gaming

Rebooting Street Level

So, as usual, I’m trying too many projects at once. I just crossed 2,000 words on yet another novel-length idea, and I’m juggling gaming ideas as well. One of these involves my deepest and most fully realized campaign settings to date. Mostly because I “fully realized” it’s kind of a mess.

Street Level is your archetypical day-after-tomorrow Cyberpunk setting, with an apocalyptic twist. I wrote my first notes on paper in 2005, and it became a game in 2006, my college GMing debut. It expanded from there, and included another game as well as a play-by-post that has gone down in history as simultaneously one of the best and worst gaming experiences I have ever run. The main problem is that all of these games took place in different, somewhat non-interacting parts of the world. The result is that tying them together has resulted in a mess.

So I want to pare it back. We can start with the things that are consistent, and that work. The design for the United States came first, and additions to it have come in a way that actually begins to build into something of a consistent vision. The West Coast is dominated by a strip of dense build-up along the coast, that continues out along several of the east-west interstates. The middle of the country is mostly corporate land being used for farming, with the desert Southwest mostly occupied by post-apocalyptic nomads who live along the remaining interstates. In the middle of the Southwest is Astropolis, a massive arcology and political black hole. In the midwest is Version City, a corruption of an old Clash song and a deluded Daley’s vision for Chicago Version 2. The East Coast was nuked and is highly unstable, though Pittsburgh acts as both a border outpost from the “deadland” as well as a microcosm of political instability for its own internal reasons.

Outside of the US, things were less well-designed. I had an idea for organized crime being run by a crazed Czech mafia, which is still possible. What seems less likely is that Europe would get so effectively leveled that the Czech Republic becomes the seat of power. Nova Praha may still be the capital city, but there would need to be a more nuanced story. Similarly, the one bit of history getting in the way of my Czech mobster story is the existence of Russian Oligarchs and the Russian Mob, so that needs to be explained somehow. The useful and dangerous device here is that nuclear war is a very easy way to explain upheaval.

In rebooting the setting, I have two goals: construct a more internally consistent plot base for the world, and a history into which the existing campaigns can be plugged in. For my idea of Version City that came just now, I’ve realized I can recycle my Chicago 2020 materials, as well as use some of that campaign to more firmly base the campaign’s tech level. Then, I can move onto the more plot-centric hubs, like the smuggling city of Tel Aviv. Suddenly, a reboot of Street Level seems within my grasp. I wonder if I can get some help from my players…

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