• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

Subversion: An Interview with O.C. "Opti" Presley (Fragging Unicorns Games)

Want cyberpunk and fantasy combined in a tabletop roleplaying game? Something different from Shadowrun, but created by someone with the perfect pedigree to create such a game? Enter O.C. "Opti" Presley and Fragging Unicorns Games and their cyberpunk fantasy RPG, Subversion. I talked to Opti to learn about the game, its frequent online comparisons to Shadowrun, and why he’s the right creator to...

Want cyberpunk and fantasy combined in a tabletop roleplaying game? Something different from Shadowrun, but created by someone with the perfect pedigree to create such a game? Enter O.C. "Opti" Presley and Fragging Unicorns Games and their cyberpunk fantasy RPG, Subversion. I talked to Opti to learn about the game, its frequent online comparisons to Shadowrun, and why he’s the right creator to design it.

Subversion KS Image.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for talking with me. You have a new project on Kickstarter, what is Subversion?
: Subversion is Fragging Unicorns’ new cyberpunk fantasy ttRPG. Its world is full of magic, pervasive technology, wondrous creatures, and Babylonian gods. Players will find themselves struggling against arcane masters, corporations, supernatural threats, and organized crime as they try to protect and represent their community. It leans heavily into themes of community, direct action, revolution, runaway technology, and hope for the future.

EGG: What system does this use?
: It is a brand-new system! It’s a flexible, d6-based, dice-pool game system that allows multiple and creative solutions to almost every encounter. The better you are at a skill, the more dice you roll, but you’ll only keep the highest three, meaning more skilled characters have a higher chance of doing amazing things and less chance of failing. In addition, characters can use their own resource, called grit, to perform amazing feats like re-rolling dice, using a paradigm ability, or preventing damage. However, once a character is out of grit, they are busted and no longer have the will to fight until they get better. Fortunately, players can regain grit when they complicate their PC's lives by indulging their vices or challenges, called impulses.

EGG: This is a world about the characters and their communities. How do the communities play into this RPG?
: The PCs take the roll of envoys of their community: representatives, ambassadors, direct agents. The community gives PCs their direction, both in terms of the how, why, and what they find themselves about in each session, but also having to be aware of the people and values that form it. Each community is created by the players and GM, and each PC has relations in the community they are close with. When players spend fortune in the community, it is built up and gives back to the PCs as well. If the PCs go against the community’s values, or offend the people in it, they may find themselves without access to vital aid in their struggles.

Seven Gods.jpg

EGG: What fantasy elements are used in this game, and how does the fantasy connect with the cyberpunk portions?
: The world of Neo Babylon is filled with fantastic elements! We asked the question “what would this world look like if magic and wondrous creatures had always existed?” And the answer we came up with was that magic would likely have become a tool, like other resources, to be hoarded and wielded against others in pursuit of power. So we chose the Ancient Babylonians to be the first to wield magic on a large scale and went from there. The Babylonian empire conquered and absorbed the cultures, resources, and magic of all the peoples around them and reshaped the world in their image. That was our starting point. And along the way, you have the various peoples of the world, which draw not only from Babylonian myths, but all sorts of others to get fantastic species and creatures, arcane spells, sublime martial arts, and sacred power, all in Neo Babylon. And those with magic rule. Rather than stop at an ancient or medieval setting, we kept going. What would this world of Babylonian gods and magic look like if we sped up the clock to the near future? What if it was technology that was the disruptive force in our world? Magic was the basis for power and elitism for so long, what if technology was eroding the gaps between those with innate power and those without? So tech has moved quickly to advance in Neo Babylon. Corporations have now formed, organized crime wants a piece of the action, and the guilds are making deals to stay relevant. All the while, the arcane masters are realizing their hold on power is weakening, so they are lashing out. So the game asks questions about technology that we are asking ourselves in this current moment. Tech has all these wonderful possible applications, and it can change the world for the better, but will it? Who controls that power? Should we go back to the bad old ways? Are we just headed for bad new ways? How can the weak take power back from the strong?

EGG: Subversion mixes cyberpunk and fantasy. You’ve gotten, let’s call it, feedback via social media comparing Subversion to Shadowrun. To give this context, let’s talk about your resume in gaming. What work have you done on Shadowrun?
: Sure thing. I started off in Shadowrun media with the Neo-Anarchist Podcast, an in-character history podcast of Shadowrun’s Sixth World. I also do the popular actual play podcast Shadowrun: Origins, where we play through the classic adventures of Shadowrun’s early editions. But I’ve also done pretty extensive writing for official Shadowrun products as well. I was on the team that introduced Shadowun: Anarchy, Chicago Chaos, and led the team for Anarchy: 2050. I also wrote large parts of the critically acclaimed Dark Terrors, Kill Code, and Better than Bad supplements, and lots of others. Finally, I’m counted as a developer on Shadowrun: Sixth World Edition.

Weapon sale.png

EGG: Given your background with both games, what’s the same between them? What’s different?
: We knew the comparisons were going to be inevitable, but we don’t mind. This isn’t a competition for us. We will always love Shadowrun and we are not their competition. The RPG industry is full of Pathfinders, Dungeon Worlds, Earthdawns, The One Ring RPGs – all of which have resemblances – superficial of otherwise – to Dungeons and Dragons. And that number keeps growing. Which just suggests there is a lot of room to explore different themes, mechanics, and worlds with similar genres. And creators and authors create and write. That’s what we do! But I digress. The similarities between Shadowrun and Subversion are straightforward. They both have fantasy elements, they both have cyberpunk elements. So you can make an elf hacker in both games. But that’s just about where the similarities end. In Shadowrun, the basic cycle of play is getting a job from a mysterious employer and doing crime for one corporation against another, rinse, repeat. And it does a great job at that. The themes touch on losing your humanity to chrome, selling pieces of yourself to stay relevant, and always being on the losing end while corporations change the world with or without you. In Subversion, the cycle of play starts in your community – among relationships. You don’t take jobs for money, you do what the community needs or is sending you to do, and then you end up back at the community, and you all win or lose together. Subversion is about rebellion, not mercenary work, so the kinds of adventures you’ll have are much more varied as well. In Shadowrun, magic is a new thing on the world stage, but in Subversion, it is baked into the world from ancient times. There is a lot more world to explore in Subversion, as while the world may be familiar, it doesn’t always have the same names or cities that you might know. You’ll be exploring a new world, not laying magic and technology on top of our modern one. And of course, the game mechanics are very different. Shadowrun has their classic D6 system of opposed roles, rolling a number of dice equal to attribute+skill, keeping 5s and 6s as hits. Subversion’s system rolls a number of dice equal to your skill, keeping the highest three. We love the statistical curve that gives us. Very pleasant, lol. But we also offer a system where talking your way out of a fight – or even losing a fight – is just as valid of a choice as winning. In Shadowrun, losing has life or death consequences every time. In Subversion, losing is a part of life. And I think the main difference is this: In Shadowrun, the world is what it is. It has crisis after crisis, the megacorporations have drama at the highest levels, but things stay more or less the same. They have to in order for Shadowrunning to continue to exist in its current form. The setting, as it is, is important for the game. So doing good, really helping your community, doesn’t really factor in. If you want to keep playing, you’ll have to keep taking shady criminal jobs for corporations. In Subversion, the whole point is to make a difference. To change the world around you. That’s why we keep the corporations and masters faceless and nameless. We make room for all sorts of communities to exist and for them to get built up and actually change: change their social class, build schools, put corrupt corporations and authorities in their place. We want those things to happen. We dare you to make them happen.
EGG: Who is working on this project with you?
: There are a number of folks on the team that folks may know. Clifton Lambert (the Arcology podcast, SR author) is one of our writers, as is James Palmer (Radio Free Detroit podcast), Rusty Zimmerman (author of the novels Neat, Shaken, Stirred, Chaser), and a number of others. My most important collaborator in Subversion, however is newcomer Ryan Maloney, who helped a great deal with our previous game, Gangs of the Undercity, and has been proving themselves a very good game dev indeed. We also have a slate of folks writing supplements and adventures for us (Ava Rogers, Nathan Blades, Koala Bear Swamp, Patrick Bryant, and others) that will be coming soon after the game’s release.

EGG: Let’s switch gears to another cyberpunk RPG from Fragging Unicorn Games. You’ve taken over Robert Bohl’s Misspent Youth and brought it back with Misspent Youth: Fall in Love, Not in Line. How is the development and delivery of that going?
: We have just wrapped up fulfillment of Fall in love, Not in Line! All the books have been sent out and I just put the physical books up for sale on our website. The development was a joy. We worked with Robert Bohl to make sure we were doing his game justice and I’m proud to say he was grateful and happy with what we’ve done and what we’re doing. FilNil was a labor of love and we love that people are digging it!

EGG: Beyond Subversion and Misspent Youth, what else is Fragging Unicorns Games working on?
: The rest of this year is filled with the core team working on Subversion and running games for Fall in Love, Not in Line at cons. But as I mentioned, we have adventure episodes for Subversion we are working to bring out asap after the core launch. Aside from that, we have two projects in the background. The first is Hellslayers, which is a game Clifton Lambert is spearheading. It’s a rules-lite, rogue-like, Doom-inspired RPG. Finally, I’m working on a superhero game using a version of the Misspent Youth rules.

EGG: Thanks for talking about this project. Where can fans learn more about your work and this campaign?
: Thank you so much for the opportunity, Egg. You can head to [our Subversion webpage] or head right to our Kickstarter page for Subversion! Have a great one!

Subversion from Fragging Unicorns Games
“A cyberfantasy RPG set in Neo Babylon”

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.

log in or register to remove this ad

Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Remove ads

Remove ads