Monday, March 21, 2016

The Problem With Cry Dark Future

Over at Save Vs. Poison, DM Wieg has been working up his own version of Cyberpunk 2020 using Sword & Wizardry as a base. Which is hip and all, but not really my cup-o-tea. I lost interest in CP2020 about the same time as I actually had a chance to play it. Maybe a little later (I sure did buy a lot of material for the game considering how little use I got out of it...though how could anyone pass up a supplement called The Chrome Berets?).

I love this supplement.
ANYway, he asked me to take a look at what he was doing based on my work on the as-yet-unpublished Cry Dark Future, which made me actually dig out and look at Cry Dark Future and see just why the hell it ISN'T published yet. After all, I finished the writing quite a while ago, it worked fine in play-testing (got great reviews from one game group), and was even able to attract interest at the one Con I took it to. Since I'm willing to pay for art these days, and have a printer (and the money to pay said printer), why haven't I just put it out there for the world to give me their dollars? Heck it was even edited...twice.

Because. That's why.

Because it's not great. I mean, it's just B/X Shadowrun, folks. And that's not good enough.

Part of the whole raison d'ĂȘtre for writing the thing was me realizing A) Shadowrun is just D&D with guns and cybernetics, and B) The B/X system is easy enough to mod, and C) why not bring a simpler, easier, friendlier system to the whole Shadowrun concept? So that's what I did...I mean, the game is STILL "Shadowrun" won't find Vancian spell lists for example the way the White Star folks (for example) crammed the magic-user and cleric lists into their game.

Shadowrun is a nice enough game. I've gotten some mileage out of it in the past (much more so when I was a teenager), and the recent editions have some truly excellent artwork of a kind I find particularly inspiring.

[I also very much enjoyed the first three novels set in the Shadowrun 'verse; some good stuff in there dealing with the types of issues rarely if ever seen in play at an actual SR table]

But remember that angsty post I wrote about 5 minutes before starting this one? The one in which I said I should be designing and developing games I want to run? Okay, B/X Shadowrun isn't really a game I want to run. Shadowrun isn't a game I want to run.

[sorry to Greg, of course...and all my friends in the U.S. Navy who happen to LOVE Shadowrun]

But that's a concept thing, and there's more to my dislike of my own game than the basic concept (which, by the way, should probably be enough!). There are a number of problems inherent in the design. Chargen, being based on Shadowrun, was too fiddly and took too long (there's a reason why every single edition of SR has included a list of standard archetypes for ready play, rather than making chargen a central part of play). Parts of combat (like bullet counting) are too fiddly. Magic, heavily based on Shadowrun, was too loose and grab-ass for my taste. And, if memory serves me right, there were some problems with the whole "random-monetary-reward-for-job-generator." Though truth be told, any game in which you're playing for money and the money allows you to buy all "system upgrades" (bigger weapons, better cyberware) has some inherent flaws of "game currency" built into the long-term play of the game. I know I found that in my days of playing ACTUAL Shadowrun, too.

[in D&D, for example, no paladin just goes into a shop, plops down his money, and purchases a +5 Holy Avenger. Even if you find a mage willing to create one for you...and you have the money...the DM can make the finding of the magical ingredients exceptionally difficult or challenging; it may even be easier to simply search out legends of an existing holy avenger (no doubt guarded by a host of fierce creatures). But in Shadowrun, the right contacts coupled with the proper credstick will get you anything you need with regard to gear, weapons, and cyberware...heck, even spells and magic items]

So, yeah...there are/were some inherent "system failures" in the game as written, mainly due to me adhering too closely to the structure and system of Shadowrun.

But the whole SR concept is...well, it's fairly unappealing to me at this time. It's dated, sure...the whole "Cyberpunk" thang is pretty dated. But just because a genre is dated doesn't mean it's bad, or lacks value. Many genres over the years have been considered "dead" only to make startling comebacks (the western, the space opera, '30s pulp adventure all come to mind). Many concepts considered "traditional cyberpunk" may be dated, but the idea of a dystopian future ruled by soulless corporations is still a pertinent subject of fiction and role-playing.

Does this illo really suggest "cyberpunk?"
No, it's the introduction/overlay of fantasy tropes/species into an existing structure (i.e. "the real (future) world") and the assumed outcome ("adventurers") that bugs me. It's the idea of going on "missions" for those same soulless corporations...the same way a party of D&D characters get hired by some mysterious figure in a smoky tavern...that bugs me. Scurrilous rogues trying to make a living in a largely lawless fantasy world is more believable to me than the SINless squatting abandoned warehouses filled with stashes of high-tech gear. Are you really stuck eating nutria-soy glop while sporting state-o-the-art combat enhancements? Who pays for the WD40 when your bionic blades get squeaky?

Fact is, there are cooler ways to structure a mash-up of fantasy and futuristic, which is why I started rewriting the whole damn game. The problem is, even though I was doing so (re-conceptualizing the setting as something more post-apocalyptic...kind of a Dark Sun meets Bakshi's Wizards meets Heavy Metal meets Appleseed meets the Deathlands novels)...AND fixing the other problems (the reward system, the fiddly chargen, the magic system, the bullet-counting, etc.)...even though I was doing that I found:

A) I wasn't terribly excited about the prospect of running such a game, and
B) The re-writes were taking a LOT of work.

[and would require even more work for a book worth publication...more play-testing, more editing, etc.]

And so the thing got back-burnered, and I just haven't gotten back to it. THAT is the problem with Cry Dark Future. It wasn't good enough as originally conceived/written, and I my dwindling interest in rewriting a post-apocalyptic fantasy game just to make use of a handful of B/X-based guns/cyberborg systems wasn't enough to sustain my writing/design stamina. That's why CDF may very well NEVER see the light of publication in any format.

Which is kind of depressing when I consider how much work I put into the thing originally (and later) and how I dismantled my old D&D campaign to do a bunch of play-testing for something that just ended up scrapped.

Like I said, I'm feeling a little angsty at the moment.

I'm sure this isn't the final word on CDF, by the way. I have hope that someday, something called "Cry Dark Future" will be published by Yours Truly in some format or other. It might even be before I get back from Paraguay (which for the interested means "before August"). But it's really not one of my priority projects at the moment. Just so folks know.


  1. I very much empathize with this feeling. When I look back on how much work I put into my OSR materials during the height of the renaissance fervor, only to realize that from where I'm standing now I have almost no desire to *use* the materials I've created, I get kind of depressed.

    But I'm also aware that I'm only a low-point of interest in D&D "right now", because I'm a full year into a campaign whose momentum is starting to flag. And someday, I'll probably be interested in it again.

    But right now, it's damned depressing.

    1. @ John:

      Yeah, I recognize cycles and "lulls;" it's one o the reasons I rarely trash stuff.

      I'm sure it'll 'come back around.'
      ; )

  2. What I find depressing is that there is a finished game that I want to play but isn't for sale, JB. Dude, come ON already. I think there are plenty of people who want to play B/X Shadowrun. I'm one of them. If you wouldn't play it yourself anymore, fine. Don't. If you ever decide to write your completely different, not classic CP, not SR game, great. In the meantime, sell something people would buy right now.

    Ok, now I'M being the whiny bitch, I get it. But honestly, a LOT of folks play B/X. How many copies of B/X Companion and Adventurer did you sell? How about Five Ancient Kingdoms in comparison?

    Sorry, rant over. I've just wanted to see this since you first started posting about it. You know, back when you wrote cool B/X content? Yeah, I miss some of that.

    I'll show myself out...

    1. @ Reese:

      Hey, man. I hear your pain...I really do. And of course you're right...the B/X stuff sells a lot better than 5AK (well, except in France...not sure why, since it ain't French).

      But honestly, I'd hate to just 'put something out there' that wasn't great work. I'm not talking perfection, but something a bit better than "ok," you know? Because what if someone picks it up and finds it "meh?" Then they're less likely to buy something o mine in the future, right?

      But like I said, I hear what you're saying...I do. And maybe I'll take another, close look at what the book needs to be finished up.

      I just don't honestly think you'd get as much enjoyment out of it (as it stands) as you think you would.

    2. Thanks for the reply, JB. I can see and understand your point of view as well. Really, I do. You're putting yourself out there, your blood, sweat and tears, and you want to be proud of every creation you finally choose to share. You should be. I'm just saying that not every piece has to be new and innovative. People like McDonalds for a reason. Its a known, comfortable choice. Who knows what kind of crap you'll end up being served at that snooty Cafe Du Monde.
      I simply enjoy reading different peoples takes on a genre. Ive bought or downloaded tons of games over the years, from my great to awful, but every one brings something new to the table. Some authors vision, no matter how poorly executed. I haven't written anything, so who am I to judge anyone who's actually shared their work.

      Feel free to share those versions of CDF with me, I'd just like to read how you did things. I'm quite confident our design sensibilities are pretty divergent at this point, so I doubt I'd steal too many of your ideas. :)

  3. Something I have learned from publishing: creators are not qualified to judge the quality of their own work.

    They do just fine explaining the purpose or the message of their work - but where it comes to guessing quality, they're totally off the mark.

    They just are.

    Let him decide how much enjoyment he'd get out of it.

  4. I find that people are much more forgiving of a work being imperfect so long as they know what they are getting up-front.

    Why not take what you have currently (since it is play-test ready, and presumably more or less done) and release it full disclosure as an unfinished product at a discounted price, a "pay what you want" or for free if giving away work fancies you. Judge the demand for the content based on feedback from people that play the thing. If it's a hit, then you can do some polishing, pay some artists, and sell it as a professional product. If no one bites, no real harm done.

  5. If you want another pair of eyes on it to see what can be fixed, I do a lot of freelance for RPGs and I would gladly look at it free of charge. LEt me know if you're interested

    1. @ Tanner:

      Thanks. I appreciate the offer and will consider it.