Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cyberpunk v3.0

As a literary genre, Cyberpunk is dead (or nearly so). Many of its core concepts and genre tropes have escaped into the rest of the Speculative Fiction shelf, it's true, but Cyberpunk fiction hasn't had anything revolutionary or even particularly innovative in a very long time.

Okay, I lied. Sorta. The innovative Cyberpunk fiction that we're seeing these days is innovative and entertaining because it throws out one or more of the core concepts of what we have learned to expect from Cyberpunk fiction - it's Cyberpunk without the trappings of Cyberpunk.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, for example, threw out the MegaCorporations. I had a conversation with a friend the other day who didn't believe that this was a Cyberpunk story, in part because there was not the feelig of character vs. society that is the core of so much CP.

But I'm not here to talk about fiction. It's not something I feel qualified to discuss at length. This is my place, and we talk about Games here, right? So let's talk about Cyberpunk Genre Games. More specifically, let's talk role-playing games.

As some of you have noticed, Cyberpunk V3.0 is out. It's drawing a lot of flack for being so different from the previous edition. Well, that and the art - but that's a topic for someone more qualified to discuss art.

So what's the deal with the new edition?

For one, Cyberware doesn't cause any loss of connection with your fellow man. In short, Mike Pondsmith has tossed out a major component of what we've come to accept as core to the Cyberpunk genre roleplaying experience. There's still a Humanity mechanic, but it's not as critical as it was in previous editions.

But he doesn't stop there. The Megacorporations are shattered and weakened - shells of what they used to be. The 'Net? It's trashed. The old 'Net theoretically is still around somewhere, but it's immensely dangerous, now. That's two tropes of Literary Cyberpunk gone ...

What does that leave us?

With no 'Net, there is no single unifying cultural influence. In fact, most people have split into a variety of Alternative Cultures (AltCults), who are involved in a definate culture war (which sometimes includes guns). And ideas DO have power, again. Pondsmith discusses memes (self-replicating ideas) for over a page. His claim seems to be that each culture is nothing more than a collection of memes.
Memes are constantly evolving, growing. Some take root, others die out (or we'd all still be wearing leisure suits and going to discos). And occasionally, renegade memes evolve and propagate. When an adolf Hitler spawns an infections idea of fascisme and racial superiority, you can get a Nazi meme that can seduce an entire nation to commit the worst atrocities in human history. And then spend generations trying to stomp it out even after Der Fuhrer is dead and buried.

The way vaccinate against these rogue memes is to make sure they can't take hold. You do that by locking down information in agreed upon memes that most people adhere to.
Each of the six AltCults he describes has three core cultural memes. The Edgerunners AltCult, for example holds that:
- Metal is still better than Meat
- Technology enhances you, but it's not everything
- There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Mike Pondsmith has crafted a world which has no remaining history - the DataKrash which took out the net didn't just take the 'Net down, it scrambled computer files all over the world. One corporation in its death throes released a virus that attacks acid-free paper. When you put those two together, history is very much controlled by the teller. When you have no history, you are free to invent your own - and even mythologize it, if you feel like doing so. Oh - and remember - how much of our history is responsible for the cultural memes we grew up in?

This book still has a great deal of the Pondsmith Swagger. A bit of jumping up and down and pointing, "See? This is what Cyberpunk is all about! We're k3wl3r than you are," but anyone who read Cyberpunk 2020 could probably see that coming. It's almost Pondsmith's signature.

Remember when I said there as no 'Net? It's not quite true. There is a DataPool. It has similarities to the old 'Net, but it's not as interactive. People's computers don't directly interface with one another - it's more like the UseNet, only everything has a Veracity Index (You indicate how truthful you think a given entry is based on the facts you have available). There is a sample of this that will (supposedly) be updated regularly at this link. In fact, there are a lot of links through out the book, some of which (like this one) will tell you "There is no active content at this time." With all the links to their website within the book, it's a bit jarring just to head to their front page, and see nothing about Cyberpunk V3.0

So what about the Cyberware?

Well, it doesn't cause Humanity Loss anymore, and each of the six AltCults have a new 'Tech:

Edgerunners are closest to the old Cyberpunks; their 'Tech is basically modular cyberware. Only it doesn't replace your arm - it encases it and/or enhances your meat body.

Reefers are water-dwelling shape-shifters; their tech is custom-tailored viruses which allow you to change shapes.

Desnai are technosmiths who used their animatronic know-how to create mecha; their tech allows them to control a variety of these Mecha.

Rolling State replaces the old Nomads. They have "Adaptive Nanosymbiosis." IN short, they ave nanites in their system whoch allow them to heal like crazy and resist poison and disease.

Riptide are ocean-based nomads - a number of floating cities cut their foundations and wander the oceans. They have "bioforms" - artificial creatures that serve as both tools (including weapons) and servangs.

Cee-Metal are full-conversion cyborgs. They've got "Livemetal," which replaces their entire body with metal. And they're not limited to human shapes anymore. There is one form in the book which gets me humming the "Transformers" theme every time I see it.

None of these are treated as though they are silly, and each 'Tech has a one-paragraph write-up with the AltCult description and a more detailed writeup later in the book. It doesn't cost money to get these 'Techs - you need to first have Membership (a 1-point Perk) in an AltCult, and then you spend "Giri" (cashed favors) for the tech. Starting characters get 150 to spend. Helping your AltCult gains you Giri. Working against their interests loses it for you.

And yes, there is still OldCybe, which costs Humanity and anyone can get for money (As opposed to Giri).

System-wise, Pondsmith has moved from the old Interlock system to the Fusion system. To be honest, even though there are pages and pages and pages of

I can easily see why so many people hated this book. At the same time, I really appreciate it. It's not what I expected from Cyberpunk. At one point, Pondsmith claims, "Cyberpunk is all about how Man uses Technology," and this book demonstrates that belief.

While it has a different flavor from previous editions (and other Cyberpunk-genre RPG's), I'll save a spot on my shelf for this one. I may even buy supplements as they come out.

I'll give it a Tier II rating.

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