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Sandbox Adventures / Subgenres


Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 140
Related Media: Mirrorshades (anthology), The Matrix (film), Person of Interest (TV series), Robocop (film)
This genre involves urban decay and hacker protagonists battling soulless corporations in gritty, post-futuristic urban settings. Information is all-powerful, assassins lurk around every corner, and characters escape their decaying reality by entering a digital universe which, despite being virtual, is still deadly. But underneath the surface, cyberpunk is more than just dark and gritty science fiction—it’s a counterpoint to classic science fiction dreams of a post-scarcity technotopia. Cyberpunk settings recognize that, if the future is supposed to be an improvement on the world we’re in now, some people (namely, the privileged, rich, and famous) are going to get to enjoy that future more often, faster, and easier than others.
Urban biomes are common settings in cyberpunk, though that doesn’t mean the heroes won’t find themselves adventuring in some eccentric billionaire’s mountaintop villa or orbital mansion. In a traditional cyberpunk setting, technology can be high, though often inaccessible to ordinary people. Magic can be low or nonexistent, but the genre often crosses over with urban fantasy, which includes spellcasters and fantasy creatures on city streets. Competing corporations, not governments, run everything and accord is low. The PCs probably approach the game world as chaotic antiheroes, surrounded by lawful evil tech billionaires and megacorporations. Mechanics—and technomancers, if your setting has medium or high magic—hold the keys to the digital realm and are in high demand. Biohackers install cybernetic and biotech augmentations and push the edges of medical science. Megacorps and failing nation-states hire mercenary soldiers and assassin operatives. Religion is likely low, though some settings link virtual reality to religion in interesting ways.
One of the most identifiable themes of the cyberpunk genre is the relationship between the human body and machines. Augmentations remain prevalent in these stories, and many other pieces of equipment—melee weapons and armor, for example—might be replaced or enhanced by augmentations in these stories. You might even consider allowing characters to have more than the usual limit of augmentations installed in their bodies. Augmentations are likely much more common in cyberpunk settings, both in terms of availability and prevalence among both PCs and NPCs.