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Close to the Edit

The Columnist's Opinion & Once It Was the Future, Part III

by Ross Winn
Feb 09,2005


The Columnist's Opinion & Once It Was the Future, Part III

So here we are. Someone had mentioned to me that it had been over a year since I started writing 'Close to the Edit' and I almost replied "balderdash". Then I stopped and realized that they were right. It has been over a year, I have swerved and veered, I have rocked and rolled, and I have even taken on a bit more than once a month at one point or another. Still it is hard to believe that I have been at this for more than a year, and that the game (such as it is) has changed.

When I started out, the idea was that I would write about whatever struck me in the forehead. I needed a more structured creative outlet than Livejournal, and I needed some editorial direction. RPG.net gave me both. Still it seems that not everyone is happy with what I do. A good deal of that is expected. I never expect not to annoy someone. In fact, I usually expect to annoy most people. That way if, by some miracle, I do not offend someone, I am pleasantly surprised. Still it seems people are annoyed. They do not get it.

I never assured anyone that there would be a point. Actually, I believe I said that it would be an amalgam of ideas through the wringer of my twisted brain, but my memory is going as I am approaching forty. I may be wrong.

I am in the midst of a survey, at least three columns of cyberpunk roleplaying then and now. I hope to wrap it up with a look at Cyberpunk v3. We live in hope. After that, I had intended a similar review of Anime themes in roleplaying. Beyond that, I had no plans right this second, but I wanted to do columns on Advantages & Disadvantages (and why I am almost against them). Social interaction in RPGs is next. Something of a continuation of the disadvantages column and a recurring theme from my look at sex in RPGs. I have notes on overcompensation in roleplaying, specifically the big guns and big robots school of RPGs. Who knows?

The one theme that has become apparent to me and to many other people that I have corresponded with over the year is that everything old is new again. What I mean by that is: "No, there are no new ideas, your ideas aren't new and neither are mine. However if we can make them compelling or put them together in interesting ways and make our players involved and entertained then we have won, such as it is." So if you need a theme, there it is. The minute we get comfortable with it, something will change, which is why I don't talk about it too much.

My thoughts on the lexicon of gaming have met with both praise and derision. Frankly I don't care which you feel, not because I am an insensitive bastard (as much as that may be the case), but because whether you agree with me or not, as long as we are challenging, defending, and discussing these things I am very happy to be your whipping boy. Just keep talking.

A few of you have also asked why it is that I have a column. Well frankly, it is because I can write. I have written for several different game lines. My work is generally comprehensible, entertaining, and on time. When RPG.net solicited for columns I applied, and I was accepted. A year later I have actually met a lot of people who tell me that they read and enjoy my column. I hope you do as well.

So anyway...

"Once, It Was The Future..." Part III: Influence.

At the opposite end of the spectrum from Ex Machina there is OGL Cybernet. Simply put, the book offers OGL rules for cyberpunk-themed adventures, but no setting whatsoever. While this may be acceptable in terms of OGL content, it simply is not a game in any sense of the word.

Let me explain. In my definition, 'games' are whole or complete things, and 'sourcebooks' generally are not. Games have setting and rules. Sourcebooks may have one or the other, but generally cannot stand alone. There are exceptions to this like my own Action! System (written with Mark Arsenault and Pat Sweeney), Tri-Stat DX, or GURPS which can provide a complete game without the core rules if those core rules are available for free online.

I would also talk about 'splatbooks' here as well, but I am not going to start another holy war.

OGL Cybernet depends on a lot of other material being present; not only D20 Modern, but also a GM who can either crib a setting from somewhere else, or write one from whole cloth. This doesn't even take into account the complete and utter wrongness of using a DDL system game for a cyberpunk setting. How exactly are sixteen year-old console cowboys supposed to be as respected (or feared) as grizzled veteran killers, when they can't survive any confrontation. I think that any level based system is completely inappropriate for cyberpunk-themed games and their predisposition towards youth, ultra-violence, and style over substance. I have to say OGL Cybernet is a big disappointment. Not worth the money at all.

So what would happen if Philip Dick and K.W. Jeter had a love child, and he wrote RPGs? I think that A|State would happen. As it says on the cover, "you will never forget the city, but the city will forget you".

A|State is worth the money. The setting alone sells the book. A huge and intricate locked-room mystery with no certain beginning, ending, or theme; the players are forced into the city's way of thinking, and not the other way around.

Cyberpunk is dripping from this book in the oddest places, however there is also considerable influence from the horror genre, urban fantasy, and the fevered brain of Philip K. Dick. Fans who want a straight cyberpunk setting will be disappointed, but if you are looking for a game that allows you to go to drastically new places then A|State has a lot going for it.

In the "style over substance" category A|State is even better looking than Ex Machina. Spare and computer generated, the art greatly reinforces the tone and style of the setting.

I personally abhor the use of percentile dice in RPGs. I do not know why, the bias is longstanding and may originate from RIFTS, another setting I love with rules I cannot abide. Aside from the die mechanic, there are some cool things about the system. I like that they have chosen not to print yet another exhaustive list of advantages and disadvantages and instead have taken a more sparse approach. This is something I wanted to do in Action! System but was somewhat over ruled. Such is the life of a cooperative designer.

One of the coolest facets of A|State is the dingin. Little computers in the spirit of Mr. Babbage, they remove the impetus for "keeping up with the joneses" that permeates cyberpunk RPG computing rules that have even a passing resemblance to reality. Anachronistic in the same way that Max Headroom so brilliantly was, I just want more. So yes, this is another one of those games that elates and frustrates me, that entertains and angers.

Still there is Fates Worse Than Death to look at, and maybe one or two more. So until next time, make it your own.

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What do you think?

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