The introduction covers just what 'netspace' and 'virtual reality' are: the cyberpunk/futuristic concept of artificial intelligence and computer systems you can interact with on a bare-brain level, never mind using monitors and keyboards...
The various beings you'll encounter in netspace are presented in character format, so you can create your own. First there are two character types, Artifical Intelligenes and Netborn. Artificial Intelligences (AIs) exist at 3 levels: the first level is that of an expert system, the second level is human-level intelligence and sentience (you may have difficulty telling if you are interacting with one or with a person - the 'Turing Test'), and the third level is capable of self-evolution to an unprecedented extent, they control the Net and are generally incomprehensible to most normal folks. The interesting bit is that rules are presented here for those people who'd like to play a second level AI (develop to third level and you become an NPC, though), or of course for the GM to create fully-developed ones for NPC use.
The Netborn are the folks who spend just about all their time online via a neuroserver, but are less physically (and emotionally) capable of dealing with the real world. Why they are there, and what they are doing while online is up to you... but they spend about 16 hours a day there.
Then there's a character class available to both the above and anyone else who wants to get to grips with netspace. Meet the Neurohacker. They can get in anywhere, and know all the corners, all the rules and how to break them... or keep them. Not just rogues, but system administrators and law enforcement may find these skills useful. There is the usual range of class-specific skills and abilities to customize your Neurohacker just the way you want. One interesting one draws on the culture around MMORPGs, the concept of a 'clan' of allies you can call upon when online.
Next comes a look at netspace itself: its nature and how to represent and use it in game terms. To start with, what does the society your characters live in use it for? It may be a commercial tool, a liberating place where people seek new freedoms... or even a prison! To get online, a character needs a means of access, and to develop an avatar that will represent their consciousness in netspace. Then there's the 'geography' of your virtual reality itself. Each area will have its own security, access protocols and rules and you'll need to know what they are to make your way around safely and successfully. Naturally, you can get into a fight here just as you can in the real world, so you'll find the information you need for online combat. Generally, it's your avatar that suffers, but it can spill over to the real you (assuming you're not an AI) as well, especially if you get kicked clean out of netspace. For then you encounter 'neuroshock' - this system's version of the cyberpunk standard dump shock of having your brain-net connection severed without warning. Try to avoid this, the effects can be nasty and lingering.
The next section looks at skill use in netspace, both the specialist skills of the Neurohacker and the more commonly-available Computer Operation skill anyone might have. You will be slower, and will find things harder to accomplish, but an ordinary character who knows how to use a computer will not be totally lost. The new skills introduced for Neurohackers are presented in full detail, and there is also a list of new feats, available to both them and others.
Finally, there's a more detailed look at the virtual life presented by AIs, with some conceptual ideas for those interested in designing them for their game.
Overall, this is an excellent introduction and resource for someone wanting to bring the thrills of cyberpunk-style netrunning to their game. Unlike many systems (and I've played characters who indulge in both Cyberpunk and Shadowrun, it is more accessible to the entire group and fits in better with the rest of the rule system, rather than being a new bunch of game mechanics to learn and understand along with the rest.
Return to Netspace: The Definitive D20 Guide to Virtual Reality page.
Reviewed: 2 January 2006