Cyberpunk is a very 1980s genre, and in hindsight was camp as heck. Cyberpunk was also 100% right in its view of the future. Its narratives are incredibly relevant and real to 2019, even if Cyberpunk is incredibly camp, and looks like a complete wack-job made by a fashion designer that was told to staple electrical waste to a bin of goth and raver clothes. This is because we focus on cyberpunk aesthetics, and not on its essence.
Cyberpunk streets look like neon lights, rain, and elective cyberware. Those things are not in our streets. Our streets look like the 1970s but with better haircuts, bigger cars, and a marginal improvement in fashion and storefront design. The only neon left is in Japanese alleyways, climate disaster is making the weather crazy, and prostheses can be made by kids with 3d printers.
Like Steampunk is not about brass cogs and leather corsets, but about class war, Cyberpunk is not about its aesthetics. Cyberpunk is about fear.
Cyberpunk is a very 1980s genre about the fear of the future in America.
Mostly fear about corporate lack of accountability, technology making us less human and less humane, and a more unequal society where megacorporation people get richer and everyone else gets poorer. If we told 1980s people what Facebook and Cambridge Analytica does with our data, how much we are relient on Internet and our mobile phones in every aspect of your lives, and the Great Recession and rampant growth in inequality it accompained, they would be terrified.
But that’s not what Cyberpunk looks like. Cyberpunk visuals are stuck in the ’80s, nobody has smartphones, virtual reality is awesome but the internet is somehow less fundamental to our human endeavours compared to the Internet of 2019, and, I’m willing to bet, we all still love paper books, which are suspiciously scarce in the genre. So, they completely missed the 2020 aesthetic, but as for societal evolution I’m afraid they got more right than wrong.
“But Paolo”, you must be thinking, “you write spells about goats. Why this?”, and then you probably thought “I want spells about puking a spray of eels that chase and latch onto the throat and face of my enemies, and possibly their crotch too. Please deliver”.
Well. Stuff happened. More specifically, an AI researcher at a university hired me to write a role-playing game about AI and predictive powers. We wanted a game where players get to see the future before it happens, have an impact on game causality, and steer the narrative in a different way. So we came up with The Future We Saw.
(Yes, I’m aware that this is quite a 21st century thing.)
The Future We Saw is set in 2020. It’s a 5e-based game of politics conducted through other means. Blackmail. Kompromat. Murder. Hacking. Infiltration. Corruption. The kind of fiction that you wish fake news sites authors would write about, if they could write. Players are agents for one of many organizations, and work behind the scenes, as fixers and thugs. The Future We Saw is about current politics, seen through cyberpunk concerns and fear.
What makes it weirder, and probably a Lost Pages book, is that you can play a Seer, and see the future. Seers can either glimpse or gaze into the future.
Glimpses make you see the future of what you perceive. Like a skilled player knows what the game is gong to be, you know that in 5 seconds that guard is going to pull their gun. Or maybe you have a feeling that someone might die in the next minute. Or maybe you know how a conversation is going to unfold after exchanging but a few words. This is why seers go on dangerous operations: to support the real professionals, doing what they can’t.
Needless to say the game design to make this work has not been easy, especially from a usability standpoint. It’s probably been the hardest work I’ve ever done.
Gazes let you see what happens at a campaign level. This can range from “what happens if we blackmail the CEO of WeYu Corp” to “given what we know, what do we need to do in order for WeYu to entirely give up asteroid mining business”.
This might seem like basic strategizing. However, since seers are uncannily good at seeing the future, this is what it’s going to happen, unless someone decides to do something against it seers were not aware of. In game campaign terms, this means players know what is going to happen in the campaign, and are in a position where they can do something about it.
The plan is to have The Future We Saw out as a beta this December, collect feedback from players, and release the final game next year.
PS: yeah, I know it’s been a while. I got busy elsewhere, like on lasagna.social, and writing spells, and now I’m freelancing only and might start a patreon. I’ll be at Dragonmeet 2019, and hope to have 3 new books on the table there.
PPS: Fear not, I’ll give you eelvomit magic, it’s in the spellbook after the next. FYI development names are Gaia’s Grimoire (cover: a roly-poly) and Tyrian Text (cover: a murex shell).