roleplaying games

Behind the Blog: PbtA Cyberpunk

Yesterday I posted a fairly well-read post over at Cannibal Halfling comparing The Sprawl and The Veil as the two current standard bearers of Cyberpunk in Powered by the Apocalypse. Though the post was partially because I thought people would read it (and indeed, the post got in two days more hits than this blog receives in a month), it was also borne out of trying to work through my own gaming desires through writing, much in the same way that I did when I wrote about hexcrawls, of all things.

First, an apology to Mark Richardson. Mark Richardson is the author of Headspace, another excellent PbtA Cyberpunk game. The reason Headspace was not included was fairly simple: the conceit of Headspace is remarkably specific and fairly narrow. For those who don’t know, characters in Headspace are a team of operatives that share a mental headspace, much like in the TV show Sense8. It takes place in a Cyberpunk setting and is an extremely cool idea, but it is what it is. I’m not knocking the game (I kickstarted it), merely viewing it as an avenue to explore a particular idea rather than a range of broad Cyberpunk themes.

Second, I’ll share here my goals for talking about the two games I did beyond the desire to explore the current offerings in Cyberpunk and get clicks from those who wanted the same. It’s simple, really: I’m going to run a PbtA Cyberpunk game as my next long-running campaign. I had decided on The Sprawl before I read The Veil, then I read The Veil and became a lot less sure. Now after having reread and reviewed both, I have no idea.

You can read my other post for the full details, but long story short, the games are quite different and designed for telling different stories. As I am quite the Cyberpunk aficionado, the whole range of stories interests me. The basic rundown is this: The Sprawl gives me the mechanics to extend a style of Cyberpunk campaign I’ve been running since 2010 or so, if not even earlier, with Cyberpunk 2020. The Sprawl is in some ways the perfect PbtA reimagining of games like Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun, where the characters are assumed to be operatives working in the grey triangle between law enforcement, corporations who act above the law, and criminals who deliberately break it. As far as running what people imagine to be a “Cyberpunk game”, The Sprawl does very well.

Problem is, exploration of Cyberpunk as a genre, transhumanism as a broader genre or idea, and the wider gamut of literary ideas, is hard to do but yet desirable. When I first ran a Cyberpunk game in GURPS, my players created characters that were incredibly interesting and sat outside of the class archetypes in Cyberpunk 2020. Those characters also, maybe not coincidentally, align with some of the playbooks in The Veil, now that I reflect on it. Stepping outside the abovementioned “operative” framework is kind of difficult, and it’s one thing I feel like Interface Zero really tried to do and yet failed at. The Veil presents a number of themes that are exactly the ones that other Cyberpunk games have difficulty supporting with their rules, and appears to execute on them.

When I think about what I want to run going forward, The Veil comes to mind first because it is doing something new and something I’ve wanted to do in some form or another. I also think it plays on the relationship mechanics in a way that my players would like, based on the time I’ve spent running Apocalypse World. That said, The Sprawl is also thematically aligned to what I want to do, and presents some mechanical elements that I really want to play with…the clocks gamify PbtA in a way most other systems don’t, and I have a desire to use that as I write. Beyond that, having each player write a corporation and having them all in the center of the setting is making my intrigue brain go nuts…there’s so much potential with that.

Every time I think I’m leaning towards one system or the other, some feature of the other system comes to mind, and I’m unsure again. I may just have to poll my players, ultimately, and I’m not sure what result that will produce. What I want more than anything else is a game that the maximum number of my players will engage with, that will produce a fun campaign that I can also write about. I’m not worried about one choice or the other…I just want to play both. Once a slot begins to open up for me with my online group to run at all, I will explore this in more depth.

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