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CP has no protagonists
Except Hiro

I have seen several people expressing frustration at running into something inherent to Cyberpunk stories that I didn't really grok for a long time: your character is not the main character.

A major theme of cyberpunk is that the people in these stories are stuck living on the margins in a time and place where being an individual has never meant less, and they never really overcome that. At the end of Neuromancer, Case and Molly don't start a family and buy a house, they split up and he goes back to hacking while she winds up becoming some Yakuza heiress's bodyguard. They're not really any better off than when they started.

The power structures in the game, from the gangs on up through the megacorps, are incomprehensibly well established. The Sinners are not six teenagers with bats who somehow make all their money stealing gear from other gangs, they're hundreds strong and are the de facto government on their streets. People and businesses pay taxes to them in the same way you pay taxes where you live, and they get tangible benefits out of this.

NLM isn't a TV company, it's very nearly the sum total of the entire entertainment industry throughout the solar system and it wields more power than most nations on Earth. You can talk shit to their employees all you like but if the eye of Sauron ever looks directly at you, you're gone.

Anything you want to do that isn't in line with what organizations like this want you to be doing is going to cause friction. Cyberpunk stories are about people who don't fit into society causing just a little bit of trouble and then going to enormous lengths to try to avoid the consequences. Johnny Mnemonic's a great example - Johnny and Molly don't wipe out the Yakuza with their superior skills and live happily ever after, they trick one single assassin with a lot of help and then Johnny has to live out the rest of his life off the grid with a bunch of garbage eating dog splicers or he'll be supermurdered. He doesn't win, he escapes by the skin of his (canine) teeth.

If you lumped all the active PCs into one single group, there would be fewer of them than there are NPC TERRA agents, and even working together they would probably not realistically be able to do much about TERRA and who and what they are in the world - and TERRA is one of the weaker examples here.

So if you're frustrated, try to remember that you're not the hero. You're never meant to be anything more than the guy who maybe got away with something one time. I'm not saying players can't change shit but try to consider the scope instead of smallworlding with just the NPCs and PCs you see on screen.

I love this. It is good to remember these things. You can do crazy shit, but remember the powers that be are bigger than you see.
Very well said, in my uneducated opinion.
Appreciate this being put succinctly, Vera

<3 <3 <3 <3 <3

Fantastic post and so aptly put. This goes back to the, "You don't win Sindome," that I think can be a hard pill to swallow. Thanks for this.
If you have not watched the interview with Mike Pondsmith that TalonCzar linked a couple of days ago, check it out. He touches upon this theme explicitly in the interview.

It's also summed up in one of the quotes from CP2077, "You'll never save the world, but maybe you can save yourself."

"Night city is not a place I would ever want to live in." (Paraphrasing)
Essentially think...

Instead of being the one they talk about in,

Think about being the one they are addressing in,

Keep moving forward.

Never a moment of downtime.

Life is agony but it's better than death.

If we all storm NLM at once they can't stop us a-- oh looks like they can actually.

I would disagree with the framing of a protagonist as someone who follows a trite story arc, or who acts a hero in some very traditionalistic sense. First because it's simply not true, the genre has protagonists -- most narrative forms do nearly by definition -- but just stylistically tends to focus on the anti-hero and low-life aspects of society.

I would also say that it is the Solipsistic impulse to view oneself as the protagonist of their own story is not only natural, and (mostly failed) attempts to become protagonists of the larger metastory, can in fact engender the type of friction and drama that makes the thematic tapestry compelling, and the biggest threat to that type of storytelling is passivity.

Players should feel frustrated, and the best reaction from the perspective of great stories to that is not to think: "Well, I don't matter," but rather "Fuck you, let's tear down the sky."

Hard disagree. Cyberpunk isn't about taking on the world and winning. It's Chinatown.
Really good post. I agree that Sindomes flavor of cyberpunk is definitely on the grim Noor Chinatown end of the spectrum.

I don't think that should discourage people who want to play it like it's Mirrors Edge or Snow Crash, where heroics can change the world, but it should be an uphill battle mired in violent futility. That's the fun.

I agree, 'expect to lose' is definitely a mantra that can be repeated, but Chinatown had a protagonist too -- a pretty traditional one as well. I get you're saying 'You're not going to win,' I just think that can't be equated directly to, 'you're not the protagonist' or that Cyberpunk as a genre is necessarily, or even usually, devoid of them. Many of the most famous characters and stories in Sindome were prompted by players who absolutely viewed themselves as the protagonist (whether hero or anti-hero) in their own stories, even if they knew they would fail. There are others who didn't and focused on creating a thematic tone in the background, but I don't think either is strictly the correct approach to take.
Can agree with the premise but don't always have to agree that -characters- should obviously think that way, because almost no one does.

Playing to lose really can be fun though. Or playing and not caring if you lose can be. Play for the narrative. Think about biblical Job for a minute. Actually being Job, not a great time. But roleplaying Job would probably be a RIOT.

If you're really really stuck....go be the Sindome equivalent of Job for a while. Be fucking miserable, your only goal is don't perm out. Don't be boring about it, don't be just a sad shit sack moping around or piss everyone off and die, be creative, try to have a rich story. But be a loser! Narrative is narrative, content for content's sake.

Playing evil that thinks they're good is fun too :)
Playing "Job" is only fun for so long.

Knowing you're getting nowhere and haven't progressed for shit since you started gets tiring and just sad.

Playing "Job" is only fun for so long.

Knowing you're getting nowhere and haven't progressed for shit since you started gets tiring and just sad.

Fucking double post.


That's fair, Seir. People would probably say that you're focused too much on 'progress' as what you want to get out of SD, and I also think that's fair. It's something I've struggled with, as someone that (mostly) only plays one of the weakest archetypes in the game. It took me a long time to re-frame what I wanted out of the game and how I played it.

But you're not playing 'wrong', I don't want to say that. It's not fair of me to tell you what you should be aiming for or wanting out of the game. Honestly there are relatively 'safe' ways to 'progress' probably in the way you mean, but it means playing kinda boring, and therein lies the rub.

So I thought on this, and came up with a bit of a measured response.

Regardless of whether you are playing a supporting role to someone else, or perhaps a leading position within a faction.

Your character should behave as if they are the core of their own story. With their own motivation. Their own ideals. Their own secrets. Their own plots. In that regard, they should behave as their own stories protagonist, even as they act as the antagonist or deuteragonist in someone elses. They -should- view themselves quite simply as the most important person in their -own-.... Personal story.

Regardless of all that, we as players however, should understand that the tenants of these stories being told, means that we are not likely to get our way often. We are no more important than the average momento, often times, less so. And though, we as characters may have plots and grand designs, we should measure their themeliness and monitor their scale in regards to the amount of time invested.

I would agree here with Rhea and add to it. In my experience, "winning" is all a matter of character perspective. I could be playing a character who, in the grand scheme of things, is the most insignificant shit this side of the dome. But you know what, dammit, they think they are just acing whatever gig they've decided they need to ace.

While I, the player, know better, my character doesn't. They have their plans, their goals, the things and people that are vital to them. I feel like as long as I'm having fun (and I should be, since I'm the one who designed those character traits to begin with), then I'm winning as a player. Even in the end, my character may be a complete pile of garbage from any other viewpoint.

So if the character isn't where they intend to be, that's a goal. Own that. But it's all character-centric; they are their own protagonist, and no one else's, no matter where they fall in line in the pecking order.

Players can change the world.

It has happened and it currently happens, as it will continue to happen.

What they can't change is the theme and the setting of the game, eg. you can't overthrow the corporations, you can't make the WJF stop existing, you can't make the Sinners make Wellington Avenue as their turf, you can't corpies live in Red safely.

The most prominent characters to have existed in our little slice of the Dome (the ones we hear about on SIC, the Wiki, the bars, the old legends and street sams, you know them) are objectively more narratively important in the virtue that they generate more RP and plots than the segment of other characters who only RP for themselves in a masturbatory bubble.

That doesn't mean these player are better or worse players than others. They just add more to the game than other characters do. And while they are insignificant in the whole grand scheme of the Sindome universe (e.g. there's probably ten more guys doing more important, relevant shit in West Red we never hear about), they're still leading characters for the stories we perceive.

My 2 chy rant.

Right, most of the changes that do happen are story driven hence they have been designed/approved by GMs, but that doesn't mean characters can't be part of it and add their small contributions or marks.

The protagonist is the theme and the co-stars are the PCs if you will, the theme is mostly persistent while the co-stars may change and they do change all the time.

Also its true that in the times of yore or golden age of the game, being a lot less players there were a lot less toys in the toybox but also less constrains and that could end up in pretty grandiose and intricate plots that got big enough to make a big change or things that would be difficult to consolidate in the scale that is currently being handled, which should be about 8 times more and growing.

So in a way, the theme and the game are more aligned with each other than ever before and this allows for a more consistent and coherent cyberpunk narrative.

Even giants and legends eventually fade away, but some still remember and tell stories about it and that keeps the story fresh and going.

You can't kill the corporations, but you can blow up their stuff. The fun is in the journey not the destination, so the fun doesn't start at MAX UE end game (it probably ends to be honest).

Winning at SD wouldn't be becoming an all powerful CEO and endlessly hoarding exponential resources, the fun is getting there and losing it and now you have to get it back or do something else and the RP surrounding it, as an example. Or all the crazy things and bullshit you put the whole city through until you inexorably get yourself permed.

It's Better to Burn Out Than to Fade Away...

I suspect something that some players struggle with is -hearing- about big things, maybe touching them on the periphery, being given advice both IC and OOC, but not really understanding what's involved because they're not seeing the time and types of effort that exceptional players invest, consistently, over a long period. If you're lucky enough to be given an inside look at that, see the day-to-day work over not weeks but months and years, it's very eye-opening.

Flashy characters who come in and make an immediate splash, roleplay elaborately and dramatically, cause a ton of trouble, then flare out spectacularly burning everyone around them in the process, are practically a cliche they're so thick on the ground. I'm not a huge fan of the 'play to lose' mentality that's so rampant because it creates an atmosphere of people that can't be relied upon not to molotov someone because they got bored from five minutes without stimulus, let alone be relied on to invest the time in building something that can take a long time to bear fruit. This idea of 'well I can't be the hero so I might as well just be a firecracker' I think misleads otherwise talented players away from things that they could be exceptional and memorable at in their own niche.

In my experience, such as it is, consistency and patience and industry trumps deliberately trying to make an huge impact from the get-go. That famous artist? You don't see the hundreds of hours they spend writing, re-writing, and re-writing over and over again (to practically no meaningful benefit to themselves). Legendary solo? The endless work that they put in would crush most players. Charismatic leader? They're not swaying people with fancy prose and poses, they're doing management, admin, tending to people, making stuff happen for all the people under them.

Sure maybe you can't do -anything-, but from the characters I've known, you can do extraordinary things, but it takes extraordinary effort and extraordinary ability. I think people tend to idolize the end results but gloss over the struggles behind them.

+1 million, 0x1mm. I really don't have anything to add to that, it was perfect.
I've never seen 'play to lose' used to describe the play style mentioned by 0x1mm. My understanding has always bee that it is about playing with a focus on generating story and every story involves losses and setbacks. Conflict. Ups and downs. Few people would enjoy stories with these things absent and Cyberpunk has more of these downturns than most genres.

Your character is the main character of their story. So play them like it. Have them be proactive and driven and take risks - even if that results in a setback or loss. You don't have to be suicidal about it. Feel free to think things through or plan things out (to a degree that fits your character's stats) but DO something. Be an interesting character.

CP might not have protagonists... but it does have villains >:D