Tech the way the cyberpunk godfathers intended it

Right at the outset, cyberpunk adventure games lost track.

They lost track of what really counted in the literature that spawned them: the story, the characters, the drama. Instead, we got pages upon pages of gear lists, “cyberware” lists, cyberdeck lists.

Instead of drama, action and character (which are, at least, sometimes, interchangeable in the novels), we got shopping.

Personally, I want that to be gone.

Looking at Gibson’s cyberpunk oeuvre, I count 11 cyberware technologies mentioned in his books (biosofts, dustplugs, Implanted Microprocessor Monitors, Muscle Grafts, Korsakov’s, microsofts, mirrshades, neural cut-out chips, cultivated eyes, sculpted teeth, and toothbud implants). Eleven. And dustplugs don’t really count (because they’re exactly what they sound like, dustplugs for your jacks), Korsakov’s is a mind-control technology used illegally in prisons, and neural cut-out chips are blackmarket chips used to turn human beings into “meat puppets” without will and memory.

So we’re down to eight “cyberware” technologies suitable for the heroes mentioned in ALL of Gibson’s books. And only a couple of them is mentioned by brand name.

Now let’s take a look at the original Cyberpunk rpg (“2013”), written by Mike Pondsmith. Suddenly, we get four pages filled with more than 30 cyberware options. Plus, we have six pages of ice and icebreakers (I went into some detail about them yesterday) in the rulebook. That’s what I call ‘option bloat’!

But let’s not forget my beloved Shadowrun first edition. Let me count real quick: we get seven pages full of shopping lists for equipment and “cyberware” (more than 50 options just in that book alone), plus many dozens of pages filled with walls of text explaining their function. A bookkeeper’s wet dream.

As we all know, William Gibson greenlighted the Cyberpunk game. And so did Walter Jon Williams, whose “Hardwired” novels belong to the best cyberpunk books ever written. Williams wrote the “Hardwired” supplement for Cyberpunk 2013 himself. If you look at the “equipment section” in his book, you’ll find exactly one page with sample prices for 13 categories – one of them being “cybertech”, listed with four entries. That’s all you really need.

Do you remember the first Shadowrun trilogy? I do, and I have re-read it many, many times (and just yesterday, I downloaded the audiobook version on Audible). Those stories, ALL of the Shadowrun stories, are not about shopping. What remains after reading them is the memory of cool adventures, of characters overcoming obstacles.

THAT’s my cyberpunk. THAT’s my Shadowrun.

Shadowrun is no dungeon crawl: revisited

Last week, I modified an existing pbtA “move” for my Shadowrun.

Today, I’m changing it to fit into a truly FKR style game.

The “move” is this:

When you attempt to navigate the labyrinthine twists of the corporate building, describe how you do it, and then roll 2d6. Add nothing if you have no intel. Add +1 if you have okay intel. Add +2 if you have good intel. Add +3 if you have top-notch intel. Add –3 if you have fake or incorrect intel.

*On a 12+, hold 2. *On a 10+, hold 1. *On a 7-9, hold 1, but you encounter a guard/drone and/or find yourself in a bad place. *On a 6-, the security system is one step closer to detecting your presence and location! This is in addition to any hard move the GM has in mind.

Spend 1 hold to find something valuable or useful. (Spend 2 for both.) Spend 2 hold to get a clue as to the whereabouts of your target. Spend 5 hold to get a clue as to how you might elegantly retrieve what you’re looking for.

Spend 5 hold to find a safe exit or locate the CEO HQ.

One person rolls each time you navigate. The group’s hold from multiple rolls is pooled together.

Let’s FKRify it:

When you attempt to navigate the labyrinthine twists of the corporate building, describe how you do it, and roll 2d6 vs. my 2d6. Add +1 if you have okay intel. Add +2 if you have good intel. Add +3 if you have top-notch intel. Add –3 if you have fake or incorrect intel.

Roll each time you navigate.
Before you start, I write down how many “wins” you need to get what you want.

If you roll higher, you win, and something advantageous happens: you might find something useful, or you might find clues as to where in the building your target is at the moment. To gain a really BIG advantage, you have win several times during your run.

If you roll lower, you lose, and I’ll send my guards, drones, and autodefenses: the works.

More data on Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics

Re-reading Gibson.
If you want to play ICE like Bill, keep the following quotes from Neuromancer in mind:

With his deck waiting, back in the loft, an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7.  They’d left the place littered with the abstract white forms of the foam packing units, with crumpled plastic film and hundreds of tiny foam beads. The Ono-Sendai; next year’s most expensive Hosaka computer; a Sony monitor; a dozen disks of corporate-grade ice; a Braun coffee maker. 

See? So my obsession with cassettepunk is pretty much spot-on. Ice on disks… how on earth can something as powerful and dangerous as ice fit on twelve disks? Simple. Here’s the reason:

“Just thinking out loud . . . How smart’s an Al, Case?”
“Depends. Some aren’t much smarter than dogs. Pets. Cost a fortune anyway. The real smart ones are as smart as the Turing heat is willing to let ’em get.”
“Look, you’re a cowboy. How come you aren’t just flat-out fascinated with those things?”
“Well,” he said, “for starts, they’re rare. Most of them are military, the bright ones, and we can’t crack the ice. That’s where ice all comes from, you know? (…)

“You got it. Corporate core data for Tessier-Ashpool S.A., and that ice is generated by their two friendly Al’s. On par with anything in the military sector, looks to me. That’s king hell ice, Case, black as the grave and slick as glass. Fry your brain soon as look at you. We get any closer now, it’ll have tracers up our ass and out both ears, be tellin’ the boys in the T-A boardroom the size of your shoes and how long your dick” 

Ice is made by Artificial Intelligences. But it gets better:

Case sighed. “Well, I got a user-friendly Chinese icebreaker here, a one shot cassette. Some people in Frankfurt say it’ll cut an Al.” 

Ice on cassettes. Of course. I know Godfather Gibson probably didn’t mean it that way, but that’s my selective interpretation of the source.

And ice can be brute force, or really sneaky:

“I did, once. Just an idea, back then. But that’s what ol’ Kuang’s all about. This ain’t bore and inject, it’s more like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn’t feel it. The face of the Kuang logics kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on and the main programs cut in, start talking circles ’round the logics in the ice. We go Siamese twin on ’em before they even get restless.” 

Another fun fact: You don’t read dozens and dozens of brand names for ice. We know Gibson loves doing that, but NOT for ice, and icebreakers. Ice is monolithic, off-the-shelf, illegal drek hot shit, and so are icebreakers.

Which brings me to a conclusion:

In my cassettepunk Shadowrun games, I won’t be using any brand names for ice, not even different kinds of ice, as both Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2013/2020/3/Red are doing. Breaking or melting ice will be a single die roll, or, if it’s really tough, several dice rolls. The hacker/decker MUST be successful in every single roll, or the ice will do horrible things to him and/or his deck.

Time for an automated random table:

Move: After the run

If you make it out of … in one piece and have retrieved the item you were told to, but have no idea what it does, pick one among your ranks to roll 2d6. Add +1 if you have Powers watching over you. Subtract 1 if the corporation you pissed off is small fish. Subtract 3 if it’s a Big Player. *10+, your theft simply shifts business advantage from one corporation to another. *7–9, business equilibrium is shifted as above, but the corporation is on y’all’s asses now, actively. *6–, the item is the cause of a major corporation war that’s building up slowly.

Diceless Dungeons: wild, wild combat

Diceless Dungeons is a gem. Way too few people know this roleplaying game, written by my friend James George. One of the reasons why people might not want to try it is because it’s… diceless. But it’s one of the most elegant and STILL old school-ish games I know.

And this is how it works:

I’m creating an adventurer. Every adventurer starts with ten health points and three talents. I pick Cunning (detect some vital clue once a day), Healthy (heals double wounds when resting) and Stealthy (hide from and sneak past enemies).

I could have also picked the sorcerer’s apprentice. And while in the basic rules, the apprentice is all you get if you want to play a magically-inclined character, it’s simple to change this class into a full-blown sorcerer. Casting spells is draining, and the character loses 1 health point when doing so.

Then, pick some equipment and you’re good to go.

But how does combat work?

Combat is divided into one-minute rounds. Depending on the strength and number of the enemy, it lasts shorter or longer. Fighting weak enemies takes 1 to 2 rounds, average enemies 3 to 5, and strong enemies 6 or more.

The DD rules state a very important rule then: “Thus, victory in battle becomes a matter of surviving to the end of the fight. But this is not without risk, because for every round spent in combat, the party takes one wound to be assigned to whatever character the players choose”. 

Ooooh!

The players describe what their characters are doing, the referee describes combat and wounds and injuries and blood and gore, and after the monsters have inflicted their total damage, the fight is over, and any player character who still has health left survives. Dead simple, but very, very elegant.

Every monster comes with a Damage Bonus that’s added to the base 1 damage it inflicts each round. A skeleton, for instance, has 3 Damage Bonus. That means it adds a total of 3 wounds to the number of wounds/rounds. Weak skeletons die after 1 or 2 rounds, and inflict a total of 1 or 2 wounds — but the Damage Bonus buffs this up to a total of 4 or 5 wounds.

The elegance of DD’s combat rules really shines when you take the “Pacing Encounters” rule on board: The referee can add rounds with zero damage to combat encounters. This breaks the pattern and destroys predictability of combats.

Let’s stay with the Weak Skeleton. It dies after 4 or 5 rounds. Let’s say 4. Without the “Pacing Encounters” rule, the players might figure out at some point that a Weak Skeleton dies after 4 rounds and will therefore inflict a total of 4 wounds. WITH the Pacing rule… the damage “profile” of the Weak Skeleton might look like “0-0-1-0-3”.

And NOW the secret: You don’t really need to PLAN zero wound rounds. All you need to do is this: Adjust the wounds inflicted by the monster to the narration of the players. Feel free to even increase total damage if they describe stupid actions. Feel free to decrease total damage for really smart decicisons. That’s all. All you need is the total number of wounds a monster will dish out. Everything else depends on the description.

Let’s do this.

I’m creating a Shadowrun character, and I’m translating the skills on the fly. I pick Smart (detect some vital clue once a day), Healthy (heals double wounds when resting) and Stealthy (hide from and sneak past enemies). 9mm Glock, a kevlar vest. 10 wounds.

My buddy is creating another adventurer. Acrobatic, Hardened (survive three rounds after death), Nocturnal (operate in total darkness). He is obviously some sort of Shadowrun physical adept. Ares Predator I. 10 wounds.

The referee sends a Strong Corp Security Team to kick our asses. It will inflict a total of 15 wounds if we go all in, exchanging bullets, maybe even 20 if we’re stupid enough.

If my buddy and me are acting smarter, ducking and weaving, shooting behind cover, the Corp Team might only do 10 wounds on us. 

The rest is all narration and narrative positioning.

Shadowrun is no dungeon crawl

Yesterday, we played the fourth or fifth session of our cassettepunk Shadowrun campaign.

It was huge fun, the characters had one interesting fight against two corp goons (during which the troll ex-bounty hunter finally could show what he was made of… impaling a physad elf on his horn, is all I’m saying), and they finally gathered all information they needed to start the run.

I treated legwork very handwavey. If they narrated cool stuff and/or rolled well, I gave them a piece of information. This worked beautifully.

But then it hit me.

I could handle this way simpler.

And I remembered Ray Otus’s variant of the so-called “dungeon move” for Dungeon World. The premise is as simple as promising: How can we skip tedious dungeon crawls and cut right to where the meat is? I know, this sentence disqualifies me in the eyes of many OSR fans, but if I’ve always, ALWAYS, hated one thing about old school fantasy – it is the godforsaken dungeon crawling. It doesn’t hold any fascination for me. Okay, back to Ray.

For the Plundergrounds zine, Ray’s fantastic OSR zine, he wrote this dungeon move:

When you attempt to navigate the labyrinthine twists of the dragon hoard, describe how you do it, and then roll+INT. *On a 12+, hold 2. *On a 10+, hold 1. *On a 7-9, hold 1, but you encounter a hoard denizen and/or find yourself in a bad place. *On a 6-, the dragon is one step closer to detecting your presence and location! This is in addition to any hard move the GM has in mind.

Spend 1 hold to find something valuable or useful. (Spend 2 for both.) Spend 2 hold to get a clue as to the dragon’s whereabouts. Spend 4 hold to get a clue as to how you might possibly harm the dragon.

Spend 5 hold to find an exit, locate the dragon, or find her nest.

One person rolls each time you navigate. The group’s hold from multiple rolls is pooled together.

So, let’s adapt this baby for Shadowrun:

When you attempt to navigate the labyrinthine twists of the corporate building, describe how you do it, and then roll 2d6. Add nothing if you have no intel. Add +1 if you have okay intel. Add +2 if you have good intel. Add +3 if you have top-notch intel. Add –3 if you have fake or incorrect intel.

*On a 12+, hold 2. *On a 10+, hold 1. *On a 7-9, hold 1, but you encounter a guard/drone and/or find yourself in a bad place. *On a 6-, the security system is one step closer to detecting your presence and location! This is in addition to any hard move the GM has in mind.

Spend 1 hold to find something valuable or useful. (Spend 2 for both.) Spend 2 hold to get a clue as to the whereabouts of your target. Spend 5 hold to get a clue as to how you might elegantly retrieve what you’re looking for.

Spend 5 hold to find a safe exit or locate the CEO HQ.

One person rolls each time you navigate. The group’s hold from multiple rolls is pooled together.

 

Things to consider for "realistic" gunfights in your game

 

Oh well.
You know, I LOVE Hong Kong, Korean and Bollywood action movies. Great gunfights.
But I don’t want to have them in my cyberpunk games.
In my cyberpunk games, I want dirty.
These are the most important gunfight stats I keep in mind when running cyberpunk shoot-outs:

The average time for someone to draw a gun from a regular friction retention holster level 1 (meaning: the gun is held in place by the holster and can’t be drawn by anyone but the wearer of the holster; it must remain there for at least 5 seconds, even if outside force is applied from all directions) is 1.7 seconds.

World-class shooters can do this in under 0.8 seconds. That’s HALF the time. Just with training, without any cyberware. Imagine what’ll happen when reflex boosters come into play.
The deadliest distance for gunfights is 3 to 6 feet. So the farther away the characters are from the corp soldiers, the bigger their chances of survival.
Experts are only 10% more accurate than novices between 3 and 15 feet. 
That’s a biggie, right there. Experts have more than 10.000 hours of training under their belt. Novices have zero. But the difference is only 10 percent? Mindblowing. So, in close-distance gunfights, forget the skills, except if a character is wearing chrome.
Standing still in a gunfight means an 85% chance of being shot (51% chance of being shot in the torso). So next time one of your player characters is playing it cool in your hardass cyberpunk game, you know what to do.
Moving and shooting simultaneously means a 47% chance of being hit (11% chance of a torso shot). This is why the 2d6 method of my Landshut rules is so good.
Seeking cover and returning fire means a 26% chance of being hit (6% in the torso). So, playing sitting duck in a gunfight IS the best method to not get hit, sure. But it doesn’t help you much. At least, most of the time.