We live in the future now, so grab your mirrorshades, your Braindance rig, and your cool cyber armblades. It’s time to head to Night City.
Well folks we have officially hit the point at which the dystopian cyberpunk future has become the dystopian cyberpunk present. Whether it’s police using your doorbell camera to spy on your neighborhood, facial identity software rendering privacy a dream of the past, corporate greed spiraling out of control to the point that workers are little more than indentured servants in some cases–this all sounds like something out of R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020, which was written nearly forty years ago, when people thought the 80’s were being pessimistic about the future.
Since we’re now in official 2020 territory, let’s take a look at all the glitter, glam, gluns that Night City has to offer.
There’s a a lot. Trust me.
For those of you who don’t know: Cyberpunk 2020 is the second edition of the classic cyberpunk game, Cyberpunk. Which, imaginative title aside, was a fantastic game that took you into a world straight out of a William Gibson novel. You don’t have to flip far before you’re running across familiar territory–you’ve got everything the Sprawl Trilogy has to offer and more–megacorporations, cybernetic body parts, a world of outcasts living slightly off the beaten path. Punks and guns and crime in a world that moves all too fast.
And totally sweet cars. Almost forgot about those.
Movies like Blade Runner* also have their influence on this game. You only have to look at the design of the city, clothing, or color palette to conjure up the haunting echo-y tracks of Vangelis…
…or the haunting echo-y voice of Edward James Olmos.
This wouldn’t be the last time Edward James Olmos dealt with the shortcomings of synthetic beings…
But all that is not to criticize Cyberpunk. It captured the guts of a fantastic Cyberpunk story. Mike Pondsmith, of R. Talsorian games, managed to take everything that was great about the genre and condense it into an RPG that delivered style and substance in equal measure–even if in-game, the emphasis was on style.
That’s one of the things that sets the game apart from other games in the genre. There’s an emphasis on looking cool. In fact there’s a stat called Cool, which not only governs your ability/willingness to keep your head in a fight, but is also a requirement if you want to look badass. I’m not joking. In the world of Cyberpunk 2020 the criminals and protagonists who do all the shady dealings are called Edgerunners, and in one of the splatbooks, there’s a fashion line of “Edgerunner clothing,” which is incredibly radical, but if you don’t have enough of a Cool stat when you’re wearing it, you instead come off looking like a poseur, or at the very least the sort of tool who spells it poseur.
It’s little details like that, that really drive home the themes of the game. It’s not just about gearing up your character with the latest high-tech cyberware, or even being down and out in the big city. It’s about a certain feel–and it’s woven into the DNA of the game. It’s in the art, it’s in the rules, it’s in the world. This is a game where you have deadly, combat-hardened Solos (your basic Street Samurai) getting into duels while other players might take up the reins of a Rockerboy and put the punk into Cyberpunk.
No one exemplifies glam AND glitz quite like Johnny Silverhand here.
The rules did a fantastic job of mocking up a cyberpunk world. You can design your own hacking programs, perform maintenance on your cyberware, even get the skills you need (mostly firearms and sprinting) to successfully pick up milk from the convenience store. But they are VERY much a product of their time, but because they feel very much like a late 80’s/early 90’s game, it only adds to the aesthetic they’ve got. The world of Cyberpunk is another era’s future.
But, enough reminiscing about rules that included both dermal body armor implants AND something called a Mr. Studd (all night, every night +1 to Seduction rolls), let’s instead take a look at the world they inhabit. A world of corporations and chrome.
Oh…they meant it literally…
So, much like the other cyberpunk game we’ve covered, Cyberpunk 2020 takes place in our world, just set slightly in the future. In the year 2020, funnily enough. Like Shadowrun the world is in a state of disarray–megacorporations have risen to prominence, but there’s no magic. And, I feel I should point out, though many of you have likely already said, Cyberpunk predates Shadowrun by almost a year.
The world of Cyberpunk is a fair bit bleaker than Shadowrun’s. For one, the United States have become a Third World nation following a massive socioeconimic collapse and a period of martial law where the government all but collapsed and megacorporations basically stepped in with carte blanche to “save” America. So, you know, eerily topical, but I guess this means we’ll also get some cool cybernetics?
At any rate, Europe is now where all the cool stuff is. Germany and the UK are on the cutting edge of culture and where all the cool people want to be. The Pacific Rim boiled over with cutting-edge technology but also revolutions…but all of that takes a backseat to the sprawling megalopolis of Night City.
Night City’s where it all goes down. Located in a nebulous area between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Night City is home to over 5 million people, and 20 different MegaCorporations:
- Arasaka, a huge Japanese zaibatsu headed by a megalomaniacal CEO obsessed with making Japan into a superpower
- Biotechnica, an Italian biotechnology, pharmacology, and cybernetics firm
- Euro Business Machines (EBM), an information technology corporation headquartered in Germany.
- Infocomp, a commercial think-tank and information repository
- International Electric Corporation (IEC), a European conglomerate involved in multiple and diverse industries ranging from consumer products to heavy construction through to corporate finance and insurance
- Kendachi, a Japanese armament company
- Lazarus Group, an American private military contracting and private security firm with close ties to Militech
- Merril, Asukaga & Finch, financial analysts
- Microtech, a computer and electronics manufacturer
- Militech, American arms manufacturer and mercenary contractor with strong ties to the US Government and its military; its CEO desires to make the US into a superpower again and often competes with Arasaka for influence
- Mitsubishi-Sugo, a major transportation manufacturer
- Network News 54, an American broadcasting company
- Orbital Air, an African corporation with a monopoly on space transportation
- Petrochem, an energy company
- Raven Microcybernetics, leading cybernetics company
- SovOil, a Neo-Soviet oil giant, controlling a vast percentage of the petrochemicals market
- Trauma Team International, a private medical firm also dealing in medical insurance, prepaid disaster relief, prepaid CSAR, etc.; teams extract their patients from hostile Landing Zones and then evacuate them to an emergency care facility
- World News Service, a worldwide news conglomerate
- World Satellite Communications Network (WorldSatCom), a satellite communications giant
- Zetatech, a computer, cyberdeck, robotics, and cybernetics manufacturing company
And in the middle of it all…Night City.
Here you’ll find legendary characters like the legendary solo, Morgan Blackhand, Johnny Silverhand (soon to be portrayed by Keanu Reeves in like some kind of hologram form?) and Alt Cunningham, a legendary netrunner, lingerie model, and also a stealth teaser for the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 soon to be released by CD Projekt Red.
She mostly shows up in the background while the cyberpsycho lady is getting shot ineffectually.
But upcoming video games aside–Night City is a dangerous place to live. There are gangs, cyberpsychos, even a demilitarized zone that, let’s be honest, most of your characters probably lived in. I mean, the rent was pretty cheap, and besides which, most of your characters were gonna be loaded for bear at all points anyway.
Which highlights another thing about Night City and Cyberpunk in general. Getting shot at was a fact of life. There were so many variations of fashionable but armored clothing, it was expected that you’d be wearing some kind of bullet-resistant clothing, otherwise you were basically asking to get murdered.
Really the only places you have to worry about getting assaulted are the ones that feature a vowel.
But that’s the kind of world that you find in Cyberpunk. One of the first adventures is a literal milk run. And you might not survive. All it takes is one unlucky shot and it’s time to replace something. Possibly your character.
Still, when all is said and done, if you’re looking for a game and a world that’s all about style and substance and flash and fun, Cyberpunk is the setting for you. There is an incredibly active presence on the web over at Data Fortress, and there’s a reason this game will always have a place at the table. So check it out today…just watch out for mini-gun wielding cyborgs.
What was the best Cyberpunk RPG? I am torn between this and Shadowrun… got an opinion? Weigh in in the comments!