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.