As a big Cyberpunk fan, I like looking for different angles to tell the stories in, different ways to play the game because the common view of Cyberpunk is playing a gun toting warrior who goes through ripping up the world in some quest. You see it in movies like John Wick, Blade Runner, Dredd, Ghost In The Shell, The Matrix series, Robocop, Terminator, Total Recall, Hardwired, Ultraviolet… basically the Cyberpunk genre becomes an action movie way too easily, both because the genre plays a lot of Man Versus World (in the form of corporations or gangs) and because the high-tech genre gives us a lot of options for epic fight scenes. You can have a chase scene with hovercars like in the Phantom 2040 video game, like this picture from GPuronen
or this anti-grav gunfight from the Total Recall remake
or even the ‘low budget but still cool’ doorslide into slash cut gunfight from Equilibrium
So it’s very pretty and full of cool ideas to turn into set pieces the likes we have not seen before. However, what I begin to see with this when talking to people about making a cyberpunk character for a game becomes a lot of people making mercenary types.
CP2020’s Core Roles
Using that above list of core roles, let’s look at the bonuses each gets as their ‘class skill’.
- Rockerboy Special Ability: Charismatic Leadership.
This skill allows the Rocker to sway crowds equal to his ability level squared times 200.
- Solo Special Ability: Combat Sense.
Added to all Initiative and Awareness checks, this makes the Solo the fastest reacting person in a situation.
- Netrunner Special Ability: Interface.
This Skill reflects the Netrunner’s ability to manipulate Interface programs, and is the skill used when operating Menu functions such as Locate remote, Run Software, Control Remote, LDL Link, Load, Create and Delete. Other players can enter the Net, but can’t use the Menu.
- Techie Special Ability: Jury Rig.
This general repair skill allows the Techie to temporarily repair or alter anything for 1D6 turns per level of skill.
- Medtech Special Ability: Medical Tech.
This is the skill used to perform major surgery and medical repairs.
- Media Special Ability: Credibility.
The ability to have people believe what you are saying while in your on-air persona.
- Cop Special Ability: Authority.
The ability to intimidate or control others through your position as a lawman.
- Corporate Special Ability: Resources.
This represents the Corporate’s ability to command corporation resources. It is used as a persuasion skill, based on scale of resources requested.
- Fixer Special Ability: Streetdeal.
The ability to locate people, information, etc. This is a higher form of making a connection; instead of knowing only one person, you have connections everywhere. In game play, a successful use of Streetdeal allows you to locate and acquire a desired person, place or thing.
- Nomad Special Ability: Family.
This allows the Nomad to call in as many Family members to aid him as his current Family Ability level x 2.
You can see the Solo gets a combat boost, and while some players could probably justify a Cop special ability in their missions trying to work some of the others into missions in class alone because of utility. Usually the ones I hear of are Rockers and Media, as the others have at least some sort of usefulness outside of the fights enough to justify playing them.
It is my belief that in Cyberpunk games, the idea of combat should be treated as if it could be fatal or at least seriously wounding. The Matrix gunfight in the lobby is not how a Cyberpunk firefight would be, as in a lot of the sort of ‘foundation’ of Cyberpunk genre the idea was the protagonists were the little guy and there enemies were the endless masses from their rivals of corporations they were rebelling against. It’s like the endless Hand soldiers get sent after Matt Murdock (or the Foot soldiers sent after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) as they seemly are always able to send more. Thus, if combat breaks out you want to end it quick so you don’t catch a stray bullet or more as some SMG just sprays your way. Don’t forget that Case, the main character and hacker from the novel Neuromancer, didn’t even know how to fight in any form.
Even if we cut out the bloodthirsty sort of combat hungry characters that seem popular in portrayals for Heroic Fantasy D&D, you’ll still likely have some combat scenes. I’m not saying get rid of them all, as there are times you’ll want some sort of direct confrontation. Just don’t pre-suppose they are going to end in a conflict as that takes the roleplay out of it if you’re looking for a reason to go to violence. Also, you can have some great games without any combat like this list of 8 video games with no combat or this list of 43 games that do not revolve around killing people or these show but some people may say these games are specifically crafted to allow non-violence like Portal, Journey and Stardew Valley so then there’s 10 games you can beat without killing anyone which shows some big budget games that can be beat with no violence.
Once you take out the idea of using combat as the main ‘let’s get the players involved in things’ focus that I’ve encountered in other games, you can come up with some interesting angles of how to use classes. For example, Counter Strike a 1990’s TV Show had a Corporate assemble a team of a Cop to lead the team in the field, a Fixer they blackmailed in due to criminal connections and a Solo for muscle. Then there’s the 1992 film Sneakers which had Bishop as a Netrunner, Donald Crease the Cop (a former CIA officer), Darren “Mother” Roskow, the team Techie; Carl Arbogast, a new Netrunner; and Irwin “Whistler” Emery, a blind Techie specialized in Phones. I like to reference the Amanda Hades webseries as it’s trio was Amanda Hades the Media, Troubleshooter the Decker, and Stinger their Techie, out to spread the real true news. There are other examples, like the ensemble group in Leverage of Mastermind (ex-Corp), Hacker (Decker), Hitter (Solo), Grifter (Fixer), Thief (Techie)
Some people may say that most of those examples are not Cyberpunk. I say that its all in what you focus on and how you run it. Just look at the quote from Game Designer Mike Pondsmith in CP2020 core book:
Life in 2020 isn’t just all guns and drugs. If it was, we woulda named the game Dungeons & Drug Dealers.
The best Cyberpunk games are a combination of doomed romance, fast action, glittering parties, mean streets and quixotic quests to do the right thing against all odds. It’s a little like Casablanca with cyberware…”
So, let’s look at a few creative ways to use the roles. Rockerboys are Bards from D&D or Toreadors from Vampire, the creative sort that use their artistic skill to rebel. Perhaps they’re a musician like The Ramones, a painter like Banksy getting resistance out with spreading a visual message, a writer like Ayn Rand or Aldus Huxley, or perhaps as a DJ on a pirate radio station using it to spread their message a la Pump Up The Volume. I have seen some say that acts against the ‘Charismatic Leadership’ to do something that doesn’t have an immediate audience like a musician or politician. My response to that is flash mobs like in this intro to an episode of CSI: Miami which helped reveal a body. A writer could write a rousing work that draws people into a protest, for example. To include the Rockerboy into the game is to have them going on the team for ‘street cred’, ‘inspiration’, ‘the rush’, or some other addiction, as much as it might be about money. Their focus is they need to be able to reach their audience and their time with the group is helping them do that.
CP2077 gives us a great example of this with Johnny Silverhand. So full of fire and rage inside of him, wanting to change the world. If you read into the CP2020 character, there’s a lot of that “destroy the Man” punk resistance there too.
Medias also cross path with the Rockerboys as those Pirate Radio DJs or other independant journalists out to tell the story as we saw with Amanda Hades, or they could be like Peter Parker selling their work to the Daily Bugle or a staff investigative reporter like Lois Lane and Clark Kent for the Daily Planet. I could even just take the easy way out and direct you to the Transmetropolitan comic series which chronicles the battles of Spider Jerusalem, infamous renegade gonzo journalist of the future. The core of the Media is they want to get the truth out there for people. It might be a muckraking tabloid style or it might be hard hitting expose stuff, the idea is while Rockerboys have a message they want to spread, you want to get the truth out there. So, you’re looking for that truth while you go around with the team, some sort of story you can tell and it even could be upbeat.
Another example is with the Nomads, who are not the Mad Max loner as they are the class to be able to call in family members to aid. However, this aid could be less of a call to arms for combat as it is a call to aid in their own way. Comic series Global Frequency is about 1,000 people around the world crowdsourced into this group to help save the world and different stories about their experiences. Issue 8 is titled .001 where the head of the organization is taken and different people use their skills to help get her back. They call out tech specialist Mark Tran, (mostly reformed) criminal and professional bodyguard Alice April and retired detective Winston Croft to investigate while Aleph, the ‘operator’ of the Global Frequency, uses outsourcing photo editing and video analysis to get it done quickly. I can see using family members like that. Check out Wisom of the Crowd TV series which uses Crowdsourcing to solve crimes, using people’s different skills to be useful ina group.
All tables approach this problem in one of two ways based on what best fits their group; either the GM will adapt the story to the characters or the players can adapt the story with their character. By this I mean the GM can specifically write in moments for the Rockerboy to design a rebellion and spell out a juicy story thread to the Media to work with, or they can create a world where the Media rakes events and creates a story (perhaps even inventing facts you hadn’t locked into the narrative yet) and the Rockerboy decides to incite a rebellion to help their cause.
You can see Cyberpunk media taking chances with things outside the ‘Action movie” when you have things like Gattaca the crime drama movie from the role of the criminal, Total Recall 2077 and Altered Carbon as different examples of investigative drama, the Incorporated TV series giving a vantage point of life for the Corporate making them the key focus for a lot of the story, with cuts to the Solo and Strange Days main character is a ex-Cop Fixer. You could take a noir film like Maltese Falcon and dress it up with a cyberpunk set like the ‘Tech-Noir” genre did with the Film-Noir genre, perhaps referencing something like the Liquid Cool novel series which is a sci-fi detective thriller.