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

LordofArcana

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Except if you're going to use any of this stuff to fight against the corps, and the corps are also fighting against each other... Well, then that means the corps are trying to build exactly the same things you want to use, and they have more time, money, and technical know-how to devote to the project. And in actuality, why would a corp develop all its tech in-house if it doesn't need to? Really, they're just going to buy all their security and espionage tech from other vendors, who, again, have dedicated far more resources to the problem than you can ever hope to on some back alley street. They may not be goods for the general public, but they're still made and sold by companies for a profit--stuff you can order from a catalog.
Because corps need stuff that's mass produced and stable. An amazing gun that takes months to learn how to fire it in particular is pointless, as the guy who they are giving it to is probably going to out before they learn how to use it. A program that needs a programmer to constantly modify it so it doesn't crash is a liability, no matter how well it theoretically works. It also isn't like B2B sales don't include the same planned obsolescence that consumers get hit with.

They keep up, especially for the most important things, by throwing money at the problem. Is their stuff the best? Hahaha... no. But it does the job and holding out for better would probably waste more money than its worth. The world will have "gone right for capitalism" because you can get huge amounts of very consistent stuff cheaply and easily and that's exactly the sorts of things corporations need to function well. It just isn't what PCs want. For PCs to get what they need they need to find the exceptions.

I'd have the tier list be Mass produced stuff selected by someone with a budget and/or knows what its for<Stuff selected by someone who knows the market like the back of their hand<Stuff custom made by an expert for their own use and people who can go "money is no object" when buying it.

Most antagonists are going to be in category 1, but important locations and people are going to be 2s and 3s. PCs are mostly going to be 2s, with those built around a particular piece of equipment going to be 3s. Normal people aren't even going to get to 1, as they don't have the resources nor the time to do that well for most of their stuff.
 
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apparition13

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There's another element that also needs to be brought up.

Which is the fact that technology has caught up to cyberpunk.

Mr. Robot, Hackers, Person of Interest, Watch_Dogs and other shows set in the present day are cyberpunk because you actually have it so you can have social engineer hacker urban guerillas/revolutinaries fighting against corporations.

In the 1980s, the idea that homeless people would have cellphones and virtually every major "heist" in real life would involve hackers would be something out of science fiction.

That the FBI would hire hackers to get into someone's phone to fight terrorists.
That makes Leverage cyberpunk. I could live with that.

I feel like most adventurers are more upper-class adjacent people than criminals, really. Nobility, but not likely to inherit, and/or the associates of such. Prospective wizards basically have to be the idle rich, fighters have expensive equipment and training, and so on and so forth.

So what does these people who have a lot of money but basically no prospects do? Go into the wilderness and conquer the people there for wealth and prestige! In earlier editions they eventually become landed nobility, but even without that becoming a high level adventurer is its own source of influence.
If they had lots of money they would have prospects. Since "join the Royal Navy and get rich taking prizes" is out, they do the equivalent for their society, which is become "adventurers".

In short: Living La Vida 'Punker turned out to be way more hopeful than anticipated in the fiction...
Too early to tell. If the social model that gets emulated in the near future is the PRC's, with social credit and totalitarian surveillance, say goodbye to all that.

Also note that the text you quote directly undermines your claim that cyberpunk “just means troublemaker”.
"Punk" meant socially worthless troublemaker. Someone who would throw rocks through windows because they like the sound of breaking glass. It wasn't until after Punk Rock that the "punk" gained positive, or political, connotations.

Except if you're going to use any of this stuff to fight against the corps, and the corps are also fighting against each other... Well, then that means the corps are trying to build exactly the same things you want to use, and they have more time, money, and technical know-how to devote to the project. And in actuality, why would a corp develop all its tech in-house if it doesn't need to? Really, they're just going to buy all their security and espionage tech from other vendors, who, again, have dedicated far more resources to the problem than you can ever hope to on some back alley street. They may not be goods for the general public, but they're still made and sold by companies for a profit--stuff you can order from a catalog.
Except - the corps are all in a race to the bottom. They are so wedded to price points that they cut corners to get there, with entirely predictable drops in quality (and size for food).

If you're buying a business computer you have essentially three choices: Dell, HP, and Lenovo. All three used to be much more reliable than commercial computers, but all three have apparently gone to crap in the last few years. They are still $1500 or so each, but that price hasn't changed in years.

If you're buying a major appliance (fridge, air conditioner, stove, dishwasher etc.) the number of vendors is down to 3 due to mergers. And warranties are down from 10-15 years to 5 or less. Again, the prices are the same, but the reliability has gone to hell.

So if you want quality, reliability, durability - bespoke is the way to go.
 

Bruce Redux

Not flying or biting
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Part of the issue is that there's no point in adding "punk" to something unless someone is getting screwed over.
When it comes to steampunk, it's worth noting that the term is a very deliberate bit of mockery. K.W. Jeter, who coined it, has a very dark view of current society, as you'd from someone who has among other things worked with abused children in prison, and a sense of how radically it must change to be something other than a constant horror show for many of its members. He's also very strongly cultured in an old-fashioned way and deeply loathes punk aesthetics and culture. So it was that in 1987 he wrote to Locus, which is to science fiction and fantasy what trade journals like Variety and Publisher's Weekly are to their fields:

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I'd appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it's a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in "the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate" was writing in the "gonzo-historical manner" first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like "steam-punks," perhaps....

— K.W. Jeter


This was a classic piss-take, and folks who read that at the time would have known so. James Blaylock has always been a lighter writer, but Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter were already well-known for being in the same dark, angry humanistic tradition as their early friend and mentor Philip K. Dick. (Do I wish that I could have just sat and listened in on Dick, Blaylock, and Jeter talking about what's broken in the world and what might fix it? Oh wow, yes, I do.) The word "bourgeois" is a tricky one, but it fits Jeter as it fit, say, Thorstein Veblen, and for that matter Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. It's got room for a radical vision of a better society, but a very different view than punk has about the possible desirable elements of a society reoriented toward justice and mercy. When it comes to culture, Jeter (and Blaylock and Powers) has always been anti-punk, and calling what they were writing $ANYTHING-punk was sarcasm. (OMG is Jeter good at sarcasm. He's in a tradition with Mark Twain and such there.)

Wow, that paragraph had a lot of parentheses, didn't it?

Anyway, the point is that the very first use of "steampunk" was sarcastic, not in any sense sympathetic to punk approaches to social criticism or social change.
 

lucrien

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They keep up, especially for the most important things, by throwing money at the problem. Is their stuff the best? Hahaha... no. But it does the job and holding out for better would probably waste more money than its worth. The world will have "gone right for capitalism" because you can get huge amounts of very consistent stuff cheaply and easily and that's exactly the sorts of things corporations need to function well. It just isn't what PCs want. For PCs to get what they need they need to find the exceptions.
Except you're missing that the corps are in essentially the same market as the PCs--if the PCs have any kind of success, the corps would just pay would-be PCs to go do the same thing against their rivals. If faceless, disposable goons don't work for the corps, they'll be hiring elite commandos with bespoke equipment too. If Jane's Gun Emporium on the back street is selling anything better than what Security Inc. can, Security Inc. will just buy it up, steal their designs, etc. because if PCs are finding it worthwhile to buy stuff at Jane's, then corporate mercenaries are too, and that's Security Inc.'s whole market.

That's not to say bespoke equipment doesn't have its place in a cyberpunk setting--but I think it's the purview of corps just as much as it is the street. This is why the raid to steal some experimental tech in preparation for the real job is a thing in the genre. It also has drawbacks--the PCs need usability and stability too, and a piece of equipment that can't be managed or relied on is risky no matter who's using it. And to get back to my original point, whether you want an abundance of bespoke gear or not, huge gear lists are potentially a part of that either way (again, what better way to emphasize how great your custom cyberdeck is than a page of brand-name alternatives all of which you can see are overpriced trash compared to your precious hand-built masterpiece?).

But I don't want to get too caught in the weeds; to take a step back, I think an important component of cyberpunk is at play. And that's that for the societal critiques to land, the setting needs that sense of eerie plausibility. If everyone is flooded with cheap corporate garbage, if the planned obsolesce is played up too much, etc. then it's just a dystopia where everything is awful. The corps need to offer a gleaming sci-fi future that is, in enough ways, real--people need to want the baubles the corps are cranking out, because that's why they'll put it up with all the crap. And if you can implicate the PCs in that too, if you can make them feel the pull of the corporations, if they want all that shiny gear in the window, then I think it works all the better.

I think there's a useful contrast to make with a fantasy RPG. The cyberpunk version of D&D has you delving through a dungeon, killing orcs and goblins for loot, that you go sell to orcs and goblins in a different dungeon, who provide you with orc & goblin forged arms and armor to go raid a different dungeon. Even when you're killing orcs and goblins, and even if you're not doing it on their orders, the orcs and goblins are still winning--the system's stacked against you, and the dungeons always come out on top, with the helpless towns just pawns caught in the middle. Which is to say, if you chip away at that structure, if it's just the streets raiding the corps, it becomes that much more like a transplant of fantasy.
 

LordofArcana

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Except you're missing that the corps are in essentially the same market as the PCs--if the PCs have any kind of success, the corps would just pay would-be PCs to go do the same thing against their rivals. If faceless, disposable goons don't work for the corps, they'll be hiring elite commandos with bespoke equipment too. If Jane's Gun Emporium on the back street is selling anything better than what Security Inc. can, Security Inc. will just buy it up, steal their designs, etc. because if PCs are finding it worthwhile to buy stuff at Jane's, then corporate mercenaries are too, and that's Security Inc.'s whole market.
And when they go to buy out Jane's Gun Emporium it turns out that its already been out of business for years. Turns out advertising is important to staying in business. But hey, they managed to find 10 guns, half of them broken. I'm sure that was a worthwhile use of 5 $100k/year investigators.

They definitely could hire the PCs, but to actually have any meaningful effect they would need to hire tens of thousands of such groups. That simply doesn't exist. You don't hire faceless goons because faceless goons beat elite teams, you hire faceless goons because you need people to guard all your locations and faceless goons are the only type of security you can hire in sufficient quantity.

And yes, you'll find bespoke gear at the highest level of the corporations. Executives have that sort of money to throw around and there will be locations valuable enough that the best of the best will be worthwhile to hire as guards. Its just that, for the vast majority of the time, that's not what the corp has available to it.
 

Harlander

Almost determinedly non-useful
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Cyberpunk RPGs are, as others have said, completely different. Basically, they usually seem fcused on the tooling up and gear porn elements to the detrimentof everything else.

I'd love to run a low level game set entirley in one neighbourhood and dealing with the problems that arise there, because that seems cool, to me.
I think Fates Worse than Death might be a good answer for both of these points. It's low level and gear porn seemed almost nonexistent (one group makes armour by tying old telephone directories to themselves). And it's set in a pretty circumscribed area, the slummy hangout of people who've pretty much given up on the actually not too terrible wider society. That said I never really played more than a single con game of it..
 

Dave999

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Essentially, I believe cyberpunk works on these principles when we're referring to Runners (who we have established are a POPULAR adventurer type but not the ONLY).

The goal of a Runner is this:

1. Make a lot of money working for criminals as well as corporates
2. Don't lose your soul in the process.

End result

1. Retire in better circumstances than you began in
2. Become a corporate yourself--maybe CSO of a mid-tier corporation/Become a crime boss yourself
3. Go out in the blaze of glory against someone horrifying
 

lucrien

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I'm sure that was a worthwhile use of 5 $100k/year investigators.
I'm sure the follow-up survey would catch that, no need for fancy investigators. "We've noticed you haven't placed an order with Security Inc. recently, and we have some questions to make sure we can improve our service and better help our customers in the future..."

you hire faceless goons because you need people to guard all your locations and faceless goons are the only type of security you can hire in sufficient quantity.
You're conceiving of it purely in defensive terms, but the corps want to ruin each other and steal secrets too. You don't hire the elite mercenaries to stand watch in the lobby, you hire them to do the same jobs the PCs are doing--smash stuff up, intercept/delay shipments, steal intellectual property, embarrass executives, etc.
 

lucrien

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Essentially, I believe cyberpunk works on these principles when we're referring to Runners (who we have established are a POPULAR adventurer type but not the ONLY).
I think it cuts across a wider swath than that. Given that cyberpunk stories usually involve a non-traditional system of law and order (privately owned city-states or other enclaves, corporate state-hood, comically weak./corrupt national and local governments, etc.), a lot of these things blend together. The law-man gone rogue, the tireless reporter, the runner, smuggler, the anarchist, the revolutionary, the corporate mercenary, the spy--they all end up operating in a similarly nebulous legal realm, where the constraints are largely what they can get away with without compromising their mission.

To the more general points of gear-obsession and corporations-will-out-pace-you-and-grind-you-into-dust, that seems like they'll cut across to even non-traditional roles. Even the neighborhood doctor trying to open up a clinic is going to need to face the gear-dependence (to provide miraculous sci-fi treatments, or even just to cope with sci-fi maladies at all) and intricate and rampant corporate structures--Health-Co's clinic across the street won't appreciate competition, ANGEL-brand medicines are gene-locked to only heal approved patients, last-year's Cancer-B-Gone machines only work half as fast as the newer models but they're all you can get your hands on without a restrictive license, etc. If those elements don't feature in the story, is it still cyberpunk?
 

LordofArcana

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I'm sure the follow-up survey would catch that, no need for fancy investigators. "We've noticed you haven't placed an order with Security Inc. recently, and we have some questions to make sure we can improve our service and better help our customers in the future..."
Maybe I'm not being clear, what I'm saying is that most of the really special stuff is going to come from small startups with more technical skill than business acumen that fail before anyone has ever heard of them. Eventually, years later, people notice that "hey, these things are actually pretty good" but the only place they can find them anymore are secondhand stores.

Ultimately the quality of ones product is a fairly small part of why a business succeeds or fails and they mostly fail regardless.

You're conceiving of it purely in defensive terms, but the corps want to ruin each other and steal secrets too. You don't hire the elite mercenaries to stand watch in the lobby, you hire them to do the same jobs the PCs are doing--smash stuff up, intercept/delay shipments, steal intellectual property, embarrass executives, etc.
Even so, the differing incentives mean that corp teams are going to be poorly equipped compared to independent contractors.

The corporations are going to be thinking in terms of marginal gains and profits vs expenses. There really isn't that much value in buying exponentially more expensive equipment and they will inevitably have to be doing this stuff in bulk if they are going to have any meaningful effect for the same reason that normal runners aren't going to meaningfully affect them.

Meanwhile runners are betting their life on every run and even a small improvement could mean they live to run again. They also don't have a lot of money to spend but they have plenty of time. Additionally a single run can make or break their career, so investing more into it makes more sense.

The incentives are completely different and that changes everything. There will come times when a corporation believes that everything is riding on this one operation and they will decide that money is no object. When they do so, they will probably be better equipped than a team of runners. By and large, though, that's going to be extremely rare.
 
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