Do you long to explore the darker side of the future? Are you fascinated with the idea of a seedy, post-human metropolis? Do you love playing hackers who are fighting to take down corrupt corporations? Then grab your trench coat and mirrorshades, as we hack into the slick, neon-drenched world of cyberpunk ttRPG and novels!
A subgenre of science fiction that emerged in the early 1980s, Cyberpunk has mesmerized audiences for decades. Its gritty, dystopian settings display morally rotten, decaying societies reliant on advanced technology and exploitation. In this blog post, we’ll uncover the dark secrets of cyberpunk, from defining characteristics and key tropes to its lasting influence on tabletop RPGs and fiction.
Definition of Cyberpunk
At its core, Cyberpunk is a science fiction subgenre that imagines a future where advanced technology coexists with societal decay. Dystopian yet stylish, the genre offers a lurid aesthetic filled with striking visual contrasts. Glittering neon juxtaposed against skies choked with pollution.
Cyberpunk often portrays a world where mega-corporations wield unprecedented power. As a result, the divide between the haves and have-nots is stark. The genre skews towards retrofuturism, imagining a future built on the foundations of the past’s visions of tomorrow.
If you’re planning to create a cyberpunk setting for your sci-fi tabletop RPG or sci-fi novel, it’s important to be familiar with the common themes, motifs and archetypes. For example, fans of the genre will expect to see these cyberpunk tropes, whether they’re played straight or subverted.
Noir & Neon: The aesthetic of Cyberpunk features a noir atmosphere bathed in neon lights. Dark alleys, rain-soaked streets, and towering skyscrapers adorned with vibrant signs create a visually striking backdrop for the genre.
Corporate Dystopia: Mega-corporations dominate the societal landscape, controlling governments and influencing every aspect of life. As a result, the struggle for power and resources often leads to a stark divide between the elite and the disenfranchised.
Hacking & Information Wars: In the world of Cyberpunk, information is power. Hackers and technologically adept individuals play a crucial role, engaging in high-stakes battles in the virtual realm to gain control over valuable data.
Posthumanism: The line between man and machine blurs in Cyberpunk settings, with characters enhanced by cybernetic implants, artificial intelligence, and advanced robotics. The exploration of what it means to be human in a technologically augmented world is a recurring theme.
Rebellion: Against the backdrop of corporate control and societal oppression, rebellion brews. Whether it’s a lone protagonist fighting against the system or a group of rebels seeking to dismantle the status quo, rebellion is a central theme in Cyberpunk narratives.
Cyberpunk TTRPG Examples
Cyberpunk Red: A classic tabletop RPG that serves as the prequel to the renowned Cyberpunk 2077 video game. This game allows players to immerse themselves in the gritty world of Night City, navigating the challenges of a dystopian future.
Cyberpunk 2020: A gritty and immersive tabletop role-playing game that thrusts players into the neon-drenched streets of a dystopian future. Mega-corporations rule, hackers navigate the virtual underworld, and characters grapple with the ethical dilemmas of a technologically augmented society
Shadowrun: Blends Cyberpunk with fantasy elements. Shadowrun is a tabletop RPG that introduces magic, elves, and other fantastical elements into the high-tech, dystopian future. This unique blend sets it apart from other Cyberpunk RPGs.
Cities Without Number: An OSR-inspired cyberpunk RPG that seamlessly blends science fiction and fantasy. It offers Game Masters a toolkit to create vibrant, procedurally generated cityscapes. A narrative framework lets players explore the mysteries and adventures within them.
Carbon 2185: Built on 5th Edition OGL rules, this game catapults players into a dystopian cyberpunk future. And it combines gripping storytelling with intense combat in a world where advanced technology and societal decay collide. This game offers a unique tabletop RPG experience with a focus on both narrative and tactical gameplay.
Cyberpunk Fiction & Media
Neuromancer by William Gibson: A seminal work that helped define the Cyberpunk genre, Neuromancer follows the story of a washed-up computer hacker hired for one last job that takes him deep into the world of corporate espionage.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson: Mixing Cyberpunk with a dose of satire, Snow Crash explores a near-future America where a computer virus threatens both virtual and real-world existence.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick: The inspiration for the iconic Blade Runner film, this novel explores the nature of humanity through the lens of androids and artificial intelligence.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Set in a dystopian future where most of humanity escapes reality by entering a virtual world, Ready Player One is a thrilling adventure that explores the consequences of a society obsessed with immersive technology.
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: While not a traditional Cyberpunk work, MaddAddam explores dystopian themes in a future where bioengineering and corporate greed have led to ecological disaster.
Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan: A speculative novel which explores a future where consciousness can be transferred between bodies, raising questions about identity and mortality. Note: there’s also a popular cyberpunk TTRPG and television series based on this property.
Get Plugged In … to World Anvil
As we navigate the dark alleys of cyberpunk TTRPG and novels, the genre’s enduring appeal becomes clear. It lies in its ability to reflect and critique our own relationship with technology, power, and society. As a genre, it continues to draw in readers, players and creators with its nightmarish visions and tales of raging against the machine.
So, if you’re ready to dive into the shadows of a high-tech future, sign up for World Anvil. Create your own Cyberpunk-inspired worlds and stories! And join thousands of storytellers shaping the future of speculative fiction.