Cyberpunk: Why Hardwired is the real 2020 for me

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.

The Net

In Hardwired it is the “Face” (short for “Interface”).

Virtual Reality

… 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:
CALL 786-7787 (Korolev)

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”:

minimalAmber: playing Amber Diceless WITH DICE (ha!)

Norbert G. Matausch

1. Creating characters
1.1Choose your character class. The number in parentheses is the number of specials you may pick. Then, determine your Attributes.
Prince of Amber(2): walked the Pattern, I understand Shadow Technology, have Shadow Resources, I have a Sword that never gets lost

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

Wizard of Amber(2): I walked the Pattern, I can cast Spells, have Shadow Resources, I have a Sword that never gets lost

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

Chaos Knight(3): I survived the Logrus, have Shadow Resources, I’m a Shapeshifter

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

Trump Artist of Amber(2): I walked the Pattern, I can create Trumps

Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Strong as an ox; 2 Tough as nails; 3 Master of Warfare; 4 Psychic Bulwark
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

Chaos Mage(3): survived the Logrus, can cast Spells, I’m a Shapeshifter
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick two or roll 1dtwice: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

Chaos Artist (3):survived the Logrus, I can create Trumps, I’m a Shapeshifter
Pick one or roll 1d4: 1 Stronger than average; 2 Can take a blow; 3 Good Warrior; 4 Strong Psyche
Pick three or roll 1dthree times: 1 Weak; 2 Fragile; 3 Clumsy; 4 Weak Psyche

(all weak attributes are still better than the average human)

1.2 Starting Level
You start on Level 2.

1.3Scope of Powers: what might be possible 
  • move through shadows: 
    • Shadow Walking (change one detail after another)
    • Royal Path (only travel through shadowsyou like)
    • Hell Ride (the shortest path through shadow = greatest danger)
  • Shadow portal: lead others through the shadows
  • Pattern as shield against attacks (logrus, magic) 
  • Finding things, beings and situations in the shadows
  • Shadow time: slow and fast shadows
  • Manipulate shadows (you have to move)
  • Make probabilities occur and/or influence
  • Blood curse (“By the Pattern of Amber, I curse…”)
  • Changing the laws of nature/magic laws of a shadow
  • Recognize disturbances in the shadow (e.g. when a real being is pulled through)

  • Requirement: strong will and 100 percent chaos blood
  • Logrus tendrils are always clearly visible (black)
  • recover from mental stress
  • Hang up/save spells on logrus tendrils
  • Manifest and control Logrus tendrils
  • Use Logrus tendrils as mental weapon/tool (influencing creatures and shadow material)
  • Use Logrus as shield
  • travel through the shadows: “very difficult” (Merlin); one forcibly makes one’s way through the shadows, whereby one must mostly follow the local topographical conditions –> slowly and laboriously; therefore mostly winged beings are used as messengers
  • Pattern contact: extremely painful for logrus users
  • difficult to use, when used against patterns or logrus, it is only one third as strong
  • Magic is bound to the respective shadow and is very difficult to access from one shadow to another.
  • short one-word spells (Power Words)
  • the more variables in a spell, the longer it will take for it to be deployed
  • Painting, drawing, making trump cards
  • on any reasonable surface
  • one-time (quick sketches) or permanent (family trumps)
  • trumps of persons or landscapes
  • Pick two basic body shapes
  • Close wounds, assume further body shapes
  • Primary form: Survival form of the shape-shifter (“demonic” looking), best form for survival
  • Transforming body parts
  • Create a blood creature: from your own blood; the creature has a small spark of the creator’s power. 
  • transform your own aura/change your personality
  • maybe even shape other beings?

2. Playing the game
All characters can use Trumps.

2.1 Players
Describe what your character is doing. Roll 2d6. A 5 or 6=successful. +1d6 for advantage of any kind (item, high attribute, superior tactics etc). -1d6 for disadvantage of any kind (low attribute, hinderance). Do NOT ADD dice results. Simply look for Fives and Sixes. Never roll more than 3d6. Never roll less than 1d6. Roll when you try to hit, to evade, to do stuff, to save your ass. The DM will tell you when and why.

2.2 DMs
Play the world and everything in it. Roll for it, if necessary. Success in combat=reduce health by 1 point or narrate what happens (high health=they can take a good amount of damage, low health=weak). Major successes are possible (you decide when it happens and what happens). Likely success: don’t roll dice, it happens. Unlikely success: roll dice. Impossible: don’t roll dice, tell the players what happens. Skills are likely, except when impossible. All rolls change the situation.

2.3 Non player characters
DM, if it’s required, create specials for your npcs (just like character classes). If not, wing it.

2.4 Leveling Up
When it‘s dramatically appropriate, a character reaches a new experience level. They may then pick another special from their own list (or, with your OK, from another), or the DM creates a new one for them.


2.8 Optional rule: Dilemma Die
Recommended for action adventure games. Introduce an additional die, the Dilemma Die. That’s a d6 with one side marked with a flash symbol. Roll the Dilemma Die with your other dice. If you roll a flash, something negative happens in addition to what’s going on, and it doesn’t matter if the other dice show a success or not.
2.9 Optional rule: Mass Combat
Against a superior opponent (in numbers or in ability): disadvantage
Against a vastly superior opponent (in numbers of ability): impossible
Against an inferior opponent (in numbers or in ability): advantage
Against a vastly inferior opponent (in numbers or in ability): likely

Thundarr! …and how easy it’s to play him in proto-D&D games

I love playing with rules that are older than D&D. Chirine ba Kal calls them “pre-school” rules, I prefer to call them proto-D&D, though they don’t resemble D&D as most of us know it; names are smoke and mirrors, anyway. One thing that especially the old guard of roleplayers criticizes frequently is that most modern gamers read rulebooks instead of “real books” (novels, non-fiction works). I play other systems, too. But one of the many reasons why I keep coming back to proto-“D&D” is because it’s so easy to turn any description of any character into a gameable asset.

Let’s try Thundarr, one of my favorites (yes, I’m a man of simple tastes):
Wikipedia knows this:

Thundarr (voiced by Robert Ridgely)
The main protagonist of the series. He is a barbarian who was once a slave to Sabian until he was freed by Princess Ariel and given the Sunsword which he uses as a weapon in his fight against evil wizards and other villains. Thundarr was known for frequently uttering such pronouncements as “Demon dogs!”,[4] “Lords of Light!”,[5] and the Thundarr war-cry “Aaaaahh-ee!”.[6] Thundarr, along with his friend Ookla, are largely unknowledgeable about the world and rely on Ariel’s guidance, but Thundarr is respectful of knowledge gained. When once asked what kind of man he was, Thundarr simply replied “Free!”

This paragraph contains everything we need to know to play Thundarr.
He’s a barbarian, so he’s strong and can fight with simple weapons and unarmed.
He’s a former slave, so he has probably more resilience than others.
His Sunsword might deal extra or special damage.
“He is respectful of knowledge gained” – that’s an acting advice, right there.
He loves freedom.

Pouring all this into a character class for my minimald6 game:

Barbarian (pick 2): strong as an ox, knows how to fight, loves freedom more than anything else, former barbarian, wields the Sunsword, tough as nails

Everything else will develop in-game, and it will work differently for every group. That’s why I love proto-D&D.

Alternative Combat rules for OSR games and other level-based rpgs

(Taking inspiration from Risus)
Each combatant rolls (Level)d6. Adjucate monsters and npcs: What Level equivalent do they have?
If you’re a fighter, add 3d6. Aggressive monsters do so, as well.
Add 1d6 for any other advantage you have in combat.
Roll your dice against the opponent’s dice. Look for the single highest die. Compare with the opponent. If you’re higher, the opponent loses 1d6. If there’s a draw, look for the next higher die and follow the above steps.
The side with zero dice left is defeated. The winner decides what happens to the loser.
One huge PLUS of these rules is you won’t have to look up anything, and you can combine all dice of all party members and roll them in one huge pile, T&T-style 

Optional Critical Hit rule: Add the highest die and its multiples together and compare to your opponent’s. If your number is at least three times as high, the opponent loses 1d6 dice.

HeroQuest as a roleplaying game

On New Year’s Eve, we played a few sessions of HeroQuest, the old MB board game that everyone is still in love with because it is the best game ever made. I went in with the intention to morph it into a full-blown tabletop roleplaying game. Success came easily.

  1. Grant each adventurer type one or two special abilities or skills.
    These can either be freeform, or you can pick one of several freely available supplements for my minimald6 rpg and use those: Creatures & Classes, Deeds & Doers (not a supplement, but a major, major inspiration for minimald6), or Deeds & Doers Expansion.
  2. Keep the HQ combat system.
    It’s quick, simple and fun.
  3. But change the order of play.
    In regular HQ, each player, including the Evil Wizard player, gets to move and act in order. In rpg-ified HQ, one player rolls a d6, the Evil Wizard player as well – the side with the higher result gets to act first (ALL characters; players will have to determine who does what), then ALL characters of the other party move and act.
  4. Remember how trap doors work in HeroQuest? Use this as saving throw for all non-combat moves.
    When a trap door has been detected, an adventurer can leap across if the player rolls one Combat Die and it doesn’t show a skull symbol. There are three skull symbols, two white shield symbols and one black shield symbol on a Combat  Die. This is how you turn the board game rule into an rpg rule: To be successful, an adventurer rolls TWO combat dice and has to roll a white shield.If in a situation, the adventurer has an advantage of some kind, roll THREE combat dice instead of two. Remember, all you need to roll is one white shield.

    The same in reverse applies to disadvantages: Roll ONE combat die instead of two. Roll a white shield, and you’re golden.

And yes, these few minor twists turn the HeroQuest board game into full-blown minimald6.
Oooooh yeah!

On natural gaming and my minimald6 system

We’re still on our journey back through time, and our destination is to play as “naturally” and intuitively as possible. I’m tempted to call this style of rpg “natural gaming” – because we’d like to rely as little as possible on stats and numbers on the character sheet. One way of achieving this is to roll stats, but to keep only the really good and really bad ones.

Like this character creation example from one of my minimald6 games, a cyberpunk rpg called Futurepunk:

Roll 1d6 for strength, dexterity, health, courage, intelligence, tech

I roll 3,3,4,6,6,1 – I keep 6,6 and 1. So my character has balls of steel, is super intelligent, but abysmally bad with tech. This is exactly what I write on my character sheet.

Next: Personally, I love character classes because they offer quick orientation for players who have never played in a genre before. Old hands can still play with the concept and add wrinkles to it. A win-win.

I like character classes with a bare minimum of details: class, a list of skills, abilities, equipment and secrets to choose from. I roll for my character class and get a Cop. In my game, the character class Cop looks like this:

Cops (2): Big revolver, kevlar vest, shotgun, close-quarters combat and firearms training, authority, shady business on the side.

The (2) indicates that the player may choose two entries from the list. I pick “Authority” and “Shady Business on the side”. What do they mean? Obviously, they’re some kind of special skill and background, but what exactly do they mean? Well, here’s the thing: In my games, I don’t want to define these things. This is natural gaming, and so I want every group to find out what they mean to them, in their world, according to their preferences and their play style.

In my game, “Authority” is the skill to make a huge impression on people, even more so if they’re gullible. In your game, “Authority” might only work within the ranks of an organization. Your game, your call.

What about a quick dice system, something that can be included on one page in a supplement, for instance? My minimald6 system fits that bill perfectly.

You roll 2d6, +1d6 if your character has some advantage of some kind, -1d6 if your character has some disadvantage of some kind. You always roll at least 1d6, and 3d6, tops. Every 5 and 6 is a success. That’s it. That’s the system. You can add any house rule, for instance, adding hit points. Or rolling 1d20 with a DC of 1 0 (add +5 to your roll for advantage, subtract 5 from your roll for disadvantage) instead of rolling 2d6. Let the rules find you in play. Adjust, bend, twist, shake and stir them till they fit your style. Natural gaming in a nutshell.

minimald6 is alive and kicking!

minimald6 logo

I’m happy to report that my minimald6 rpg system continues to be awesome. A whole army of creative people have written their own little games and hacks based on it, and it’s growing by the day.

There’s a minimald6 group on MeWe, in case you’re interested. Yochai Gal is the admin and has opened an online collection for all minimald6 hacks (or at least those whose authors want to share). Go there to see it in all its glory:

minimald6: Bound for Glory

BfG is my minimald6 version of Dungeon World. It’s about 80 percent finished.

A couple of sample characters:

  • Strong as an ox, dextrous, but repulsive Thief Level 2, (d6 damage up close and at range). Best type of armor he can use: chainmail (armor 4). Pick locks/pockets. Disable Traps. Dungeon rations, leather armor (armor 2). 3 Bloodweed potions. 10 coins. Dagger, short sword. Ragged bow, bundle of arrows. Adventuring gear.
  • Brilliantly minded, stronger than average, but clumsy Barbarian Level 2, (d10 damage up close, d6 damage at range). Best type of armor he can wear: scale (armor 5).  Fight armed and unarmed. Hungry for pure destruction, fame and glory. Dungeon rations, dagger, some tokens from his journeys. Scale Armor (armor 5). Two-handed sword. Adventuring gear.
  • Charming and attentive, but fragile Cleric Level 2 (d8 damage up close, d6 damage at range). Best type of armor she can wear: Chainmail. Her Deity’s domain is What Lies Beneath. It’s an isolated cult. Cast spells. Commune with her Deity. She can cast these clerical spells without rolling dice: Light, Sanctify, Guidance. She can also cast Bless and Cure Wounds. Dungeon Rations, holy divine candle. Chainmail (armor 4). Mace. Adventuring gear.