What I would do with a Cyberpunk 2020 / Apocalypse World hack

edited November 2013 in Story Games
I want to play a postmodern cyberpunk game using AW rules. Classic 80's influences:

* Neuromancer and other William Gibson cyberpunk novels
* Snow Crash and other Neal Stephenson cyberpunk novels
* Rim and other Alexander Besher novels
* Altered Carbon and other Richard K. Morgan SF novels
* Blade Runner, the movie, and other movies and stories from Philip K. Dick

Has anyone already done this?

Next: How I might do it.


  • Totally cribbing from Christopher's Traveller thread.


    * Make the world seem real, maybe surreal.
    * Make the PCs' lives compelling.
    * Play to find out what happens.


    * Barrage the players with details about the world.
    * Be a fan of the characters.
    * Address the characters, not the players.
    * Think violently. Life is cheap.
    * Think politically, wheels within wheels.
    * Never speak the name of your move.
    * Name everyone, make everyone human.
    * Ask questions, use the answers.
    * Start with the fiction. Make moves with the fiction.
    * Never let the characters settle down.

    Basically the same as Christopher's.


    Here's where I get stuck.

    It's tempting to stick with the usual AW attributes, except drop Weird. They work pretty well. However, I had the idea to use zones of influence as the attributes:

    personal -- your body and mind
    street -- normal everyday stuff for the common person
    corp -- corporate culture and dealings
    elite -- moving among the upper class, wealth
    net -- the virtual world, social networking, electronic systems

    The downside of this is that every move has to be evaluated by zone. Want to read a person? Roll+street if you're reading a fixer. Roll+corp if you're reading a CEO. Roll+elite if you're reading a 250-year-old billionaire.
  • edited November 2013
    There are quite a few that have gotten close.

    Tiny Hack of a few things in the base AW

    A mostly space opera one

    I would also add the Shadowrun hack if you are willing to change the names of the races, and re-theme(or remove) the magic play books.

    Definitely the closest, and could work.
  • I actually really like the zone-of-influence-stat idea. Not sure how it'll work out in this particular situation, but I'll keep an eye on it (and maybe spin it some).
  • edited November 2013
    I loved the Cyberpunk fiction. But never got into the games. They all seemed to have the gloss, but not any of the stuff the fiction was actually about.

    I remember being at a Reader Con years ago and people saying, "Oh, yeah, Gibson and Sterling were all done with Cyberpunk before it got big. They were writing about Colonization and Balkanized Economics... and everyone else was writing about chrome."

    Reading your first post made me go... "Oh, I want to do this!"

    My first impulse reactions:

    You're hedging on your first Agenda.
    * Make the world seem real, if not surreal.

    Because, remember, those guys were doing future shock for then. There's no need to recreate the 80s view of future crazy. What we we extrapolate now?

    As for the Attributes, I have my own take on the Attributes for AW. I think AW has one point of view on them. And I think DW has another. I'm not saying different names. I mean, the philosophy underpinning their use and meaning in play.

    From my view (which for all I know is utterly idiosyncratic and useless) is that looking at "influence" is a kind of a red flag. For me.

    If you think emotionally about the characters first, not what they can do, how do they handle themselves. How do they feel most comfortable with themselves in stressful situations. Where do they feel most vulnerable with themselves in stressful situations. Then marry that with the fiction and stew and see what you come up with.

    Cyberpunk characters are damaged, protective, put on Cool to keep the world at bay, fierce because they're scared out of their minds because society has gone apeshit and does''t give a fuck about anyone. They build tight, really tight, circles, because if they're going to trust someone, they're going to really trust them.

    Some of them feel comfortable making other people wish the were as cool as them. Some feel best killing and not thinking about it. Some are most comfortable when they get to get the fuck away from other people (hello, cyberspace!)

    Think, "Where are the characters most good at feeling good in this pulp-noir-surreal-sf fiction -- knowing nobody is going to feel comfortable in all areas. (A feature, not a bug!)

    That's how I'd look at it and start.

    Random thoughts. Gotta get to work.
  • I knew I was hedging when I wrote that first Agenda. I'm glad you called me on it. Partly, I am just not sure what should be Agenda and what should be Principles. "Barrage the players with details about the world" says more about what I want than that first Agenda. My first encounter to cyberpunk lit was Neuromancer, and I swear I read that first page five times before I realized I was just going to have to accept that I didn't understand everything right now. More than Future Shock, I want Information Overload. That's an important part of cyberpunk for me.

    I liked the zones because I was thinking about characters about their relationships to the world, not "what they can do." To me, zones answer "how am I connected?" But you have the Right of it, regarding "damaged, protected," etc. Monsterhearts has a "damaged characters" approach to attributes, so I might look at that. I love this advice, though, and I'll give it a hard think.

    However, I want to point out that The Sprawl that thadrine linked is fucking awesome. It adapts CP2020 to the AW engine with a particular kind of insight. That is, CP2020, with all of its shallow understanding of actual CP literature.
  • Dude, I love that new Agenda. I had just read the first half of your post and I was thinking of that first page of Neuromancer.
  • I agree with Chris on the stats. Here's the thing--it's gonna vastly change what you think the game is about. When I see cyberpunk, I agree that "zones of influence" isn't where it's at. On the flip side, though, you could totally use zones of influence to make a game that's all about your position in the wheels within wheels in a cybercorp-controlled city. But it'd be a political game, a cyber intrigue game, which isn't really what I think of when I think of cyberpunk.

    That being said, you could borrow from Bonds and Strings to handle the question of "who am I connected to?" That would free up your core stats for bigger stuff.
  • What do the PCs do?

    Do they just hang out and live, only in the future? Do they go on missions? Are you supposed to pick a particular future shock and explore how the PCs deal with it? Are they always supposed to be poor and opposed to heartless, destructive status quos? What do they actually do?
  • They struggle to hold onto the things they hold dear as soulless corporations impersonally strip everything away. They have no choice but to fight back using the specialized skills each has cultured.
  • edited November 2013
    Okay, so the MC's job is to try to destroy what the PCs cherish? I think the most important thing you need is a way to get players to commit to cherishing things pretty much from the beginning, then. Yeah?

    (I have a game kinda like this kicking around in my WIP folders, only in that game the MC is out to destroy everything, so there's less pressure on players to care about something right away.)

    In any case, that sounds like your second agenda right there. In the normal schema for the MC's 3 agendas, number 1 is the kind of world you're trying to portray (a real one or a fantastic one, for example) and number 2 is what challenges the PCs (a life "not boring" or lives full of adventure, for example). Making things "not boring" works in AW because the setting is already post-apocalyptic. The MC agendas take this for granted when they say to make it real and make it not boring, because pretty much everyone is going to make a post-apocalyptic setting that is not boring be dangerous (and then there's the rest of the book to back that up).

    But if the PCs in your cyberpunk game are struggling "to hold onto the things they hold dear as soulless corporations impersonally strip everything away" then as the MC you're not really there to "make their lives compelling," you're there to destroy their lives.

    What I would do in this case (and this might not be the game you want) is to have the rules of the game--playbooks, character creation, etc--make the players build lives for their PCs, and not leave it on the MC's shoulders to do that. Because not everybody will go right from "make their lives compelling" to "soulless corporations impersonally strip everything away."
  • I'm not convinced it would work anyway; the typical cyberpunk character in fact has nothing they hold dear. Perhaps most obviously, Johnny Mnemonic had his a childhood erased to free up storage space. Cowboy loved to fly, but had to give being a deltajock and become a panzerboy when the air defences got too good. How many characters are there not motivated primarily or entirely by simple survival? It seems to me that they are more properly defined as people who have already lost what they held dear, if there ever was anything.
  • Or this: (and it's been a while since I read the books mentioned in the OP) They're looking to find out what they hold dear. If I'm not mistaken, that's how Gibson ran. Even if they found it inadvertently, that's what happened.

    Decker in BLADE RUNNER most definitely.
  • How about adopting the Humanity mechanic from CP 2020?

    So rephrase the objective as "To strip the characters of their humanity." Give the character's the old CP 2020 class specials to fight back with (Combat Sense, Credibility, Family, Authority, Street Deal, Resources, etc) and have the game be about the Story Teller using the massive gears of the mega corporate world to grind the characters down to the point that they either flip and go into cyber psychosis or surrender and walk quietly off to be good little citizens.
  • When I saw @Adam_Dray post I immediately though hmmm Apocalypse engine anthology on cyberpunk. You can think of it like separate MC playbooks and player playbooks for a style of cyberpunk

    So what are the core moves, Agendas, and Principles that describe cyberpunk using the Apocalypse engine?
    That forms the first 30 pages.

    So the next Chapter would be Kubasik vision of Gibson's They're looking to find out what they hold dear which would add to the MC playbook and player moves to get as this vision. Maybe 10-15 pages max length.

    Rinse repeat and you end up with the Apocalypse engine anthology on cyberpunk. ;)

    We played some cyberpunk using the WoDu hack but didn't really design in a critical way. One night we were the bottom rung ambulance drivers, the next time desperate raiders, etc each of these required separate new movies. Our Moldvay/WoDu game evolved this way. As the game shifted tactical space from dungeon to wilderness to town and back again we slapped down (and removed) moves. Behind the scene I was shifting the MC playbook.
  • edited November 2013
    I'm not convinced it would work anyway; the typical cyberpunk character in fact has nothing they hold dear. Perhaps most obviously, Johnny Mnemonic had his a childhood erased to free up storage space. Cowboy loved to fly, but had to give being a deltajock and become a panzerboy when the air defences got too good. How many characters are there not motivated primarily or entirely by simple survival? It seems to me that they are more properly defined as people who have already lost what they held dear, if there ever was anything.
    I agree with you. What I remember about Case's initial situation from Neuromancer, he was already in a downward spiral ready to meet his eventual end in Chiba-- he was basically suicidal and reckless. Still, you could say he held dear the ability to jack into the Matrix and escape his body.

    Islands In The Net seems more in line with the notion of a protagonist that is fighting for that which she holds dear, but that's usually labeled as a "post-cyberpunk" work.

    Seems to me that the dominant theme of classic cyberpunk is the relationship between humanity and technology, regardless of whether the protagonists are hunting Replicants or doing a run on Straylight .
  • Case was a classic example of the loner who pretends he doesn't care about anything, but it turns out that he mostly cares about his own brain and wits, so the GM (er, Armitage) threatens that with a mycotoxin, and now Case is on a mission that he probably wouldn't have accepted otherwise. And then he meets a girl and really cares about her, despite not wanting to, probably because she has a lot of Strings on him or something.
  • My impression was that he wasn't pretending not to care when we first find him in Chiba, but maybe I'm not remembering right or got the wrong read on the intro. He only starts to care after his nervous system is fixed, and then threatened by the knowledge that Armitage installed the toxin to keep him honest.

    What do you think about the protags in the short story Burning Chrome? I can't remember too well, but they struck me as being all about the money.
  • Case is in a death spiral in Chiba, I wouldn't say he's pretending not to care, but more that he's kicking further and further out over the edge hoping that he'll fall.

    As for Burning Chrome I've always read it as being principally about the relationship between the main characters. Certainly Bobby seems to be in love and Jack being dragged along by loyalty.
  • Burning Chrome is a love triangle, but it's one in which all the characters end up going their own separate ways - no happily ever afters. And while it may be argued that Case's trajectory has elements of redemption, or something like that, his ultimate goal, in which he succeeds, is to get new kidneys so he can get high again.

    I think these people are all Walking Wounded, often both physically and emotionally. If there were a thread running through them, I'd hazard it might be something like "what do you live for after you've lost everything?".
  • Sorry, I was thinking of New Rose Hotel, but thinking back it wasn't all about the money. For Fox it was also about "finding that edge."
  • In New Rose the money was sort of the Maguffin. Most of Gibson's stuff is about relationships when you get right down to it.
  • Now I want to go back and re-read a bunch of Gibson. Like I have enough time to read everything I want to re-read and read.
  • Gibson is worth it.

    "The sky over the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel."

    Is still one of the most evocative first lines in the history of English language fiction.
  • Speaking of New Rose Hotel, I recently discovered there is a film version, starring Willem Defoe and Christopher Walken (!). I had no idea such a thing existed. It's quite faithful to the story, although shot, as many SF stories are, with no visible SF elements at all.
  • The film version of New Rose is an excellent adaptation of the story.
  • Fiction stuff is welcome in this thread, as long as you tie it into how to do an Apocalypse World hack. =D
  • edited November 2013

    "In New Rose the money was sort of the Maguffin. Most of Gibson's stuff is about relationships when you get right down to it."

    Agreed. :) I was more thinking in terms of the characters' initial motivations, in light of how characters in a game might be motivated not just by having something that they cherish threatened, but also by mercenary motives, or some addiction to a feeling (hence Fox's thing about being on the Edge, if I remember the gist of the dialogue correctly).

    I'm not sure what the mechanic for representing the other motives would be like in an Apocalypse World hack. Converting that stuff from the fiction into game terms is what intrigued me. :)
  • Instead of just "barrage the players with details", I would suggest specifying 2 things - brands and gadgets.

    Those are things that a GM can prep lists of ahead of time and throw out.

    For the Brands, it's multiple lists. A list of names stores you'll find in a strip mall. Names of gadget brand makers. Fashion brands. All kinds of crap like that.

    Everything has a brand name and some other keyword attached to it.

    Like an Arc'teryx microfleece cardigan. Gibson characters wear crap like that.

    Compiling lists of cool stuff like that is like half the prep you need to do for a cyberpunk game, I think.
  • Love it, Rob. I see a fair amount of that built into The Sprawl (linked above).

    I'd go with:

    * Commercialize everything. (Put a brand name on stuff. Monetize things ironically.)
    * Show how the Street finds its own uses for things. (Combine old technologies with new ones. Recycle and recombine.)
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