While cyberpunk roleplaying games exist, they are nothing like the works that inspired them. (A fine list here if you need a primer.) Cyberpunk games tend to be about accumulating stuff, blowing up people and to a lesser degree, looking good doing it. There is nothing wrong with that – and I’ve enjoyed untold hours of that seminal game, R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 126.96.36.199 – but it’s nothing like the cyberpunk literature it imitates. Cyberpunk games went out of style circa 1995, but science fiction literature very much like the original cyberpunk works (a very small, select group) is very much alive and kicking. My most recent favourite is Richard Morgan.
Reading Gibson, a world of intertwining, tragic destinies, planehopping around the globe, chemical-addled violence and poetic justice is unveiled like a slowly loading JPEG image in 1995. Playing Cyberpunk or Shadowrun or Cyberspace, I mostly wonder about damage rolls and initiative and surviving through the combat-heavy mission, whatever it is. It’s like you’re playing the uninteresting stuff behind the scenes, or only the climaxes of the story. My memories are of shopping lists of guns and implants and software, not characters.
Remember Tomorrow sets out to recreate those literary experiences. It manages to do this without the need for preparation before a game… or a GM (game master). The game is improvised and it provides very good tools to help with that.
The game starts with the creation of characters and factions. Each player introduces one character and one faction (an AI, a gang, a corporation, a nation, …). All of these entities have some pull on the world and a goal. The game is about meeting those goals. All of the character attributes relate to the goals: how Ready, Able and Willing they are to reach their goal? Most scenes are about a character becoming (or failing to become) more Ready, Willing or Able to reach their goal.
One player at a time is the Controller, who frames the next scene – and everyone is welcome to propose and request scenes, depending on what they’re doing – and plays the part of the antagonist: they decide which of the player characters is in for trouble and who’s bringing it. In most cases, the Controller brings in a faction in a conflict with one PC, but that could also be PC versus PC or groups of PCs versus others. After the scene, the Controller role shifts to the next player. The Controller wants to bring in the factions and hostile PCs because he’s rewarded for doing so, helping him achieve his own PC’s goal.
Scenes are structured with very definite outcomes. In most cases the Controller is trying to either take away levels of Ready/Willing/Able from a PC or affect him with negative conditions: Injured, Destitute, Confused and so on – they’re not arbitrary, instead there’s a short list on the character sheet of the possible positive and negative conditions. As a result of a conflict scene, someone’s power is increased and another’s decreased. If through roleplaying the situation develops so that a conflict doesn’t make sense anymore, the scene is left as a color scene, again with defined results. There are no separate combat rules or anything of the sort.
Due to the focus on character goals, I think that the game is going to places very briskly. An episode is considered done when three characters have exited – having been written out due to meeting their goal or dying of injuries or any other reason. The mechanics do not force the goals to become intertwined in the end, but I get the feeling that in most cases they will be, thanks to how the introduction and scene mechanics work.
It feels like a game which should work really well, provided that the players are into improvising a cool cyberpunk tale together. I’m itching to try it out and hopefully will get a chance before my holiday is through.