Billed as Book 1 of the Fourth Corporate War, this is primarily a sourcebook to provide background information about the war that is breaking out between Militech and Arasaka and how it's going to impact the world... and specifically, your party. It covers the first two phases of the war with maps, adventure hooks and NPCs should you choose to get them involved (and succeed in suckering them in) as well as loads of background to help you set the scene whether or not they become embroiled themselves - this is going to affect the entire world as you know it, 'punks!
We start off, though, with a bit of history. If this is the Fourth Corporate War, what came before? The first one was in 2004-2006, with a scrap over airlines escalating from the boardroom and the stock exchange into acts of terrorism, Net attacks, piracy and honest-to-goodness mercenaries battling it out, not to mention taking the war to space with one side attempting to capture the other's orbital facilities. The second one came a couple of years later when Petrochem and SovOil clashed with each other and brawled over the South China Sea. Both sides raised eyebrows by completely ignoring international law and ignoring governments in the area and causing a lot of pollution in the process - which they never cleaned up! The Third Corporate War, in 2016, was mostly fought online. Some members of Merrill, Asukaga and Finch (MA&F) were caught out in fraudulent transactions by the LA Chamber of Commerce and things went downhill from there, with the Rothstein Fund busy trying to distance themselves by not only handing over all they had to prosecutors, but sending street netrunners against MA&F's datafortress, an act to which they took a dim view. There was about a day of real-world brawling, in which net infrastructure was targeted, but most of the action was online.
So, on to Chapter 1: The Ocean War. Opening with the transcript of a news report (ideal for the party to hear one sunny morning), this then provides the background briefing produced by MA&F for their clients. It is unlikely that the party has access to this unless they've been hired by one of those clients or they hack MA&F's datafortress, easier said than done; but it's an excellent briefing for the Referee. Apparently three corporations have been competing in the area of oceanographic research and development, but recently one of them went bust and the other two are squabbling over the remains. A initial buyout attempt went sour when a senior executive of one of the survivors was kidnapped on the way to deliver the offer and things have only gone downhill from there. Developments are listed in order, and could be used as breaking news in the background to whatever the party is doing until they sit up and pay attention... at least, those bits which are public knowledge. Then it gets interesting, with MA&F's recommendations to both corporations - delivered separately, one assumes - as to what they might do next. If any of those actions appeal, have the party hired by that corporation to do the dirty work. The next section provides detailed background on all the major players, including EuroBank which has been left holding what may be worthless paper from loans to the corporation that failed. Some pivotal individuals are presented as NPCs too. This is where it gets interesting. One of the squabbling corporates uses Militech for their security needs, the other uses Arasaka. As the two security giants fulfil their contracts, clashes between them are certain to escalate...
Now, you may be prepared to just let things happen, but it's important in this kind of corporate dispute to know who's getting ahead, so a mechanic called Not Blood But Money is provided to aid you in tracking the rise and fall of corporate entities during a dispute. It doesn't have to be the ones here, you could use it for any corporate squabble. Next we get down to practical details. We know what's going on, but how can we make it relevant to the player-characters? Various reasons are given, along with sample job ads that they might be moved to answer.
Then Chapter 2: Technical Brief contains all the nuts and bolts things you need to know. Like a big map of the world showing where ALL the corporate facilities belonging to both corporations are to be found. (It's a bit small, you'll have to peer at it to make everything out.) A lot of the action will take place on or even under the water, so there are new skills like SCUBA diving and underwater demolitions that the characters might want to pick up, at least enough to be useful if expendable hired hands. For the more dedicated, there's some new roles: Divemaster and Subjock (submersible pilot) as well as Marine Biotechnician for those who want to study what's down there. (You might have a custom game that begins with the staff at a research lab belonging to one of the warring corporations suddenly finding out that things are getting very... interesting for example.) Then there are notes on modifying existing cyberware for underwater use and new specialist kit that will come in useful... not just cyberware but diving gear, underwater weapons and vehicles and so on. There are also stats and other information on some of the creatures that the party will be sharing the ocean with. All of this is useful for an underwater game, whether it's this Firestorm plotline or something else. There are even floating cities and underwater domes to visit, along with mining colonies, underwater farms and more. If you'd rather keep your feet dry, we also hear about the corporate headquarters and other dry land facilities of the combatants. Submarine pens and typical underwater assault teams are also presented here - maybe the party will meet them, or if you want a dedicated campaign, maybe your group will play one of the teams. We round up with underwater combat and adventuring rules, again of use whatever you are up to underwater.
To make use of all of the forgoing, Chapter 3: Ocean War Adventures has plenty to keep the party busy. It starts with a timeline, but promptly veers off to review a wealth of sub-plots to get involved in, before moving on to a series of mission folios which are stand-alone adventures in their own right but build up to a sequence of involvement in the corporate war propper. Plenty there to keep your 'punks busy!
We then move on to the next phase with Chapter 4: The Shadow War. The Ocean War which preceded it caused much loss of life and personnel, even those involved thought it a bit wasteful of resources, but for Arasaka and Militech it's only going to ramp up - they are now embroiled in their own right rather as proxies for the two warring corporations for which they handled security. The gloves are coming off, they are less concerned with deniability than they are with doing serious damage to the other. Back to AM&F who have been asked to produce a position paper by both Arasaka and Militech: this analyses the two corporations explaining their capabilities and actions to date. The two corporations frequently come into contention with each other in their day-to-day affairs, but the current situation has brought normal corporate rivalry to a head, and it's clear that they are both exceeding their contractual obligations. AM&F are busy offering their services to broker a peace (for a fee of course) but in the meantime have made suggestions to both sides as to their future conduct. Both have been recommended to take on more freelances, and in effect step back from direct involvement by sending them as proxies into battle rather than sending their own in-house forces. Militech in particular is urged to also hire freelance netrunners, as their cyber capabilities are inferior to those of Arasaka.
After we meet some of the major players, we find out about their aims and motivations and what their intentions are. Although both sides are holding grudges and would like to severely damage, if not obliterate, the other they are tending towards covert methods rather than engaging in all-out war. Think of it like a major escalation in scope and tempo of the sort of operations your party of streetpunks regularly get hired to undertake... but any 'punk who thinks they know what they are getting into will be wrong, even if outwardly they seem to be ordinary covert operations - theft, extractions, recon, destruction, sabotage and the like. This continues with a look at techniques, tactics and equipment for carrying out such covert operations which covers passive and active defences, and ID checks, with suggestions of how to defeat each in turn, including suggestions as to relevant game mechanics. There's a look at electronic intelligence gathering (ELINT) and a splendid section on planning a mission.
OK, now you are ready. How to get the party involved? There's a whole slew of ideas on how to inveigle them to sign up with Arasaka or Militech. Should they decline all blandishments or threats there are ideas for how to involve them anyway... This now launches the Technical Brief section with a map of Arasaka and Militech assets worldwide; new roles of Covert Specialist - something between an elite soldier, a burglar and a ninja - the Assassin (you know what they do) and the Covert Tech (the man in the van character I usually end up playing); a new skill for those wishing to indulge in ELINT; and of course there are some new toys... ahem, new equipment options. Once we have the training and the gear, there are some sample corporate facilities to try them out on. Offices, science parks, showrooms and even a bunker await. Along with the ready-made covert operations teams that come next. Play them, fight them, ally with them, it's up to you.
If you have existing characters you'd like to use, they'd probably benefit from the Covert Ops Training programme that is outlined next. This is a four week intensive programme that you might want to actually play out with the party. Both Arasaka and Militech training centres and staff are detailed for those who want to do that. Once you deem the party ready, there's a collection of adventure ideas and outlines to get you started, complete with a timeline and a news broadcast to set the scene. Of course there are subplots as well. If Arasaka and Militech square up to each other, there are plenty of others ready to take advantage... some wonderfully devious ideas there. And several 'Mission Folios' for those who'd rather be involved in the main action - which can be assassination, extraction, sabotage or more. There's plenty of information to run these without too much prep, but finally there's a full adventure called Dark Errand that sends the team to eliminate a pesky netrunner who has been messing with BOTH Arasaka and Militech! There are some epic surprises here, and survivors will find out what's been behind all this fighting.. or will they?
This is an epic resource, good for a memorable campaign - go round up some players, now. And this is only Part 1?
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Reviewed: 8 March 2019