GURPS Superpunk

The Dark Future in Four-Color

The dark future dystopia of cyberpunk has lent itself to being blended with many other genres, from the fantasy magic of Shadowrun to the creeping eldrich horror ofCthulupunk. Genre combinations seem to thrive on contrast between two vastly different worlds colliding and melding to create a world that works. One of the potentially strangest combinations is when cyberpunk meets the four-color world of comic book super-heroes. This article presents just such a world.


A lot of the history of the Superpunk world is different from our own, sometimes radically different. The world is also a very good example of the fact that the victors write the history. Much of the history leading up to the present-day world is rather obscure and should remain that way for a while to provide gamemasters with a few mysteries.

The 20th Century was a shining time when the Age of Heroes began and probably ended. Stories are still told about how there were many men and women with powers far beyond those of their fellow humans, who used their abilities in the cause of truth and justice. They fought other supers bent on the destruction and domination of others and triumphed. They are legends, like the gods of the ancient past. And like all gods, they eventually came to their Ragnarok.

Sometime near the end of the 20th Century or the beginning of the 21st, no one is quite sure, came the Dark Times. Something happened to the heroes of the world. They faced a final crisis that even their amazing powers could not overcome. Perhaps a villain’s master scheme finally came to a successful conclusion. Perhaps some cosmic disaster attacked the Earth. No one knows. What is known is that Earth’s superheroes and many of its villains disappeared, killed or taken away. In the aftermath of the Dark Times, the world suffered years of chaos, starvation, plague and conflict. Governments rose and fell and the frightened people were more concerned with survival over history.

Eventually, humanity persevered and emerged from the chaos of the Dark Time into a more stable world. Order was restored by the multinational corporations that had been the prime survivors of the conflicts. They shored up and assisted weak and crippled governments in providing for the people and in exchange took hold of the reigns of power. A world as dark as any imagined by a would be world conqueror had come about and there were no more heroes left to prevent it.

Superhumans still exist, but none of them have the kind of legendary power associated with the heroes of the past. Some blame the thinning of the metahuman gene pool while others talk about the fading of the flame of hope and faith that people once placed in those costumed heroes to protect and save them. A great many supers work for the corps or the government, using their powers to maintain order. Others become criminals or businessmen, mercenaries or even vigilantes trying to resurrect some of the spirit of heroes of old.

The World

Gamemasters looking to develop a Superpunk campaign can create a whole new campaign world or make use of an existing campaign world and simply modify it to account for the Age of Heroes and the events that led to its downfall as described above. Superhero campaigns can be advanced into a Superpunk era by projecting them 50 to 100 years into the future and cyberpunk campaign worlds can be modified by adding some additional background to them to account for the presence of metahumans and super-powers.

For example, the GURPS Cyberworld setting can be made into a Superpunk campaign fairly easily by assuming that it was once a world not unlike the IST world described in GURPS Supers, with metahuman heroes and villains. Perhaps the Tolliver’s Disease epidemic that occurred in the late 20th and early 21st Century had a devastating effect on metahumans in particular, attacking and killing them mercilessly. The greater concentration of meta-genes the victim had the more likely they were to succumb the disease and die. This undermined the United Nation’s IST program to such an extent that their plans for world peace and government cooperation began to crumble. The events that followed like the Grand Slam brought the power of the U.N. crashing down.

When the Provisional Government took power in the United States, the hammer fell on superhumans in addition to other sub-cultures, and supers are genetically tested for and required to register with the government and the NERCC. The Pro-Gov has plenty of their own “pet” supers that they use for espionage and black ops. So do the korps and most of the organized crime factions. Some few supers escape detection and become vigilantes, rebels or mercenaries.

The TD plague could have been genetically engineered. Part of a plot to destroy the IST and cripple the U.N. or it could have been accidental or even the natural result of rampantly mutating Seeder genes out of control. The Provisional Government and the conquest of the United States might also be the result of some villainous plot or the work of more mundane forces. Perhaps a super-villain or two have gone underground and are now the forces behind Pro-Gov and the NERCC.

The presence of supers has provided the technological advancements to make things like bionics and the net a reality, and the technology in this world might be even more advanced than the original Cyberworld, perhaps “mature” Tech Level 8 on its way to TL9.

Gamemasters can find several different sources of inspiration for Superpunk worlds in the Source Material listing at the end of this article.


Power and prejudice

Super abilities are something of a mixed blessing in the 21st Century. For some people, supers evoke memories of the legendary heroes of the past, shining examples of all that was good in humanity. For others those memories are bitter and they recall only those who abused their power and how the heroes of the world failed to save it in its hour of need. Supers who display their powers openly will be the subject of awe and respect or envy and prejudice (usually both). Few people react blandly upon meeting a super.

Masks and code-names

In memory of the Age of Heroes, many supers still maintain the tradition of wearing costumes and masks and having colorful code names. Sometimes this is strictly for show and PR, other times it is necessary for a vigilante or criminal super to protect their identity from the authorities. Code-names have become sort of nicknames that supers acquire based on their powers, that they use as a street handle or sometimes a stage or professional name.


Psionic abilities are among the most common of super-powers, and many researchers believe that psi is the basis for virtually all powers that do involve physical mutations (and even some that do). The existence of psionic abilities since the Age of Heroes and the Establishment’s considerable paranoia over telepathy has led to the development of some low-level psionic technology (see below).


21st Century scholars speculate the “magic” as it was known in the Age of Heroes was nothing more than misunderstood psionic ability cloaked in mysticism. The various magical incantations and spells were simply the means by which some psionic supers focused their concentration. This has lead to the “magic is dead” school of thought that says that not only doesn’t magic exist, it never did. Rumors from the streets and dark corners of the globe suggest that magic may still exist but that something happened during the dark times that changed or eliminated the wielders of the power. These rumors range from magic-users leaving Earth for another, more hospitable, dimension to underground groups of mages biding their time and waiting to unleash their hordes of magical creatures on an unsuspecting world.

The Role of Supers

Supers in this world take up all of the roles you expect to find in a cyberpunk setting: Special Ops (for the government, organized crime and the corps), Mercenaries, Rebels, Criminals, Vigilantes and Celebrities of all kinds.


The Superpunk world has all of the normal cyberpunk levels of technology (Tech Level 8 in GURPS). There is cyberware and advanced personal weapons and body armor. This technology can make heavily cybered characters an even match for many supers.


The cyberware described in GURPS Cyberpunk is available. Full cyborg replacement bodies are still in the experimental stage, but bionic limb and organ replacements have been around for years, along with neural interfaces and similar equipment. Characters are required to pay character points for cybernetics, but there is no Unusual Background cost associated with them because they are common technology.

The Net

The Net has become a fully realized virtual reality with environmental interfaces through neural links. All of the world’s telecommunications are routed through a massive and complex communications grid. Gamemasters can consult the systems from GURPS Cyberpunk for handling netruns and computer hacking on the Net. Some supers with the Cyberpsi ability exist and can become fearsome hackers with even a small measure of power and skill.

Rumor on the street speaks of the existence of a pirate BBS known as HeroNet, which functions as a clearing house of data on supers and matters concerning them, especially any information that may have survived about the Age of Heroes. The BBS moves around a great deal to avoid being closed down by the authorities, but skilled or connected characters can track it down and access its stores of information for clues about little-known super abilities or bits of near-legendary information about the supers of the past.


The existence of psionic supers has led to the development of some psi-tech, mostly to defend against hostile psis. Psionic detectors can be used to detect if a person has psi abilities, psi-shielding helmets (in common use by government and corporate troops) and various psionic dampening fields and impeders. Generally, all of the TL8 psionic technology from GURPS Psionics is available.


Point Totals

Superpunk characters are built on 250 points. This allows for the creation of a moderately powerful super or a very capable cybered or “off the rack” normal. This does not include the 30 point Unusual Background cost for being a super. Supers are in many ways more common (albeit weaker than they were in the Age of Heroes) due to mutagens in the environment and similar factors bringing metahuman abilities into expression. This brings the base points for Superpunk characters to 280 plus up to 60 points in Disadvantages.

Note that very competent super-normal characters can be built on 280 points and that the possession of cyberware or other TL8 equipment does not require an Unusual Background unless the equipment is experimental or especially unusual.

Power Limitations

The disaster that ended the Age of Heroes caused a “thinning-out” of the metahuman genes. The supers of the Superpunk world are not as powerful as their predecessors and have some limits on their abilities. Enhanced attributes are fairly common, but Enhanced Strength cannot exceed 30 and other attributes cannot exceed 25. Psionic abilities are limited to Power 10, except for Teleportation, which may go up to Power 15. Powers other than psi are generally limited to Power 6 for damaging powers and Power 12 for non-combat abilities.

Magic does actually still exist, but mages have become very rare. There is a 50 point Unusual Background cost to purchase Magical Aptitude. The world is at a level of Normal Mana, with High and Low Mana at a few places and times. Magery and spells are purchased from GURPS Magic. Note that learning magic can be a very catch-as-catch-can process and that magical abilities are often not affected by normal super-powered or psionic resistance, they can catch people by surprise if they think the mage is “just” a super.


Golden Age

The player characters travel back in time with the aid of an ancient gadget from the Age of Heroes or perhaps with the help of a new super with time travel powers. They go back to attempt to prevent the fall of the Age of Heroes and stop their world from coming about. Will they succeed? If they do, will they be trapped in a world that is not their own? Superpunk character would have an interesting time trying to fit into a world of four-color supers who are more powerful than they are and governed by a stricter moral code.

The Cosmic Super

Rumors have hit the streets about a new super who has only recently discovered her powers. The stories say that she is incredibly powerful, on par with some of the heroes from distant past. Stories of her exploits are rapidly attracting the attention of the government and the corporations, all of whom want to secure her for themselves, or eliminate her as a possible threat. Can the player characters help her escape and use her powers to fight for change?

Aliens Have Landed

One of their number lived among us for many years (as a hero or perhaps villain of the Age of Heroes), now they’ve come to find out what became of their brother, only to find he is long dead and the primitive world he was living on is developing at an alarming rate. Any number of comic-book alien races would take an interest in a Superpunk world. Some might wish to contain and help tame such a place while others might see it as ripe for conquest. Who knows? Perhaps the disaster that ended the Age of Heroes was just the prelude for a long-term alien invasion plan. For example, a collapse of Earth civilization could have some interesting effects on the Earth-Meeranon alliance fromGURPS IST.

This scenario could rapidly turn a Superpunk campaign into an outer-space science fiction adventure as well!

The Villain Awakens

A powerful super-villain from the Age of Heroes had the forethought to protect himself from the disaster that led to the Superpunk era, perhaps he even engineered it to eliminate all of his foes and leave a world ripe for conquest. The villain awakens from cryogenic sleep in his hidden lair and begins taking stock of the world and making new plans for conquest. The most powerful heroes of the last Age only barely defeated his plans. What can this new crop of weakling supers do to stop him? Fight dirty, that’s what.

Hell Night

On Halloween night there are strange sightings and incidents all over the Sprawl. Rumors are buzzing about a new underground cult that claims to have real mages among its leadership. They are planning a massive ritual that will summon a powerful demon and his horde from the netherhells on All Hallows Eve. The cult might just be a cover from some bizarre scam or a front for a group of psionic supers but it might also be for real, in which case it’s going to be a real hot time in the old town tonight.

Other Games

In addition to GURPS, a Superpunk campaign could be set up in any major super-hero game system, notably Champions by Hero Games. Brave gamemasters could also liven up a cyberpunk campaign by “revealing” the hidden history of the Age of Heroes and adding in super-powers or creating a Superpunk campaign with an event that leads to the creation of supers in the game world, such as a biotech experiment gone wrong or genetic tampering by alien or even an AI.


The following source material can give gamemasters some inspiration for characters and adventures in a Superpunk setting.

Cybergeneration, R.Talsorian Games. A nanotech virus gives the youth of the cyberpunk world superhuman powers to fight the evil corporate state.

Dark Champions, Hero Games. Champions supplement for vigilante super-heroes on the mean streets of the city. Good source material for a near-future campaign in general.

F.R.E.E.Lancers, TSR, Inc. A long out-of-print supplement for the Top Secret/SI game that featured a dark-future with “metabiles,” super-humans working as mercenaries. More recently resurrected in a novel of the same name by Mel Odom.

Marvel 2099 Comics, Marvel Comics. The future of the Marvel Universe in a cyberpunkish sort of world, with new versions of many favorite characters. The Spider-Man, X-Men, Doom and X-Nation titles are especially inspirational for a SuperPunk game.

Underground, Mayfair Games. A weird combination of a dark dystopic future and genetically engineered war vets with super powers who think they’re really comic book characters.

Watchmen, DC Comics. Alan Moore’s classic dark-present comic book about how badly the presence of real superheroes could mess up our world.

Wild Cards, George R.R. Martin’s anthology series of super-humans created from exposure to an alien genetic virus. Releasing the Wild Card plague (through alien intervention or nanotechnology) on your cyberpunk campaign could lead to some very strange and interesting results, as could taking the Wilds Cards universe presented in the books and advancing it to the year 2030 or so. Some of the characters from the books (like the immortal Golden Boy) would still be alive and kicking!

The Uncanny X-Men, Marvel Comics. Especially useful are the “Days of Future Past” and “Age of Apocalypse” storylines, about an alternate dark-futures where mutants are hunted criminals.


High-Tech meets High-Fantasy in an alternative for GURPS

GURPS Fantasy from Steve Jackson Games presents the alternative world of Yrth (EE-rth), a fantasy world much like our world might have been in medieval times if there had been elves, dragons and magic for real.

Originally Yrth was inhabited by three races: the Elves, the Dwarves and the Orcs. One sect of Elves, known as the Dark Elves, took it upon themselves to remove the “plague” of the Orcs from the land. They constructed a powerful ritual spell that would bring a Bane upon the Orcs and wipe them from the face of the world.

It failed. Badly.

In perhaps the biggest Critical Spell Failure in the history of Yrth, the Dark Elf enchantment backfired, destroying most of the sect and driving the rest underground. The spell called forth a Bane, all right, but it was a Bane for more than just the Orcs.

The Banestorm brought different peoples from all different parts of the multiverse: reptile men, halflings, goblins and, worse of all, humans. These many races began carving out places for themselves, cutting down the sylvan forests and building cities and empires of their own. The face of Yrth was forever changed and over the centuries became a fantasy world of knights, wizards and magic, medieval Earth legend brought to life.

But what if it didn’t happen that way?

In GURPS Fantasy, the humans and other races brought to Yrth are from worlds with medieval level technology, from 1050 to 1100 on Earth. Although Yrth is at the same year as we are (Christian calendar 1996), their technology is still at roughly the same level as when they arrived. The wizards guilds fiercely suppress any technological developments that might threaten the supremacy of magic, like gunpowder. Yrth remains a place where the knight on horseback is still the ultimate fighting machine.

But say, perhaps, that the people brought to Yrth were not from such a primitive era. What if they were from, say, the Industrial Revolution 1830 to 1890 or so? Infused with the colonial spirit and technological drive of that time, how might these humans have colonized Yrth?

In the earliest stages, there would have been considerable difficulties. The people taken to Yrth were mostly dropped into the wilderness with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, but in some cases entire towns and villages disappeared, which would give those people some support and supplies to start out with. It is also possible that the Banestorm was responsible for some other mysterious disappearances in human history, like the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon. Some of these modern folk might have ended up on Yrth as well.

Despite the early hardships, the humans would begin recreating as much of their technology as possible while at the same time discovering and learning that magic worked on Yrth as well. Within a generation or two, you might have a frontier world not unlike R. Talsorian’s Castle Falkenstein Victorian fantasy, with Earth colonialists mixing with Elves, Dwarves and Dragons.

As things progress, technology on Yrth advances rapidly. The presence of magic actually helps speed technological advance rather than retard it. The wizards-the human ones, anyway-are already part of a technological society, so they take an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude towards science. In fact, mages are probably scientists themselves of a sort, and it would be interesting if some of the magical personalities and traditions of 19th century Earth got imported along with the rest. The New Order of the Golden Dawn, for example, would fit right into a colonialist, expansionist version of Meglos.

Wars on this version of Yrth would be fought with guns, bombs and tanks in addition to spells and steel. A world-war is not impossible as two rival human empires begin encroaching on each other’s territory. Far more of Yrth will be mapped and explored and colonies could push much farther than they have in the conventional fantasy campaign. It’s entirely likely that humans have already moved beyond the continent of Ytarria and explored much of the rest of the world in the past few centuries.

With their technological development, the humans of Yrth might easily outstrip Earth humans. By Yrth-year 1996, they have a civilization that is into the cyber-age. Corporations evolved from 19th century trading houses and firms are massively influential, bionics and cybernetics are all the rage for a population that, perhaps, did not suffer the same disillusionment with Science that Earth did. There is still conflict with some of Yrth’s natives as well as the other races brought in by the Banestorm, but many of them have adopted human customs and live among them. There are gangs of Elf bikers and Dwarf computer technicians. Who knows? Maybe one of the major corporations is even owned by a dragon…

The fantasy world of Yrth enters the cyber-age. It has similarities to Shadowrun, but the main difference (apart from the game system) is that it’s not Earth. It’s like dropping cyberpunks into Middle Earth, or Krynn, or Greyhawk, letting them loose and seeing what happens. Instead of Shadowrun’s idea of a fantasy world coming into a cyberpunk future, we have a cyberpunk future growing out of a fantasy world.

Just playing around with a few hundred years of parallel history could be very interesting. What would a group of Steam Age humans do if they were abducted by the thousands to a primeval fantasy world? What cultures would they be from? How would they re-establish their cultures on Yrth and what kind of changes and concessions would they make? The flavor of the world can be changed greatly by tinkering with the racial and cultural mix of the humans on Yrth and positing which are more successful at carving out empires.

GURPS Fantasy presumes that the major powers on Yrth are neo-feudalistic Roman/Christian kingdoms and Islamic states, with scattered tribes and communities of other backgrounds. What if the inhabitants of CyberYrth came from Industrial Europe, Frontier America, post-Feudal Japan and Darkest Africa? Drop them in various places on the continent, give them a few centuries to get their acts together and see what happens. You could end up with a very cyberpunk world in short order!

In addition to the socio-political evolution of the people of CyberYrth, their technological development presents equally interesting possibilities. Shadowrun’s Awakening is not even 50 years old when the game starts, while magic is the native force on CyberYrth. The Elves and Dwarves have been using it for millennia, and even the Humans will have centuries for their magical technique to evolve in harmony with their technology. What kind of toys would you be able to create if you had centuries of techno-magical research instead of decades? Would magic and technology struggle for dominance or find some way to work in harmony? Would magic be shunned as the tool of the mysterious and the fey or accepted as a science like any other? Would blends of science and sorcery produce technologies that people from Earth would even recognize? All fun questions to play with.

A Brief Tour of CyberYrth

Here are the kingdoms of Yrth as they might be on a Yrth changed by technological development:

Caithness. Frontier-land, near the borders of Orc territory and outside of the sphere of Meglos. Low in magic, but all the more chrome because of it. A freezone where small pockets of civilization struggle against chaos and anarchy.

Meglos. Decadent empire run by corrupt corporations and secretive magical orders. Mega-sprawls blot out the sky and grow across the land. Cosmopolitan cities are filled with human, elves, goblins and more sporting the latest in cyberware, magical amulets and fashions.

Al-Wazif. George Alec Effinger could have written his cyberpunk novels here. The traditions of Islam meet the future of high-tech and high-magic. The casbah is the happening place to be, and glam clubs sit across the street from onion-domed mosques.

Cardiel. A country with a multiple personality. Melting pot of Yrth where the countryside is still somewhat wild and magical and the cities are sprawls where anything goes. The home of Tredroy, the City of Three Laws, divided between Cardiel, Caithness and Al-Wazif and not unlike Denver in Shadowrun or Cold-War Berlin in many ways.

Sahud. Japanamation come to live. A peninsula settled by Japanese colonialists where magic and technology have produced some of the most incredible sights on CyberYrth. Lots of cyberware and the occasional battlesuit alongside ancient oriental magic, ninjas and demons.

Zarak. Kingdom of the Dwarves. An underground kingdom that honeycombs the mountains of central Ytarria and is filled with thousands upon thousands of dwarves working in their foundries and turning out much of the material that the rest of the world is crying out for. They also work their mysterious magic down in the deep caves for purposes unknown.

Just a few speculations in the right direction opens up a whole new world to adventure in. And remember, the Banestorm never really completely ended. Strangers “drop-in” to Yrth every now and again. Perhaps your player characters can be some of them.