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Legendary RPG designer Mike Pondsmith talks about the origins of Cyberpunk at PAX Online x EGX Digital

From his introduction to roleplaying to creating the world of the dark future.

PAX Online x EGX Digital is fully underway, with the nine-day, 24-hour online convention hosted by Dicebreaker’s parent company ReedPop opening its virtual doors on Saturday. There’s a whole variety of tabletop sessions and games to be seen and played during the show, so we’ll be highlighting just a few of the biggest and most interesting over the next week.

The event got off on a major note, with an opening keynote talk from seminal RPG designer Mike Pondsmith - best known as the creator of the Cyberpunk universe, including the hugely influential Cyberpunk 2020, its latest tabletop edition Cyberpunk Red and upcoming video game Cyberpunk 2077. Or, as Mike refers to himself: “The guy who killed your Cyberpunk character.”

In his Storytime session, Pondsmith recalled his path into making games, going from his original plan of being a special effect designer wanting to “build really big models of Star Destroyers” to becoming one of the first notable tabletop creators during a time when, according to Mike, “you didn’t have game designers - all of that was way in the future”.

“The question became how would I stumble into that. The answer was dumb luck.”

Pondsmith then chatted about his first introduction to roleplaying via Dungeons & Dragons predecessor Chainmail, before moving into playing D&D himself - as a paladin, before paladins were properly introduced to the early RPG - and tabletop worlds he explored later, including legendary sci-fi game Traveller.

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Pondsmith also told the story of how he met his wife, Lisa Pondsmith - general manager of Cyberpunk publisher R. Talsorian Games and inventor of Cyberpunk’s twisted prankster faction, the Bozos - in a roleplaying group while wearing mirror shades, an army jacket and a nine-inch knife. There’s also the story of the start of his lifelong friendship with GURPS, Car Wars and Munchkin creator Steve Jackson - who Mike calls the only person in the games industry with a voice deeper than his.

Watch Pondsmith’s full opening speech below, and catch the full PAX Online x EGX Digital schedule - including our own playthrough of Cyberpunk Red with co-designer (and Mike’s son) Cody Pondsmith - to see all the tabletop sessions happening between September 12th and 20th. You can also browse the virtual show floor to discover some more board games and RPGs exhibiting at the event.

And, if you were wondering, despite predicting the future in more ways than one in his vision of 2020, Pondsmith was quick to shoot down the idea that even he could’ve seen this year coming: “Even though I wrote a dystopian dark future about the world called Cyberpunk 2020 I am not going to take responsibility for what’s going on right now.”

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Cyberpunk 2020

Tabletop Game

Cyberpunk Red

Tabletop Game

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About the Author
Matt Jarvis avatar

Matt Jarvis


After starting his career writing about music, films and video games for various places, Matt spent many years as a technology, PC and video game journalist before writing about tabletop games as the editor of Tabletop Gaming magazine. He joined Dicebreaker as editor-in-chief in 2019, and has been trying to convince the rest of the team to play Diplomacy since.