The Year of the Cyberpunk?


As if the upcoming release of Cyberpunk 203x from R. Talsorian wasn't enough, on January 1, 2001, two new homegrown Cyberpunk-themed Role-Playing Games were released online. One of these, Iconoclast, comes with the disclaimer that I personally worked on it (so yes, I do have a personal stake in announcing this). The other, Emancy, is the work of Alex Peake.

As if the upcoming release of Cyberpunk 203x from R. Talsorian wasn't enough, on January 1, 2001, two new homegrown Cyberpunk-themed Role-Playing Games were released online. One of these, Iconoclast, comes with the disclaimer that I personally worked on it (so yes, I do have a personal stake in announcing this). The other, Emancy, is the work of Alex Peake.

Iconoclast is set in the year 2100, a world rife with political maneuverings, the threat of war, and the presence of numerous new genotypes thanks to decades of genetic tinkering. It combines gothic elements with more traditional cyberpunk themes, and uses a custom FORGE engine based on percentile dice. The system is primarily skill-based, and overall places more of an emphasis on role-playing than on dice-rolling.

Emancy is a relative mystery to most, since the project has been shrouded in relative secrecy since it was announced several months ago. Its creator has let us know that it's being developed under the "Open Source" d20 system, which means it uses the same engine as Dungeons and Dragons 3e and the forthcoming Star Wars RPG.

But do either of these new game systems stand a chance, especially amongst the hundreds of "homegrown" games currently available online? Cyberpunk games as a whole have never really caught on like fantasy-themed games, although between FASA's Shadowrun, Steve Jackson's GURPS Cyberpunk and the aforementioned R. Talsorian Cyberpunk, it's maintained a farirly large niche in the gaming market for quite some time.

With the stunning failure of the Dungeons and Dragons movie, it might seem that the time is right for a resurgance of all things Cyberpunk this year. After all, rumor has it that Terminator 3 and Total Recall 2 are on their way to theatres. But then again, the Dungeons and Dragons RPG has been selling like wildfire, so perhaps fantasy will continue to dominate the market for a few more years.

What do you think? Do you have a favorite Cyberpunk RPG? Do you care? Do you think this whole cybernonsense should just go away?

Cyberpunk and fantasy aren't competitors. A decline in fantasy RPG playing does not mean that people are playing cyberpunk instead; it means that they aren't playing any RPG at all. (It seems to me.)

Don't have too much faith in sequels.

I agree with dhoward. Some people just prefer fantasy, some just prefer cyberpunk. Personally, I can hardly stand fantasy. Unfortunately, the majority of RPGs (paper and dice oriented, for instance) are fantasy oriented. Even cyberpunkish RPGs such as Shadowrun have fantasy elements in them.

Cyberpunk, in my opinion, still tends to be more underground. Anyone can make up and envision fantasy. It's harder to make up and envision cyberpunk, though. Scifi has always been a harder realm to deal in, because you have predictions to deal with, new technologies to invent, new ways of life and speech to make up, conflicting visions on how things will turn out, etc. It's easier to go back in time to what's already happened, examine the ways of life, the technologies, the speech patterns and what not, then create an alternate reality based there. There are even people so bold as to suggest that unicorns really did exist, in the Biblical sense, but were left off of Noah's Ark because they refused to go along. That's how easy it is for people to deal with fantasy.

People will more often tend to be drawn to a lighter, more fantastical, mythical, magical time and place, with a simpler life style. More people want utopia; fewer thrive on dystopia. While people like Gibson have come to be praised for what they've written, that's not necessarily what they wanted. Gibson didn't write his Sprawl trilogy as a dream - he wrote it more as a warning. Neuromancer was meant to warn us of just what could happen to us if we let technology run wild and unwatched. And yet, people dream for days of neural interface jacks, fast and hard lives, artificial intelligences watching over us... We're still a minority, however. It's considered more anti-social than to be fantasy oriented, because anyone can fantasize. It takes a more interesting twist on the mind to dream of a post-industrial techno-intrusive future.

I prefer Cyberpunk. I guess I am a rare soul that enjoys both the fantasy as well as hard Sci-Fi. You can be gauranteed that I will be picking up the new version of the Cyberpunk rules as soon as the cash makes itself available.

Although I prefer post-apocalyptic setting such as Deadlands : Wasted West and Fallout, I don't have any problem playing in either fantasy or cyberpunk. The reason I'm mentioning this is that liking one does not exclude liking the other. So if you didn't like the cyberpunk setting (and thus didn't buy RPG setting on it) you wouldn't start to because your favorite fantasy setting let you down. You would just stop buying that fantasy setting and search for something better, or stop altogether.

I forgot to mention that if someone likes both settings then a decline in one, will propably bring an increased interest in the other

I prefer cyberpunk RPGs (fiction as well) however I continually find myself playing nothing but fantasy (namely AD&D) because that's what the people around me are willing to run.

In my experience the RPGs people play are largely determined by what their GMs are willing and able to run. What I think really hurts the cyberpunk genre is the fact that both of the major systems are significantly more complex than D&D (particularly 3rd edition). I would like to see FASA or R. Tal come out with some really good computer software that would make running their games easier but this won't happen any time soon.

My two cents on R. Tal and Cyberpunk":

I've always preferred Cyberpunk and cyberpunk in its various iterations (even the old "7.62 NATO does 11d6 damage days) to fantasy. There's a better vibe to Cyberpunk, for me... one's acts of heroism or villainy stand out more in a twilight world than in fantasy's bright sunlight and dark shadows, and players are often driven to do right because they can, rather than because they're the "good guys." They're also less likely to be bastards because they've got a little power.

My problem was, inevitably, a party that focused more on the Cyber side of things while I was more prone to the noir-y, street-level Punk side. It took work to wean people off of the guns-too-much mentality, and the game mechanics didn't help.

I was (and am) troubled by the odd caste feeling within the different professions. Solos, Netrunners and Nomads were, inevitably, the way to go if one was not playing a cop-based or corporation-based game. The techie system was oddly vague so it didn't draw people as much, and fixers and medias tended to be special effects more than first-tier roles ("We need bigger guns. Fixer, gun us up real good!").

Ironically,I tend to think R. Talsorian did the best job of presenting a good Cyberpunk game with Cybergeneration, Cyberpunk 2020's bastard child. The tech was sufficiently inaccessible to be impressive, the stakes were higher and, at the end of the day, the characters were all a bunch of punk kids with nothing to lose... and they all had something to immediately contribute. Those stories do more for me than the adventures of the Six Million Eurodollar Solo and his merry crew of uber-pros.

To dhoward: How is something so similar inable to compete with something similar? If that were true then why would a person ever have more than one friend at a time, and if they had a fight, would that person never have another friend again? No. The truth is all RPGs are technically in competition with one another. I personally have three and a bit shelves worth of RPGs most of which I try to exercise as often as possible. But then again, for numerous reasons i am an exceptional person. ;P

To aeon: Personally I love C-Punk 2020 to bits but am finding that it just isn't quite so shiny and new. Thusly I am slowly (at best) working on my own setting and rules for a cyberpunkish RPG. I believe that Cyberpunk as a genre is a more underground thing, the same sort of feel as alternative music has - not all that many like it, but those that do love it - and that it will always have a place in the world alongside us.

But, I am only Human, so I can be wrong. Bye.

My impression is that emotionally Cpunk and elfBoy players are looking for a different emotional experience out of their games and so they are unlikely to mix.

To me the fun part of running Cpunk is creating the world of the near future for shock value- giving them 20 years of Future Shock in one session. That, and cpunk lends itself to dark humor ala Robocop, which doesn't work well in dragonworld.

A fun technique to try is creating NPCs which could be the players or ref aged to that time. You don't actually say that's them, just their potential future selves.

As far as the techie player is concerned, it's true that you can't build campaigns around them (just like netrunners, it's a loner gig), but if you have the mindset you can do large amounts of damage with them. Just get the guy who loves creating dungeon traps and you'll do okay.

Yeah, weaning people off the heavy weapons is tough- same problem in the various iterations of Traveller. In Cpunk the way to do it is have the weapons betray them just like the cybernetics- ohhh lookie, your new BFG 2020 is awesome but is chipped to broadcast your whereabouts and disable at a command from Arasaka- looks like that home-lathed Browning 9mm is looking better and better...