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Web Enhancement 09/14/2004

d20 Future
The VRNet
By Rodney Thompson

The d20 Future book covers most aspects of a futuristic game, but one concept it does not address in detail is virtual reality. This web enhancement by author Rodney Thompson presents the virtual reality network, or VRNet, with detailed information about its history, hardware, and software, as well as avatars (virtual reality representations of users), and the new prestige class called the Cybernaut.


A virtual reality network (VRNet) is, in simple terms, a graphical representation of computer-generated structures placed in various digital locations and configurations. Comparable to the Internet of the 21st century, the VRNet is a nexus for all information accessible via computers. In the VRNet, corporate networks join with public forums, personal domains intersect with top-secret government databases, and users can explore a digital landscape as though moving from place to place in the real world. The difference between a virtual reality network and the Internet of old is that the VRNet immerses its users in a world that seems entirely real rather than simply scrolling text and images across a computer screen. The VRNet functions in three dimensions and is, in essence, another world waiting to be explored.

The VRNet develops toward the end of Progress Level 5 and continues to evolve throughout PL 6 and 7. In many respects, the VRNet exists parallel to the real world, though it is actually just a visual illusion of a three-dimensional space created by an artful combination of data and software. A staple of many science fiction campaigns, the VRNet is the equivalent of the fantasy genre's "alternate dimension" -- a place where heroes can go to continue their adventures beyond the humdrum world in which they exist. Like the modern-day Internet, the VRNet is also a tool for the storage, exchange, and theft of information.

Despite its sophistication, the VRNet is not solely the domain of hackers and network administrators, and high levels of technical savvy are not required to use it. The VRNet is as much an instrument of the masses as it is a mystifying "otherworld" wrapped in billions of lines of computer code. Schoolchildren use the VRNet to take virtual field trips and do research for class projects. Scientists perform complicated and dangerous experiments in the safety of a virtual world in which simulations can predict all possible outcomes. College students meet old friends in computer-generated coffeehouses to chat, even though they are physically separated by thousands (or even millions) of miles.

Any product or activity that can be found or performed on the modern Internet is also available on the VRNet. Research, communication, information warfare, espionage, blackmail, entertainment, and even romance can all be found somewhere in the cyberlanes. However, the VRNet presents a far more interactive experience than the Internet can. The VRNet wraps its users in a complete three-dimensional world that provides a sense of movement and even tactile sensations when used in conjunction with the proper equipment. The VRNet can also be more dangerous to the user's mental stability than the Internet, since long-term immersion in a virtual world can fool the mind and body into thinking it is real. This problem is compounded by the fact that avatars (the virtual online representations of individual users) are not merely vessels for movement and interaction -- they can also be used to attack other avatars and inflict harm upon other VRNet users.

About the Author

Rodney Thompson is a writer and developer from Chattanooga, Tennessee whose credits include the Star Wars Hero's Guide and the d20 Future book for Wizards of the Coast, The Noble's Handbook and Mutants and Masterminds Annual #1 for Green Ronin, among others. Additionally, he was on the writing team for the Origins Award-nominated Stargate SG-1 Roleplaying Game and continues to work on sourcebooks for the Stargate product line. Rodney's work appears regularly in the pages of Dungeon Magazine.

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