Tuesday, 18 July 2017

How I Create Characters For: Cyberpunk 2020

"Let me show you how this thing here works."
For the past few days I've been making some posts over at the Cyberpunk 2020 Google+ Community.  They really got me fired up to write something about Cyberpunk 2020 for the blog.  For a starter I decided I would do something about the house rules I use to create characters for R. Talsorian's game of the dark future.  (This is also the first post where I'll be experimenting with images in my posts).  So without further ado let's jump right into it.


The Lifepath

Now while I love Cyberpunk 2020 to pieces.  One of the things I will fault it on is this.  They put one of the most interesting parts of character creation, the Lifepath in Chapter Three of the book.  When it should be in Chapter Two.  For those of you that don't know what the Lifepath is.  The Lifepath is a series of random rolls or choices that determines your character's background.  To quote from the Core Rulebook "It's like climbing out of the clone vat.  You got this half-formed person standing, dripping with slime.  You got some stats, maybe a vague idea of where you're going with the character, but nothing else.  So how do you take this Blank and make him really Cyberpunk?"  That's what the Lifepath is for, it's meant to give you a character with "Plot Complications" built into them.  That the GM can bring up in gameplay to make the story more interesting.  An incredibly advanced story-telling concept for a RPG that was written in the late 80s to early 90s.  Through the rolls and choices on the various charts in Chapter 3 you create a character's Ethnic Origins, their style of dress, family background (including whether you have some sort of trauma in your past), how old the character is and the life events that shaped them into the Cyber-Criminal they are today (or is it tomorrow?).  When I have players create characters for Cyberpunk games (during a planned Session 0 so the players have some common consensus on what kind of story is being told) I have them roll on the Lifepath first.  I will explain my motivations for doing so further down this page.  I pretty much use the Lifepath as is in the book except for a few changes listed below.  
  1.    I give my players a choice for the number and size of dice they roll to determine their character's age.  They can choose 2d6+16 or 3d10+16.  The first choice is traditional for Cyberpunk characters since they're supposed to die young (Edgerunning is a dangerous business, all you can hope for is to go out in a blaze of glory).  The second option is for players who want to play more experienced, older (and possibly washed up) characters.  Cyberpunk has a lot of genre similarities with Film Noir and characters in such films tend to be older, more cynical, less idealistic (think Deckard in Bladerunner or Armitage in Neuromancer).  
  2. I skip part 3: Motivations (page 36 for those of you following along at home) and come back to it after the Life Events have been rolled.  This is a section where you can choose to roll or choose from the options listed.  Since the Life Events tend to reveal quite a bit about the character's personality.  I decided it's better to just choose Motivations after we know the character's whole life story.  
  3. On the Life Events Table a result of 9-10 yields Nothing Happened That Year.  I have always hated this result, as my players in the past always seemed to roll it multiple times.  Great if you're a player who doesn't want to roll a result of Disaster Strikes!  Not so great if you're a GM that wants grist for the story-mill.  To remedy this I came up with a House Rule (more of those to come, don't worry) if you roll a 9-10, you re-roll twice and the two results are somehow related to each other.  (Example you get Romantic Involvement twice.  Rolling on the appropriate subtables you get Happy love affair and Fast Affairs and Hot Dates.  Looks like you've been having some fun on the side!)  The exception to this rule is once the character reaches 25 years old.  By that points life kind of slows down as the character matures (at least as much as cybernetic street-criminals can) and their wild oats have been sown.  Once that happens the player can choose to forgo the roll twice house rule and keep the result of Nothing Happened that Year.
  4. Speaking of 25 years old, because life starts to slow down, you have to roll less Life Events.  You only roll Life Events once every two years. 
  5. A word on Friends & Enemies, those subtables have players roll to determine the extent of your relationship.  As friends or enemies, one of the parts that precedes that step never quite sat well with me.  They had you roll the friends sex, which depending on the relationship rolled could have you having old lovers of the same sex.  I know it's the twenty-first century, but some players still aren't comfortable roleplaying someone attracted to the same sex.  So in my games I let the players choose, the sex of their character's ex-lovers.  Some will be totally cool with playing bi or homosexual characters, others won't and that's okay.  It's an important part of a GM's job to make sure everyone has a good time and doesn't feel outside of their comfort zone.  That's why this rule exists. 
  6. Speaking of Romantic Involvement I usually interpret a Happy Love Affair as continuing over the course of the years.  Only ending when a Tragic Love Affair is rolled.  Even when a Love Affair with Problems is rolled, that doesn't mean the relationship is entirely over.  Unless the player interprets it as being over based on their interpretation of events rolled.  Love is something that people spend their entire lives searching for.  I personally imagine that the same is true even in the Dark Future of cyberpunk fiction.  It might even be more important than ever, in this cynical future.  Like the comedian George Carlin once said "Behind cynic is a disappointed idealist." love is an ideal that even the most disappointed of idealists might want to hang onto.  
A classic example of a Cyberpunk Couple.

Statting 'em Up

Now that we have an idea of what the character is like, we can get down into the mechanics of character creation.  (I can hear the Min-maxers and Power Gamers salivating already).  Now before you start going wild with spending your Attribute Points, I have to break some bad news to you.   My game usually uses the Ocelot's Alternate Character Generation System.  Under the section on Attributes the author Gary Astleford recommends a pool of 54 points to be spent on Attributes.  For a gritty, down-to-earth feel.  Since at lot of my games tend to be more gutter-punk than corporate mercenaries, it's perfect for my style of campaigns.  You might think that that's the end as far as Attributes are concerned, but there's more.

  1. You remember the Lifepath?  Some results from that can lead to reduced Attributes, make sure to minus the points lost from your Pool of Attribute points.  (Example: Your character picks up a disease or drug addiction.  -1 to Reflex.  Your character gets into an accident and is horribly disfigured.  -5 to Attractiveness.  Your character picks up a mental disorder.  -1 to Cool).  
  2. Did you decide to make a character older than 30 years old?  I got some more bad news for you.  According to Ocelot's Alternate Character Generation System, characters past the age of 30 have to pick a single stat from REF, MA or BODY and roll against it.  Every two years until age 40 when it becomes every year, until the age of 55 when it becomes twice a year.  The character must roll against their unmodified stat (before cyberware, drugs, etc.) if the result is equal or lower, the character loses one point in that stat.  You may not roll against the same stat consecutively, when you reach 1 point in a stat you are crippled, when you reach 0 your character is a corpse.  Tough luck punk. 
  3. I also tend to have players select Mental & Social stats that reflect their Lifepath Results.  According to the essay in Interface Magazine Volume 1, Issue 2.  Characters with low empathy  (about 4 or below) having lots of enemies and failed romances, while characters with high empathy (7 or more) tend to have lots of friends and successful romances.   
  4. One last thing, you no longer put points into Movement Allowance.  It is now determined by adding together Reflex and Body, then dividing them by 2, rounding down.  This house rule is the result of me having players that used Movement Allowance as dump stat.  Resulting in ridiculously slow characters, this rule is mostly a way to save players from their own stupidity (there'll be plenty of time for them screwing themselves over when the game has started, they don't need a head-start). 

Getting Skill-wise 

Now using Ocelot's Alternate Character Generation System (link here if you need a refresher) the characters get the standard pool of 40 skill points.  Pickup skills are determined by the character's age.  For those of you expecting to pick your Role's skill packages now, sorry to be the bearer of more bad news.  The Roles have been thrown out in favour of a GURPS-esque classless system.  That means that most of the Special Ability Skills are out as well.  Including the over-powered Combat Sense (which has been replaced with two separate Advantages, more on that later).  The only Special Ability Skills to remain are those that were irreplaceable.  In this case the Netrunner's Interface skill (which works a little differently) and the MedTech's MedTech skill, they are now ordinary skills that anyone can acquire with Improvement Point multipliers of x3.  Any other variations are listed below. 
  1. Interface is divided into two sets of ten skills, representing the characters ability to perform different hacking.  The full rules of this way of Netrunning can be found at Run.Net 
  2. While the Roles have been done away with, they still make excellent guidelines for players to create their characters from.  Much like how GURPS uses templates to guide it's character creation.  Feel free to take and add whatever skills you think your character would have.  (Within reason.  GMs it's your job to pay attention and moderate your player's skill choices). 
  3. A note on Pickup Skills.  I use the Subordinate Skill Packages from Interface Magazine Volume 1 Issue 2, onward.  I find they're a good way to direct players to pick skills that are consistent with their backgrounds.  
  4. I find that the skill values as listed in the Core Book make good reference points for choosing how many points to put into a particular skill.

Advantages and Disadvantages

So one of the key alterations Ocelot made in his alternate character generation system.  Was the addition of Advantages and Disadvantages along the lines of GURPS.  I largely keep these the same as listed except for a few minor alterations of my own.

  1. I got rid of the Friends Advantage and the Enemies Disadvantage.  Since I made an alteration to the Lifepath system the characters are more likely to get a result of a friend or an enemy.  Making this set, somewhat redundant. 
  2. I also got rid of Cyber-Affinity and Cyber-Rejection.  Since I don't use the Humanity Loss rules as written in the Core Rulebook. More on that later.  
  3. The Favour Advantage is also gone, since it is also an advantage that comes up often in the Lifepath.  
  4. Contacts are also out the window.  Personally I feel that the characters should have contacts equal to whatever their Streetwise Skill is.  At +2 they know people who can get them "hot" items, they can score drugs, etc.  At +5 they know professional gunmen that can be brought in for extra muscle.  Also everyone who has cyberware probably knows someone who installed it or someone that does maintenance.  It is however up to the GM to referee when the players go overboard.  Make sure that the characters aren't abusing this system.  If they treat contacts poorly, have them disappear, refuse to speak to the players, spread bad rumours about them.
  5. If the character has a background where they were members of a Gang, Workgang, Nomad Pack or Pirate Fleet.  I require them to purchase the Brotherhood advantage.  The same goes for if they currently work for a Corporation, they need to put points into the Resources advantage. 

Buying Equipment & Alienation

Now we come to the part of character generation that every player loves.  Buying their characters' equipment.  Pretty much anything goes, but is subject to GM fiat.  Here are my personal rules for the acquiring of equipment. 
  1.  At character creation everything is priced as listed in the book it came from.  There are no modifiers for legality, surgery cost, etc.  
  2. The characters roll yearly for the money they earned and make purchases based on those funds.  The formula for yearly earnings works out roughly like this.  (Two Highest stats added together, then averaged.  The resulting number is highest earnings modifier that the character will ever have.  The player's modifier starts at 1 and goes up by 1 each year.  Until it reaches the highest it can be.  The modifier is multiplied by a roll of 1d10, which is in turn multiplied by 200.  (Example: For your first year you have a modifier of 1.  You get lucky and roll a 10 on the d10 and multiply it by 200, resulting in total earnings of 2000 [Eurodollars, NuYen, whatever you use as currency]).  You either purchase what you can afford to buy that year with that money, pay off any debts from the Lifepath or save your money for a more expensive purchase next year. 
  3. Since one of the main purchases that the characters make before they buy anything else is Cyberware.  I thought it was appropriate to include how I handle humanity loss in the game in the section on Equipment.  I use Richard Balmer's Alienation rules, which I have found to be the best way of tracking Humanity Loss.  Since it encourages roleplaying and doesn't just give the characters a pool of points that slowly, but surely diminishes.  (If that's really how it worked, Cyberware would never have been allowed to be sold on the general market).  You can find those rules by pressing this link.
  4. Once the characters have made all the purchases they wish, any remaining funds go into their Credcard account (or maybe not if they prefer to keep under the radar).  If they have no money left over you may use this optional rule to give them some pocket money.  Roll 1d10 times 20, they now have sufficient money to foot the bill at diner or a shady dive bar.  Better get hustling punks.
Among my player's purchases in a recent character generation for a Solo campaign.
A Mitsubishi Kaneda Motorcycle with cyber-controls.
So there you have it.  How I generate characters for R. Talsorian's classic game of the Dark Future, Cyberpunk 2020.  If there is anything that wasn't clear about this post.  Please don't hesitate to comment.  If you liked this post, be sure to show your support by +1ing and re-sharing it.  As always have a good day and may you roll many crits.