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Cybernoir RPG Ecopunk 2044 wants to inspire action through its stories of environmental resistance

The government-funded tabletop RPG imagines a world uncomfortably close to our own likely future.
Image: Olya Bossak (Reykat)

Heroes won’t rise from the Death Spiral, at least not conventional ones. The year is 2044 and the world’s governments are reacting to the quickly worsening ecological collapse in predictable ways - embracing ecofascism, desperate infra-imperialism or full-on collapse. Enter the characters of new tabletop RPG Ecopunk 2044, who stand ready to pull humanity back from the brink and perhaps inspire their players to do the same beyond the table.

That’s the hope of publisher Dice Kapital, a community interest company in the UK composed of writer Liam Hevey and editor Harry Robertson. According to the game’s Kickstarter page, the pair wanted to create an RPG - Ecopunk is their first - that evoked a world none too far removed from our own possible future in order to spur players towards radical ecological action.

The game system powering Ecopunk 2044 uses a six-sided dice pool to enable characters to influence story-focused scenes through their specialties, skills and individual equipment. Once expended, those dice are removed from the pool until the group can either recuperate or take advantage off specific circumstances to bring them back, leading to a mechanical tension of deciding where dice are best used.

Characters can be built as complex or simple as the player desires and aren’t locked into a single class. Each is broadly defined by five core stats, 18 skills and their respective talents (think athletics, software, investigation, etc.) and whatever tools and equipment they keep to get work done. The game eschews hit points for Fortune, a measure of luck that protects them from a catastrophic circumstance removing them from the fiction. How Fortune is damaged and what happens when it drops to zero is left for each group and GM to decide, letting campaigns be as visceral or abstract as they want.

Other parts of what the team calls its Dice Pool System hew close to Forged in the Dark (based on John harper's Blades in the Dark) in places - Drivers in Ecopunk 2044 provide roleplay road signs and change how the world reacts to individuals, and Fortune can be spent on Flashbacks where characters narrate how they actually prepared for a complication in the mission beforehand. Others, like a scene’s Temperature, show where Dice Kapital leave their own mark. As the narrative pace progresses from gathering clues to racing towards potentially deadly action, abilities will morph or take on added effects.

The rapidly collapsing world of Ecopunk 2044 draws heavily on media influences such as video game Disco Elysium, anime Ghost in the Shell and manga Nachun, along with academic and non-fiction such as the Donna Haraway essay A Cyborg Manifesto and Richard Oppenlander’s Food Choice and Sustainability. “ECOPUNK considers itself to be the estranged son of cyberpunk, a once worthwhile genre that has now been hollowed out into neon-liberalism,” the campaign page reads. “[It is] an RPG that isn't afraid of talking about power and politics, and imagines a science fiction world that isn't just a shallow reflection of the cultures of the present.”

Dice Kapital are crowdfunding a physical edition of Ecopunk 2044, as the written rules were previously completed through grants from Arts Council England and Shape Arts, both UK-based public art funders. Dice Kapital claims it is one of, if not the first to create a tabletop RPG through government funding. The money raised through Kickstarter will cover layout and printing needed to produce a final digital and physical version. As befitting an RPG centered in environmentalism, the team lays out in depth their plans for pursuing impact mitigation through a print-to-order approach and offsetting the paper used through the Plant More Trees initiative.

Ecopunk 2044 will contain art from a massive team of 46 contributing illustrators, some of whom can be seen on the Kickstarter campaign’s page. The influences range from glitchy monochrome screen captures and portraiture realism to more stylised animation and government propaganda. Importantly, it seems as though the team hails from around the world and will hopefully allow the book to portray how the Death Spiral affects more than just white European world powers.

A plain text version of the current rules, along with character sheets and other play materials, can be downloaded for free on Dice Kaptial’s Itch.io page. Backers can secure a digital or hardcover book for £17 and £40, respectively. Shipping is expected to begin in January 2022. The Kickstarter campaign for Ecopunk 2044 runs through October 30th.

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