System Hack in Practice: Cyberpunk Blue

Welcome back to System Hack in Practice! We’ve looked at rolling Cyberpunk Red back to 2020, we’ve looked at pulling Cyberpunk 2020 forward into Red. Now we’re going somewhere else entirely! Let’s put down the book with the red lettering and pick up one with a blue cover; we’re shifting wavelengths into Fate Core. The working title for this monstrosity? Cyberpunk Blue.

I’m a fan of the Cyberpunk system; I ran 2020 for over a decade and I’m running Cyberpunk Red right now with my main group. That said, there are reasons you may want to look for other rulesets when considering what you want your game to look like. One interesting conversion is GURPS; GURPS solves all of the edge cases of Cyberpunk and adds more detail, at the expense of being more mathematically intensive, a bit slower in pace, and not as cinematic. A GURPS conversion is also easy; I ran a Cyberpunk 2020 campaign in GURPS and my conversion notes took less than a page. Great for a fan of the system, less so for an article writer. For today, I took a different tack. While Fate looks to be a bit too cinematic for the feel of Cyberpunk, there are existing games which prove that the system can work quite well. Interface Zero: Fate Edition is an excellent conversion of the game but more than that, it puts the Fate rules to very good work in a Cyberpunk setting, both in terms of using the mechanics to their full abilities and of maintaining the feel and power level you’d want from Cyberpunk.

For this System Hack, we’re going to look at how you’d translate Cyberpunk, specifically Cyberpunk Red, into Fate. While this can’t be a full conversion guide, my hope is that it’ll walk through how the two systems compare, and provide enough of a basis for the conversion that someone armed with the two rulebooks would be able to make the game work. We’ll start with basic core mechanics, looking at Skills and Role Abilities from Cyberpunk and porting them over. Then we’ll build out character creation and see how we can expect Fate Aspects to come into the mix. Finally, we’ll get into the weeds a bit with Cybernetics, Hacking, and Combat. Starting it all off, though, let’s see how the skill mechanics of Cyberpunk and Fate Core look when holding them up next to each other.

Skills and Role Abilities

Before converting any other part of Cyberpunk, we should figure out how the core resolution mechanics work. This doesn’t mean rooting through the details; both Fate and Cyberpunk have their own roll mechanics and their own rules for assigning task difficulties and we should leave these alone for the most part. The skill lists, on the other hand, are a place where there should be a degree of alignment. Unfortunately, these lists look very different from one another. Cyberpunk Red has 66 skills while Fate Core has 18, implying a very different level of granularity.

Since we’re hacking Cyberpunk into Fate, we can look at how these lists line up and how the Fate Core skill list needs to be changed to accommodate all the skills of implied importance within Cyberpunk. Given the quantity of skills, each skill in Fate Core should model between 3 and 4 skills in Cyberpunk. I lined up the lists in a spreadsheet and started mapping, and with only a couple exceptions this ratio is already pretty close to what you find by trying to group Cyberpunk skills into the Fate Core skills. There are three broad areas lacking correspondence: Fate’s Crafts skill covers a disproportionately large number of Cyberpunk skills because it is the closest match for both the Tech skills and artistic skills like Paint/Draw and Photography. Fate doesn’t have a Healing skill, while Cyberpunk has two (more if you count the Medtech Role Ability), and Fate has social skills (Rapport, Provoke, Empathy) which don’t align well to the Cyberpunk social skills (Bribery, Interrogation, Persuasion).

We can fix the list alignment with a couple additions to the Fate Core skill list: Crafts can be split in two, which we’ll call Tech and Arts. A healing skill can also be added, which we’ll call Medic. The social skills can be left alone; this does mean that Cyberpunk Blue will have a higher percentage of the skill list dedicated to social engineering, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This brings us to 20 skills, and roughly 3.3 Cyberpunk skills per Fate skill. This isn’t a direct correspondence, but we’ll use the ratio when determining starting numbers. With 86 skill points in Cyberpunk, we’d need 26 to match in Fate…if Fate had skills that went from 1 to 10. Since Fate’s skills top out at 4, we need to divide that number by 2.5, to get us to 10. Fate’s standard pyramid has 20 ranks of skills in it, but a reduced pyramid with one skill at 3, two at 2, and three at one adds up to exactly ten. These characters will be much lower powered than typical Fate characters, but that makes sense with the genre. Even so, we’re going to want to add some of that power back when considering Role Abilities.

Cyberpunk Role Abilities don’t factor into the skill list, and we’re going to deal with them separately here as well. A Role Ability will be an Extra that every player character gets, ranked from 1 to 4 like a skill. Some of these will act just like skills; the Tech’s ability will let them build and invent as well as repair items, the Netrunner’s ability will be its own skill, the Rockerboy’s ability will let them sway crowds and fans, and the Media’s ability will let them break stories and change the broader narrative. Others will be more abstract; the Exec will get team members per rank of ability, the Lawman will get free invokes on ‘Backup’, and the Fixer will get access to connections and deals on a tiered basis. The solo will be a rough correspondence to the combat benefits Cyberpunk Red solos get; their ranks can be added as bonuses to either attack, defense, or initiative.

The last thing we need to worry about with the Role Ability Extra is advancement. In Fate Core, it’s possible to add a point to a skill at each Significant Milestone, which usually occur at the end of a scenario or adventure. Given the larger significance of the Role Ability Extra, it makes sense to allow an increase in the Role Ability at each Major Milestone, which is the end of a major plot arc, defeat of a major villain, or similar big change in the campaign. This makes sense to me; in addition to only having two or three of these ability changes over the course of a campaign, each one should represent a significant change in the character’s abilities, akin to gaining refresh or pushing the campaign’s skill cap. Speaking of skill caps, Role abilities may not have ‘caps’ per se, but raising a Role Ability above 4 would represent a significant increase in character power from the starting point, and should be treated as such.

Aspects and Character Creation

The most difficult correspondence between Fate Core and Cyberpunk is at the center of Fate, Aspects. Aspects are the elements which most define and drive Fate characters, and the elements of Cyberpunk characters which are going to be worked into the five character Aspects will be drawn from different parts of the character sheet. The first Aspect, the High Concept, should be the easiest one to translate based on mechanics used in another cyberpunk Fate game.

In Interface Zero: Fate Edition, the High Concept Aspect is made from a combination of the character’s species and career, which allows for easy conversion from the game’s Savage Worlds origins. For Cyberpunk Blue, we’ll use a similar trick. Character Role will be the first part of this, and including Role in the High Concept Aspect will “permission” the Role Ability extra discussed above. The other part of the High Concept will be borrowed in spirit from its core role in the introduction of Cyberpunk 2077, upbringing. We can take a wider range of possible upbringings than what the video game offered by sticking to the tabletop, and looking at Lifepath in Cyberpunk Red. The options for upbringing/background here are Corporate, Nomad, Ganger, [Combat] Zoner, Homeless, Warren Rat, Reclaimer, and Edgerunner.

The amount of detail for each of the Upbringings within Cyberpunk Red varies; Corporate and Nomad are easy, Zoner and Warren Rat less so. Still, all of these backgrounds are evocative enough to base some invokes and compels on, and also we can probably expect more material down the road for many of these as the Cyberpunk product line matures. In summary, the High Concept is two elements, Upbringing and Role, and you combine these to get something like Corporate Solo, Reclaimer Tech, or Nomad…Nomad. Maybe switch that one out for a specific nomad pack. In all cases, actually, Upbringing could very likely be superseded by a more recent element in the character’s life, like an employer, specific nomad pack or gang, or specific role in their workplace, like a Psycho Squad Lawman. Use the flexibility of Fate to make these modifiers to the Role exactly what they need to be for the given character.

The other delineated Aspect in Fate Core is the Trouble, the main thing that is driving conflict in your character’s life. Like for the High Concept, the Lifepath section of Cyberpunk is going to provide a wealth of potential ideas. It’s worth it to remember that the purpose of the Trouble is a little different than the many strings to pull in a Lifepath; the Trouble is supposed to give focus to the character’s source of, well, trouble, focus that may not be in genre for Cyberpunk. So, since it’s fun to give characters problems (and there are five Aspects to fill in), we’re actually going to make two of the Aspects a version of the Trouble: “Your Crisis” and “Who’s Gunning For You”. The Cyberpunk Red Lifepath has a wonderful list of family crises, events that are supposed to follow a character up until game start. There’s also the possibility to roll a Tragic Love Affair, a crisis in its own way. These likely aren’t the only sorts of crises we’d want to allow for this Aspect, but they give two solid starting points. Who’s Gunning For You should be relatively self-explanatory; many of the class-specific Lifepath segments in Cyberpunk Red have a table whose name I borrowed exactly. Beyond that, there is the option for rolling just straight-up enemies, so players have their pick as to whether their antagonist is from their personal or professional life.

The last two Aspects are going to borrow more from character creation as it normally works in Fate. After determining your High Concept and Trouble, Fate uses a narrative vignette mechanic called the Phase Trio to help determine both the remaining character Aspects as well as how the characters all know each other. Since the introductory relationships of Cyberpunk characters can be a bit more cursory, we are going to pull back from this a little. I’m going to call Aspect 4 “The Edgerunner Life”. First, the player will answer a question for their character: “How did you become an Edgerunner?” The Aspect should, much like in the first section of Crossing Paths, come naturally out of the story about how the character became an Edgerunner and what it was about them that led to this path. This is a bit more narrative than Cyberpunk’s Lifepath, but converting the game to Fate does imply at least a little desire for this sort of leeway. The last Aspect will be called (hat tip to Masks) “How The Team Came Together”. The situation in which the team was brought together should either be developed collaboratively by the players or posed by the GM (while it is Fate, there’s still allowances for the GM to start the game with a premise in mind), and from there the players filling in the details should help them come up with another Aspect that is related to how the character works with their team.

Aspects are one of the more difficult parts of Fate, but the changes to how they’re picked in Cyberpunk Blue should take some pressure off the players. For one, the High Concept is mostly prescriptive, pick two items and put them together. For another, the two ‘Trouble’ type Aspects both give a bit more prescription and also somewhat relieve the need for all Aspects to be ‘double-edged swords’. As long as both the crisis and the enemy provide plentiful compels, it’s OK if the other Aspects end up being a bit positively biased, which I often see from novice Fate players. As you’ll see, though, we’re going to make sure that, just like in Cyberpunk Red, there’s plenty of gear which can both help and hinder you in equal measure.

Cybernetics and Hacking

Cybernetics are one of the most significant stylistic elements of Cyberpunk, so we can’t leave them by the wayside here. Fortunately, most cyberware in Cyberpunk Red is qualitative in how its functionality is described; instead of being reduced down to stats the ‘ware is described as doing something, which makes modeling the capabilities in another game system relatively trivial. Certain exceptions, like skinweave and subdermal armor, are covered under other systems that we’ll discuss in more depth a little further on. Others, like many of the cyberleg options which eliminate Move penalties, will need some more detailing. That said, even the rules that do need adaptation, like Move penalties, translate fairly directly into Fate; all we need to do is say that situations that require a character to climb, swim, or jump to traverse zones in combat time require an overcome action, and without any real work the Cyberware is mechanically useful again (not to mention the Invoke potential behind something like Grip Feet).

The main limiting factor of cybernetics in Cyberpunk, Humanity, will require a bit more modeling. I’m not the biggest fan of the Humanity Loss mechanic, but for the sake of the Hack we’re going to leave it in place. I’m going to model Humanity Loss with a Humanity stress track, keeping everything in the Fate wheelhouse. Now, traditional stress tracks in Fate have 2, 3, or 4 boxes, depending on how many ranks the character has in an associated skill (Physique for Physical Stress and Will for Mental Stress). Keeping on theme, the associated skill for the Humanity stress track will be Empathy. Given you have a two box stress track with no points in the skill, I’m going to assume a character with low empathy has two boxes in their stress track, a character with average empathy has three boxes, and a character with high empathy has four.

I’m also going to associate those three tiers with Cyberpunk Red attribute scores of 3, 6, and 9, and the associated quantities of humanity of 30, 60, and 90. Now, humanity costs for cybernetics range from 1d6/2 (average 2 points) to 4d6 (average 14 points), so we’re not really going to cover the spread by leaving the stress boxes at 1, 2, 3, and 4. Instead, I’ll convert humanity costs to a scale from 1 to 7 (cyberware with a zero humanity cost can clearly stay zero): 1d6/2 is 1, 1d6 is 2, 2d6 is 4, and 4d6 is 7. The stress boxes will come in three sizes: 5, 10, and 15. A character with no ranks in empathy gets the 5 and the 10, a character with one or two ranks in empathy gets a 15, and a character with three or four ranks in empathy gets another 15. The humanity loss number is cumulative, and once a character gets new cyberware installed they immediately take humanity stress equal to their new humanity loss number. This goes away at the end of the session, but the next time the character gets a new implant the stress they take is higher. This also opens up the possibility for mechanics where a character is more susceptible to other humanity stress inducing events if they’re still acclimating to their new cyberware. Either way, if they take more stress than they have stress boxes available, they take a consequence, which can absorb humanity stress x5 (so a mild consequence can absorb 10, a moderate consequence 20, a severe consequence 30). These consequences can only be renamed and recovered from if the character has access to a cybertherapist, just like in Cyberpunk Red. And of course, should a character push this so far as to take an extreme consequence, the consequence is called ‘Cyberpsycho’. Should be fun.

So what about hacking? This is another place where I’d like the translation to be relatively direct. The Netrunner’s Role Ability will function just like Interface, so most of their capabilities will be the same, just scaled to the Fate dice mechanics. Black ICE, for instance, can have all their stats divided by two and now you have 1,2,3, or 4 ranks for each of them (this might need to be tested a little bit, but when you compare a d10 to Fate dice which have a range of -4 to 4, it’s pretty close to equivalent). Take all the difficulty values starting at DV6 and go from 1 (DV6) to 4 (DV12). Since Netrunning doesn’t use attributes, the conversion math is incredibly simple. Rez and Netrunner damage will be converted the same way all other damage is, which we’ll go into in depth in the next section.

Combat, Stress, and Consequences

Fate ‘damage’ is built around Stress and Consequences. Stress is low-level and superficial damage that is recovered as soon as the fight is over, while Consequences linger. Though Cyberpunk Red tries to make damage impactful like the earlier Cyberpunk 2020 did, the reality ends up being that most hit point damage heals relatively quickly and it’s the criticals that linger. We can use this to start modeling.

Now, especially as Fate is designed to be a little less on the gritty side than Cyberpunk, we want to make sure that the damage being thrown around, even if it’s mostly absorbed as Stress, is enough to give players pause. While we put some multipliers in the stress boxes for humanity, for run of the mill physical and mental stress we’re going to try and keep the numbers the same. In Fate Core, each character starts with two stress boxes in their two stress tracks; one box has one point and one box has two points. As the characters gain more ranks of the corresponding skills, they gain more boxes; first they gain a box with three points and then a box with four points. Now, one change we may want to do both for consistency and also to take a bit of the survivability down is to change the stress box patterns from 1,2,3,4 to 1,2,3,3. You’ll notice that’s what I did for humanity stress, and it also makes it a bit easier to do the math when converting Cyberpunk Red attributes. That said, we’re not going to do direct conversions here, we’re going to look at the numbers and work with them to make them do what we want.

Damage in Cyberpunk, roughly speaking, goes from 1d6 (a weak unarmed attack) to 6d6 (explosives). Given the number of hit points Cyberpunk characters have, all of those attacks are survivable, barring low stats and good dice rolls (an average explosive hit will leave a character with 3 in both Body and Will still standing, which is kind of meh). What I’m going to do here is fairly simple: we’re going to use Weapon ratings, and each Cyberpunk weapon will get a rating equal to its damage dice-1. So if your trusty 9mm pistol does 2d6 damage in Cyberpunk Red, it’s Weapon:1 in Cyberpunk Blue. 6d6 of explosives? Weapon:5. The way weapon ratings work is simple: the weapon rating doesn’t impact the dice roll, but gets added to the result when it’s time to calculate damage. So if you shoot your 9mm and beat the opponent’s defense roll by 1, you instead do two stress of damage since you add the weapon rating. The result of this is survivability like Cyberpunk Red, but a much higher chance of needing to take a consequence to get out of the fight on your terms. We can also model the special abilities as Aspects: Shotshells to target a whole zone, suppressive fire to force characters out of a zone, and Autofire as a special invoke. If we model ammo (maybe another stress track? Who knows), then spending ammo can get a Damage:2 bonus to any attack with a weapon so equipped. Martial Arts and Brawling we’ll treat a bit differently…while hand-to-hand attacks won’t get any damage modifiers at first, they’ll earn them with ranks in Physique. With one rank in Physique your fists will be Weapon:1, and with three they’ll be Weapon:2. This aligns with when you gain new physical stress boxes, to keep bookkeeping easy. As for martial arts, the maneuvers will be purchased with Stunts. This way, having a unified Fight skill still gives opportunities for specialization.

For every gun there is an armor plate to stop it, and we’re going to model armor very similarly to how we model weapons. Leathers, Kevlar, and Light Armorjack will be Armor:0, 1, and 2, respectively. Med/Heavy Armorjack will also be Armor:2, though cheaper…and with the Bulky Aspect. Flak and MetalGear will be Armor:3 and Armor:4, both with the Very Bulky Aspect. These Aspects will work by giving free Hostile Invokes against the character when they’re doing anything involving speed or precision, therefore modeling the stat penalty that the bulkier armors get in Cyberpunk Red. You may be asking what Armor:0 does…this is a mechanic from Interface Zero: Fate Edition. Armor:0 allows you to spend a Fate Point to invoke your armor while making a defense roll, but it doesn’t automatically reduce any damage. Using Armor:0 as the start point allows us to shift the equation slightly back in favor of guns, while still giving plenty of options for protection.

Let’s talk Consequences for a bit. Cyberpunk’s Criticals don’t line up exactly with Consequences, but they can give a good starting point. If we look at Body Critical Injuries, there are some which can be fixed with First Aid, some with Paramedic, and some only with Surgery. Roughly speaking, there are your Mild, Moderate, and Severe Physical Consequences for injuries. The intent here is not necessarily to emulate the critical mechanics directly, but rather to use the mechanics that already exist on both sides to bring over the ingame impact of critical injuries and use them to amplify the tension of combat.

It’s obvious this doesn’t cover everything. More granular details around gear, expansion of the Resources skill, the range of possible Stunts and Skill rule adjustments, there are many more intensive mechanical modifications one could make to Fate to cover the range of the Cyberpunk rules. Still, this is a good start. Without covering every detail (or risking reprinting actual Cyberpunk Red text), we’ve still laid the groundwork for what a Cyberpunk game would look like in Fate. I know without a doubt that many of you want more…you want, dare I say it, a complete game. While Fate is under a Creative Commons License, Cyberpunk is not, and this article is about as detailed as I would want to get in a System Hack: enough to show you how it can be done, but not so much that it would be possible for you to sidestep buying the books. As for the future of this, I don’t know. I’d have to find some sort of original start point, something a bit further removed from Talsorian IP. I’d really be looking for a Cyberpunk Chimera of some sort…huh. Well how about that. Needless to say, watch this space.

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