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Michael Barnes
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Godtear Beats the Odds - Review

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The Split - Review

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Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)

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13 Dec 2020 21:57 #317129 by Shellhead
So I dug up my Cyberpunk role-playing game plus some supplements and modules. The first edition was published in black and white in 1988 and takes place in 2013. The second edition was published in color in 1990 and takes place in the futuristic year of 2020. So how does that timeline compare to our own dystopia? Here are some highlights:

1990 - South Africa falls to a genocidal civil war. The U.S. goes to war against several Central American countries over control of the Panama Canal.

1991 - CHOOH2 is invented. It is a synthetic grain alcohol produced by bio-engineered organisms, and eventually completely replaces oil as an energy source.

1992 - Formation of the Euromarket (similar to our world's European Union that started in 1993), which uses the Eurodollar (similar to our world's Euro that started in 1999). A massdriver is constructed in the Canary Islands by the Eurospace Combine.

1993 - First biologic interface chips developed in Munich, Germany.

1994 - World Stock Market Crash, followed by collapse of the U.S. economy. By 1995, 1 in 6 Americans are homeless, martial law is established, and many cities go bankrupt.

1997 - Nuclear war in the Mideast, reducing Iran, Iraq, Libya, Chad, and U.A.E. into radioactive slag. World oil supply cut in half.

1999 - Luna Colony established on moon. Martial law ends in the U.S.

2000 - Wasting plague kills hundreds of thousands in Europe and U.S.

2001 - Construction of the World Sat Network, the foundation of this world's internet.

2002 - Food crash, as a mutated plant virus devastates crops in Soviet Union and Canada.

2003 - Second Central American War, with same participants as the first one.

2004 - First cloned tissue growth in vitro. First Corporate War.

2005 - Invention of cybermodem.

2006 - First clone grown in vitro.

2007 - Second Corporate War.

2008 - Space war between Europe and U.S. ends after a European mass driver drops a big rock on Colorado Springs.

2009 - Joint Euro-Soviet mission to Mars departs.

2013 - The Scottish Uprising begins, and continues until 2018.

2014 - Redesign of the net, creating a universal interface. Third gen cybermodems appear. A massive gang war breaks out in Night City, California, causing property damage of $12 billion.

2015 - Trade war breaks out between Euromarket and Japan.

2016 - Third Corporate War. Bioware hits the streets.

2017 - First self-aware human clone created, survives for just weeks. L-3 colony established in stable Earth orbit. The United States break up into 7 separate countries.

2018 - Various small wars break out in eastern Europe. L4 colony established.

2019 - L3 Colony revolts. Optical camoflauge deployed in combat. Portable cybermodems appear. An american space gunship disappeared mysteriously after reporting contact with a massive space object of unknown origin.
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13 Dec 2020 22:25 #317131 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
The game system is pretty clean, relying heavily on ten-sided dice. You roll a ten-sider and add a relevant skill and stat and try to beat a target (difficulty) number.

There are 9 attributes, and you can roll randomly or do a point-buy or a hybrid of the two methods. The attributes are: Intelligence, Reflexes, Cool, Technical Ability, Luck, Attractiveness, Movement Allowance, Body Type, and Empathy. There are also 9 character classes: Rockerboy or girl (bard), Solo (fighter), Netrunner (hacker), Techie/Medtechie, Media, Cop, Corporate, Fixer, and Nomad (road warrior). Each character class has a special ability.

Character generation is fun, involving dice-chucking on various tables to build the basic elements of your life story. You can also start acquiring cybernetics during character generation. However, if you eventually have too many cybernetic parts and not enough Empathy, you can descend into a violent state of madness known as cyberpsychosis and the gamemaster might take your character and run you as a homicidal maniac.

The original base game came in a box, with the core rules in one booklet, the combat system in another, and a setting in a third booklet. The combat system is called Friday Night Firefight, and strives for violent realism. Quoting the 2013 edition, "Friday Night Firefight is not good, clean fun. Most of the data herein has been compiled from ballistics reports, polica data, FBI statistics, and other not-clean-fun sources. These sources all tend to point to a couple basic truths about firefight combat."

"Most (80%, in fact) gunfights occur within 21 feet of the respective targets. Some 40% of these happen within 8 feet or less. Most (60%) occur in dimly lit and difficult conditions - dark, rainy alleys, with both participants panting and out of breath, pausing momentarily to snap off a badly aimed shot at a fleeing shadow, then ducking back into cover. Hits are actually quite rare. When they do occur (assuming a large caliber weapon is used), the victim is usually hors de combat on the first shot, from a combination of wound shock and fear. A solid hit from a .44 magnum will probably splatter your character all over New Jersey."

The combat system is fairly comprehensive and a bit crunchy, Hit locations are used, and potential massive damage to limbs can encourage survivors to get cybernetic replacements.

All of this may sound good, but the fatal flaw of Cyberpunk is the importance of Reflexes. High reflexes will allow you to act (attack) first and more often, and will increase your chance of hitting an opponent. You can even buy certain cybernetic or pharmaceutical enhancements to artificially increase your Reflexes beyond the normal human attribute limit of 10. Smart players will always strive to max out their Reflexes, while non-smart players will be rolling up new characters more often.
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13 Dec 2020 22:36 #317132 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
There is a surprising amount of published materials for Cyberpunk. After the first and second editions that I have, there was a 3rd edition (published 2005) and a 4th edition (published 2020). There was also a weird off-shoot future called Cybergeneration that was published in 1993 and set in a 2027 where a nanotech virus mutated all the young people and gave them super-powers, but this was ignored by later editions of Cyberpunk.

Science-fiction writer Walter Jon Williams was one of the original Cyberpunk playtesters, so there was a subsequent sourcebook published as an alternative Cyberpunk campaign setting based on his book Hardwired. Another sourcebook covered the setting described in the Budayeen series by George Alec Effinger. Atlas Games published quite a few adventures and supplements in the '90s. There was even a couple of hybrid adventures suitable for either Cyberpunk or Call of Cthulhu, as well as a Paranoia adventure that is an official parody of Cyberpunk.

Fans of the new Cyberpunk 2077 game should note that Johnny Silverhand first appeared in the first edition setting, as a Rockerboy fronting a band called Samurai. Fans of the Netrunner card game should note that the original edition of Netrunner (not the FFG Android Netrunner) takes place in the same setting as the Cyberpunk rpg. There was even expansion that included rules for how to use Netrunner cards during hacking runs in a Cyberpunk campaign.
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14 Dec 2020 06:23 #317137 by southernman
On the timeline the Scottish thing was pretty funny and close to the dates of their independence referendum :lol: and the eastern european wars was 25 years late, but for the scientific and tech stuff they needed to add 100 years.

I picked up the Shadowrun Crossfire deckbuilder game this year and was interested to see its alternative universe also started from and RPG game in 1989, I quite like the Shadowrun canon as it has magic reintroducing itself back to the earth (in a 5,200 year cycle) but don't have the time or people, only just have enough people to boardgame with, to get into ... but 25 years ago, maybe.
The deckbuilder game is well thought out and fun, would greatly benefit from a proper campaign though and maybe a better (or more permanent) tie between your character and the role you choose.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadowrun
shadowrun.fandom.com/wiki/Shadowrun_timeline

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14 Dec 2020 09:07 #317142 by hotseatgames
Thanks for the overview! The system has been stripped down for the video game. I think there are 5 stats:

Intelligence, Reflexes, Cool, Technical Ability, Body. I might be messing up exactly what some of these are called. Each stat has 2 or 3 perk categories in which you can dump points. Your character can get pretty diverse.

There are 3 "backgrounds" you choose at the beginning: Nomad, Street (can't remember what it's called), and Corpo. I'm playing Corpo, which has periodically provided unique dialog choices, but hasn't terribly changed the course of anything, as far as I can tell.

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14 Dec 2020 10:31 #317146 by jason10mm
Replied by jason10mm on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
There were some great gear books (Chromebooks I think they were called) for CP2020. Really awesome military stuff and full body cyborg conversions. Of course the #1 mod was the neural system upgrade that added reflex bonuses for the reasons listed previously.

The "netrunning" hacking stuff is cool but feels soooo dated. Black ICE chasing you down, being killed IRL just because no one can figure out how to install a fuse between your deck and your wetware brain, and digital landscapes mirroring physical ones, etc. Basically spells.

And of course the thing that 80s/90s authors could never predict, that folks would WILLINGLY give over their data and freedoms to massive corps for convenience instead of out of desperation.

As for mechanics, I've always felt the Top Secret S. I. System was the fastest and most elegant system when dealing with a hit location system (roll d100, the ones number doubles as a hit location). %modifiers seem to work best in modern or sci-fi settings for some reason. A "vorpal sword +15%" just doesn't have the same ring to it :p

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14 Dec 2020 10:56 #317147 by southernman
Well, not being a computer gamer at all I had no idea how big this game is - it just made the front page of the BBC News website with it being very buggy on Xboxes and Playstations .... don't think Gloomhaven would :)

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14 Dec 2020 13:48 #317166 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
I never got any of the Chromebooks, but I did pick up a fair number of other supplements. One of them was a guide to the setting's version of the internet. Cyberpunk game designer Mike Pondsmith failed to anticipate the two most popular functions of the internet: online shopping and porn. He was visualizing something more like the original DARPAnet, which was primarily used by universities, defense contractors, the phone company, and the federal government. He also thought that users would use a virtual reality interface and that data and programs would be represented there by 3D icons. There would also be public discussion forums in the form of the old BBS (bulletin board systems). But most people would receive news and personal correspondence via fax machines. Cellular phones (using that exact term) are widespread, but still basically brick-sized walkie-talkies that don't connect to the net. In the original 2013 edition, portable computers were not wireless, so infiltration often involved physically breaking into a facility and then plugging directly into a terminal there. The cyberpunk version of the internet corresponds to real world space, with dense clusters of activity and data in every urban center, surrounded by vast virtual wastelands.

Another book in my collection is a guide to Night City, the same city setting used in Cyberpunk 2077. It is dense with information, but a bit difficult to navigate because it attempts to resemble a modern pdf with embedded links, but is actually a paper booklet with no such functionality. The sidebar layouts are not as easy to use as in comparable products of the same publishing era, especially GURPS. For a maximum GM utility, cleaner sidebars and extensive cross-indexing would have been better. Still, I plan to read it all before I receive my Cyberpunk 2077 next week.

Another quirk of old Cyberpunk is Mike Pondsmith's strong anti-drug stance. I respect that he doesn't want to encourage real-world drug use because of his own negative experiences with junkie acquaintances, but cyberpunk fiction usually features readily available pharmaceutical products for a wide range of performance-enhancing and mind-altering purposes. The drugs addressed in Pondsmith's core rules are potent but ridiculously addictive. The Hardwired sourcebook by Walter Jon Williams offers a more plausible set of rules for drugs in Cyberpunk.
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14 Dec 2020 14:17 #317167 by Sagrilarus
Replied by Sagrilarus on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
Isn't ALL camouflage optical?
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14 Dec 2020 14:34 #317172 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
Moreso than nearly any other rpg game designer, Mike Pondsmith provided Cyberpunk game masters with a lot of advice about how to run the game. Book and movie references, style tips, and campaign hooks. The original rulebook advised against just letting players generate whatever characters they wanted and then meeting in a bar, and instead defining the campaign right away with a team concept, like first responders (police and paramedics), corporate espionage (solos, corps, and netrunners), or even a traveling rock band (rockerboys, techies, and media). I disregarded this advice, and so my first session devolved in to triggerhappy cybernetic players shooting up a bar, including bar patrons, staff, and each other. Eventually, Pondsmith addressed a wide range of issues with a GM advice book called Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads. His general approach for any given issue was to start by individually approaching a problem player and just talking to them. Then he offered both steering and stopping tactics for use in play.

I've read some recent interviews with Pondsmith, and he is an interesting guy. Possibly the first black tabletop gamer to make money in the hobby as a designer and publisher. He got into D&D to spend time with the woman that he eventually married, but didn't really appreciate role-playing until he tried Traveler. Blade Runner was a big influence as well as some short stories by William Gibson, but he didn't get around to reading Neuromancer until after publishing the first edition of Cyberpunk.
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27 Dec 2020 13:30 #317546 by Shellhead
Replied by Shellhead on topic Cyberpunk RPG (tabletop)
I've been reading through various Cyberpunk supplements from the first and second editions. The quality is somewhat variable, but two good things consistently stand out about the game. First, the setting is cohesive. Mike Pondsmith put a lot of thought into the future timeline and the implications for the setting, and applies it all consistently across the product line, or at least the portion of it that I own.

Second, Pondsmith constantly strives for realism whenever possible, given that it is a science-fiction game. For example, his Near Orbit supplements addresses cyberpunk adventures in the various space stations and colonies in orbit around Earth or on the moon. He starts out emphasizing that space is a very deadly environment, and then goes into detail about three particular safety issues that the GM should always keep in mind: pressure, radiation, and gravity. Pressure is primarily about breathable air, and how insufficient air affects characters. He also hammers home the point that guns are a really bad idea in space, as it is all too easy to breach a hull. Radiation rules address rad damage from various sources and how that can build up cumulatively over time. There is also a streamlined treatment of cancer. Gravity rules cover the long-term health problems from living in a zero-G or low-gravity environment, and how to avoid those problems. There is also some discussion of how movement and combat can be affected.

Finally, there are some nicely realistic rules about ship-to-ship or ship-to-station combat, including lasers, kinetic weapons, chaff, ECM, and various other elements. But if your ship takes a hit, it's fairly lethal since there is no shield technology and the hulls are generally not thick. There is a save role depending on what kind of ship or station you are in, but a failed save is certain death.
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