How much of a meme is RPG advancement? It’s so much of a meme that it’s right there in my pseudonym. Levels, experience points, and the various versions of same filtered through the ‘TSR don’t sue me’ lens have been considered inseparable from the notion of a tabletop RPG pretty much since D&D sold actual copies. The notion of awarding experience points (or XP) has become so ingrained in the concept of an RPG that tack-on advancement mechanics are *the* thing added to video games to give them “RPG elements”. The reason why this is the borrowed element is fairly clear: experience points have always been and continue to be an elegant mechanic to turn a game into a Skinner Box, to get us to keep pushing the lever in modern video games with perhaps repetitive mechanics. So why do they continue to be a mainstay of tabletop RPGs, where there should be more going on than just watching numbers go up? Well, read on.
In March of 2019, I began a project with a simple premise. After having played Cyberpunk 2020 for 15 years, I wanted to create a game that took everything I loved about the system and recast it into a game designed for me and how I run games. Now, 14 months later, I’m happy to say that the first stage of this project is complete, and another set of System Hack articles is coming to a close.
Cyberpunk lives and dies in the city. The vision and aesthetic that we take for granted as Cyberpunk, especially when considering Cyberpunk in the context of games, is urban, replete with neon, skyscrapers, and bustling crowds of people. Cyberpunk RPGs have leaned into the assumption of an urban setting for some time now, with Night City from Cyberpunk 2020 arguably being one of the best examples in terms of character and development. When approaching the need for a city for the Cyberpunk Chimera, I opted to take a somewhat different path forward. By writing rules for the creation of a city sandbox, my hope is that any group can find a city that sets the tone for their campaign while also making prep easier for the GM.
We are here yet again with System Hack! Cyberpunk Chimera is a construction project that’s really gotten off the ground; all the important parts that turn a series of articles into a game have at least been sketched out or brainstormed. There are some key elements, though, that shift the focus of the game in the direction that I’m most interested in. There are two parts of the Cyberpunk genre which are often overlooked in RPG mechanics, either because they’re considered “setting elements” or because they aren’t part of what makes the genre science fiction. These are the cities and the corporations, and their centrality is just as true in games as it is in literature and film.
In theory we all know what worldbuilding is. The process of creating a fictional world isn’t technically related to role-playing games, but it has become inextricably intertwined with the hobby, given the preponderance of science fiction and fantasy settings in the most popular games. In considering and examining worldbuilding, I’m not going to spend a lot of word count talking about what it is, or even how to do it well. Instead, I’m going to talk about how worldbuilding affects RPGs specifically, which boils down to a lot of mistakes, missed opportunities, and general poor form.
Welcome to the Dark Future of Cannibal Halfling Radio! Now that we’re in (Cyberpunk) 2020, and we survived the chaos of the holidays and some cyberpsycho-halfling-induced technical difficulties, we have some gently-aged Resolutions for the new year with regards to game design, playing games, and right here at CHG. After we look to the future, we pull aside the curtain for a discussion on secrets in roleplaying games: what kinds there are, when they go well and when they go awry, and how to make sure yours go the former way.
Things We Talk About:
Resolutions: Kickstarter: Zinequest 2, Our Queen Crumbles, Cyberpunk Chimera, Transit: The Spaceship RPG, G.E.N.E.S.Y.S. Mecha, The Mad Adventurers, PbtA: How a Rule-System Nurtured A Queer Fanbase, Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives, Trophy
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It is time once again for System Hack! Last time we took a look at the Cyberpunk Chimera, we thought about character creation and saw a lot of things come together. Now, we’re examining one of the more emblematic elements of a near-future or modern RPG: the gear. Cyberpunk 2020 was more than fine with giving players access to all sorts of goodies, like gatling shotguns, net guns, and various high-caliber borg droppers with recoil so powerful you needed cyberarms just to wield them. There was also plenty of other equipment detailed, from electronics to vehicles to cosmetics, not to mention the cyberware. Most of this equipment was either finely detailed (weapons, vehicles) or not detailed at all (pretty much anything that wasn’t implantable, driveable, or could kill people). So when building out a new system and looking at equipment, we need to ask the question: What actually matters?
The strong increase in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons brought about both by the increased accessibility of D&D’s Fifth Edition as well as the growth of the nascent streaming and actual play communities has meant that there are a whole lot of people getting introduced to D&D. Now that this growth has been going on for a few years, there is burgeoning realization that role-playing games as a medium are capable of a lot more than dungeon crawls and Tolkien derivatives. This is great news for everyone, right? We all know there’s a whole world of RPGs out there, from the big glossy traditional games to indie zines and everything in between. Well, something’s getting lost in translation for some, and in the #dnd world on Twitter you’ve likely seen questions like this:
“How can I make John Wick in D&D?”
“What can you do to run Star Trek in D&D?”
“It would be really cool if I could run Harry Potter in D&D!”
Fortunately, these all have easy answers: Don’t, please don’t, and I don’t think it would.
Welcome back to System Hack! Now that the real timeline has caught up with Cyberpunk 2020, it’s time to start pinning the Cyberpunk Chimera down. We have attributes and skills, we have ideas about a combat system, and there’s some hacking, some cyberware, and even some meta-mechanics. What don’t we have yet? Oh. Right. Characters.
If you’re looking for a holiday tabletop roleplaying one-shot we have some ideas for you in the latest round of Pitch Me, from Jewish knights to Christmas changelings to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Lunar Exalt! Then we get a little more serious, talking about corporate commercialization making its way into the hobby, in this episode of Cannibal Halfling Radio!