Yesterday night I resumed playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution after a long hiatus. As it is often the case with me and computer games I began thinking about how I could recreate the atmosphere of the game at the game table. I began thinking about the various Cyberpunk RPGs I’ve read and played.
Technoir, which I helped back on Kickstarter in 2011 immediately came to mind as a game perfectly suited for this task. But there are quite a few other Cyberpunk RPGs out there like WYRED, based on my Wyrm System, or Cyberpunk 2020.
The only cyberpunk-ish game I’ve played for an extended period of time was Shadowrun. We started with the 1st Edition back in the day and quickly moved to the 2nd Edition when it came out. I eventually picked up the 4th Edition but never played it. I am not too happy with the updated timeline and the rules are in my opinion not that great. I also would love to play a pure cyberpunk game and not something that mashes up Cyberpunk and Fantasy.
It’s hard for me to pick my favorite Cyberpunk RPG. Technoir looks pretty awesome, but I haven’t played it yet. Shadowrun is the game I played the most (and quite enjoyed it back in the day), but nowadays I find the rules too cumbersome and the updated timeline is not really my cup of tea. Perhaps I am not the only one who feels that way. Catalyst Game Labs recently released a supplement that lets you play in 2050 using the 4th Edition rules.
So what is your favorite Cyberpunk roleplaying game and why? It would be great if you could share your thoughts in the comments below.
For me it\’s CP2020. It was the second RPG I ever played so I have a soft spot for it. The GM at the time was awesome, and knew what we wanted, so mashed the system a little to make it less dangerous to the PCs, and a bit more action movie styled that realistic combat. It was so much fun and the group played characters through about ten years of their lives, with no real endgame in mind, just keeping playing for the sake of it.
In a while I\’m starting my own CP2020 game, and I\’m running the combat as lethal and realistic as it should be, with the players being everyman types, just trying to get through the day in a dark and gritty cyber-enhanced future.
Bit of a basic run down in the link below, but I have a much better opening write up that I might post as a separate blog soon.
I’ll have to admit that I’ve not had a lot of opportunities to play Cyberpunk games, but I do think that the new World of Darkness shard: Bleeding Edge is actually pretty good. I’d probably choose that as my go-to system while I’m still getting used to Cyberpunk games in general.
I think I actually picked this up a while ago. I think I should give it a closer look.
First, I haven’t done any actual cyberpunk gaming in … 20ish years. The early edition of Cyberpunk (I used to know one of the RTG authors, Colin Fisk, online), first edition Shadowrun, and Cyberspace were my CP games. To a certain extent, the first edition of Mage: The Ascension also had some ability to be played in a cyberpunk-ish fashion, even though it’s not mainly a cyberpunk game.
During the late 80’s, Cyberpunk was probably my favorite genre. I bought tons of Cyberpunk books, my housemate and I would sit around talking about all kinds of cyberpunk-ish things, how the internet might develop around Virtual Reality and other net-running concepts, things like that (yes, I’ve been on the internet since the late 80’s, I don’t mean that in a bragging way, I mean that to give some frame of reference to “this was all going on in my life at the same time”) … and I pretty much bought any game that had strong cyberpunk elements to it. I was also on the original Cyber-rpg mailing list (pre-dating even the rec.games.frp.cyber usenet newsgroup), and would even discuss all sorts of cyberpunk twists and rules for various RPGs.
So, 23 years ago, it was something I could have talked about endlessly. That said, I haven’t done any cyberpunk gaming since the early 90’s. To me, in the mid 90’s, it looked to me like the actual direction the internet culture was going was more undermining the corporate hegemony of CP literature, than creating it. Things were going in a much more open, DIY, and small/agile company/work-group direction. That made cyberpunk feel much more like a late 80’s anachronism to me, and not as interesting. In the last 10ish years, that has reversed … right now, CP seems more ultra-realistic (not as much in technologies, as in the role corporations are trying to play in our society) than like a failed vision of the future. Perhaps to the point of being too depressing to actually play it as a game.
1st Edition Cyberpunk, and the early material for 2020 were pretty ideal as a hard-core Cyberpunk game. The combat system had been designed around assumptions gleaned from FBI shooting crime/shooting statistics, but without being ultra-simulationist (like the ultra-simulationist feel of the Leading Edge game system). It was a well thought out, and well developed, game system and game world.
But, that said, it wasn’t my favorite. When they game out with their next-generation material (with nano-tech and the generation of kids that had grown up entirely enmeshed in the ‘net culture), it lost something for me. At that point, the game just stopped being interesting to me. It also seemed to be picked up by lots of gun-toting munchkins (as opposed to sword wielding munchkins), which completely turned me off.
Shadowrun had a few very interesting system quirks, and flexibility, that I also loved (I still love the way they handle Virtual Adepts), but it also always felt to me like it was more of a cyberpunk cartoon than something hard-core. I’ll also give my nod to Mage (first edition, I didn’t ever pick up the later editions) for it’s cyberpunk elements, and the fact that I loved its very simple mechanics (of the entire Storyteller system), and way anything could fit it’s view of magic (cybernetics and netrunning included).
I can’t leave out GURPS Cyberpunk … if for no other reason than the HUGE cultural impact it had, based on what happened with the Secret Service. Plus, GURPS in general (used to, I haven’t checked in a long time) produces great, in both depth and breadth, game material in its supplements. That said, I’ve never _actually_ played GURPS (even though I have 2 or 3 bookshelves full of GURPS supplements).
I could also probably mention one of my other favorite games, The Mutant Chronicles, as it had some cyberpunk elements … both the Megacorporations, and the Cybertronic corporation specifically. But, it wasn’t really about Cyberpunk per-se, and Cybertronic was probably an odd fit for the rest of the game setting; later editions of the setting (in the Warzone mini’s game) eliminated their cybernetics aspect. If you eliminated the Dark Legion part of the setting, and focused on the in-fighting between the Megacorporations, it could be very Cyberpunk … but that’s never the way I played it, nor was it my draw to the game/setting. Unfortunately, The Mutant Chronicles seems to be a cursed setting — no one has been able to successfully market it. Not even the movie (which had a pretty spectacular cast) was able to go anywhere.
My favorite Cyberpunk game system/setting was Cyberspace. It was from ICE (Iron Crown Enterprises) (and in the late 80’s, Rolemaster/Spacemaster and MERP were my “go to” game systems). Cyberspace was a variation of the “light” game system (MERP — Middle Earth Role Playing), only transplanting the rules from a fantasy setting to a cyberpunk setting. It had a section in the back for using it with Spacemaster, as well. But, just on its own, Cyberspace was like a middle-ground between hard-core cyberpunk and soft-core Shadowrun. You could even take material from MERP and use it to make a Shadowrun like system, if you wanted. It’s also got a very light and easier-to-work-with system than RM/SM (which was my first move toward lighter game systems). The supplements were very interesting (Death Valley as a big “Escape from New York” style prison, that has a feel like the “Mad Max” movies — or the “Logan’s Run” type “Arcology” of (Chicago?) done as a full supplement). It was all very well done. Unfortunately, that was also the start of the decline of the original ICE company. When ICE finally got back on its feet, 15 years later, they didn’t resurrect this system for their “lite” game system, instead they created something similar, but entirely new: HARP. It’s good, but not as light and flexible, in my opinion.
20 years later, I still compare everything to Cyberspace. My FUDGE skill list … heavily influenced by Cyberspace… and so-on. Systemically, it’s in my top 5 games that have influenced my vision of an ideal game system, over these last 30ish years of gaming. It also had my favorite cyberpunk corporation of all time: Serendipity (there was so much that could be done with that one).
Thanks for your indepth overview. I think I have to find out it Cyberspace is still available.
they also have the supplements (incl. Death Game 2090, the death valley prison setting; and Chicago Arcology)
Great post, thank you for that! I have not heard of Cyberspace before but will check it out on drivethu.
I must admit that despite it being a genre I found fascinating my my teens, I did not play much Cyberpunk. I did love the Cyberpunk RPG, black box, black books, with the Friday Night Firefight rules that made combat SO VERY DEADLY!
I played some Shadowrun and that would probably be the game I like the most simply because I played it and read so much of it back in the 2nd edition days. I love the setting, but the system not so much these days.
I loved the Underground RPG http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_(role-playing_game) with its mash up of super heroes, cyberpunk and the Give Me Liberty Comics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Give_Me_Liberty
Funny how we’ve caught up with some of the ideas of the cyberpunk genre in the 80s, things are worse in some ways. Now let’s see if we can make Eclipse Phase come true!
CP is all about the feel of the game. Are megacorps more powerful than the governments? Are the governments corrupt? Is the “little man” downtrodden? Are there slums in the cities? How bad are those slums? Can the “little man” do anything to clean up the government/slums or somehow weaken the megacorps? Likewise, are there brand names to everything (that’s a common theme in good CP novels) and do those brands carry power, authority, style points, grace or popularity? Is the tech level higher than the societal graces? While tech grows to amazing heights, culture and society drop to astonishing lows.
Any good CP game is going capture all of this, but without allowing the rules to get in the way. CP reads fast in novels. CP needs to play fast in the games.
In my opinion, Cyberpunk 2020 has this nailed.
I was also a Kickstarter backer for TechNoir, but my group is deeply embroiled in a Pathfinder campaign right now. As soon as we can kick clear of the campaign (or finish it) I’m going to suggest TechNoir for the next game/campaign. Once I get a chance to run (or maybe play in) a TechNoir game, my opinion may change.
For now, it’s R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020.
My all time favorite was CP2020, of course. It was almost the only one that had Cyberpunk nailed, and I really liked the rules and the sourcematerial. Unfortunately, I never really had a chance to play it, because everyone was enamored with Shadowrun, which drove me nuts because Shadowrun takes the cyber of the genre, and ditches the punk aspect completely. Being thieves and assassins isn’t Punk, and it was depressing how much Shadowrun is liked.
I’d like to give an honorable mention to the Cyberpapcey Sourcebook from Torg, which I felt also hit the nail on the head for Cyberpunk. I really liked it as a setting, and I would love to steal it for a Cyberpunk in Paris game.
I also would like to give a nod to World of Darkness, particularly Werewolf and Mage, for managing to keep the Punk in the game, even if Cyberware was either evil or made your character suspect. While a lot of Vamp players forgot, the game wasn’t about Gothic Horror. It was about Gothic Punk. So many players refused to rebel.
Zaibatsu by Paul Elliot
We used this to run “40 Minutes into the Future”, the world of Max Headroom after the Media Wars heat up. We used our homebrew D6 system, Qwik-6. .
This reminded me of The Cyberpunk Revival Project at 1KM1KT.
You know, I always suspected the dark secret of those who back Kickstarter RPGs is that they never actually play those games. Turns out my suspicions are well-founded!
Of course, I’m a Threat in the back of Technoir, so I’m the pot to y’all’s kettle!
My favorite cyberpunk RPG is the board game Android, by Fantasy Flight Games, which is so involved it may as well be an RPG. The Android universe, in fact, has really taken off, spawning two novels, a game by Donald X. Vaccarino, and a revival of Richard Garfield’s Netrunner card game due out later this month.
I’d love to see them spin it into a full RPG. Of course, if JEREMY KELLER were SMART he would GET IN TOUCH WITH FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES and, y’know, have lunch or something. In the meantime, I am working on some sort of Transmission for New Angeles which, God willing, I will run (no pun intended).
Oh, and there is of course Alternity, though the Star*Drive setting is more space opera with a light splash of cyberpunk. Suits me well enough!
I played Cyberpunk 2013/2020, Shadowrun 1st Edition, Cyberspace and currently via play-by-forum: Remember Tomorrow. The last game is without GM. And I think it is the best game to get the flair of Cyberpunk. Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun lost the theme of this genre for me. Every expansion brought more Gadget-Punk, Magic than…
I also backed Tech-Noir, but I still think Remember Tomorrow is “more” Cyberpunk and much easier to play. I have not played Technoir, yet..
Do you have Ex Machina on your radar. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_Machina_%28role-playing_game%29
My favorite Cyberpunk source book is Hardwired. Hope this helps…