Roleplaying Tips Weekly E-Zine Issue #373
Dungeon Themes and Tips
This Week's Tips Summarized
Dungeon Themes and Tips
- Muddy Your Dungeons With Wilderness and Urban Styles
- Create 3D Dungeons With Plastercine
- Alternative Dungeon Themes
Readers' Tips Summarized
- Vampire Tips
- Embrace The Terrain Rather Than Try To Defeat It
- Campaign Idea: Island Campaign
- Post-Cyberpunk Theory
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Return to Contents
A Brief Word From Johnn
Zuzzy Miniatures Gaming Mat
This week I received a 2'x2' Terra-Flex Gaming Mat in the
mail from Zuzzy Miniatures for review. It's an interesting
gaming product, potentially useful for GMs who use minis. I
received the Scourged Forest Mat, which features burnt and
scorched terrain, ruined by some terrible event or disaster.
You can view a couple of pictures of it here.
Painted versions at
Note the high level of detail. The mats come un-painted -
you'll need to whip out ye old paint and brush to make your
mat look like the ones at their website.
The mats are latex rubber and seem very durable with the
proper care, and they can be rolled up for storage, no
problem. My mat had a strong chemical smell, and I had to
move it out of my gaming room. However, I just checked it
now and the smell has faded.
Note the mats have no grid, which might impact your purchase
decision based on your gaming needs. I think Warmachine and
Warhammer gamers, and RPG GMs who don't need grids, would
like this product with its paintability and detail level.
Reminder: 5 Room Dungeon Contest
Use last week's tips as a quick format template for making
quick 5 Room Dungeons.
Enter your designs for a chance to win great loot.
In conjunction with the fine folks at Strolen's Citadel, the
5 Room Dungeon contest gives you a chance to have fun
wielding your creativity, help other GMs with your designs,
and win any of the following:
5 x Adventure PDFs
From: Expeditious Retreat Press:
- 1 on 1 Adventures #5 Vale of the Sepulcher
- #6 Shroud of Olindor
- #7 Eyes of the Dragon
- #8 Blood Brothers
- Advanced Adventures #3 The Curse of the Witch Head
1 x D&D Icons Gargantuan Black Dragon
3 x D&D modules
- DCC #46 Book of Treasure Maps
- DCC #47 Tears of the Genie
- DCC #50 Vault of the Iron Overlord by Monte Cook
3 x MyInfo Personal Reference Software licenses
To enter the contest, send in one or more 5 Room Dungeons of
your own creation.
- Make each room 1-3ish paragraphs long. Your 5 Room Dungeon
can be as short as five paragraphs, or longer if you like.
Room One: Entrance And Guardian
Room Two: Puzzle Or Roleplaying Challenge
Room Three: Trick or Setback
Room Four: Climax, Big Battle Or Conflict
Room Five: Reward, Revelation, Plot Twist
- Keep your designs as rules-free as possible. The best
designs should serve as skeletons that other GMs can pick up
and flesh out for their game system and campaign. No need
for stat blocks or complex rules annotations.
- Maps are definitely optional. Most 5 Room Dungeon designs
won't need a map as the layout will be intuitive.
- Multiple entries are welcome.
- As with past contests, entries will be edited and given
back to the community for free so all GMs can game your
- Winners will be drawn at random, so don't worry if you
aren't confident about your designs - every entry has an
equal chance of winning, and it's just your participation
that counts. Have some fun with it.
- E-mail, text files, Word docs, and Open Office files are
- Please submit your contest entries by September 26.
- E-mail your entries to email@example.com or submit
them at the Strolen's Citadel website.
By the way, thanks to Strolen's Citadel for co-hosting this
contest. If you haven't checked out their site, you should
do so immediately. Go at once. It's an awesome warehouse of
ideas and community contributions with NPCs, locations,
plots, articles, and more.
Return to Contents
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Return to Contents
Dungeon Themes and Tips
1. Muddy Your Dungeons With Wilderness and Urban Styles
From: Mike Bourke, Australia
Dungeon encounters are often balanced with party levels,
while outside the dungeon a far more realistic distribution
of monster levels encountered occurs. A synthesis of the two
approaches is often preferable to either. A little more
anarchy in encounter levels breathes a new air of
unpredictability and realism into the show.
For example, I once set up a dungeon in which the first
encounter was tough, but not unbeatable. The rest of the
dungeon's rooms contained low-level homunculi with wands of
stone to mud or mud to stone. Because they could fly, they
often brought rains of mud down on the heads of the PCs,
over doorways, and so on, which then became petrified.
This blocked the nice, linear path through the dungeon that
was so clear on the map they took from the first critter.
However, this opened new pathways into the more dangerous,
central regions of the dungeon, where things lurked that
were far superior to what the PCs could cope with at the
To deal with the next threat of "their level" (according to
the intel on the map), they had to dash back and forth
through this central no-man's-land and hope to make it in
one piece. Eventually, they gained enough treasure and xp to
deal with the denizens of those central regions, though it
cost them significantly in terms of magic, healing, and so
Bloodied, wearied, but seemingly triumphant, they set out
for the exit, only to have a rematch with their first
encounter - who had been playing possum at the end of the
initial combat and waiting for his homunculi and resident
critters to soften the party up. Playing on the resulting
overconfidence, he came close to wiping out the entire
When you analyze that dungeon, it was more of an urban
adventure in some respects, and partly a wilderness
adventure in others. While the dungeon was initially crafted
in a typical fashion, the normal sequence of encounters was
randomly and repeatedly disrupted by the reactions to, and
consequences of, the PCs' actions.
Creatures that might normally have been enemies became
unwitting pawns or allies of circumstance, and creatures
that might normally have been considered allies were backed
into a corner so forcefully they were left with no choice
but to be hostile. The PCs never knew quite what to expect,
and a great time was had by all.
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2. Create 3D Dungeons With Plastercine
From: Mike Bourke, Australia
For the dungeon described above, in the first tip of this
issue, I built it out of plasticine with my four year old
niece. It worked very well as it let me modify dungeon walls
and passages on-the-fly as the villain's minions used stone
to mud powers to re-route the PCs.
I drew the basic map in pen, then covered it in clear
contact plastic (a poor man's lamination, in other words).
Then I made long 'sausages' of plasticine for the walls,
which gave the map a nice 3D-relief appearance. I could
remove chunks of plasticine easily, and it made it easy to
add the appropriate thickness of 'mud' elsewhere - either
underfoot, or as a thin plane over the top (using chunks of
ice cream sticks to give it enough rigidity that it could be
removed and replaced), or as additional 'wall' where the pen
map indicated a door.
The map the PCs found was simply a photocopy of the original
pen version I drew. I kept the map in a sealable Tupperware
dish between sessions to prevent it drying out.
The great thing about plasticine is there are all sorts of
liquids that you can use to loosen it if it dries out too
much during play - baby oil, water, even soft drink (though
the latter tends to make it sticky). Just dip your
fingertips into a saucer or cup with a little softener in
it. And if you loosen it too much, a quick dusting of baby
powder will solve the problem (though the plasticine won't
be reusable afterwards).
I also mixed a little lukewarm tea with a tablespoon of baby
powder and flour, and sprinkled it on the map to give it a
slightly textured surface once it had dried, before laying
down the plasticine. (I used tea to tint the powder as well
as forming a quick-drying 'glue'.)
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3. Alternative Dungeon Themes
Thanks to Daniel Burrage, Joe Reed, Mike Bourke, Mark
Richard, Mothshade, Brian Menard (did I miss anyone - sorry,
let me know) for responding to the request in Issue #371 for
more dungeon theme ideas.
If you are stuck for ideas for the 5 Room Dungeon contest,
feel free to use these themes for inspiration.
An ooze dungeon with slimy, non-living, but still tough
walls would confuse players. What's an enemy and what's a
wall? The walls heal, and different colored walls are
different. It would be interesting to insulate with an
- The Labyrinth
A regenerating and changing labyrinth would be cool for a
low level party. Do the same with a stone one with flight
barriers and you're set. You'd have to generate two, three,
or four different maps and set a change timer, then rotate.
An egg timer might work. This would give players a sense of
urgency. Minotaurs make great monsters for this environment,
and the owners would probably try to attract ethereal
- The Bowie Laurent
A perpetual maze of craziness where the denizens actually
role play with the party could be odd. Rather than smashing
the kobold, they use it to try to find their way. Throw in a
few seemingly random encounters, sent by David Bowie and his
- Jungle pod plants
Give the players a forest or jungle path that is lined with
pod-like plants, each about 10 feet from the path. If a
character approaches them, the plants secrete a paralyzing
nerve gas in a 10' radius. If a character is incapacitated
by the gas, the plant's root system will draw the character
toward the plant to be devoured.
The plants are so close together that, when one goes off, it
sets off a chain reaction that creates a wall of gas along
the path, alerting enemies there's trouble a comin'.
Create paranoia by placing similar, bigger, and slightly
different pods later in the dungeon crawl. Thick undergrowth
slows (but doesn't stop) travel, and trees and shrubbery
reduce visibility off the path. Plants become walls, the
canopy becomes a ceiling.
To circumvent strong wind magic, the pods spew gas anytime
the air around them is stirred. More wind just means more
gas. Thick tree cover prevents natural breezes from
stirring, and forest denizens have adapted to the danger by
staying clear of the plants, becoming immune to the gas,
moving so slowly they don't stir the air enough to trigger
the plants, or moving so quickly the gas doesn't have time
to catch up.
- Treetop city in flames
The PCs are in a treetop city when fire breaks out. Branches
and dense areas of foliage form passages, and key avenues
are blocked by fire.
- An elemental microplane of air
Based on a number of platform-style computer games, each
"level" can be treated as a mini-dungeon.
Compartmentalize a dungeon or room with rivers of magma that
players will think twice about jumping across. Fire
elementals would be right at home (as would some earth
elementals), and one could easily make magma hurlers play
whack-a-mole within the volcanic rivers. An island within a
lake of lava makes a fine location for a dragon's hoard, a
wizard's sanctum, or a warlord's keep, depending on the
A land of ice and snow can present a whole different set of
troubles for a party. Hidden chasms and holes act as natural
pit traps. Steep ice bridges make a simple trek dangerous.
An icy terrain and a grease spell can make running away
difficult. Depending on how thick the ice is within a
dungeon, one can make see-through walls, further confusing
players, as well as providing cover for the dungeon
In a Jack and the Beanstalk type of dungeon environment, the
PCs must make a run up or down a large redwood tree.
Harpies, griffins, and other flying critters provide danger,
as a single push can send you plummeting to your doom.
Assassin vines, shambling mounds, and other plant monsters
can act as natural deterrents. A hollowed out section of the
trunk can act as a well defended nest for a creature, or as
a home for a more intelligent enemy - a ranger or druid most
likely. A simple treehouse could have false floors ready to
break if an unsuspecting enemy walks on them.
- The sewers
A place no man wants to go, the underbelly of any large town
makes a great hiding spot for otyughs, necromancers, dire
rats, undead, serial killers, and other dangers. Dark with
only a small ledge seperating the wall and the murky septic
rivers, the players will need keen senses of sight and
hearing (and hope their sense of smell isn't up for the
task) or be jumped by something nightmarish. Sewers can lead
people under various buildings, which makes them a great
place to run away to after a crime, as it's a maze to the
- Treetop village
A village built on platforms high among the branches of
extremely tall trees. Each platform is connected by swaying
rope bridges. A fairly common theme, but the village has
been overrun by giant spiders. The monsters are in their
element, with web traps (remember those rope bridges) and
the ability to hide on the underside of a platform to wait
- Extradimensional icebergs
On another plane, there are huge icebergs floating lazily
through the air. Each is honeycombed with tunnels and
chambers, created mostly by frost salamanders. Though the
salamanders negotiate the slippery surfaces with ease, the
PCs aren't quite as lucky. From time to time, one drifting
'berg will crash into another.
- Clifftop ruins
Ruins are built into the sides of a deep pit that was once a
mine. The ruins face the center of the pit and moving from
one "level" to another is accomplished mostly by primitive
wooden elevators operated by counterweights. Watch for the
giant bats that try to snatch prey from the walls of the pit
during the evening.
- Horizontal towers
This fun twist consists of four towers built horizontally
out from the walls of a canyon. The structures are towers
built on horizontal lines, rather than vertical. Players
will be horrified when a pit trap opens into empty air and
they are dumped into the lake hundreds of feet below.
- Cloud islands Since adventures among the clouds were
mentioned, I thought I'd reminisce about the trees I have in
my setting that take root in clouds and cause the clouds to
solidify around their roots to form a stable growing
environment. Stray too far from the trees and the clouds are
no longer solid.
I felt it made for an interesting ecology and gives a
practical reason to have solid cloud islands naturally in
the campaign. Plus, the trees are obviously buoyant and so
is the wood. The trees are stunted and twisted - thus not
much good for long planks and such, but floating wood is
still a valuable commodity. No one knows where the trees
come from, but they start as floating seeds, much like giant
dandelion seeds, that drift through the sky at high
altitudes. If one encounters a cloud, it takes root
immediately. If not, a seed will eventually dry up and
dessicate into nothing over time.
- Natural caves
After doing some caving years ago, I was inspired to create
a natural cave dungeon. The players were alternately
fascinated and bewildered as they crawled and clambered
their way through largely unworked dungeon environments,
never knowing when a passage would suddenly end, or become
too narrow to traverse. The tension was amped up a bit when
the caves started to flood from the bottom.
The inside of a dormant volcano, with lava tubes and hollow
pockets within the sides, also makes for a fun, realistic
dungeon environment. A savvy DM could even throw a bit of
fear into the players by planting the clue that the volcano
may not be dormant, and that fire-based effects could
trigger an eruption. Let those who rely upon fireballs
I have been known to put ancient ruins in swamps to provide
stable, if broken and incomplete, surfaces upon which to
tread; ancient roadways that suddenly disappear into the
muck; fallen towers where only the top levels can be
explored; broken docks and piers remaining from ancient
times when the area was more of a delta than a swamp.
I am also fond of providing seemingly stable bits of ground,
only to have the vegetation-covered hummock lurch into life
as a great turtle, an animated plant monster akin to an
enormous shambling mound, or even a rusted construct rising
one last time to complete some long-forgotten task.
- Boat towns
Floating communities can be a fun swamp encounter. Some of
these "boat towns" could always be on the move. An abandoned
village of this type would make for a spooky encounter in
the middle of a will-o-wisp-infested bog. Where did the
inhabitants go? There are meals still sitting warm on the
tables. And the village drifts slowly on, aimlessly and
A swamp environment does not have to take the form of a
traditional swamp. Perhaps a region has been flooded by a
nearby dam - natural or manufactured. A series of canyons
can suddenly become a treacherous bog, with high stone
walls, after such a flood. A coastal swamp could have high
and low tides. Clueless adventurers could enter the swamp at
low tide, only to watch in horror as much of the land
disappears halfway through the day.
- Underground inverted castle
I read the latest issue today and saw your request for
additional dungeon themes. Don't know how original it is,
but I have designed an underground inverted castle.
Describing the rooms to the players will be fun because
there will be things about the description that will confuse
and intrigue them.
The story goes that the castle wasn't always inverted, so
there are pieces of furniture smashed on the floor (which
used to be the ceiling), large lanterns chained to the floor
(used to be chandeliers), and so on. The castle was inverted
and driven into the ground by something extremely powerful
that then left this plane. The residents of the castle built
a small building above the "top" of the castle that leads
into the bizarre building beneath.
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Readers' Tips Of The Week:
Have some GM advice you'd like to share? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org - thanks!
1. Vampire Tips
From: Brad R.
I'm a long-time reader (since issue 15 or so!) and I wanted
to reply to your request for Vampire tips.
One of the biggest issues I run into with Vampire is city
building. Both Masquerade and Requiem have their own
particular issues making the task difficult, but the basic
ideas are the same in both games. Because the game is
typically set in one real-world city for the duration of the
campaign, rather than multiple dungeons strewn across a
nation, continent, world, or multiverse, there's more front-
end setting design that needs to go into it. The good news
is that you can actually research the city you intend to
There are several pieces I look at when designing a city,
but they can be broken down into two main categories:
Setting covers the geographical and historical aspects of
- Where is it?
- How many people live there?
- When was it founded?
- What events have had a significant impact on the city?
Details about the character or atmosphere of different
neighborhoods or time periods should be nailed down. Capitol
Hill in Seattle is very artsy, while Bellevue across the
lake is all business. Seattle was a depressed manufacturing
town in the 70's, but now it's the most wired city on Earth.
At this stage, it's important to begin thinking about how
this all fits into Vampire. Maybe Bellevue is like that
because the vampire that claims that area is a tycoon, and
used his powers to bring like-minded businessmen and
investors out there. Was the economic downturn several
decades ago caused by vampires trying to create easier
Once that process is started, you begin to look at your
NPCs. Vampire presents us with a couple of interesting
issues in this regard. You have a power structure, you have
clans (and in Requiem, covenants), and you have population
density. Power structure involves deciding who the important
NPCs are - Prince, Sheriff, Primogen/Prisci, Elders, and
whatever other positions you need or want. Who is your
Prince/Sheriff/whatever? What is he like? How long has he
In Seattle, for instance, there probably weren't any
vampires before about 1900, just owing to the difficulty of
getting out here and the lack of population. Likely, any
Prince there would be younger than that. If it's an old
European or Asian city, there have probably been vampires
there forever, so the ones in power are likely to be
hundreds of years old at least.
Then you have clans and covenants, the lineages and
political divides respectively. This is one place where
Requiem gets slightly more complicated than Masquerade,
owing to the inclusion of covenants, which are like
political groups that anyone can join, regardless of clan.
This is easily the most complex part of city building. You
have to figure out which groups are populous, which groups
are in power, which groups are allied, and which groups are
Some of this is built-in. In Masquerade, Clans Ventrue and
Brujah haven't gotten along for hundreds of years, and in
Requiem, the Carthian Movement is directly opposed to the
Invictus. In Seattle, for instance, you might have more of
Clan Gangrel, the animalistic vampires, due to the
"frontier" quality the city has had until recently. Clan
Ventrue, the aristocrats of the vampires, might be a recent
addition, and limited in number.
Realize, at this point, all those vampires had to come from
somewhere. They were all created by an older vampire here,
or moved here from somewhere else. Generally speaking, the
older a vampire gets, the less he wants to move around, so
any transplants will tend to be young.
This is where Masquerade has a certain difficulty. The
concept of Generation, how closely related you are to the
mythical founders of the race, is your baseline power level
and entirely unrelated to xp. How did that 6th generation
(quite powerful!) Ventrue get out to the West Coast of the
US? And wouldn't he have tons of 7th Generation offspring
running amok? If so, why are all the PCs and NPCs
comparatively weak 10th-13th gens or worse? So, work with
your PCs to make that come out right. Write up detailed
lineages, and work with your players to fit their characters
This problem is much easier in Requiem or when using an
older city (again, Europe, Asia, or the older parts of the
New World), because unlike Masquerade, in Requiem all
vampires are created with the same baseline power level, and
in an older city, there's hundreds of years for you to
monkey around with lineages over the course of history.
Okay, now that you know who the power players are, and what
clans and covenants are present, how many vampires are there
anyway? They give rough estimates in the books: 1 vampire
per 100,000 mortals in Masquerade, and 1 to 10 vampires per
100,000 mortals in Requiem (depending on the size and
density of the city - London or New York might have hundreds
of vampires, while Seattle might have a couple dozen at
I tend to then organize them into rough power levels. Alphas
are the top of the food chain, between one and two percent
of your city, and usually include your Prince. Betas are all
the other power players, maybe five percent (or twice your
alphas if you've got less than 50 vampires), and include
your Sheriff and Primogen/Prisci. Gamma-plus are the next
15-20% of your city, and they're the up-and-comers. Finally,
you have the Gammas, which make up the balance of your
population, and include your starting-level PCs.
In Requiem, for instance, Alphas might have hundreds of xp
each and numerous high-level powers, while betas might have
between 100-200 xp with one impressive power, or a few at
lower levels. Gamma-plus would be in the 75-100 range, and
gammas would be starting level characters, with 35 or less
Then, set up numerous conflicts the PCs have to wade through
or take sides on. Fit their backstories and goals into the
framework above. Do all those other things that you talk
about in this newsletter on a regular basis, and you've got
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2. Embrace The Terrain Rather Than Try To Defeat It
re: Roleplaying Tips Issue #371
I like the alternative ideas that diverge from the standard
four walls. My tip is to embrace the terrain rather than try
to defeat it. If you are not in the narrow confines of a
dungeon you can't believably use a linear approach where the
players cannot get to room C with out physically going
through rooms A and B first.
For example, in the swamp, the priest blows the mist away so
the party can see the other lily pads (rooms). No biggie;
the mist will be back. Meanwhile, everyone can see the party
as well as they can see what's coming for them. Perhaps the
party will be casting fog spells for cover. Use elements
that make it more desirable for the PCs to keep the cover
provided. You don't need to use force, such as toothy fish
in the water, to keep players out.
Most city scenarios will use more role playing than dungeon
crawling. It is OK if the players get to the end area before
they are supposed to. After all, it's a city and as you say,
they can go over or through buildings. However, a city is
dynamic and that can be used as part of the design of the
scenario. For example, just because the PCs are at the
street gang's home turf courtyard won't mean that the gang
boss will expose herself until she has a reason to confront
Use the social community as your control, or walls if you
will. Perhaps until the PCs can sway the district's
inhabitants, helping them see the problems the gang is
causing, the citizens may be worth disrupting the status
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3. Campaign Idea: Island Campaign
From: Jerry Saner
I have been running an 'island' campaign for about a year
now. I was brought into this group a couple of years ago,
but I was not that familiar with the 3.5 rules.
I had always wanted to run a campaign with a South Seas
setting. I chose to use the area East of Kara Tur because I
wanted to stay in the Forgotten Realms world.
I started with an island that is roughly shaped like a flat
diamond. I made it 150 miles long and about 50 miles across
at its widest. I needed the players to buy into the idea
that, in a world of islands, resources were severely limited.
Not every island was going to have access to iron ore (in
particular). My hope was that they would want to also make
this into a game that included trading and all the perils
that that would involve.
The PCs started of with weapons made of bone, shell, and
wood. I bumped up the cost of iron and steel so it became
more important than magic. I was at first accused of wanting
to run a game with cave people as the PCs. I explained that
it was a medieval setting, but iron and steel wasn't
available to everyone - including the bad guys. Plus, iron
armor became problematic. Who wants to take a chance on
falling overboard in a chain shirt?
We did decide to make swimming a class skill for all
classes, because we assumed that people that lived on
islands would be more likely to know how to swim.
The toughest part for me was distance and travel time. We
have been using Stormwrack and The Seafarer's Handbook. I
also used Ships of the Goblinoids and a couple of other
resources to help add a nautical flavor to the campaign.
The group, to its credit, jumped in with both feet. We have
a Ship's Mage (who refuses to row), a Wave Rider, an
islandboy summoner of dubious descent, and a half-orc cleric
I have used the narrative method of ship to ship combat. I
printed up some ship deck plans, and these have put into
perspective the limited area there is to fighting aboard a
ship - lightning bolts are a killer.
I have been able to use all those aquatic monsters that you
look at and wonder how to use. I even created a half-fiend
kelp devil using the Tome of Horrors. I got a laugh thinking
about having this gargantuan blob of kelp rise out of the
ocean and start taking pot shots at the PCs with its
One problem we encountered was what to do about random crew
members. With the limited space available on the ship's
deck, it should be a big problem, even for a limited crew of
6-10. You can't assume they have all cleared the decks by
going into the hold or jumping overboard. When we first
started, we kind of ignored this issue, but as we all became
used to the idea that this wasn't a big meadow where all the
horses and non-combatants can just run off and hide behind
a tree, we talked about how to deal with a deck full of
seamen, PCs and NPCs.
So far, it has been a challenge for all of us to use a game
that is basically land-based and make it work in an island
situation, but it has been fun.
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4. Post-Cyberpunk Theory
This is in response to your request for tips on roleplaying
in a post-cyberpunk genre. As a fan of postmodern fiction
(which includes cyberpunk) and of literary criticism, I
think I could help you help others interested in the
To begin, it is important to understand where all these
"post-this" and "post-that" categories came from. Of course,
"post-" as a prefix, means "after" and indicates a moving
away from or beyond the word that it forms a part of. In
literary theory, post- plays a more interesting role,
however. It is an allusion to the postmodern, or "pomo", a
state in which the "current" or earlier social traditions or
intellectual paradigms are called into question. Modernism
has come to be seen as, ever since WWII, antiquated,
backwards, and even reactionary by some. On the other hand,
it has been said that something must be post-modern before
it can be modern. At any given moment, an artistic or
literary expression might be considered post-modern or
modern, depending on the view-point of the reader, viewer,
The reason for this is that the modern era "suffers" from a
legitimation crisis, as the post-modern theorist Jean-
Francois Leotard had put it. Post-modernism is the result of
the literary/linguistic turn of philosophy, which took the
reflexive view that instead of discussing problems and
solutions, we should first discuss and solve the problems of
language itself. We must, in other words, talk about
talking, or think about thinking (since all of our thoughts
are strings of signs, and we cannot avoid resorting to the
use of signs even when thinking to "ourselves").
Jacques Derrida, an important figure in the Structuralist
movement (which became, after WWII, the largest and most
influential movement in the "linguistic turn" phase of
philosophy) had become (in)famous in the philosophy and
literary theory worlds by "deconstructing" classical
philosophical texts. By showing how the language used in
these texts undermined the messages their authors were
trying to get across, against the will of the authors, he
led the way for a new form of criticism that would trouble
artists and thinkers alike to this very day.
Derrida's Deconstruction destroyed whatever was left of the
remnants that (erroneously) divided philosophy and
literature, and a flood of literary critical analysis turned
the intellectual and artistic worlds on their heads.
Philosophers took art and literature more seriously, and
critics began to look at philosophy as works of art and
literature. This anarchistic levelling action, this breaking
down of all distinctions, while on the one hand was seen as
a way of destroying antagonistic and pejorative hierarchies,
also led to many a moral crisis and, as stated before, a
crisis of legitimation. If philosophers can provide no more
legitimate answers than writers of fiction, then perhaps
science can provide no more legitimate answers than science-
fiction. Conversely, perhaps science-fiction writers deserve
more credit than "hard-science" thinkers give them.
Writers, fascinated with this constant questioning of truth
vs. falsehood, fantasy vs. reality, science vs. magic, good
vs. evil or whichever illegitimate hierarchy (and I won't go
into how these divisions are unfounded, and how one side can
be seen to be the other in certain contexts, since
deconstruction is not a fast and easy process, but is a
process of careful and very close reading, and would take
much more time and I have already taken enough!) that has
been traditionally accepted, began experimenting with brand
new genres and trying their hands in philosophy and
Cyberpunk is just one result of this post-modernism. As a
"genre", it often broke the boundaries between fantasy and
fact, mankind and machine, good guys and bad guys, etc. It
tended to be dark, taking a deeper, more critical look at
science, capitalism, and law to be the saviors of humanity.
The writers were smart, subversive, and always self-
reflexive, even questioning their own questions, and
sometimes taking the time to make fun of themselves.
Post-Cyberpunk is a critical reaction to Cyberpunk, but like
Post-Modernism and Post-Structuralism being rooted deeply in
the ashes of Modernism and Structuralism, sometimes it is
hard to tell the difference between the compost and the
produce. However, despite all the similarities, the
differences are there. Post-cyberpunk challenges the
cynicism of Cyberpunk, and looks at science, capitalism, and
law once again in a positive light.
The interesting thing is that Post-Cyberpunk can be seen as
a step backwards, in many ways. After all, Cyberpunk was
already a reaction to optimistic views of science,
capitalism, and law. Reversing that only sets things back
to the way things were originally, before the "original"
critique, but not completely. Nothing can return to exactly
the way things were, since history can not be reversed. The
key element of Post-Cyberpunk is that it is a critique of
Cyberpunk, and must always use Cyberpunk as its own
antithesis. When Cyberpunk was a "new thing", it was in many
ways similar to all previous critiques, but it was still
different from others in that what the Cyberpunk authors
criticised were their own recent influences, and their
To the Post-Cyberpunk author, the questions that the
Cyberpunk authors raised are of critical importance. They
can not, nor will not, be forgotten. How can we prevent the
snowballing effect of wealth, to prevent the despotic
megacorporations from controlling the majority of the world,
in a world where money is power? How do we solve the issue
of mankind becoming more and more at the mercy of technology
while trying to maintain efficiency and minimize the chance
of human error in the production and distribution of goods?
How can we prevent power from being abused, when those in
power have the means of preventing us from intervening in
These are some of the things to think about in a Post-
Cyberpunk world. I imagine the scenarios in the Post-
Cyberpunk world will revolve around bringing abusers of
power to justice, the controlled use of beneficial
technology, and restoring faith in law and order. The
characters might be removing dangerous plutocrats and
turning the power to the common man, or trying to find ways
in which the free-market might be saved from corruption.
Perhaps the characters will fight for a technocractic
movement in which technology will provide for everyone and
money will become a thing of the past, or they will fight
against a vision of anarchy or state-communism and defend
the free-market (even at times against itself!). Maybe the
characters will work on creating a green, socialistic
utopia, and fight against the barbarian hordes of industrial
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