This January I have begun GM’ing the “Powered by the Apocalypse” cyberpunk RPG game, The Sprawl. One cool thing about this game (and most other PbtA games) is that on the very first session (session 0), the entire group builds the setting together, based on a conversation about what each player is interested in, and how they see the setting. This is our Sprawl:
- Technology: Technology is advanced, but not too much. “Real-ish” tech, such as wearables, AR, VR, and robotics are technologies the players want to see more of, while “Sci-fi-ish” tech such as space travel, laser weaponry and battle armor is something the players want to see less of. No flying cars.
- Corporate Power: Corporations have superseded government, but puppet states still exist. Corps back elected representative to guarantee access to resources, and to conduct proxy wars with plausible deniability for territory. Also, risky, low ROI ventures such as public security are left for the governments (and the public) to bear the burden. A Corporate Arbitration Board exists to oversee disputes that get out of control.
- Entertainment: Everyone is playing video games on VR all the time. Every surface projects some sort of AR, providing information, news, entertainment and covering the dirt and decay of The Sprawl. Major media unabashedly abuse video manipulation to control the narrative.
- The Internet: The internet is ubiquitous, but tightly controlled by the corporations. Copying software is a thing of the past. If you want to do something illegal, you have to go back to bulky decks with handcrafted dedicated hardware to break the layers of encryption, intrusion detection, and distributed cyber security. Forget wireless hacking.
- AI and Androids: Robots are used for the jobs where it is not profitable to keep a human alive to perform: Farming, Industry, Mining, Security. Agent-AI is well developed: Cortana is highly personalized based on your preferences, personal info, and, for the right price, your memories of loved ones. Androids are used to serve the ultra-rich. Any robot entertaining thoughts of freedom and independence is malfunctioning, and should be destroyed on sight.
- Medicine: Mechanical and Plastic prosthesis are common. Corps encourage their members to gain an edge by improving their body with cyber enhancements. On the other hand, human genetic engineering and bio-modifications are not a focus.
- Environment: The environment was a victim of the tragedy of the commons. Melting of the polar ice cap submerged most major cities and changed the global climate patterns, resulting in a large scale redrawing of political and weather maps. The sprawl is prone to extreme weather, and is far away from known population centers.
- Energy: The world ran out of fossil fuels decades ago, which contributed to the decline of space exploration. The atom is the main source of energy, including miniaturized reactors for arcologies and large corporate installations. The knowledge and technology necessary to safely produce and distribute nuclear power is a closely guarded secret and one of the leverages that corporations hold in their power plays.
- Religion: Religion plays a big role in the society, both in the form of corporate sponsored communities and identities, as well as underground cults.
- References mentioned: William Gibson’s the Sprawl trilogy and Burning Chrome, Ready Player One (the movie), Read Only Memories (robots and androids), Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, current stories of CEOs and corporations being dickheads, Harebrained Shadowrun games, Invisible Inc.
Coming up in following posts: The corporations, the characters, and session summaries!