Cyberpunk Superheroes - Your Best Thoughts

edited March 2011 in Play Advice
Hey all!

I have been noodling around with a cyberpunk-setting superhero game, a la Batman Beyond.

A cyberpunk setting has a lot to lend itself to a superhero game:

* Downtrodden people who need a hero.
* The bad guys have guns and bad attitudes.
* Colorful costumes (gang members, corporate/arcology uniforms, etc.) in the 1980s style

Remember in Dogfight how everyone in that tournament really needed Tiny to be the hero, to be the unbeatable champ? I think people in a corporatized, dehumanized world would be really desperate for heroes.

One thing I was thinking about was origins. For some reason I lean away from the idea that evil corporate experiments created the heroes. Of course they would like to do something like that. But I lean towards the serendipitous. One thing I liked about the series Heroes was that nobody really knew much about why the super-abilities were appearing how they did and to whom. I kinda like the idea that maybe it's just straight up destiny, something beyond the ever-increasing reach of humankind (and our ever-decreasing humanity).

What would you suggest for things to incorporate in the setting or ideas for what to do in the game?

Comments

  • edited March 2011
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Underground_(role-playing_game)
    Okay, so my thoughts would be to steal as much great shit from this as possible.
    Sorry if this comes off as snippy.
    Use whatever interests you, and your gaming group.
  • No. no. Underground is a great source for this, thanks for reminding me of it.

    One thing that I think might be interesting is that if I do go with the destiny idea for the PC's abilities, maybe I go with evil corporate experimentation/insane nanotechnology for the bad guys, for contrast.
  • You're also talking about The Warriors.

    Also check out the comic Marshal Law (which is missing from Underground's list of inspirations but COME ON).
  • Posted By: JDCorleyOne thing I was thinking about was origins. For some reason I lean away from the idea that evil corporate experiments created the heroes. Of course they would like to do something like that. But I lean towards the serendipitous.
    Oh, yeah....what's that William Gibson line, "The street finds its own uses for things"?

    Rather than superpowers being the results of evil corporate experimentation, maybe it's the results of desperate and clever people working their own grassroots superhuman enhancement programs, stealing data and resources from the megacorps and working in their back rooms and junkyard labs to push the envelope of what technology allows. Ono-Sendai's schematics for their next-gen chip gets pirated by some Malaysian teenager, who passes it around to her buddies, one of whom is a doctor at a black clinic on a disused oil platform just off the Louisiana coast who figures out a clever little hack that, combined with some judicious nerve-splicing and some synthetic muscle fibers, will let a human be able to see bullets coming and duck out of their way, and so on. Corporate researchers have to justify their expenses and show profitability estimates and demonstrate that their work can be manufactured reliably on a large scale...but all the obsessive hobbyist has to do is get an idea, gather the proper materials, and give it a shot. Serendipity is when they do that and it works. (And being obsessive hobbyists, they're all about the one-offs: if you've already made one, why make an identical copy when you could try something different with it this time? Corporate supers will be standard-issue, street heroes will be eclectic and unique snowflakes.)

    The traditional cyberpunk settings often implied that small-scale manufacturing was cheap and easy, and explicitly stated that lots of people (not just other corporations) were interested in getting their hands on intellectual property; why not go ahead and run with that? It's kind of the whole basis of the hacker subculture that spawned the genre, after all.
  • edited March 2011
    You should totally have an item that is a gel pack full of custom-manufactured neuroblasts (stem cells that will become neurons). When you find a machine, you pour the gel into a port and then press another device's port against it. The neuroblasts create a small neural network which connects the leads of the two ports - a biological universal adapter. Maybe it works on people too, gaping head wound + neurogelTM + portable device = cerebral interface...
  • I ran a cyber-punk supers game for years. One thing I did was use character classes from Cyberpunk, like the Rockerboy, and then turn them into supers. Actually for the first couple of sessions the characters didnt have powers.

    I think one was a Rockerboy, another was an ex-con, another was corp security. Then slowly they began to develop powers right around the time there was this huge coporate/government crackdown on Hypers, anyone displaying beyond-human abilities that weren't tech based.

    I had this group of villains called The Redguard. They were a corp strike force in red power armor with jets on their backs, and they would get dropped out of hover ships then rocket themselves into buildings, kinda shock-and-awe style attacks. Everyone was terrified of them because they captured Hypers without caring about collateral damage. The heroes ran from those guys nearly every time.

    Also had a ton of colorgangs, all of whom were manipulated by a shady crimelord known only as Deadhands. Everyone on the street was terrified of Deadhands, he was omni-present, but no one could actually say what he looked like or if he was even human. Anytime they talked to someone about Deadhands they got a different story, a different description, but almost every time the person they talked to later turned up dead, usually in a most unpleasant manner. That was the danger in talking about Deadhands.

    My favorite gang was the Chikn Lilz, a poultry-themed group of badasses that were both ridiculous and deadly. Their leaders was a mohawked, mirror-shade wearing psychopath named Rooster, but the whole group answered to Mother Hen, a doomsday computer hidden somewhere in the Downside, a burnt out part of town turned into a warzone by the gangs.

    Feel free to steal anything of interest :)
  • When combining the cyber and the super (which, with the release of Mutants&Masterminds 3E, is something I've been doing of late as well...along with steampunk supers and retro space supers...), I tend to look towards manga and anime for inspiration, since they tend to be portrayed similarly. In particular, I suggest of course Ghost in the Shell (obvious choice), Bubblegum Crisis, and A.D. Police. Instead of looking at the main characters, though, look at the secondary characters. You'll see cybers who've gotten their parts by accident, or because they've suffered terrible accidents, or had their cyberbrains downloaded into an industrial robot, or they're escaped experiements, or AWOL cybersoldiers, or maybe they've cybered-up out of sheer folly or self-indulgence. There's a lot of ordinary-seeming people in these series who get kind of caught up in the whirlwind of cyberenhancement.

    Others that aren't so obvious would be Ergo Proxy and Darker than Black. While Ergo Proxy is more along the lines of dystopian future combined with Blade Runner, it gives good examples of very non-heroic characters being fairly heroic because they HAVE to be, rather than because they WANT to be. And some who can't control it. And with Darker than Black, while it isn't "technically" cyberpunk, it's set in a very similar backdrop, and superabilities are NOT understood whatsoever, with parts of the story centering around either covering up how the abilities happen, or finding out their true origins.

    Man, this really makes me want to do the supers thing, now. Hopefully our current M&M 3E campaign won't last too much longer...
  • Posted By: Accounting for TasteOno-Sendai's schematics for their next-gen chip gets pirated by some Malaysian teenager, who passes it around to her buddies, one of whom is a doctor at a black clinic on a disused oil platform just off the Louisiana coast who figures out a clever little hack that, combined with some judicious nerve-splicing and some synthetic muscle fibers, will let a human be able to see bullets coming and duck out of their way, and so on
    Shit, this is hot. This might be a good origin question. How did you end up on the slab of some weirdo hobbyist? And of course the process is lost when the guy ODs on his latest drug concoction...

    I like "Hypers" as a term, as well as the Redguard.

    Thanks for the anime recommendations, I don't know much about anime so I don't normally know what to watch or not watch past the "big names".
  • I don't know much anime, either...basically just enough to see how Cybergeneration took some cues from it. (And man, there was a cyberpunk superhero game...)
  • Hiro Protagonist?
  • I did some more thinking about why I wanted to maybe have unexplained powers rather than powers Within Human Comprehension, and I went back to the show Heroes. I think one of the failings of the show is that instead of contrasting the unexplained superpowers of the protagonists against a world that had things set too much in stone, too much rote, it put them against a backdrop of all sorts of different kinds of fateful coincidences, and then eventually plunged into a sea of internal references and backstories. The characters lost their uniqueness because powers or no, everyone seemed to have a destiny and nobody really did anything significant about it. The normal world of Heroes was not terrible. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. It wasn't anything. It didn't need the characters (Gotham City), or reject the characters (X-Men).

    Cyberpunk worlds, by contrast, are those in which humanity's fate is written and it's horrible. The end of the cyberpunk world's arc is that 99 percent of the world are in prison labor to gild the towers of the ultra-elite, who, when the resources of the Earth have been soaked up, will fire the rockets and ascend into space as the exhaust from their massive solid-platinum mega-mansions ignite the cardboard shantytowns left behind. The cyberpunk world is one in which uniqueness is just a commodity to be bought and sold like any other part of humanity.

    In cyberpunk gaming, the characters are typically corporate mercenaries - part of the problem, in other words. Though they may struggle to do the right thing, in the end they are enforcers for a dehumanizing lolbertarian soulless capitalist machine.

    One thing Cybergeneration absolutely did right is that in it the characters were hunted as property. The relation of Cybergeneration PCs to the world is highly antagonistic. They find their place first in the cliques of youth gangs (War-ri-orrrs!) but their emerging nano-abilities make that untenable as a long-term plan. It's pretty great. I don't know that I want to replicate that, though.

    What I would like to see is a pursuit of virtue, that is, the powers they gain give our heroes the ability to stand up to the dehumanizing machine and protect human virtues - creativity, family, ("Duty, Justice, Power, Love, Glory, Truth" shouts the Smallville RPG) from the mechanization the cyberpunk world tries to enforce. Serendipity is not something that fits on a balance sheet - fateful coincidence means more when it actually throws everything into a tailspin than when it happens All The Time.

    "Let's make a difference!", as the Civic-Minded Five shouted.
  • edited April 2011

    Ha ha ha! Marshal Law! Jared, man, you and I have the same reading list.

    Marshal Law

    Totally. Earlier are better than later. The last couple of stories (at least that I'm aware of) forgot that it was parody.

  • See, that's good because it's exactly what I don't want in any way whatsoever. Like, there can't be any parody, it has to feel real.
  • superheroes

    it has to feel real.

    Yo no comprendo.

  • Parody superhero stuff is cool, but what I'm looking for here is genuineness (to contrast with the fakeness of the corporate/artificial world). To take it back to Batman Beyond, it was drawn and animated in a very stylized way, but voiced and written as if the characters were real (for the most part.) Superhero comics exaggerate reality for visual and (soap) operatic effect, but they don't necessarily have to leave it. Melodrama is not always parody.
  • edited April 2011
    Uhm, it's not really cyberpunk or a good film, but Push seems to be kinda like what you're going for.

    Powerz but otherwise gritty and consistent.
  • Agreed, Orly. That's it exactly.
  • My partner and I are watching "Misfits" at the moment which is a British show about some young offenders in London who get superpowers. It's quite good so far, and it might be worth checking out for inspiration. London is definitely shotas a kind of dystopia, mostly concrete buildings, stark institutional interiors and run down abandoned places. They've done a good job of making the characters' powers reflect internal conflicts also, which I think would be a neat thing for a game too.
  • One thing to look at from a sort of "post-cyberpunk" perspective is Greg Stolze's eCollapse. Powers are straight up biotech enhancements. Code names are branding. "Heroes" and "Villains" operate because of how weak traditional power structures have become. How eCollapse is cyberpunk is definitely in the cynicism and the "street finds it's own uses" sense.

    Another way to go might be to emulate the Max Headroom and the Robocop TV series. The heroes work for the corp as part of the law and order branch, and they genuinely want to help people, but they are embedded in the savagely corrupt corporation. They may settle for doing what good they can, or (futilely?) fight the power.

    Just some stuff from the top of my head.
  • Posted By: Simon CMy partner and I are watching "Misfits" at the moment which is a British show about some young offenders in London who get superpowers. It's quite good so far, and it might be worth checking out for inspiration. London is definitely shotas a kind of dystopia, mostly concrete buildings, stark institutional interiors and run down abandoned places. They've done a good job of making the characters' powers reflect internal conflicts also, which I think would be a neat thing for a game too.
    Did you ever watch No heroics
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