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: