[generic] RPG a day lockdown #69 - what makes cyberpunk special?

#2
I believe that cyberpunk's comparatively large footprint among roleplaying games is a accident of history, largely down to the legacy of Shadowrun (which is only loosely cyberpunk) and Cyperbunk 2020. I mean the genre has been all but dead in literature for decades, but new cyberpunk games still keep getting released.

What I think the gaming public really want is near future action adventure; lots of gun-fu with a whiff of sci-fi to provide the wow factor and a steady supply of Macguffins.

Even so I quite like cyberpunk games. It's quite relatable, possibly a little too relatable.
 
#3
Shoot guns and spot technobabble whilst dressing cool and sticking it to “The Man”. I think it’s anti-corporation counter-culture appeals to many if not most role-players. Possibly about like the gamers’ equivalent of a night out at a high-tech disco. And the Nerd is the secret weapon.

As you’ll guess, not a genre I’ve frequented much in gaming.

Follpowing a hint dropped by an acquaintance and different - but related - connective thread I’m following is games-within-games stuff like TRON, The Matrix, Jumanji, Second Life etc.
 
#4
In terms of why the punters like it, could it be because the basic cyberpunk adventure template is going on a heist? And folk simply like doing heists.

My reasons for liking cyberpunk:
  • I devoured cyberpunk novels when the genre was in vogue.
  • I loved the Max Headroom TV drama series. And Blade Runner.
  • Heists, as above.
  • It's near future science fiction.
  • Cybernetics/cyberware is the equivalent of getting a +1 sword or potion of invisibility in D&D. But your character can buy cyberware. With actual money.
  • There is stuff in the setting about gang warfare, drug runners, wealth inequalities, corporations as powerful as governments, marginalised people... no, wait a minute... that's the real world... I need to go lie down! :)
 
#5
This may be a silly answer, but to me, what makes Cyberpunk special is basically, William Gibson. His first three novels were my best, especially, Neuromancer and also Mona Lisa Overdrive. Also, Phliip K. Dick, because obviously, androids do dream of electric sheep.

However, to run a game in this genre, I was looking for a fast dynamic system, having been burned with d20 Future.

Luckily, Fantasy Flight Games save the genre for me in RPGs with their Genesys Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk RPG.
The narrative dice, make the action fast, over the top and cool. And the narrative nature help make failures interesting, and even offer complications for what would have just been successes in d20 Future.

Obviously, the Powered by The Apocalypse engine is good for this too, but I enjoy a more traditional RPG engine, and PbTA focuses too much on Playbooks rather than the game world.

On a personal level, even today, when I write software code, I must listen to 80s synthwave to get into the mindflow.

My original book cover was not so cool, but now that we have cooler stuff like this, enjoy the art and music below:

cover_mona_list_overdrive.jpg
 
#7
For me some things are cool - fighting against oppression, heists, and near future high tech science fiction.

But there's things I don't like as seen in my brush with some cyberpunk RPGs - player characters as amoral mercenaries in such a setting, and the retrofuture technology as envisioned in the 1980s. And some stuff in RPGs I remember as being absurd - hacking off a limb and replacing with a superior cyber limb for instance. Oh and so many different stats for slightly different guns. Not the sort of detail that interests me.

Though I loved playing the Android setting with the Genesys system.

So... conflicted. But there's good stuff that's cyberpunk-adjacent. And fun cyberpunk-adjacent settings; I'm thinking for instance of Transhuman Space and Eclipse Phase. I'm even writing a cyberpunk-adjacent game for Gumshoe.
 
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First Age

D&D h@ck3r and Hopepunk
Staff member
#8
Implicitely dystopic, with technology advancing and society retracting, there can be a delicious souless and lost quality to the underdogs fighting back against authority. I like the way the near future setting is like our own but stretched and distended, strking familiar and discordant notes in the same moment. A mix of marvel and despair, style over substance. It helps that I like 80s synth.

As it so happens, I have some excellent RPGs that can jack me in to those places. The Sprawl gives me Gibson. The Veil takes me to the Matrix, with a synthesis of digital and reality, where the former is more true than the latter. Genesys gives me the excellent Android setting.

Not my go to genre or style, but I quite like it.
 
#10
But there's things I don't like as seen in my brush with some cyberpunk RPGs - player characters as amoral mercenaries in such a setting, and the retrofuture technology as envisioned in the 1980s. And some stuff in RPGs I remember as being absurd - hacking off a limb and replacing with a superior cyber limb for instance. Oh and so many different stats for slightly different guns. Not the sort of detail that interests me.
That pretty much was Cyberpunk 2020. Chucked in everything but the kitchen sink hardware wise, often to absurd effect as you say e.g. cyberarms with concealed guns the size of an SLR. I did play in a short campaign where the GM was a fan of Elmore Leonard and used his Florida novels as inspiration for a setting. We all worked for a private detective agency. Found that more interesting than the default setting of zooming around "Night City" nicking stuff and blowing other stuff up. Still didn't feel much like cyberpunk as envisioned by William Gibson though.
 

Guvnor

The Guvnor
Staff member
#11
I would like to play Genesys Android.
Ditto Cyberpunk Red when B it's released.
For me it's Chrome contrasting with grime; Corporate dystopia is a clear and present enemy; 80s synth; HEIST
 
#12
Reading Gibson's books I like how they're set in real places: Tokyo, London, Paris etc but there's just this extra layer that makes them slightly off kilter from what we know or expect them to be e.g. Turner plugging in a Spanish language skill soft when he's on the beach in Mexico. It's the familiar world just bent out of shape slightly.

I still want to play Tank War Europa.
 

Ezio

Administrator
Staff member
#13
This may be a silly answer, but to me, what makes Cyberpunk special is basically, William Gibson.
No, I'd agree with you. I was just the right age when Neuromancer first came out, and it absolutely blew me away. In spite of the slightly dated vision of the future and the failure to anticipate mobile technology, the original Sprawl trilogy still makes for very compelling reading. I'd also add Burning Chrome, the short stories collection that goes with it. Although the eponymous story was made into a dire film, it's a great read. There's also a marvellously poignant story about a kid playing a holographic dogfight game against a crippled war veteran in his local arcade. There were other good authors at the time as well - Walter Jon Williamson and Neal Stephenson spring to mind - but none really had quite the same flair as Gibson.

I think it's wrong to consider all Cyberpunk characters as cynical, amoral mercenaries, although this was certainly a popular image in some quarters. For me, what is attractive was the way that ruthless professionalism was often mixed with flashes of humanity and idealism. To use Gibson as an example, Molly and Turner are both hardened professional killers on one level, but both show a great deal of humanity in certain ways, and both have codes of honour that they won't violate. For me, cyberpunk was always about the humanity of the individual contrasting with the inhumanity of government, corporations and the super-rich.
 
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