You are here

Carbon 2185: Why Cyberpunk, yo?

I have long been a fan of the aesthetic and idioms associated with the cyberpunk “genre”. Even though I am more Adam Smith than Karl Marx, I find the commentary on extreme corporate ascendency and the radical notions of bringing it down fit my tastes. I enjoy the social compression, where different kinds of people are squeezed into social classes, creating characters that erupt from chaos who enjoy a certain kind of freedom to act. Enjoy as a thought experiment or means of blowing off steam as opposed to walking into BIGCORP HQ and liquidating the middle management. I think cyberpunk feeds a certain recidivist need from time to time.

But at this point, while the symptoms of a decaying society are still relevant to gaming and life, I am not sure the neon-noir décor of cyberpunk is as relevant now. Other ‘punks have emerged over the years, like bio-punk, gene-punk, and gene-funk I think is there or getting there. These feel more authentic or potentially so, in their social commentary.  White kids rebelling against capitalism always felt odd, unless those kids were the children of farmers being absorbed by the agricultural corps or the poorest of the poor in urban landscape. Even then, white poor and black poor can often be measured in different ways. Add to this the idea that the Japanese state or at least a Japanese-lead Asian culture would ascend to dominate the world, and everything is even more curious.

It is with these thoughts and ideas in mind that I offered to run Carbon 2185 for my friends who usually play D&D5E Eberron on Saturday nights. I like Carbon 2185 and I was curious how a non-D&D 5E game was going to run. At once it was both familiar and different, which made for a nice change of pace.

System

Carbon2185 is the basic 5E engine, tuned with some classic chrome from D&D 3E/D20 and continuing a certain tradition in spots of cyberpunk games using system elements from Traveller in their games. In the latter case, this is the life path and a chance for death or maiming during the five years periods of the contract. The mechanic for injury is a small DC, say 6 or 7, and the character rolling 2D6 but adding modifiers. It is a departure from the idea of rolling a d20 for everything. The players have multiple contracts and get woonlongs (W) or parting gifts when they leave/invalid out. This is how the background (life path) is generated.

One of the notable D20 add-ons is damage reduction, which is functionally no-existent in 5E. Armor of a certain kind has ballistic DR or ballistic resistance. I like that, as combat so far has been deadly, which fits with the feel of the game. Life is cheap after all.

Overall the system is fine. It could have used a bit of an edit though.

Setting

Is there some cyberpunk in Carbon2185? Heck yes. Is there Cyberpunk™ in the game? Of course there is. Also, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and likely your favorite dystopian cyberpunk anime/show/movie/manga. There is that smooshing effect and it creates some interesting bits and a few that don’t quite fall for me.

The degree to which the poor are poor and owned is astonishing. Take the current model and turn that number up enough to need scientific notation to handle the number. The corporations have the governments by their naughty bits and spank them whenever they get out of line.  All cops in the game appear to be bastards as I did not see anything redeeming about law enforcement. An interesting tidbit about guns and gun ownership is that it is so expensive to by and munition a weapon. As is often the case, commerce rises to meet a need, and shops exist that will give you 24-hour rental on a gun. I thought that was neat and not something I personally had seen.

But the rest is very generic. There are Synthetics and they are playable. Which is fine if that is where you want to go with your game.  San Francisco is the city this takes place in and you get a feel for the 2185 San Francisco, but there is not a lot of actual flavor.  The setting, much like the system, is fine, though a bit 80s without the cool music. And the kitchen-sink approach did not help much.

Session 1: The Cowboy Stream

I borrowed a bit from some other games and set 2 sentences as the “bangs” or theseis statements of the session:

  • What have I gotten myself into?
  • Is the Synth a true damsel?

I dropped the three characters into the middle of a car chase on an elevated highway running across the city. They were chasing the car where the asset was thought to be an unwilling passenger. During the action that followed, which was exactly what you would want if watching on video, a question came up about shooting a non-combatant vehicle to get a better tactical advantage. My answer was (paraphrasing): “I am not going to put ethical constraints on your character’s actions.” So, they shot the car and the soccer-mom 2185 went over the edge of the elevated highway. That scene took up most of the run time of the game, well about half of it, but it did not feel that way. The action flowed.

They did manage to grab the asset and took the synth to a safehouse. There they asked the synth about their programming and the synth mostly just asked for authorization, which none of them had. At the appointed time they dropped the asset off to the client, there was some gunplay but the characters did not stick around to see who won.

At the end…

There was a report from a live-stream about the fight on the highway bridge. The family of the soccer-mom is looking to sue someone.

I put in a cut scene at the end of the Synth walking away from a crashed VTOL. All the various factions lost their assets that had been sent to grab the synth and that individual walked off into the streets of San Fran. What was their ultimate mission? Who knows.

Thoughts

The system and setting are fine, if unspectacular. I think you can do a lot with it. There are off-world colonies that you can play around in. And I think that would be an entirely different game, to be honest. The group is interested in another session and I want to see what more I can do with it.

 

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

This report and the items that you enjoyed from the setting made me wonder if you had read or played SLA Industries. That was a game the setting for which pleasantly surprised me (the system, too). Things like a bullet tax made me laugh~

Does your group have a lot of experience with d20? If a game were available as System X or as a d20 conversion, would they choose the d20 version (to benefit from that familiarity)?

Sean_RDP's picture

I have played SLA Industries, about 15 years ago or so we played for about 6 months. I enjoyed the setting adn the system quite a bit. I loved how over the top it was. The same with Underground, which I think deserved a better fate than it received.

The group has a lot of experience in general. Carbon 2185 was something we had looked at because some of us were curious hoe 5E might handle the idioms of cyberpunk. The D20 aspects were interesting as well. If so somone made a good D20 game, we would not necessarily reject it out of hand as most of us had plenty of experience with those roles as well. D20 Future being my favorite of all those.

But also in the conversation was Shadowrun: Anarchy. Something most of us have read, but not dabled in yet.

Ron Edwards's picture

I don’t think I can manage another judicious rant or judgment upon cyberpunk, with or without air-quotes. There are two Forge threads which present my take at those times of writing, and another rather good one at the defunct Adept forum which is probably lost to the ages unless I can get that database recovered somehow.

From the Forge: Differences between Cyberpunk 2013 and Cyberpunk 2020, [Remember Tomorrow] Mitsubishi and a smashed tank of fish

There’s a positive side too. Patrons know all about my old proto-game The Human Machine, specifically that I’m dusting it off, and I regard Ghost in the Shell highly (specifically the original movie and the animated series). The Adept forum thread concerned my experiences playing Remember Tomorrow, which turned out to celebrate things I liked most about the (failed) genre, specifically the crazy-fun and so, so sincere novel Hardwired.

I may be better off checking out from the discussion so that people can enjoy themselves without me grumping away. It'd be like that guy who had every single album by some edgy popular band,  I dunno, the Cure or something, and devoured every shred of pop industry puff about them at the time, and now can't restrain himself from telling you a thousand reasons why you shouldn’t like them, in a falsely-bored, annoying-voice lecture.

Sean_RDP's picture

Interestingly, I think of it as pre and post Black Album Metallica. Although it was not the 'Black' album until  afew years later. There is a distinct diving line there in terms of the music and their popularity and relvance as a band. 

iancooper's picture

I wonder what others experiences are of the lethal nature of Runequest combat. Does that fear factor, the graphic nature of its resolution make violence visceral in a way that impacts the fiction. I feel I was motivated partially by how real the violence felt, to make Jynathon change because of it. I don't know that would have happened in a system where combat was more abstract.

Jeff Richard's picture

Our own Chaosium house game includes several players who are new to RuneQuest. For them, they are painfully aware that every combat could be the last and thus they are much more willing to one of the following:

  • Negotiate with enemies and strike some kind of bargain. This tends to happen a lot when the players deal with other tribes, Lunar stragglers, trolls, aldryami, Praxians, bandits, or in fact most encounters. This seems to often start with the parties insulting each other until either someone screws up and throws a first blow or a compromise is made. Note: I think this is actually the optimal solution under the RQ rules, but takes 1. trust in the GM (that a compromise can be , and 2. deprogramming of video game/D&D assumptions.
  • Sucker punch foes as hard and unexpected as possible. Ambush, bushwhack, the surprise charge, the sniper attack - you name it. This tends to happen with Chaos, monsters, soldiers on the march - foes that the players think will give no quarter.
  • Arrange an equal fight between champions. Players and GM set the stakes and agree to accept the results. This tends to happen with hated rivals within the greater community (like a rival tribe) or religious rivals (my players did this to end a running feud with the Unicorn Riders of the Big Rubble).
  • Run away or otherwise avoid the confrontation completely. This happens a lot.
Ron Edwards's picture

Non-abstract, painful-seeming combat is one of my design-and-play specialties, such that people didn't like getting hit in our Champions games, even though so much of that game depends on taking enormous amounts of damage and liking it. Over the years I've come to think that systematic seriousness and what people call realism in damage systems (it's not really "realistic" but that's what they call it), don't automatically result in people taking violence more seriously as a feature of play.

Some of the games we played were pretty hard-core about it, including Rolemaster's infamous critical tables and Cyberpunk's brutal Friday Night Firefight gunfire rules, both of which dipped heavily into medical texts for their details. These make a useful comparison because I was playing them at about the same time, because they were superficially similar in the potential for utterly appalling clinical effects, and because the results at the table were entirely different.

The Rolemaster effect tended to make play less serious - what happened to a foe was gaudy and vile, creating a cartoonish separation from anything empathic, and since the GM really wanted us to be protagonists in his saga, we knew we were pretty much insulated from anything happening to us ("good GMing" means "ignore the rules," that kind of thinking). Whereas the Cyberpunk rules inspired us to get more gritty in a more-human, less-ooh-gross way ... this was before cyberpunk got all anime, especially for our age group ... and things like the pathos of a gunshot victim's grotesque posture or expression, or the generally unromantic stinks and spastic nature of combat, entered our narrations and descriptions. So how we used the superficially-similar extreme-damage rules mattered a lot. There's something else about playing RuneQuest that facilitates this feature, over and above the simple statistical effect of whether you'll lose that limb.

In designing Sorcerer, I went a different way, which is significant because early drafts of the game included hacks of both of those two I just mentioned. Instead, I ultimately focused a lot on the seeming disaster of sudden injury even if it wasn't clinical tissue trauma, working off Robin Laws' design work in Over the Edge and Hero Wars. In these games, you tend to be hurt a lot less worse than you thought right at the moment, but in that moment, jeez, it really hurt. People lose fights in these games not because they can't move their broken limbs and are bleeding out from a major artery, but because they're momentarily shattered from wanting to continue.

Circle of Hands represents perhaps my personally-perfect middle ground between these two general approaches (tissue traums vs. stress/pain psychology). Although its most obvious old-game inspiration is The Fantasy Trip with a strong dose of Magic: the Gathering, after even just one fight, you'll see its real bones come from RuneQuest. For some reason, another factor in this is that in both games, or rather their implicit settings, people live extensive ordinary lives and don't walk around in armor most of the time. So when someone says, "We're putting on our armor," it's no joke. It's time to wear this specialized gear because it's time to kill someone. And acknowledging that "a fair fight" is a euphemism for utter stupidity, there's a real push to find the advantage in everything, terrain, timing of the attack, surprise, some purpose to accomplish that's not just "clear the area," and more.

I also have Cyberpunk (the 1988 game) on my mind. That, along with Over the Edge, are two games that I want to try to prioritize playing this year. Both were games that I had unsatisfactory contact with in the early 1990s. Both ended up being games where my hopes/ambitions for seeing the themes and ideas from the source material in play crashed against the dudes-on-a-mission approach the gamemasters in each case took. Interestingly, despite my love for the source material (at the time, with a very uncritical view towards it), these were two of the few times that I was a player in an rpg; I have not ever tried to run them myself. 

I'm still very much in the "daydreaming about playing these games" and not in the "actually playing these games" phase, but in both cases the content of that daydreaming centers around a couple of (I think perhaps interrelated) points:

1) When I first encountered these games, 30 years ago, I had what was probably a sophisticated-for-a-13-year-old take on the material, but, as I mentioned, it was not an especially critical take. I have a more nuanced sense of both the limitations and the genuine strengths of a lot of my old favorites, and I feel like there's a possibility of using these games to really add my own contribution to the literature rather than going for simply recapitulating what I found cool about it originally.

2) I'm also wrestling with the issue of playing the games' setting as written, honoring Cyberpunk's vision of what the future was going to look like and the specific details that ground Al Amarja in the historical/cultural/political concerns of the late-80s/early 90s; or trying to update them in some way. My strong preference is to honor to original vision, though my worry/concern is that opens the door to parody.

Sean_RDP's picture

It is different for me as I played the game before encountering the source material. Indeed, it was the game Cyberpunk that got me intereested in the literature and source material. In initially playing the game, admittedly it was (literally) 30 years ago, we latched onto what was in the rule book. When 2020 comes out, we did update our use of the system, but play remained as faithful to CP as we could. Although that may have just been comfort as opposed to a conscious rejection of the new paradigm of 2020.  Agaim this is a lot of looking back and memory is suspect.

Greg's picture

Hi Sean. I’m not sure if what I’ll say is relevant to what you wrote, but here is a bit of conversation I had on discord. In short, since I’m gming Sorcerer & Sword I can’t get Cyberpunk 2013 RPG out of my head, to the point I think I’m going to start a game next year, but I’m not so sure about that. Don’t read my “Here is what I would do” as a proxy for “what I think you should do”, but just as thoughts that came into my mind in relation with the Cyberpunk 2013 RPG game, more than “cyberpunk” as a genre in general. I’m also taking in account the Forge discussions linked by Ron in its previous post, but I realize he said much of my today's realization.

I see an obvious link between the techniques explained in Sex & Sorcery and the Cyberpunk Game. It is mostly linked to my own experience with the game and my own relationship with the source material. I encountered the roleplaying game in 1994 with Cyberpunk 2020. I was 14 and hooked for three years in a long Cthulhu campaign centered in the Miskatonic Valley. To be frank, I wasn’t excited by the game and I didn’t read any science-fiction at that time – most of my readings was American horror and French romantic poetry. I had a huge collections of movies at home in a range of weird stuffs, my stepfather being a fan of  movies names: Punisher, Robocop, Soldiers, Cyborg, Terminator, along with Hamburger Hill, Platoon, the Tour of Duty serie, Bad Taste, Fright Nights, The Lost Boys, Ratboy, Monster in the Closet, Street Trash … I’m making a soup of genre and I can’t give it a coherent name, but I’m pretty sure anyone who know those names see what kind of cultural space I’m talking about. Maybe, “the war/horror/weird shells of the videostore”? Anyway, “Robocop” and “Universal Soldier” are the movie who came to my mind when Cyberpunk 2020 was presented to me, and I was not a huge fan of the aesthetic.

We tried a few games. I remember our “problems” at that time : how do you make a group? It was like “choose your role”, but nothing fitted. Bluntly, our discussions went like that: “it makes no sense to have a corpo and a ganger in the same group”, “ok let’s forbid the solo”. Then after a few games, “it’s boring to wait for the netrunner … And why should we be in the same room ? Let’s to scenes where we protect the netrunner from guys killing at him?”. “Let’s play without netrunners”. “Let’s play a team of ganger”. “Forbid the solo” “play a team of solo”. I’m reading CP 2013 and I read a very bad advice: a whole page presenting groups “trauma team”, the “media team”, the “medtech teams” “a team of cop”, with this statement as the fourth trick to run the game (p.6 of Welcome to Night City) “TEAMS”.. because people in Night city do not trust easily each other, “you’ll need a solid hook on which to hang a Cyberpunk adventure. Our hook is the team”. To me, it’s like giving us a guitar and giving us note “to make a good song, blow inside the guitar”. For years, we discussed how to blow in the cyberpunk 2013 guitar to make the best sound, trying to make a Van Halen solo. We stopped Cyberpunk believing it was badly designed, and we talked a lot about that.

Today I’m gming  Sorcerer & Sword with the Sex & Sorcery techniques: hard scene framing, no “team”, individual stories with weaving, crosses, bobs. It’s like taking a guitar lesson and laughing to myself “damn we blow inside this guitar all those years”!

I can’t get out Cyberpunk 2013 because I see how this translates so well to this games that we discussed. “Everybody pick the role you like”. A ganger, a solo, a nomad, a netrunner and a corpo? No problem! Pick your role and roll your lifepaths. Those lifepaths give the “elements” such as in Sorcerer, the material to use and make a starting situation for each character, with as much crosses as relevants, and a spiked situation, maybe two or three. No big scenario needed, or complex situations. Then let’s play the starting situation of each character, their own personal stories, and crosses, crosses, crosses, cut, cut cut. Let’s not play scene by scene but change scenes a lot so everybody see this pattern of scenes taking form.

 I also discover things I did not know: Cyberpunk 2013 has not setting. Night City is not a setting, but an abstract color, literally described in one paragraph. I’ll quote it: “Night City is modern urban setting environment, complete with dark streets, filthy alleys and rowdy clubs. Where is it located? What is its real name? Not important. Night City is any big city in the world – it could be yours – late night and up against the wall. The important thing about Night City is the feel [sic], not the substance. It should be a place that the Referee has an immediate grasp of, allowing him to give his descriptions the proper ‘you are there’ ambiance. Night city plays best when you use a city that the players are somewhat familiar with; the recognition of street names and places juxtaposed with boostergangs and hovering assault vehicles will make the 21st century even stranger than fiction.” The following paragraph is interesting: “But we realize some you don’t live in a major urban area. For those of you who can’t just use a map of your home town, here’s a micro Night City to begin adventures”, followed by list of building names (library, WNS Offices, City Hall – really not much description), and a generic map. Interesting! Cyberpunk 2020 developed a setting, but I remember my own GM was only using the district map. Anyway, I was bored by the "we are mercs" or "followed by mercs" games we used to play, and I did not play a lot.

Sean_RDP's picture

Cyberpunk, like most games, doesn't encourage you to look too closely at how any given group gets together. In terms of Teams, I do not have the same kind of reaction to them that you did. For me, it made sense that at least sometimes, a paramilitary group is going to be put together in some logic. And there has to be some aknowledgment that gaming a thing is different that other ways we experience the thing.

That said, we also liked how Night City in OG Cyberpunk was not so much a setting as much as it was a set of decals we could add to a city we akready knew. 

Greg's picture

There is an interesting thing you say in your post and your definition of the cyberpunk “genre”. I really am not trying to discuss what is “really” the cyberpunk genre, what would a “real” cyberpunk” game should be, or what cyberpunk 2013 was about. I’m just sharing my own view and relation to the source.

You talk about “he commentary on extreme corporate ascendency and the radical notions of bringing it down”. It is interesting to me because I totally missed that part in Cyberpunk litterature or, more accurately I ignore dit and forgot that di dit purposely until I thought about that yesterday.

I discovered the literature in the end of the 90s, and I loved it. It’s striking for me to see that the aesthetic of Cyberpunk 2013 never appealed to me and that the actual source material are totally not the same. What I hear when I hear “Cyberpunk” is basically three short stories and a novel, maybe two more. The novel is K.W. Jeter’s Dr Adder. Maybe we can add Island on the net (the only one about “fight against the corpo”) and K.W. Jeter’s NOIR. The Short stories are Gibson’s Winter Market, Dogfight and Fragments of a rose hologram in Burning Chrome. I realize how much I am biased, and it’s not that that Neuromancer, Count Zero, Johny Mnemonic, Hotel New Rose are not “real cyberpunk” or “cyberpunk” at all, it’s just that I don’t find them really good (a very very subjective stance!).  So I’m coming from there. Now that I read CP 2013’s literary source, I really can see why I never like its aesthetic. The “Cyberpunk genre” is not really a thing if it is reduced to three short stories.

What I loved in those stories are the human experience of those characters. In Winter Market, we have this young girl who cannot move and hates the world for that, and she’s the best “musician” the world ever had, where music is a full sensorial experience. She can only move with an exoskeleton and this producer finds her, produces her album, and she disappear in the collective dreamstate of its production. I can still quote the novel by heart, “Can you feel anything?”, he says, when they make love, “No, but sometimes, I like to watch.”. This was the real gritiness of cyberpunk .. but I don’t remember I liked it because it was cyber. I like because it was totally fitting with my experience as unemployed and delusional youth punk in a devastated economy of post-industrial region. This feeling of being hopeless, “lucid” and very emotionally engaged in our direct relations. It was good because it was punk, the cyber was just color and I don’t know poetic (still very subjective).

 Dogfight is about this guy who has a cognitive limitation and leaves by those little hologram duels of airplanes, and his dilemma about betraying this genius rich girl so we will win the duel or he will miss her studies. Even Neuromancer is not about fighting the corpo, but about this IA who is looking to remember who she is.

In Island on the net, which were really to old (“seriously, internet with a fax?”, said 18 years old me in the end of the nineties), which I think is the one who made the “fighting against corporations” trope, I totally forgot everything except being touched by the first chapter: a whole non verbal communication between the main character and her husband, he wants to make love, she doesn’t want this morning, but nobody wants to tell the other, and she “wins” through this game of micro-interactions. This what I loved in this literature.

That’s the thing I want to play! My own Winter Market. Characters lost in the void of a capitalism that they don’t really analyze, and that experience feelings outside of the grasp pure consumption-production-marketing, but still in its cage. And I think CP 2013 with its "Night City is color" approach fits that very well than the sourcebook approach of 2020.

I was doomed to be disappointed by shadowrun and cyberpunk games where everybody plays a team of solo, or gangers, when I was so hyped by the human experience and deepness of those characters. Add to this K. W.’s Jeter Dr Adder and you have a pretty dreadful Noir story. 

Ron’s reference to nostalgia really describe well my feeling. I feel nostalgia about “how we could have played the game” more than “how I like the genre”.  We played it “wrong” by blowing inside a guitar and now I want to take back my old guitar from my mother’s cave and play it with my fingers. Would I launch a cyberpunk game today, it would be a CP2013, and not a “futurist” game, but an historical game. Or more accurately: more an uchrony than a dystopia. A game about the Reagan/thatcher years imaging a alternate 2013. In some way, the Master of the High Castle could be counted as cyberpunk today – it could not 40 years ago.  mean, the world today is far more dreadful nightmare that Gibson ever dreamt about… Ok maybe not than in Dr Adder. Gibson didn’t imagine that people would actually love the Corpo, and the “clean aspect” of actual capitalism, to the point of realized pastiche “Don’t be evil” – that actually works.

This Nostalgia is still puzzling me and maybe that’s a reason why I did not put CP2013 in my highest priorities for the moment. It’s just the realization that Sex & Sorcery gave me the tools to do something I missed 25 years ago, thinking the guitar was badly designed.

Sean_RDP's picture

As I may have mentioned. Cyberpunk (the original) was my introduction to the genre and its idioms. I did not have the same expectations of the game as others did or might have. Once I did get into the literature and the fulms and other media, these flavored my existing excitiment for it.  I was never too attached to the systems specifically, but to the feel of the original game. 

Sean_RDP's picture

We decided to keep the run of this game short, which actually makes prep much easier in terms of "plot" or in this case, situation. The mysterious synth will be back.

The first episode was loosely inspired by an obscure late 80s Mark Hamill & Bill Paxton flick titled Slipstream. Episode Two will follow on with elements inspired by the Cowboy Bebop movie. Again, starting with some questions to get the player's juices flowing. These "bangs" or statements or, not sure what they are, are not part of the system or suggested prep from the game. 

Session 2: Dimenoodle Cowboy

  1. Are we part of an actual community?
  2. What are acceptable casualties?

GM Prep

This is one place where Carbon 2185 falls flat. The GM section itself talks about mechanics and offers more than a few random encounter tables. It also gives a ton of random missions. The problem, as I see it, is that even if the game is about random genre missions, it does not offer any kind of direction on how to make that interesting. In many ways it is just a bloody fight generator relying on everyone's favorite shows and movies and nostalgia to fill in the gaps. 

Carbon 2185 illutrates perfectly the idea that a game needs to be about something. For instance, it does a decent job with "mechs". Okay, so be about something like Bubblegum Crisis. Or lean into the Blade Runner or Bebop aesthetics.  If you wanted, you could take the C2185 universe and lay over the system and maybe even some of the conflicts of the old (Aeon) Trinity game. And get a better game out of it.

Sean_RDP's picture

Session 2 Actual Play

I had set a few directions the characters could go after the initial confrontation. The initial confrontation was at a noodle stand that characters have been staking out. There were only two players last night, the third character was hiding out from one of the large-scale mobs because he killed a partner of one of the big lieutenants. 

Each character asked why they would be involved or would care. I told them there was a bounty on this unaffilliated gang of ramen hoods. It is crowdfuned by the victims, the corp cops, and the local gangs all dump money into the bounty to catch these guys. 

  • For the ex-cop character:  It was a community oriented thing, we agreed. 
  • For the ganger / hacker: these were people who were "doing business" without permission.

I began the game in media res again and this is working out well for this game. In the middle of the action sets the tone because of the decisions the characters make in the middle of the fight. A lot of personality emerges from how characters handle a battle. At least in my experience. So there is a fun and chaotic gun battle that sees a hostage taken and one of the random noodle vendors picking up a weapon slid to her and joining the fight. 

There are some clues left at the scene and the characters pick up on one of them, going ot check out the living arrangements of the gang. Turns out they are all early 20's, same fraternity, post-grads living in a large apartment in District 3. The characters arrive, break in using pilfered cards and IDs, and beging sarching the apartment. There is 80s music playing in the back bedroom and there is someone there.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrfFHzqGBZI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn4U0-CRNVM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7U1YZNgwnY

The woman who shoos a cat out of the room is pregnant and a stream commentator, comenting on live streams of crimes around the city. They hear her get into the shower so they go into her room to get her setup. On the bed is an empty weapon case from the FN company that looks like it held a high end pistol. The case and clip slots are empty. A failed hack attempt causes the computer to shut down and they hear from the shower.

"They're here. Send the cleaners." Then two silenced shots and the woman goes out the window on the the ledge of the apartment (3rd story). The characters bug out and run into another co-ed with a "Juicy" tee shirt and a nice FN of her own. She missed badly as they run down the stairs. Outside the characters make for their bike The hacker jams coms in the local area.  They jump on the bike and three shots ring out. Each character is wounded but the shot at their bike missed. 

Not long after they are being followed by a black Dodge. A bit of a car chase ensues, where with good rolls, the bike gets behind the Dodge. The characters dunp a GPS tracker on the Dodge, wheel out, more shots, but then they go to a local Triad doctor to get fixed up. 

At the end I had another cut scene showing a little bit of plot and another mysterious character on a motorcyle. The characters are breaking up to go check on their own things and I am going to work with each one separately before we meet again. 

Again, we all had fun. I did a better job this week of incorporating bits of the setting into my own ideas. I sprinkled some homages to Cowboy Bebop and Bullitt in there, though the latter was unexpected and a bit of improv on my part. I also did a better job of adding color to die rolls or it came easier this week. Session 3 will (likely) be the end but I am enjoying what Carbon2185 has to offer, at least the bare bones of it.

Ron Edwards's picture

Can you be more specific than "fun" and "enjoying?" I realize it may be rude or unpleasant, but from the above description, I'm not seeing any or much of what you initially described as your hopes or desires from cyberpunk-ness and from this particular rules-set. It reads like any boilerplate action scene from a standard 90s movie, or a session from playing any of a hundred (similar) RPGs. What am I missing?

Sean_RDP's picture

Not rude at all. This was just intended as a follow up to my prep. I am working on an actual video of my feelings about the game and campaign. 

What I feel so far is that Carbon 2185's mechanics are fine, but much like 5E in general there are very few spots where rolling offers a significant difference that not rolling. Our recent conversation on rolling for failure was on my mind the entire session. There were very few moments were what skill I would choose to have them roll really made a difference. And that is not "versatile" as much as it is a lack of focus in play.

The exception is combat. Combat moved at a good pace, which may seem like a strange compliment, but 5e well D&D 5E does not move at a good pace. Its clunky and fumbly. Carbon 2185, I think because it simplified the classes and what choices they have, allows you to do fun things. Action movie things. There is a bit more grit? 

As far as "Why cyberpunk, yo?" the game has not answered that question at all. As a near future, dystopian action game, Carbon 2185 is fine. As a Cyberpunk game, it really is not that. 

Sean_RDP's picture

Combat

Let me rephrase a bit. C2185 gets out of the way in combat and lets the action flow because it does not weigh the characters down with a grimoire of possible actions. There are clear things you should do and you do them. And that works for me.

Sean_RDP's picture

We have played a total of 9 sessions of Carbon2185 now. I have more I want to share about the experience and how is it (or is it not) answering the question Why Cyberpunk, yo?

Let's start with a brief rundown of everything so far. Sessions 1 - 4 dealt with a missing Synth and a madman who was going to dose the city with poison gas. If you are not aware or not paying attention, this blended ideas from Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop: The Movie. I really do not mind mining the classics for ideas, I think that is something players who play Cyberpunk on purpose look forward to (1). The players (there were 4 at the time) tracked down the missing synth in the first session, but that character popped up again and again. The game has had a minor through-line of being adjacent to the Synth rights movement. One of the players, the newest to rpgs, is playing a synth and she touches on the Synth Rebellion (a movement in the world of Carbon2185) now and then. I am not pushing her to do so and I am pleased when she picks up some of the threads that have been laid down. 

At the end of session 4 they do stop the plot and foil the corporation behind it. Surprisingly, everyone walks away from it, even the mad man. The players were very practical about it all, letting one NPC take the other to get the help they needed. As long as they got paid (2) the players were fine.

Sessions 5 - 7 dealt with a straight up job doing survelliance for one corporation. In sessions 5-6 there was no shooting, knifing, or any kind of violence. A lot footwork in both cases. The system is limited here. You have hacking and investigation and that is about it. 5E has to be curated heavily to give it a skill system that drills down into details that matter. OR maybe capped at a level where the vagueness of Perception is intentional and not incoherent.

As it stands, I am starting to add layers to Hacking; this last session I even laid out a visual board in Roll20 for the hacking character to move around in. It worked okay, but I will be looking into other possible ideas. They feel a lot like 4E Skill challenges and I may just embrace that whole hog.

There was a major and bloody shootout at the end of session 7. This was very satisfying as it felt like a good payoff for all of the footwork. What happened, happened because of the work the players had put in finding clues. Again, the system seemed to handlel basic combat very well. On their turn, players acted and reacted on other turns. I do think "I shoot" can become repetitive, but I am not overly worried. The high amounts of damage make one shot kills feasible and that is satisfying in this type of game (3). 

Session 8-9 have been both straightforward and complex in terms of building out the world. The group is gaining a reputation and like all rising stars, I suspect they will soon hit their zenith. People are aware of them and gunning for them. Session 8 began the final arc of the game as it only has 10 levels and they will soon be level 7. An unknown corporation is bringing two new mechs to town (San Francisco). The 16K Triad, the major gang and the home gang of one of the characters, is one of several factions trying to get hold of this technology. In Session 8, 16K paid the team to take out a rival gang's go-to spot. It became a running fight and involved a truck being rammed into the building, motorcycles being used as weapons, and a Heat syle running fight down the street, cornering the rival gang members and mercilessly bringing them down. Everyone went away bleeding but the action was satisfying. 

This marked a semi-transition from mercenaries who could do good things for the right price to members of a small power struggle in San Francisco who have taken sides. In session 9, after some side threads have been serviced. it became a full transition. I wanted to see how the players would react to a determined kill order. They were given the choice to eliminated a corporate Elite Strike Team or the same corporation's elite negotiation team. The players chose the latter and ambused the designated team. Boi Fenris, who is the lietenant for 16K Triad that one of the characters answers too, made it clear that the members of the corp negotiations team and their guards were to be eliminated. Everyone said sure, but when it came time to it, there was some hesitation. The new (synth) player talked about whether her character was okay with it. I think the conclusion she came to was yes, for now. I suspect as things get more violent, this question may come again and I think that is great. The players are talking about it and the characters are talking about it (4). 

Ultimately the team did eliminate the whole corporate team, executing the ones who were immobilized by a violent truck crash. The mercs who the corporates were supposed to meet up with are now in pursuit of the characters. The action has not ended and I am not going to let  up on the pressure until the end or until the players deliberately make space to avoid it. 

Notes (or Why Cyberpunk, yo?)

  1. One of the answers to the question is that players enjoy the situations found in the adjacent media. Cyberpunk ecnompoasses a wide range of media and idioms that are, in my opinion, too big for one category. But all of them can fit into this kind of game. Or at least a few at a time.
  2. Fantasy touches on the idea of characters as mercenaries as does SciFi. But I think transactional motivation fits Cyberpunk well. And it works for Carbon2185 where the economy is so fucking fucked that its surpising that everyone has not collapsed. Well I guess it has collapsed, but it just has not figured this out yet. The setting I mean. Some kind of criminal element is mandatory for the economy to function. You become rich through violence. It is appealing to players. 
  3. I do not think action oriented games work well with whittling away at hit points. One shot kills have to be part of the game. I can give a bad guy 5hp and a weapon that does multi-D6 damage and it works and makes sense. Like giving a goblin a two-handed sword. All the lead flying around puts characters in danger quickly. 
  4. I enjoy when players and their characters talk about the morality of their actions. The paladin who kills helpless goblins is one of those oft spoken of dilemmas. Everyone has their own asnwers of course but we can agree genocide is bad, yeah? In Cyberpunk the morality has shifted. Not to a place where genocide is okay, but life is considerably cheaper. Its fun to explore and it is interesting to speak about, because unlike fantasy we live in a greater society where life is cheap, maybe cheaper than we think. 

Once we are done with Carbon 2185, we are moving to either Cyberpunk Red or Forbidden Lands. If the former, it will allow further exploration of system and idiom in reference to the big question.

 

 

 

Ron Edwards's picture

This is a great reflection, with multiple points to identify as seeds for later play and discussions.

I doubt it will surprise you or anyone that this particular bit speaks loudest to me:

unlike fantasy we live in a greater society where life is cheap, maybe cheaper than we think. 

Particularly if "we" can be taken to mean ourselves in the real world. It makes me think about how one may perceive life as cheap in Circle of Hands, but by any estimation, and in comparison with many aspects of modern life, it's kind of not. So in a revved-up version of modernity like you're playing here, the characters' rather mercenary outlook is not escapist so much as knowledgeably fatalistic. (I mean, as embedded in the cinematic excitement and gory glam, I'm not going full philosophical here.)

But there are lots of things to learn from your post regarding mechanics, like decoupling damage that a character may inflict from the amount of damage they can take, and the way that a fair amount of recon and research actually tied into eventual confrontation that made more sense because of that "slow" time beforehand.

 

Sean_RDP's picture

and the way that a fair amount of recon and research actually tied into eventual confrontation that made more sense because of that "slow" time beforehand.

There was a high degree of recon both technological and personal. Both the synth and hard boiled investigator got up close and personal with different members of the menageries of NPCs. And I thought a fair bit about DC (Difficulty Class) in 5E systems and how deciding on the difficulty number is a big decider not just on how easy or hard a given roll is, but on the base level of suspicion. And this is where I would not mind a few thoughts.

Carbon 2185 has a page(1 page) talking about social interaction and social skills. And they are explicitly stated as such. I found that interesting and possibly helpful. The game system is making an attempt to encourage role-playing, which many people equate with social conflict, as if dropping three slugs into Billy could not also be role-playing. A thought for a different discussion.

In short, the GM decides on the DC of a social interaction based on how hostile or friendly the target is. The game says most NPCs start in a neutral state. I have thought about this a bit and in my mind, this reinforces the idea that everyone is at heightened state of suspicion regarding everying else. Folks assume you have an ulterior motive. The questions then becomes, does that ulterior motive matter to me? If the answer is no, then maybe I do not care why you want access to the biol-lab, as long as its not the same reason I want access to it. For othis reason, I set the DC for most social interactions at 11 for the less NPCs and 13 for the more experienced / paranoid crowd. These are not considered hard DCs to meet or beat and so this lead to a high degree of character success in infiltration. But they were high enough to still add some tension to the rolls. 5E wants you to be hanging on that D20, though I am not sure what we might call that aritifial tension and drama. Maybe its the gambling aspect of it all.

What do others think? Part of my reasoning is that failure would almost certainly a) kill a good player idea, and b) lead to gun play. And maybe that is arbitrary on my part because there were a few failures and they did not lead to gun play OR killing the ideas. Maybe what I am asking is, does something have to be hard mechanically to still be hard in the fiction. A DC of 11 or 13 is still a less than 50% chance of success. 

I supposeI could have, and may do so in the future, relied on Passive Sense Motive (C2185 uses sense motive instead of insight) and Passive Perception to set the DCs for the checks. That would make it less arbitrary / GM fiat. 

Why Cyberpunk, yo?

Maybe the heightened suspicion and paranoia are as much fun as the cacophony of gun fire.

Sean_RDP's picture

decoupling damage that a character may inflict from the amount of damage they can take

Frankly, that is a great way to put it. Everyone is using high powered weaponry, especially pistols. Carbon 2185 has so far not been the race to the FN FAL that OG Cyberpunk and to some extent CP2020 are. Much like my Shadowrun experience and to some extent the limited experience with something like the original SLA Industries, Carbon 2185 isn't really gun porn. Though the guns look great, so its more fetish than porn. 

Everyone has about the same firepower and access to fire power. Armor mitigates ballistic (but not melee) weapons, but it is a tiny amount. Even high level characters erode quickly under just a few well placed shots. I have allowed the players access through loot to more powerful handguns, with iconic sounding names. Even the new player is using the name of the weapon like an old pro now. It is an extra D6 but this has allowed all of them to take a target out with one shot. Critical rolls have not been all that spectacular compared to the regular damage rolls.

There is a visual aspect to weapons as well, in terms of player and character reaction. In Session 4 I had them go up against 2 mechs, and that was brutual. The players seemed intimidated by the mechs even though they did manage to take both out with some lucky shots and good use of tactics. In Session 8, one of the rival gangers came out of the building with an RPG or rocket propelled grenade if do not know. But I suspect most people DO know what I meant. The RPG had a more psychological effect; they erased the guy as quickly as possible to avoid him firing that weapon. 

I feel like most people mght feel the same way. The RPG or its relative is a real weapon many of us have seen on the news, some have seen in real life, and is I think considered (at least in the West) a weapon of the insurgent.

"He's got an RPG? Fuck that guy."

Not an exact quote but that was the sentiment as I remember. That is a reaction you do not get with a sword or pike or glaive-gisarme. We might react that way to the appearance of a giant or necromancer in a fantasy game. We might utter an explitive if a fireball gets cast. But those are not part of our lives. Anyone with opposable thumbs and a working eye can use an RPG. Its scary. 

Sean_RDP's picture

So in a revved-up version of modernity like you're playing here, the characters' rather mercenary outlook is not escapist so much as knowledgeably fatalistic.

I think that is it, exactly. In a world where the choice is do good or survive, choosing to survive is maybe the best you can do. If you lie down, you just die on your back. Every day above ground is a good day. 

Insert your own cynicism, as needed. 

All of that does not preclude moments of kindness and generous behavior. But the rule of the day is: if you have someone down, you make them stay down. 

One the quotes from Session 9 was to the effect that (paraphrasing) 'we are the assholes that we take missions to kill in Cyberpunk2077' (the video game that came out last year). But I still would not characterize the group as bad guys in the antagonist sense. In many ways, their choices are pragmatic or as you say, fatalistic. 

Last point and I will put it here. We have been playing on Discord and Roll20, but we play music on the Discord. Everyone controls their own volume and it does not interfere with the game at a reasonable volume level. There have been points where a player (including me) has said "oh yeah, good song." and the song has matched the moment through some mysterious serendipity. Has the music informed behavior? Maybe? I bring that up only because music has been discussed on the discord and of course in the recent play of Ribbon Drive

Add new comment