Tuesday, August 30

Cyberpunk A Retrospective

A Little History: Inspired by the novels of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, as well as now classic movies such as Alien, Robocop, Terminator and the cult Max Headroom, R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk game line was a pretty big deal back in the late '80's and early '90's, coincidentally the same time as the cyberpunk subculture really got going.

R. Talsorian had a few successful games over the years, but none came close to Cyberpunk!  Beginning with the boxed set of Cyberpunk 2013, it moved onward through its own alternate future timeline a far as the poorly received Cyberpunk 203X, which by all accounts still sees support, but I don't think it is unreasonable to say that the success of the game, like the cyberpunk subculture has faded.  The golden age was the second edition, Cyberpunk, which was hugely popular and well-supported.

The game was published with its own "interlock system" rules, shared with Mekton.  Sadly, these rules were dropped for the "Fuzion" rules for the 203X third edition, which inherit some traits from the HERO rules, though they are nowhere near as complicated as that.

Ultimately, the second edition's own support material would become its undoing.  The game changed, evolving away from the setting presented in the core rule book, and focussing more on rapidly advancing hardware...  Up to and including giant mecha...  And on that most lamentable '90's crime, an uninteresting metaplot and way too many Mary Sue characters.  Not to say that every supplement for the game line was bad, far from it, but the overall trend was to take the game further and further from its roots, which alienated some players.

Then, after more than a decade as vapourware, Cyberpunk 203X came out and chased away another big chunk of players.  Not only by adopting a new set of rules that simply weren't as good as the previous system, but by pretty much abandoning "cyberpunk" in favour of some very odd transhumanism ideas, horrible design and layout issues, and the infamous "doll art", which replaced traditional art with dressed up action figures!  This third edition is still the "current edition", but it doesn't enjoy a good reputation.

How the hell was the idea of doll art not nixed??

A few alternate settings exist, including CyberGeneration which dealt with superpowered teenagers and Bloodlust.

Yep, vampires...  Really...

My History: Cyberpunk was the first game I played as the Referee.  I was totally thrown into the deep end, asked to run a game the same day I bought the book.  It wasn't pretty, but we had fun.  Over the years we used the system as our go-to rules for anything military, sci-fi or espionage-related, because they were so damn good!  Particularly the "Friday Night Fire Fight" combat rules, which were like nothing we had seen in a role-playing game.  To this day I love these rules, which are fairly realistic, very quick and easy to use.

So we used Cyberpunk for an Aliens game, spy games and more.  But we didn't buy the supplements for the actual game line itself.  I only discovered them in more recent years, usually on e-bay.  We played with the core rule book and really didn't need much else.

The Game Today: Cyberpunk is very out-of-date now.  Mike Pondsmith didn't anticipate the radical change in computing or communication technologies, so it doesn't remotely gel with a possible future we would have.  However, as an alternate timeline, it still works.

The setting is like the nightmare of '70's conspiracy theorists...  A polluted, ruined planet, with feeble governments obeying the dictates of faceless mega-corporations.  Cities like slums, where only the rich are safe, and the poor are forced to claw out a living any way they can in ghettos, warzones and decaying neighbourhoods.  Outside the city is no better...  Lawless barren wastelands haunted by nomad gangs and worse.  The setting is wonderfully bleak and dark, perfect for players who like shades of grey stories but aren't interested in the angsty-hip World of Darkness.

Just plain weird...

Sadly, the superior is long out-of-print, but still turns up on e-bay.  For anyone interested, I still recommend it, just steer clear of supplements...  Particularly the Firestorm series.

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