Inspector Hsien looked through the bookshelf. A very mixed place. "Look at this: Mathematics. National economics. Ceremonial magic. A lot of biotechnology and neuroscience. More math. A few roleplaying games. Political history. Game theory. Constable Lung, I think we are dealing with some seriously sick people here..."
History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
Sir Winston Churchill

The Characters


InfoWar has been written with the assumption that player characters should belong to the Concordat. This is not an absolute rule, but it makes much sense. The Concordat has structure, can support characters in need but still give them freedom, and while it may not be perfect it has a fairly humanistic philosophy that is playable and reasonably "good guy".

The rest of TU isn't as suitable. WETF and Dr Frankenstein characters usually do not work well in groups, and like other non-Concordat TU characters they do not have access to the Market, SubNet, UA and other essentials. An exception may be IAFAF, such a character could perhaps work together with a Concordat team.

Activist characters are unsuitable for InfoWar. Most are simply deluded idiots with no clues and no future. The few that aren't are usually rather nasty people who use the first category for their own goals or their ideology. Running a neo-nazi or ecoterrorist campaign may be thrilling at first, but such games usually just ends up in bloodshed and little more.

It might be interesting to try InfoWar from "the other side", running a team of FOG agents hunting the dangerous subversives of the TU (X-files, anyone?). However, the nature of FOG limits the characters. They are not free to do what they want, they get orders from above and have to obey the rules. It is of course possible to run a story about a group of ambitious people carving out their own future in the FOG a la Jim Profit and Francis Urquart, but the rewards in such a story would only be more and more power -- fun at first, but in the long run it becomes boring and harder for the Coordinator to come up with interesting opposition with such motivations.


InfoWar is relatively tech-heavy. It might not be based on the characters having the right gadgets (clever improvisation or alternative solutions are usually possible), but much of the game revolves around the spread of hi-tech. This can cause some problems while coordinating.

Some players are more knowledgeable about certain things than the Coordinator. When you introduce a new digital gadget in the story they might burst out "But that is impossible -- the bandwidth through the radio link is too small to do that!". Technically correct, but not what you wanted for the storyline. There are several possible solutions:

Ignore it: After all, you are Coordinator, aren't you? Technical accuracy is nice, but it can be ignored if the game would be hurt by it.

Go for it: Improvise. Change the description or ask the player for a better suggestion. Quite often you can get what you want anyway, you just have to talk around the problem. "Sure, but it doesn't use radio"

Remember that it is all about roleplaying, not applied physics:
If you're an old Cyberpunk(r) player, get ready for a shock. You're not gonna find lists of weapons or tables in this book. At least, not yet. We think you've spent too much time calculating the velocity of a 10mm slug through layered Kevlar. We want you to loosen up and roleplay.
R. Talsorian Games, Cybergeneration

Another problem is technological development. The rate of invention and improvement is tremendous in the real world and InfoWar, but how to introduce it in the game without unbalancing things?

The best way is to make new stuff slowly available, ideally over the span of a long campaign. First the characters hear about the new stuff, then they might learn that cell so-and-so is working on it, after a while it becomes available for beta-testing on the market (very developmental, likely some bugs), then it gradually spreads through the Concordat and after a period of months or years into the mainstream. The newer and hotter it is, the more unreliable and untested the tech will be -- ever seen a MC III go nuts? Not a pretty sight.

If the characters think they are unstoppable because of all their neat gadgets, let them have one malfunction or work against them in a logical way (yes, search agents are quite useful, but remember that they might sometimes bring back erroneous information or be traced). And they are not alone in having sota stuff -- remember that their opponents might have exactly the same gear and equally devious minds.

In Pyramids by Terry Pratchett there is a description of a young assassin armoring himself -- poisoned darts, grappling hooks, knives, rings with poisons, a bottle of oil, a rapier, a crossbow, lockpicks, caltraps etc -- and when he is finished he slowly falls over, too overburdened to move. The assassin is not unlike many PCs who will try to amass all possible useful gear. This isn't much of a problem if they have to pay for it, but if they try to start out with piles of agents, a well-stocked armory and a secret basement lab the Coordinator should try to keep them under control. Most of the interesting stuff in the tech section of InfoWar is quite rare, expensive or hard to get -- have the character take some of the more unusual or big stuff as gifts, and have a good explanation for the rest. Also remember that a lot of things are only available inside the Concordat to people with reasonable Credibility, so if the character have not been member long enough, it is unlikely they will have a matter compiler. Always remember the Dialogue!


Augmentation such as implants, nanotech and smart drugs are a special case of tech that can especially get out of hand. Powergamers of course want to collect the whole set and create a posthuman character from the start, and most roleplayers are attracted to anything that can improve the character.

Enhancements are intended to enhance the character -- but they are rare and costly, not necessarily just in a monetary sense. Starting characters should normally not have any enhancements. Acquiring them requires good connections in the Concordat and a fine credit rating, for starters. An unknown character with no reputation has no chance of being admitted to Atoll. This is of course an incentive for ambitious characters to work on their reputations, credit and networks -- which is only good.

But enhancements are usually algernonic -- they improve certain things, but have drawbacks that may become apparent afterwards. Some possible drawbacks are:

Heavily enhanced people are very rare -- yet. Mistakes are made, but people in the TU are willing to risk them in order to develop themselves. Make the characters aware of the uncertainty and risks, this isn't some cyberpunk game where you get retinal implants done during the lunch break.

What the word "human" means will be one of the major issues of the 21st century.


In many games most characters are youths 20-25 years old, mirroring the typical roleplaying group and the classic heroic ideals. In the Concordat, the age distribution is a bit different and characters can be of almost any age:

Youths often have the passion, time and energy to support the Concordat well, but often lack experience. They tend to more often be a part of the allies and affiliated groups, not the Concordat proper.

The middle has somewhat limited possibilities -- it is hard to both have the time to fight the InfoWar and work 9-5. Using the job as a base is possible and will provide useful resources, but unless it is the Concordat member's own firm there is a risk of monitoring or surveillance. Of course, some people live outside the ordinary system anyway and don't have to worry about their normal job.

The old have the time and experience to really contribute. A surprising number of Concordat members may be little old ladies sitting in their sun cities (safe and inconspicuous) and fighting the InfoWar through the Net.


Overall, adventures should be interesting in some way or another for the players to play -- be it through adrenaline-pumping excitement and drama or intelligent satire.

It is easy to run InfoWar stories as missions, given to them by other cells. This works, especially for a new cell in great need for IOUs and credibility, and for players new to InfoWar -- you get a simple form, clear objectives and often a clear reward. But as the game moves on the focus should ideally shift towards the plans of the cell itself. After all, the PCs joined the Concordat to achieve something, not just to work as troubleshooters for hire. It may be everything from bugging the mayor's office over designing the first true AI to overthrowing the PLA. These stories have much greater potential than those given by outside agencies, since they are motivated from the inside.


NPCs are essential for a good story. The characters are just people among others, even if they might be involved in unusual stuff. In InfoWar PCs and NPCs all have roughly the same statistics and abilities, there is no extra bonus for being a PC. In many games normal people vanish as the heroes, villains and others battle it out - the normals are just bystanders, unlucky cannon-fodder or irrelevant. But they are important: normal people make up most of the population. NPCs doesn't have to be superpowered or extreme to be interesting, they can be something as "trivial" as the nosy but friendly neighbor ("Hi! Are you having a party?") or the intelligent security guard.

Good NPCs are characters in their own right, with their own goals, personalities and abilities. Some might help the characters, others oppose them, and most are completely orthogonal to them but give life to the setting.

The Dialogue is an excellent way of introducing NPCs to the game - relatives, friends, old acquaintances, enemies, teachers or randomly encountered people. If they have some ties to one or more of the characters they become more interesting and important, and suddenly it becomes easier for the players to care about them. In a desperate attempt to flee a burning building, the PCs are usually less inclined to save an unknown man than Charlie's old mathematics professor.

Another good way of coming up with people is to steal and hybridize - take personalities from fiction, television, movies or people you know. Add appearance in the same way, and personal quirks. An interfacer with the personality of Han Solo, appearance of a yuppie businessman and the irritating habit of reading everything he can find (including other's mail) has a fine potential to become a fun character. As soon as you have a core idea, it is usually easy to invent more (maybe the interfacer is a truly mercenary information-hoarder, with piles of interesting stuff in his luxury apartment? Or is he, despite his proper clothing, really a slob at heart when nobody is looking?).

Some Thoughts on Creating Memorable Characters


Creating interesting opponents is hard but worthwhile. Cardboard cut-out villains acting evil just because are unrealistic and not as satisfying (and worrying) as opponents with more complex goals, perhaps even fairly "good" motivations. The FOG politician attempting to thwart the cell may be doing it because he actually believes in what he is doing; he is representing law and order, trying to stop what he regards as dangerous techno-anarchists from doing great damage. The WETF member the characters try to stop might have her doubts about her organization, but see it as the only way of saving true democracy - maybe she might even be convinced to switch sides. No matter how odd their views are, they all see themselves as the good guys (or at least the OK guys). They have their own lives, quirks and plans, and will react intelligently to what happens. Even highly trained intelligence agents look out for each other, and will not fight to the death if they can avoid it -- they are not the mindless goons or MiBs of fiction, but dedicated people with families too.

In the same way, the most dangerous opposition isn't heavily armed, skilled or numerous; it is the smart opposition. If it can figure out what the cell is up to, where it is or what it plans, it can react accordingly: set traps, inform the authorities, sell the information to others or make their actions suit its needs. If a local criminal has figured out what the characters are doing, he can blackmail them -- and if they do anything nasty against him, he has underworld friends that will be informed.

Opposition isn't necessarily about enemies, it could be competitors, bad allies, friends or other distractors. Remember the "Trouble with Tribbles" episode in Star Trek? Imagine how the family of a character might react if she starts to hang around with weird people and act strangely - at the very least they might get curious and worried, perhaps even hire a private detective to find out what is happening (or a reprogrammer?). Often the characters will have to deal with the reactions of normal people, which can be much harder to manage than any other group in the InfoWar. Even an unhelpful bureaucrat can be a worthy opponent -- how to get around him, especially when he is doing his best to avoid the characters and the extra work they might bring? The opponent might even be part of the Concordat: the cell may be trying to buy a piece of equipment, but a cell in Malaysia is offering a higher price to the seller.

However, it is sometimes very satisfying to have a real opponent for the cell to hate. One practical way of giving life to an opponent is to have a theme for him or her. The opponent is based on a theme idea ("cynical pragmatism", "Christian fanaticism" or "mistaken idealism"), and then fleshed out in various ways -- why is the bureaucrat cynical? How does the fundamentalist act out his zeal? What about the friends of the "radical" journalist, do they see through his naivete? This way you get a basic core idea to work (and improvise) from, which still can become a quite complex character.


A McGuffin is the thing everybody in a story looks for, be it the One Ring, nuclear secrets or a suitcase full of cash. It is easy to run a story based on a McGuffin, which is why it is such an overused trick. It is interesting to twist it: maybe it isn't what it seems to be, or the real goal is something completely different. The characters may be tracking down what they think are secret genome maps only to discover that the files contain evidence of illegal government experiments and that they have stumbled into something far deeper than they expected.

In InfoWar McGuffins are often information: secret government files, a nanoweapon recipe or a videotape of what really happened on the last board meeting of Church of the Holy Cross. This introduces interesting complications since information can be copied; you can steal it and the victim won't notice. At the same time, it is hard to make sure all copies of a piece of information are gone -- there are backups, and who knows what can be dredged up from old archives or crashed hard drives?


Sometimes it makes dramatic sense to give cutaways to other places, showing what is going on elsewhere even if the characters don't know it. This of course works best if the cutaway give the players a better dramatic experience, not their characters (even if a kind Coordinator can give some hints this way).

For example, during a big fight against a borgwared SWAT team the Coordinator could make a cutaway to the mobile headquarters describing how the command crew is busy monitoring the situation, having one of them exclaim "this is just like a video game!". This can both be used to describe how well the overall battle is going, and give a feeling of the kind of approach borgware C3I systems might foster among the console cowboys.


Flashbacks are a way to roleplay events from the character's past in order to introduce elements into the current adventure. The flashback is an interlude story which is told alongside the basic story about the characters. Flashbacks are a perfect way of giving the players a lot of background information that wasn't included in the Dialogue. For example, the Coordinator might start a brief flashback to the PC's reactions to the 2001 PRC coup in order to both describe it in more detail and to get an impression of his views on the PLA.

Flashbacks should be relatively uncommon in InfoWar; there's simply no time for looking backwards too much. They should be more directed by the Coordinator than usual game play in order to give the players the relevant information and still keep up the pace.

Time Limits

Tokai: Why don't you wait in the car?
Hojo: I can't wait. I have to move as fast as I can.
Time limits are a classic trick to increase tension, almost every action movie has one ("This ship will self-destruct in 15 seconds..."). They also work well with InfoWar, since time (and the lack of it) are so important. If the characters have limited time to do a task, they can't loiter.

One thing to try out is having a real time limit, ideally represented by a clock on the gaming table counting up (or down). This forces the players to act faster, and makes the tension more concrete. The time limit doesn't need to be a life-or-death limit, it could represent an event that makes the situation much harder ("We estimate that the FBI will realize that their tactic isn't working within 10 hours, and then move on to plan B, which we haven't got any defenses against").


Speed and Cataclysm

Faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death."
Hunter S. Thompson
Over the span of the campaign, the approach of the Cataclysm should be felt. Things speed up, the tensions increase, the stakes get higher. The snowball is turning into an avalanche.

One way to show it is to gradually raise the tempo of background events. When characters watch the news or discuss with NPCs, give hints of what is happening. At first it is business as usual, but then it starts to pick up speed; the little political scandal that was briefly mentioned last story has blossomed into a full-fledged crisis, the discovery the Concordat contact mentioned has become public and started a moral panic. Build on past events, and give the impression that history is shifting into overdrive.

In the same way, raise the stakes and tension of the stories. At first they are fairly simple and not very dangerous. But slowly they become harder and have broader implications. This is also good because the characters are becoming more experienced -- the challenge and ability to overcome it grow roughly together. As the campaign nears its climax, make it faster and more challenging; the actions of the characters become have more and more far-reaching consequences -- failure could mean disaster, success could become a turning point.

There is another side to Cataclysm: it is extremely hard to describe it in a good way. It is a huge historical shift, dramatic and profound. Trying to describe exactly what happens will likely fail -- so it is a good idea to set up things so the campaign ends just before the real Cataclysm (ideally with the events of the campaign clearly a small but important part of it). Let the characters see the forces that are moving, but don't try to predict the exact outcome. But make it clear that their actions will affect it; a happy ending is still possible, even if the ultimate victory may still be uncertain.

For example, a campaign set among polihackers and guerilla economists in the EU political community could begin with a few stories to help the players get to know the setting, build their cell and slowly gain influence (lots of power-lunches, cocktail parties, meetings and lobbying sessions, as well as dirty deals on the stock market). During this time there are a few recurring themes, such as the ongoing work of the commission for public safety to implement a law mandating surveillance cameras for crime prevention just about everywhere, that help set up the feeling of ongoing history but doesn't intrude that much on the current story.

But as the cell becomes more influential, perhaps gets involved in some side stories dealing with a crisis involving ageist terrorism, things move faster. The law is suddenly passed through a bureaucratic coup. The characters might now become involved to deal with the new situation, finding themselves involved in a major political struggle between the anti-crime people and cost-conscious planners (who think the law will be too costly) while the civil rights people are protesting outside the doors and paranoid maniacs are quietly realizing that placing the bombs now might be a good idea.

As the campaign accelerates towards the end, the situation expands even more: a deep constitutional crisis becomes apparent within the EU due to the struggle, pitting different fractions against each other. The winners will determine the political climate of Eurasia -- the characters can make a difference here. Meanwhile, other parts of the InfoWar are also heating up as the PRC is struggling with illegal cryptography spreading like wildfire, WETF supporting a youth rebellion in Japan and infohackers create truly efficient AI. The dramatic climax for the cell will be the resolution of the EU crisis in one way or another. This may be just a first step in the true Cataclysm, but it is the end of the campaign and Cataclysm enough for the characters, who might very well be among the new leaders of Europe -- or running for their lives as neofascists begin to strengthen their grip.

The Game Itself

What InfoWar is Not

InfoWar isn't cyberpunk. There are some outward similarities: a near future setting, runaway technology, characters moving on the fringes of legality (or often quite beyond) and human enhancements forcing us to confront what it means to be human. But the cores are fundamentally different.

Cyberpunk is basically nihilistic: the old values are dead, none have risen to replace them. People's actions don't matter in the long run - if you kill the corporate exec another will step into his place, if you free the AI it will colonize the net but not really change anything. Despite the much hyped rate of change, cyberpunk worlds are often quite static: tomorrow will be just like today, with a little bit more technology, a few new enemies and a little darker. There is seldom a feeling that society is changing.

Compare this with InfoWar. The old values are dead or having a death struggle, but new values wait in the wings, eager to take the scene at first opportunity -- the big struggle is about what to replace the old with. People's actions do matter -- every act has consequences, and they add up. If a cell uncovers a political scandal, it will change things, if only a bit. Each invention or transaction brings the world closer to Cataclysm. Tomorrow will not necessarily be like today -- in fact it might turn out to be fundamentally different. Society will be different in the future.

One could say that underlying much of cyberpunk is the idea "Style over substance" -- a cool attitude and tech is more important than ideals or long-range goals. Infowar is "Substance over style" -- it doesn't matter who you are, what your attitude is or how you do it, the important stuff is what you can actually get done and what that leads to.

In the same way, InfoWar does not belong to the category of conspiracy thrillers like the X-files and similar shows. Yes, there are conspiracies, cartels and collusion in InfoWar too, and intelligence agencies thrive. But they aren't omnipotent, do not have infinite resources and their members are occasionally incompetent.

In InfoWar, "bad" stories are not covered up by some shadowy man in black suit calling up the owners of the CNN, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and telling them to drop it. The "bad" stories are not covered because they are incomprehensible to the public (and often to the journalist), perhaps because they are so complex or require an overview they don't have. Concrete news are practically impossible to cover up, there are always ambitious journalists somewhere, and once it is out it is out. The only solution is to try to hide it under piles of bullshit or distraction.

The moral of most conspiracy thrillers seems to be that nasty things are done by secretive conspirators that can never be reached. InfoWar instead says that they can be reached and even toppled -- they aren't gods, they are frighteningly ordinary people. And subversive conspiracies aren't just for the pros anymore.


What about ethics in InfoWar?

InfoWar is intended to be played in a fairly realistic way. Bad guys don't wear dark hats and just because somebody has done a lot of good deeds doesn't mean he will get an extra chance when his parachute fails to open. Often it is hard to tell who is right and wrong; much of the action is in a moral grey area with few landmarks: is it ethical to stop a democratically elected FOG politician trying to implement a project the voters favor because the project will have disastrous consequences neither can understand?

This doesn't mean InfoWar is nihilistic, far from it. But there is no enforcement of morality other than reality itself. If somebody opens fire on an open street, there will definitely be consequences - but they will be from the police rather than being struck by lightning. People who show themselves to be trustworthy and reliable will in the long run be trusted and liked.

Make sure the players (and their characters) realize this. Every act has consequences. This goes beyond morality, it includes intelligence -- stupid actions will hurt the character (and quite possibly others). In the InfoWar, having a good moral code and a clear mind is a fine asset.

Is the Concordat right? This game has been written from a point of view sympathetic to the Concordat, against the FOG. But that doesn't mean the Concordat always is the Good Guys. It was founded by people with very different goals, and its ideology has cohered through a long process of debate, trial and error and outside pressure. Some cells have disturbing agendas, and even the best intentions can have nasty consequences. In the end, only time will tell if the Concordat is right and a good idea, or dangerously misguided. But characters (and players) will likely want to do their best to find out. Remember that the Concordat is a process, it can always be improved (unlike what the FOG allows itself) - cells can always change and the system is intended to promote development. But in the end it is up to the members.

Pick & Choose

One problem might be: "There is too much stuff! Where do I start!". InfoWar has a complex setting, with lots of detailed technical, economical, political and military descriptions. It might feel rather overwhelming at first.

But most stuff isn't important all the time. Will the game really deal with the political situation in Thailand, the politics of biotechnology, the organization of Europol and gun-loving mercenaries spending the whole night arguing about the pros and cons of bullpup? Most likely not. As a Coordinator it is up to you to pick and choose what to use, the rest is just background (that will become important first when the cell travels to Thailand, gets into gene piracy, get hunted by Europol and try to hire mercenaries).

What is really needed is an overall understanding of the setting and the system. The rest is decorations, extra ideas, useful stuff and help. Once you understand the basics you can build on them using the rest. use the table in the guide for help.

Short Tips

Be carefully prepared as Coordinator, you will have the work repaid a thousandfold when you play. You know what you are doing and the players feel that the world works reasonably. You don't have to plan everything in detail (that can be dangerous; the best plans of mice and men oft go astray) but at least the main ideas should be thought out.

Remember that you and the players should have fun. Ask what they think is exciting and interesting in InfoWar, and use that.

Player: have patience with your Coordinator! If he/she doesn't get the plot moving, help. Make your character active. Sitting around passively and just waiting for a mission is against the basic idea of InfoWar.

Rules are important, but they aren't essential. The most important thing for a Coordinator is not to know everything, but to be able to make rational evaluations of how high a difficulty level or a skill modification should be.

Ignore the rules if they impair the roleplaying. Guide the energy spend on whining, and the fundamentalist faith in the rules of a rule lawyer, into getting positive modifications on skill rolls -- that way the character will likely start acting more interestingly.

Never let things happen irrationally and randomly, think about why they happen! Then let the players try to find out why.

Try to keep the game as much realtime as possible, that improves the InfoWar mood of the game.

Don't make the mistake of believing that you can spice up the adventure with a bit of fighting. Combat often becomes too much dice rolling and too little roleplaying (it works much better on film). You have to be careful with rolls and rules here -- it isn't fun to have one's character killed for no reason. Roleplay as much as you can -- never describe what a NPC does in terms of the rules, describe what the characters see (this also encourages the players to roleplay the fight). Learn the combat rules well enough, you don't have to memorize them (a certain flexibility is always needed), but well enough to keep rule lawyers from whining. If you control the game mechanics the players get the chance to roleplay and adventure.

Music. Occasionally useful, especially in the background but not too loud and dominating. Exception: the characters attend a Bunk concert.

Exaggerate slightly when you play an NPC, otherwise they tend to become somewhat gray.

Descriptions of places and scenes should be adapted after how you want the PCs to experience them. Combat: short, fast, stressful. A FOG-building: complicated, detailed descriptions to give an impression of how gigantic and overwhelming it is.

Every adventure ought to have a core idea, a theme. Not always obvious, but the adventure should say something about the world and what values there are in it.

When creating an adventure, always start with the end and work towards the beginning.