Sunday, 18 April 2021

Shadow Jam: Zilla City and Zilion players' option

(From this picture below the whole idea of Shadow Jam started: as I was typing the caption "like cyberpunk but with magic and demons" the disjointed little things I liked about both games came together. Thus Zilla City would always be a ground zero for this setting and the first place to visit.)

Rain-swept empty streets, holographic flowers, the sense of unseen sea; metal, and glass, and light;
image from Shadow Warrior 2 artbook

When during Collision CEO Orochi Zilla turned from upstart corporate functionary into full-on saviour of humanity, his corporate city became the refuge to thousands fleeing the horrors of war, the haven untouched by demon hands, the beacon for all otherwise hopelessly lost to the invasion. Thanks to the superb technological developments, the self-sustainability built into the city, its defensible position beyond what is now Snakespine mountains and the overall remoteness of the place from any newfangled shadowlands it stood its ground against invading demon force of Demon Lord Gozun, and currently remains the last bastion of pre-Collision civilization in the known world.

Zilla City is the place where people don't go hungry and don't fear demon raids, where they can bring up families without everyday struggle, where they work with their fellow humans free from shackles of demonic overlords, all while enjoying the benefits of high comforts, education and crimeless environment. This is the only place where 'scientist' is not a dirty word used to brand the failure and foolishness, but instead a title of honour as new emerging technologies from Zilla City might one day lead the reclamation of human world from the clawed hands of the invaders. 

In the game one only visits the City at night – it would be quite busy by the day;
screenshot by Budong

After sixteen years the the War of Worlds the City achieved highly stable population without a hint of a demon blood. All Zilla City recognized citizens realize their unique call as defenders of humanity and united in their desire to contribute to the never-ending battle with Xanadu – while White Treaty currently prevents any open conflicts, Zilla City bides it time, and builds its power until foul demons would unavoidably break the Treaty and untie its hands. One hundred percent gainfully employed, each of citizens brings their own effort and talents to fulfill this heroic goal.

Under benevolent foresight of current and only mayor Orochi Zilla, the City influence spreads across all Avocado Archipelago, into Wilder Lands and even Lush, carefully expanding its defensive settlements and making life better for any human who still dreams of demon-free world. Zilions – dedicated bionic peacekeepers, scouts and specialists – play a significant part in this noble endeavour, giving a helping augmented hand where mere flesh is not enough. Carefully selected from the never-ending pool of volunteers, they represent the peak of human condition multiplied on insight of human science and support of human technological ingenuity, and the squadron of them can go toe-to-toe even with blood behemoths in the wilderness.

Currently the first generation of those selfless servants of humanity is retiring from active service. Aged approximately early thirties, all of them were, of course, volunteers – orphans who suffered through the War of Worlds and decided to do their best to help their fellow humans. Their augmentations were largely experimental, born out of rushed necessity, and is outdated by current standards, but nobody would deny their contribution. Some of them decided to remain in the City, but many chose to venture further into lawless lands and undoubtedly lend their help where they can. 

Zilion

Glowing eyes are optional; Art by Ryan-John Keates

As per dismissal clause of their contract, each is getting a good severance package, their favourite weapon or tool, and throughout memory wipe. The above text was the orientation session given to zilion after the mind wipe as they are preparing to leave the service.

• All in their early thirties. Their haphazard argumentation mean they will die in 6+1d6 years unless continuously helped by advanced Zilla City science or any other prominent life-sustaining effect
• Peak human condition: chose three attributes (cannot pick up Chai). These attributes are automatically 18, no need to roll. Other four attributes are rolled as usual. Within two years before their time is up all three highest stats gradually drop by half.
• Roll with advantage against fatigue, toxins, disease and torture. Cannot disobey Mr. Zilla's (or anybody's who is carrying his True Brand) direct order and by action or inaction allow him to be harmed if in their direct vicinity. In case of orders conflict Mr. Zilla always is a priority to be obeyed and defended.
• Can survive for about two months on half of food, water and sleep the normal humans need. Vulnerable to subliminal manipulation if one knows which patterns and methods to use.
• Provided they carry no demonic taint and didn't commit anything publicly notorious that can harm the reputation of the City, they are still granted entry to Zilla City and baseline citizen rights; although they are cut from their access to resources active zilions enjoy, as veterans they are provided with decent living accommodations for doing some nominal spirits-lifting work for citizens' benefit. Each carries deeply hidden subliminal trigger that can be activated by code word once, making them into a puppet for a scene (in case of a combat actions) or a day (in case of non-combat actions or infliltrations).
• Useful modification zilion is able to retain thanks to the benevolent Mr. Zilla: (1d12)
(to be finalized in numbers when I find out which system 'Shadow Jam' is going to use)

01) Healing subsystem
02) Perception subsystem
03) Endurance subsystem
04) Muscle adapter
05) Multi-respiratory adapter
06) Subdermal adapter
07) Learning node
08) Rush Impulse node
09) Sub-vocal diplomacy node
10) Carapace armature
11) Cyber-integration armature
12) Malfunctioning chai-booster implant

• Starting wealth is 500 soles. All starting equipment is of good quality; advanced gear lists are also available for the character's generation. Additionally choose one heavy Advanced Arms or Tool, or two medium Advanced Arms or Tools or three light Advanced Arms or Tools (in any combination of Arms and Tools in case of multiples) for free; all these things are firmly ID-locked and unsalable. All Advanced Arms or Tools have trackers in them that Zilla City keeps on monitoring.
• As a slight drawback, not everybody is happy to see zilions around; many, especially in Avocado Achipelago and Wilder Lands, bear grudges against zilions for some (undoubtedly imaginary) griefs, and might rejoice venting those grievances onto a lone zilion. Others would like to learn what makes a zilion different from regular humans; even as an outdated model long since surpassed by later zilions, science-starved or simply inquisitive dwellers of Known World would like to get a hold on zilion's body, dead or preferably alive, as even so obsolete they still carry a seed of science superior to all that the Known World can offer. If zilion true identity is known expect escalating bounty hunters. After riff-raff and amateurs there will be professionals.
• Zilions can pass for regular humans but if one knows where to look for brand codes and traces of old surgeries not even supernatural disguises can provide full protection. All zilions are sterile and cannot pass their traits to their children even if such children are conceived by supernatural means.
• Just one last detail: what undeleted memory about benevolent Mr. Zilla bothers you so much you are unable to suppress it? You know the memory is undoubtedly a glitch, and there is completely nothing to be wary of, yet for some reasons you didn't voice your knowledge upon your dismissal: (1d10)

01) Artificial light floods space with bunker-heavy doors and intricate lab equipment. The air so full of chai it prickles your skin. There is a monstrosity behind the bullet-proof glass of the tank you guard. It still has recognizable human pieces. It still has human eyes. It pleads with you wordlessly.

02) Blanket of silence. You see perfectly in the darkness of the City apartment building. The door unlocked silently with your access, your unit goes in with practiced ease. A family – roused from the sleep, confused, terrified. “You are under arrest for civil disharmony.” – Your own voice in the dark, calm, level, almost sympathetic. – “Lethal force will be used against you if you resist.”

03) Holojectors reconstruct the affected city block perfectly in miniature. Details are captured clear, up to the pores on the faces of bystanders. Somebody across the table makes an adjustment: person in, person out, curve of the bullet changed, cosmetic details added. A third voice rehearses the future news “Illegal demon-tainted entity was apprehended in our city today.”

04) Heavy jungle smell. Heavy jungle rain. Mud, a clearing amidst the wet branches. Haphazard, tiny village, barely silhouettes against the dark skies. Unconscious bodies cocooned tightly, lying in row. You finish tightening straps on the last of them, but the body jerks suddenly, scratching against your armour with their horns. You administer another doze of sedative with well-practiced move and they fall motionless. Time to deliver the cargo back to the City.

05) Boring day at the job: sleeping people don’t cause troubles. They look kind of cute in their peabean beds, with those big helmets on. Glimpsing the endless stream of memvideo feed from the central control screen you briefly feel pride about being a part of such well-functioning society and loyalty to vision of benevolent Mr. Zilla. All as it should be.

06) A person interrupts you on your patrol route. Their features evade you but their movements aren’t aggressive so no riot protocols are triggered. They call a name you don’t recognize – quick search tells you it is a name of a dead person. They try to hold your hand. “Do you remember me? Please remember me.” they ask. They seems to be crying for some reason as you carefully move past them following your route.

07) Golden holoflowers flicker through pools of red. Filters in your mask work one hundred percent well but you, somehow, still smell the iron in the air. Your training momentary broken, you tear off yourhelmet and vomit onto a nearby pile of disabled entities. You cannot take it anymore. A small prick in your shoulder – your commander administer the cure for disloyalty virus.

08) You trace specified figures as they walk through the streets. They bypass the gates by forged passes, one by one assemble in a disused warehouse. They consider this place to be unobserved, but new cameras were installed there only an hour prior. Your fingers, your mind flickers as you counteract their makeshift jammers. You observe as the conspiracy against benevolent Mr. Zilla blooms and collect the evidence for prosecution. 

09) The mercury-heavy sludge raises to your knees but your armour keeps you superbly protected. The roar of machines supporting the City is all around you, here in maintenance tunnels, deep below. One of the grey, emaciated figures working 'the mills' suddenly breaks free of the engine and tries to run away when she thinks you are not looking. You turn around and shoot – as it is your duty – and she falls, a small body in the sludge, leaving no ripples. Drones fish the body to process it later. This is a forth of them shrinking their citizen duty this week.

10) There was a wave of the faces – human and half-human, bestial and almost recognizable. A circle of bodies, facing outward, facing you and your unit, all with the same expression. They have makeshift weapons but nobody is clearly a match to any of you. There is a figure in the center of the circle. The figure clearly is not of human. The bodies defend the demon from you, a tight mindless swarm. "Take the puppeteer alive, discard the rest" comes the order. You fire in an unblinking crowd, as they ineffectively try to harm you.

Surely it was your own decision to venture away from Zilla City.

Various tidbits
Latest news about Zilla City is that they finally developed the long-rumoured Chai Engine – the seamless blend of technology and magic previously thought impossible. Their new sleektech is only glimpsed outside of the Zilla City as it is entrusted exclusively to the most advanced and loyal zilions and functionaries; currently is one of the most desirable things everywhere in the Known World.

Orochi Zilla knows many things about the pre-Collision world. His name is his name and his memory seems to be fully intact judging by the precision with which he guides all Zilla City broadcasts and efforts. Of course, such esteemed and dignified person obviously cultivated their spirit long before the Collision.

Zilla City latest public campaign is to root out pirates from Bansara, anarchic haven on the western tip of Avocado Archipelago and to establish full control over this area of the world. Bansarians hence seek to find and sic the legendary Deep Moon Manta onto Zilla City in retribution.

Despite being a staunch opponents of any negotiations with demons, Zilla City has to nominally ally itself with Pearl City – as a sacred place where White Treaty was signed, it is a neutral ground to all four other Cities even if they aren't peaceful between themselves. Zilla City genuinely tries to align itself with Independence, given their similar "Humanity, fuck yeah!" attitude and an arsenal of nukes, but travels through Lush, closeness to tainted shadowlands and core Independence attitude are making such negotiations difficult. There is continuous "war" of radio broadcasts between Zilla City and Neo-Neo-X, each trumpeting their own virtues. The Glow is vilified as a place full of demons.

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If it wasn't somehow clear from the text, while Zilla City is safe, advanced and prosperous it is far from the utopia it claims to be in its propaganda; at the very best it is still a corporate city at heart, and at the worst it is much worse than that. 

8 comments:

  1. I don't think that disclaimer at the end was necessary haha, although at least at first I wasn't sure.

    This setting seems really cool. You managed to make it evocative in a short amount of space and easily gameable. Some of the names or terms seem like they could be references, some seemingly more clear than others, but I enjoy that kind of thing.

    It has elements of cyberpunk obviously, but despite being specifically about cyberpunk+magic+demons, it doesn't feel at all like Shadowrun. It also has elements of post apoc fiction, and I feel like there are maybe some anime or videogames it reminds me of but can't put my finger on what specifically. Maybe Gods Eater or Darling in the Franxx? Or even Pacific Rim minus the mechs, for some reason.

    Why do the Zilion's encounter discrimination? You mention imagined griefs and grudges, but imo it seems like there should be at least some suggested underlying tension, although certainly I could imagine for myself several reasons.

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    1. >I don't think that disclaimer at the end was necessary haha, although at least at first I wasn't sure.
      This is the way some propaganda works: it starts neutrally enough until it adds, bit by bit, the insidious part.
      The whole first part, about Zilla City, is written as a 'orientation to your new life' to newly mind-wiped zilions, but I thought I'd make it very clear just in case.
      >But despite being specifically about cyberpunk+magic+demons, it doesn't feel at all like Shadowrun
      "Shadow Jam" is kind of a pun on Shadowrun (which is a complex and interesting setting, just not to my liking in this case). It is based on Shadow Warrior 1 and 2 videogames, freely extrapolated.

      As for the unexplained names in the text, "Shadow Jam" is a hopeful series of articles, so I cannot describe everything in one piece or the text grows unwieldy; the idea to start with Five (and half) Great Cities and through them and attached player options show the setting a bit more organically than through "Here is a map, history lesson, and gazetteer" approach.

      >Why do the Zilion's encounter discrimination?
      In many ways they are the face that Zilla City shows to the post-Collision world (which Zilla City viewed as tainted and hence, inferior to a pure humans in the City); this face often comes with the gun and superior (although laser-focused and so far small-scale) military force. From the retained memories table you can see that many things zilions do is of very questionable and inhumane nature. While zilion doesn't remember their time of services, there are people who were or had friends and family on receiving end of their guns, and they do remember. Now that the retired zilion is cut off Zilla City support and is alone, he or she is much easier target for a vengeance or retribution. Imagine a retired stormtrooper going onto a planet that suffered from Empire, only he cannot fully hide he was/is the one.

      "Imaginary griefs" was an intentionally dubiously-worded phrase, because those griefs are clearly not imaginary.

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    2. Aah that all makes sense. I figured "imaginary griefs" was maybe not so imaginary haha but I guess I didn't put two and two together entirely with the retained memories but that makes sense. The "retired stormtrooper" analogy is also compelling.

      Ya it's a cool premise with a lot of potential for all different kinds of stories. Often times Cyberpunk / Shadowrun stuff just turns into generic heists and gang stuff, which can be fun, but I prefer when there's more behind it, and this setting seems like it would lend itself well to putting more behind any things of that sort.

      My current campaign has also had a lot of heist / gang type stuff, but as with this, I'd like to think there's more going on than just the surface level.

      I haven't played the Shadow Warrior videogames, would not necessarily have expected that at least from what I vaguely know about them lol. Didn't you write a post about those games a long time ago though?

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    3. >Ya it's a cool premise with a lot of potential for all different kinds of stories.
      If everything else fails at least the setting can fall back on just fighting demons with hell-forged guns and katanas, like in "Stay Frosty".
      This year "Shadow Warrior 3" is coming out and it is probably going to wreck my headcanon for "Shadow Jam" (despite the setting already having a lot of divergence) so I am trying to get some articles out before it happens.

      >Didn't you write a post about those games a long time ago though?
      It was a quick comparison, but yes: http://dsbbsd.blogspot.com/2019/09/shadow-warrior-1-remake-versus-shadow.html
      And it is true that the whole idea of 'Shadow Jam' appeared as I was writing the caption for Zilla City ("Neon like the cyberpunk but with magic and demons")

      >I haven't played the Shadow Warrior videogames,
      Remakes are ok (original is much harder and with humour that didn't age well at all). Not as exiting, from what I see, as Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, but not terrible.

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  2. The first part about how everyone is safe and secure and doesn't need to worry made me so sad in contrast to all the shit in the real world. I was weirdly comforted to find out how the city is actually probably evil. This sounds like a real fun place to play!

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    1. I am sorry if it caused you sadness. The city is probably not just evil but probably even very evil, if this is of any consolation.

      Out of curiosity, do you think that negative reaction zilion gets from other people is the only slight drawback of this character option?

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    2. No no, don't be sorry! I just thought it was worth noting because of how normally our hobby gets us away from the real world but this time it really brought me back to real life.

      I don't see much of a negative to the character option. It is a detail that serves to draw in more and remind of the propaganda the city puts out.

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    3. >I don't see much of a negative to the character option. It is a detail that serves to draw in more and remind of the propaganda the city puts out.
      Very true, zilions (even retired ones) are being presented as stalwart defenders and peacemakers in Zilla City and beyond.
      (but I also hid something about the character and I wonder if people are finding it.)

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