Welcome back to System Hack! Now that the real timeline has caught up with Cyberpunk 2020, it’s time to start pinning the Cyberpunk Chimera down. We have attributes and skills, we have ideas about a combat system, and there’s some hacking, some cyberware, and even some meta-mechanics. What don’t we have yet? Oh. Right. Characters.
If you’re looking for a holiday tabletop roleplaying one-shot we have some ideas for you in the latest round of Pitch Me, from Jewish knights to Christmas changelings to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Lunar Exalt! Then we get a little more serious, talking about corporate commercialization making its way into the hobby, in this episode of Cannibal Halfling Radio!
Welcome back to System Hack! Over the last few months I’ve been slowly but surely building out elements of a Cyberpunk game, inspired by but not really based on Cyberpunk 2020. At this point, we get into the weeds. Until now, the articles published so far have all dealt with simulationist aspects of the game. That is to say, when a character in the game wants to do something, what happens? At this point, we’re going to pivot away from the characters and focus instead on the players.
Cyberpunk as a literary genre has many touchstones, like the role of corporations in society and humanity’s relationship with technology. These have trickled down to tabletop games in different ways, but certain tropes keep coming up. Cybernetic enhancement is *the* subsystem for cyberpunk games, and has generally succeeded in early cyberpunk games where hacking, a complementary subsystem, often failed. Cyberware stands in for magic in most cyberpunk games, giving the characters access to superhuman power, though at a cost. In addition to cyberware, there is usually a digital world aspect of cyberpunk games, adjacent to but not always overlapping with the hacking rules. In early works this was a completely separate virtual world, while in modern games, there is much more focus on augmented reality, and the digital commingling with the real.
Tabletop RPGs evolved from wargames, which has somewhat stunted their growth with regards to most conflicts which don’t involve killing things. As board games show us, though, we can easily develop satisfying mechanics for a whole range of things other than combat. For the Cyberpunk Chimera, we’re envisioning a world that, while potentially violent and dystopic, doesn’t center around monsters or a national enemy or anything else that assumes that the majority of problems can be solved by killing.
The one subsystem that all traditional RPGs bolt onto their core resolution mechanics is a conflict system and, like it or not, the most popular iteration of a conflict system is one for physical combat. Cyberpunk 2020 had a combat system designed with realism in mind, and, thanks to a statistical basis in actual criminal activity using guns, did very well in terms of combat verisimilitude. This did mean that some of the “imbalance” in the system, namely the overwhelming power of a high initiative roll and the destabilizing impact of armor, were based on reality. Quirks aside, what made ‘realistic’ fun was that the system played quickly and had enough detail to mean that player choices in terms of tactics and weapons mattered. The issue with Cyberpunk’s conflict systems, really, is that combat is much more ‘baked’ than the other conflict system, netrunning, and the only semblance of a social conflict system is the ‘facedown’ mechanic, which is one die roll for one specific situation.
So we’ve stated some design goals, and we’ve set a baseline with an in-depth review of Cyberpunk 2020. Now, it’s time to get into the weeds. As I stated in the design goals, I want to create a game inspired by Cyberpunk 2020. As such, most of these articles will revisit one or more mechanics from that game. That said, after considering the implications of these mechanics, I will more often than not rip them apart. Want to see us journey from nine stats and a d10-based resolution mechanic to three stats and a dice pool? Read on.
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.
Something funny happens when you spend a lot of time reading and reviewing games. At a certain point you reflect on all the games you’ve read and all the mechanics you’ve studied, and say to yourself “I bet I could design a game”. You see it a lot over here. Site founder Seamus is the co-author of the recently released Transit: The Spaceship RPG, and newest contributor Jason wrote Blessed Engines for the Emotional Mecha Jam. There’s design chops floating around in this blogger soup, and I suppose it should be no surprise that on the tails of the first System Hack, Genesys Mecha, I’d be throwing my hat into the ring.