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.
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.
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.
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.