Years back I ran and played in many different cyberpunk campaigns, mostly using the Cyberpunk 2020 system, and the newer Cyberpunk Red, both by R. Talsorian Games.
This is the collection of my notes, system changes, and resources from that time. It should be useful for any near-future dystopian world but will need adapting to other game systems, such as Shadowrun, Cyberspace, & Interface Zero.
One of the choices a Player Character can have in Cyberpunk 2020 is to sell out. Basically, it’s more chrome for young punks at the cost for servitude to the Corporation, Covert Military, or Organised Crime. New players can access these easy packages of cyberware. Providing them with Cyber-Soldier, Netrunner, Tech Support, Faceman, and a Bioware focused pack.
Pages 93 & 94 cover the details of selling out and as a GM it does provide many opportunities to make the character’s lives more difficult. An organization’s coercion technique is hidden in the GM’s notes adds some paranoia to the game.
An example of a corporate’s holdover a character is Case from Necromancer. Having been locked out of the net by his past, Armitage offers a treatment to give him what he wants. As always, life is not that simple as the treatment is temporary, requiring Armitage’s cure.
This is a basic font to map out subnets for Cyberpunk 2020. The lowercase is all of the old classic icons Netrunning section of the Core Rules, while the uppercase takes inspiration from Sector 34. All the glyphs have been created by me and are offered here with a CC-BY-SA license.
Body Conditioning or Body Building is a BODY-based skill represents the character’s knowledge of how to train the body to improve its condition. This idea originally appeared in Interface 1#1, but it was too easy to go from BODY 2 to 10 (or higher) without problems. So this is a rewrite of that idea.
A character can train themselves or others.
The maximum increase of the BODY stat through body conditioning is half the current skill level, up to a maximum of 13.
A character starting with Body Conditioning can roll once per skill level to improve their BODY once character creation is complete.
If a character is training regularly, then they can roll once per month
If a character is not training enough, then they lose one point of BODY per month until their BODY returns to its original value.
Very Weak (2)
Weak (3 – 4)
Average (5 – 7)
Strong (8 – 9)
Very Strong (10)
Super human (11 – 12)
On a roll of ‘one’, roll again to determine the degree of the Fumble.
1 – 4
No effect. You just failed.
5 – 6
You look like a fool and everyone knows it.
7 – 8
Minor injury. 1 point of damage.
Major injury. 1d6 damage.
Severe injury. 2d6 damage and – 1 BODY.
Like most skills there are pieces of equipment that can make it easier;
Basic Gym Equipment: +1
Full set Gym Equipment: +3
Integrated Cyber-gym: +5
Beyond Body Conditioning
There is REFLEX training used by the US Air-force to improve the responsiveness of their pilots. The same is true for world class athletics training the lower half of their body for movement (ie MA).
MA Training would be limited to skill level / 3, with a maximum of 12.
REF Training should be limited to skill level / 4, with a maximum of 11.
It appears that there are other forms of training the can make people more Emphatic (EMP), deal with pressures (COOL), etc. However, it is difficult to know how these could be set up in game.
Back in ’94-’95, I updated the Netrunning rules to make play easier, especially for Net Combat. What follows is a summary / TLDR of those rules. Each round plays out at the same speed are the real world, just to keep the game flowing.
Initiative: The interface skill on page 46 says, “Other players can enter the Net, but cannot use the Menu.” This means that any action in the net requires Interface (See pages 149 – 150). I doubt this was intentional, so we just dropped this requirement and made Interface improve initiative. Making Netrunners, the Solos of the Net.
INT + Interface + speed – number of LDLs + 1d10 * LDLs in Africa get -2 each, not -1.
Jacking Out: The next change was logging out, the roll of 8 or less on a 1d10, seams at odds with the rest of the system and a character’s Cool should play a part.
COOL + 1d10 vs 12
Using Software: This section was a little convoluted with Interface use in some places but not others. So the goal here was to simplify the dice rolls for Net Combat. Str vs. Str roll with program types acting against one another. If the roll is tied then favor falls to the defender.
One of the things that I had not considered when playing Cyberpunk 2020 & Shadowrun back in the ’90s was how people live, day to day. The cyberpunk life consisted of doing jobs until you die. They may be a little lip service to the background world, but it was rare to inhabit that world in your game.
This profile of Serge Faguet provides some insight into the life of a Corporate character. The article goes into the mix of lifestyle, drugs, and technology all focused to give himself an edge. It may be a set of extreme steps to take, but it may become to the norm.
A story from Mirrorshades (or I think it was) about a medical student regularly using a drug to enhance her mental state to be able to absorb the huge quantity of information needed for med school. So taking this to its logical extreme. If drugs, cyber-technology, and any form of enhancement you can make could give you an edge. Then those technologies become required to run with the pack, or even to be in the race.
A few questions emerge from this.
So what do characters need to compete?
What enhancements are needed and the consequences that could involve?
How can you create this in a game?
Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, & Cyberspace provide useful definitions of character types, the gear they will need, and the tech they are likely to use. So while the game-systems are different, the intent behind them is the same.
Soldiers, Fighters, Gangers, Punks, Killers, Street-samurai are all examples of the Warrior Archetype. In the cyberpunk genre, it all about who shoots first kills first and enhancing those critical combat skills. Cyber-optics, neural links, and reflect boosting become the order of the day.
Facemen include Fixers, Corporates, Mr. Johnson, and Tricksters in general. The goal is to win social conflicts to get the best deal, persuade the right person, or intimidate the gangers. To this end, they will need cyberware that enhances the social encounters.
Knowledge brokers (aka Wizards) include Netrunners, Deckers, Jockeys who access the digital web to find stuff that others can not. It can also include a character with specialist knowledge, like a Tech or Ripper Doc. The cyberware will be focused on enhancing the mind and allowing access to new data sources.
While not exhaustive, this really just provides a gateway into the character’s world and the lives they could live.
The exploring the Lows
As a GM the challenge here is to balance the good with the bad. So how do you set up the consequences of cyber-enhancement? What enhancements are needed and the consequences that could involve?
The use of cyberware tends to lead to a loss of Humanity (in Cyberpunk 2020) or Essence (in Shadowrun). These are common ways of regulating a character’s actions. However, there are other GM techniques to manipulate the character’s behavior.
Peer pressure plays a part in any sort of social game. As a GM you can use NPCs reactions to your advantage.
A street punk would look for obvious enhancements, like cyberware and skin tattoos.
A sleek corporate looks for high-quality cyberware, as examples of wealth and sophistication.
A Neo-Luddite would look on any cyberware as abhorrent.
Regardless, of why NPCs react they way they do, the effect is still the same in flavoring the cyberpunk life.
Excessive drug use can lead to addition. Cyberpunk 2020 has rules for that. Not too sure if Shadowrun or Cyberspace does. Regardless of the game-system media like, there is media other there that provides some examples of the consequences. So the question now becomes how could you model the pitfalls of addiction for a character?
Starting the Cyberpunk life with Session Zero
One way to create the feeling of the world is to explore a character’s daily life during session zero. During it, you can bring in all the cyberpunk elements that you want in your game. Focusing on the particular things that are important, with the others becoming faded into the background.
To help set the foundation of the cyberpunk life, you can explore a day in the life or common experiences. Some examples that you could explore are;
Use the character’s Lifepath as a starting point for session zero.
What was a character’s first piece of cyberware?
What crime has the character committed?
Has the character ever been caught for something?
The whole goal of this for the GM is to tease out more details about the character.
A few years ago, I was working on a set of science fiction themed floor tiles with the idea of releasing them on Shapeways. However, I was not happy with the design as the legs of the pieces snapped off quickly pointing to a flaw in the design. It’s one that could be easily fixed, but the time lag and cost of iterating the design would have been prohibitive. So with other priorities pressing in, I let it slide to the back burner.
Now, just recently I get my first 3D Printer and have been looking as Devon Jones’ designs on Thingiverse. The Terrain tiles and miniatures that he and others have created is truly inspiring, and I’ve been bitten by the 3D design bug again. So, I pulled out some old designs I did in Blender and reworked them to improve the design and create a set of sci-fi dungeon tiles that I could use with Cyberpunk, Shadowrun, Infinity, or Starfinder.
The first was a set of plain tiles, to use as a template for the other designs. Then I took the designs for an age ago and tweaked them to suit the printer.
Luckily, I’d been working on something similar for a homebrew and I had most of this kicking about. So with a few quick changes for the stats & skill list, I’ve backported this character sheet to the Cyberpunk 2020 era.
The logo is adapted from the new Cyberpunk 2077 computer game and the font is Cyberpunk is Not Dead. The text is straight from the original character sheet, although I did add Seth’s sections for vehicles & clothing.
Also here’s Seth’s review on one of the best games systems I’ve ever played as it strikes the balance between realism and playability. Sadly, the tech of the world has not aged well with its FAX machines and archaic ideas around the Internet.
I used the details from the Cyberpunk 2020 Reference Book (Version 5). It collects together information from a range of Cyberpunk 2020 books. I copied the 3 column layout from the Cyberpunk 2020 Core rulebook adding a few details of my own. Finally, I added a bloody fingerprint, some splatters and the iBorg image byzoopeefor a bit of extra flavor.
The Cyberpunk 2020 Reference Book (Version 5) has been available on the net for many years. It has been collated by Andrew James of http://www.node16.co.uk/ However, the Ref Book was last updated was in 2002 and website looks out of date. I have found an online copy of it for this post (https://img.fireden.net/tg/image/1452/60/1452607540655.pdf ), but any search for “Cyberpunk 2020 Reference Book, Version 5” should turn it up.
Jewelry That Harvests Energy From Your Veins. It’s very Cyberpunk, although it was know as bioware. In Cyberspace, it was the expensive power system for most of your implants. And I don’t remember Shadowrun talking about it, but it’s hard to tell from all the Elves and Dragons running around in the future.
It’s interesting and kind of cool to see the technology we are developing emerge from the games I’ve played. It’s added to the list along with;
the cyber eye created at Berkeley, well an external camera wired into the visual cortex, and