I backed GeneFunk 2090 at Kickstarter. I’ve therefore had the PDF for a while. It’s an easy RPG to like. It’s a harder RPG to review as it’s so tightly packed. I mean, where do you start?
Over at DriveThruRPG, other people are finding it easier to appraise the core rules. The game has had a dozen ratings and maintained it’s perfect 5/5 score. It’s already a Silver Best Seller. In other words, it appeared in the marketplace at the end of November and is already in the top 10%.
Genefunk 2090: The concept
It’s the near future and technology has made the world a very different place.
There’s no shortage of cyberpunk elements in this biopunk RPG. The megacorporations are real, more powerful than the governments and your Player Characters will care greatly about this.
Why? GeneFunk 2090 presents the same cybernetics, weapons and gear multiple times (sometimes) but from different manufacturers. These variants have different stats. Your PCs and your players will, therefore, have favourite megacorps to buy from. They won’t want cheap knock-off rubbish. They’ll want the good stuff.
This is just one example of how GeneFunk builds the world into gameplay.
GeneFunk 2090 is not a vanilla cyberpunk RPG, though. Genetics are too important, too dominant.
In this near future, we are creating men and women for specific tasks. They’re the height of perfection for that task. We’ve been doing this for so long now that there’s effectively whole races of similarly genetically engineered people. They’re as colourful and as diverse as any collection of fantasy races, if not more so.
You’ll play the game as one of these tailored genetic masterpieces. Or you’ll play a mutt – the child of crossbreeding between the lines. Mutts aren’t considered genetic perfection. They’re considered trash.
You might also play as an “Optimised”, that’s someone who’s just been made better. You might even play as a Transhuman. For example, you might be a consciousness downloaded into another body.
If you want… you could even play as a normal human. Why? You’ll probably be able to upgrade yourself more easily, more often and with more flexibility when it comes to augmentation and cybernetics.
Even normal humans are different from you and I. In GeneFunk’s somewhat dystopian future (and it doesn’t feel as bleak as some cyberpunk settings) almost everyone has a supercomputer inside them.
They have daemons.
Daemons are nano-level computers that swirl around inside your body, doing what they can to help you stay healthy and keep you connected to the virtual worlds.
Magic? No. GeneFunk 2090 has none. However, hacking in a world where almost everyone has nano-computers inside their blood, has magic-like effects.
Want someone to fall asleep rather than guard the door? Hack them.
What’s holding all these powerful characters together? Another clever piece of design by CRISPR Monkey Studios? The Cadre.
In GeneFunk 2090, PCs are mercs for higher, and they operate in a unit known as a Cadre. There’s a reputation system for Cadres and a hiring system built into the game. By default, PCs work together to get the job done, and they need to get the job done to get off the streets, earn some proper cash (satoshis シ) and start getting better jobs. Of course, once you’ve mastered GMing the game, you could set this mechanic aside.
I really like the Cadre approach, though. It’s always a success when gameplay and mechanics overlap. Game design that encourages roleplay that fits with the mood and theme of the game are treasures. GeneFunk is loaded with them.
GeneFunk 2090: The rules
This is a 5e game. GeneFunk 2090 biohacks D&D. I think it’s fair to say that you know, in advance, whether you like the ruleset or not.
There’s plenty added. We’ve discussed hacking briefly already, but there are mind hacking, biohacking and engineering hacking. Why have just one school of hacking when a traditional D&D game has more than one type of magic?
Can you know a bit of mind hacking and a bit of biohacking? Sure. Get their by multiclassing and GeneFunk 2090’s rules will keep you straight on how many processes and techniques you’ve mastered.
There are rules for drugs and no shortage of the stuff. Take note, if that’s not going to sit well with your players, then GeneFunk probably isn’t the game for them. There are drugs with names like Angel, Mars, Buddha and Carnal. The latter boosts your senses and gives you a feeling of euphoria.
Robots? Drones? Androids? Yes, all different things. All described differently.
Modern armour and weapons? Yep. Loads. The biggest and most badass armour I can find in the rules is the Artemis Battle Suit which has Armor Class 25 and DR 10.
The fact that characters (some of them) are genetically perfected helps to balance the high tech wizardry this future world can wield. Even a level one character feels powerful. It’s not correct to say that classes and archetypes have no effect in a world with this much military level gear.
There’s also cybernetics. In fact, GenePunk has over 60 different cybernetic upgrades the PCs can consider and save up for.
There are 14 of those bioengineered genome types with 48 different genetic enhancements.
Combine those with one of the 8 new classes, 21 archetypes (most classes have three archetypes; one does not) and 31 new feats and there’s a broad range of options.
GeneFunk 2090 introduces chase rules too. There’s a ruler-like device which I think you can print out and use to keep track of which vehicle is in which (abstracted) position in the chase or race.
Some SRD rules are dropped, though. There are no Tool Proficiencies, for example. The game’s author, James Armstrong, argues when it comes to mechanically useful tool proficiencies that skill proficiencies cover their function. There’s a mapping table to try and prove it to you. The rest are just flavour.
GeneFunk 2090: Layout and Presentation
GeneFunk uses a sidebar design, on many pages, to show you which chapter you’re in and where that is in the book. It looks nice and is functionally helpful.
My initial reaction to GeneFunk was that it was crowded. But I was wrong. It’s not. It’s compact, making superb use of space, but the layout isn’t cluttered. The page spreads I’m including in this review show some jam-packed pages, and I trust they will prove their case to you.
It’s the combination of colour and carefully arranged content that fooled me into thinking GeneFunk 2090 was crowded. It’s an unusual combination. This is just an anecdotal observation, but I rummaged through a dozen or so core rules off my shelf, and the games that used bright colours and energetic images tended to give more space to their contents. Those RPGs which favoured line drawings or more sombre colours tended to have page elements closer together.
The colour of GeneFunk 2090 also influences the world. Despite all the craziness that’s happened in the official 2090 timeline, I think GeneFunk 2090 feels less moody than most of my cyberpunk collection.
Just look at these corporate logos. All those colours.
In GeneFunk 2090, humanity isn’t on the verge of collapse. Society isn’t hanging on in there by a thread. We’ve evolved. Society has evolved. Technology has evolved. The 2090 future is still full of inequality, too few people have too much of the wealth, but in GeneFunk 2090 you’re trying to climb that ladder.
GeneFunk 2090: Conclusion
There are two gates to cross. Do you like Fifth edition rules? Do you like cyberpunk(ish)?
If you’ve answered yes to both those questions, then I think you’ll like GeneFunk 2090.
I really do.
The game has done the hard work. It’s packed with options and ways to bring the bio-hacked future to life. It does not lay down the world with heavy-handed certainty; it tells you what’s happened and leaves you, the GM, to take it from there. It gives you all the tools you’ll need to do that.
You can pick GeneFunk 2090, the core rules, up from DriveThruRPG for $19.00.
Check the comments below to see what readers have to say.