Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 9 April 2023

[Fanzine Focus XXXI] CY_OPS Issue.One

On the tail of the Old School Renaissance has come another movement—the rise of the fanzine. Although the fanzine—a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon, got its start in Science Fiction fandom, in the gaming hobby it first started with
Chess and Diplomacy fanzines before finding fertile ground in the roleplaying hobby in the 1970s. Here these amateurish publications allowed the hobby a public space for two things. First, they were somewhere that the hobby could voice opinions and ideas that lay outside those of a game’s publisher. Second, in the Golden Age of roleplaying when the Dungeon Masters were expected to create their own settings and adventures, they also provided a rough and ready source of support for the game of your choice. Many also served as vehicles for the fanzine editor’s house campaign and thus they showed another Dungeon Master and group played said game. This would often change over time if a fanzine accepted submissions. Initially, fanzines were primarily dedicated to the big three RPGs of the 1970s—Dungeons & Dragons, RuneQuest, and Traveller—but fanzines have appeared dedicated to other RPGs since, some of which helped keep a game popular in the face of no official support.

Since 2008 with the publication of Fight On #1, the Old School Renaissance has had its own fanzines. The advantage of the Old School Renaissance is that the various Retroclones draw from the same source and thus one Dungeons & Dragons-style RPG is compatible with another. This means that the contents of one fanzine will be compatible with the Retroclone that you already run and play even if not specifically written for it. Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplay have proved to be popular choices to base fanzines around, as has Swords & Wizardry. Not every fanzine is written with the Old School Renaissance in mind, with more recent fanzines being inspired by roleplaying games that, if not part of the Old School Renaissance, are often adjacent to it. One such roleplaying game is CY_BORG, a cyberpunk purgatory that is modelled upon Mörk Borg, the Swedish pre-apocalypse Old School Renaissance retroclone designed by Ockult Örtmästare Games and Stockholm Kartell and published by Free League Publishing.

CY_OPS Issue.One has the distinction of being the first issue of the first fanzine for CY_BORG. Published by LETTUCE following a successful Kickstarter campaign, it also has the distinction of being one of the smallest fanzines, being only A6 in size. Then, at least in its physical format, it has the distinction of coming with its own cloth patches and its sticker, which is designed to be used to fill in the picture of the empty vest (or possibly body armour) found in ‘PATCHES!’ on pages fifty-seven and fifty-eight of the fanzine and then submitted to the editor to not win a prize. Which one of the three distinctions is actually important, if any of them are, is up to the reader to decide. What is important is that CY_OPS Issue.One provides a lot of support and content for CY_BORG and CY_BORG being a Cyberpunk roleplaying game, a lot of that support is technical in nature. Essentially guns and gear. There is more than that in the pages of the fanzine, but nevertheless, a great deal of it consists of guns and gear. Surprisingly, given that its genre is Cyberpunk and it contains a lot of guns and gear, there are no stats in CY_OPS Issue.One. This lack of stats is also intentional. CY_OPS Issue.One is designed to be player facing, meaning that it can be read by both the player and his character and is thus an in-world artefact in its own right. And doing something as low grade as a physical print fanzine would be both punk and low fi, even anti-corporate if you will.

However, the player-facing nature and the lack of stats in CY_OPS Issue.One raises issues of their own. The lack of stats means that the fanzine is all front and no backend. There is nothing for the Game Master to use readily and easily. So the Game Master will need to supply them. Fortunately, the mechanical simplicity of CY_BORG means that this is relatively simple. The downside to the fact that CY_OPS Issue.One is player-facing means that the fanzine is not necessarily a sourcebook for the roleplaying game that the Game Master can simply take something from and add to her game, ready for her players and their characters to encounter and interact with. Instead much of the fanzine works as a series of prompts that the players can choose from and have their characters go and do something with, whether that is undertake a job, make a purchase, or visit. Which the Game Master will respond to, meaning that CY_OPS Issue.One is an improvisation tool as much as it is a fanzine.

Yet the first article in the fanzine very cleverly helps the Game Master out no matter whether she has a copy in print or PDF. The ‘Classified’ section provides a set of adverts that suggest jobs the Player Characters can get involved in. On one level, the Game Master could go away and create her own, but each classified advert is linked to a published adventure, by a QR code in the printed fanzine and a hyperlink in the PDF. For example, “Alert. Reward available for any information on missing C.A.U Board members. Rogue crazed experiment on the loose. Ignore its lies.” links to the scenario, Cybergorgon. This is clever and subtle and nicely done, serving not only as a series of in-game adverts, but adverts for other authors’ adventures.

Only the first article in the fanzine makes use of this device. Elsewhere, ‘BREAKING INTO A CREDITS TELLER MACHINE’ is a guide to robbing every cash dispenser in the city and ensuring the Player Characters have a ready supply of petty cash until some corpo notices and puts in a fix, whilst ‘Know Your Enemy – Rehabilitation Frame’ describes a ghastly piece of ‘police brutality technology’, a prisoner mounted in a remote controlled drone forced to conduct pacification duties and who cannot be freed without setting off the tamper sensors and crushing the captive. Gear comes in a range of forms. The first is in ‘AD BY UNINF3CT3D_R4P3RD0C_666’, who is selling anti-nanite devices, such as the ‘TL.5HAd3s.rcd’ eye mod which visualises nanoswarms and ‘SCREECH_E-Z’ which encrypts your audio and text outputs against nanite detection. There are services too, the best of which is ‘BOTS.4.HIRE’, which offers bots for hire, the payment being a portion of any job undertaken, though a deposit is required if there is the possibility of the bot being damaged. Several sample bots are detailed and nicely illustrated. ‘Bounties’ provide a wide range of targets for the Player Characters to take down, for example, ‘DOLLY _XD’, a pleasure cydroid gone rogue, whilst ‘NuRelics’ describes items and things which the Player Characters could find, retrieve, or steal, such as ‘0x2020’, a master timepiece whose hands stopped at the moment of thermonuclear impact. Doubtless, there are collectors willing to pay to have them. ‘Tech Request’ gets inventively weird with its devices and weapons. For example, the ‘Head_Cannon’, unnervingly, really does shoot heads at targets, whilst the massive ‘Dreihander’ is a sword so big it has to be supported by a mechanical arm all of its own grafted onto the wielder!

Longer pieces such as ‘[Dispatch from an Abandoned Terminal]’ suggest a hacker at work, using a combination of social hacking and subtle hacking to free the bonds of A.I.; ‘Cold Storage Club’ a venue to frequent and an event, a battle of the bands to get involved in—whether as participants, support, or protection; and ‘Rumours About STNGR’ takes the reader into the underground world of street races to talk about “The Queen of the Streets”, known for her electronic eye-scrambling vehicle and her rumoured generosity as well as her determination to win every race. Their length means they are not quite as easy to bring into play. Lastly, ‘Cydonia Hanging Gardens’ describes a hanging footbridge which has been taken over and turned into a venue of sorts, which seems to be a mycobotanist’s dream gone wild, a sterilised, air gapped bar where lichen and other plant life is allowed to grow unfettered and free of the contaminants rife in the rest of the city. The question is, is it just a bar or is there something going on there? And just what are the staff growing and why?

Physically, CY_OPS Issue.One is presented in the Doom Punk style of both CY_BORG and Mörk Borg, though leaning more heavily into the punk style of the former. Consequently, it has a very busy, frazzled and fractured style, though it is not quite as artful as the core rulebook and is thus easier to read.

Ultimately, the contents of CY_OPS Issue.One do need a bit of effort upon the part of the Game Master to bring into play. Some, like the ‘Classified’ section and their linked scenarios are much easier to use than others, but there still is a wide range of content to pick and choose from. This though, is all for the players and their characters to pick and choose from, and for the group wanting more player facing, player driven play,
CY_OPS Issue.One is a solid option.

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