In March of 2019, I began a project with a simple premise. After having played Cyberpunk 2020 for 15 years, I wanted to create a game that took everything I loved about the system and recast it into a game designed for me and how I run games. Now, 14 months later, I’m happy to say that the first stage of this project is complete, and another set of System Hack articles is coming to a close.
Starting with some basic design goals, moving into a comprehensive review of Cyberpunk 2020 itself, and then going from there, the Cyberpunk Chimera series has featured 11 articles about the elements I want to include in a Cyberpunk game. This article brings the series to a round dozen, and over that dozen I’ve created not a game itself, but the roadmap needed to create a game. From talking about attributes and skills all the way down to technology and setting assumptions, each aspect that I find important to make a game thematically a Cyberpunk game has been discussed. Lots of good ideas were spun out, some from my own head and some from suggestions I fielded from Twitter and Discord. These discussions, while I found each one valuable, still currently amount to just a series of articles, albeit articles discussing the same broad subject.
The question that is always front of mind when something like this is finished is “what’s next?” When Seamus wrote the first System Hack series, Genesys Mecha, his articles included mechanics which, straight from the article, could be inserted directly into a Genesys campaign and work. My articles never did that; Cyberpunk Chimera was always intended to be a new game, so there wasn’t the same degree of scaffolding that Genesys Mecha had. It does make my “next step” obvious though: finish the game. With that in mind, I want to look back and talk a little bit about how Cyberpunk Chimera has changed since last March, and what’s going to happen next.
I began drafting game material as soon as the Attributes and Skills article was done, though at that point nothing really ‘gelled’ for me. After finishing the Character Creation article, though, there was a little bit more clarity as to what the game would include, if only because I needed to list what would be defined in character creation. From there, the game draft has expanded in fits and starts…it’s currently about 9000 words long, which sounds like a lot but is somewhere between half and a third of the wordcount of the articles in aggregate. The framework around the game’s mechanics is done, the core skill descriptions are done, and character creation is fully outlined.
A lot of the mechanics have changed since the articles about them were written, but I don’t think I’ve made severe changes to the basic concepts. It’s definitely more noticeable in some places than others…the skill list has changed half a dozen times and I completely changed the approach for some of the skills in a fit of inspiration (or pique, hard to distinguish them sometimes). In the case of some of the later articles, I began sketching out ways to change or adjust my ideas as the article was going live…that’s one of the reasons that articles like the ones for Organizations or Cities tend to be more broad and about first principles compared to earlier ones like Attributes and Skills.
As I continue writing some of my other inspirations (i.e. inspirations besides Cyberpunk 2020) are coming to the fore. The one mechanic I directly borrow from another game (and say so) is Let It Ride, a fundamental dice adjudication rule from Burning Wheel. Let It Ride basically states that the results of a die roll carry through in the game’s fiction; in other words, once a character succeeds at something they need not roll for it again and once a character fails at something they cannot roll for it again. Burning Wheel is also coloring how I want to develop my advancement rules; there the connection is less direct, likely on account of the fact that I haven’t written the advancement rules yet.
There are also places where I feel I am still seeking inspiration. Cyberpunk games get a lot of character from their gear options, but that’s one place that I still feel rather blank. I know at a high level what I want, but due both to the specificity of gear as well as the significant overlap in gear options between the various and sundry Cyberpunk games on the market it’s unclear what the best way forward is. Once I begin delving into the gear and cyberware sections more completely, it will be useful to compare and contrast something like Cyberpunk 2020 with something like The Veil. While I think I did a fair job outlining ideas around Gear and Resources in the relevant article, there are stakes that need to be put in the ground.
The obvious next step for Cyberpunk Chimera is to finish the game draft. After that, I’ll playtest it with my home group, which has helped me carry my personal banner for Cyberpunk 2020 for the last 14 years. Somewhere in there I’ll need to come up with a name. ‘Cyberpunk Chimera’ has been a punchy, evocative article title, but it’s too long for a game title (not to mention it references someone else’s IP) and the RPG ‘Chimera’ already exists. I have some ideas, but as always suggestions are welcome.
Looking beyond the writing, playtesting, and revisions (in other words, getting ahead of myself), I do think I’d like this game to see a broader audience at some point. That said, this is mostly a passion project and I’d like to treat it as such. I’d like to learn how to do layout myself, though as I have nearly a decade’s experience in document design from the professional side, the challenge there comes down to standards and software rather than skill. I also have my own idiosyncratic ideas about art direction: Instead of going for vivid art pieces, I envision this game looking like a technical manual for the dark future, full of New York Subway weight Helvetica and illustrated with rude, violent infographics.
This is where I’m sure I’ll need external help as far as art direction goes, but as I kind of stated above finishing the game text is a pretty significant prerequisite to any further design.
I started the section with it, but I’ll say it again: The obvious next step for Cyberpunk Chimera is to finish the game draft. I can talk about layout, art direction, and any other number of aspirational goals, including but not limited to a Kickstarter campaign, custom dice, and getting Mike Pondsmith to GM the thing. But at the end of the day, I haven’t written it yet! The biggest things I need to do are write the sections I’ve cemented, and figure out how to write the sections I haven’t. As much as things like layout and art are not secondary when you’re talking about a game as a product, they are secondary to the game as a text, and I need to keep reminding myself of that when I get distracted.
At this point, I don’t know how much of the game will change after playtesting, though there’s always the possibility that it will be a lot. Thinking about this is important now because it’s important for writers to feel the sense of mutability inherent in a text. If you ever get to the point where it seems like your decision is going to be cast down into the game and can’t be changed, you’re no more than two paragraphs away from complete paralysis. I’m saying this with a slight amount of hyperbole but also a more than slight recollection from past experience. It’s for these reasons that I want to give myself an aggressive goal which will encourage me to write now and revise later, as opposed to thinking about writing and revising now and doing neither of them. I’ve spent over a year gathering, analyzing, and brainstorming for this game, and as such it’s more important for me to at least finish the text than it has been for any other game design project I’ve attempted so far.
The end of the Cyberpunk Chimera article series is not the largest milestone in the game’s design process, and as such this article may be a bit anticlimactic. Nonetheless, know that I have been marshaling my motivation and working to turn this series of brainstorms and analyses into an actual full-fat RPG, and I’ve been working at it for some time already. If you have thoughts on the game as a whole, or on any of the articles individually, I’d love to hear them. I have gotten far enough down the design path to have a vision now, but more input can only help as the pieces come together. I will try to post updates on Twitter as more milestones are hit; you can find me there writing under @LevelOneWonk and only sometimes making a fool of myself. If everything comes together and the world doesn’t go completely crazy (crazier?), I’m aiming to have the first draft of the game text complete and ready to playtest by the end of the summer. It’s an aggressive but achievable goal, and my hope is that putting it out in public will provide that extra push I need to get it done. Thank you for reading, both this and the whole Cyberpunk Chimera series. If you’re a game designer or aspiring game designer, just remember: any idea can produce a great game, even if that idea is just “I’m going to make my version of this other game.” No matter what your idea is, get out there and get writing.
Want to check out more Cyberpunk Chimera? We’ve got all the articles tagged and easy to find.