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I have a plot line and with the addition of player characters' background I think I have a solid game planned. However, so far the plot could happen in any odd city in the world. I was thinking of not seeing the game in $USACity but instead head Southwards to the sunny and happy-filled street of a city in Brazil ؟ I was thinking of either São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro or Salvador as the city in question. I can do a lot of research by myself -- wikipedia, tourism office, and history books. However, what I am looking for is for someone having intimate knowledge of those places (or Brazil in general) to give me some local cyberpunk flavour.

An example of what I would be looking for would be the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. Another would be the location of a famous Capoeira school -- which could be the centre of a cyber-enhanced school of martial arts with some underground fighting rings.

Edit after bounty: I want to make the game memorable for its setting. I wish to have São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro almost as characters in their own right in the setting, not just cardboard backdrops. I want the city background to feel like Brazil, not a fake Hollywood set USA/European city with lots of Hispanic actors/extras pretending to speak Portuguese. So, I want more detailed answers. I want to be inspired by them.

Bump.

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The sunny and happy-filled part is indeed meant to be sardonic. I am aware of (some) of the problems facing Brazil. –  Sardathrion Aug 20 '12 at 11:53
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This isn't a direct answer so I thought I'd toss it here. I'd highly consider having part of your player's trip there involve Carnival. The amount of stuff going on and crowds could definitely make for some very cyberpunk street chases, shootouts, and/or meet and deals. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Aug 22 '12 at 18:17
    
A few have mentioned it, but soccer is HUGE. Kids should be paying on the street. Adults should be watching on TV .. In bars if they don't have one at home. –  Simon Withers Aug 27 '12 at 22:06
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For some inspiration, try the film City of God - imdb.com/title/tt0317248 –  Simon Withers Aug 27 '12 at 22:07
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4 Answers

I live in São Paulo and think it is a great city, and Brazil overall has been improving a lot these past few years. But as another poster wrote the negative aspects and exaggerations can be put to good use to provide a cyberpunk flavor. So here's a few select facts for São Paulo, followed by how you could use them in the setting:

  • the city is very vertical, thousands of buildings but has few really tall ones (ex: Edificio Banespa and Edifcio Italia) -> include a few megahigh-risers but not too many, most buildings should remain within 20 to 30 floors

  • public transportation is crappy, buses are irregular and the subway is quite nice but has very limited reach -> how about an expanded but always-packed subway system (with both underground and over-the-ground trains)

  • traffic is horrible -> make it more horrible, a city always stuck on traffic. so how do you get anywhere? well..

  • SP has the largest helicopter fleet of any city in the world, and most buildings have helipads -> this is how you know if you are rich in future-SP. every family wants to buy their own helicopter.

  • further, SP has a lot of motorcycles driven mostly delivery boys (called "motoboys") which zig-zag between traffic and lanes at very high speeds (it's not illegal to ride between lanes), to the point that 3 motoboys die every day -> just ramp up the numbers, this would be the high-risk helicopter alternative for the not-so-rich

  • current airports are always crowded -> make them more so. Congonhas could be a very dangerous airport due to being smack in the middle of the city (see the 2007 TAM accident). Guarulhos and Viracopos are quite far, and don't have that much space to grow either. Maybe in the future there's a new floating airport in the south side - call it Guarapiranga airport and put it smack in the middle of the Guarapiranga Reservoir

  • more Japanese immigrants live in the city of São Paulo than in any other country in the world -> just drive to Liberdade neighborhood for an Asian flavor. any Japanese Megacorp / Zaibatsu is certain to have a presence in the city

  • the racial make-up is quite diverse, with a lot of mixing; prejudice tends to be economic rather than racial

  • Typical day-to-day cuisine is rice-and-beans plus meat and salad, but nice cuisine is generally Italian or Japanese, with hundreds of restaurants -> maybe SP chefs will be the first to come up with an Italian-Japanese fusion cuisine (feel free to imagine how that would work)

  • Pizza is almost a weekly religion for all social classes, it's dinnertime food only but you can make it at home, go to a regular pizzaria (order on the menu), a rodizio pizzaria (all-you-can-eat, waiters come to your table and say "Mozzarella" and if you want the flavor you ask for a slice) or delivery (called "disk-pizza", from the verb "discar" which means call through the telephone) -> yeah, your characters eat pizza and it can be great prop for your gaming group :)

  • Many streets in São Paulo have weekly "feiras livres", or open fairs where neighborhood inhabitants purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. The owners move their stands/barracks from feira to feira, depending on the weekday; nowadays most feiras even have pirate DVD stands -> some "feira" could become a front for illegal contacts, software or even biotech; fruits will have a lot of chemicals and toxics

  • 95% of DVDs sold in Brazil are pirate copies, which can be found in any feira or, even better, in the Santa Ifigenia street with dozens of contraband and pirate shops -> SP could be a major hacking-and-cracking hub in your world, particularly if China turns hard on IP rights once it's the largest economy in the world

  • for nightlife (which happens every night, Monday to Monday), you can go to either a "boteco" (bar) such as Original or and sit down, drink and talk to friends the whole night, or go to the "balada" (nightclubs) such as Lions or Disco with trendy techno music, lights and drugs -> not much change in the future, I'd guess...

  • prostitution is as common as in any large city, but high-end places such as Club Bahamas and Cafe Photo work like nightclubs + hotels that receive a cut from the prostitutes -> they could expand, maybe even franchise their operating model...

  • there are plenty of hotels in the city for all social levels; but there are also motels that rent rooms by the hour, where couples go to engage in sex -> seedy motels could be a good place to do business, luxury motels should have huge bathtubs and thematic decorations straight out of Las Vegas

  • people usually leave their parents' house only after college or sometimes only when getting married, that's why they need motels for occasional sex -> even in the future shouldn't be uncommon to have rich 25-year-olds living comfortably with their rich parents

  • Brazilian corps are on the rise, merge them and make them more so -> in future SP Itau-Bradesco is the bank of 90% of the population, 95% drink beers such as Skol or Original from InBev, Procter & Johnson owns 80% of your daily products, and Carrefour-de-Açucar is the only supermarket where people buy food and cleaning supplies

  • most shopping (clothes/jewelry etc) is done in large malls called "shopping centers", from luxury ones such as JK, Iguatemi, Cidade Jardim and Morumbi to mid-level ones such as Shopping D and Interlagos -> continue the trend, and make new ones incorporate residential and commercial areas - so rich people could live, work and shop in the same block, avoiding traffic altogether

  • Soccer is the popular entertainment of choice, but the largest fan clubs ("torcidas") are quite violent -> they could become true gangs, battling an urban war whenever their teams play: Gavioes da Fiel (the Hawks, black-and-white, numerous and violent) roots for Corinthians, Independente (independents, red-black-and-white, sophisticated sycophants) roots for São Paulo Futebol Clube, Mancha Verde (green spot, green-and-white italian brawlers) roots for Palmeiras. Their stadiums are Itaquera, Morumbi and Parque Antarctica, respectively.

  • São Paulo had a large prison smack in the middle of the city, called Carandiru -> make it return, a mega-prison with multiple blocks ("pavilhoes") called Carandiru 2. Or maybe just wall-up the whole Carandiru neighborhood, make it an isolated crime region a la Arkham City

  • the largest gang permeates the prison system, it's called Primeiro Comando da Capital, or PCC, and has actually engaged in violent attacks against the police -> and now you have the reason for abandoning a whole neighborhood to the gangs

  • the SP-equivalent of BOPE is called ROTA -> just give them better weapons, and that's your police force

  • violence has been dropping but property crimes still rank high: there are "sequestro relampagos" (lightning kidnapping) in which a criminal kidnaps you, drives you to an ATM, forces you to get as much money as possible and releases you in the same night; there are "arrastoes" where gangs invade residential buildings and recently restaurants and go floor-to-floor or person-to-person getting all their jewelry and belongings -> continue the trend, you never know when a gang will get into your apartment and steal that macguffin you just captured last game

  • to protect against this many rich people have personal drivers and bodyguards, and there is a very significant fleet of bulletproof cars -> few cars won't be bulletproof in cyberpunk SP, at least against small arms

  • seasonal activities include nightlights on Avenida Paulista during Christmas, a huge party at the same place on New Year's eve, and "Festa Junina" during June-July, with "quermesses" (fairs) at night on church plazas where people drink warm wine ("quentão") and get warm by the fire -> keep it as is for local flavor

  • on Carnaval the city is empty! Everyone goes to the beach or the countryside, it's the only time in the year with no traffic (but no nightlife either)

  • winter is not that cold, but there's a lot of pollution due to thermal inversion. Summertime is quite rainy (in particular March-April), floods can completely stop traffic, and the energy grid can and does blackout often during heavy storms and occasional hailstorms. Summer rains can also bring dengue fever due to still water captured in makeshift recipients -> climate change could make storms heavier and hailstorms more frequent and dangerous. and make seasonal diseases common occurrences: wintertime pollution-related asthma, summertime dengue fevers

  • due to mild temperatures houses and apartments rarely have air conditioning, and almost no-one has central heating or a fireplace. Commercial buildings do have AC, though

  • recreation happens mostly in Parque do Ibirapuera, one of the few green places in the city, open to everyone -> make SP heavily polluted, no green, and close Ibirapuera to rich people only

  • the outskirts of São Paulo offer nice settings too; from forested sierras that drop down to the beach cities of Santos and Guarujá, mountains waterfalls and an English Village of Paranapiacaba at the South side, to the Cantareira forest and Jaraguá peak that overlooks the entire city in the north side, and actual native-Brazilian villages and reservations in some spots, it's all a 60-min drive away (without traffic)

Yes, the city could sustain a large campaign just by itself... But here's a few ideas for other cities:

  • Rio could become a decadent urban warzone dominated by the "favelados" on one side and the megacorps on the other, wich would employ BOPE to fight their battles. Megacorps from Rio would include some of the largest ones in the world: hyper-polluting oil corp Petrobrax (with the name change to show it's now an international player), ecology-damaging mining corp Vale, and political-savvy TBX, which no one quite knows what it does but is owned by Thor Batista, the richest man in the world

  • Brasilia is already a Cyberpunk city, built of pure concrete in the middle of a red-dust almost-desert called Caatinga. Just make the Brazilian government inept, ineffective and dominated by corrupt congressmen (not that far from the truth)

I hope this helps! Cheers

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This looks excellent, I've fixed some minor formatting issues, but overall, great effort! –  wax eagle Aug 23 '12 at 1:26
    
+1 Very good answer indeed and just the type of things I was looking for. –  Sardathrion Aug 23 '12 at 7:47
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Thanks for the formatting! I added a few more bullets for extra flavor - I can try to do a similar answer on Rio de Janeiro too, will be more superficial but some true cariocas could maybe complement –  onuryn Aug 23 '12 at 14:31
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Wow, and here I was, thinking on when I would have time to expand upon my answer... great write-up! –  Wilerson Aug 23 '12 at 21:09
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(Disclaimer: I'm a Brazilian)

Most fictitious representations of Brazil exaggerate on some of the negative aspects, specially relating to the violence and corruption (which are quite high, but not as much as seen in some movies). This exaggeration can be used to your benefit if you consider that in most cyberpunk settings, the worst aspects of a society flourish.

I would advise against using Capoeira - in the latest times, Jiu-Jitsu and MMA are much more popular (just see how many brazilian fighters show up in UFC).

São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are very different from one another (which could be explored in your campaign, if you make your characters travel) - São Paulo is more urban-centered, with heavy traffic and pollution, while Rio de Janeiro has beautiful beaches and green areas, but with big favelas and many unexpected dangers.

In dialogues with NPCs, it's interesting to explore regional biases and rivalries. Your players may easily engage in a conversation about soccer, but it can derail quite quickly if they favor a rival squad to the squad the NPC cheers for.

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Could I have more detail on the differences between the two cities and regional idiosyncrasies between regional biases and rivalries? –  Sardathrion Aug 22 '12 at 13:38
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Paulistas and Cariocas are famously adamant that their own city is the best (perhaps like the rivalry between NY and LA?). The soccer example is also a major one - Brazilians are very proud of their regional soccer team, eg. Mestre Pastinha using the Ypiranga team colors as the uniform for his Capoeira school. –  Azeari Aug 22 '12 at 15:01
    
Regional accents and slang are an important aspect of Brazilian Portuguese: although it is my second language, I can recognize a Carioca accent as soon as I hear it. Baianos also have a distinctive style of speaking, or so I'm told - I'm not able to pick up on it, but native speakers can. –  Azeari Aug 23 '12 at 4:49
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You wouldn't need to change much, if anything, about São Paulo to make it the perfect setting for a Cyberpunk game. Since you're playing Max Payne 3 you've already got a head start in conveying the flavor of the city. This article on the Rockstar Games website lists some movies that they used as inspiration for the game. Anthony Bourdain filmed some episodes of No Reservations in São Paulo as well, which give a less sensationalized perspective.

It will probably be easier for your players if their characters are gringos rather than Paulistas, however (at least in terms of dealing with player knowledge as opposed to character knowledge). As one of the BRIC economies, there are plenty of reasons why the player characters might decide to seek their fortune in Brazil, such as:

  • hired as bodyguards by a wealthy family (just like our beloved Max)
  • working as mercenaries, or for a private military contractor
    • see the Chrome Berets sourcebook by Thomas M. Kane for military Cyberpunk campaigns
  • part of an expedition into the Amazon (perhaps a scientific mission, or something more nefarious)
  • visiting one of Brazil's research institutes, such as the synchrotron
    • perhaps FAPESP has developed a new type of cybernetics, or an advanced form of netrunning?
  • security for a major construction project, like Belo Monte
  • industrial espionage
  • an arms deal (there are a bunch of arms manufacturers in Brazil and it has a large defense budget)
  • seeking greener pastures after the economic collapse of their home country
    • take everything in Eurosource Plus and transplant it to São Paulo
  • fleeing to a non-extradition country (c.f. Carioca Fletch)
  • dabbling in fringe science, like human cloning (The Boys from Brazil)

I agree with @Wilerson that Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and Vale Tudo would be good sources of inspiration for portraying a cyber-enhanced underground fighting ring. Capoeristas have also been known to compete in such events. A YouTube search will turn up hundreds of videos of these martial arts in action.

If you are including mystical, or elements in your game then you might want to read up about Candomblé. It is worth considering, to emphasize the contrast between the high tech and the ancient. On the other hand, it isn't always easy to mix those two things together successfully.

If the first adventure is a success, then Brazil provides an abundance of diverse settings that you could use further down the track: from Carnival in Rio to surfing in Florianópolis or perhaps hunting predators in the Amazon. I think this is an awesome idea for a roleplaying campaign - so good that I might have to use it myself.

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+1 and a good start! Could you expend the list of reasons why the PCs may decide to seek their fortune there? Hey, it'll work for your game too ^_~ –  Sardathrion Aug 22 '12 at 13:40
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Ok first thing you need to know about Brasil: it's a really REALLY dangerous place to be. If you step out of the tourist place, you can get kill, robbed, raped (or all of them )and nobody will ever know about it. Your body might be found by authorities but they could not report it because the paperwork is a pain in the *.

Rio has one of the biggest favelas in the world. The crime rate is increasing in Brasil without the proper structure to control it. Corruption is everywhere on every level. Remember that. If players get caught by police, just give them money and you have a good chance they will let you go. But like everywhere in the world, you have good people who wants the things to change.

If in your game setting poverty is not fixed in anyway, remember that kids are used as tools to rob people. They are trained by mobs and often they are turned addicted to cocaine so they come back for drug and work.

Also Brasil is the country with the most cosmetic surgery in the world. Any rich guy's wife has big boobs, nice nose etc. If a NPC would be different than that, it might be a clue of some ideology or anything you can come up with. Soccer is often the only way out of porverty for kids so they play soccer because a) it's awesome b) cheap to play and c) because if they are good enough and get notice in a local tournament, they could leave this place.

If you step out of town, there's a really important (and known) organ traffic on the black market.

If you thought Brasil was a nice place, don't forget to look in the shadow..the sun is great, but often blinding.

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As an inspiration I suggest playing Max Payne 3 btw –  MrJinPengyou Aug 20 '12 at 13:41
    
Here is one source (in Portuguese) and some related commentary. The UN figures cite the Minister of Justice, National Secretary of Public Security as the source, but I'm not sure if the data by city is publicly available on the web. –  Azeari Aug 22 '12 at 15:27
    
This Wikipedia page has a list of homicides per 100,000 population for major Brazilian cities from 1997-2007. –  Azeari Aug 22 '12 at 15:51
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