Evolving Cyberpunk Gaming

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In the early 1980s, the cyberpunk genre was born – and with it, a vision of the future that’s still with us today. This ‘futuristic film noir’, notably popularized by the novels of William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, and the film Blade Runner, is grim, gray, rainy, and dystopian. Technology is omnipresent, and heavily features cyberware, with its implanting or ‘plugging in’ of wires and metallic enhancements into the human body. Japan is typically the dominant global power, thanks to the economic boom it experienced at the time, and the yen (or a fictionalized equivalent) is the new world currency.

“High Tech, Low Life” is a common catchphrase, easily highlighting the central narrative of criminals and street samurai whose bodies are often packed to overflowing with cybernetic implants. The wealthy mega-corporations are the villains, and the office workers and average citizens are little more than cannon fodder to be cut down or swept aside by the anti-heroes fighting the system. Role-playing games like Cyberpunk and Shadowrun helped spread this vision among the gaming community, resulting in a further popularity of grim and gritty anti-heroes that’s lasted for decades.

Of course, the actual development of real-world technology and history rarely follows its fictional counterpart, and cyberpunk was no exception. Tech became smaller and streamlined, wired became wireless, and Japan suffered a major economic crash. Though none of this invalidates the cyberpunk genre as means of story telling, it does suggest that there are new options available. This is where Corporia comes in.

Corporia is a tabletop role-playing game that I’ve been working on for the last two years, and while it does have roots in cyberpunk, there are some significant differences that make it stand out from the Cyberpunk and Shadowrun lines. The most obvious difference is that the main protagonists are the reincarnated Knights of the Round Table! This means that while honor, justice, and chivalry are rare traits for characters in cyberpunk fiction, in Corporia they’re essential. Operating within these constraints not only makes for good drama when confronting persons of opposing beliefs, but also when dealing with allies who may follow the Code to the letter, loosely, or not at all.

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“Low life” characters are also the exceptions, rather than the rule. Most characters were actually inducted into the Knightwatch from other careers as Badges, Headhunters, Journos, Suits, Thinkers, and so on, giving them a variety of skill sets to use in addition to the training they receive in swords and firearms. (Yes, swords! In the hands of a player character – all of whom have been supernaturally enhanced by Chaos magic – swords are particularly effective against monsters and magically mutated humans.)

The magical Chaos energy that the knights’ return unwittingly released back into the world not only allows for the infinite variety of mutated humans and dimension-lost monsters, but also fixes the problem of the real-world technological evolution. Sure, the citizens of Corporia’s near future have access to technology like ‘EyePhones’ (essentially a virtual smartphone on your contact lenses) and X-Calibres (directed energy pistols), but they now have to deal with their future tech being unreliable. You see, the Chaos energy, which the corporations outwardly dismiss as cosmic radiation, can create ‘Flux zones’ where newer technology just doesn’t work, or works only sporadically. Yet, technology from the recent past – essentially, whatever time period the players are living in – does. This means that even if you’re playing Corporia several decades from now, your characters will be using slightly outdated technology, thus freeing both the book and the game master from trying to keep with all the latest technological developments.

Corporia also features a megacity that, outwardly, is almost utopian. Environmental technology has become profitable, allowing a cityscape with clean streets, weather controls, dazzling glass and white stone buildings, high-quality water and air, electric cars, and the trains running on time. Of course, there’s a reason for the knights to return – the people of the city are in gilded cages, living in wage-slavery but kept docile with ‘bread and circuses’: free limited internet, cheap fast food, and mood stabilizers. It’s a far cry from the dirty underbelly of traditional cyberpunk fiction – though you can still find that in the ‘slumburbs’ and underground malls as you travel further from the city center.

There’s a lot more to tell, of course, and I haven’t even touched on the rules yet! So if you’re interested in learning more, please stop by the Kickstarter page for the Corporia role-playing game and check out the preview videos and PDF download. Funding has ended, and we’ve met our goals! Now join us as we begin the next step of our journey!

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And speaking of Kickstarter, don’t forget to also check out the ForeverGeek Kickstarter store!

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Writer, Game Designer and General Internet Addict, often lurking on Google+, Facebook, and twitter. Mark’s latest project, Corporia, can be found on Kickstarter and on his website, Brabblemark.com.

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