Defining Roleplaying, from Tabletop through Solo ‘M’MOs.
I am, by nature, a roleplayer.
This perhaps isn’t a shock given the existence of this blog in the first place. I play roleplaying games. Occasionally, I write for roleplaying games. I’ve got two roleplaying games fleshed out and ready for a creation that may never happen. When given Doctors’ diagnoses, I mentally argue why I deserve a saving throw.
This, naturally, extends to the online arena. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time playing MMOs. While I’d tried Everquest back in the day, it wasn’t until City of Heroes — now so painfully gone — that the form sunk its hooks into me. Since then, CoH, along with Champions Online, Star Trek Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic have all grabbed my cerebral cortex and refused to let go. Among others, of course, but that’s not important right now.
However, there has often been a question… are these really roleplaying games? Do they truly constitute the assumption of a role, the playing within the context of that role, and the resolution of that role’s activity. Given the lack of a proper gamemaster responding to your actions, is there really a role being played, or is there just a well constructed avatar? And doesn’t everyone more or less just admit this isn’t any kind of RPG? They used to be called MMORPGs — Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games. Now… they’re MMOs. It’s still ‘massively multiplayer,’ with thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands or millions of players, but the ‘role playing game’ is left off.
It’s actually a more complicated question to answer than you might think.
So, my brain focused on Shadowrun 4th Edition and Ron Edwards’s Sorcerer. The former is the cyberpunk/dystopia world with magic and magical creatures, alongside all the standard body augmentations/jacking into the matrix that honestly became the most successful Cyberpunkesque RPG of all time. (Cue people bitching about ‘real cyberpunk.’) The latter is an elegant bare bones game that posits the only way to gain (magical) power is through the summoning of demons, with the implicit question of what price would one pay to gain power.
So part of me started to consider Shadowrun but with the magical system replaced with Sorcerer style magic. I rejected this as ‘too obvious.’ But then I had another thought.
Shadowrun (and most cyberpunk games) has a mechanic around how much cyberware/bioware/modifications you can put into your body, and often how inhuman this makes you. What if that is the Sorcerous element?
Consider: in order to put this kind of technology inside one’s body, as well as influence the Matrix/Virtual Internet/Whatever, you need to have incredibly powerful computer components. It’s generally accepted that the Street Samurai has this grafted to his nervous system, which then runs and controls it, while the Decker has the uplinks connected to his nervous system, and programs he can execute stored in memory.
What if a human nervous system’s incapable of operating technology this sophisticated. What if you need powerful artificial intelligences to do it instead. And what if those AIs are self aware — becoming partners or slaves depending on what you do?
The summoning rules come into play. The Runner binds Parasite style daemons to his internal cyberware, which amp up his physical abilities and gives him other things to work with. The Decker has Object style daemons which represent his cybergear and do the heavy lifting in virtual reality. Add in Riggers for Object style drones or riggers, and even Passers representing android companions bound to an owner/builder, and you have a complete Cyberpunk style system, with maximums and internal tensions, and even a humanity stat.
And that stat would be needed, because the cyberware/cybergear/etc would still have Desires and Needs from Sorcerer. These aren’t slave expert systems. They’re autonomous personalities that drive all the cool stuff. Force your will on them if you dare, but for the most part it’s easier to do the things they need or want to keep them happy….