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Summarize the Editions/Eras

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Jack Hooligan

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« on: <06-16-20/1205:01> »
If you were tasked to provide an elevator pitch on the Shadowrun Universe...how would you very briefly summarize the timeline? Can you give each edition, or era, of the game a 2-3 sentence quip that would express the major theme/culture/whatnot of the setting at that point?

Stainless Steel Devil Rat

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« Reply #1 on: <06-16-20/1213:05> »
Well, big concept is a mashup of Gibson and Tolkien.  Cyberpunk with elves and wizards and Dragons.

But the editions change in rules, not the big picture really. Even the "big" metaplots tied to each edition don't change the themes/feel of the setting.
RPG mechanics exist to give structure and consistency to the game world, true, but at the end of the day, you’re fighting dragons with algebra and random number generators.

Xenon

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« Reply #2 on: <06-16-20/1446:52> »
...I would say earlier editions of shadowrun had more of a Gibson and cyberpunk feeling over them than perhaps some of the later editions.

Later editions of shadowrun, I think, drifted from it's cyberpunk roots into something that I guess could be explained more as post-cyberpunk or perhaps transhumanism(?) and the Shadowrunner team seem to have shifted from what often used to be a bunch of punks, anarchists, freedom fighters, rocketboys and other misfits living on the edge because it’s more exciting there than in a safe corp dormitory and who's main driver basically was to 'stick it to the man' ....into a team of sophisticated, highly specialized, hardcore, well oiled squad of deadly super criminal mercenaries running for one corp or special interest group against another.

Or maybe it is just me, wearing my thick nostalgia glasses :p

Reaver

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« Reply #3 on: <06-16-20/1455:55> »
...I would say earlier editions of shadowrun had more of a Gibson and cyberpunk feeling over them than perhaps some of the later editions.

Later editions of shadowrun, I think, drifted from it's cyberpunk roots into something that I guess could be explained more as post-cyberpunk or perhaps transhumanism(?) and the Shadowrunner team seem to have shifted from what often used to be a bunch of punks, anarchists, freedom fighters, rocketboys and other misfits living on the edge because it’s more exciting there than in a safe corp dormitory and who's main driver basically was to 'stick it to the man' ....into a team of sophisticated, highly specialized, hardcore, well oiled squad of deadly super criminal mercenaries running for one corp or special interest group against another.

Or maybe it is just me, wearing my thick nostalgia glasses :p


.... are you SURE those aren't my glasses? Csuse I'm seeing pretty much the same.
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Michael Chandra

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« Reply #4 on: <06-16-20/1651:59> »
Your runners work for Corps?! Sheesh. I think I had like 3 runs in a 52-run campaign where the Johnson was Megacorp?
How am I not part of the forum?? O_O I am both active and angry!

CanRay

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« Reply #5 on: <06-16-20/1714:01> »
Your runners work for Corps?! Sheesh.
Mine has done jobs for Krime a few times.
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Tecumseh

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« Reply #6 on: <06-16-20/2225:02> »
Xenon's summary is very accurate and matches the consensus response for when this question is periodically asked. The early editions (1E-3E) focused more on the cyberpunk corporate dystopia. The later editions are closer to transhumanism or even post-transhumanism, with more emphasis on being smooth mercenary criminals. There's now less emphasis of runners being SINless living on the fringes of society, often hooding because the SINless have no one else to fight for them.

Michael Chandra

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« Reply #7 on: <06-17-20/0134:52> »
Your runners work for Corps?! Sheesh.
Mine has done jobs for Krime a few times.
What twisted sicko came up with a triple-barrel grenade launcher... KRIME!!!
How am I not part of the forum?? O_O I am both active and angry!

penllawen

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« Reply #8 on: <06-17-20/0821:49> »
Later editions of shadowrun, I think, drifted from it's cyberpunk roots into something that I guess could be explained more as post-cyberpunk or perhaps transhumanism(?) and the Shadowrunner team seem to have shifted from what often used to be a bunch of punks, anarchists, freedom fighters, rocketboys and other misfits living on the edge because it’s more exciting there than in a safe corp dormitory and who's main driver basically was to 'stick it to the man' ....into a team of sophisticated, highly specialized, hardcore, well oiled squad of deadly super criminal mercenaries running for one corp or special interest group against another.
I think there's an interesting question about what, exactly, cyberpunk in 2020 is. And I don't think the line is as crisp as you suggest.

Let's group together the most iconic, core cyberpunk the works of Gibson et al from, say, 1975 to 1990. So we're taking in Shockwave Rider, the Sprawl trilogy, the Marid Audran series, HardWired, Synners, Akira, Robocop, Blade Runner... all the classics. What are the hallmarks we see in common? Well, high tech, low life, of course. A sharp line between the haves and the have-nots, with protagonists coming from the latter. Analysis of what it means to be human, particularly in the face of technological advances and duhamanising living conditions. A strong flavour of '40s noir, rooted in Raymond Chandler. A cynical, wry sense of gallows humour. A neon aesthetic. And a dystopic future that represents the fears of the time: faceless consumerism, ruthless capitalism, human life and identity totally devalued... and those who stand up to that future and say no (the punks in cyberpunk.)

The last two parts, though, were very much of their time, and quickly became outdated. Neon is no longer a futuristic aesthetic, and we no longer worry about corporate dystopia as the most likely disaster scenario. (You could also argue we already live in that dystopia, so we're not scared of it any more.) So "pure" cyberpunk diverges, or arguably, withers away as it becomes less relevant. There's not much post-2000 in literature or film or TV that fits with these tropes. Even Altered Carbon, arguably the closest match, leans more heavily into transhumanism and away from corporate dystopia. Elements show up in various places - Mr Robot, The Expanse, Inception. But it's only echoes. There's a few books by lesser known authors that hew closer to the core themes, but whenever I read one, they read more like cyberpunk cosplay... they feel like pastiche. The vitality is gone. (Note that even Gibson hasn't written a book that's clearly and unarguably cyberpunk since 1988.)

Cyberpunk drew much of its power from being a reflection of time it was created, and we no longer live in that time.

But I think there are modern day analogues of (perhaps even successors to) cyberpunk because many of the themes above remain very relevant. So you can take some of those themes, mix in more modern ideas about dystopic futures, look at them through the lens of 2020 instead of 1980, and end up in interesting places. In particular, transhumanism is a very common theme. For examples of places we can look for inspiration:

  • Paolo Bacigalupi, who writes about near-future world where power is scarce, climate change is destroying the planet, and people are trying to patch over the cracks with advanced bioengineering. This sub-genre is sometimes called biopunk.
  • More transhuman biopunk - Annalee Newitz's Autonomous is fantastic. It opens with a bootleg drug runner carrying a load of black market antibiotics, manufactured illegally as they infringe patents, to be sold to people who can't afford the real drugs. What's more cyberpunk than that?
  • Charles Stross has some interesting work in this field; Accelerando has interesting things to say about transhumanism. (I'm told the pseudo-followup, Glasshouse, is good too; haven't read that one.)
  • Cory Doctorow does a lot of work in this area. Walkaway springs to mind.
  • While reminding myself of titles, I've just discovered Peter Watts has some - the Rifters trilogy. I need to read those. I loved other stuff by him I've read (Blindsight and Echopraxia.)
  • Christopher Brown's Tropic of Kansas is extremely punk-in-cyberpunk, although it features almost no advanced tech and isn't really a sci-fi novel in the traditional sense. But it's about the only book I've ever read that I felt could have been written by William Gibson.

So the way I see it is: "pure" cyberpunk is a bit of an endangered species, but if you broaden your focus a little, there's plenty of life in its successors. And that's what Shadowrun has tried to do, mostly by incorporating transhumanist themes and technologies but also adopting things like the wireless Matrix. It's moving with the times, at least a little, and I think it's a good thing.

The extreme focus on only playing as hyper-deadly mercenaries... ehhh, that part I'm less keen on. I think it's a projection of slightly toxic masculinity into the game space, everyone wants to be cold-blooded killers and nobody wants to do good for the sake of doing good. Fortunately, that part is easy to brush aside, and the setting remains rich enough and the rules flexible enough to support a much wider range of stories.
« Last Edit: <06-17-20/0826:25> by penllawen »

penllawen

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« Reply #9 on: <06-17-20/0856:04> »
Actually, on the topic of what the modern identity of cyberpunk is (or could be), this passage really resonates with me. It's by David Jarvis and it comes from the introduction to Interface Zero 3.0,  the cyberpunk setting for Savage Worlds.

Quote
In 1982 the movie TRON took viewers inside the machine and revealed a virtual world filled with AI’s, glittering data lines and Intrusion Countermeasures that made Kevin Flynn—the main character—play gladiator’esque games where death was very real; but always remember that William Gibson did it first.

Johnny Mnemonic, Burning Chrome, and later the quintessential sprawl trilogy—Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive and Count Zero—hardwired cyberpunk into the consciousness of film makers, readers and writers—especially rpg writers—over the next two and a half decades, which brings me to the next thing I want to talk about; cyberpunk games.

We’ve seen numerous cyberpunk-styled rpgs over the years. R. Talsorian Games brought us the masterpice that is Cyberpunk 2020 and other iterations of the game (including CyberpunkRed!), FASA created Shadowrun, Steve Jackson Games published GURPS Cyberpunk, and Iron Crown Enterprises also published Cyberspace. In their own way all of them perfectly captured the feel and tone of the ‘80’s cyberpunk scene.

As cool as Shadowrun and all the other cyberpunk games that surfaced in the latter half of the ‘80s and early ‘90s are, every one of them are firmly rooted in that gloriously decadent, wild decade of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination. We’re talking about games that broke ground in the industry, games that made not only cyberpunk a great genre to play in, but also made it cool to play modern and postmodern rpgs in general. Don’t think I’m bashing them, because I’m not. I love them. It’s just that I believe Interface Zero 3.0 isn’t entirely about what cyberpunk WAS; it needs to be about what cyberpunk IS, and perhaps even what it WILL become. Which brings me back to the first (albeit modified) question I asked:

What IS cyberpunk in the year 2019?

I once read a definition of the cyberpunk genre that said, “Cyberpunk is High Tech and Low Life.” It’s a good, simple statement that really says nothing at all about the heart of the genre, but just defines the two terms which comprise the name - cyber [high tech] and punk [low life].

“High tech and Low life” are simply trappings, salad dressing to give the genre flavor. In my opinion, cyberpunk is so much more than just technology and life in the gutter, but if we must condense the entire genre into a simple phrase, I ask that you consider this one:

Cyberpunk is freedom vs. control.

Now here’s a longer definition.

Cyberpunk is the power of social media. It’s no longer being wired into the machine, but having the machine exist all around you in the form of networks that, via GPS and wireless technologies, allow you to access your Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram accounts, or your YouTube channel from anywhere. It’s families texting at the dinner table rather than talking.

Cyberpunk is touch screen technology, and powerful computers so small you can carry them around in a backpack, or your purse.

It’s the irony that you express your individuality using the same mediums as everyone else.

Cyberpunk is reading this book on your favorite electronic reading device that was purchased with digital money.

Cyberpunk is about drugs that make you go crazy and eat people. Cyberpunk is Fake News, and Alternative Facts.

Cyberpunk is Fight Club.

Cyberpunk is WikiLeaks.

Cyberpunk is the spirit of a man standing in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen square reborn in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy L.A, Occupy London and Occupy [insert your city here]. It’s Tahrir Square in Cairo, Enron, the Economic Crisis of 2008, the slow death of the European Union, and Quantitative Easing ad-infinitum.

Cyberpunk is the war on terror. Its insurgency and asymmetrical warfare. Cyberpunk is predator drones, stealth bombers and hellfire missiles, watching war being waged live in High Definition on CNN, and the resultant desensitization to the violence.

It’s the privatization of mercenary groups like Black Water and conspiracy theories about everything from executive orders laying the foundation for a police state, to Shadow Governments secretly controlling the world.

Cyberpunk is Stuxnet.

Cyberpunk is the mind-numbing irony of “reality” television, the strange social relevance of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton and other, similar characters.

Cyberpunk is a meme so strong; it goes viral and compels you to form an opinion on a topic you didn’t know anything about five minutes ago.

Cyberpunk is the ongoing struggle for the right to live your life as you see fit, and the efforts of those who would keep you from exercising that right.

This is the world we’re going to reveal to you within the pages of Interface Zero 3.0—a world that echoes both 2019 and the cyberpunk of the 80’s and early 90’s, because even though the world has changed, the beginnings of the genre are just as important to what Interface Zero is, and can be.

Jack Hooligan

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« Reply #10 on: <06-17-20/0939:34> »
penllawen, thanks for the list of recent books to check out.

I'm less familiar with the recent SR setting, but have read a lot about how it's a different feel than early editions. I can understand it moving to more transhumanism, but I'm wondering what drove the game to be more about smooth criminals rather than robin hoods? Is it the nature of the adventures? the tone of the core book? or is it just what GMs happen to be running at their tables and pink mohawk-hooding could still be viable in the 2080s?
« Last Edit: <06-17-20/1002:28> by Jack Hooligan »

Michael Chandra

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« Reply #11 on: <06-17-20/0955:07> »
I do feel a lot of the material leans more towards running for megacorps rather than hooding, but like I said, I only ran a few Megacorp runs myself in my own campaign. As far as I can tell, hooding is still quite possible, it's simply not the main default.
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penllawen

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« Reply #12 on: <06-17-20/1005:49> »
... but I'm wondering what drove the game to be more about smooth criminals rather than robin hoods? Is it the nature of the adventures? the tone of the core book? or is it just what GMs happen to be running at their tables and pink mohawk-hooding could still be viable in the 2080s?
I don't think it's changed as much as people think, I think SR has always been like this, always dominated by mercenaries doing dirty work for corps. It's not like there was a lot of alternatives in 2e either, for example. IIRC 1e had a "rocker" in the archetypes section that didn't make the cut into 2e, if you want a clear-cut example.

2e had Shadowbeat, which had some punk aspects. And there was The Neo-Anarchist's Guide To Real Life (which I sadly don't have), which I believe has more. But 5e got a whole book just about hooding - Better Than Bad. That's more, I think, to put the "punk" in cyberpunk than any other edition has had done for it.

(I like Better Than Bad a lot.)

Edit:
penllawen, thanks for the list of recent books to check out.
You're welcome! Not quite what you were asking for I know  ;) Cyberpunk and... whatever you call this post-cyberpunk landscape... is a passion of mine, as you can probably tell. I just can't help myself. Sorry!
« Last Edit: <06-17-20/1009:54> by penllawen »

CanRay

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« Reply #13 on: <06-17-20/1017:07> »
What twisted sicko came up with a triple-barrel grenade launcher... KRIME!!!
That's one you can't blame on me, hilariously.
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Jack Hooligan

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« Reply #14 on: <06-17-20/1026:59> »
I'm currently using Anarchy to run 1e/2e adventures. though Better Than Bad sounds like a good book to read, is it necessary for running official adventures or is it better for GMs and groups creating their own tales?