Monday, 10 October 2016

Wage slave 3: the redundancy!

A long time ago, I wrote two posts listing dozens of entry level jobs in the grim darkness of the near future - not the dreamy tech-graduate aspirations conceived in optimistic futurist blogs but the street level roles left behind as every low income career gets automated out of existence. 

These are the roles your 'runner characters found so horrifying they chose a life of shooting computer programmers and chopping off their own arms to fit ugly metal replacements. These are the jobs their relatives scrabble for. These are the jobs their fixers and mob contacts pretend to hold in their front offices. This is the sprawl and the people in it.

Wage Slave 1 covered everything from 3D Printshop Attendants and Chicken Little Trimmers to Industrial Origamists and Intercourse Trainers.

Wage Slave 2: The Restructuring began with Kelp Strainers and followed up with Persona Bums, Ractors and Scop Scoopers.

A year and some later, Wage Slave 3: The Redundancy finally presents thirty more dead-end careers for your cyberpunks to aspire to when they finally choose to retire from the 'runner biz.

Apprentice Nostalgist: the great mass of elderly people, unable for their all collective political efforts to return the world to an imagined 1950s, can at least remake their own living spaces. With the aid of historical textbooks, vast databases and few 3D printers, you help your employers turn their home into something resembling whatever idealised prior-century year they care to wallow in. 

Architectural Beta-Tester: every new physical and virtual environment is now carefully designed according to nudge theory and the architectural precepts of a generation brought up on video-games, where every element is designed to channel the human ratsoccupants into pre-determined behaviours. Your job is to inhabit architectural mock-ups, while sensors monitor such things as heart rate, visual stimulation hooks and the speed with which the security drones activate in the event you enter while poor.

Depending on circumstances you may find yourself testing physical architecture in a virtual environment or virtual architecture in a physical mock-up, because the near-future is nothing if not painfully meta.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Five unusual places to meet your Johnson

Nightclubs are loud. Bars are full of drunk people. Expensive restaurants object to drug deals on the premises. Danger-hungry Shadowrunners need other options.

(Also - I've been thinking a lot about the sprawl, about futuristic streets, about street scenes that don't yet exist. This is a brainstorm...)

Containing five secure locations for a meet, but also:









Sunday, 11 September 2016

Cyberpunk 2020 PreGens: Corporates

Once upon a time I scrawled up some pre-generated Solos and Rockers for Cyberpunk 2020. You might remember, although at this point I doubt it!

This week's year's character role is the Corporate. Presenting the Company Man, the Dogged Investigator and the Ambitious Courtier.

As usual, this post is rounded out with some contacts. ALSO: a D20 table to explain why you failed your Resources roll!

These characters were generated using the basic rules in the Cyberpunk 2020 Corebook, with no detail from the sourcebooks. 

1. Every character has 60 Attribute Points and 60 Skill Points (40 career skills and 20 pick-up skills).

2. I haven't rolled for Humanity Loss or on the Lifepath tables (let the players do that!).

3. I've given everybody a (fairly) balanced array of equipment and cyberware based on the "Quick and Dirty" character creation guidelines.


Another strange, campaign defining role. 

The Corporate is a vital part of the cyberpunk milieu and yet surprisingly hard to fit into a CP2020 campaign. Part of this is simply a matter of tone - an explicitly corporate character seems far more in keeping with latter-period Shadowrun's amoral economic warrior ethos than Cyberpunk, whose characters often tend towards gutter-survivalism or pretensions of rebellion. CP2020's Corporates are also presented as 1980s Wall Street issue bastards, which serves to alienate them from the other roles. 

There are a few sympathetic Corporate characters in the literary genre - Islands in the Net's Laura Webster probably fits the role, as does Landon Kettlewell in Makers. Neither is a Wall Street issue bastard. Another example is Julia Evans in the Greg Mandel Trilogy, a character who is absolutely a 1980s-style besuited monster presented positively, because Peter Hamilton's Mindstar world is a uniquely middle-English Tory fantasy.

As usual, I've created three pre-generated characters. They've all been designed to fit in with a group of 'runners, one way or another.

THE COMPANY MAN: AKA Mr Johnson. The company official sent along to co-ordinate the action, select the targets, or ensure the team gets impregnated by xenomorphs.

THE DOGGED INVESTIGATOR: the employee who learnt too much to sleep at night. The whistleblower who risks exile or worse to expose wrongdoing inside the Company.

...and the THE AMBITIOUS COURTIER: the rising executive, prepared to scheme and spy and shoot her way to the top.

Below these three characters are the usual array of contacts and antagonists, and a D20 table you didn't know you needed.

For Laura Webster, use the Investigator. For a "heroic entrepreneur," mess around with the Ambitious Courtier (or frankly, use a Fixer or a Tech). For everybody else, read on...

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Original Panzerboys

Back when I first read Cyberpunk 2020's Hardwired sourcebook my attention caught on one of the few paragraphs actually devoted to Panzerboys, the hi-tech hover-tank jockey smugglers who dominate Walter Jon William's original novel of the same name. Cowboy and his ilk might have been weirdly absent from the CP2020 book devoted to his own world, but his influence can be felt across cyberpunk RPG settings - what are the odds that Shadowrun's Native American Nations were conceived to give Hardwired-aping T-Bird smugglers suitable borders to scream across?

Anyway. In the book, Walter Jon Williams claims

"The new smugglers are called "panzerboys", after 20th century butter smugglers who ran armored cars across the Dutch-Belgian border in the face of Belgian tariffs on Dutch dairy products. (I'm not making this up, you know.)"

I'm sure you aren't, science-fiction-writer-posing-with-fake-cyberhands-on-back-of-an-RPG-sourcebook!

For years I failed to find any corroborating evidence for this claim, because my google-fu is weak and I don't speak Dutch. However, this has now changed:

THANK YOU, December 16th 1962 edition of the Chicago Sunday Tribune! 

According to the August 24th 1966 edition of the Tuscaloosa News, these bullet proof panzer wagons simply hurtled through border posts at high speed, dropping caltrops to hinder pursuit vehicles. 

I couldn't find any pictures of Dutch butter smuggling panzers. However, I could find pictures of contemporary German border smugglers operating near Aachen, mere miles aways... below the jump:

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The problem with the cyberpunk genre...

My default "assumed setting" for cyberpunk games for the last four years included (among other things) Theresa May coming to power in the UK without a real mandate, due in large part to deeply divided opposition. This seemed like the option most likely to facilitate a dystopian nightmare.

If things continue like this, her government will last another 6-8 years before collapsing in a period of game-facilitating political and social chaos.

If England goes to war with Poland in the mid-2020s over copyright issues, I hereby promise to stop imagining things.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016


There are all sorts of reasons why the cyberpunk genre tends to generate complicated games, and why the most popular RPG in the genre is a byword for unnecessary, brain-smashing complexity (here's looking at you, Shadowrun!). Even Cyberpunk 2020 requires hours and hours and hours to generate characters, adding up all the finicky skill-points. What rules-lite genre games there are tend to be FATE-y things like Tech-Noir: great game, but I honestly prefer more traditional rules-systems.

Cyberpunk attracts people into technology and detailed future speculation (also people into drug literature and JG Ballard and weird intersections between fashion and art and the military industrial complex, but they're unfortunately less represented in the gaming culture...). There's a drive there towards "accurate," detailed technical simulation, with lots of dice modifiers and reliability stats and ammunition counts. I confess I like that stuff. On the other hand I hate maths and can't remember equations for shit, which ruins most cyberpunk rules systems for me. 

I've been thinking about - even drafting - D&D derived rules ideas for cyberpunk for awhile now. D&D sits at an intersection between simplicity, technical detail and fast play. That last part is less because of any inherent virtue of the rules and more because everybody knows the system. Even I know the system (I can only retain 1.5 rules systems at a time. 0.75 of those systems will always be my beloved Cyberpunk 2020. Right now the other 0.75% of my rules retention capacity is taken up with D&D 5E).

So, I was genuinely excited to hear about Mike Evans' new old school D&D hack cyberpunk game, not least because I only heard about it about a week before it came out.

Fittingly, it took several attempts to actually buy the game because my bank interpreted a £1.43 payment to DrivethruRPG as evidence my account had been hacked (exactly how many purchases do I have to make from that place in one week before it realises I'm a regular customer?).

...£1.43? Yeah. The Black Hack Cyber Hacked is a complete game including bestiary and hacking rules and the Open Game License all in 21 pages, has no art except what you see on the cover above and has been testing my assumptions about exactly how much mechanical detail you need to represent the genre all evening.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Electronic Criminal Hazards

This is the follow up to yesterday's electronic hazards table, covering all manner of electronic crimes to assail the players with as they traverse the mean city. 

This table was a lot of fun to write, and I think it shows. That said, it's tonally all over the place, ranging between inconsequential and funny to completely horrible or game changing. I'm still experimenting with all this!


1. Contactless Pickpocket: a pickpocket is scanning people's commlinks and contactless cards to extract money from their accounts. Characters with legal tender must make electronic security tests to avoid losing their personal data.

2. Personalised Trolling Drones: a local hate group has fabricated some cheap toy drones with speakers to follow the targets of their ire around and scream abuse at them. There is a 70% chance they have access to a public SIN database and are calling out the character by her (official) name.

There is a 30% chance that the drone is carrying balloons of yellow paint, skunk gas or urine to further harass their victims.

3. Gargoyle: a spook covered in surveillance gear is wondering the streets hoovering up passing data and selling it to information brokers. She will sell their locational information to a rival or record their conversations for sale on the open market.

4. Blackmailer: an electronic blackmailer is covertly monitoring the players through a variety of different means. She will target the most vulnerable player character for extortion, most likely threatening to pass their information to the paycops.