This article originally appeared in Pyramid #6
RACHE BARTMOSS' GUIDE TO THE NETPublished by R. Talsorian Games
Written by Edward Bolme, David Ackerman, Derek Quintanar and Steve Sabram
Rache Bartmoss is a hacker, a netrunner, a very bad boy indeed. He's (mis)spent his whole short life ranging through the net, making like Robin Hood, kicking ass and taking names. And here's what he got... general overview, deep background, lots of names, places and secrets, with a little paranoid delusionary raving thrown in.
This is a great book for background. There are mountains of detail, drawn from all over the Cyberpunk 2020 world. It's well organized and full of maps and graphics. The presentation is pseudo-hypertext, with highlighted words in the main text on each page, and sidebars expanding on each highlighted concept. The first game to do that was Underground. It works here, too, even though Underground had full color to play with, while the text pages here are just black and white.
The very best thing about this book is that you don't need to be a Cyberpunk player to enjoy it. You don't even need to be a gamer to enjoy it. The writing is clear, imaginative and engaging.
The personalities of the fictional writer, Rache Bartmoss, and his friend and editor, Spider Murphy, come through very clearly... the characterization is excellent. Rache is full-tilt crazy, angry, disrespectful, idealistic, self-deluding and self-destructive. Spider is better educated, more cautious, less prone to snap judgments. Spider is editing Rache's memoirs, because Rache is dead. Almost. He finally ran into something he couldn't handle, and his own paranoid protection systems are keeping his slowly decaying body, and his still-conscious brain, on ice... carefully hidden not just from Rache's foes, but from anybody who could help him.
Rache is Mr. Attitude, and just reading this book is a lot of fun. Here's what he says about the Kilimanjaro Mass Driver, for instance:
"I tell you folks, this is the home of some of the finest programming I've ever seen... Just to prove they could, Orbital Air once set up a crash-test satellite in geosynch and pegged that puppy with a two-thousand-ton sled of steel. Laudits and kudos to the programmers at OA, with, of course, the caveat that they work for a corporation and are fit only to be slain."
There's Rache in a nutshell. He admires good hackers, detests corporations, and glories in large-scale property damage.
This isn't just a background book, though. There is a great deal of rules material which will be invaluable to the Cyberpunk 2020 GM. Many of the sidebars contain short rules and commentary. There is an 8-page rules appendix. This includes rules for micro-nets, the collections of little CPUs that make up an "intelligent" device. Now you can hack your smartgun. Or, better yet, your opponent's... if you can find a way to jack in!
The appendix also includes various hardware gadgets and several bits of new software, like Lightning Bug, Cerebus, and Rache's own Rice Burner, a high-speed net movement program. This last one comes with the warning "Improper use of this program may unbalance a campaign. Actually, proper use may as well..." However, not too many cyberjocks will be getting copies - the cost is listed as "Gotta talk to Rache..."
Now that we've raved about the content, let's nuke the production values.
The book's cover is bright-colored but very, very hard to read. This will cost R.Tal some sales from people who can't find it on the shelf! On the other hand, though it's a terrible cover, it's a very professionally produced terrible cover. It doesn't look amateur -- it just looks busy, gaudy and illegible. The type on the back cover is just as hard to read.
When I first saw this book, I thought it was a real guide to the real Internet, because I couldn't read any of the words except GUIDE TO THE NET, and the Cyberpunk and R.Tal logos are each about two skinny inches long. Get with the program, guys.
There are several sections of interior color, which is largely worthless. This is the same stuff that FASA has done a few times... "I've got a Mac and now I can go crazy." Lots of pretty (and not so pretty) rendered pictures, looking kind of like color Xerox copies, of Random Weird Stuff. Big, fat, hairy deal. However, some of the color pages were actually used for maps, making them both neater-looking and more useful, so it's not a total waste. (And in fairness, the Guide would be a good value at $16.00 even with no color at all.)
Finally, this book crawls with typographical errors, especially in the sidebars. Expect some errata here, because it stands to reason that if the proofreading was this bad, some of the mistakes affected rules and numbers.
Conclusion? If you're doing netrunning in a dark-future world, with the Cyberpunk 2020 rules or any other, get this book. Especially at the price. Forgive them their four-color sins and their bad proofreading... this time... and enjoy Rache.
- Steve Jackson
Article publication date: April 1, 1994
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