Dungeon Themes and Tips
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #373
- Dungeon Themes and Tips
- A Brief Word From Johnn
- Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
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 time.
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 on.
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 party.
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.
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’.)
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 ethereal ooze.
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. Minotaur’s make great monsters for this environment, and the owners would probably try to attract ethereal monsters.
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 crystal balls.
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.
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 size.
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 inhabitants.
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.
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 separating 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 uninformed.
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 in ambush.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 beware.
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.
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 silently.
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.
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 Zuzzy.com:
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:
- 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
From Expeditious Retreat Press
1 x D&D Icons Gargantuan Black Dragon
From Legend Games
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
From Goodman Games
3 x MyInfo Personal Reference Software licenses
From Milenix Software
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 designs.
- 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 welcome.
- Please submit your contest entries by September 26.
- E-mail your entries to [email protected] 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.
Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters
Have some GM advice you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!
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 use.
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 the city:
- 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 feeding grounds?
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 been dead?
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 enemies.
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 into them.
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 most.)
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 xp.
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 a campaign!
Embrace The Terrain Rather Than Try To Defeat It
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 without 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 the PCs.
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 quo.
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 of war.
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 tentacles.
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.
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 postcyberpunk genre.
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, or listener.
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 politics.
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 times.
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 their affairs?
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 militants. Maybe….