The Mod Bar
by Kira Magrann
It’s 2075 and the world is a fucked-up dystopian mess. Extreme splits between the haves and have-nots created massive class differences, and everybody’s got chrome, guns, and mohawks. Cities are high on population overflow and have begun sprawling into large urban stretches. Corps have more power than governments, and the claustrophobic oppression pushes people to desperation and excess to escape the everyday. Militaries, doctors, corps, and artists have developed all manner of cybernetic implants and body parts that enhance the human experience. Most of this “cyberware” is provided by employers, but some can be found on the black market; illegal, experimental, and unsafe tech is easier to access than the 1% would prefer.
Mods, Mods, Mods
Humans now have all kinds of metallic, plastic, and implanted body modifications. Improved metal-plated skeletal strength for heavy lifting, eye implants that can see in various spectra, HUDs that unfold from behind the ears, wireless implants and CPU added to brains—the list is extensive. Some people have turned extreme modification into a lifestyle though, altering their bodies to neo-radical levels of human performance identity. People mod their skin to change colors like chameleons, become sensitive to light and have fangs like vampires, and add downright alien-like features to their otherwise totally human bodies. They want to look different. Some of them need to. This is just who they are. And where they go to be among humans like them is…
The Mod Bar
The Mod Bar is an interconnected underground bar that is actually ten different dive bars linked together. Imagine walls covered in band stickers, broken mirrors, and terrible acoustics, walls painted pink with bubbly plastic bio-luminescent bar counters, walls covered in video installations and retro disco balls, rooms that seem to be made of nothing but smoke and lasers. There’s cheap beer and strong cocktails and people taking over bathroom stalls to fuck or do hits of Lyte-m. The only rule to get in is that you have to be modded, no skins allowed. The owner is mysterious and goes by the name Devi8. It’s said they’re always hanging in the Mod Bar, but they change looks so often, you’d never know it was them. “Live the performance, love your selves” is lit in neon pink at the entrance to the stairs leading downward.
Nightly Mod performances and competitions are one of the huge draws to this underground sprawl. The categories range from “best body construction” to “most accurate clone job” to “creatures of the night.” Biological bodies aren’t prized here. It’s not what you’re born with, but what you dream you can be. The dream is often all that’s left to the humans who hang at the Mod Bar. They prize a “live fast, die leaving a beautiful corpse” attitude, because they know it’s not long before someone in power out there in the real world will have their number. In modification, they can build a better world together, one that doesn’t rely on some fucked up status quo.
High Concept: Subversive Self-Expression
Trouble: Corp-Instigated Infighting
Freedom in Camaraderie: When a player creates an advantage in order to help someone express their identity, add an extra invoke to the aspect created.
Community Protection: Good (+3)
Kiki*: Fair (+2)
*Kiki: definition—catching up on the gossip
Stage-stravaganza: This is the room where dueling acts take center stage. Multiple stages in one large room provide a multi-performance setting. Any kind of stage imaginable is in here, with any kind of cyberpunk props to aid characters with their performance.
The Pink Room: Curious about new mods? Patrons can get them here, or show off the ones they’ve already got through various social media, interactive multiplayer sims, or videobooths.
Front: Aquarian Blackmail
Lil Syke has been trying to take over Mod Bar for years. Ze is another prominent figure of the Mod Bar scene, queen of a group called Aquarius, who are styled as punk rock sea creatures and sell the corp drug Halcyon. Despite zir loyalty to the Mod Scene, Lil Syke is trying to cash in on corp drugs and use the scene to do it. Ze and zir crew keep digging for something they can use against Devi8 to kick them off the Mod Bar throne. Finally Lil Skye hears a rumor that Devi8 is working with Medusa to install new security tech, and Medusa is embarrassingly legit corp realness (the Modders at the bar think corp styles are too mainstream but they do get really neat tech). Lil Syke hopes to catch some scandalous footage of the two making a deal and make it public so Mod Bar turns against Devi8 for good. This will also make it super easy for Syke to sell zir Halcyon with less social fallout. The deal’s going down tonight; Lil Syke just has to keep on Medusa to find out where.
What Is a Front?
A front paces the plots and schemes of villains or the terrible doom awaiting the PCs if they don’t engage with the problems emerging within the setting. Think of a front like a train, hurtling down the tracks toward a brick wall, ready to smash through everything unless the PCs get in the way.
Each front features a countdown clock, a prescriptive and descriptive measure of both what will happen if the front is left unchecked and how much time is left until the front is fully realized. If the front is ignored, you tick down each section of the clock until it reaches the doom that awaits the PCs (prescriptive); if something achieves a portion of the front’s future plans early, move the clock directly to that section (descriptive).
As the clock gets closer to midnight, the action becomes more elevated and the stakes become more dire. If the PCs can stop the front early, they may be able to avoid the worst of the consequences, whereas waiting to intervene until the clock is nearly exhausted means that the front will have permanent effects on the setting even if the PCs manage to stop it.
Devi8, mod chameleon and owner of Mod Bar; Lil Syke, Aquarius Queen and aspiring business owner; Medusa, security systems operative corp;Pony, a scenester who knows just about everyone in this place. Devi8’s identity is extremely difficult to locate, and some imagine they are just a projected illusion, an old folk tale, or an actual deity for the modded out weirdos who haunt this city. Devi8 is actually just a really good modder. They’ve figured out ways to manipulate their skin, build, style, walk, and are an expert at switching from one mode of presentation to another. Devi8 is all genders, a cyborgian masterpiece, and a model for many of the people in the Mod Bar who meet them without realizing they have. Medusa is a corporate modder, with pristinely implanted eye cameras on a full 360 about her shaved head.
12:00-3:00: Lil Syke and the Aquarius crew get into a fight with the Glamazons, whose mod show they keep interrupting with their ridiculous untrained and dramatic spy tactics.
3:00-6:00: Medusa meets with Devi8 in a secret back room that Lil Syke slips into unnoticed. They make their deal. Lil Syke records it.
6:00-9:00: Lil Syke hands the recording off to a corp representative of Halcyon so it gets the most views possible.
9:00-10:00: The deal between Devi8 and Medusa goes viral, trashing Devi8’s rep as a modder and putting the ownership of the Mod Bar at risk.
10:00-11:00: Halcyon reps, modded way cool with all the hot new shit (but definitely corp), come in and throw down a challenge to Devi8 for ownership of the Mod Bar. Devi8 needs a crew to back them up.
11:00-12:00: After losing the challenge, Devi8 is exiled from their own bar, and new corp ownership is in charge. It becomes way less hip, and way more dangerous.
In addition to a countdown clock, fronts also contain a number of special rules revisions that focus play on the important themes of the setting:
No Guns Allowed: Violence isn’t really allowed in the Mod Bar, so if there’s any kind of disagreement, you have to prove you’re a better modder than someone else. Have a dance off using the Contest rules (Fate Core System, page 150), and whoever wins the dance wins the argument.
Altered Consciousness: When doing a hit of the hottest drug in the bar, characters gain
- a negative aspect that describes how they’re under the influence, and
- two separate +1 modifiers to any social skills a character might have (player’s choice).
Fronts in Play
When events in the front tick down toward the 12:00 doom, make sure the PCs are aware of the events. Depending on their position in the fiction, they might hear about something through the grapevine or directly witness one of the NPCs making a move. Give them chances to interrupt and get mixed up in the plot!
Ways to Engage
The Mod Bar is a metaphor for a queer bar. Everyone is trying on different mods as though they are different identities. Experimentation and expression are very important there, as well as it being a place to escape systemic oppression of the cyberpunk setting. Lots of different types of encounters and characters could exist there, but the ones that bring out those themes work out best!
Someone who works at the bar needs assistance with something bar-related and pulls in the PCs to help. It could be a bouncer who needs help with security, a bartender who needs help serving a high maintenance group of patrons, or performers backstage trying to wriggle into various costume mods. After helping with this job, the PCs could become insiders.
Examples: bartenders, hosts, stand-ins, performers, security.
Hang Out, Drama Llamas
The bar is a central place for modders to hang out, meet people in the scene, find information on hot new mod trends and drugs before they are released to the public, etc. It could even be a useful spot to hide out, although it wouldn’t be long til the community starts lovingly gossiping about someone.
Examples: the regulars, drug sellers, private investigators, someone on the run.
There are many groups that would like to capitalize on the modding community. Corps want to own the space for their own uses, mod sellers want to come in and make everything expensive and legal, and hipsters want to get in on the cool hangs. They want to invade, colonize, and buy identities that aren’t for sale.
Examples: mod sellers, corps, designers, hipsters.
Adapting the Mod Bar
Three different settings with a stunt to match each one.
The Mod Bar is built to function in an urban cyberpunk dystopia, but it could easily function as a queer bar metaphor in any game. Here are some ideas for adapting the Mod Bar. Note the additional stunt that would make the Mod Bar a more natural fit for each alternate setting.
The Black Cat is an apt name for a secret gay bar in the ’40s at the end of World War II. It was still illegal to be queer of any sort in public, so these secret bars were essential for other queer people to meet, socialize, and form communities. Some easy opponents would be military or local police looking to get some people arrested or shut the bar down. All genders usually gathered at these bars, since women were just starting to go out alone at night during the war, and queer soldiers would often socialize there too.
Passing: Gain a +2 to Stealth when trying to look straight instead of queer here if you need to protect yourself or your friends.
A queer bar in a modern day urban fantasy setting would be an easy fit! Instead of modders, there could be all manner of supernatural creatures here. They’re the outsiders of their clans, though—the kind werewolf and the shy fairy would fit into this bar well. The Sanctum is a safe place where all the supernatural creatures can get along and hide from the oppression of their different clans. Hunters could come here to disturb the peace of the bar, or there could be clan politics that disrupt their space.
Truce: While inside this space, supernatural creatures must put aside their family/clan drama and get along with each other. Take +2 Rapport when choosing to talk out a conflict instead of fighting.
In a superhero setting this could be the bar where the superhero weirdos go to hang out. The Headquarters Bar is a place where villains and heroes neutrally meet and express themselves. Their powers are expressed in the bar in all manner of delightful ways, and they don’t have to worry about the burden of protecting the people or destroying the world. Perhaps they can even come to some kinds of agreements on what it means to be a little more than human over a drink. This is a great PvP setting, but antagonists could easily be “normal” people who want to judge them.
Confession: When a character admits to something they’ve done in their past with their powers that they’re not proud of, they get a +2 to spend on their next roll. +