Actual Play

Actual Play: The Adventures of Roland and his Laundry Service

Today we talk about the game I’m playing in now. I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2020 for a decade now, and in the process have gotten a few people fairly enamored of it. It’s a fairly simple system with a bit more depth and lethality than a lot of the other systems that were getting popular in the late 80s. It’s still ludicrously dated now, but that’s part of what makes it so fun. Additionally, the fairly portable and screw-with-able metaplot makes it fairly easy for beginner GMs to go out on a limb. Case in point: Mark, our GM, is running his first 2020 game, and doing so in a corner of the world he picked out, with minimal supplemental rule backup.

But what I really want to talk about is my character in this game. It’s a very interesting dynamic I’ve set up, and I didn’t even fully realize the implications until the last week or so, five sessions in. But to get to more detail, you’re going to have to meet Roland. Roland has a few of the mysterious stranger characteristics (no last name, for instance), but I believe I play the angle fairly well. You see, Roland is an information broker and blackmailer par excellence. The group’s informal name is “Roland’s Laundry Service” because Roland knows about everyone’s dirty laundry. He has a full body computer rig and loads of hard drive space, recording everything and picking up information everywhere. All his blackmail, he keeps. And if he dies, all the information is leaked to the net. Yeah, I know, I should have named him Julian.

But what struck me is not Roland’s behavior in-game. Information broker is a subclass in the WildSide supplement of Cyberpunk 2020, so it’s hardly like I came up with this. And Hiro Protagonist, arguably one of the most famous heroes/protagonists in the body of Cyberpunk literature, was at his core, an information broker. What struck me was the way I played him from a meta-game perspective. The kill-switch and blackmail mechanic is very much an insurance policy game mechanic. It says to the GM, “send people after me and you’ll have problems”. It also says, in a more subtle way, that you don’t trust the GM to keep your character alive. There are a couple reasons for this, one justified, and one less so.

Cyberpunk 2020 is played mean. I’ve always played it mean, and the rules recommend to play it mean (see: Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads). Making characters hard to kill is par for the course, whether you do it with crazy hacking software, subdermal armor, or cybernetic reflex boosters. I came up with something a little more roundabout than your typical uparmored merc, but when it comes down to it, it fits with the Cyberpunk ethos.

Where I’m less justified is that, as I said above, there was a trust issue here. I designed the character to be mostly noncombat, and I didn’t trust our first-time GM to run a game that balanced the roles well. Cyberpunk has poor niche protection as far as system balance goes, but I really should have known better that even though our GM is new, he’s been playing with us for nearly 5 years now, and knows how I and others like to run things. The way the game has been going has given me no reason to think otherwise.

One problem with GMing so much is that you’re used to getting your way. No matter how good you are at being reactive and improvising, the fact is that you can do anything, and that’s the fun of it. I’ve found that when I get taken out of this role, I feel vulnerable. Suddenly, this character is my only one, and I don’t have behind the scenes access to push things in one direction or another. The result is a character with concept armor, one that relies on the setting and the setting’s consistency rather than rolling the dice to stay alive. As often happens in crazy games, this concept armor has been peeled away, and now I’m running around getting shot at with everyone else. And it’s fantastic.

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