Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Genre Mashup - Wizards + Wireless

Fantasy is an extremely broad genre, that is actually applied to anything with magic.  Even if that thing has none of the standard themes of fantasy.  Like, say, cyberpunk.

This post was actually kicked off by a random Twitter follow I got the other day.  It was the author of a series called K23 Detectives.  He made the rather bold claim that it was the only series (to his knowledge) to combine fantasy and cyberpunk.  Needless to say, I found this claim surprising.

(For the record, I went and read a few of the short stories set in the K23 world.  The author has talent, but is clearly very raw.  Also, it didn't really have that sense of hopeless desperation that is so key to cyberpunk literature.  I'm still debating on whether to pick up the Kindle bundle.)

As I think everyone reading this could note, there is a grand-daddy of this particular twist: Shadowrun.  For over 20 years, deckers and cybered street samurai have mingled with trolls and elves.  If you want to get hexes in your hacking, this should always be your first stop.

Shadowrun has always looked, to me, like a true mashup.  The creators just smashed everything that they wanted together, governed more by the rule of cool than anything else.  Fortunately, it really works.  They then did a hell of a lot of work ret-conning the history so that it made almost as much sense as real history.   The most important element, to me, was that they did a really good job of including both magic and technology as equal but distinct forces.  Both were viable options, a few people could even successfully use both, but they felt and acted differently.

My favorite, though, is not quite fantasy and not quite cyberpunk.  Dark Conspiracy came out a couple years after Shadowrun.  It is, in many ways, a proto-cyberpunk setting.  The government still likes to pretend the corps aren't in charge.  Cybernetics are rare and experimental.  Cities are just starting to merge into a sprawl.

The fantasy is also a bit different.  Today it is easily recognized as urban fantasy, in the vein of Dark*Matter or Unknown Armies.  It owes far more to tabloids than to Tolkien.  Weird creatures, poorly defined psychic disciplines, and horrors from beyond space and time litter the landscape.  True magic is primarily a tool of the enemy, and is often exceptionally difficult.

The mashup here is really interesting.  Unlike Shadowrun, the common populace still has no idea magic is real.  Monsters hunt the night, but people prefer to call them serial killers.  The pervasive despair common to a cyberpunk society means that people simply don't notice when their neighbors disappear.  The few people who become clued into some slice of what's really going on learn that there are whole worlds engaged in desperate battle just behind the scenes.

(As a note, I lost track of Dark Conspiracy many years ago.  I've never looked at the 2nd edition, and didn't even realize until writing this up that it is still a going concern with a 3rd edition.  I was never a fan of the GDW system, and had trouble convincing people to play with me.  I may have to check out some of the newest stuff, and see what's going on.)

Looking at these two settings, it becomes clear that this particular mashup isn't hard.  Stick with a cyberpunk feel and combine with dark fantasy.  Figure out how technology and magic interact.  Pick your favorite systems for advanced tech and cool effects.  Blend until it makes some kind of sense.  Voila.

Would you play this?

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