Infinity – The Roleplaying Game – Modiphius
Infinity the Roleplaying Game is the …well, roleplaying game version of Infinity: the Game, a skirmish-level miniatures wargame with, as I understand them, rather interesting mechanics. I haven’t played the game yet, but have read that each player has only 3 turns to accomplish their objectives, and can react on their opponent’s turn — forcing you to think very strategically about placement and positioning, which sounds very cool.
What appealed to me first about the universe was the miniature line and the design aesthetic. Once I discovered there was going to be a roleplaying game, I knew I would have to check it out.
Infinity reminds me of Deus Ex and Ghost in the Shell. It has a visual style that would be perfectly suited to any Masamune Shirow- inspired anime. It’s brightly lit with neon and HUDs, and the technology of the setting presents a post-cyberpunk space opera. The art in the book brings me back to watching GitS in the theatre and being dazzled at the animation, and again when the sequel was released.
While Infinity gameplay doesn’t take lengthy breaks to wax philosophically about Descartes and the nature of human consciousness, it does have some philosophical elements, being a roleplaying game about loyalties, omnipresent and intrusive technology, and intense action. Perhaps more like the Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex series than the movies…
In the far future humanity has spread beyond Earth to a new system. New powers have risen and new conflicts begun. The various agencies and organizations of the Human Sphere engage in intrigue with each other and defend their new home against alien invaders.
Players come from one of a number of factions, but in the default game work for Bureau Noir, the secret service of the O-12 governmental agency.
History of the Human Sphere
A series of economic, energy, and religious crises lay the roots of the development of the hyperpowers and other factions of the game. It’s always tricky to develop a good “history” that feels realistic, but I feel a fair bit of Infinity passes the verisimilitude test. This makes the section pretty easy to read and communicates the important aspects of the history well – setting the stage well for when the various factions of the game arrive in the system that becomes the Human Sphere and take the first steps that lay the foundation for how this future society manifests.
Society and the Human Sphere:
When I read Shadowrun 4th Edition, smartphones weren’t even a thing (that I knew of). When I read the Shadowrun 4th, 20th Anniversary Edition they had become more prevalent, but were hardly ubiquitous. This was my first exposure to Augmented Reality (AR). I thought it was brilliant – we’d seen it in movies, books, and comics already (and probably tech mags) but this was my first exposure to it in an rpg. The impact of AR was explored, how it would affect our media, and how to use it in a game. Infinity feels like it turns AR to 11.
The vast majority of citizens in the Human Sphere are connected to the quantronic reality of Maya, the AR system that permeates every aspect of life. Implants under the forearm connect with technology that displays a UI for each user. Individual networks all connect with others within range, building up until you have a datasphere composed of all the networks. Due to the post-scarcity nature of the Human Sphere, Maya becomes even more important, as commerce now trades in experiences and services, rather than needs.
As a result, one’s “online” presence in Maya can be of utmost importance and celebrity culture is an elite culture. Picture a world where our basic needs were met, we had food, shelter, clothing, and medicine, so the only element not provided was entertainment – how many people would turn to YouTube and Twitch, and all other broadcasting services, to gain more wealth, popularity, and influence?
Because of this, encryption and security for one’s personal network is of the utmost importance, and one’s social network determines a lot of their societal value. It makes for a great cyberpunk setting that feels future-facing over retro. On top of that, as you’ll read below, it gives Hacker characters a lot to do locally (in physical combat for example), and makes them an indispensable general asset.
The factions of the Human Sphere are all very interesting. Comprising a diverse group of philosophies and cultures, the sections that detail them give you their history, societal structure, unique elements and contributions to technology. Their faction-controlled planets are also covered, along with any relations with alien life in the area. Nicely, a section for O12 and faction agendas wrap up each section, focusing the content back on the main premise of the game.
The factions are:
- Ariadna: Descended from the first colony ship, Dawn, Ariadnans are fiercely independent and distrustful of the higher technology of the other groups. Their planet of Dawn is the source of “teseum”, a super- strong metal that is highly valued through the Sphere.
- Haqqislam: Dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth, the faithful of Haqqislam also hold the secret of Silk, by which the citizens of the Human Sphere may extend their life and take on new bodies.
- Nomads: Distrustful of the Maya network and the dominance of the AI Aleph, the neo-anarchistic Nomads live separately from the rest of the Human Sphere, traveling in their Motherships and relying on their own “dark” data network of Arachne.
- Panoceania: The first of the two “hyperpowers”, this multicultural ultra-religious and ultra-Capitalist faction lives closely entwined with its technology, allowing the AI Aleph to run their infrastructure. Addicted to growth and exploration, more more and more is the guiding principle of Panoceania.
- Yu Jing: The other hyperpower is the economic powerhouse of Yu Jing. Rather than charge into space, China reconciled its individual and collectivist dialectic and united the Eastern hemisphere (save Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand). Combining tradition and modernity, promoting empire and individual, Yu Jing is a force to be reckoned with.
- Aleph: The Human Sphere would not exist without Aleph. The Maya datasphere and the physical universe are all interchangeable to Aleph, as it permeates every aspect of life. Due to its complete dependence on Aleph, Panoceania is also often viewed as operating in the same interests. Not all trust the AI or are comfortable with the inability to escape its influence. Its agents are aspects of its consciousness, divided to allow it a physical presence in many locations.
- In addition to the previously mentioned astropolitical entities, numerous corporations, mercenary outfits, and criminal organizations hold influence, but the key faction for the RPG is O-12.
- O-12 is the united government of the Human Sphere, governing a variety of bureaucratic systems, and is the organization that hosts Bureau Noir, the secret service that the default campaign is structured around.
Infinity lies on the crunchier side of the 2d20 system, closer to Mutant Chronicles than Star Trek Adventures. This is perfectly suitable as the genre it draws on is a little more technical and granular, even when presented in a cinematic style.
For those unfamiliar with 2d20, it’s a roll-under, Skill-based system. When performing an action the player adds the relevant Skill Expertise rating to its associated Attribute and rolls 2 20-sided dice. For each die that rolls equal to or below that Target Number, the player earns a success. If the roll is also equal to or below the Skill Focus then an additional success is gained.
Difficulty of tests is measured in how many Successes are needed, with one being standard. Any additional Successes get converted into Momentum, which can be used as a meta-currency to allow the player a number of benefits, from improved quality of success, additional targets, or scene edits. These can also be added to a group pool to represent coordinated teamwork. It’s straightforward and makes every element of a roll relevant.
Characters are created through a semi-customizable Lifepath system, which generates very detailed histories and established the PCs in the world of the Human Sphere. Attributes and skills are raised through the various choices, special Talents are chosen, and gear provided. One of the really fun things about the Lifepath choices is that characters can die during the process. It’s not like old-school Traveller though, because the Human Sphere has Cubes, devices combining microprocessors and Silk biotechnology to allow brainwaves and personalities to be recorded, and implanted into other L-Hosts (created bodies) in the event of death.
The GM has the resource “Heat”, which acts similarly to Momentum, allowing the intrusion of complications, creating hazards for the PCs, environmental effects, or invoking relevant PC traits that could be detrimental in their current circumstances.
Combat is a well-crafted system that marries the best of narrative play with traditional play. It’s still a skill roll, but ranges and movement are presented in terms of “Zones”, weapon effects only come into play when 6s are rolled on the damage dice, and ammunition and reloads are only a concern when a Die result says they are (no need to count bullets). Characters take damage in the form of Stress damage and damage effects (Wounds) are applied as conditions (circumstantial states of being). Infinity‘s wargame roots show through a little in an interesting and very “roleplaying game” way – I’ll use Terrain as an example. There are rules that cover how different terrain will affect combat (how it provides cover, modifies movement, etc.) but it’s all still wrapped up in Zones and in skill test modifications – no precise measurements here!
Where Infinity adds to the 2d20 world is by having not one, or two, but three combat arenas to engage in, with appropriate damage tracks for each. Because of the highly-connected society of the Human Sphere, Infowar (hacking) is a legitimate means of committing harm upon others. Damage caused by hacking will impact the target’s ability to take actions that rely on items linked to their personal network, just as physical damage will incapacitate an individual. On top of that is Psywar, psychological/social combat which can result in a damaged character fleeing combat or being paralyzed with indecision after having been viciously intimidated by their opponent.
Frankly this is all pretty cool. It gives every kind of character utility during combat, makes good use and representation of the Infinity setting, and best of all, each method uses the same core system. One of the most difficult parts of any game containing hacking elements is not slowing down the action by having separate systems that are more involved than the rules for pulling a trigger or swinging a sword. Unifying conflict this way was a smart move.
Infowar and Psywar receive their own sections too. Obviously not just usable in physical combat, their battlefields are the networks and dataspheres, boardrooms and coffee dates. Infowar gets detailed guidance and structure for hackers to use their talents to take control of networks, track individuals, alter information, and achieve many other objectives. Psywar breaks down social interactions into rules for social conflict and persuasion. Both Infowar and Psywar are still treated as “combat” in their structure, with skill tests, damage, conditions, soaking damage – it really is helpful to have everything function with similar flow.
I especially like that there’s a sidebar discussing how players will react to their characters being the targets of Psywar. I feel it’s all perfectly legitimate to have my character be persuaded of something even if I’m not fully. As a GM it’s easy to make a small error in presentation to have the players instantly mistrust the most noble character in your game. GMs have a lot to do already that they don’t need to also wear the “smooth talker” hat. But if players are going to resist having their characters trust an NPC even though the GM rolled well on the Persuasion check, the game has some suggestions to help out.
A Wilderness of Mirrors
The GM section has a lot of good advice on how to run an Infinity game, but most of all, it has some great guidelines on running a “Wilderness of Mirrors” game, as is the default style. Multiple structures are presented for designing mystery scenarios, such as how to successfully present clues in a way that one missed element doesn’t destroy the whole story, but also on how to run an espionage game – reinforcing themes of paranoia and mistrust. While the players are members of O-12, they still receive objectives and missions from their own factions that will often put them at odds with each other.
There’s a suitable number of adversaries and NPCs, some of which I presume to be from the miniatures game, so GMs are not lacking in options to use.
Infinity gives you a thorough, creative, and innovative science-fiction espionage game, with lots of potential to explore other campaign styles. It allows for a diversity of characters, all with equal utility in play, whether in investigative, social, or combat scenes and played out with a reliable and tested system mechanic.
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