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On the 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons (1974) -- A dark turn in the pop-culture? (Part Nineteen)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted May 20, 2024

Roleplaying Systems (continued):


GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) CYBERPUNK: High-Tech Low-Life Roleplaying Sourcebook (Austin, TX: Steve Jackson Games, 1990) by Loyd Blankenship (128 b & w pages; color front/backcover; glossary; bibliography -- books and short stories, comic books and graphic novels, movies and television, magazines and electronic newsletters; index)

Despite the somewhat weaker graphics inside, this is in many ways a superlative product.

A prototype of the sourcebook and other Steve Jackson Games property was seized in 1990 by the U.S. Secret Service as part of an "anti-hacker crackdown." Steve Jackson Games was eventually vindicated in court, and gained a lot of publicity for its products. This raid was also one of the catalysts for the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends online freedom of expression.

The sourcebook benefits from its generic nature, it does not have to take place in one specified cyberpunk background. Thus, the sourcebook can experiment with various alternative concepts, and alternative to alternatives, e.g., "Cross-Genre Cyberpunk", for example, occult-horror, or comic-book superheroes, mixed with cyberpunk. In what is probably a typical Steve Jackson GURPS trait, large amounts of information are offered in comparatively short amounts of text, e.g., in one sidebar, "Cyperpunk Soundtracks", there is a list of current music genres that can easily fit into the cyberpunk campaign. For example, New Age music is said to be evocative of floating through cyberspace.

The "Politics" section (pp. 106-109) in "World Design" is outstanding, considering its shortness. Among its clever points is a quick evaluation of the type of future world in terms of how many sovereign powers there exist. The 1-sovereignty model is a world-government, with no competing sovereignties. There are presumably large international armed forces and any local rebellions are quickly stamped out. The 10-sovereignty model presupposes regional blocs that could be in ferocious conflict with each other, or have minor conflicts among the blocs' small client states. The 100-sovereignty model (which resembles our own world) presupposes a number of larger states, and a fair number of smaller entities. The 1,000-sovereignty model could include megacorporations (such as Microsoft) as sovereign entities. It presupposes intense fragmentation of the world – and suggests that once such a course of events takes place, conflicts on the planet would probably become endemic, and it would be difficult to return to larger entities.

The booklet's "Glossary" and "Bibliography" are nice touches. The sourcebook would in many ways be useful to persons interested in the cyberpunk subgenre, as well as in broader futurological-type endeavors. One of the most striking themes is the "unnaturalism" of the cyberpunk future, with all manner of mechanical and electronic interfaces and grotesque interpenetrations of man and machine, as well as the ever-accelerating dying out of nature. Indeed, the booklet's brief look at the future of ecological movements is fairly derisory (suggesting, for example, that ecologists in the future may be reduced to calling to "save the tuna" – rather than to "save the whales") though this may not be surprising, given the dark premise.


The World of TANK GIRL by Bill Olmesdahl and Brian Schomburg (Honesdale, PA: West End Games, 1995) (160 b & w pages; color front/backcover) MASTERBOOK system (worldbook available separately, or sold in boxed edition with MasterBook, 2 MasterDecks, and 2 10-sided dice. (Full-color image on front and back of worldbook is identical to that on the front and back of the box.)

Based on the 1995 movie (numerous stills from the movie are featured), this is an overwhelmingly parodic premise. One supposes that by the 1990s, cynicism had reached the extent where even apocalyptic situations were being played for laughs. Perhaps the real subtext of the setting is the desire to feel oneself free of any and all authority.

Incidentally, the often Australian-based, combined theme of water-shortage and strong women occurs in, among other places, Charles Sheffield's Trader's World (Del Rey/Ballantine Books, 1988) (the "Strine" society). However, Sheffield's work was criticized for being in many ways a throwback to the 1950s, on the ethnocultural axis, as opposed to its decidedly more progressive attitudes in terms of the feminist axis.


MILLENNIUM'S END: GM's Companion (Blacksburg, VA: Chameleon Eclectic Enterntainment - CEE, 1994) by Charles Ryan (144 b & w pages, Lingo, pp. 137-139, Appendix: In-Genre Film, pp. 140-143; color front/backcover).

This is a superbly produced product in support of CEE's Millennium's End dark-tinged, near-future, technothriller roleplaying game. Millennium's End is one of the leading technothriller RPGs.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.


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