The Freedom League virtual reality simulation developed by Dr. Rudolph Bushmiller for the genetic boosting program is both the greatest success and the greatest failure of modern technology. While “slumberland” (as it has been nicknamed by technicians) serves to prevent the most severe psychoses associated with genetic enhancement, it has also led to a sub-culture of super-powered veterans with some bizarre beliefs about the nature of the world. The “comic book” reality of Slumberland seems permanently imprinted on their consciousness and that may be one of the deciding factors in the existence of groups like the Underground.
Slumberland works by immersing the modification subject in a virtual reality modeled on the “four color” world of comic book superheroes. While in this virtual experience, the subject is better able to deal with the reality of possessing paranormal powers in a setting where they are not very unusual. This provides a “cushion” for the subject’s psyche, allowing them to accept the existence of their new abilities and learn to use them in a non-threatening environment. When they are removed from the VR, the subjects retain some of this “cushioning” from their experience in Slumberland, allowing them to better adjust to their new enhancements.
The preparation for the VR experience is one that is carefully undertaken to maximize the effects of the program. The advance planning can take several weeks or even months in and of itself to ensure that the results are under optimal conditions. Of course, there have been occasions where time or budget constraints forced the pre-planning stage to be accelerated and conditions have been less than ideal.
First, a complex and detailed psychological profile of the subject is compiled, to determine the optimum settings for the scenario. There is a battery of questions and psych tests, where technicians gather as much relevant data on the subject as possible. Subject’s are encouraged to be as truthful as possible on these tests, to ensure that the VR simulation will be correctly programmed. The corporation is generally not held liable for any omissions or incorrect information provided by the subject (such as the case of Up the Wall, an unfortunate vet who lied about his terror of spiders before undergoing genetic modifications that gave him clinging ability and other spider-like powers). The subject also has a comprehensive physical exam and is prepared for the mutagenic changes that will take place while they are in the vat.
One of the most important parts of the preparatory stage is to ensure that the subject will accept and believe the virtual experience as much as possible and that their suspension of disbelief with be enough for the VR to do its work. What exactly subjects are told in advance is carefully planned out. Originally, the subjects were told as little as possible about Slumberland, to increase their credulity and increase the impact of the “reality” of the experience. Currently it is impossible, of course, for the subject to know nothing of what will happen of the procedure, rumor being what it is, so instead they are told as much as possible about the nature of the Slumberland experience. Memory drugs and other techniques allow the subject’s memories of the real world to be suppressed or “fogged out” during the experience.
Using information gathered from the preliminary tests, the subject’s Slumberland experience is programmed into the virtual reality. Because the VR programming is so complex, an extensive computer library of templates and standard scenarios has evolved that can be mixed and matched to create different custom programs to suit virtually any subject with a very small margin for error (generally less than 5-10%). Technicians makes small modifications to the scenario based on the subject’s psychological screening, along with any special modifications requested by the company based on the subject’s need for psychological modification in certain areas and their planned duty assignments.
One novel approach taken by Disposable Heroes, Inc. is a Slumberland program where the subject believes they have been “accidentally” transferred into a parallel universe where comic book super-heroes are real. There they gain superhuman powers and become costumed heroes in their own right. This scenario has worked very well in increasing the believability of the VR experience, while allowing the subject’s normal memories and experiences to remain intact. However, it has led to subjects who so fervently believe that this “alternate” world exists that they have seriously or fatally injured themselves in vain attempts to return there and escape the normal world.
Doctor 451, a case study:
Brad Raymond, a veteran of conflicts in South America, was modified by Allied Mayhem. Comprehensive psycho-physical profiles were compiled on Raymond and analyzed by AM technicians in preparation for modification. The study indicated an above-norm interest in pyrotechnics and latent pyromania. The physical evidence suggested the potential for alpha-wave alterations, so Raymond was considered suitable for pyrotic enhancements that would allow him to channel his pyromania in a useful direction.
The profile information gathered on the subject allows technicians to program the specifics of the Slumberland scenario, including all of the various “supporting characters” that will exist in it. Generally, the subject is given a small group of opponents, known as the “Rogues Gallery” by Slumberland programmers. These characters are comic-book style villains that embody the kind of qualities that the subject is intended to fight against. They typically are anti-social elements and dangerous would-be dictators with plots to do harm to society and the things the subject cares about. Rogues galleries are sometimes programmed with the likenesses of real individuals, such as for the veterans who were modified for action in Paraguay experiencing conflicts with a likeness of the country’s then-dictator in Slumberland where he was a dangerous super-criminal and terrorist. Generally, the opposition in Slumberland is made up of amalgamations and archetypes of real individuals rather than accurate simulations.
Along with the opponents the subject is intended to fight, there are also other characters. Every scenario presents a “companion” character for the subject, usually known as “the squeeze.” Female companions are nicked named “Lois” and male companions are often referred to as “Trevor.” The companion character is tailored to the subject’s interests and preferences and provides them with a tangible person to protect and help when they are threatened by the forces of evil. Companion characters serve as objects and goals for the subject during many adventure scenarios and can help to reinforce the effects of the experience on the subject once the scenario is over through repetition and the companion’s obvious gratitude for the subject’s actions.
Generally the primary companion character will be a romantic object for the subject. There may also be additional companion characters that represent father/mother figures, siblings and other friends and loved ones to the subject. This can be useful for additional reinforcement, but generally the cast of companion characters is kept to a reasonable minimum so that they do not become distracting to the subject. The importance of the subject’s duty over even the value of any companions is regularly stressed with conversations and scenes of how the subject cannot give up their life of crusading and heroism, even for the love and affection of their companion.
Cast Study, Doctor 451 (cont.):
For supporting characters in Raymond’s scenario, a companion named “April Newman” was designed based on several different people from the subject’s background. April’s design included information from Raymond psychological background. She was made a secretary to a highly-influential corporate vice-president who was designed to be a friendly father/uncle figure for Raymond, April’s own father having “died” in the fiery explosion that gave Raymond his powers. This created a strong respect for authority and the corporate structure as well as a sense of obligation and mutual experience on the part of Raymond towards April.
For 451’s Rogues Gallery, administrators wanted to stress both anti-social/rebel elements as well as the need to deal with large numbers of opposing troops on occasion. The main antagonist, Mister Meurte, is outlined as a scientist formerly employed by the company April works for. He rebelled against his rightful employers and stole some of their technology to become a criminal terrorist. He also desires revenge against April for spurning his advances when they worked together, making him an immediate threat to Raymond’s happiness. Mr. Meurte employs a large number of faceless “goons” to carry out his bidding, opponents that Raymond can destroy in droves with fairly little concern about their welfare. Because 451 is being modified for action in the South American Zone that Allied has contracts with, Meurte is made Hispanic so that Raymond will begin to associate with the idea of having an Hispanic enemy/nemesis, improving his performance in the field.
Once all of the preliminary testing is done and the virtual environment has been programmed, the subject is immersed into the bio-support tank for what will be months of genetic modification and virtual reality. Generally the subject is sedated before being placed in the bio-tank. They go to sleep in bed and when they wake up, the world is a very different place.
The Slumberland experience begins when the subject’s mind is “locked out” of most of their conscious memories of the real world, through datalock techniques similar to those used to secure bio-drives, supplemented with drugs fed intravenously through the bio-tank. They are then fed the basics of the Slumberland VR in a compressed-feed upload that allows a lifetime of new memories to be fed to the subject in only a month or so, bringing them up to what the technicians call “the Origin Point.” These basic memories provide the foundation for the subject’s experience in Slumberland and help to “orient” them with the basic rules of the world around them.
The “origin point” is where the virtual reality programming truly begins. This is where the subject experiences a comic-book style adventure where they first acquire their strange and unusual powers, beyond those of mortal men, based on the template of the subject’s genetic enhancements. A variety of origins have been experimented with by various corporations over the years: genetic mutation, alien intervention, and magical alteration.
Generally, it has been determined that the “radiation accident” origin model is the most effective. In this situation, the subject suffers some kind of unusual or unique “accident” such as exposure to exotic radiation or chemicals, that causes them to change and gain their superhuman abilities. This model is most ideal because it allows the subject to start out “normal” and go to being superhuman with a definite identifiable cause. Other origins like the subject “discovering” he or she is actually a genetic mutant seem to be less satisfying to the subject’s need for a “cause” for their new abilities.
Case Study, Doctor 451 (cont.):
The origin scenario that evolved placed Raymond in the heart of a fiery explosion that poured flaming chemicals over him. The burning sensation from the flames was quickly replaced in the VR with a stimulation of Raymond’s endorphin-producing glands to provide a pleasurable feeling from the fire. The chemicals absorbed into Raymond’s skin and he became able to cause objects to burst into flames at will, shaping and controlling the resulting fires with mental commands. He is also highly resistant to fire and the simulation will allow him to overcome any latent fears about contact with open flames.
The subject’s origin is followed by months of simulated “adventures” designed to allow the subject to adapt to different aspects of using their genetic abilities and to allow them to be tested safely during development. The scripted adventures also serve as a form of mental conditioning that primes the subject for service in combat or whatever other area they are destined for. Some of the classic adventures include: “patrolling” the City on the lookout for crimes and stopping them in progress, being called upon by the police or government to solve a baffling series of crimes (improving respect for authority), natural disasters, rampaging monsters (often vaguely similar to out of control boosters) and super-villains attempting to capture and/or destroy the subjects (improving resistance to interrogation and reinforcing the desire to avoid capture by the enemy).
The most recent innovation to the Slumberland system is the interconnection of the different VR systems used to train subjects to allow them to interact with each other. While this has placed certain demands on “continuity” to ensure that the experiences of all of the subjects involved match up correctly, it has had tremendous benefits. The inclusion of multiple subjects strongly reinforces the “reality” of the Slumberland experience because the additional subjects are able to provide some “real” human contact and a certain random factor in social interaction that is difficult to simulate.
Subjects in Slumberland are encouraged to join or form “super-teams” where the subjects all work together against common enemies and for common goals. This provides an ideal social-bonding experience that will allow the subjects to work better as a unit in the field. It encourages feelings of team-work, cooperation and camaraderie.
Such super-teams will usually develop common adversaries and problems they need to overcome. This can be scripted in advance for groups of subjects that are intended to work together as a team or develop from the progress of the Slumberland simulation over the course of enhancement process.
Case Study, Doctor 451 (cont.):
After a few adventures with his newfound powers fighting the forces of Evil, 451 ends up meets several other people with super-abilities when they band together to fight Mister Meurte’s plot to poison a city’s water supply with his insidious mind-control drug. Following the events of their adventure together, the group decides to stick together for the greater protection of the City. They choose to call themselves the Lucky Seven at the suggestion of their wealthy patron (and Supporting Character) Mr. Brant of SilverCorp. In no time at all, the Lucky Seven have set up their secret headquarters in the City and are well on their way to becoming the premier force of good against the dark and dangerous underworld.
As described in the Underground Player’s Handbook, different organizations are experimenting with variations on the Slumberland VR theme to produce different “post-enhancement reconditioning paradigms” (PERPS) in an effort to minimalize some of the side-effects of the Freedom League VR (notably a tendency towards “superheroic” behavior after enhancement). The existence of these other VR programs to deal with metagenic feedback is nothing more than a rumor for the most part and they may not exist at all or in very different forms from the ones described here.
Abduction!: In this PERP the subject is abducted or experimented upon by extraterrestrials. The program takes advantage of information retrieved from the alien pod in combination with decades of compiled abduction stories to create a classic abduction/alteration scenario. The subject believes that their modifications have been carried out by advanced alien science (which is at least partly true). Unfortunately, this PERP does not seem overly effective, as subjects often become extremely paranoid, developing a “the truth is out there” complex about alien conspiracies to take over Earth and infect humans with their bio-technology through corporate agents. Generally, it is not the preferred origin option.
Gift of the Gods: This PERP can often be very effective for subjects that come from a highly religious/spiritual background. In this scenario, the subject is chosen by a god or gods to receive special powers that will be used to carry out divine purposes on Earth. This has ranged from the Judeo-Christian God granting miraculous gifts like “the Strength of Samson” to His followers to the Loa of Voodoo or even the Greek gods gifting special abilities to the subject. The subject’s faith in the divine image provides the rationale needed for their unusual abilities.
While this technique has proven very effective in controlling metagenic feedback syndrome, it often leads to a fanatical devotion to certain religious principles that can make the subject irrational regarding certain things. It also creates a loyalty to a “higher power” beyond that of the corporation or government the subject serves which can lead to a conflict of interests.
The Master Race: Used by the Neo-Deutch in their modification program, the Master Race scenario makes use of a great deal of Aryan propaganda and mythology about the Germans as the Master Race that is destined to overcome all others. It frames the subject’s modifications as advancements of the Race for the glory of the Fatherland. It tends to create boosted subjects that are racist and is not as effective in protecting them from metagenic feedback syndrome, so they are often sociopathic or dangerously deranged.
The Secret Masters: The secret masters are a hidden group of Illuminati of some kind or another. They may be a secret cabal of magicians, Tibetan monks, ninjas or other power group that has concealed themselves from humankind throughout history. In this scenario the Secret Masters take the subject into their care to some hidden fortress or stronghold where the subject is trained in their “esoteric arts.” The subject emerges with powers and abilities beyond those of other people along with a carefully constructed code in the use of their new abilities.
The Secret Masters PERP has been effective in developing belief and obedience in subjects. They are more willing to take orders without question if they believe these commands come from their hidden teachers. The side-effects of the program can lead to paranoia and conspiracy complexes, however. It can also lead subjects to believe that they are “above” the authority of anyone other than their secret masters.
Strange Visitor: This experimental scenario “reveals” to the subject that she is not human at all, but is in fact a “strange visitor from another planet,” an alien with powers and abilities outside of the human norm, but normal for her. This usually involves some kind of disaster scenario where the subject is one of the last of a dying or dead race. Unfortunately, the Strange Visitor scenario tends to stretch the subject’s credulity somewhat thin unless they have a strong desire to be considered part of a “special” group outside of normal humanity. It can also lead to disassociation from “humans” and a lack of respect for human authority and social conventions.
Totem: In this scenario, the subject undergoes a VR simulation of a mythical shamanic initiation. Traditionally, the subject travels to an “Otherworld” inhabited my mythical archetypes and spirits who teach the subject certain mystical secrets and grant him special powers. The subject then goes on a journey through this world that culminates in his body being broken down or torn apart and then reconstructed by spirits or other creatures that place additional “pieces” or organs within the shaman’s reconstructed form that grant him special powers. This is an effective boosting program for primitivists.
Hanging up the Mask
The process of bringing the subject out of the Slumberland experience usually takes a couple of weeks. It involves slowly re-introducing the subject’s awareness of normal reality, and will often involve a guide or helper trained in counseling to interact with the subject in VR and guide them back to reality. Many subjects react violently when the truth of their virtual experience is exposed, so councilors must be very well trained and usually get combat pay for the work (such as the councilor who was seriously injured while treating Doctor 451, who tried to use his pyrotic powers to prove that she wasn’t actually real).
It is important that the subject understands the nature of the virtual experience and what has happened as much as possible, but the valuable conditioning “cushion” provided by the Slumberland experience should be kept intact to allow the subject to deal with their genetic modifications as well as possible. This is a delicate balance, and can often be difficult to maintain. Some subjects still slip entirely into their own fantasy worlds and cannot be recovered while others become violently deranged when the truth is exposed to them.
The ideal subject accepts the truth after a fairly short re-orientation period and is able to begin training for their assigned duties. The fantasies of Slumberland are all but forgotten, but the deep unconscious conditioning that allows them to make use of their genetic enhancements is still in place and protecting them from the worst effects of metagenic feedback syndrome. Many of these subjects find themselves disillusioned after their experience in Slumberland and prefer to avoid any references or reminders of it thereafter. This can make them cynical and less social, but generally serves them well in the field.
Some subjects cannot be entirely extracted from virtual reality. Their experience in Slumberland has had such a strong affect on them that they have lost the ability to tell fantasy from reality. A great many of these subjects become convinced that their experience in the Freedom League VR was real and that they are in fact the costumed heroes they were made out to be. This proves to be a comfortable fantasy for many modification subjects when compared to the harsh realities of everyday life. These people continue to act out their comic book fantasies in the real world, using their enhancements (both real and perceived) as if they were still in VR. This has led to some disastrous consequences when veterans have attempted to apply “comic book physics” to real world situations, even more so when they attempt to apply comic book social or psychological ideas to real-world people.
Finally, in some rare cases, extraction from the cushion of the Slumberland VR actually triggers metagenic feedback syndrome in some subjects. These individuals become dangerous deranged and require considerable treatment and counseling before they can be deployed in the field (assuming they are ever fit to be deployed at all). These are the failures of the Slumberland program, but they are few and far between because of the rigorous screening and testing programs.
Case Study, Doctor 451 (cont.):
The removal of Raymond from Slumberland took place some fourteen months after his immersion in the support tank for his enhancement. The process began with a councilor being introduced into the VR storyline as a Supporting Character, then introducing herself to Raymond during an adventure. She slowly worked with Raymond to bring him to an awareness of certain facets of the Freedom League world while also working to re-awaken memories of the real world as neuro-stimulants and chemical neutralizers were fed into his system to prepare Raymond for his awakening.
Like most subjects, Raymond initially denied the reality of the councilor’s statements and believed that it was part of some plot to take over or alter his mind. Continual patience and additional evidence began to convince Raymond of the truth of what he was hearing. Although the councilor recommended an additional four weeks of preparatory therapy, Raymond was disconnected from the VR because of unexpected scheduling delays in his genetic enhancements that put him behind schedule.
While subjects of Slumberland are re-integrated back into normal society as much as possible, there are still numerous aftereffects of the VR that linger for years after the experience. Some of these side-effects come from the way in which the experience allows the subject to deal with their new enhancements. The subject retains certain aspects of the “comic book” reality of Slumberland in their personality, often making them seem quite deranged according to “normal” standards. There have been some attempts to vary the ‘genre’ of the Slumberland experience according to different comic-book sources to provide some kind of common-ground that will leave fewer side-effects. So far, the different VR’s seem only to produce different, but no less disconcerting, side-effects (such as the VR programs used in other nations where comic books are not a well-known medium).
The Slumberland Campaign
A very interesting variation for an Underground campaign is the “Slumberland Kick-Off.” The gamemaster informs the players about a super-hero campaign, and outlines the basics of a super-hero game world. The players create characters using the gamemaster’s guidelines for powers and abilities. The gamemaster leads the characters through their origin stories and meeting the other characters to form a super-team. The team has several adventures fighting villains and protecting the innocent from harm. They become well known and beloved super-heroes of their community.
Then the gamemaster reveals the truth. The world that the characters thought was real is actually Slumberland. The characters are subjects undergoing genetic modification for one of the major corporations and they are about to be taken out of Slumberland and de-briefed and re-oriented for their first mission for the company. A councilor is assigned to the characters after they are taken out of VR and the GM can play out debriefing the boggled characters and readjusting them to “normal” life before sending them out into the killing fields of the Middle East, Asia or South America to bust heads for their parent corporation. This kind of campaign can form an interesting prelude to an Underground campaign that takes place after the characters have all mustered out (or gone AWOL) from their units and been reunited by circumstance later in their lives.
Super-Powers (Slumberland Only)
If the gamemaster desires, the following new Enhancements can be used in the context of the Slumberland VR. These enhancements are impossible according to modern science, but they do simulate some of the abilities that characters will encounter (and perhaps even possess) in the virtual world of the Freedom League. Characters that possess one or more of these abilities in Slumberland might suffer from the delusion that they still possess them in the real world and act accordingly, trying to walk through walls or see through solid objects, for example.
These abilities have a listed Base Cost and Potency, but no Max or Stress because they don’t really exist and can’t be used outside of the Slumberland VR. The gamemaster may wish to allocate characters additional “dream points” to allow them to purchase some of these more fantastic powers or simply give them out for free and let the players have fun with them in VR until they get hit with the problems of the real world.
Energy Bolt (Base Cost: 5, Potency: 2): This power allows the character to fire bolts of energy from her hands, eyes, etc. The bolt has a damage value equal to its Unit Rating and uses the character’s DEX for the to-hit Challenge.
Energy Field (Base Cost: 10, Potency: 3): Energy Field surrounds the character’s body with a protective field of energy that allows the character to add their Unit Rating to their RES rating for Penetration in combat.
Magic (Base Cost: 30, Potency: 4): This very potent ability allows the character to mimic the following enhancements: Energy Bolt, Energy Field, Flight and Illusion.
Morphing (Base Cost: 20, Potency: 3): The subject can alter her shape at will into any other life form. The Units of the power can be added to any attribute to simulate the effects of the shape-change (such as adding to STR and RES for changing into a bear).
Phantom (Base Cost: 15, Potency: 3): The subject can pass through solid matter by making a Phantom Challenge against the RES of the material. The units of Phantom also add to RES for resisting Penetration in combat.
Stretch (Base Cost: 5, Potency: 1): The character can stretch his body a number of units of distance equal to the Units of the power.
Teleport (Base Cost: 20, Potency: 3): The character can move instantly a number of Units distance equal to the Units of the power without crossing the intervening space.
X-Ray Vision (Base Cost: 10, Potency: 1): The character can see through solid objects by making a Challenge against the RES of the object. There is one material that the character cannot see through.
Note that some or all of these powers might also be used as alternative models of existing enhancements a character has been given. For example, a character with the Chitin enhancement might believe in Slumberland that their power is a protective force field. A character with certain alpha wave enhancements might play the role of a “master magician” character in Slumberland and so forth. The GM and players should feel free to play around with the “special effects” assigned to a characters enhancements in Slumberland to give them a little variety and a “hero” identity that might be quite different from their actual enhancement program.