Roleplaying In A

Style Over Substance

In General on April 12, 2010 at 10:17 am

I was reading a post at RPG in Progress about Cyberpunk this morning and in the comments, Thaumiel Nerub reminded us of the Cyberpunk 2020 rules.

1) Style over substance
2) Attitude is everything
3) Always take it to the edge
4) Break the rules

It suddenly gelled for me why I dislike games with tactical rules so much – the style, the fast-paced, seat-of-your-pants, am-I-gonna-die-now feel that I find in more abstract systems is nearly impossible to duplicate in more tactical systems like 3.5 or Pathfinder. I suspect 4E (assuming there were a modern version of 4E available) would be worse yet.

I’ve played d20 Modern and Future and found them lacking and lackluster for a Cyberpunk game.

They lost the attitude.

I haven’t tried the newer versions such as True20 or Shadowrun 4th Edition. No one in my area is interested in playing those games and I haven’t the resources to buy books that half my players will outright reject. I understand there are efforts underway to revive d20 Modern but unless they rethink the approach the game takes to the genre, these efforts are doomed to failure.

d20 Modern itself really misses the point. There are 6 basic classes and all are named for the stats they’re based on – Strong Hero, Tough Hero, Smart Hero, etc. Bleh! The whole book is just as generic with no real inspiration. These authors just ported a system without really thinking about the games that would be played with it.

Rules #1 of the Cyberpunk genre really is “Style Over Substance”. Flavor and attitude are almost more important than mechanics and a good setting can almost completely over-shadow a bad system.

That’s not entirely true, no but I’d rather have good flavor than a good system. Good flavor, attitude, will inspire me to explore the system and fix the broken bits where a good system with no style has left me cold and uninterested.

A good example of this in action is Eberron. That setting is everything d20 needed to really show off the fantasy side of what those mechanics were capable of.

I hope the new efforts at reviving the d20 system for modern settings takes this to heart and doesn’t just serve us the same plain mashed potatoes for dinner that we’ve had for 8 years now. Do an Emeril, guys.

Kick it up a notch!

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  1. I’m with you 100% here. Even when I do play games that are more “tactical” (like D&D, etc.), I try to emphasize the style and flavor more than the stats as both a player and a GM.

    I’d like to give a shout-out to Deadlands as a setting with some attitude (it uses a modified Savage Worlds ruleset). My group has found it to be rich in style, and the fact that it uses an alternate history of the US means I can draw a great deal from the real history to supplement the style presented in the book.

    I just started playing in a Shadowrun 4th Ed game (technically 20th Anniversary, which is like 4.5ish). We’ve only had three sessions, (just the last two for me), but I’m enjoying it as a stylistic game. I do think it puts too much emphasis on character specialization in the stats, which tends to limit a player’s options for stylistic gaming, but it’s still a rich setting with heaps of attitude. (I play a radical ecoterrorist Ork shaman, accepting creds from one corp to blow up a different corp. Next day, rotate corps, same explosions! Last session we destroyed a significant chunk of the Seattle Port Complex to take out a single package. (Hey, we wanted to cover our tracks!))

  2. I hadn’t thought of Deadlands but it is an excellent example of my point. I played 1st edition, way back before there was a Savage Worlds (~2000 I think) and it had serious system issues but the world is so UNIQUE that you love it or hate based almost entirely on that.

    And Deadlands doesn’t seem to have much middle ground 🙂

    No matter what version of Shadowrun you play, the creation system has long been thought “not up to snuff” when compared to other games and several version had stupid ridiculous combat problems. But it was Shadowrun! It had elves! With automatic rifles!

  3. Actually I find 4e is much better then that then 3e & PF: The AOO rules in those made moving a Bad Idea, whereas 4e combats work best with people dancing though them.

    On the other hand I disagree with style over substance: I think it was in Snow Crash that we see what happens to people that try that ^^.

  4. That would help but like I said, I’ve never played the system. Given we have 50+ gamers in my area, and no one owns the books, doing so looks highly unlikely.

    You don’t think setting is important to a cyberpunk genre game? that was the point of the article 🙂

  5. Amen! Love this post 🙂

  6. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  7. No, I just think that saying is stupid. You can look every inch a badass, have the voice & look down, but if don’t have the substance some corporate punk is going to put you down.

  8. Unless you can convince them you’ve got it and avoid the firefight altogether.

  9. That would be how you want things to go. Things *never* go the way you want them.

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