Agon, AGON ex Machina, CyberPunk, Game Design, John Harper, RPG
The first step in making the CyberPunk Agon hack is figuring out what each of the core concepts in Agon represents when pulled out of the Greek mythology and dropped into a gritty cyber-future.
Fate = The Edge
The most important item in game play isn’t what the players are competing to get, but what they build up until they die or retire. This is Fate in Agon. As your fate increases your Name Die increases, but once your Fate exceeds 16, your character dies / retires / explodes / ascends or otherwise “meets his fate”. You gain fate whenever you fail a contest to deal with your god, whenever you complete a quest, whenever you are defeated, and to avoid major wounds.
The Edge is the CyberPunk equivalent of Fate. It doesn’t turn up mechanically in the classic CyberPunk RPG, but makes appearances in several later cyberpunk-styled RPGs – but it is what cyberpunks aspire to. If you have the edge and live on the edge, you are more effective, have cooler stuff, and make bigger scores than those who live safely within the envelope. As you push the Edge, you take bigger risks, claim bigger rewards, and load up on cutting edge hardware. But sooner or later, running on the Edge is going to bite you in the ass.
Glory = Reputation
In Agon, the players compete to collect the most Glory before they meet their Fate. Glory is gained for winning a contest in-game – for beating the adversary, or for besting the other player characters at a challenge. Your Glory after meeting your Fate determines what people remember about you – whether your tales go on to become epic lyric poems taught in schools in the future, or if you end up forgotten and unnoticed.
The theme remains entirely unchanged in CyberPunk – the quest to have a reputation on the streets is central to a lot of cyberpunk stories. The only difference is the name – few are looking for Glory precisely, because there is little of it to be found for pulling down massive synthetic hormone deals or in helping a corporation rid the streets of their competitors. But word gets around and a solid reputation can be built. And that’s what we are hunting for as characters.
Oaths = Giri
An important part of Agon is helping each other out, and then demanding help when you need it (and when it will inconvenience the person granting that help the most if you can manage it). This is handled through Oaths – when you help someone, or make a deal with them, one of you ends up owing the other and the game allows those owed Oaths to reclaim them whenever they want.
In the CyberPunk RPG, Mike Pondsmith likens the web of contacts, favors and oaths to Giri. In game terms again, they remain identical, it’s just the name that changes. Giri is often the currency of the streets, because it’s not always what you own, but who you know that makes the difference.
Gods = Sponsors & Corporations
In Agon, the Gods give you quests on each island before you can set sail again for another island. In addition, each character has one God that they are beholden to, and to whom they make sacrifices to regain their Divine Favor.
And who better to hand out jobs and generally meddle in the lives of CyberPunks than the corporations, organized crime and major street gangs? That’s right, replace the meddling, fighting gods with meddling, fighting corporations and other cyberpunk factions.
Divine Favor = Toys
Divine Favor is how much “stuff of the gods” you can call upon at any time. You use Divine Favor in Agon to provide a collection of bonuses in play (open-ended dice, extra dice on a roll, additional attacks, better maneuvering, rerolls and even the sudden discovery of a divine weapon to help against your current foe). This was the hardest of the concepts to bring over to CyberPunk for me. In John’s Shadowrun hack, it was converted into Essence which is used to power magic and which is consumed by having cyberware, but there is no magic in CyberPunk or Agon Ex Machina, so something else will be needed. My first thought was to have Divine Favor represent the ambiguous Edge that Cyberpunk run along and push, but that suited Fate far more accurately.
Finally, I realized what every CyberPunk relies on to pull his ass out of the fire in a traditional CP2020 game. Cool, funky gadgets. In fact, there are so many cool gadgets in CyberPunk 2020 that I’ve heard it referred to as “the shopping game”, as players buy a thousand little cool items that will save their bacon during the game. Even better, this links perfectly with the Gods = Corporations & Sponsors discussed above. When you need more toys, you go shopping and pull in the contacts of your sponsor. If you make the roll, then maybe you didn’t need to rely exclusively on your sponsor’s hardware, but if you failed they unload something experimental on you and not only do you replenish your Toys, but your Edge goes up.