Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Thoughts On My Cyberpunk Game

Max Headroom is continuing to blow my mind.

I watched "The Blanks" today and if you're not familiar, the new "Elected Representative" starts rounding up "Blanks," people who literally live off the grid--they don't exist in the government/network computers and they own televisions WITH OFF SWITCHES! In response, the Blanks hack the city's computers, causing a shutdown of television broadcasts, telephones, and even household utilities. Basically, Anonymous--the 1987 sci-fi style.

I watched this show religiously when I was a kid (I was in 6th grade when "The Blanks" aired) and watched the hell out of the original TV-movie. The show predicted many things that I find rather distasteful about modern society. Prescient is the best way I can describe this show.

Since watching Max Headroom is what got me on this Cyberpunk game kick, it's only right that what I watch works its way into my game. Both shortymonster and Phil mentioned Transmetropolitan in the last blog's comments. I, too, am a fan of Warren Ellis's gonzo sci-fi masterpiece. I think it's arguably the best written comic of that turn of the century period. The 90s were a transition time, from the heady optimism of the end of the Cold War to the reality check that was 9/11. Not too many people knew where we were heading, but if you read Transmetropolitan, you see Warren Ellis was one of them.

Max Headroom and Transmetropolitan. Two amazing glances into the future that show where we're heading if we don't start taking some control over our lives from elected officials and corporations.

So what does all of this mean for my game?

It means I have a LOT of work to do.

rainswept mentioned in his comment that Traveller and Max Headroom are chocolate and peanut butter. Yes, they are. While I've been looking at how I can add in cyberpunk elements to my Hard Times on the Solomani Rim game, the Third Imperium isn't a terribly cyberpunk future. That said, I really dig the Mongoose Traveller system. They have a pretty restrictive OGL, but I might be able to work the system. As it stands, I'd need special permission to use the equipment and cybernetics I am gathering from Supplement 4: Central Supply Catalogue and Supplement 8: Cybernetics, unless I'd want to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. I'm not that creative. However, necessity is forcing me into basically creating all of the careers from whole cloth. Here are some other things I've been kicking around:
  • Reducing the term length from 4 years to 2. Cyberpunk is largely about youth. My current Traveller game has characters with 20-24 years experience. 10-12 is probably where I'd cap it for cyberpunk characters. Let adversaries, contacts, and mentors be appropriate.
  • I've thought about adding in a Twilight: 2000-esque roll at the end of the term that determines if it's time to stop character generation. I'm thinking of using a mechanism similar to the aging mechanic--after three terms, roll a d6 and subtract the terms you have completed. If you hit zero exactly, you get ONE more term. If you are in negative numbers, you're done. Muster out, bucko.
  • I've debated adding an event table to roll when you are done with everything, kind of the "what just happened that might have steered you to the freelance world" of the game. Make one for each career, and it'll be more social, giving Allies and Enemies more than skills.
  • Neuromancer-style netrunning is out. I have never found a way to properly integrate Gibsonian hacking into a game. The attempts made in Cyberpunk and Shadowrun get an A for effort, but are just too clunky to be bolted onto a game that will mostly have non-hackers. Bryce never needed to jack in, so neither will you.
  • There will be considerable matrices to govern social interaction. Suits and hobo gloves aren't meant to mix. What you wear, how you look, and what you look like you can spend will all have effects.
  • Transmetropolitan had some gonzo shit in it. My game will too.
  • My social and political beliefs will have a huge effect on the game world. More than any other game I've run, this will be a reflection of ME. I won't rant or beat you over the head with stuff, since player fun is ultimately the goal of any referee worth a damn, but it will be there.
I have a lot of work to do.


  1. I agree with you about the great stuff of Max Headroom. 20 minutes into the future seemed like such an awesome conceit. Still does. I'm not sure that you have to have "youth" to have the cyberpunk feel though. While shortening the length of a term from 4 to 2 years actually makes sense, I really enjoy that people are just now entering an "adventuring" life at 40 say. The older I get, the more I enjoy that idea.

    When I first created a Traveller character a couple of months ago, I was very surprised when I had to start rolling for adverse effects of aging at 36. Really? In the future, people can start feeling decrepit at 36? As a 45 year old, that was depressing as shit.

  2. I got my bucket of iguana meat and my bowel disruptor. I'm ready to play!

  3. Max Headroom was an amazing, unlikely thing. It was incredible that it even got made. I've long been surprised that it hasn't achieved greater reputation than it has.

    Have you seen the outline (or possibly the script, though I am not certain that it is extant) of the episode that was written by William Gibson, but ended up not being made due to the cancellation of the series? There are some people who say that there never was such an episode intended, but I remember reading an interview with Gibson (possibly in Mondo 2000, though I am not certain about that - if it was, it might have actually been the interview with Timothy Leary conducted by Gibson, where each sort of interviews the other by turns) in which he described the episode, saying that it was about "incestuous twins" who hacked into robotic surgeries and used them to steal organs.

  4. @Andy: I guess it depends on your lifestyle. I am 37 and decrepit as shit thanks to spending ages 26-35 jumping out of airplanes and wearing heavy body armor. My back, hand, wrist, and pretty much whole lower body are shot. The fact that you broke your hand at 45 playing basketball shows that you are leaps and bounds ahead of your peers in physical activity, but not the stuff that wrecks your body.

    @Phil: I'm not sure the bowel disruptor will fit with the tech I'm working on, but I'll try to figure out how to work it in,

    @Chris: I have not. Sounds amazing. I am trying to spread the gospel of Max. If this project gets to a point where I could publish something, I will certainly demand in the introduction that the players watch Max Headroom.