Thursday, April 14, 2016

Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, and a New Future

This post has to start with a disclaimer, because this is important to note. Cyberpunk settings and materials for games and fiction have often (almost always, really) involved appropriation and racial and cultural stereotyping of indigenous cultures, people of color, and pretty much anyone outside of the white "norm" in the U.S. and parts of Europe. This is something that sucks, and it is very important. I want it clear that what I am talking about is not meant to dismiss or ignore this. 

On topic:

As many people know, I am a big fan of the tabletop RPG Shadowrun, which was released originally in 1989 and set in a cyberpunk technically-a-dystopia. My favorite edition, and in fact the only edition I've played more than a half a session, is 3rd Edition. There are a lot of reasons I like it - the first is that it's got a whole bunch of somewhat-ridiculous but fascinating, rich setting material. Along with that, it has magic and technology in a bundle, which I love. You can build the most ridiculous characters (especially with the point-buy system, which to my knowledge is not available in later editions, which is a travesty), and tell radical stories.

There are a few ideological reasons for me, too. There are a lot of moral and ethical aspects to Shadowrun if you dig into it (which I have been lucky enough to have a GM who allowed this). Big ones, of course, are things like bodily autonomy, personal freedoms, etc. For me the most clear things are:


  • The reality of class and financial disparity. While most people would probably not have seen it, I spent a fair amount of time as a kid in a pretty financially desperate place. My family was not well to do, I had to do a lot of manual labor growing up, and the changes I experienced when I finally made some money were incredible. However, class is ignored a lot in the US. The people in power rarely discuss the fact that there's a massive income and class disparity, and that lack of recognition and acknowledgement is reflected in Shadowrun. In the Lifestyle rules, there are rules for everything from where you get your protein cubes to how long it will take an ambulance to get to you. If you don't have healthcare (which is fucking expensive), you have to know a street doc, and if it's not a good one, you're fucked. There are barriers if you don't have money, and it's pretty well established that if you don't have money, you're going to have to break the law to do it - and that's not unrealistic even now.
  • The reality of injury. In Shadowrun 3e, there is a damage track that includes stun damage, then physical damage, and overflow which basically means "y'all dead." If you get shot with a shotgun and you're a human without augments? You are likely to die. If you're a troll with armor? Much less likely, but if someone really great at the weapon is using it, you still might get hurt. The damage from weapons is no joke, and you can seriously die. The first time I played Shadowrun I died in the first five minutes. The thing is, though, it's not a cheap injury or death. You can't really come back from the dead, but you can get magical healing (one try) or treatment by a street doc, even though it's expensive as hell, and you'll probably have to have down time to heal. However, the injury is not "whoops I slipped and died!" or "I took twelve shots to the chest and then got hit by a shell casing and it took me to -10" either. It feels meaty, like the injuries actually make you take modifications to your rolls so it's represented mechanically and in the fiction. This is something I really appreciate. (Note: This does not keep you from doing cool shit. You can do so much cool shit.)
  • The power of choice. One of the biggest things about Shadowrun 3e that I love is that you have a significant amount of choice. I did not find this to be the case with 5e and 4e seems very removed from the kind of gameplay that this is relevant to. Both with priority and point-buy, you can build characters with a lot of variety. Everything from disabilities (they have flaw options for a bunch of physical and some mental disabilities or disorders - and no, I am not saying they're perfect, but they are there) to augmented bio- and cyberware. The thing that is awesome about it, in my opinion, is that you can have a disability or completely change your body, and still be just as effective as any of the other players. You can choose whether your character is fully physically combat ready, or if they have flashbacks, or any number of things, but you can also change if they have titanium bone lacing or in-eye cameras. These things are, though, limited by my first point - class and financial disparity. However, that's part of why people are doing the illegal junk they're doing.
  • You can have a cause. While the game is not specifically targeted at it, you can aim towards political and social goals, like taking down corporations not because you're hired by a competing corp, but because they're doing unethical shit. You can have personal priorities, and moral and ethical standards (there are even rules for partial and complete pacifism in the flaws). The game doesn't have to strictly be about running for cash (though the nuyen help!), it can be about radical change and overcoming the prejudices, biases, and brutal rule of corporate interest.


There's some other stuff, too, but those are the big ones. They might not be the same that other people like, or that they even care about at all! But they are big to me.

With that last point especially in mind,

I'd love to see a game or story post-Shadowrun, or alternate to Shadowrun. Not just "new edition of Shadowrun" but instead a future where the corporations have been knocked down a peg but they're still resisting, where people have achieved less disparity, where people have been able to cut down crime because social policies don't fucking suck so hard. I want a future where we can see a world of hope. I want to be a hiccup from post-scarcity. I want creation for creation's sake, not to fill a piggy bank. I want people to choose the bodies - or lack of body - they want. I want the conflict to be based on ideology (instead of which corporation pays more) and the pursuit of equal access to safety and security.

I love the tech in Shadowrun, and I love the concepts explored. I'd just really love to expand upon it in a way that operates less on the plan of getting more nuyen and instead on the goal of changing the world. I can't help it, I guess - the real world seems beyond possibility of change, so it's become a fantasy I'd like to play out. At least if I played it in a world like Shadowrun, I could dual-wield vibro-swords.



This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs.