Monday, October 15, 2012

What is Netrunner? (The background)

I've been enjoying Netrunner a lot lately, and as the game is still pretty new, I figured I'd take this time to talk a little bit about what exactly Netrunner is.  The rules can be pretty extensive, so I don't plan to touch on the rules too much, other than in a basic sense wherever it may apply.  This post will go into the background of the game, taken directly from the rule book, and in a future post I'll go into the gameplay and what I think sets this game apart from other ones currently on the market.  That said, on with the show!

The Setting:
It is the future. Humanity has spread itself across the solar system with varying degrees of success.  The Moon and Mars are colonized. On Earth, a massive space elevator has been built on the equator, stretching up into low orbit, most people refer to it as the "beanstalk."

Computers have continued to advance along with discoveries in the field of neurobiology.  This has led to "brain-mapping", a method by which a human mind can be stored within sophisticated mind-machine devices.  The physical mouse and keyboard are archaic relics, elite users can now "jack in", plugging the computer directly into their brains.

Megacorporations (Corps) influence every facet of daily life: food, 3D, music, career choices.  Jinteki and Haas-Bioroid redefine life itself, making clones and androids with brain-taped, artificially-intelligent minds.  The Weyland Consortium owns a piece of everything that goes up and down the beanstalk, and EVERYTHING goes up and down the beanstalk!  Finally, NBN shapes what you think and dream, with the most extensive media network ever conceived on Earth under their control.

Everyone relies on the network, with more data flowing every second than was ever expressed in the first 5,000 years of the written language!  It is a surveillance network, a financial system, a library - it is the backbone of modern civilization.  It is also the only weakness the Corps have.

The network is forever evolving and moving.  Some want to expose the rot that lies at the heart of the system, and to awaken the teeming billions to the hypocrisy of their corporate masters.  Others just want to earn a profit, or express themselves in the ultimate medium.  Whatever their motivation, their actions intersect in a common cause: digital independence.  They are the Runners.

In Netrunner, 1 player plays one of 4 Corps while the other player plays as a runner from one of the free affiliations.  After the game, the players switch sides, the runner is now the corp player and vise-versa.  Lets take a closer look at the factions of Netrunner...

The Corps:

Haas-Bioroid: "Effective. Reliable. Humane."
Haas-Bioroid is the world leader in cybernetics and artificial intelligence.  The most iconic product made by Haas-Bioroid is the Bioroid s themselves, androids built with artificially-intelligent minds designed around sophisticated imaging of human brains.

Bioroids may be a fairly new technology, but have already changed humanity forever.  As android labor becomes cheaper and more widely available, ordinary humans, mostly in the lower classes, find themselves unemployed and replaced by a bioroid or clone.  Although Bioroids are less controversial than the human like clones, they attract a good deal of vitriol, hatred, and even violence.

Jinteki: "When you need the human touch."
Jinteki owns the patent on the process that creates human-like clones, tailor made by the "genegineers" of Jinteki.  As this controversial technology becomes cheaper and more robust, more and more humans find themselves replaced in the workforce by cheaper clone labor.  While some Jinteki products, such as the vacuum-tolerant "turtleback" used in zero-atmosphere situations. bear only a faint resemblance to human beings, others are virtually indistinguishable, marked only by the barcode tattoos on the backs of their neck.

NBN: "Someone is always watching."

The largest media conglomerate in the world is NBN, which at various times has stood for Network Broadcast News, Net Broadcast Network, and Near-Earth Broadcast Network.  Now, simply known as NBN.  NBN owns and operates 5 of the 10 top rated content streams worldwide, from music, to 3D, news broadcasting to sitcoms, NBN does it all!

The broad array of content and the sophisticated , user-friendly delivery systems have garnered NBN an enormous number of subscribers.  By collecting and collating viewership information and habits, NBN is also the world's leading media and marketing research firm, with zettabytes of information on subjects as the buying habits of 30 year old college educated single mothers.  NBN can sell this data to corporations and also provide precision-targeted advertising to that same subscriber list.  NBN-produced advertising uses psychographic profiling and the latest neuroscience and braintaping techniques to promote message penetration and brand retention.  Privacy advocates worry that NBN has too much access and control over communications and media, and condemns NBN for its cooperation with repressive Mediterranean regimes.  Some worry NBN is using it wealth of data for more nefarious purposes than advertising.

Weyland Consortium: "Moving Upwards"

Aside from its dramatic and public association with the space elevator, better known as the "beanstalk", the extent of the Weyland Consortium's holdings is little known among the general population.  This shadowy organization owns or invests in other corporations, leveraging the enormous assets granted them by the beanstalk to buy and sell smaller megacorps at an alarming rate.

For the past several decades, the Weyland Consortium's obvious speciality has been construction, a legacy of its involvement in the Space Elevator project.  Part of the secret of the Weyland Consortium's success lies in its ability to secure government contracts and lobby for favorable legislation.  Often a war profiteer , securing lucrative reconstruction bids in the Mediterranean, United Korea, and the Sub-Saharan League nations.

Given the Weyland Consortium's proclivity for operating in war-torn regions, it should be no surprise the corporation is comfortable playing hardball.  While little has been proven, some mysterious deaths are blamed on elements within the Consortium.  Weyland favors a brute-force approach to most problems, using its vast resources to get their way.

The Runners:
Runners, by definition, live outside the law, and as a consequence they mostly lead a solitary existence.  They do not have overarching organizations or affiliations, or indeed much of anything that makes one runner similar to another.  They come from all walks of life, vary dramatically in skill sets, goals, and available resources... and they don't even have a dress code!

Anarchs have strong contempt for the corporate oligarchs, the whole corrupt system, and often for society in general.  Whatever the exact target of their rage, their unifying characteristic is their anger.  At their worst, Anarchs just want to watch the world burn.  at their best, Anarchs are tireless champions for the downtrodden and oppressed.  They're very good at breaking things, spreading viruses, and trashing Corporation assets and programs.

Criminals are in it for themselves.  All runners are technically criminals, at least is you ask the corps, but these runners embrace it.  They make self-interest an art form and don't care who gets hurt so long as they get ahead.  Many criminals engage in more traditional forms of crime as well, stealing data and money with equal gusto.  Criminals are good at covering their tracks and employing a variety of dirty tricks to attack from an unexpected angle.


To others, Shapers seem like idealistic naifs.  they're not motivated by rage against the corporate injustice that is a daily fact of life for the underclass.  they're not in it for the money.  Many never understand why the Shapers do what they do, but it's not actually very complicated.  Shapers are motivated by curiosity and a certain amount of pride.  A Shaper may orchestrate a data raid as underhanded and destructive as the most frothing Anarch, but his goals are different: the Shaper just wants to see if he/she can do it.  Shapers are also tinkerers and builders, and they push their hardware and software beyond their limits.

So, there you have it!  A little bit of a look at the background behind the Corporations and Runner archetypes.  I did not go into the story behind the actual runners released in the Core set for a few reasons.  Mainly because, while the Corporations will remain constant throughout future sets, with upgraded Identity cards (i.e. "Jinteki 2.0") while only the runner archetypes I've listed above will remain as "factions" (for lack of a better term) with new named runners being released in future sets for the above three archetypes.  I doubt we'll see "experienced" versions (to use an L5R term) of Noise, Gabriel Santiago, or Kate... but you never know!  In a future article, I'll be going into the gameplay aspects of Netrunner, in future article, the overall point of the game, what I like about Netrunner, what sets it apart from other games, and I'll also touch on the general playstyles of the corps and the individual runners as well.  I imagine that it will be impossible to cover a Runner's playstyle without at least touching on their background.

As always, thanks for reading and/or following NvN.  Be sure to tell your friends and family about this "totally radical blog you've been reading", and when you do, hopefully it will be in regards to this blog!  =P


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