Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The problem with the cyberpunk genre...

My default "assumed setting" for cyberpunk games for the last four years included (among other things) Theresa May coming to power in the UK without a real mandate, due in large part to deeply divided opposition. This seemed like the option most likely to facilitate a dystopian nightmare.

If things continue like this, her government will last another 6-8 years before collapsing in a period of game-facilitating political and social chaos.

If England goes to war with Poland in the mid-2020s over copyright issues, I hereby promise to stop imagining things.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


There are all sorts of reasons why the cyberpunk genre tends to generate complicated games, and why the most popular RPG in the genre is a byword for unnecessary, brain-smashing complexity (here's looking at you, Shadowrun!). Even Cyberpunk 2020 requires hours and hours and hours to generate characters, adding up all the finicky skill-points. What rules-lite genre games there are tend to be FATE-y things like Tech-Noir: great game, but I honestly prefer more traditional rules-systems.

Cyberpunk attracts people into technology and detailed future speculation (also people into drug literature and JG Ballard and weird intersections between fashion and art and the military industrial complex, but they're unfortunately less represented in the gaming culture...). There's a drive there towards "accurate," detailed technical simulation, with lots of dice modifiers and reliability stats and ammunition counts. I confess I like that stuff. On the other hand I hate maths and can't remember equations for shit, which ruins most cyberpunk rules systems for me. 

I've been thinking about - even drafting - D&D derived rules ideas for cyberpunk for awhile now. D&D sits at an intersection between simplicity, technical detail and fast play. That last part is less because of any inherent virtue of the rules and more because everybody knows the system. Even I know the system (I can only retain 1.5 rules systems at a time. 0.75 of those systems will always be my beloved Cyberpunk 2020. Right now the other 0.75% of my rules retention capacity is taken up with D&D 5E).

So, I was genuinely excited to hear about Mike Evans' new old school D&D hack cyberpunk game, not least because I only heard about it about a week before it came out.

Fittingly, it took several attempts to actually buy the game because my bank interpreted a £1.43 payment to DrivethruRPG as evidence my account had been hacked (exactly how many purchases do I have to make from that place in one week before it realises I'm a regular customer?).

...£1.43? Yeah. The Black Hack Cyber Hacked is a complete game including bestiary and hacking rules and the Open Game License all in 21 pages, has no art except what you see on the cover above and has been testing my assumptions about exactly how much mechanical detail you need to represent the genre all evening.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Electronic Criminal Hazards

This is the follow up to yesterday's electronic hazards table, covering all manner of electronic crimes to assail the players with as they traverse the mean city. 

This table was a lot of fun to write, and I think it shows. That said, it's tonally all over the place, ranging between inconsequential and funny to completely horrible or game changing. I'm still experimenting with all this!


1. Contactless Pickpocket: a pickpocket is scanning people's commlinks and contactless cards to extract money from their accounts. Characters with legal tender must make electronic security tests to avoid losing their personal data.

2. Personalised Trolling Drones: a local hate group has fabricated some cheap toy drones with speakers to follow the targets of their ire around and scream abuse at them. There is a 70% chance they have access to a public SIN database and are calling out the character by her (official) name.

There is a 30% chance that the drone is carrying balloons of yellow paint, skunk gas or urine to further harass their victims.

3. Gargoyle: a spook covered in surveillance gear is wondering the streets hoovering up passing data and selling it to information brokers. She will sell their locational information to a rival or record their conversations for sale on the open market.

4. Blackmailer: an electronic blackmailer is covertly monitoring the players through a variety of different means. She will target the most vulnerable player character for extortion, most likely threatening to pass their information to the paycops.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Electronic Environmental Hazards

It's been a long time!

( further comment...)

In the time I was away, my hobby time (such as it was) was mainly taken up with D&D of various sorts. In particular, my friend's Beyond the Grid campaign really opened my eyes to the uses and abuses of random encounter tables in ways I hadn't ever considered before. 

I've been experimenting.

I've wanted to do a table full of electronic hazards for a while now, covering everything from contactless pickpockets to AR vandalism to suburban geo-fencing.

This table was originally a D30 table covering all of the above. By the time I finished the process, I'd realised that the environmental hazard and the human hazard tables really had different potential uses. So I've split them up into two different D20 tables. You get an extra ten entries for your nu-buck! Well, you would if you were paying a nu-buck. 

This post contains the Electronic Environmental Hazards table, covering all sorts of spam zones, wireless outages, electronic fortresses and scary advertising systems. It could be so much longer! The Electronic Criminal Hazards table is finished but will be posted in a day or two because I'm a tease like that. 

One of the reasons I separated the two tables is because I realised how much potential the environmental hazards had for really, really interfering in surveillance, chases and casing targets. I think that would be the best time to roll on this table!

Quite a lot of this post was inspired by this BLDGBLOG blog post and several books about "fortress urbanism." I really do recommend reading Mike Davis' City of Quartz for anyone developing a cyberpunk setting, and not just because it was credited in the back of William Gibson's Virtual Light.

Two final notes - my view of a city is clearly inspired by London, where you can turn a corner and be in a completely different environment. The increasing privatisation of streets and gated communities reinforces this even further, when you can enter a shopping street with different effective laws to the rest of the city.

The other thing: sometimes these events might seem inappropriate to certain parts of the city. Just remember that surveillance gear is cheap (cheap enough that I know a low income single mum who uses a camera to check on her kids when she's at work...). Acoustic gun-fire sensors might surround any church or cinema. A syndicate might have installed hidden geo-fences to confuse the police. A poor neighbourhood dominated by a pious minority is just as likely to have a morality enforcement system as a preppy gated community (and so on).


Friday, 6 February 2015

Cyberpunk 2020 PreGens: Solos

Welcome to part 2 of my Cyberpunk 2020 pre-gen project. Once again, this post will provide three pre-generated characters and a whole bunch of contact and adventure hooks to go with them. Next time we want to run a Cyberpunk 2020 game on G+ at short notice, sorting out characters won't take an hour!

Last time, we covered arguably the least popular role in the Corebook, the Rockerboy. This time, we're all about Solos. Below, you'll find the Smooth Operator, the Pointman and the Professional. All of them are hardened, effective killers. 

As before, the characters below are mostly RAW (Rules As Written), drawing skills and equipment from the Corebook alone. 

A few things that aren't RAW:

1. Rather than spend hours picking equipment and cyberware, I've given everyone a fairly balanced array of gear based on the "Quick and Dirty" character generation guide.

2. Everyone gets 20 pick-up skill points, regardless of their INT and REF scores.

Each character begins with 60 Attribute Points and 60 Skill Points (40 Career Points and 20 Pick-Up Points).

I haven't rolled the dice for Humanity Loss or the Lifepath tables. Leave that to the players! 


The Solo: Cyberpunk 2020's classic Cyber-Enhanced Murder-Bastard (CEMB), played by just about everyone at some point (admit it!). Genre examples include Molly in Neuromancer, Sarah in Hardwired and zen-inflected cyber-enhanced murder-bastard Etienne Stewart in Voice of the Whirlwind (my personal favourite). 

And then there's film. Bonus points if it was directed by Luc Besson! Nikita, Leon/The Professional, District 13...

There are a couple of good Solo films not made by Luc Besson. Ghost Dog, Way of the Samurai is superior to all of them. Even better, one of the main characters can only speak French, which means it could have been made by Luc Besson.

The less said about that bog-spawned abomination Taken, the better.

This post includes three pre-generated Solos.

The Smooth Operator is fast. Really, really fast. S/he has the Social skills to blend into any crowd, the Awareness/Notice to identify any threat, and the speedware and Combat Sense to outdraw any opponent. S/he could just as easily be a super-spy.

The Pointman takes on the jobs where the milspec tech comes out to play. A mercenary, an armoured tank, a rifleman. A Solo to fight an all-out Corporate War in those campaigns where armour and automatic weapons are the norm, not the exception.  

The Professional is an urban hitman. S/he relies on stealth to case and enter target buildings and a multitude of skills to stalk and kill targets. 

And once again, scroll to the bottom of the post for a collection of contacts and antagonists for Solo/Street Samurai style characters in any cyberpunk setting!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Cyberpunk 2020 PreGens: Rockerboys

...or girls!

This post contains two part. It begins with three pre-generated characters for Cyberpunk 2020. Being me, I couldn't just post some stat blocks without following it with a bunch of sample contacts, places and villains below, which should be useful to fans of any cyberpunk genre game.

Because I'm going through the roles in the order they appear in the corebook, I'm starting with Cyberpunk 2020's most quixotic class, the Rockerboy. This post includes three Rockerboy Archetypes: the Street Fighting Punk, the Rock and Roll Hero and the Spiritual Warrior MC.

So G+ gaming has exponentially increased the amount I actually get to play games. It's allowed me to run much longer and more regular campaign games than ever before, and try new games I would never have tried for simple opportunity cost reasons. 

At some point I'd like to actually use this space to run Cyberpunk 2020. One of the things getting in the way is the lack of pre-generated characters for the game: Cyberpunk 2020 character creation can take awhile, especially if you aren't familiar with the game. I need characters to hand to people at the beginning of a session (Hardwired had a few, but they seem too specific - I'd like some "archetypes").

So I've decided to make some, and post them here so that anyone and everyone can use them. While my own games tend to have a lot of house rules, I've avoided them here in order that they be as useful to as many people as possible.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Television City

Presented below is Television City, the first long form setting I ever wrote for Cyberpunk 2020, when I was 16. TVC was meant to be a closed system that could encompass all the different facets of RAW Cyberpunk 2020: the net, the common cyberware, the booster street gangs and full borgs. I'm not saying it's GOOD, exactly, but it does have a pretty unique character - all claustrophobic and colourful and full full full of people. It has autonomous communities clinging to sea walls and hanging from roof-tops.  

It's funny to go back and remember teenage obsessions, writ large in a GM document.The main inspirations were definitely City of God and Ghost in the Shell - TVC is really meant to resemble the crowded streets Major Kusanagi contemplates in the famous "Ghost City" sequence of the original movie. Another major influence was Batman of the Future: Emile Tuzenbakh is more like a character from an animated superhero show than any real criminal leader. China Mieville's Perdido Street Station had just blown my mind - you might recognise a few place names. The name "Television City" is taken from Paul DiFilippo's Ribofunk.

And yes, the "Tuzenbakh" comes from Anton Chekhov's play Three Sisters - that's how I know I was 16 when I wrote this: I was studying that play in Theatre Studies!

One final source of ideas was the Dune TV Mini-Series on the Sci-Fi channel. That show had a great "Renaissance meets the Future" vibe which I imagined for TVC (even if the document doesn't ever really mention it). A decade or so later Deus Ex 3 had the same idea, which means I can use the concept art from this game to illustrate this piece!

When I wrote this, I had only run a few game sessions and never seen a well-written RPG city book (or any of the thousand thousand thousand bad ones). Written now, after a dozen sandbox campaigns, TVC would look very different. For one thing, I certainly wouldn't have front-loaded it with two paragraphs about the national constitution! Each city district would have had a list of ongoing adventure hooks to draw in the players; that would have been planned BEFORE any information on the district. I feel like TVC lacks an ongoing "crisis" to immerse the players in from the start. The "Fixer Cartels" lack character; the street gangs and netrunner collectives deserve names. The Darklight Organisation is waaay too monolithic. The idiot who wrote this didn't understand "finance" at all. There's nowhere in the setting to go surfing.

There are a dozen inconsistent design decisions motivated solely by the sort of game I wanted to run back then. Guns are supposedly very hard to get, largely because I was very much into super-serious-write-an-essay-about-your-character Real Roleplaying back then and associated big guns with "munchkinism." Like many of my older Cyberpunk 2020 games, TVC was set in an authoritarian surveillance state (albeit a very corrupt one). I've backed away from those lately, simply for ease of play! 

Still, I haven't edited this document much, except to clear up the prose (and remove some paragraphs about finance: that section is now merely nonsensical, rather than all out BORING). Mostly, this editing meant purging commas. Commas, commas, commas, commas. Say what you like about a liberal arts university education; at least I, learnt, how, to, write, a, readable, sentence,... 

TVC was the setting for a short lived but wonderful PbP game which made me lasting friends in the CP2020 community. The following post is in honour of Weasel, a Floodzone knife-fighter whose story should have lasted longer!