25 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Second

As if it weren't enough that my first role-playing experiences were set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, using one of the deadliest systems I've ever seen, my first true gaming love was the original "black box" Cyberpunk RPG.

I'd been a fan of the genre, though I didn't know it at the time. Before playing CP, I'd spent hours (if not days) playing the original Neuromancer video game on my Commodore 128. I even bought the William Gibson book that the game was based on in order to gain some vague insight into the secrets that were doubtless lurking within the depths of that cheesy video game.

I also had a penchant for cyberpunk-themed movies, Blade Runner, Robocop, and Terminator being the three I can recall most vividly. The idea of flesh mating with machine, of cyborgs, really struck a chord with me. Not only that, but "Night City," and the mean streets therein, were a virtual playground for my imagination. It was like coming home for the first time. I instinctively understood everything, from the mechanics, to the fictional technology, to the underlying themes of the game.

As I mentioned earlier, the person who introduced me to Cyberpunk, CJ, was a friend of a friend at the time. He'd picked up his original "black box" at a local comic shop, and (if memory serves) was itching to try this new game out. Me and the other guy (we'll call him Fred) were the willing guinea pigs.

Even before I'd met CJ, Fred had put the two of us in touch via phone to discuss my character options. Cyberpunk was a class-based system, although the classes were disguised as "roles," each with an exclusive "special ability." Given the list of choices (Techies, Netrunners, Rockerboys, Medias, Nomads, etc.), I was inclined to choose the "Solo" as the role for my first experimental character. Solos, for those not in the know, are the fighters of Cyberpunk: streetsmart killers wired up with the latest in cutting edge (and, most-likely, illegal) cyberware.

It was just my speed. Remember, I was young and wanted to bust heads. Depth of character was always secondary to combat ability.

I don't know if CJ came up with the name, or if I did, but my character's handle was "Wolfman." I'll be damned if I can remember the name of Fred's character, but he decided to play a Rockerboy (a revolutionary musician and charismatic leader-type). Our characters weren't awesome, so far as stats and skills were concerned, but we seemed to do well.

We met at CJ's parents' apartment, and took our gear downstairs to the complex's recreation room (down by the swimming pool). Sitting around a table, we moved right in to our first story. It started innocently enough, with us being jumped by some gang members in a public park after dark. We wasted the lot of them, and I don't remember it being very difficult to do so. Somehow, we managed to come into possession of a briefcase that seemingly belonged to a corporation known as Zetatech.

It was this briefcase, and its contents, that made things really happen. Zetatech wanted the case back, and they were more than willing to kill our characters in order to get it. Of course, we weren't going to stand for it. After a number of firefights, the most memorable of which saw us flying an AV-4 blind into a brick wall after wildly hosing a group of Zetatech goons with the aerodyne's miniguns, the game was somehow resolved. I don't remember too many details, but I think we ended up in the employ of another corporation with the ominous name of Arasaka.

I don't know if Fred really enjoyed his first game of Cyberpunk or not, but it seems that from that point on, it was just CJ and I playing the game. Fred never came back. Perhaps the game was too gritty, too dark, or too deadly for him. I'm not sure, and my memory doesn't serve well insofar as such details are concerned.

I ended up buying my own copy of Cyberpunk from the same comic store that CJ had picked his up at. We took turns playing and GMing, with me adopting a new character (a cyber-hick named "Deadeye") and he creating his own persona (a ruthless cop-killer named "Sting"), as well. Both of our characters were solos; not really that shocking, considering our preferred mode of play. Had we been playing with larger groups of people, we might have diversified a bit. At its core, though, Cyberpunk was a game about deadly encounters between dangerous people, and we weren't about to be caught with our kevlar-lined pants down.

We played those characters, alternating back and forth, for a long while, up until the release of Cyberpunk 2020. I remember CJ coming by my house with two copies of the original 2020 boxed set, one for me and one for himself. We opened them and read them with glee before getting down to the nitty gritty of updating our characters. We advanced our own timeline (which had moved from 2013 to 2015 or so) to the present of 2020, with my character spending the intervening years in cryo freeze. He'd been seemingly killed in our last game, so I was itching to see how CJ was going to bring him back to life.

Cyberpunk was the first game that I fiddled with mechanically. I even submitted a story/article to Interface Magazine. Though it wasn't accepted, the submission did result in a phone call from Chris Hockabout, who told me that he liked the story but that he was looking for other kinds of articles. I wasn't unhappy that the article had been rejected; I was jazzed that one of the guys on the magazine staff had actually called me to discuss it.

There came a time when CJ and I weren't playing Cyberpunk anymore. I was still running it, though; for my other game groups, and for my then girlfriend (now wife) and her friends. The list of players, not to mention different campaigns, is staggering. I'd be hard-pressed to remember them all...

There was the original Night City Cops game, where the PCs were members of Night City's finest, sent to infiltrate an illicit mercenary company that hired itself out to clients and performed black ops on their behalf;

There was the continuation of Night City Cops, which saw at least one of the PCs return in conjunction with a handful of new player characters;

Amnesia was a short scenario where two PCs awaken in Night City with no memory of who they were, where they were from, or why these strange people are trying to kill them;

There's the Coke Madness game, set in Panama City, which involved the players (scum, all of them) coming into possession of a sample of "new cocaine," a lab-grown strain of yeast-resistant coca, which caused them no end of trouble at the hands of Colombian criminals and American DEA agents;

On a somewhat X-Files-inspired lark, I ran the New Mexico Cops game, where the PCs were police outcasts sent to babysit the citizens of a corporate farming community in an irrigated portion of the New Mexican wastes. Not only was there some wierd alien invasion phenomena, but the farmers shared a border with the US military, who were responsible for some interesting phenomena of their own;

Let's not forget the Hoods game, where the PCs were ex-convicts out on parole, sent to perform underhanded work by their crooked parole officer;

Then there was Cops & Robbers, a game that was masterminded by my wife, wherein I portrayed a ruthless mobster, while another player (unknown to me at the time) portrayed a police officer who was investigating my activities in a separate series of games;

CJ and I did hook back up, eventually. The last character I ran in one of his CP games was a disfigured bruiser and heavy weapons expert by the handle of Belial. Belial was created shortly after my first character in that campaign, a government face man and talker by the name of Lowry Brooks, was gunned down on a mission to sabotage a nuclear reactor in South America. If the wimpy Lowry Brooks couldn't stand up to what CJ's game was dishing out, I felt that I'd better go with the gusto and create a character with a bit more durability.

As of now, we haven't played Cyberpunk for many, many years. I've been throwing around the idea of starting up a new game, using the old mechanics and my own house rules (which effectively took CP2020 and removed the class-based mechanics entirely).

Who knows, maybe I'll give it a shot sometime. Although the third edition of Cyberpunk is available, I don't yet know if I'm comfortable enough with the mechanics or the setting to put it to use. I think I prefer the original retro-eighties street feel of the "black box" and 2020 to the pre-transhumanism of the new game.

No comments: