06 February 2020

Session 01: The Case of Sofia Figueroa

Characters Present:
Jackwagon (Solo)
Lux (Fixer)

Session Screamsheet:

Locations Visited:
1: Garcia and Torres Funeral Home

2: The Grand Street Arcade

3: Chosen 30 Studios

4: NYPD 7th Precinct

Session Summary:
Meeting up at the funeral for their friend, local Media Sofia Figueroa, Jackwagon and Lux decided that they needed to do some digging in order to ensure that Sofia's murderers were brought to justice. Investigating the Grand Street Arcade, the site of Sofia's murder, they found little forensic evidence, but a local pusher named Zam-Pill was present during the assassination, although she didn't see it happen. She did tell the investigators that the people who saw it said that one minute she was interviewing locals about a local netrunning feud, the next her head was gone.

The duo ended up at Sofia's station, Chosen 30, a community-focused network where their friend was very much involved with community reporting in the best interests of the Lower East Side. According to her editor, Jennifer Sawatsky, The netrunning feud was supposed to be a low-key gig after she exposed some landlords in Two Bridges who were maintaining unsafe and unhealthy conditions for their tenants, resulting in their incarceration and at least one attempt on Sofia's life.

Fortune shined upon Jackwagon, who was buddies with the main detective, Kwame D'Onofrio, who shared what little the police knew. Sofia was shot with a high powered rifle using explosive bullets, which destroyed her cyberoptics and any data stored in her head. The investigators paused to regroup and pursue more clues.

31 January 2020

Returning from Hiatus

I'm back. We had our first actual game session last night and I'll be posting a play report shortly. In the meantime, here's a screamsheet...

09 December 2019

December Hiatus

Hey guys,

Just taking a break from posting for most of December. I'm focusing on actually generating as much content to actually run a game. I'll start writing it up into formal posts starting in January.

See you then!

06 December 2019

Flashback: Solo of Fortune

Solo of Fortune was, I believe, the first supplement for Cyberpunk. It was also one of the first gaming supplements I’ve ever seen that were packaged as media from the gaming world. It had photographs to add a layer of realism. It was pretty cool in it’s time. I’d be curious to see how something like this could be done in 2019. Would it look as dated? It’s something I might explore later, but that’d be way down the road. Maybe if I package some of my Wednesday blogs into something else.

Anyway, Solo of Fortune is definitely riffing off of one of the classic magazine Soldier of Fortune. Now, I don’t think I’ve looked at a copy of Soldier of Fortune in like 30 years, but I think I’ve seen it recently in book stores. I remember it having classified ads that sounded so freaking cool but were probably not real. Like, hiring mercenaries to topple governments and shit. Then there was historical accounts of brushfire wars along with reviews of military technology. That’s a lot of what you get with Solo of Fortune, to include some straight up shit talking in the letters page. The ads in the supplement are the beginning of the gear porn that the game would be famous for, along with the “Fully Chipped” articles. The MetalGear armor makes the armor in the boxed set obsolete, the Militech weapons outclass most of what was in Friday Night Firefight, and the cyberwear ads definitely crank up some of the specialized cinematic qualities of cyberwear.

The flavor and lore of the world is fleshed out in first person narratives like “I Was There,” discussing a shift in the life of a Trauma Team. It is definitely an interesting juxtaposition to read a detailed combat story told by people who should be EMT.  “Cyberpsychosis: It Can Happen To You” takes a deep dive into the main concept surrounding cybernetics in the game that increased cybernetics robs you of your humanity. It is an interesting conceit that I’m not sure I entirely buy. I definitely want to think more about cyberpsychosis within the concept of actual psychology and you’ll see the results of that next Wednesday. “In Focus: Corporate Extractions” explores one of the more iconic mission types in Cyberpunk. It gives a lot of ideas for GMs to structure their extraction scenarios around, as well as a slew of dirty tricks. “Love and Bullets from Moscow” takes us to Soviet Russia. I think the Cyberpunk version of Russia definitely harps on a stereotype of Eastern European bulk and brute force that feels very caricature. It’s like the spectrum of technology is Japanese on the high end and Russian on the low end—very much the mindset in the late 1980s. “Eurostyle” is the first real developed take on the differences between Europe and the United States in the game. The idea of European solos being part of something resembling a Gentleman’s Club is definitely interesting. The fact that they are all well-educated and refined makes them feel more like spies than assassins. “The State of Corporate Security, Penetration, and Defense” is something that, in 2019, might not be necessary anymore. In the thirty years since Solo of Fortune was published, we’ve had a million movies and video games to show us how to handle these things. In 1989, however, I didn’t know a damn thing about security and we didn’t have the internet yet. While filled with flavor, the “Bubba and J.T. Test the Sternmeyer M-95A2” is something I’m not sure I’ve ever finished reading. I could totally see this article in a real Solo of Fortune, and it’s very reminiscent of Soldier of Fortune, but I feel like it was a little too gratuitous with far too little gameable material. 

The “Focus on Solos” article helps players understand the range of the Solo class. I think, given the dearth of modern/near-future games at the time, we definitely needed an idea on how to make Solos unique. A similar article these days could draw on a number of examples we have seen since. The same goes for the “Modern Street Gangs” article. The categories of gangs can be absurd at times. I’m not sure what the actual implications of them are and, even though I know I bring up what seems like two of these a week, a great idea for a future Wednesday blog. “The First Corporate War” is excellent for showing how conflicts originate and escalate in the dark future. That said, it’s very much on the macro level. How to translate this to the table without necessarily making the characters the heroes of the war is something that I think contributed to the power creep that we’ll see as the product line is developed. “The World of Government Solos” provides a nice list of different high-level agencies and the conflicts and problems the face. Again, this wouldn’t have much implications on “the street,” so it starts to focus referees and players to think bigger than that.

I love the “World Situation Update” because it has a lot of potential gameable options. It has flashpoints all over the world with nice capsules of each party to the conflict. You can get an idea of the major conflicts of the world from corporate feuding to counterinsurgency. I appreciated that some of the conflicts had more than two sides and that there was rarely a “good side” against a “bad side.” Expanding on these would definitely require some research into the area and I would definitely explore how everyday life was affected by these conflicts. That is one of the things that fascinates me the most about Cyberpunk is how humans are affected by the advanced technology and conflict.

“The Open World” closes out the magazine with vehicle rules for Cyberpunk. They seem pretty decent, but without playing them out, I can’t say too much. Seeing some of the rules regarding maneuvering gave me fond memories of Car Wars, however.

In Summary:
As much as it sells a game, Cyberpunk is really selling a setting and Solo of Fortune is one of the first steps in really defining that setting. I think it focuses a little too much on military activity, compared to the more shadowy clandestine world of edgerunners. I do believe that this early focus on direct action is what led to the greater macro-conflict that the game play evolved into. The book’s emulation of Soldier of Fortune is brilliant and well-executed. With the exceptions of a few of the articles, there isn’t much wasted in here and plenty of grist for your cyberpunk mill. Much of what is in Solo of Fortune has transferred into the collective unconsciousness of modern/near-future gamers, so it may not be as useful now as it was in 1989. I think it sets a pretty high bar for supplements and we’ll see how it compares to the rest of the line.

Next week, Hardwired takes us out of the traditional Cyberpunk setting and places us in the world of Walter Jon Williams’ novel series of the same name.

04 December 2019

Thoughts on Cyberpsychosis

The “big two” of cyberpunk roleplaying games, Cyberpunk and Shadowrun, both have a conceit that the more you augment yourself with technology, the more you lose the essence of your humanity. This is, no doubt, a mechanism to enforce game balance. Metal is quantitatively better than machine, so to avoid robots taking over the joint, they instituted the humanity cost of cybernetics. I am of different minds about this, so this blog is an attempt for me to explore what cyberpsychosis might look like. On one hand, we have been transplanting organs and installing pacemakers or artificial joints for decades now. There is even a lovely little girl with a cybernetic arm these days. They don’t seem any more or less human now than before their procedure. On the other hand, those procedures are based on medical need. My knees are ruined from the military, but they still aren’t bad enough to replace them, let alone cut out my perfectly good eyes and replace them with electronic versions that can send a news ticker across my range of vision and zoom in to a 25x magnification.

Philosophers, physicians, and psychologists have been debating and defining the essence of humanity for centuries. If altering our bodies makes us less human, then there is more to it than just being a member of homo sapiens. Artificial Intelligence is presenting some serious questions about if humanity is sapience. If a human body is driven by a fully sapient AI instead of a meat brain, is it still human? Yeah, this is a big fucking can of worms. Scholarly thought on the subject has alternated between physical, spiritual, and theoretical models of what makes humans human. As best as I understand it, how we think, act, and feel is determined by a combination of the genetic cards we are dealt and how we process and internalize the events of our lives within that genetic paradigm. This is the basic premise I am going to work from as I try to reconcile my training in psychology with the mechanics of Cyberpunk.

Does a machine have desire? Not really, it just does what it is supposed to do. Humans have these other silly notions like wants and needs and dreams. Machines just say “my purpose is this. I will execute my purpose.” That, I think might be the essence of cyberpsychosis. I’m torn on this, though. The implications of what I am saying, that cyberpsychosis is single-minded focus, lack of empathy, a theory of mind that does not take into account that others do not think and act the same as you do… I am describing Autism Spectrum Disorder. I am not comfortable with putting ASD on the low end of a scale that measures humanity.

Fortunately, there are some interesting rules for psychology in Ianus Publications’ Grimm Cybertales. In addition to an interesting Stress mechanism, they track cyberpsychosis using the basic Cyberpunk model of Humanity Loss, but specify the loss over four spectrums—Alienation, Egotism, Obsession, and Paranoia. Different types of cyberware affect the different spectrums. So, let’s take a hypothetical character—Dingo McGoggins—who has a starting EMP of 6. With that, he starts off with 20 points he can assign to each of those spectrums. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll just have him have 5 points in each. No real effects yet. Over the course of time, he adds in some chrome: for Fashionware (which affects Alienation and Obsession) he adds a Biomonitor (1pt. to Obsession), a Light Tattoo and Shift-Tacts (1 pt. total to Alienation). His Neuralware (affecting any, but mostly Alienation) is a Neural Processor (2 points to Alienation), Sandevistan boost (2 points to Alienation), a Pain Editor (3 points to Alienation), Interface Plugs (5 points to Alienation), and a Smartgun Link (2 points to Paranoia). Dingo’s Bioware (affecting Egotism) is Grafted Muscle (7 points), a Muscle and Bone Lacing (3 points), and some Skinweave (4 points). His Cyberoptics (Alienation, Egotism, and Paranoia) are basically one eye (7 points to paranoia) with a targeting scope (1 point to paranoia).

At this point, he’s got an EMP of 2, and suffers the following effects because of the nature of his cybernetics. His Alienation score of 18 means he is Absent-Minded, which means that he gets negative effects at anything that is not his main focus or to remember things. His own reality has started to take over. His Egotism score of 19 indicates that he is more stubborn and self-involved than normal. No mechanical effects, but living in his world has granted it a greater sense of importance and a detachment from the rest of humanity. His Obsession score of 6 is within normal tolerances, so no effects there. His Paranoia of 15 makes him a little more nervous and jumpy than usual, giving him a penalty to Fright Checks (I don’t remember these from Cyberpunk, so I think they might be something Ianus—who integrated supernatural elements into the setting—may have come up with. I’ll figure that out down the road). So Dingo is a self-absorbed and slightly detached individual who feels more threatened than the average Joe on the street. I spread out the points, but if I decided to put all of my eggs in one basket and had his points all go into Alienation (with the exception of the Bioware that only goes to Egotism), he’d be more than just Absent-Minded, with 29 points, he’d also be Eccentric, with odd quirks related to his cybernetics that would be obvious and come out in roleplaying.

How does it come out in Cyberpsychosis? Let’s say he gets two superchrome cyberarms with ripper hands (17 points to Egotism, 17 to Obsession), in addition to being Absent-Minded and Nervous, he is now incredibly Egocentric and Compulsive. He’s also well under his threshold for Cyberpsychosis. He is above the normal threshold for all four spectrums, so his full-blown psychosis would be a combination of all of them, but with his Egotism and Obsession amplified. I could see him now becoming convinced he needs to become full borg or bust to fully assert himself over these pathetic meatbags around him. So instead of just being a homicidal maniac, Dingo is now just a colossal asshole who will violently resist any attempt to bring him back towards humanity. It probably won’t end well for him. 

Overall, I like this system a lot more, as it means different characters will go crazy in different manners. It gives a lot more nuance to the slow degradation of humanity in different ways that I think make much more sense than just the slow rejection of emotion. It’s a little more paperwork, but I see it taking place more in the admin time between games as opposed to mid-game, so I don’t think it’ll slow things down. I am definitely more at ease with Cyberpsychosis now. Pick up Grimm’s Cybertales if this is something you’d be interested.

29 November 2019

Flashback Friday: Cyberpunk 2013 Boxed Set, Part Three: Friday Night Firefight


Now that I’ve got my inner Willem Defoe out, I can talk about the last book in the 1988 Cyberpunk boxed set, Friday Night Firefight. Previous to playing Cyberpunk, my exposure to RPG combat was D&D, Star Frontiers, and Marvel Super Heroes. Very abstract, very low lethality. FNFF prided itself on its deadliness, its precision, and its dedication to realism. They cite FBI statistics and other sources with plenty of warnings that guns will kill you.

The mechanics of this simple 24-page booklet are simple and pretty clearly explained. Your reflexes determine which phases you act in and you have one action per phase. Attribute plus skill over a Difficulty Chance give you success or failure. It gets a little crunchy when determining wounds and penetration but, compared to other ‘realistic’ modern combat systems, it’s a breeze. Compared to the other books, there isn’t a lot of extrapolating or rabbit holes to go down, so this is actually going to be a pretty quick conclusion to the look at the boxed set.

I decided to try out the system and see how deadly it was. I had a pair of goons try to ambush a lone solos. Within one turn (two phases), the goons were bleeding out. Granted, I didn’t armor the goons up or anything, but they didn’t lay a finger on him. Deadly indeed. Maybe there is a deep dive to be had comparing this combat system with Cyberpunk 2020 using the NPCs and situations from “Never Fade Away.”

In Summary
Looking at this original boxed set, I can see why it grabbed me and why I fell in love with the game. Even though it is dated mechanically, I can think of its contemporary context and remember how mind-blowing some of these innovations were. The source material, however, is where the money is made. The cyberpunk world of 2013 was exciting, prescient, dangerous, and stylish. The combat was gritty and unforgiving. It was a literal game-changer. I’m excited to see the world (and system expand) and I can’t wait to see where it takes me. I’ll have to do a side by side comparison of the combat systems (maybe a Wednesday entry in the future) to see really how they stack up against each other. I have a feeling I’m in a minority here, but I actually think that I prefer the architecture of the Net in 2013 over that of 2020. While I don’t particularly care for the different interface programs, I like that it’s narrower and more reminiscent of how computer networks can be. You can’t just walk until you find it, you have to know what you’re looking for. Ditto the flowchart model of networks over the crossword puzzle model of 2020. That’s probably another Wednesday post in the future.

Next week, we’ll look at the first in the series of magazine-style supplements, Solo of Fortune. 

27 November 2019

Maker's Block

The line wrapped around the side of the building as people waited to get inside. Fuck that line. I walked around to the security entrance. Four armored Baruch Security troops stood outside waving people off. I approached and showed them my badge. After a thumb and retina verification, I was in. It was noisy as hell inside. The constant hum of haggling and machinery, the smell of sweat and hot plastic, the air gritty and stale. I walked past a clothing shop, printing clothes on demand in flimsy imitation of vogue, a gunsmith busting out polymer one-shots that the gangers would buy in bulk, and even some shady fucker trying to recruit netrunners to use his homemade cybermodems. That sounds like a goddamned death sentence. I got to Felipe’s door and Rosina was on guard. We exchanged nods and I walked in. A wall of TVs tuned to different channels, A bar with all manner of cheap liquor and mixers. Felipe was watching his wall of information. He nodded to me, then nodded to the bar. I made us two Manhattans and sat down across from him. “My guy, you’re looking for chains?” he asked me incredulously. “Yeah,” I replied. “Thick, the kind you can lift a container with.” “My guy, I’m not sure plastic is gonna cut it,” he said leaning back in his recliner. I exhaled. “You need me to use some higher grade shit or we talking metal?” “Depends on what you’re lifting. I know better than to ask.” “Fuck, where do I get metal?” “My guy, I got you. Margie!” he waved over one of his chromed-up companions. “Take my guy here to the Gremlin.” I sipped my drink and arched an eye. “You’re sending me to a gremlin?” “I got you, my guy,” he leaned forward, “He got you. Don’t doubt me again or you won’t be getting preferential treatment.”

The Baruch House Addition was formerly a tenement for seniors that was part of the Baruch Houses family of apartments. Built in 1977, it has certainly seen better days. Since no housing is subsidized anymore, Baruch House Addition has, in the years since the Collapse, become a manufacturing center for not only the Lower East Side, but for much of the Neo-York shadow economy. Now known as Maker’s Block, the apartments have been replaced by small, independent manufacturing concerns. Using autofac technology and blueprints, usually stolen or backwards engineered, the Maker’s Block provides services to the people who might not otherwise afford the newest gear from the big corporations.

There are 23 floors in the Maker’s Block, jammed with different vendors. The quality of what you can get here varies, although it is usually cheap and disposable. You can come up with a million different vendors, including the aforementioned Engineer Felipe, who specializes in 3-D printing many mundane objects for people. He has a considerably deep database of patterns and his netrunner, Margarita Mayhem, can usually find more with ease. No one messes with Felipe, as his bodyguard, Rosina Razor, is known as a fairly hard case on the streets.

The Somali is surprisingly a very pasty and greasy caucasian man, but has a reputation as a data manipulator of middling talent who specializes in chop modification. His work is good enough that some people, particularly those without a regular connection, still come to see him despite his lecherous demeanor and well-worn sex doll that he keeps out in the open in his room. He has been known to do better work for cheaper if you can hook him up with unusual (and usually skeevy as fuck) programs for his doll.

On the top floor is Tblisi George, who is covered in cheap plastic cyberware and has the cold personality of someone on the verge of cyberpsychosis. He is one of the few tech manufacturers in the Maker’s Block and he is especially skilled at audio-visual and optical systems. While not quite at the level of being able to make cyberoptics, he can repair them with halfway decent skill. He will also work with video or audio data recovery and enhancement for a substantial fee.

The only medical professional offering services in the building, Dr. McAvoy is usually a last resort. He doesn’t always do a very good job and has no concept of doctor-patient confidentiality. If you need a medical procedure done cheaply, he’s your man. If you want discretion, run away.

If you are using the Wildside rules for contacts, Nomad Market characters have the following statistics:

Doctor McAvoy (Medtech) Incapable, Reputation 3, often available, unreliable, 8 points
Engineer Felipe (Tech) Capable, Reputation 7, always available, reliable, 45 points
Margarita Mayhem (Netrunner) Capable, Reputation 4, sometimes available, very reliable, 23 points
Rosina Razor (Solo) Very Capable, Reputation 6, sometimes available, very reliable, 56 points
The Somali (Tech) Capable, Reputation 5, always available, reliable, 30 points
Tblisi George (Tech) Very capable, Reputation 7, always available, very reliable, 75 points

Next week, we’ll check out the Grand Street Arcade, an entertainment center that is known for providing a personal touch to your experience!