Cyberpunk 2020 assumes from the outset that your 'punks are Americans, so an America sourcebook seems a good idea. In some seven chapters it explains just what happened to the US to change it from the world we knew in the early 1990s to the alternate future of 2020 in the game. The text is liberally splattered with FYI boxes (which contain information that can influence your game) and adventure hooks, which you can pick up and run with if you want.
Chapter 1: The Fall of America explains what went so horribly wrong. Opening with a piece of fiction describing a typical 2020 street scene, there's a year by year timeline. Events are interspersed with advances in technology that led to the capabilities of 2020. Apparently everything fell apart in 1996, although the rot started earlier with drug lords planting a nuke in New York and a stock market collapse. In 1996, however, martial law was declared after the President and Vice-president were both assassinated. Succeeding years saw things get worse and worse: wars and riots, famine, a massive earthquake in Los Angeles, the rise of corporations and ever advancing tech... and frequent references to 'the Gang of Four' who engaged in covert and sometimes overt manipulation of world affairs to their own agenda (and frequently to everyone else's detriment). This Gang of Four are not the Chinese, they are the DEA, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA - formidable foes in a civilised world, but increasingly less so in a world of corporate power, gang warfare and riots. Ultimately the military dealt with at least some of them, but were they really any better?
Then Chapter 2: The New America details how the current state of affairs came about. Martial rule brought about one of the bloodiest periods in American history. A huge number died from violence, famine or disease: many deaths could have been prevented were the 'authorities' interested in serving citizens rather than their own agendas. Individual states hoarded resources instead of sharing them. Family structures fell apart, being replaced by tribal and gang-based groupings. Without a proper upbringing, many youngsters are not properly socialised and their full potential not realised... nor have they had the example to raise children properly themselves when the time comes. The only exception are the children of corporate parents, who are raised somewhat impersonally by the corporation's day care and schooling facilities, but get well-educated. Education is expensive, and a lot relies on luck and who is around to teach. Corporate youngsters may get a good education, but not one that encourages critical thinking, and its very stressful. Nomad bands probably value education the most, and protect their youngsters as they acquire it. The job market has changed a lot too, and some sample characters are provided as illustration. The majority scrabble for every eurobuck and the few want for nothing, with little inbetween. Discussions of wages, purcharing power of your cash and the State Identification Number (SIN) possession of which indicates your existence as a legitimate citizen. Not everybody has one - but without it there are severe limits on what you can do. If you change states, you have to go through the rigmarole of reapplying. More background to everyday life is provided in a whirl through accommodation, information services, philosophical and religious treands and other matter pertinent to day-to-day living in what remains of America... even a few adverts, sample TV listings and the like for flavour.
This is followed by Chapter 3: The New American Government... the civics class for the 'punk of 2020. The whole nature of the Presidency has been changed, with the President being appointed by the Senate rather than being directly elected by the citizens and having more limited powers. Individual states have much more power than they ever did. Citizens still elect their senators, however, although the Senate has changed with each state returning 3 senators, being representatives of the 2 main cities and a corporate represtative to cover corporate interests, who is a member of the corporation that pays the most taxes in that state. The House of Representatives has been abolished. There is a Regional Committee which represents the self-sufficient 'regions' of the nation and wields great power. It's all a bit confusing: I had to read this bit several times to make sense of it. There are diagrams and explanations of how all the government departments now operate as well. Unless you have a politically-heavy game this is probably more than your 'punks will ever need to know... but it's fun to have the underlying structure laid out in detail. More importantly, taxes are raised almost completely via purchase tax, mostly because a lot of the population is paid cash in hand for jobs that may or may not be legal but certainly are not documented. The military are a significant power bloc, but the old political parties remain and the corporations are attempting to get into the political scene as well. Voting - which didn't happen during the period of martial rule - is regarded as anything from a fad to a deadly serious matter, depending which state you are in. Of more immediate interest is the discussion of the economy, which is tied up with the corporations - which in some places have risen to city-state like proportions. Many players won't really care how the items they purchase get to them or where the money they hand over goes - but if they do, all the information you need is here.
Next, Chapter 4: A Recent History of the Military looks at events over the past 30 years from a military standpoint. Several wars, starting with the First Central American War, and the period of martial rule stand out. It was in some respects a good time to be serving, but left a vast distrust between civilians and military personnel. Even once martial rule was revoked, the military still took an active part in governance. Meanwhile there were more wars - even in space - and an attempt to invade southwards (the Second Central American War) to grab land and resources, thinly disguised as a war on drugs... most of which were by then being synthesised in America itself. For inspiration look to the current TV show The Last Ship, a different history to the one presented here but with quite a few parallels - and a lot of ideas for adventure!
Staying with a military theme, Chapter 5: US Military Forces of 2020 gives a detailed breakdown of how they operate and who is in charge. And if you're nspired to enlist? Chaper 6: Military Soldiers explains how to create characters who are serving or have served in the military. This comes complete with appropriate skills for military roles and suitable lifepath events. You can use this to build a character with a military background or to play one who is still in the service. You can find military equipment lists here as well, there's even powered armour (although if that's your thing, put this down and get a copy of Maximum Metal instead!).
Finally, Chapter 7: The State of the Union provides a gazetteer of 2020 America. Thumbnail sketches of states, townships and other noteable locations all over America, with maps and plot hooks galore... and that's before you find the official 'plot hook' boxes that provide ideas for adventure! Interesting to note that Utah survived the bad times well, supported by what is referred to here as the 'Mormon Church' (actually the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) who in real life are keen on self-sufficiency and being prepared with things like food storage and 72-hour packs. They've not prospered since, but seem content with what they have.
So this sets the scene excellently for the companion book Land of the Free... or for your own adventures taking advantage of the bredth of opportunity available in America. There's a lot of material, some might find it too much, but it's all useful background and the section on creating military characters is excellent. The gazetter's useful if your party starts travelling, too...
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Reviewed: 4 December 2018