Over the Air Imagination: Cyberpunk 2020 on Skype

In my teasers for this post, I called it a post-mortem of my most recent game session. Sitting down at my computer this afternoon, I thought it more useful to talk about the campaign as a whole, and then go into this session in a bit more detail.

I started running this game early in 2010, in a bout of frustration I was having with a play-by-post game I was playing in. I wanted to sit at a table and play again, but didn’t want to go through the awkward trial and error of finding new players, and couldn’t really get the old group back together, as they were spread all over the USA at that point. My thought then was a compromise: run the game with the old crew, but using a VoIP provider like Skype.

The game itself was pretty simple, from a writing perspective. Take the pre-existing Cyberpunk 2020 setting, and tweak it so it takes place in Pittsburgh. This bit of writing improved the locational awareness of the players, and was a trick I had used before in high school quite successfully.

So how has it been working? Pretty well. The players are a group of working-class Pittsburghers who have banded together to push back at a consortium of faceless corporations trying to forcibly gentrify the city. The message is heavy-handed, but makes for a fun “us-v.-them” mentality. And of course, that mentality can be played with by sending the players allies from the corporations they thought they were fighting.

The most recent session I ran was centered around a series of encounters I drag out fairly often: “they’re trying to kill you”. The concept is that you have the players try to complete a basic task or series of basic tasks, like meeting people, or going shopping, or something to that effect. Every time they try to complete said task, you send NPCs to try and kill them or their friends. It’s great for heightening the level of paranoia, and it gives you ample opportunity to mitigate one of the biggest flaws of the 2020 system: your players are very powerful. Only through ambushes and sneaky dealings can you actually scare them. All in all, this game has had a better balance of power than my previous ones, despite the players’ large arsenal. In addition to not feeling invincible, the players have also not yet felt like I was ganging up on them. It’s a precarious balancing act.

What do I think of the campaign? I like it, though it still isn’t the same as sitting down at a table and playing. The players have brought a great cast of characters, and I’ve managed to keep the pace up despite my planning-minimum approach. If anyone is interested in more details of the campaign, I’m keeping notes up at Obsidian Portal, though they’re fairly incomplete. One of my players has written a great series of session notes, so those can give you an idea of how the game is going in much greater detail.

Tomorrow, a look back at a couple of my favorite campaigns. On Thursday, I’ll talk about my attempts to write fiction from roleplaying games, and why I’ve had minimal success.


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