For many years I have been using the Hardwired source book for Cyberpunk 2020 (2013). I also bought the novel by Walter Jon Williams, many years ago. Williams also wrote the sourcebook. Great read, and absolutely recommended.
I like the world of Hardwired much more than the standard background of Cyberpunk 2020, not only because Williams describes a more realistic potential future, but also because he focuses on the cyberpunk essentials instead of shopping for gear. For me personally, the Chromebooks were just an entertaining refreshment; soon they got on my nerves because they turned the game into one huge boring shopping experience.
Hardwired, on the other hand, took a path that I like very much: In the source volume there is a page with generic items and their prices in the game world. The currency is dollar (there is no Eurobuck), and it is subject to extreme fluctuations. The hardwired rules encourage the player to improve the generic data:
The rules below simplify everything to a few “generic” varieties, but players should endavour to supply the chrome these genera lack – what the rules call a “smart medium assault rifle” firing “armor-piercing rounds”, the players should endavour to think of as a “Styer AUM-34 with Heckler&Koch sliding breechblock, flash suppressor, folding stock, and underslung argon-xenon laser sight by Sony, firing 7.65mm caseless sabot ammunition”.
But this is only one of many advantages Hardwired offers.
Hardwired plays 131 years later than Cyberpunk 2020. Nevertheless, at least to me, the setting seems more coherent and “realistic” than that of 2020:
The drying up of the soil is forcing farmers worldwide to use more and more water in order to wrest food from the land in the first place. But the sinking groundwater level is destroying virtually all traditionally cultivated plants.
Fossil fuels are running out or can no longer be used without massive additional costs because of their impact on the environment. Meanwhile, operators are shifting heavy industry into orbit in order to circumvent environmental regulations. The “orbitals”, as the companies located in space are called, are growing more and more, a lucrative business. On Earth, on the other hand, the foundations of life are deteriorating daily. Tensions arise between “dirtside” and “orbitals”. These escalate so far that the orbitals begin to attack the earth with their mass drivers (electromagnetic cannons which shoot nickel-iron mixtures into the orbit in order to erect radiation protection “screens” for future generations) by firing 10,000 tons of heavy rock onto them. Known as the Rock War, this attack lasts 12 hours. Now the planet resembles a lunar landscape in places, while other, formerly poor, continents blossom. “The USA is a third world country,” notes the sourcebook.
The USA is fragmented into its individual states. The government in DC can only watch powerlessly. Independence turns many former US states into secured estates with fortified border crossings. This in turn calls smugglers on the scene. In self-built armoured hovercrafts (“tanks”), they bring coveted goods to where they are needed.
In contrast to Cyberpunk 2020, where clones were still outrageous (we remember “Land of the Free”, a complete adventure in the box that only revolved around the first successful human clone), cloning technology in Hardwired is possible, but very expensive and still flawed.
In Hardwired it is the “Face” (short for “Interface”).
… does not exist. The “consensual hallucination” of Gibson, the “matrix” of Shadowrun, the three-dimensional virtual space that stands as an icon for cyberpunk, is completely missing in Hardwired.
It is replaced by something that I find far more interesting in the game: a hacking system. A player who plays a hacker, or “(Console) Cowboys” or “Crystal Jock”, as they are called, has differently influential accounts in various networks, has to write programs in an oldschool way (in a “programming language” called “Evolved BASIC”, or eBasic), exchange or guess passwords, or obtain or buy them, and do everything that hackers do (or at least what I believe they do as non-hackers).
“Black ICe” doesn’t exist – simply because the author Jon Williams doesn’t believe in the technical possibilities that a data line could ever have so much juice that it would fry a person’s brain. A nice quote:
Nobody dies in the Net. Dying because of what one does in the Net – that’s different.
So the really dangerous things on the net are not autonomous programs, but the SysOps that monitor the system you’re in. They are the ones who locate intruders and possibly send troops out. That makes playing a hacker exciting again.
I already mentioned above that players with “hacker” characters have to write small pseudo programs in a pseudo programming language called “eBasic”. Actual experience at my table shows that this also hits the nerve of players who are interested in this role, but at the same time have no current programming experience. One of my former players spent hours happily writing “programs” that his hacker could use during the game. An example from Hardwired:
(…) a crystaljock wishing to break into a secured computer and steal a file while simultaneously providing himself an alibi could write the following program:
WAIT 2 HOURS
CALL 786-7787 (Korolev)
LOGON IVAN SMITIKOV
ACCESS SECUREFILES DIRECTORY
LOAD FILE SECRETDATA
SAVE IN DECK DIRECTORY
The crystaljock tells his deck to run this program, then heads out to spend a night on the town, making sure he is seen by a number of people during the next three or four hours. The deck obediently waits two hours, then logs on to the Korolev computer and downloads the desired file while the crystaljock is establishing his alibi.
If you’re interested in an rpg that allows you to play quick and dirty cyberpunk, it can’t hurt to take a look into my minimald6 hack “Futurepunk”: https://drive.google.com/file/d/15NvJqH6k7q-C5vKCSjb0p1juXLTVI_DK/view