There’ve been lots of games over the years that have surprised me with a novel twist to the rules or, unfortunately, with surprisingly uninspiring or inappropriate rules that didn’t really support the setting, or didn’t fit well with the rest of the rules. And, of course, I’ve been sometimes surprised by an aspect of setting that had interesting ramifications.
But probably the most surprising game I’ve encountered is Remember Tomorrow, by Gregor Hutton. It is a simple “Story Now” game that captures the essence of cyberpunk and turns it into an RPG. And what sets it apart is precisely that: it is successful at capturing that essence.
There are a lot of cyberpunk (and now tech noir and other related genres) RPGs over the years. The problem with cyberpunk RPGs is that there is a fundamental clash between the genre and roleplaying. Cyberpunk stories are fundamentally about outsiders, loners, and alienation. RPGs are an inherently-collaborative storytelling medium that generally features multiple co-equal main characters (the PCs). So the trappings of cyberpunk are easy to put into an RPG—cyberware, the Net, atrophied governments, megacorps—but the themes are a bit trickier. Some of the themes work pretty well: income inequality, disenfranchised groups, fighting back against authority. But the two elements of the genre that are very hard to translate to an RPG are the alienation and isolation. At best, the characters in a typical cyberpunk RPG are isolated from the rest of society, but still have each other, and the alienation tends to be something we describe for our cyberpunk characters, rather than something we experience with them.
Remember Tomorrow solves those problems. You each create a character (there is no set GM) and take turns telling their story. Your characters each have their own goals and factions. Your stories will intertwine and they may intersect—but they might not. Your character may be another PC’s partner, helper, foil, or enemy. When your character isn’t in a scene, you jump in to play characters that are there. The end result feels much more like the literature to me, with the characters each having their own story, but that particular story isn’t the focus of the whole novel. Characters come and go, weaving in and out of the larger narrative, in a very organic way. And your character truly is on their own, even while the players are all working together.
I’d played several cyberpunk RPGs, and Dan has, I think, played them all (and written a couple). So I didn’t really expect a cyberpunk RPG, even a rules-light Story Now one, to capture my interest beyond the fun of badass tech and cool scenes. And I’d played 3:16, another of Gregor’s games, and decided that it was ok, but not really my thing—it feels to me like he put too little of the genre themes into the rules, making it too easy to miss the thematic point while still playing by the rules. So I was pleasantly surprised when Remember Tomorrow blew me away.
Where traditional RPGs—and traditional cyberpunk RPGs doubly-so—tend to focus mechanically on the technology of the future, Remember Tomorrow hand-waves much of that and lets you create the details you need and ignore the rest. Instead, there are a lot of mechanical elements that work together with this basic structure to promote really interesting play that reflects the themes of much cyberpunk literature.
There’s still a place for the mission-oriented, group-featuring play of other cyberpunk RPGs, and I’m sure I’ll play one again someday. But if I want to capture the feel of reading a cyberpunk story—the loners alienated by a dysfunctional society, the way that each person is a hero in their own story, even while they might be the villain of someone else’s, the struggle against bankrupt morality, the way that desperate needs and impossible situations can lead to desperate actions—I’ll be putting Remember Tomorrow on the table.