The Veil: Cascade
Hello friends! Long time no talk. I’m in the mood to read an indie game and talk about it.
I got my physical copy of Cascade last week? Maybe a couple weeks ago? I’ve read through it, because later this year I wanna run The Veil in a really serious and focused way. Here are some takeaways:
Cascade is very weird
The core conceit of Cascade is that it’s The Veil but further in the future. Everyone’s mind is encoded on chips, a la Altered Carbon, and the characters have all been imperfectly re-sleeved (they call sleeves “slacks” and imperfect slacks are called “glitches”). So you’ve got incomplete memories of your previous lives and now you live in kind of a confusing future.
What makes this so weird to me is that the premise is just…there. I really don’t see much procedural support for the missing memories stuff, the transhumanist sleeving stuff, none of it. It’s just like you’re telling the players “yup, you’ve been resleeved, now play.” Which is okay I guess! But not very ummm PbtA-y.
Fraser provides a couple frameworks for grabbing onto this: either you continue a campaign that was set in The Veil forward X years/centuries, or you start out in The Far Future. In either case you answer more Aspect questions, which I guess does get you to build out a slack/glitch oriented setting. I dunno. I wish there were common moves related to your glitchiness like there are for dealing with The Veil itself.
There are several new playbooks that seem like they’d fit right into The Veil itself, with or without the Cascade campaign updates. Just skimming the moves, I didn’t see anything that spoke directly to being sleeved or being glitchy.
There’s also a new “peripheral move” that lets you declare a flashback moment. I mean I guess this is where you glitch out? I’m not super feeling what impact it’s supposed to have on play, other than, you know, narrating a flashback and spiking out one of your emotions. Maybe that’s all that’s needed? I dunno!
There is some very solid practical advice
I think my favorite bit of practical advice comes in the form of deciding whether you’re going to build the world up from the playbooks that were selected (kind of the fallback PbtA position, yeah?), or if the playbook choices will emerge from a setting that’s created first. They’re both good options! But this section of the book really highlighted for me what I initially misread about The Veil: the playbooks aren’t super-weird so much as super-iconic of other cyberpunk media. I guess despite rather extensive reading of the genre I missed many/most of the playbook references. I think I liked it better when I didn’t know the sources for most of them.
Anyway, yeah, it’s solid advice. I have no idea which way I’ll go with it when we run the game later this year. Probably playbook-first, and have the world accrete around the players’ choices. (Fraser recommends setting-first if you’re doing a one-shot, which seems utterly vital.)
Experience is now based on answering Questions instead of pursuing Beliefs
This is probably way more core to capturing the glitch/sleeve experience than I’m giving it credit for. Instead of pursuing Beliefs, Burning Wheel style, in Cascade you write three Questions. There’s better guidance on writing Questions than there was Beliefs in The Veil, so that’s nice. I’d love to know how the feel changes, but it’s so core to the game (assuming your players actually want to chase XPs) that I guess the only way to explore both is to start in The Veil and advance to Cascade down the road. Feels weird.
The setting ideas that come with **Cascade* all seem super interesting*
Other than “Holistic Blame,” which is so directly derived from Altered Carbon that it kind of soured me for a couple days. It really drove home for me the feeling that the Cascade iteration of the game is more self-aware of its genre emulating than The Veil felt to me. More on that below.
The other settings are nifty though, and I could totally see jumping in on one as a one-shot as well. Johnstone Metzger wrote one called “Day Traders” where the premise is that you can rent access to your personal experience to rich people, Being John Malkovich style. That drives home the sleeve/glitch stuff way harder for me than the unadorned Cascade meta-campaign conceits.
I was excited to finally read about Kira Magrann’s mermaid vampires! It just exudes bouncy enthusiasm for its subject — basically it’s a night of clubbing — and it’s probably hilarious as a one-shot.
The last one, “Upcycle” by Dana Cameron (three of them pop up in my Plus autocomplete and I don’t know which one they are) I still can’t quite wrap my head around. It feels inaccessible — it’s a post-cyberpunk post-apocalypse setting where you’re inside a cat — and pushes the transhumanism possibilities of Cascade farther than anything else. I feel like I need to read it again.
The opening essay is interesting and I disagree with lots of it
To be clear: disagreement is super okay! It’s provocative and it makes me think hard about my own relationship with the subject matter. Me disagreeing does not in any way mean the author is “wrong.”
A lot of material in the essay has to do with fitting The Veil into the “waves” of cyberpunk literature. This is another place where I feel like The Veil is more interesting when it’s a standalone creation than a rigid genre emulation. Why does the game need to fit into the genre’s history? I personally feel creatively resistant to the idea of running or understanding the game that way.
They ran the book off the PDF and it’s missing important stuff
Okay, I’m actively bugged by this. The big bit of missing material is the “plugins,” which are basically compendium classes from Dungeon World. I love that these exist! But you can only get the content as separate PDFs. They’re not in the physical book at all and that is so aggravating.
There are also references in their “Appendix N” that just say like “A pinterest board for The Veil is here.” And obviously “here” is a link in the PDF. Oh but it isn’t. I’ve got the PDF open right now as I write this and all those “here” things aren’t linked to anything.
The editing and development are mostly better than in **The Veil’s* first printing*
I’m so glad they hired outside editing. Yay! It shows. Please do this again. And forever going forward.
Anyway, I’m left with a final feeling that Cascade feels tricky to use if you’ve never run The Veil, but it’s also full of material you really ought to consider using if you’re just starting, too. It’s less of a recipe book than I had hoped for, in that I feel like I need to really read and internalize everything in the book before I can start the meal.