In a couple of my recent interactions on Twitter I was approached by people asking me to look at a Kickstarter or a game that they wrote, so full disclosure, this is one of these posts. A Kickstarter that I do not think would have been suggested for me by their algorithms was suggested for me to take a look at and write about. The Kickstarter is for a new Cyberpunk role-playing game (RPG) called Subversion. When it was suggested for me to look at what was pretty much the entirety of the pitch, one thing stood out to me, and it was a sentence that said it was keeping the punk in cyberpunk so I decided to take a look.
Cyberpunk and Kickstarter
So, recently I had a massively rewarding experience with Cyberpunk games when I was part of the Cy-Borg Kickstarter, and that game… Wow! So I have a soft spot for this genre, not to mention that I used to run Shadowrun for a good 8 years or so. Ever since picking up Neuromancer, watching Tron and Bladerunner. You get the drift. I am a fanboy. That Cyberpunk game that can meld the computer world and the real world in new and innovative ways is what I seek. Just add the grittiness of the setting and the bleakness that comes with a downtrodden world and I am there.
Subversion is already funded several times over, so it looks as though it is going to happen. The game is not hard Cyberpunk and is much like Shadowrun. It is steeped with fantasy tropes as well as the cyber setting. Despite being told this in the email suggesting I look at the game it took me by surprise when I went to the Kickstarter to check it out! It is also not my type of Cyberpunk game for a few reasons that I will explain, BUT there are some interesting things to this game, particularly a mechanic I really like.
My decision may make you want to get involved
I am a grumpy old man. I shake a fist at the world and call out:
“You don’t tell me what to do!”
And part of me not wanting to back this game is just that. As I read the blurb on Kickstarter, and watched the video on the landing page, the pitch is I am playing a particular type of character. I am an envoy of a community fighting back at the Government which just does not care for the little person. In a game, that is a red flag for me. In fact, also one of the only criticisms I have for the Bladerunner RPG released recently – you have to play as a Bladerunner. What if I want a different story? What if, in Subversion, I want to play a G man who is sent in to break a rebellious neighbourhood? I know I could house rule it – but why? This will appeal to a lot of people and I understand the concept and the desire to play this style, but playing as a community envoy fighting to free themselves from the Government just is not my cup of tea.
Never read a book by its cover but…
Subversion also screams Shadowrun at me. Fantasy and cyber with orcs and elves (a broader range in this game but you get the drift). The focus is on Babylon, in Shadowrun there are a lot of Aztec ideas and the imagery is similar. I have done a lot of Shadowrun in my time and backed right out of it when I found it was not telling the stories I wanted it to. The game also uses a d6 dice pool system as its mechanic, and on the face of it (read the next section) it made me think of Shadowrun. There are significant differences though. Subversion is much brighter in artwork and concept from the bits that I have seen of it. I get the feeling that New Babylon is kind of a bright shiny place on the surface. You will note above, I like gritty and dark, so this style threw me, but it is very well-produced art and I could see a lot of people being sold on the game by its presentation.
Of all of this, I have a couple of regrets, or I suppose fear of missing out (FOMO) here. The main one is actually the skill check mechanic. It is lightly detailed on the Kickstarter page and it mentions the dice pool. You roll as many dice as your skill level plus your attribute. Sound familiar? Sure. But it is how success is determined that made me say, Ok, that is different. I am sure you could build a massive pool of dice, but after you roll them, only the highest 3 dice are counted toward success. That made me nod in honest appreciation. The more dice you have, the less chance you have of stuffing right up. I have been playing with various concepts for a while to try and develop a system that does just that. Good work on this front.
The other thing that I like about this is the game is pretty much completed. On the Kickstarter page, you can download the rulebook in PDF form. Sure, there is heaps of missing art, but the book layout can be seen and the rules are there. It is a hefty tome with a complex game system that they are not hiding. It looks great too, just still a little too clean for me these days. Character sheets and community sheets are there for download too. I really am impressed with the presentation of the Kickstarter campaign. The company has had a couple of successful Kickstarter campaigns already (Fragging Unicorns Games) and I can’t hear any rumblings of bad handling. With that in mind, if this is your kind of thing, get in on it as soon as you can! Literally though as there are only 6 days left to go.
This looks like a good game. But it is not a good game for me. The system, I am sure, will draw a lot of comparisons to Shadowrun, but it isn’t Shadowrun. It will play differently. It will feel different and the focus is more modern. The Cyberpunk worlds that I like are the gritty ones where people do what they do just to get through the day, not change the entire world. I do see that I would not have the issue that I had with Shadowrun in this game. The “fantasy” aspect of the game has always been there. It is not awakened in the setting and as such, the game would be less “What is it to be human?”. Playing this is from the perspective that this is what it has always been and I could work with that. To be honest, I think every bit of Cyberpunk has me asking “What is it to be human?” though and that reality is quickly merging with our own.
So, without further revelations of my internal turmoil, I will recommend to you that you get in on this Kickstarter. If anything above has made you think, that could be cool, get in on it. It is well produced, it is willing to show you what you are getting upfront and it reflects a lot of what is happening today. Go take a look at the Kickstarter and get in on it if you could see that at your table or sitting proudly on the shelf. Keep rolling!