Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Vircades Project

Vircades Project is a blog devoted to role-playing games, especially in the science fiction genre. It’s about stories where hard-bitten criminals and revolutionaries plan corporate theft and violent heists, where freelance spies dodge surveillance drones and genemod animals, where every bullet fired from a pistol could drop a character. It’s about games where cunning and tradecraft and sheer cool overpowers brute force. Mainly, it’s about cyberpunk.

(But because I play RPGs, there’ll probably be some D&D stuff in here from time to time…)

What this blog is about

I love writing adventures and I love writing NPCs. So this blog will be full of both.

For me, obsessed with the neo-noir aesthetic, the cyberpunk genre has always – and weirdly – lacked good heist adventures. So I’m going to post some here (I’m not saying they’re going to be good, but they will be heists!). It’ll be fun to experiment with formats after discovering Savage Worlds adventure paths, the OSR movement and the recent line of Shadowrun plot point adventures!

The idea that Cyberpunk games are too close to reality to be escapist or fun is a totally valid one (for the novel and film genre as much as the games!). Part of what I love about the genre is how it makes the mundane world strange by extrapolating current trends just a little further. This really manifests itself in the city where the characters find themselves, and so I want to start writing about locations and architecture for games. The city of tomorrow doesn’t have to look like New York in the 1970s (as evocative a place as that was!).

At the time of writing this I’m running my first ever Shadowrun campaign, along with irregular Star Wars, Day after Ragnarok, and DnD Next games. I want/need to run some GUMSHOE as soon as possible. Both the Star Wars and DaR games went in (wonderful) directions I didn’t expect, so I’ve got lots of unused material for both those games to post here.

One final narcissistic thing. For years I’ve been posting on the Views from the Edge Cyberpunk 2020 forum under the name Companero. With the CP2020 community slowly falling away I don’t want all of that writing to disappear, so I’m probably going to repost a few things I wrote there, like, seven years ago. Because I can!

Cyberpunk 2020

Sometime over a decade ago I completed Deus Ex and Planescape Torment and went looking for some other deep story game fix. Inspired by Datafortress 2020*, I sought out a game store and asked the guy to recommend me a cyberpunk roleplaying game. He showed me Spycraft, Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020. At first glance Spycraft was too dense, full of tables, and lacking in character (I still think that, to be honest!). Shadowrun was better – straight away there was a clear setting, a clear aesthetic and idea to get behind. It looked like a great game.


Cyberpunk 2020 looked like a cultural artefact. I was a teenager and discovering all of pop culture in a rush, and the punk zine visuals of that book (however laughably 1980s it was) hooked me straight away. CP2020 was written with a clear narrative voice so drenched in the genre conventions that I could practically hear a Michael Mann/Tangerine Dream soundtrack playing the background.

Also it was eight pounds cheaper than Shadowrun.

And seventeen pounds cheaper than Spycraft.

It doesn’t really matter that the rules-as-written were barely functional or actively missing in large parts, or that the hacking rules needed a total rewrite to fit into the game at all. It didn’t matter that the sourcebooks (with a couple of brilliant exceptions) were largely disappointing and that the setting as written was so boring that I’ve never actually used it. It doesn’t matter that ten years on I use a version of the game so hacked that it doesn’t much resemble the original. CP2020 remains my favourite game of any sort.

I’ve since gleefully (obsessively) mined Shadowrun, Kromosome, Transhuman Space, Ex Machina, ICE Cyberspace, Traveller 2300, Interface Zero, Night’s Black Agents, Stars Without Number, Jovian Chronicles and half a dozen other games for ideas and inspiration. And almost always run the resulting cyberpunk mash-up using a hacked version of CP2020.

* Datafortess 2020 is a massive project that now compiles virtually every piece of CP2020 fan material ever posted online. It is also frequently down, so i'll post a link the accompanying blog instead.

"The Vircades Project"

The name of this blog comes from Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, the thousand page unfinished draft of a book that aimed to explicate the Urgeschichte (“primal history”) of the city of Paris by collating virtually every aspect of geography, pop culture and revolutionary folklore available. The book is dense, confusing and largely impenetrable to anyone who (like me!) doesn’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of French art and culture in the late 19th century.

I adore it. It appeals to the part of me that loves abstract pattern recognition, convoluted social sandbox games, espionage histories, punk zines and walking enormous distances across the city of London in no particular direction. Cyberpunk fiction inspired half those fascinations – hence vircades. Like the worlds conjured up in roleplaying games, vircades are ephemeral, ludic places that will only ever exist in fiction, purely for the entertainment of the players.