Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Holidays!

Tis the season to be naughty, Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!

Whatever holiday you celebrate, eat & drink well, fuck hard, and enjoy your bounties.

Happy Holidays, you awesome motherfuckers! _\,,/


Sunday, November 4, 2018

My DriveThruRPG POD Haul

For those do don't know, the DriveThruRPG website offers not just game books in a digital Portable Document Format (PDF), but also physical Print-On-Demand (POD) copies, much like with Lulu.com. I have a TON of PDFs on my computer and backups storage mediums (disks, USB sticks, etc.), along with a small tablet to read them, and I love that I have access to a lot of gaming resources (legal or otherwise) at my finger-tip, but I also like to run games with actual physical books instead of fumbling through a sea of digital files that cannot be booked-marked or recalled with any amount of speed. Here is something about having books right there at your desk and in your shelf. Plus, a number of the current PODs are for old, discontinued products, with a good number providing extra income to their creator (although, I could care less about WotC or who ever took over White Wolf Publishing).

Mind you, in a number of cases, retro-clone POD books are cheap enough to buy out of hand, but I still have to save-up for them. It this case, I had to save up for months to buy these "big books":

OK, firstly, months back I got the re-print of the classic Empire of the Petal Throne: The World of Tékumel.

For a while I was reading through some pirated PDFs about the setting and fell in love with it. It is a rich and beautiful backdrop deep in history and culture. To me, this is true fantasy, as its far beyond the mundane and ordinary fantasy we see everywhere today. This is not a setting like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms where you can jump right in without effort. Tékumel requires a bit of research (and some mental adjustment) to get into. I know this is really off-putting to most, but I eat the setting details up like candy. As a fan of the Barsoom Saga, I'll usually fall back on the Tsolyáni culture to round-out the Barsoom people... or a derivative there off. Buying the hardcopy felt great, as I know it would go to Baker's estate.

I quite enjoyed the book, but I could care less about the rules. I'm more interested in the setting itself, so I put my sights on Swords and Glory vol. 1: Tékumel Source Book, which I ordered last month, along with the next book...

For few a years now, I have been in an '80s nostalgia-driven classic cyberpunk kick. Back in the '90s I was into the cyberpunk genre, but the only thing available was Shadowrun, but I never liked that game. All I wanted was pure, unadulterated cyberpunk! No punk-rock elves! No street-mages! No dragon-CEOs! I have a number of cyberpunk RPGs on my files — Shadowrun, Cyberspace, GURPS Cyberpunk, C.O.P.S., etc. — and I like to mix things up, but the cyberpunk backdrop that really stood out is Cyberpunk It has all the right mix of elements: Gibson/Sterling-styled "Mirrorshades" cyber-punks; Bladerunner-like backdrop; Tech Noir-styled bars bathed in blue & pink bisexual neon lighting; OCP-like Machiavellian corporate politics; Mad Max-styled Nomads (and Water World-styled Pirate-bikers for good measure) Rage Against the Machine-like Rockerboys; weapons, gear and vehicles that look like concept art form late-'80s OVA-era anime; a sex-positive attitude towards nudity and sexuality; and a fashion sense and outlook that is so entrenched in the 1980s.

Now, I'm not a fan of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules: I find the game mechanics to be dull and I never liked Humanity Loss, as I see it as a wonky limiter on the number of cybernetics that you can install. Plus it makes no sense that a few cosmetic implants that change your physical features in smalls ways (color-changing hair/eyes/skin, glow-in-the-dark tattoos, etc.) and things that folks do even think about (blood-filters, contraceptive implants, and the like), above and beyond the major mental and physical alterations, would push someone into becoming a murderous psychopath. (If anything, only have the cool, useful things strip one's psyche.) It also has a strange aversion to recreational drug-use in that "Reefer Madness" sort of way. I don't care what Maximum Mike said: Cyberpunk is vary much "Dungeons & Drug-Dealers"! Much like in the real-world, safe recreational drug-use is a skill all its own (hell, even as a kid I was taught: "Even with weed, always know the person you are buying drugs from!"), and drug-dealers do not last long peddling bad shit.

But still, I bought the reprint of Cyberpunk (second edition, version 2.01). You might be asking way I would put money down on a system I don't care for. The truth is, I see the Cyberpunk 2020 setting as a foundation for my own cyberpunk games. I can add, mix, alter and remove things as I see fit, using a rule-system of my own choosing. I have a ton of other cyberpunk-related books, RPGs, movies and anime to work with. More over, there is a a great resource for EVERYTHING Cyberpunk 2020-related called Datafortress 2020! It list every item, weapon, armor, cyberware, lifestyle and vehicle found throughout the history of CP2020 and than some. It expands on Night City. Goes into the major military conflicts in Africa and South America. And it really flesh out the Nomad culture. (All while using a lot of images found on countless search results.) I highly recommend that site, even if you are not into the CP2020 setting.

The Tékumel Source Book and Cyberpunk reprints arrived a day before Halloween and I have been reading both. The Tékumel Source Book is full of great information, but lacks page numbers with it indexing. Everything is in 1.XYZ index numbers with the "1" being the book, the "X" being a section of a broad topic and "Y" and "Z" going into more and more specific topics. As such, I'm having to write the section headers and index numbers on the top corners of each page to be able to find everything as the sub-section headers tend to get buried it the walls of texts. Due to a lack of artwork, I cannot rely on them to "landmark" sections, so I'm more dependent on the indexing. The top-page headers I put in looks like this (bun in pencil):

Early History — The Historical Empires
1.200 — 1.310

Besides that issue, I really enjoy what it has too offer. Its going to take more time to fully absorb it, but so damn worth it!

Beyond the rules, the Cyberpunk 2020 book is great! The artwork is good, although I wised that it was a little less prudish. I have seen the non-English CP2020 books, and they have less restraint. (Although, if I had my way, Tim Bradstreet, with his hard realistic, film noir style, would totally be apart of their artist pool.) What I really enjoy about the game is how it is presented like a series of magazine articles with magazine adds here and there for notable equipment. I love this! It really adds to game immersion. When you read the start of the chapters it really casual and, much like actual magazine articles, you'll find quotes from the chapter placed in sidebars as large, bold text to really highlight what the section is about. You'll find newspaper articles related to a situation only to turn the page and find a game scenario about it. You'll find quotes form the likes of Johnny Silverhand, a rebel Rockerboy, Morgan Blackhand, the "Solo's Solo", and Maximum Mike, who is essentially the Word-of-God for the game (the game was written by Mike Pondsmith). With all the art, tables and sidebars, is hard to to get lost in this book.

In both cases, the books kind of suffers from the black & white line illustrations due to how both setting love vivid colors. In Tékumel, they love bright, contrasting colors. Houses, clothing, banners, the works: Bathed in bright colors with a lot of meaning. Cyberpunk maybe a futuristic film noir, but it is covered in Hajime Sorayama-styled chrome, with the bold color contrast of Patrick Nagel, and the aforementioned blue-N-pink bisexual neon lighting. (Although, that would have made the reprints more expensive and time-consuming.) Also, I'm not above altering the artwork of a new or reprint RPG, if I have issue with it — I did this for my Crimson Blades books and some others. Being line art, it makes my job way more easy.

If there is one thing I wish DriveThruRPG had for Tékumel is Book of Ebon Bindings. Is is a book about demonology and the occult. Damn good stuff!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Old-School Cyberpunk (and Nostalgia)

For some years now I have been rally into Cyberpunk-genre gaming, mostly out of '80s and '90s nostalgia.

I grew-up in the '80s, will all the cheesy cartoons, comic books, and blood-n-boob filled action & horror films that came with it. On top of that, being from the San Fransisco Bay Area, I was exposed to the Puck scene, the Hip-Hop scene, sci-fi/fantasy/comic/RPG conventions, and bootleg "Japanimation" more-or-less at once. It was neat, but I was mostly in the background as a child too young to really understand a lot of it.

I started to come in to my own as a young teen in the '90s. By then, I was into heavy metal, discovering a lot of legally made "dubbed" anime (before then, you had to rely on bootlegs having subtitles or own a magazine that lists the translations) that came of the OVA video market, and I was running my own D&D games. The '90s anime market had a wide range of genre, but the one that really stood out was cyberpunk, with titles like Akira, Appleseed, Battle Angel Alita, Bubblegum Crisis, Ghost in the Shell, etc. (Much of it was inspired by American films from the '80s) Back in the '90s, I mostly played D&D, Battletech, 1e Gamma World. My first exposure to cyberpunk gaming was Shadowrun (2e). It was classic cyberpunk mixed with fantasy elements. I never liked that combination. By the time I discovered SR, the Tolkien elements of fantasy — elves, orcs, overly-useful magic, etc. — was wearing thin on me. All I wanted was a pure cyberpunk game and I was unaware of Cyberpunk 2020 or ICE's Cyberspace. It felt like everyone was playing 2e AD&D, Shadowrun or Vampire, without much variation.

I finally discovered Cyberpunk 2020 in the mid-2000s. The site that really got me to looking into CP2020 is an old site called Datafortress 2020 by Deric "Wisdom000" Bernier. It is a great resource of CP2020 that helps expand upon the setting, often using anime and images found across the internet.

With Cyberpunk 2020, I found the rules to be... well... Dull. In a nutshell, it was basically "Roll a d10, add relevant attribute, skill and any other adjustment vs a static Target Number." With rules, I want something with more pizazz with the game mechanics, as well as a focus on actual role-playing. On top of that, it also had a "Humanity Cost" for getting fitted with cybernetics, with the ultimate cost being Cyberpsychosis: A mental infliction that turns a character into ether an emotionless introvert who balls-up in the corner and withers away, or a mindless berserker that must murder-fuck EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING!!! I was never a fan of this rule. I see it as a cheap game-balance mechanic to limit the amount of cybernetic a character have at one time. To me, the best limitation to what you can have installed is power and maintenance. That is, some of the more powerful cybernetics would require a lot of power. You might have to use some of the internal areas of a cyber-limb to mount batteries, while a whole cyborg body would require portable motor! Maintenance goes without saying. Its silly to think that you get your right arm replaced and it would stay as good as a natural arm: A cyberarm cannot mend its own cuts and brakes, and you still have to keep it oiled and what have you. If anything, you should be able to mount any number of cosmetic, superficial cyberwear, like any fashionwear, sensory-enchantments, the Mr. Studd™ sexual implant (yes, this is a thing), Skinweave, etc. After all, being able to go "full cyborg" should be an achievement into itself, and not something that is relegated to a murderous corporate attack-dog.

And yet, I still really like it! The game gets "Cyberpunk" right! The chrome, the fashion, the scene, the punk! You can never downplay the fashion or the "punk" enough. Its high-tech lowlife adventure! Cyberpunk took a lot form other fiction and it is better for it. You'll find a lot of great content with it its rulebook and supplements. The art is great. Although, its a shame that is mostly black & white (the cyberpunk future is best viewed in that punk-n-blue neon-back-lit "bisexual lighting"), and a number of the more risqué artwork found in the French language editions was altered or expunged from the English edition, which is a big no-no, as cyberpunk is supposed be erotic. Another great part of CP2020 is that due to people getting disenfranchised by the mega-corporations (aka, the only employers in town), they avoided becoming homeless rats in the urban war-zones by coming free-roving families called the Nomads. Beyond "The Sprawl" of the big cities, fly-over country is an endless landscape of dead farmlands, suburban ruins, old decayed roads, lawless gangs of bloodthirsty raiders, the Nomads trying to survive in the wild countrysides of North America. Basically, Cyberpunk 2020 goes into Mad Max territory.
In this game, you can freely sample classic cyberpunk novels, '80s sci-fi action films, '90s cyberpunk anime, post-apocalyptic biker films, and even the stranger cyberpunk films of the '90s. You can watch Bladerunner, Freejack, and Crime Zone for the urban backdrop, Robocop (1 & 2) for the corporate backdrop and corporate-controlled media, Mad Max (The Road Warrior, Beyond Thunderdome, and any number of their imitators) for the Nomad communities, Liquid Sky (and Patrick Nagel's art, and Jem and the Holograms) for the fashion, '80s punk for the rebel Rockboy scene, Hackers for Netrunner scene, Strange Days for the directive stories, and so much more!

Mind you, I'm still not a fan of the rules, and I will use a system that will strike my fancy. In the past I'd use Dream Pod-9's Silhouette system. Right now, its something more cobbled together from a number of different rule systems. I will ape content from Shadowrun, Cyberspace and any other cyberpunk game I can find. I find the Cyberpunk 2020 setting to be easy and available.

Unsurprisingly, Cyberpunk 2020 is going to see new life with the upcoming video game Cyberpunk 2077 by CD Projekt RED and tabletop RPG Cyberpunk Red by R.Talsorian Games. Here is the tailer for the video game: