Interface Zero. To get the Gamemaster up to speed, there is a list of the changes to skills, and how you will need to think about race and occupation in relation to character aspects along with helpful pointers toward the other changes/customizations made to FATE Core with page references.
What really caught my attention, rules-wise, however was the way that help was baked into the book layout. Each aspect, each race, each occupation, each skill has examples of invokes, hostile invokes, compels, and potential stunts that you can use to get some idea of things your character might be able to do. Not only that, they have helpfully included several pre-built archetypes for types of characters that one might commonly find in this world along with a recommended character “build” to make them. That way, you can, with some only minor input (race and aspects mostly), hit the ground running and play immediately. For a brand new player, this is huge and brings the learning curve way down on this game.
There are 31 pages of “special systems” next. These are add-ons to FATE that change the flavor and tone of the system to something that more specifically matches what it is you want to do. A lot of this deals with how to handle Zekes (or Psychics) and Hackers and what they can and cannot do from a rules standpoint. After that is an extensive (and I mean extensive), 74 page equipment catalog of stuff your character can buy. Costs are broken down not by actual dollar value but purchased on a “ladder scale” similar to the FATE effect ladder but using your Resources skill. Items are broken up by category with things higher on the ladder being more expensive and some items are restricted (such as to those in the military). All in all, there is a really lot of meat in these pages and for a team as small (in overall numbers) as this, that’s really an impressive thing.
I actually don’t have a whole lot of critique for this product. I would, personally, limit it to two and one of them is only kind of a half-critique. First, one of the things that I have found goes very well in a product that contains rules (or in this case, rules modifications) is an extended example of play. Ideally, that example of play would showcase the differences and how they fit into the context of a “typical” game session. For instance, this product might showcase the psionics and hacking rules, or the use of the Resources skill to purchase equipment in addition to giving a bit of “narrative flavor” of what play in this system might be like. I have found that looking through one of these is a useful way to help get my head into a new setting and system. An excellent example of this can be found in Blades in the Dark (pages 137 – 144).
The second thing is more of a half-critique. I would love to see a short adventure in the book. Not so much for extra content, but as part of a slightly larger section that dealt with “How to GM Interface Zero 2.0 FATE Edition” and where that short adventure (no more than a couple of scenes), walked a new Interface Zero GM through some of the potential thought processes of both conceiving/preparing an adventure and running one. With that being said, there is an adventure out for Interface Zero 2.0 FATE Edition called “A Facsimilie of Death”. I do not own it, and I have no idea if it does any of the things I’ve described, but you can purchase it through DriveThruRPG.
Interface Zero 2.0 FATE Edition, in my mind, is a study of effective worldbuilding. The setting feels vibrant. Now, not having actually played it, I cannot comment on this game from an experiential standpoint, but I have played FATE and I have a lot of experience with Cyberpunk settings, even outside of the one mentioned earlier. I would be very interested to actually play this game. I think that if you enjoy FATE and you enjoy some gritty cyberpunk, you’re probably going to enjoy this game and ought to pick it up. The owner of Gun Metal Games, Dave Jarvis, posted a commentary on why Interface Zero might be your “thing” on RPG.net’s forums. If FATE isn’t your thing, the Savage Worlds Adventure Edition (SWAdE) version might be more to your liking. They have also updated the SWAdE Edition to Interface Zero 3.0 with the newest rules of that system. Happy gaming!
- Josh Walles