Solo of Fortune was, I believe, the first supplement for Cyberpunk. It was also one of the first gaming supplements I’ve ever seen that were packaged as media from the gaming world. It had photographs to add a layer of realism. It was pretty cool in it’s time. I’d be curious to see how something like this could be done in 2019. Would it look as dated? It’s something I might explore later, but that’d be way down the road. Maybe if I package some of my Wednesday blogs into something else.
Anyway, Solo of Fortune is definitely riffing off of one of the classic magazine Soldier of Fortune. Now, I don’t think I’ve looked at a copy of Soldier of Fortune in like 30 years, but I think I’ve seen it recently in book stores. I remember it having classified ads that sounded so freaking cool but were probably not real. Like, hiring mercenaries to topple governments and shit. Then there was historical accounts of brushfire wars along with reviews of military technology. That’s a lot of what you get with Solo of Fortune, to include some straight up shit talking in the letters page. The ads in the supplement are the beginning of the gear porn that the game would be famous for, along with the “Fully Chipped” articles. The MetalGear armor makes the armor in the boxed set obsolete, the Militech weapons outclass most of what was in Friday Night Firefight, and the cyberwear ads definitely crank up some of the specialized cinematic qualities of cyberwear.
The flavor and lore of the world is fleshed out in first person narratives like “I Was There,” discussing a shift in the life of a Trauma Team. It is definitely an interesting juxtaposition to read a detailed combat story told by people who should be EMT. “Cyberpsychosis: It Can Happen To You” takes a deep dive into the main concept surrounding cybernetics in the game that increased cybernetics robs you of your humanity. It is an interesting conceit that I’m not sure I entirely buy. I definitely want to think more about cyberpsychosis within the concept of actual psychology and you’ll see the results of that next Wednesday. “In Focus: Corporate Extractions” explores one of the more iconic mission types in Cyberpunk. It gives a lot of ideas for GMs to structure their extraction scenarios around, as well as a slew of dirty tricks. “Love and Bullets from Moscow” takes us to Soviet Russia. I think the Cyberpunk version of Russia definitely harps on a stereotype of Eastern European bulk and brute force that feels very caricature. It’s like the spectrum of technology is Japanese on the high end and Russian on the low end—very much the mindset in the late 1980s. “Eurostyle” is the first real developed take on the differences between Europe and the United States in the game. The idea of European solos being part of something resembling a Gentleman’s Club is definitely interesting. The fact that they are all well-educated and refined makes them feel more like spies than assassins. “The State of Corporate Security, Penetration, and Defense” is something that, in 2019, might not be necessary anymore. In the thirty years since Solo of Fortune was published, we’ve had a million movies and video games to show us how to handle these things. In 1989, however, I didn’t know a damn thing about security and we didn’t have the internet yet. While filled with flavor, the “Bubba and J.T. Test the Sternmeyer M-95A2” is something I’m not sure I’ve ever finished reading. I could totally see this article in a real Solo of Fortune, and it’s very reminiscent of Soldier of Fortune, but I feel like it was a little too gratuitous with far too little gameable material.
The “Focus on Solos” article helps players understand the range of the Solo class. I think, given the dearth of modern/near-future games at the time, we definitely needed an idea on how to make Solos unique. A similar article these days could draw on a number of examples we have seen since. The same goes for the “Modern Street Gangs” article. The categories of gangs can be absurd at times. I’m not sure what the actual implications of them are and, even though I know I bring up what seems like two of these a week, a great idea for a future Wednesday blog. “The First Corporate War” is excellent for showing how conflicts originate and escalate in the dark future. That said, it’s very much on the macro level. How to translate this to the table without necessarily making the characters the heroes of the war is something that I think contributed to the power creep that we’ll see as the product line is developed. “The World of Government Solos” provides a nice list of different high-level agencies and the conflicts and problems the face. Again, this wouldn’t have much implications on “the street,” so it starts to focus referees and players to think bigger than that.
I love the “World Situation Update” because it has a lot of potential gameable options. It has flashpoints all over the world with nice capsules of each party to the conflict. You can get an idea of the major conflicts of the world from corporate feuding to counterinsurgency. I appreciated that some of the conflicts had more than two sides and that there was rarely a “good side” against a “bad side.” Expanding on these would definitely require some research into the area and I would definitely explore how everyday life was affected by these conflicts. That is one of the things that fascinates me the most about Cyberpunk is how humans are affected by the advanced technology and conflict.
“The Open World” closes out the magazine with vehicle rules for Cyberpunk. They seem pretty decent, but without playing them out, I can’t say too much. Seeing some of the rules regarding maneuvering gave me fond memories of Car Wars, however.
As much as it sells a game, Cyberpunk is really selling a setting and Solo of Fortune is one of the first steps in really defining that setting. I think it focuses a little too much on military activity, compared to the more shadowy clandestine world of edgerunners. I do believe that this early focus on direct action is what led to the greater macro-conflict that the game play evolved into. The book’s emulation of Soldier of Fortune is brilliant and well-executed. With the exceptions of a few of the articles, there isn’t much wasted in here and plenty of grist for your cyberpunk mill. Much of what is in Solo of Fortune has transferred into the collective unconsciousness of modern/near-future gamers, so it may not be as useful now as it was in 1989. I think it sets a pretty high bar for supplements and we’ll see how it compares to the rest of the line.
Next week, Hardwired takes us out of the traditional Cyberpunk setting and places us in the world of Walter Jon Williams’ novel series of the same name.