If I drop everything that influenced Karma to this point, I have to rethink what dystopia, awakening, and cyberspace mean. So far I have some ideas about how I want that to go:
(To recap past posts) The Mortal World/Dystopia is defined by: extreme polarization/segregation that causes deadly competition; stagnation; and reduction of people to tools i.e. a means to an end.
Mechanically, these dynamics are reflected in the fact the GM's Karma front cannot really be stopped; the world can only be changed with great effort; and social relevance is a defining source of power. The PCs are hired by factions because they are tools; they are expendable, because more tools can be bought. They are hired not for their anonymity, but for their expendability. (I am writing least about this aspect, because it is pretty well developed in the game already and just needs some honing.)
The Magic World/Awakening is in direct revolt of those tenants. In the awakening: everyone has the same innate access to magic; everything is connected, with the flow of cause-and-effect resulting in constant, sustained changed; and magic is a sentient, self-determined and motivated personality.
Now for the new additions.
The Awakening has an objective. The Awakening returned for a purpose, and the group will decide that purpose during world creation. It could be that the Awakening wants to stop humanity's destruction of the planet, and devastated all of the industrial/urban centers. It could be the awakening is revolting against science, and seeks to upend human understanding of reality and what is possible. It could be that the awakening wants to remove humanity from their dominant position, and has flood the world with mystical creatures or transformed people into fantasy races. It could be that the awakening is an invading force, which wants to enslave or destroy the world. The nature of the awakening as accessible, tied to cause-and-effect, and sentient is the same in all groups, but how that sentient personality manifests and what it wants will depend upon your world.
All characters can Intuit the awakening. The dynamic, driven personality of the awakening, interpreted by most as magic, may terrify, mock, or trick them, but it will give some response to all. I imagine the awakening, to the average person, is pretty similar to the experience of leviathans in the video game Subnautica: alien, unexpected, sometimes terrifying, and always outside the reach of true communication. Anyone can Intuit Its presence, but it may leave them shaken, and they will have to piece together their own meaning.
Only those with magic souls will be able to control, manipulate, or deal as equals with the awakening, because they are awakened themselves.
Additionally, magic will always have a cause-and-effect element to it. If you force a spirit to appear, perhaps one of you companions will disappear for the same length of time. If you curse someone, perhaps a spirit of violence will awaken one room over. If you heal someone today, perhaps the awakening will release that harm back onto you another day. This cause-and-effect is not a consequence from a failed or mixed roll result; it always happens, because that is the nature of the awakening. Every use of magic causes ripples, and if you fail to temper it, those ripples could turn into tidal waves. Those waves are the consequences from failed rolls.
The Cyber world is the space between the two extremes of the mortal dystopia and the magic awakening. Everyone has access to technology, but in differing amounts. The less relevant must do something illegal or overcome some significant barrier to access the technology of the powerful. Technology is set in its ways in that it does what it was designed to do...but you can push it in new directions, if you pay a price. Finally, technology is not sentient, but something is alive inside the machine, which is an echo of its creator.
Mechanically, technology is abstracted as the Feed. This is the product of constant digital content, drawn from content creators, news reports, propaganda, social networks, and the unblinking eye of surveillance. Most people consume the Feed passively; those with a little more savvy try and project their own image into it, perhaps hoping to improve their relevance or find some sense of connection outside themselves.
Accessing the public feed is open to all. After all, passive consumption is a way of life. To sort through the noise or to speak back with your own content takes some work. But true control of the feed (editorial authority, one might say) remains in the hands of the most powerful: the ability to tap into private feeds, to access private surveillance, to break down a barrier between public and private feeds, and most of all, to hide something from the feed. Because the truth is, someone is always watching. If you want to hide, you will need to control the feed enough you can bury events far, far from the public surface. Or if you want to expose someone, you need to find those hidden-but-never-erased secrets.
How the feed manifests in your game will depend on the world you create. In some worlds, it might be a text based feed, similar to scrolling tickers or message boards; or perhaps the feed takes 3d life in a separate cyberspace. In other worlds, the feed could be streaming video, on private devices, in public spaces, or in an AR world. Still others, the feed could be something that signals directly to your brain, like a radio that won't turn off, or a waking dream you can't stop.
However it takes form in your world, the Feed is all about information: the gathering, the sharing, the selective presenting, the distorting, and the hiding of information. This is more than bland facts however, this information is about truth and identity. The feed tells the world what is cool, what is acceptable (or not), what is right or wrong. There is no objective reality anymore; there is only the feed.
Mechanically, all players will have access to the Feed as well as whatever technology is considered standard in the world. To manipulate, control, or create with technology will take an extra cost. I need to nail down the mechanics to define this cost. One example idea is, if you open your mind to the Feed, it gets to ask you a question, and that answer becomes part of the Feed. Something that strips away privacy and distorts truth, rather than physical harm.
Finally, no technology is completely barren of personality. Thanks to the awakening, all technology maintains an echo of its creator. Tech jockeys likely speak to this echo, and try and interact with it like one might a ghost or a simple pet. Hackers might use this echo to gather information about anyone who has manipulated the tech or to remake tech in their own image. And security will certainly use this echo to track down anyone who changes the original, defined purpose of the tech.
This blog is where I "think aloud" about the games I'm designing, with occasional pieces analyzing other games or game mechanics. Currently, the focus is on talking through my own design process rather than presenting a polished piece on game design.
I'm known for going on tangents. The only consistent thing in my life is that I spend most of it creating things: novels, games, graphics. I love taking apart how art and games work, then reconstructing my own version from the pieces. I'm also enough of a layout perfectionist to adore eraser shields.