Apocalypse World out of the box is 50 years after the apocalypse. Slow Burn Cyberpunk AW that I’m proposing here is 5 years from some soft apocalypse. The world is dead but doesn’t know it yet. Some of the institutions we know are still shuffling about, not admitting that it is all over. Let’s say national governments of all kinds are shattered in pieces but maybe your local politician convinced his personal guards to stay, figured out how to pay them.
Elites waged brutal wars that decimated the planet to build their towers into the sky. Strange weapons from those wars are still buried in the ground all over the place.
The psychic maelstrom is the broken down data network that is still glitching through our heads. We’re linked to it and weird moves can access it and use that data to learn and do all kinds of strange shit.
A dear friend said that psychic maelstrom as the net doesn’t work and it wouldn’t be cyberpunk. They might just be right but I’d love to try.
Elites live in the Towers, cyclopean skyscrapers built around space elevators that reach orbital platforms in low earth orbit. As the game begins they are untouchable. They have created a separate and unequal society that has no need for anything on earth. They have put themselves in a vicious, hierarchical society with those still on earth scrambling for a seat at the table.
Even the most powerful corporate entity on earth is just a vehicle for trying to get its shareholders into the Towers.
Don’t Even Think It
When you break down and lash out at the gleaming towers of the untouchable elite in a futile act of violence, tell the MC how you perish or else they will tell you how you perish but fucking perish you will.
Once a character has gained 5 improvements and are into the “ungiven future” they can unlock the gamechanger, Touch the Elite. Don’t Even Think It is off the table. Player characters can now touch the elite down in their gleaming towers. The MC will write the elite up as a threat or series of threats, or even as a Hard Zone.
Speaking of Hard Zones, here are a few ideas…
The Hard Zones
Cities that have overtaken a continent like urban tumors merging over the landscape so that even the most majestic natural monument is now just a neighborhood.
The Pit: once it was grand but now it is only the pit, a hole in the ground filled with smog where those who have never seen the sky live out their half a dozen or so decades.
A.L.Z. (Acceptable Loss Zone): uncounted, unnamed wars left this zone uninhabitable. It is illegal to live here and return but scavengers give it a go anyway.
The Neon Islands: playing up to the idea of what cities were supposed to become, a thin layer of neo and chrome over blood, bone and corruption.
Mouse Peninsula: our stories, myths and ideas have been bought up on the cheap and turned into loud, garish diversions, a landscape designed to make us forget that the world has ended and people have put themselves above us.
The Mining Snake: a mountain range filed down by industry like rotten teeth by an iron file. Corporations still dig into the ground, in hopes of generating enough profit to perhaps elevate some of their shareholders above this lost planet.
The Waiting Room: sad palaces built into the mountainsides, where private security forces guard the richest of those left behind while they work to become worthy of elevation, embarrassed that they were left behind because of a rare system error.
The Rim: the coastal regions are the best at creating the illusion that the apocalypse hasn’t taken hold yet, that it can all be turned around. These areas have the most institutions still .
The Rustbelt: once the breadbasket of an empire, now a string of irradiated fields and rusted out robotics.
International Space Platform: the first orbiting city, now decades old and falling apart but with a strong space-faring tradition including brittle bones and a healthy disdain for mudders.
Luna Base: the launch-site for the mission to mars, now a ghost town…
Baikonur Cosmodrome: the rocket scientists and launch specialists who work there are already setting themselves up as science-priests and with the best doctors in the world for treating physical challenges brought on by long term zero g living.
Freight Elevator: the only space elevator not linked to one of the elite’s towers, where goods can be brought from earth to space and space to earth on the cheap, with workers who live in the elevator, the space doorman.
Armada: for a brief shining moment orbital piracy was a profitable venture and so Armada was born, a city of cobbled together spaceships, both private and international.
Atlantis: a perfect chrome sphere, a water-filled dolphin station that is said to not be of human make. Some say dolphins made it and others that dolphins were put in it by aliens. Either way, it is a strange fucking place to dock but sometimes it is the only place to lay low.
The Floating Cove: the floating platform deep in international waters where a generation of orbital pirates launched their ships from during a narrow window of private space travel.
The Veil: a fine mist of orbital debris left hovering over the earth, with some scavenge-worthy bits if you have the expertise necessary to grab it.
Olympus Mons: a small science city built around a communications beacon atop the tallest mountain in the Solar System.
Trenchtown: A new, growing city built to shelter itself from vicious Martian storms. Some say P.C. will one day have to relocate down here if they want to survive.
Perseverance City: the domed capital city where one can sometimes close their eyes and forget that they are on a different planet for a few minutes
Water-base One: the space elevator was supposed to rise up from here, now it is a boom town for ice-mining
The Eye of Heaven: with the space elevator unfinished, every trip up to this orbital platform and back down could be the last. Still, some astronomers refuse to leave due to the amazing data they can gather from the Eye’s labs.
The Ruins: little more than a village of cobbled together landing units jury-rigged to pump air longer than they were ever designed to do so, all gathered around the crater where ancient Martian ruins are said to be found.
New Pacific: a base run by dolphins with much of its resources under water. Some conspiracy theorists say the dolphins weren’t sent here by a human military force but got here on their own – had a colony here already when we arrived; that’s gotta be bullshit, right?
The Blue Tombs: a dead settlement in a blue crater
Players start the game linked to an institution that will get made up like any other threat. I’d be tempted to make a group of EMT’s in a flying, armored ambulance but any institution will do – crime syndicate, maybe the crew of a super-carrier that hasn’t gotten orders in months and needs re-supply. As with everything in AW, it won’t last…
I wrote this whole thing up and on a whim decided to watch Battle Angel Alita. I had never read the manga. There were all of the elements I had here. It was an odd thing.