Cyberpunk brought a new vision to science fiction roleplaying in the late 80s, which was further refined by Cyberpunk 2020. As described in the design goals, the intent for Cyberpunk Chimera is to take what’s already there and adapt it to the sensibilities of me as a GM and what I’ve learned in the 15 years or so since I started playing Cyberpunk. In order to do this, it’ll be necessary to dive into Cyberpunk 2020 and take a look at what’s there to see what I like, what I don’t like, and what’s not necessary to change or adopt. So let’s take a look at the core rulebook, chapter by chapter, and see what conclusions we can draw about both mechanics and presentation of the game. While this is setting up a baseline for the Cyberpunk Chimera, it’s also a detailed, chapter-by-chapter review of the mechanics of Cyberpunk 2020. Whether or not you’re interested in my project, if you want to play Cyberpunk you’re likely to find something useful here.
Soul and the New Machine
The first chapter covers the rules for the game’s character class system, here called roles. Each Role has a unique Special Ability; the only other mechanical differentiations between Roles are core skill lists and starting money. This section immediately shows you that the book is a child of the 80s with the character drawings (why the Netrunner is wearing a thong over their jumpsuit I’ll never know), but more importantly it starts in a solid place by telling you what you can play.
The Special Abilities define how Roles feel different from one another, and also how well each Role is defined mechanically. There are three basic types of Special Ability, ranked here from strongest to weakest mechanical definition.
There is only one straight bonus special ability, Combat Sense. The Solo special ability, Combat Sense gives characters a one-to-one bonus to their initiative and awareness skill. This is a great deal in many games, but in Cyberpunk, a game where the first shot is often the last, it’s brutally effective. This is the Special Ability many people call broken; broken or not it does mean that Solos will be objectively better at combat than other characters most of the time.
These are abilities that a character only gets by having the Special Ability. This category includes the special abilities for the Netrunner, Techie, Medtech, Rockerboy, Nomad, and Fixer (Interface, Jury Rig, Medical Tech, Charismatic Leadership, Family, and Streetdeal, respectively). All of these are fairly different. Interface means only Netrunners can use high-level functionality of cyberdecks. Jury Rig gives Techies the ability to fix anything for a limited period of time (I don’t know if this is canonically without a roll, but that’s how I’ve used it). Medical Tech means the Medtech can perform surgery and other procedures more advanced than first aid. Charismatic Leadership gives the Rockerboy the ability to sway crowds, ability rank squared times 200 according to the book. Family gives the Nomad access to call in a number of family members equal to the ability rank times two. Finally, Streetdeal can be rolled to acquire any person, place, or thing. I mention Streetdeal last because it’s a special case. While all of the other special abilities in this category can’t be emulated by other skills, the skill Streetwise can emulate some of the abilities of Streetdeal. It’s ultimately left up to the GM to illustrate how Streetdeal is more special.
These are abilities which represent the character’s ability to get things or sway people based solely on the association with their particular role. This category includes the special abilities for the Media, Cop, and Corporate (Credibility, Authority, and Resources, respectively). These all run along similar lines, but along a continuum that goes from getting people to do what you want to acquiring goods and services from your employer. Credibility is almost all about making your Media persona work for you in terms of breaking stories, getting into crime scenes, and the like. Authority is a blend; it’s used for when you’re trying to arrest someone or get a criminal to confess, but also for getting a car out of the motor pool or requesting SWAT backup. Resources is all about the expense account. While there’s a degree of influencing or lording your salary band over other corporate employees, it’s much more about how you gain access to corporate funds and materiel.
One of the most interesting things about the Special Abilities was that how cool they were in the fiction was usually inversely related to how effective they were in play. The Solo has a pretty lame ability in terms of breadth, but it is deadly effective in combat, which in many campaigns makes the Solo overpowered. The permissioned abilities that seem very narrow (Jury Rig, Interface) end up meaning the most ingame, while the really neat sounding ones (a posse of ten? Sweet! Influencing 5000 people? Amazing!) are really hard to make effective ingame. The association abilities … especially at higher levels those should be game killers. In reality, it depends on how much space the GM wants to give those characters. There wasn’t enough definition to give a Corporate, for example, the ability to immediately influence a scene.
Talsorian is currently in the process of retooling special abilities for Cyberpunk Red, replacing, for example, Resources with Team so that a Corporate has a mechanically defined set of abilities to call on in any given situation. This is a good approach, but not the one I would personally choose. The thing that makes the Roles so difficult to actually use is just how narrow they are. For all its faults, the class system in D&D acknowledges that there are many approaches to combat and as such a fighter, a barbarian, and a ranger can coexist within the system. In the case of Cyberpunk, trying to get to that level of granularity will likely result in a bloated ruleset. Instead, what I would do is look at the three categories of special ability and aim to model them all broadly. For the straight bonus ability, this might not be a callout ability at all, or it might be a more nuanced way to consider someone who has combat training. For the permissioned abilities, I’d likely fold those back into skills and not worry about it, save potentially Streetdeal which could in a tortured way be treated as an association. For associations, there needs to be a mechanical way to show that your employer or other group gives you something. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it has to be potent enough that a player who sinks resources into building that association sees a payoff.
Roles are an area that, mechanically, needs some love. That said, they also represent the breadth of stories Cyberpunk aims to tell, and Soul and the New Machine is a great first chapter because it gets you thinking about the character you want to play right away. After that it’s time to dive into the mechanics.
Here we go right into mechanical character generation, talking specifically about character points and statistics. Three options are given for character point generation: Randomly rolling the total amount of points you have and then assigning them, randomly rolling each statistic individually, or starting with a set number of points. The first one just ends up being unfair…everyone can assign points, but gets different numbers of points to assign? Ugh. The second one is classic random character generation, and while it’s also relatively unfair, it produces slightly more competent characters than the first result (since you reroll 1s and 2s) and the higher variance means that there’s a smaller chance that someone will be simply worse off. The third method is the one I actually used for most of my campaigns. Realistically, the best way to end up with balanced characters is randomly rolling each stat, because the statistics are wildly uneven in how important they are. There are nine statistics in Cyberpunk: Intelligence, Reflex, Tech, Cool, Attractiveness, Luck, Movement Allowance, Body, and Empathy. Reflex is the most important stat in the game because it governs initiative and how well you shoot. Body determines your damage reduction and rolls to stay alive, so that’s pretty important too. Depending on your build, your most important skills will run off of Cool, Intelligence, or Tech, but rarely all three and only sometimes two. Empathy determines how much cyberware you can implant, so that’s important for some builds. Attractiveness, Luck, and Movement Allowance, though, have almost no as-written mechanical importance whatsoever. Talsorian has already confirmed a couple ways they’re addressing these balance issues in Cyberpunk Red: Reflex is being split into two stats, and Attractiveness will no longer be a stat. Both are good moves, to be sure, but the fact remains that you’re going to end up with some really min-maxed characters when some stats are nigh-useless and others are way, way more important.
Tales from the Street
This is the Lifepath chapter. Cyberpunk’s Lifepath was one of the first things I ever read in an RPG that made me say “holy shit!” I was wondering how to make characters more interesting in D&D and it was great to see another system which did this so adeptly. Lifepath as envisioned here is one of the things in the system which has aged very well; the Lifepath rules in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything are clearly inspired by the structure put forth in Cyberpunk.
There are two basic parts to Lifepath: Personality and Appearance, and Life Events. Personality and Appearance presents both a set of rolls/choices for the character’s, well, personality and appearance, and some more interesting roll sequences around your childhood. Every one of these selections can be either random or chosen, so if you don’t want a tragic backstory, you don’t have to have one. Still, finding out your parents disappeared under mysterious circumstances is a great hook.
The Life Events section is random by design; Life Events actually have mechanical effects, both bad and good. The “Friends and Enemies” and “Romantic Involvement” sections help generate NPCs, and interesting ones at that; here the good/bad split isn’t all that important since both sides mean a plot hook. The “Big Problems, Big Wins” section, though, requires a bit more balancing. The good stuff is definitely good; you can get some money, connections with valuable NPCs, extra skill points, and even minor access to Special Abilities. The bad stuff, though…yeesh. Some events are flavor, like imprisonment and betrayal. Others, like debt, are parallel to the good event. But then you get to entry 5, Accident. Here you could lose five fucking points from your Attractiveness stat. Or take a look at Entry 10, Mental or Physical Incapacitation. Here you’re losing points from Reflex or Cool, which as I mentioned above are undoubtedly the most important stats in the game. If you have the misfortune to roll this, you are going to hate it, hate your dice, and maybe your GM for picking this game. Even the narrative stuff can be brutal. I had a player roll so many “Hunted” events that we weren’t exactly sure how he could go outside (Roy the Unluckiest Medtech wore a helmet with a facemask for the entire campaign. – Ed.).
In my mind, these aren’t necessarily strong strikes against Lifepath. The system adds a lot to how I envision characters, though the edge cases go kind of wild. Looking at the 5e iteration from Xanathar’s Guide is instructive, as that version stepped back almost completely from touching core attributes and stuck with money, items, and the occasional minor proficiency. A revision of a Cyberpunk Lifepath would definitely take into consideration everything which has come after.
Starting this chapter, we look at how to make skill checks; I believe that page 41 is the first time we read about how to play the game. Fortunately it’s rather straightforward: roll 1d10, add the appropriate stat, and add the appropriate skill. This gets you an average result of somewhere in the 12-15 range, depending on what you consider an average skill rank. Of course, the difficulties are set so that a character who has an average statistic and a skill rank of 5 (which as we’ll see is actually above average for class skills) will succeed half the time…and this is one die, so there’s no bell curve to help on that. Now you can increase rolls by using your Luck, but considering you only get a number of Luck points equal to your stat every session and you almost certainly took a 3 in Luck to put more into Reflexes and Cool, this likely won’t help you. Also making things just a tad more fraught is that a roll of 1 on any skill check is a Fumble. Yes, you Fumble a full 10% of the time. Now, 40% of rolls on the Fumble table don’t result in an actual fumble, but there’s still a 10% failure chance on every single roll, no matter how good you are. On the other hand, 10s explode in this system, so you also have a 10% chance of making an otherwise impossible die roll. Swingy is a fair word to describe the dice mechanics.
For skills, you get 40 class skill points and a number of pickup skill points equal to Intelligence plus Reflex. Each class has 10 class skills including their Special Ability, so the average rank in these more important skills is going to be 4. Pickup points can be used on any skill besides the class skills.
There are over 90 skills in Cyberpunk including the Special Abilities, well over 100 if you break out the Martial Arts and Pilot specializations. The gameplay effects of such a large spread are ameliorated by the class skill system somewhat, but it does mean that even a spread thin character with high stats won’t have more than a quarter of the non-Special Ability skills. Taking that many even would mean taking a lot of them at 1 or 2, which is of dubious utility in a system with no penalties for unskilled rolls. Many of the skills won’t be applicable, so this is fine, but you’re still going to see things like parties without a single point in Drive or Swim so that they could get a couple weapons skills and stay alive. The skill descriptions are relatively good, but the examples at different skill levels illustrate a disparity in what the book thinks a certain skill level will accomplish and what the dice say it will. A lot of the +2 examples, for instance, are highly optimistic.
After skills we get into advancement. Cyberpunk actually suggests you track Improvement Points for each individual skill, but to do so and then award points based on the 1-9 scale in the book is an immense amount of bookkeeping. Beyond that, at the average suggested pace of 6 points per skill per session, an average skill (rank of 4) would still take 6 to 7 sessions to improve assuming it was used every session. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the way advancement works in Cyberpunk, but the lack of mechanics around per-skill tracking and the overall rate of advancement make characters feel more static. The Reputation mechanic was almost certainly a way for players to see more immediate changes in their characters, but it too needs a bit more definition. Reputation and the facedown rule are interesting, but the game states you can gain a reputation for both good and bad things and then doesn’t go into how to differentiate between the two. I appreciate that the game identified the importance of reputation in a Cyberpunk world, but to be effective the rule needs to be fleshed out.
Overall, skills work decently. The large number of skills is mitigated by each class getting a small core skill list, but the system ends up being a bit more whiffy than is suggested. Advancement is based on a great idea but ends up being slow and requiring a lot of bookkeeping. Both per-skill advancement and reputation rankings are great ideas, but ideas that require more mechanical support than they got.
Getting Fitted for the Future
This is always a fun chapter, the “stuff” chapter. The intro is incredibly prescient for 1989, talking about being a digital nomad (not Nomad like the character class, but someone who moves around). In 2019 with #vanlife trending and many people figuring out how best to pull up stakes, this resonates well. For multiple reasons, this never ended up being how I ran my Cyberpunk games. That said, if you flip over to lifestyle costs, reasonable and safe apartments end up being frightfully expensive, which makes it easy to put the heat on your players a bit. Just like advancement, though, a good mechanical backstop would have made this easier and more effective.
Let’s get into the important bits, though: weapons and armor. The book provides over 40 weapons, not including the real guns that are statted out for reference. What’s important here is that there is consistency across how the weapons are designed, which got harder to see with some of the weird designs in the Chromebooks and other supplements. All 9mm weapons deal 2d6+1 damage, all 5.56mm weapons deal 5d6 damage. All pistols use a range increment of 50 meters, all assault rifles use a range increment of 400 meters. The window dressing on the weapons is more for worldbuilding, so you know what sorts of guns Arasaka or Militech makes.
Next up is armor. Armor is another oft-maligned section of Cyberpunk mechanics, but when applying the rules evenly it works out all right. The most protection you can get without taking a penalty to your Reflex is Stopping Power (SP) 14, the light armor jacket. That would stop a 9mm bullet every time, but the average damage of a 5.56mm rifle (the smaller of the two most common military rifle calibers, mind you) will go through it. And, it only covers your torso and arms. This does roughly equate to reality, though real-life armor doesn’t articulate very nicely around the arms so a vest would possibly make more sense. Nonetheless, the numbers work out for the most part. You can get a lot more armor, but only in exchange for a lot more encumbrance. When you look at the layering rules, it’s clear that trying to wear more than one piece of armor (maybe two if you don’t count a jacket and pants as separate layers) is going to really slow you down. The limiting aspect of armor that’s harped on, especially in the GM supplement Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads, was how conspicuous most armor is. This is true, and a good point, but without more detailed social rules, remembering to ding players for wearing heavy armor into nightclubs is a matter of GM fiat.
The rest of the gear chapter is fun stuff. You get details on tech tools, a bunch of the other little details like clothes and personal electronics, and lots of flavorful items. There are also a few cyberware-adjacent items like Battlegloves and Smartgoggles. Both of these are more restrictive than their cyberware equivalents, but getting cyber-like abilities without any humanity loss is a big deal. The next chapter goes into just why that is.
Putting the Cyber into the Punk
Cyberware! This is the gear everyone wants, and the game wants you to have it: There’s an option at character creation to get an extra 10,000 eurobucks just for cyberware if you sell out to a corporation. That said, the mechanical execution of cyberware tells a slightly different story than the text does. Let’s take a look at the cyberware stat block, and then at what’s on offer. The two columns which reveal a bit more about the mechanics behind cyberware are the second column, Surgery Code, and the sixth column, Humanity Loss. While Surgery will be covered a bit more in the Trauma Team chapter, it’s still important to note that cyberware takes surgery to install, and that surgery can be expensive: a Critical level surgery can cost 2500 eurobucks, more than the actual cyberware you’re installing in some cases. The surgeries also deal surgery damage, which while it won’t trigger death saves can hamstring you until you’ve recovered. Modeling surgical implantation of cyberware is pretty standard in most futuristic systems, whereas Humanity Loss is unique to Cyberpunk…and I hesitate to say that it’s a good thing. As a limiter to the amount of cyberware you can install, each piece gives you a certain amount of Humanity Loss. Your Humanity score is equal to your Empathy stat times ten, and indeed when you lose Humanity, your Empathy declines as well. If it declines to below the human minimum (3), you start having psychotic breaks, dissociation, and hallucinations. If goes down to 0, you’re a full on cyberpsycho and the GM takes control of your character, likely to make them an adversary. The problem with cyberpsychosis is twofold. First, it doesn’t make much sense. There’s something to be said about the mental dysphoria you may have if you’re downloaded into a completely different body or a full borg which isn’t truly human, but incremental implants don’t really make you less human in the same way. A lot of the neat fashionware and other minor implants still have a humanity cost, which both seems wrong and also makes optimizing players avoid them.
So what can you get with your precious humanity? Yeah, there’s the fashionware, but then there’s a whole bunch of crazy and useful stuff. Stat boosts (reflex boosters, muscle and bone lace), control interfaces (run vehicles, guns, computer systems and others with your brain), and of course, cyberlimbs. Cyberlimbs are modular: arms and eyes have four option slots, legs have three. And these options run the gamut: quick-change mounts, pop-up weapons, armor and strength buffs, and any number of more random accoutrements (want a Swiss Army hand? It’s in there). While Humanity Loss is a pretty brutal consequence, the options available are cool enough that most players will try to get at least a few implants.
Cyberware continues to be a balancing act in Cyberpunk games, dependent both on implied power level and the prevalence of augmentation in the setting. Cyberpunk 2020 makes the stakes high: Cyberware is awesome, but the price is more than cash. Most characters will have something, but creating someone as augmented as Adam Jensen in Deus Ex isn’t really possible rules-as-written. Even the Full Borg Conversions that showed up in the Chromebooks aren’t really possible rules-as-written, and there are some dodges written in those splatbooks which imply acknowledgment of the split between setting implications and mechanical reality. Making something fictional and internally consistent is hard, at the end of the day. Combat, though, was one thing that Cyberpunk nailed.
Friday Night Firefight
The combat chapter is exactly as long as it needs to be. Friday Night Firefight is intuitive and brutal; it manages to have the same edge as combat in GURPS but also seems to move faster. The basics are straightforward; like in many systems, ranged combat is against a target number (determined by the range of your weapon) while melee combat is opposed rolls. After that, each successful attack rolls damage and hit location. Armor is subtracted from damage, as is Body Type Modifier (BTM), a derived stat from your body score. Armor can block all damage, but BTM can only reduce damage to 1. After a character takes this damage, it’s time to roll Stun/Shock save, and if applicable, a Death Save. On each character sheet is a damage track with 40 boxes, divided into ten fields of four. For each four points, the character gains a penalty to their Stun/Shock save, which normally is rolling under the character’s Body on a d10. After taking 12 points of damage, the character is mortally wounded, and must also make a Death Save, which is similar to the Stun/Shock save but with lower penalties (e.g. a Stun/Shock save at Mortal 0 would have a penalty of -3, whereas the Death Save would have no penalty). There are a couple special case damage rules as well…headshots mean double damage, and any limb that takes more than eight points of damage is severed or otherwise unusable. Harsh, but now there are more opportunities to implant cyberlimbs!
What makes Friday Night Firefight run so well is, in some ways, how unforgiving it is. Remember from earlier that 5.56mm assault rifles do 5d6 damage. At 17 damage on average, one hit from an assault rifle will put an unarmored character down and likely kill them. Add in the full auto rules, where the number of hits is equal to the margin of success and every ten rounds adds a +1 to the roll, and a close quarters fight with magazines being emptied will kill someone, and quick. Acting first is essential to surviving in Cyberpunk, which is exactly what makes the Solo’s special ability so disproportionately powerful. If you do get shot, though, you aren’t quite dead yet.
In Cyberpunk, getting shot is easy. Getting un-shot is hard. As mentioned above, any character who takes more than 12 points of damage has taken a mortal wound, and is at risk of dying. In Cyberpunk, you must make a Death Save every turn that you’re in that condition. Anyone with the First Aid or Medical Tech skill can roll to stabilize you, which ends this…but you aren’t out of the woods yet. To actually begin recovering hit points, someone has to treat your wound, which is an additional roll. These rolls, by the way, are tough. The difficulty of both of these rolls is the total number of points of damage that have been taken…so if your cybered up, super strong character has survived a couple gunshots and is at Mortal 5, let’s say 30 points of damage, the difficulty to stabilize them is 30. That is a roll which is impossible to hit without an exploding 10, at least in the field. You do get bonuses for ambulances and hospitals, but you’d need a significantly better than average doctor to succeed this roll, let alone twice, even in a hospital (+5) with a cryotank (+3).
Here’s an interesting quirk. In Cyberpunk, when you die, medics will have five minutes in which to revive you. Each minute increases your Death State by 2. The roll to be revived after being clinically dead is a 1d10 over your Death State. This means that it’s easier to be revived after death than it is to be stabilized from a severe mortal wound. A number quirk and an edge case, but one that gave me pause.
So let’s say you’ve been stabilized, and the treatment roll was also successful (if you’re stabilized and the treatment roll is not successful, you have to make daily Death Saves and take damage for every day the roll is failed). Now you’re recovering. If you have the misfortune to be laid up in a hideout by someone who only knows First Aid, you will recover at a whole 0.5 points per day. That Mortal 5 damage level discussed above would take two entire months to heal…and what’s worse, the character is bedridden when recovering from a Mortal wound, so this character is out of the action entirely for 36 days. Now, this is the worst case scenario. Treated by an actual doctor with Medical Tech, the character will heal at one point per day. There’s also speedhealing drugs, which give you an additional point per day at the expense of some withdrawal side effects (a temporary Reflex penalty), and nanotech treatments, which also give you an extra point per day. The catch is that they’re both wildly expensive; each one costs in the neighborhood of 1500 eurobucks per treatment. While what a treatment implies isn’t described here, if you skip ahead to the drugs chapter Speedheal is listed as having a duration of a few hours. Based on this, these treatments are on a per-day basis. Also worth noting here is that in “Getting Fitted for the Future”, a stay in the ICU is listed as 1000 eurobucks per day. So, you could heal that Mortal 5 wound in ten days with a full course of nanites and Speedheal…it would cost you 41,500 eurobucks to do so. Ouch. Of course, the regular speed healing is still 30,000 eurobucks worth of hospital bills, so it’s likely you’ll a) take the faster healing and b) leave the hospital as soon as you’re mobile (likely Serious level, or 8 points remaining) to save the money.
Of course, getting hurt isn’t the only way for the hospital to drain all your money. Surgeries for cyberware installations are detailed here, as well as limb replacements. In an interesting (and morbid) twist, there are also bounty prices for returning limbs and organs to your local body bank…how the GM deals with the traceability of murdered corpses is of course up to them, but it is one way to slightly defray medical costs. Cosmetic surgery is also described here, and is one reason the Attractiveness attribute is not that useful. Cosmetic surgery isn’t cheap, per se, but it does directly increase your Attractiveness for money, creating an obvious candidate for a dump stat.
Healing is one of those difficult elements to balance in a game…prolonged healing processes are realistic, and Cyberpunk’s healing times are, if anything, too short to be realistic. That said, taking characters out of the fight for such a long period of time ingame sucks, especially if only one or two players are affected. Ultimately, the stakes should stay this high, it should be this easy to die. But if a character goes to the brink and come back, it should be easier for them to get back in the fight, even if it means that their previous injury is going to haunt them for a while.
The drugs system in the game is famously pretty anti-drug. Even Smash, arguably the Four Loko of the dark future, has some pretty gnarly side effects. In using the drug creation mechanics, it becomes pretty clear that creating a strictly beneficial street drug prices it out of range of most characters. When considering how to revamp this system, it’s likely worth it to note that the approach to drugs has changed quite a bit since the 80s, and drugs as a broader element of urban culture have mostly shaken out into a few known categories. Drug creation could still be an element (think of the adventure hooks brought on by trying to make synthetic weed or krokodil), but I don’t think it’s going to be as big of one as it was in 2020, where it became its own chapter instead of part of the Trauma Team chapter. Any focus on drugs in a more modern game should likely have more detail on tailored medicines and nootropics, with recreational drugs glossed over or included in rules on addiction.
This is the most maligned section of rules in Cyberpunk by far. Now, the actual Netrunning minigame is kind of interesting. When it comes to the practical realities of running a Netrunner alongside a full party of characters, though, it just doesn’t work. Even Talsorian employees have conceded they’ll do a Run separately before the session instead of make the rest of the players wait around.
Netrunning works off of core commands for the Netrunner’s Cyberdeck. Some of these things, like the Remote commands, work nicely in meatspace and are easy enough to incorporate. When the Netrunner goes for a run against a Datafortress, though, they’re in their own world, with its own time step. Datafortresses are designed on grids which end up looking like crossword puzzles, and each open spot is occupied by a CPU, the CPU’s memory, external remotes, or defensive programs. These systems are also often defended by an AI, which does turn a Run into its own combat. Programs used by Netrunners and Datafortresses work like spells, in a way, and allow the Netrunner to neutralize defensive programs, break into memory units, and the like. It’s all very 80s, and it works, but the lack of integration makes it a time sink, especially if the Netrunner is using a long-distance link and isn’t even present with the team. This lack of presence, though, has made NPC Netrunners the de facto standard in many Cyberpunk campaigns.
Fact is, Netrunning needs a revamp. Mike Pondsmith knows it; in the “Listen Up” podcast and other places he has discussed how Netrunning will look different in Cyberpunk Red. The Red approach is clever and jives with the Cyberpunk setting as its progressing. For a game extrapolating from a 21st century perspective, though, the hacker is going to have to play by a set of rules that are aligned with computing as we now know it.
All Things Dark and Cyberpunk
So there are actually 7 chapters left in the book, but with the exception of a small (and all advice, no mechanics) chapter on GMing, they’re setting material. All Things Dark and Cyberpunk covers the timeline of Cyberpunk’s alternate history and shows the political situation as it stands in 2020. Running Cyberpunk is the GM advice chapter, talking about game style and team composition. Never Fade Away is an intro adventure, introducing you to Johnny Silverhand and his crew. Megacorps 2020 goes into the major corporations which have influence in Night City, while Night City is more about the city itself, its history, and some key locations. Face of the City is more fluff about 2020 current events, while Screamsheets are a number of mini-adventures and campaign seeds for GMs to use.
I’ve condensed all this material under one heading for a reason: The Cyberpunk Chimera isn’t intended to be Cyberpunk 2020. The fluff is great, and there’s a lot more of it in later supplements and will be even more in Cyberpunk Red. I’m not going to be taking Arasaka or Night City or Johnny Silverhand and adapting them for my project. What’s important to consider here is what makes Night City a good setting, and what makes Arasaka a good antagonist. While some of this comes across in the fluff, it’s also implied throughout the game by using key NPCs, making brands coherent and important, and having corporations show up in the examples. The way Arasaka is discussed throughout the book, not just in the fluff chapter, is why you can easily make your players fear Arasaka. My challenge in taking a sandbox approach to setting elements will be how to embed that sort of influence in the game. The fluff of Cyberpunk 2020 shows me what a good end result looks like, but offers little insight into how to mechanize it.
Cyberpunk 2020 is a game where character creation is designed to give breadth of roles and intents, but mechanics are tuned for combat. It’s a game where the core system provides a lot of verisimilitude with a relatively small number of mechanics, but where the edge cases get weird quick. More than all that, though, Cyberpunk 2020 is a game steeped in its own style that gets you wishing for mirrorshades and wanting to run against Arasaka before you’re even done reading. What this highlights is two design challenges: First, how does one maintain the overall rules density of the game (or even reduce it) while maintaining the feel and resolving quirks? Second, how does one replicate the style and mood of the game’s setting while moving away from having a static embedded setting? Now that it’s clear what we’re working with and what needs to be done, it’s time to actually start writing. Hope you’ll join me in future installments of Cyberpunk Chimera, where we move from idea to actual game design!