Cyberpunk and Traveller

So, I've been diving back into CyberPunk 2077 lately and a couple thoughts occur to me.

For different reasons, CP77 REALLY makes me thing of two worlds in Traveller: Strend and Ruie.
- You add a few TL's and the pervasive cyberware is a real dinger for Strend/Menorial. The slow and inevitable dehumanizing transition of Man the Tool-User into Man the Tool ought to strike home.
- Ruie, OTOH, it's all about living conditions and ambience. Ruie is the Canker on the Ass of Regina Subsector. A balkanized, argumentative world that is poisoning itself and beset by high population, widespread poverty, an inability to feed itself, and the manufactured-crisis-of-the-month with bad actors from both on- and off-world, Ruie reads like Night City feels, just without the cybernetics.
With 11,000+ systems, there's bound to be a cyberculture somewhere. It will look different from CyberPunk 2077 because it derives from Traveller 1977's alternate future.

In the T4 main rulebook, there is a wonderful article called 'What Is Poverty At TL 12' [Marc Miller's Traveller Core Rules pg 64] and encourage anyone who has those rules to look it up. The main gist of it this: the living conditions of a poor person at TL 12 is similar too and at point superior to those of a millionaire at TL 7. But for whatever reason that person is still poor.
That's an interesting topic for a video I'll do.
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With 11,000+ systems, there's bound to be a cyberculture somewhere. It will look different from CyberPunk 2077 because it derives from Traveller 1977's alternate future.
In the OTU, that would be the Lancians. Abused early on by the expanding Vilani, their hybridized culture (mostly Human and S'mrii) gives no credence to Vilani fears or the resulting cultural mores.
I think his point is that the Imperium is dystopian and dehumanizing, even if its not cybernetic. The world generation system is designed to create places that make good adventures, not places that are good to live in. High pop worlds are mostly tyrannies. Lots and lots of worlds are harsh, unpleasant places with generally crappy governments. The Imperium basically doesn't care how awful the worlds are as long as they trade and don't use nukes.

Space travel has a horribly unsafe option (low berths) as standard. Life extension is only available to the elite. And plenty of other nastiness around. It would be easy to make the Imperium a dark dystopian society. Not over the top Warhammer dark, but not a place anyone would really want to live. And it wouldn't require changing anything except the tone of presentation of the same facts.
with regards to the dystopian aspect of cyberpunk I think this sums up my take. The Imperium cares much more about trade and security than people, the megacorps must love it.
The fun thing about Traveller is that, while the setting in some parts may be absolute garbage, the Travellers are the centre of the story - the movers and shakers who actually enact changes, large and small, sometimes without them even knowing it.
Remember, your Travellers might be dumped on Ruie, or forced down to Strend: but you, as Referee, can actually give them the opportunity to cause global changes while pursuing a means of escape.
And sometimes, you might get a Traveller who decides that he doesn't like the decor, and gives the entire planet a makeover.
The hellscapes of the Third Imperium only remain as such because the Travellers aren't there to make a crucial difference,
Revisiting Gibson's Burning Chrome (the anthology, not only the titular story) what's more striking now than in my first pass years ago is that most of the stories are a contest between two competent opponents with tricks up their sleeves. Sometimes very literally in the case of implants, sometimes with preparation or tactics or positioning. What I remember of novel length cyberpunk fits in there as well, competent protagonists up against competent antagonists, and everyone has a plan and resources.

That's an important deep structure that's orthogonal to just chrome, implants and wallowing in moral ambiguity. Not in conflict with any of the latter, but separate from it, and still important in its own right.

But it takes some work to pull off in an rpg. Easier to go room to room or scene to scene, mowing down goblins or thugs than to face one roughly equal foe across multiple scenes before the PCs eke out a win by having just one more trick up their sleeves than their opponent(s).

Shadowrun and the Cyberpunk rpg's emphasis on heists is one solution. PCs do crime or mercenary missions not only for the moral ambiguity but because there's naturally an information gathering phase, a planning phase, a gearing up phase, an infiltration phase, a denouement/shootout phase, and a getaway phase. (Admittedly any of these phases can be skipped, and I've known players who skip intel, planning and infiltration to get straight to the gunfight but you take my point... the option is there.) So that gives you your prepared protagonists, up against an opponent competent enough to require that planning & etc. in the first place, and that approximates the source fiction.

Then secondarily, there's a hair more moralizing than I remembered. In Dogfight the protagonist crosses a moral line to get the drug boost he needs to win, but loses everything by doing so. In some of the stories where the protagonist is dark, his opposition is darker. So there's an echo of pulp there, that a light grey "hero" in a dark grey world still have a glimmer of light around them. None of them are paladins, but some of them end up in the position of Conan killing the slaver/kidnapper over a card game - their minimal code of honor sometimes redeems them into doing good despite themselves. Or, when they don't, and they're willing to cross the line to win, they end up suffering for doing so after all.

All of which is to say...

The Cyberpunk genre isn't about the hardware or the Net. It's about the devaluation of humanity, it's about making a virtue out of greed, it's about hopelessness, hunger, and those brave enough to rebel against a system that offers no hope at all. It's about the transition from Man the Tool User to Man the Machine Tool.

Yes, but its not the only thing going on. Its not the structure of the adventure.

If it's played as William Gibson or Bruce Sterling intended it to, players should feel just a little bit guilty about the nasty crap they had to do to accomplish the mission.

This doesn't follow though. Its one option, certainly, but in some of the source fiction it goes the other way, that the "hero" pays the price for going too far.