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.

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.

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.

Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, the way godfather Gibson intended it ;)

…ICE patterns formed and reformed on the screen as he probed for gaps, skirted the most obvious traps, and mapped the route he’d take through Sense/Net’s ICE. It was good ICE. Wonderful ICE…

…His program had reached the fifth gate. He watched as his icebreaker strobed and shifted in front of him, only faintly aware of his hands playing across the deck, making minor adjustments. Translucent planes of color shuffled like a trick deck. Take a card, he thought, any card.

The gate blurred past. He laughed. The Sense/Net ice had accepted his entry as a routine transfer from the consortium’s Los Angeles complex. He was inside. Behind him, viral subprograms peeled off, meshing with the gate’s code fabric, ready to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it arrived.

From Neuromancer, by William Gibson.

Alright. You’ll have noticed the smiley in the headline… that said, there is no right way to emulate ICE in a cyberpunk game. But there is a way to use them literature-appropriately.

Gibson doesn’t use names for ICE. They’re a monolithic complex of intrusion countermeasure electronics. Massive on the outside, packed with things that hurt hackers and their equipment on the inside. 

Icebreakers get the same treatment by Gibson. Brand names? No, of course not. This is not Amazon. Mega corps have their own wage slaves to write code for them. And hackers write or trade their own software. 

So, to stay close to literature: protect systems with ICE. No names. No virtual, shared hallucination watch dogs or whatever. Just one big monolithic block. Surrounding sensible corp data like a massive wall with built-in weapons. That’s the reason Cyberpunk and Cyberpunk 2020 had ‘data fortresses’. Let’s keep that. In Gibson’s novels, once the walls of the fortress were breached, the netrunner could control the system. I’ll keep that, as well. 

FKR Shadowrun: freeform decking, made interesting

My Shadowrun is the setting of the first edition. It’s cassettepunk. It’s the future as seen on 80s television. And it’s FKR, super minimal rulings.

How do I make decking (“hacking” in other cyberpunk games) make interesting?
I use random tables. Tables are your friend, especially in freeform games.
In my game, I’m using my ICE generator table:
And then, I simply drop a few dice on a sheet of paper:
Now I take a pen and group the dice together. That’s purely intuitive.
The circles are computer sub-systems, or something. Each sub-system has to be hacked into seperately. Once you’ve hacked into a sub-system, you have access to its contents.
There is ICE. There’s always ICE…
So what I do is, I look at what ICE I rolled… for instance, this:
…and then I compare the numbers I rolled on the dice with the the numbers I rolled on my ICE table.
That way, I get an assortment of ICE that might be present in the sub-system:
In my Shadowrun, White ICE checks your identity and alerts other ICE or sysads, Gray ICE attacks your cyberdecks and utilities, and tries to crash or destroy stuff, and Black ICE attacks your mind and body directly, trying to kill you or fry your brain.

The NAME of the ICE is all I have. Its function isn’t predetermined. I prefer it that way because it leaves room for creativity.

So, taking a look at the ICE present in the sub-systems, I (hopefully) come up with some ideas of how they work:
The Medium-strength gray Flip Flop in the top circle: It’s medium strength, so I roll 2d6 vs. your 2d6. It quits and reboots ALL of your running software repeatedly, trying to overload your deck. I’ll also roll a d6, and a 1 indicates that the Flip Flop destroys a piece of software or hardware.
The Very Strong gray Probe in the circle on the left: It’s very strong because I rolled two sixes. I’ll roll 2d6+3 against your 2d6. This Probe does indeed, remove tiny pieces of code (a few zeroes here, a few ones there) from your active software, thus crashing it.
The Medium-strength Solar Flare ICE in the circle on the right: I’ll roll 2d6 vs. your 2d6. This Solar Flare tries to blind your deck and software by reducing the system’s signature very rapidly. Don’t ask me what that means technically. I just imagine all the visuals getting brighter and brighter, in a fraction of a second. It might even fry a chip or two on your deck: 1 on a d6.
The Mil-grade Sparker ICE in the same circle: Uh-oh, military grade. If you don’t roll a 12 on your 2d6, it’s got you. Sparker overheats your deck by sending massive amounts of requests. It’ll fry a component or two of your deck if I roll a 1 or 2.
So, my final system map looks like this:

Playing Futurepunk with the Landshut Rules

About three years ago, I published a free rpg called minimald6. It was a nice little success and spawned 31 hacks. Unknowingly, what I had done was I had written an FKR game before we started the FKR movement.

Today, I’d like to FKR-ify one of my minimald6 games, Futurepunk.

So, let’s do this:

1) Creating a character:

“Roll your attributes with 1d6 (strength, dexterity, health, courage, intelligence, tech). You are level 2. A name?”

For health, I roll a 1. That’s bad. So, my character is a sickly person. But for intelligence, I roll a 6. So we have the archetypical, clichéd brainiac in a weak body.

His name is Vince Golonian, aka “Silence”.

2) I’d like to play Shadowrun, so I’m rolling a d44 and get a 14. A fixer:

Fixers (2): Pistol, knows people, ziplock filled with drugs, secret warehouse, knows how to streetdeal

Every minimald6 character starts on Level 2, so I get to pick two things from the description above:

I pick “knows people, knows how to streetdeal”.

3) Vincent is a human.

4) He starts with a “Working Stiff” wealth level: His apartment lease ends in 11 months, and he has saved 6000 Nuyen.

5) I think Vince has installed some cyberware. Let’s say 2: I roll a d66 twice and get 26 and 23:
a palm refibrilator (he had to use it on himself twice so far), and a gridcompass (internal gps system).
I like that! Of course, if Vince was a samurai or bodyguard, I would have picked cyberware that fits. It has to be dramatically appropriate.

6) And that’s it! This is Vince:


Vince Golonian, aka Silence
sickly, extremely intelligent

knows people
knows how to streetdeal

Gear: 6000 nuyen, rented apartment (11 months lease)
Cyberware: palm refibrilator, gridcompass


6) Use the Landshut rules to resolve conflicts.