One Post Cyberpunk!
As I mentioned back in my Cyberpunk RED review, I felt the game didn’t quite clear my “Threshold of GURPS”. This particular term is new but the idea itself is almost exactly 5 years old now. I first mentioned it in this post, where I discussed what makes me want to reach for GURPS in an adaptation and what makes me look for other systems.
CP RED’s native system is fine! The reason I say it didn’t “clear the threshold” is that it’s exactly the sort of system and setting described in the “When to GURPS” section of that 2017 post. It worries about modeling specific concrete actions, and it worries about the details of how they’re executed. In addition to this, the system itself doesn’t have any mechanical novelties that aren’t reproducible in GURPS.
So yeah, while I’d happily play the native system in a one-shot or something like that, given enough time to prepare I’d prefer to adapt its setting to GURPS. Talking about how I’d do it is an excellent excuse for an Octopus Carnival post. It helps that “Cyberpunk” has been one of the genres GURPS set out to support since its beginnings.
Part 1: High Concept
Cyberpunk-the-setting is actually a fairly broad place that supports a large variety of campaigns… but most people seem to be fans of that fairly narrow slice of stylish street mercs pulling heists for money and/or personal reasons. I’m not gonna lie, I’m like most people in that regard and so I’m going to focus on that.
Though the setting has three distinct “eras” now, they all look and feel mostly the same. The main changes are to the map of Night City and the specific reason why Johnny Silverhand is raiding Arasaka Tower this time. I think we might be able to condense that long timeline down a bit.
I’m also going to mix in my personal preferences: I believe cyberpunk doesn’t have to be a dystopia. This is something you might have gathered from my previous posts on the subject. I find a lot of cyberpunk settings tend to confuse “things are bad” with “things can never get better”, and I don’t want to do that here. For Cyberpunk Red specifically, this ends up resulting into a game that tells players simple survival is the most they can expect in the same book where it touts the epic exploits of Bartmoss and Silverhand. I want to treat them as “iconic” characters in the modern sense, which means that if those clowns can do all this, so can the PCs.
So here we are: a game about stylish street mercs in the neon-lit future, living in the fictional Night City. They get into noir-ish situations for money, and see them through for personal reasons. Hostile factions are mostly corporations, crime syndicates, or violent themed gangs with corporate ties.
Though PCs often fight for personal stakes they can still end up having a big impact in the setting1. PCs who are smart about it and make use of collective action can make big, lasting, positive change, but even more traditional “band of badasses” actions will still do something. Not every campaign has to be about this, but the play style should be possible and supported.
Part 2: Time and Place
As mentioned above, it’s Night City in the neon-lit cyber future. Feel free to use the present date that suits you best. Set it in one of the official dates of the original game. Set it in 2100 just to spite Transhuman Space. Make it 20XX, 21XX, 22XX, whatever. Or be like William Gibson and never even mention calendar years. The backstory follows the same general lines of the original, using relative dates.
Fifty-something years ago the US government descended further into fascist stupidity than ever before2. Over the next few decades its economy and environment crashed big time, the entire West Coast seceded, and the government was either powerless to stop the rise of the megacorps or was actively helping them along.
Twenty-something years ago Johhny Silverhand performed his one and only raid on Arasaka Tower, which is more or less a combination of the events from the 2013 and 2023 raids in the original chronology. Arasaka’s nuke blows up, and the political and literal fallout from this causes heavy backlash against megacorps in general all over the world. Though many are still around, they can no longer do whatever the fuck they want without fear of consequence.
Our narrative present is a blend of CP RED and 2077. Night city rebuilt enough to leave “survival mode”, but it’s still something of a crime capital where the corps have lots of influence and habitually pay those themed gangs to do their dirty work. It also has a relatively large “edgerunner” culture with its own honor codes and a surprisingly large propensity to take jobs from people who are neither corp- nor gang- affiliated.
There is no shortage of past wars to be a veteran of. The most recent one was the Corp War that finally died down let’s say 5 years ago. It featured lots of big corps going at each other, and lots of governments cracking down on them for it.
Cyberware is common enough that most people sport at least a bit of “fashionware” from their late teens onwards. Most people won’t cut off healthy limbs in order to replace them, but there are plenty of maimed veterans and victims of disease for whom cybernetic replacements are an appealing prospect. Implanted augmentations are somewhat more common, with the most popular by far being a GitS-style “cyberbrain” implanted computer.
Guns and armored clothing are common and relatively easy to get in Night City. This is not generally a good thing, and contributes to the city’s still dismal violence statistics.
Advertisements are nowhere near as aggressive and explicit as they are in CP 2077. The real world is bad enough on that front that you don’t need to further “enhance” it to make a point.
Rache Bartmoss did not “destroy” the NET, because we don’t need to justify rules changes with an in-setting event. Feral AI gods running on mutated data centers is too good an image to pass up, though, so those are still there.
Part 3: Characters and Their Stuff
The core of our rules is going to be GURPS Action, because this is a game about action heroes. The default is that players get to build their PCs using the 250-point archetypes from GURPS Action 1. This makes them experienced edgerunners. Greenhorns would use the lower-point templates from Specialists.
Our default ruleset is the one from GURPS Action 2, with the main changes to that being due to the science fiction elements we’re introducing.
Gear and Cyberware
The base tech level is 9, though TL8 gear is still widely available. We’re either not that far into the future or it’s simply easier to print at home than the more advanced stuff.
Computers and biotech are at TL10. You can run a mind emulation from a portable system, and miraculous speed-healing drugs are available. Implants are drawn from Ultra-Tech and Bio-Tech and are mostly TL9, though some TL10 things that appear in the CP books would also be available.
Cyberware does not inherently erode your humanity. Not even if you replace your healthy bits with chrome that’s better than human standard. We use the usual GURPS mechanics of making implants cost character points at character creation and both points and money afterwards.
Any template can spend its discretionary points on cyberware from Ultra-Tech or implants from Bio-Tech. This means most PCs might have one or two implants to start with, though having none is also a valid choice. Campaigns where the PCs are meant to start out chromed to the gills might give them 25 or 50 extra points to spend on starting cyberware.
For hacking, I want a streamlined system. The one from Pyramid #3/21 is a good start, since one of its goals is to prevent the isolation from the classic “dungeon crawl” system of CP 2020. However, I want to rely even less on virtual reality and be more like Ghost in the Shell or CP 2077.
A prospective hacker needs a Neural Interface Implant of some sort (UT, p. 216). A cyberdeck is either a Computer Implant (Complexity 5, UT p. 215) or a small computer (Complexity 6, UT p. 22) with a cable jack and a tiny radio communicator, but without any built-in terminal. The “default” interface tier is “Augmented Reality”, where the hacker sees the necessary interfaces alongside the physical world. It’s possible to go “Full Immersion”, which is faster but leaves the character effectively unconscious in the real world.
Characters running AR have a -2 penalty in opposed tests against characters running Full Immersion. This is the only game effect, so it’s only worth giving up your physical senses when you run into an immersed enemy hacker or an enemy AI (which always counts as immersed). Programs and skills are the same as in the Pyramid article.
The biggest change from the Pyramid article is in level design. Generally speaking, “interesting” hackable servers and networks are not directly connected to the public Internet, and the hacker PC must be on-site to access them. The smallest and most common target is a single device with a basic firewall, usually something like a security camera or an automatic door.
Sites with better security link their devices into a slightly larger network. This is a bit more similar to the design examples of the Pyramid article, but remember not to make them too large. Such a network might encompass all security devices in a given floor. No connecting through a megacorp’s top-secret research server through the vending machines in the lobby!
People might also be a valid target for hacking, if they have those nearly-ubiquitous computer implants. The implant can have any defenses that could be installed in a computer of the same Complexity and usually contains at least a basic firewall. Overcoming those defenses might allow netrunners to “jam” the target’s senses with spurious sensory data or even run the Damage program. Savvier opposition might link their internal computers into a more secure network overseen by a friendly hacker, or just turn the their wi-fi off entirely if it doesn’t confer any combat benefit to them.
And there you have it. That’s enough to play your classic edgerunners in the Cyberpunk 2020/RED/2077 setting. Any of the Screamsheets from 2020 or RED should be readily adaptable, since they have little in the way of stats to begin with. The gigs and side jobs from 2077 also provide plentiful inspiration and material for tabletop adventures, and that game’s main plot gives you an idea of what the sort of “high impact” adventure that leaves a crater looks like. You might need a bit more thought to devise adventures about organizing collective action, but they’re also quite possible.