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(Spinoff) What is cyberpunk and what is a cyberpunk RPG?

Wakshaani

Cheesey Goodness
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#1
This came up in the Best/Worst Modules thread and, rather than have it dominate the conversation, time to bring it over to talk about it! There's lots of Shadowrun talk involved (yay!), but other games, like Cyberpunk, are valid, as are literary nods, both in the genre, the post-cyberpunk genre, and the pre-cyberpunk side (for instance, film noir, which is all *over* older Cyberpunk stuff.)

So, here's a place to dig in and chat which should be super interesting! I'll drag a few bits over here via quote.

I must admit, 'morally ambiguous' in cyberpunk is more 'all the options include someone getting stiffed' to me rather than 'what can I get out of it'. But the players must have agency or there's no point in playing. One of the Cyberpunk 2020 scenarios included a corp 'getting your attention' by wasting everything you own in an AV4 fly-by as the intro. It was stupid and lacked nuance and atmosphere. The PCs are quite ready to screw over less than moral employers most of the time, you don't need to be ham-fisted about making the players hate them. I mean, who on earth would work for that bastard anyway and why would any sane man start out a job by causing runners to want him very, very dead?
Alas, a lot early cyberpunk scenarios features stupid acts of over the top silliness that writers seemed to think was what made people look hardcore but only made them look dense.
I also wondered that if this guy could waste a an apartment in the city with impunity, why didn't he just have his force of AVs take out the OPFOR?

I think the model of street violence professionals in the Neuromancer series is not replicatable in gaming, except as you have said as a single campaign. Notably all the characters in that campaign fall from grace and never work again. A better model is the fringe-dwellers in books like Contraband where subverting the system is the culture and not working for the corporate interests, which in a strictly 'cyber-punk' definition are the natural enemy.
The Cyberpunk books with their emphasis on solos have a hard time avoiding that Neuromancer trope though

The main problem of pretty much 90% of the Cyberpunk RPGs out there is that they're not really about replicating the feel of cyberpunk stories. They're about replicating the feel of one single scene from Neuromancer: the Sense/Net heist. The reason the Standard Shadowrun Scenario looks inconsistent and unsustainable is because it is! Most characters in cyberpunk fiction don't actually make it their job to work as disposable muscle for shady corporators.

It's kind of the same relationship D&D effectively* has with Lord of the Rings. It's no good at replicating the larger themes of that book, just the one scene where they go through Moria.

*: I'm aware that Gygax & Company never set out to "emulate" Tolkien in the way cyberpunk games emulate Gibson and others.

I feel like there's a disconnect between "cyberpunk the literary genre" and "cyberpunk the RPG genre" (to say nothing of cyberpunk DA FLAMETHROWAH!). "Literary cyberpunk" is about screwing the man and blowing up the system and a fair number of them are about protagonists who DON'T CARE what happens once they're done with it. We don't stick around after Fury Road to see Max and/or Furiorisa deal with the fallout of killing Joe; Neuromancer ends with most of our crew still in orbit or dead.

"RPG cyberpunk" is much more about playing mercenaries with mohawks. An employer who got a reputation for screwing over their mercenaries isn't going to get anyone to work for them (or is going to be paying three time as much and half the contract up front) and mercs who get the rep for screwing over their employers aren't going to get hired. The impulses and dramatic arcs of each type of cyberpunk pull in different directions.
And Shadowrun's style kinda took over, IIRC. To the point where one of the motivations for the ill-fated v3 edition was to get away from the "hardened mercenaries working for the corps" thing.
There're a WHOLE LOT MORE cool posts over there, but I'm probably near the quote limit and here's a good chance to spin this discussion up into its own thing.

Woo hoo! CYberpunk!
 

Raveled

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#2
I want to point out here at the beginning that there is no "true" answer of what cyberpunk is and these things can mean different subjects to different people.
 

ChalkLine

Rogue Conformist
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#3
To throw the cat among the pigeons I'll state that I don't think Shadowrun is cyberpunk.
It's a fantasy subversion of the trope. Sure, the setting is interesting but to me the very inclusion of elves, trolls and orcs means the cyberpunk themes don't work. Abusing the Arthur C Clarke 'all advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic' maxim is a cheap way out.

However, I don't think Cyberpunk 2020 as written fits it either. As noted it originally suited a very narrow vision of errand boys doing corporate bidding with a bit of street life on the side. I always disliked 'Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads' because it said nothing but the obvious, and Talsorian should have given the system a different slant in version 2.2 if they wanted to change the way it was played. Cyberpunk 2020 always was heavily influenced by the manga sector of the genre which was okay if you wanted to play that way but difficult to separate the concepts out if you didn't.

Yes, maybe my definition of what 'cyberpunk' is as a genre is a rather narrow view based on the literature from western writers, but I'm just throwing out a personal view here.
 

Raveled

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#4
To throw the cat among the pigeons I'll state that I don't think Shadowrun is cyberpunk.
It's a fantasy subversion of the trope. Sure, the setting is interesting but to me the very inclusion of elves, trolls and orcs means the cyberpunk themes don't work. Abusing the Arthur C Clarke 'all advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic' maxim is a cheap way out.
Here's my hot take. I think Ravnica (the Magic: the Gathering setting) is cyberpunk.

You have a gigantic urban center that canonically covers the entire world/plane; you have ten ultra-powerful guilds/corporations that control the govt, the police, the courts, the banks -- even the crime bosses and spies are part of the guilds! Even the rebels and anarchists get a guild!

And you have groups like the Simic and Orzhov and Izzet who give absolutely zero shits about whose day they ruin with their plans. There may not be trenchcoats and mirrorshades but it's cybeerpunk as hell.
 

Raleel

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#5
I commented in another thread on another board that I felt that it was difficult to be cyberpunk if you weren’t punk, and by that I mean outside or directly against power in some way. I feel like there are some good attempts in the RPGs - Shadowrun has some good archetypes for this here and there, cp2020 has rockerboys speaking out against the system, etc. I don’t feel like there is enough emphasis on this in adventures though.
 

ANT Pogo

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#6
For me, most cyberpunk RPGs focus on the "cyber" part, and ignore the "punk" part. Cyberpunk is kind of nebulous as a concept at the best of times, but in my view its core is about people on the fringes of a repressive future-shock-ridden society, who are on the fringes because they consciously reject and rebel against that society, trying to survive amidst its technological detritus and trying to coopt that detritus in their own way ("the Street finds its own uses for things"). Whether it's anarchists living on their own separate from the System (Count Zero), petty criminals operating just under the surface of the System's all-seeing eye (Metrophage), or rebels actively striking against the System (Hardwired), cyberpunk is about the philosophy of those who embrace technology, but reject the society that created that technology (and said society's accepted way of using that same technology).

What the punks in the 70s were to music, Cyberpunks are to technology, in other words.

CP2020, especially in its supplements (double especially the Nomads book) was a lot more "cyberpunk" than Shadowrun, in that CP gave you a ton of options for playing people fighting the System (or just trying to survive outside of it), while SR's entire setup was about how runners are incorporated (no pun intended) into the System, and in fact were an integral part of it. It wasn't until the recent 5e Better than Bad book that I feel SR really tried to put the "punk" in.
 
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ChalkLine

Rogue Conformist
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#7
Actually, the 70s punk music scene was all about subversion of the system until it was subverted and commercialised.
I can't agree more with your summary
 

Dave999

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#8
Cyberpunk is easy to explain.

It's dystopian science fiction that has an emphasis on gritty street level storytelling as well as being fucked by the Man (see the word "punk") who uses technology in innovative or new ways to keep people down. It's basically the antithesis of the idea that technology will cure all of man's problems because the central thesis of the setting is the idea that society's systemic social abuses and ideas are created by humans themselves rather than external circumstances.

And yes, I did work in academia.

There's also a Venn Diagram of Cyberpunk here that while people can point to Neuromancer and say, "THAT IS ALL THINGS CYBERPUNK" there is plenty of stuff that exists a little from the Platonic Ideal of it. Shadow Run is cyberpunk, it's just fantasy cyberpunk.

Robocop is cyberpunk despite the fact that cops are one of the strangest things to be in a punk world.

The Matrix is cyberpunk but on the far end of it because they're also patriotic idealistic revolutionaries.
 

Talmor

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#9
I'm following this thread because I'm only a casual fan on Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun. Love the games, but neither have ever really worked for me. I think now it's because they often weren't "punk" enough.

But also, it gets me wondering about Vampire, and what is and isn't Gothic-punk. I think just as Cyberpunk devolved from "dystopian world where transhuman heroes take a stand against the corrupt powers that be" into "street mercs who gots to get paid," Vampire devolved form "dystopian world where monstrous heroes take a stand against the corrupt powers that be" into "Let's Play the Corrupt Powers That Be!"

Not to threadjack, just interested in what is and isn't punk, and how to run games where that philosophy predominates.
 

Dave999

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#10
I'm following this thread because I'm only a casual fan on Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun. Love the games, but neither have ever really worked for me. I think now it's because they often weren't "punk" enough.

But also, it gets me wondering about Vampire, and what is and isn't Gothic-punk. I think just as Cyberpunk devolved from "dystopian world where transhuman heroes take a stand against the corrupt powers that be" into "street mercs who gots to get paid," Vampire devolved form "dystopian world where monstrous heroes take a stand against the corrupt powers that be" into "Let's Play the Corrupt Powers That Be!"

Not to threadjack, just interested in what is and isn't punk, and how to run games where that philosophy predominates.
Yeah, that's a very true thing.

I blame that on the writers, though. The Anarchs were set up by Mark Rein Hagen to be the protagonists then almost no writer wanted to write people actually taking a stand against the man.

"I want the protagonist to be 800 year old Highlanders, not the guys who hate them and love freedom."

The Anarchs were a joke until Anarchs Unbound.
 
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