In 2050, virtual reality is as common as the wheel. Soldiers use it for training, universities use it for instruction, and everybody uses it for fun. Prisons use it for rehabilitation.
Purgatory is a simulated city employed by governments across the globe to reform convicts into productive members of society. It’s as close to reality as you can get: people get sick and injured, they need to eat and sleep, and everybody has to work for their living. Those who get along, practice a trade, and obey the law can shave years off their sentences.
Those who return to lives of crime, or get caught hacking the system, are punished. Harshly. Still, many are willing to risk it for profit, power, or just for a few minutes of contact with the outside world. Hackers can do all kinds of things...
Making a habit of this sort of thing will rack up a life sentence in short order. That’s why the people who do it are called “Lifers.” Many of them have amassed so much power and influence inside that they’d rather stay in Purgatory forever. They’ve made themselves at home.
Modern Day Sci-Fi
Despite being set in the not-too-distant future, and despite its high-tech premise, Purgatory is intended for use as a modern-day setting. People use cellphones, watch television, and drive cars that roll along the ground. It’s the world you know, just a few years down the line.
Feel free to inject little bits of future-tech here and there, but try to keep things as “normal” as you can. First off, it’ll make the setting easier for your players to pick up. A game of Purgatory will require much less explanation than the other two Terrible Vistas. Second, it’ll provide contrast for you action scenes, when the sci-fi hackery and wire-fu weirdness really kick in.
Not that there aren’t still risks. Anyone who draws the Wardens’ attention gets disconnected from the system. This can be done remotely, but Wardens often expedite matters by tearing the suspect’s avatar in half. It hurts like hell. (Feeling the pain of death is therapeutic for violent criminals, or so the theory goes.)
They wake up in a tiny, windowless pod, tubes and wires flowing through their bodies like thread through a loom. Depending on how much they’ve pissed off the Wardens, they may remain in this state for minutes, hours, or days. It’s called “wake-up time.”
When they decide they want to talk, the suspect is reconnected and their avatar inserted into a City Hall interrogation room. Wardens will threaten them, lie to them, offer them deals, try to turn them into a snitch, or just let them stew. If you want out, you’d better be prepared to give them something. It’s like paying Charon to ferry you across the River Styx.
After that, you just have to deal with whatever got you in trouble in the first place.
For the most part, however, the inmates are allowed to govern themselves. Too much supervision would render the simulation useless for rehabilitation. Wardens only investigate capital crimes and system hacks. If you want justice for a petty crime, like theft or extortion, you’ll have to turn to...
Disciplined, professional, and connected, this corporate cabal is for serious criminals. They draw from such esteemed legacies as the Yakuza and the Cosa Nostra. Personal loyalty is valued above all else.
Officially, the Outfit provides security and arbitration for paying members, but they also maintain a vast network of halfway houses and traffic in all manner of contraband. Wiseguys patrol the streets and keep the other gangs in line. Bosses maintain friendly relationships with Wardens.
Racists of any stripe can find a tribe to call their own. Goose-stepping Neo-Nazi tribes, Bible-thumping fundamentalist tribes, voodoo tribes, Asian tribes, Brazilian tribes, even French-Canadian UFO-worshipping tribes. (Well, probably only one of those.)
They value purity above all else, however they define the term. Tribes are known for muscling “others” out of an area and then guarding it jealously. These territories aren’t very stable; tribes seem to form, break up, and migrate all the time. Their turf wars are eternal.
Some people believe so strongly in victimless crimes that they go out of their way to perpetrate them. Libertines run illegal spaces for gambling and prostitution, but they also take care of their own. Their pimps and legbreakers can, and do, throw down with wiseguys every day of the week.
The business of vice also lends itself to blackmail, which is how the Libertines extort favors from the Wardens. (Few people are principled enough to resist temptation forever.) Libertines don’t acknowledge bosses or ranks, but one’s influence is directly tied to the number of dirty secrets locked away in one’s databases.
Most governments who run a Purgatory encourage the formation of trade unions, but they don't wield much power. Like gangs, they provide security and arbitration for their members, but they rarely run their own rackets. This limits their popularity and income, which limits their influence.
However, a union that maintains a monopoly on technical expertise can bring any gang to its knees. Unions for private security can give them a good run for their blood money, as can bankers’ and sex workers’ unions. Finally, some unions are just tribes in blue collars; they thrive on the same mix of contraband and extortion.
Seven Deadly Weaknesses
Wrath - More than mere anger or violence, Wrath is the love of vengeance. Wrathful characters can't let evil deeds go unpunished, even when it's the smart thing to do.
Greed - A dangerous Weakness, Greed motivates one to take whatever they can and give nothing back. If a Greedy character has a chance to steal or rob, they take it. Period.
Pride - The Prideful simply cannot let a challenge or an insult go unanswered. Whether they think they're the fastest gun in the (virtual) west or the world's greatest criminal mastermind, they're 100% ego.
Lust - Men, women, whatever. Lustful characters aren't necessarily violent, but they're defintely obsessed. They'll always choose to chase the object of their obsession over wiser goals.
Sloth - Don't think sloth just means laziness. The Slothful will take the fastest, quickest, easiest path to any goal. If killing someone is easier than persuading or deceiving them, then killing is what they'll do.
Gluttony - There's something you just can't get enough of. Maybe it's booze. Maybe it's drugs. Maybe it's racing a motorcycle down crowded streets at breakneck speeds. The only restriction is this: it can’t be good for you.
Envy - The envious want what someone else has, someone specific. Maybe they want their boss’ job or their best friend’s girl. Whatever it is, they’ll do anything and betray anyone to get it.
Your heroes are all convicts, but that doesn’t have to mean they’re bad people. When some more-or-less law-abiding Union members are all wronged by the same Lifer, they team up for sweet, juicy revenge. They wait until he’s on the brink of war with a hostile tribe, then do their damnedest to push things over the edge.
Now, your heroes are the unseen third side in a hate triangle. They can use the chaos to get close and assassinate their target, or they can make sure his side loses spectacularly. They could set him up for a fall, letting either his higher-ups or an ambitious subordinate pull the trigger. Make sure Wrath and Envy are on your players’ characters sheets and you’ll be all set for some serious fireworks.
Great Lifers to Hate:
Great Places to Serve Something Cold:
Your boss is being blackmailed. Here’s what you’re gonna do about it. First, stake out a ransom drop and identify the culprit. Second, figure out where they’re hiding the blackmail and destroy it. Third, bust the bastard’s kneecaps with a nine iron.
Here’s the thing: It turns out the culprit is a Warden who has his own blackmailer to pay. When he catches you sniffing around, he might hire a tribe to keep you busy or just find an excuse to put you in wake-up time. Either way, the only solution is to help the Warden solve his problem... or steal his dirty secrets for yourself.
Great Places to Chase a Blackmailer:
Great Places to Secure a Secret:
It takes more than a red pill to break out of Purgatory. Your best bet is to swap IDs with some patsy who’s already scheduled to be released. That kind of hack requires inside access to City Hall and/or the pods themselves. Getting yourself arrested is a good start, but then you’ll have to break out of the interrogation room and make your way through the glass labyrinth that is City Hall. Better bring a mighty fine distraction, like a city-wide riot.
I can’t recommend setting the climax of your escape in the real world, since you’ll be weak and naked and totally devoid of wire-fu. Instead, your heroes can access a VR copy of the real world pod facility, track down their bodies, and make the switch. Once their bodies are disconnected, consider them home free.
Great Places to Escape: