Typically a cyberpunk setting will feature weak central government, supplemented by a variety of rival power centres, usually based around large multinational corporations. It will also tend towards near ubiquitous use of cyberware, freely available military grade firearms and extensive tribalism. Most settings will also feature an upgraded internet mostly accessed through virtual reality interfaces known as cyberspace. This also brings in aspects of transhumanism, AI sapience and similar issues and tends to delve deeply into the personal and social consequences of radical body modification. At least part of the "punk" aspect revolves around the radical self mutilation common amongst characters in this genre - besides the cyberware, tattooing, body piercing and similar things are also traditionally ubiquitous.
Expect primarily urban campaigning - often in sprawling megacities with sharp contrasts between luxurious gated communities for the rich and extensive slums for the poor. This contrast is usually further reinforced - and a certain amount of values dissonance introduced, by blurring the cost/benefit aspects of each end of the deal: the rich may live in consumerist luxury, but they work long hours, under tight control and near constant surveillance, dependant on the state and/or their employer for pretty much everything and with very little security. The poor live off rat on a stick and protein items, and more or less squat in ruins with no amenities and regular gunfights, but they possess far greater liberty and have a chance to choose their own destiny (such as it is). PCs are very often liminal characters - legitimate enough to have access to the "safe zones" but also allowed to come and go fairly freely in pursuit of "special jobs" and tough enough to survive in the wild. Typically a cyberpunk PC will be the sort of person that a patron hires to take care of their dirty work - or anything else that their mainstream security people can't handle.
Dysfunctional government is also an important trait in cyberpunk - the contrast between the slums and the gated communities is likely to be at least in part down to the inability of the state to enforce the writ of law over the entire city. This could be due to any one of a number of reasons - sometimes not especially well explored in the setting - but a lack of funding, social collapse1 or (more commonly and somewhat less credibly) outsourcing of policing to private corporations who somehow are allowed to neglect large parts of their contracts. The state in a cyberpunk setting often swings erratically between neglect and brutality, which can lead to environments in which the slums are a crime ridden hell-hole where policing consists mainly of trigger-happy raids by heavily armed police (or corporate PMCs) to eliminate drugs labs (or counterfeiting workshops) and generating a great deal of collateral damage. The meme of policing for the benefit of the state, rather than for the benefit of the population will be widely explored. Where the "corporate" aspect is explored, anti-capitalism will often be a common meme as well, but usually without any real depth or understanding of the issues involved.
- Artificial Limbs
- Beneath the Grid
- City Of Adventure
- Corrupt Corporate Executive
- Cybernetics eat your soul
- Dungeon Punk
- Japan Takes Over The World
- Punk Punk
- The Government
- Twenty Minutes Into The Future
- Unusual User Interface
- Event/News: Maryland PR Firm Runs For Congress - a harbinger of the cyberpunk corporate future?
See Cyberpunk Sources for a reading list.
Game and Story Use
- The Cyberpunk genre has been a favorite of gamers from the very beginning, since it allows the player characters to fight evil and corrupt authorities and use lots and lots of guns with few repercussions.
- A good Cyberpunk game will likely need a lot of Technology, so make sure you check out pages like Fighting With Photons and Robot.
- Cyberpunk will also be happier with some slightly divergent technology, including peer-to-peer telecoms and a far less open architecture to the internet.
- This is the sort of setting where you may need a credit check or some kind of passport just to enter a secured shopping mall - and characters with the wrong types of cyberware may be banned anyway without some serious paperwork. This sort of thing should allow players to understand the necessity of having a patron as against the attraction of playing a rebel without a clue.