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Tabletop Game / Cyberpunk

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Cyberpunk is a tabletop roleplaying game created by Mike Pondsmith and published by R. Talsorian Games, with the first edition releasing in 1988. The game, as the title might indicate, is based heavily upon the work of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, to the point where Gibson is often referred to as "Saint Willie" in the various sourcebooks.

Set in 2013/2020, the players are mercenaries, criminals, and vagabonds in the cyberpunk street culture of the period. American society has broken down, the government is ineffectual, and anything resembling a good life must be obtained by doing dirty work for one of the numerous corporations that quietly control the world. It's become trendy to heavily modify one's body with any number of cybernetic augmentations, whether it's designer eyes, replacement limbs, or combat-ready military gear, but stacking up too much "cyberware" causes a person to enter "cyber-psychosis" and go full-tilt insane.

As the games are a very deliberate, self-aware attempt to capture the feel of the then-burgeoning cyberpunk genre, it can be comfortably assumed that any trope from that particular genre that isn't mentioned will fit neatly here. Supplements to the game allow you to play in specific author's 'verses, such as George Alec Effinger's Marîd Audran.


A video game adaptation would be announced by CD Projekt RED, known as Cyberpunk 2077 and appropriately slated to release in 2020. Later on, a fourth edition for the tabletop with a new system was announced as well, called Cyberpunk Red.

This game provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future — Takes place in 2020, which seemed to be quite far away back in 1988. To avoid zeerust with its video game adaptation which is slated for launch precisely that year, the adaptation fast-forwarded the setting's title and year to Cyberpunk 2077.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: Monoswords, which, as their name suggests, are Sharpened to a Single Atom.
  • Alternate History: Courtesy of a late 80s/early 90s vision of the future.
  • Arbitrary Augmentation Limit: Cybernetic augmentations decrease a character's Humanity score, running the risk of "Cyber-Psychosis", though unlike other games, it is possible to restore lost humanity (usually through expensive and long-term therapy, which neatly averts There Are No Therapists. If you're too far gone, however, the therapy comes with the drawback of disabling your augmentations or outright removing them).
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  • Armor Is Useless: Averted. Body armor is a necessity to survive even a weak holdout pistol without a lengthy trip to a hospital/medtech.
  • Artificial Limbs: All over the place and often used to replace lost limbs, though cloned (or possibly stolen) limbs may also be used. The prosthetics are also presented somewhat more realistically than usual, with the guide correctly noting that a pair of cyber-arms would not give you Super Strength, as just because your arms are strong, doesn't mean your spine is.
  • Ax-Crazy: Cyber Psychos are humans that have gone completely batshit crazy and now shoot up anything in sight with their ridiculous hardware. The Psycho Squads dedicated to capturing them are often made up of cops and reformed criminals who are very nearly cyberpsychotic themselves. The fluff explains that making yourself more than human makes it less possible to understand humans: if you have an augmentation that improves your reaction time, everyone else seems to be completely slow and painfully dull, and you have to adjust to it (the augmentation in question has one of the biggest possible hits to Humanity when installed): cyber-psychosis is the manifestation of the belief that these meatbags are just in your way, for whatever reason. The Player Characters can become this as well when their Empathy (or EMP) stat drops too low. Such as 
  • Bio-Augmentation: Biotech, which are enhancements based around biology rather than technology, often using nanomachines, which has the handy benefit of minimizing humanity loss. These can range from antibodies and nanosurgeons that speed up your healing processes to custom organs that replace your original ones, often with bonus features (Want an appendix that lets you process dietary fiber for nutrients? Or how about lungs with improved oxygen capacity?). This is taken Up to Eleven in the Eurosource sourcebooks, as Europeans disapprove of cybernetics, so cyberware is either well hidden or replaced with biotech and also genetic engineering, which isn't readily available outside Europe.
  • Biotech Is Better: Downplayed. The only real upshot of bioware over cyberware is partially side-stepping Cybernetics Eat Your Soul, since having polymers and metal woven through your flesh and bones by nanosurgeons is less mentally taxing than having your arms lopped off and replaced with mechanical substitutes. Though, some of the biotech option are still rather practical (Have a gland implanted that secretes non-toxic antifreeze making you immune to frostbite; get a bunch of nanoids injected that style your hair, brush your teeth, and clear up your acne for you; have the left and right sides of your brain routed together so you become naturally ambidextrous. The list goes on.).
  • Blade Below the Shoulder: In several different varieties, from Molly Millions-style finger razors, to Adam Jensen-esque arm swords, to a knuckle-deploying blade trio subtly named "Wolvers".
  • The City Narrows: "Combat Zones," run-down, crime-ridden districts that exist in every major urban sprawl, where gangs hold sway and the cops only enter in force (if at all). Overlaps with Gateless Ghetto in some cities, where the areas are walled off and the inhabitants are left to their own devices.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Rache Bartmoss, one of the most brilliant Netrunners of the setting. Also, he's far less harmless than most examples of this trope, if he is to be believed.
  • Corporate Warfare: A war between two of the biggest companies in the world is a major background event.
  • Crapsack World: A cyberpunk hallmark. Life is cheap, corporations run everything, and violence is a fact of everyday life.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The game was the Trope Codifier for this idea.
    • Each item you install comes with a cost to your humanity. It's not hard to skirt that restriction, and some degree of augmentation is absolutely necessary to compete, but too much of it and you go Ax-Crazy and turn you into a "Cyber Psycho". This is typically guaranteed to end in a showdown with heavily armed, very paranoid cops (several of whom may be on the edge of aug-induced craziness themselves, if they weren't Cyber Psychos themselves before they became cops [Which is also very likely]). The good news, however, is that humanity lost can be regained by shelling out cash for therapy (which is mandatory for Full Conversion Borgs).
    • This is downplayed if you have your Cyberware installed in a Scandinavian cyber clinic. Due to specialist therapies, you roll humanity loss twice, and take the value of the second away from the first, with the possible result of no humanity loss at all. Although this is costly, as to get access to these clinics, as well as having to be in Scandinavia, it takes one day per maximum humanity loss, at a cost of 1000 eurobucks per day plus operation costs, and to even get into the clinic requires a six month wait (which can be reduced by 1D6 months by paying an extra 10%). And illegal cyberware isn't available.
    • One of the major selling points or bioware is actively side-stepping this as much as possible. That muscle and bone lace may not make you as strong as cyberlimbs will, nor will that nanooptical reconstruction surgery give you as good of sight as a cybereye, but they are still your limbs and your eyes, which means you'll be less likely to disassociate from humanity and thus less likely to go on a killing spree.
  • Cyber Punk: It's even in the title!
  • Cyberspace: Being heavily influenced by William Gibson's writings, this is how computer hacking works in-game.
  • Cyborg: Very easy for people to become one to some extent, and many people are already this.
  • Divided States of America: Alaska, Texas, Utah, Nevada and California (which further divided itself into North and South) have seceded and become free states. Additionally, Wyoming is a Socialist republic that pays token service to the Federal government, and Idaho was briefly taken over by neo-Nazis, who have since been deposed.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Though the option for characters to use drugs is there (wouldn't be cyberpunk if it wasn't), doing so is strongly discouraged (as in the writers directly tell players that it's a very good way to kill their characters). To be fair, the game was released during the height of the Moral Guardians crusade against roleplaying games, when the idea that Dungeons & Dragons led to witchcraft and Satanism was actually taken seriously.
  • Everyone Is Armed: It's basically required for anyone who wants to survive in the Cyberpunk world. From fixers to solos, gangs to police, adults to teenagers, to even the children and the elderly; everyone has something to protect themselves from someone else. The only ones who don't carry around guns are the wealthy elites and celebrities, who hire muscle and gunmen to protect them instead.
  • Expy: The game's main setting, Night City, is fairly obviously based on San Francisco. The Night City sourcebook even spotlights Expies of other Bay Area cities, such as South San Francisco, Pacifica and Oakland.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: The setting features the Kibble that's described to have the same aspect, smell, and flavor of the dog food from which it takes its name.
  • Gaia's Lament: The world's in pretty rough shape in the near future. A good chunk of the American Midwest is undergoing desertification and the rain is more acidic than not.
  • Gang of Hats: Most of the gangs in Night City have a theme, from the DJs to the Juillard to the Bozos. The Bozos are a gang that's had themselves biosculpted into clowns. Those big red noses? Real. Those big floppy shoes? Their feet.
  • History Repeats: For anyone who is knowledgeable in regards to Japanese history, then they will see very stark parallels between the Empire of Japan and the Arasaka Corporation. Both were created as a counter to Western aggression; both saw massive industrial and technological growth in a short hundred years; both became a dominate super power in the same regions of the world; and both of them started a war with America who they had little hope of winning against.
    • Also, Japan was also completely dependent on The Arasaka Corporation for their economic stability. In the third rule set, after The Arasaka Corporation was destroyed, Japan fell into an total recession. Which has basically turned Japan from a relatively prosperous First World country, to a Third World one in less than a year. What makes this worse however, is that Japan has no reliable outside assistance to help rebuild their economy this time. Meaning that Japan was effectively kicked right back into the Dark Ages.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Instead of dissolving like it did in reality, the Soviet Union actually manages to successfully reform itself (though the second edition rewrote the timeline to account for Germany's reunification), but its global influence is greatly diminished. The US suffers economic collapse, several major terrorist attacks, and the secession of a number of states, and ends up becoming a Third World country in all but name. The European Union and Japan are the world's new major superpowers, while China's economic growth was stalled by a nasty civil war between Maoist hardliners and the pseudo-capitalist reformers currently clinging to power by their fingertips.
  • I Meant to Do That: Explicitly mentioned as part of the attitude edgerunners need to have: anyone can walk into a bar with a gun, but a true Cyberpunk needs to walk in with a gun and an attitude that explicitly says "don't fuck with me" to survive. Cool is a stat in this game, and represents how you handle yourself in good and bad situations.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Played with, surprisingly enough. Many of the megacorporations are wholly or partially owned by the Japanese, but the European Union has become the dominant superpower, with euros in use as the new global currency.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Averted. Combat is deadly, and every time a character takes damage, they have to determine if they succumb to shock and black out or find the willpower to keep going. The best armor in the world will only protect you so long: eventually, a shot is getting through, and if you're not ready for it with the appropriate stats and some lucky rolls, you're down and out. Even the most basic pistol can trigger shock with a single bullet.
  • Kill 'Em All: The original Cyberpunk guidebook treats the fact that life in the setting is cheap as a feature. If a character becomes too powerful or angers too many major factions, then the GM is encouraged to simply kill them and let the player start over.
  • Long-Runners: Cyberpunk was first published in 1988. The second edition, which updated the setting from 2013 to 2020 and added some new details and history, was published in 1990. The only change to the core rulebook since then is the updates that corrected some typos: the game hasn't changed significantly in 29 years, and only with the announcement of Cyberpunk 2077 was the setting updated with the Cyberpunk Red edition. As a side-effect, however, there are splatbooks covering absolutely everything you can think of, since R. Talsorian Games has been adding to the game for almost three decades.
  • Magnetic Weapons: The ESA has a mass driver on the moon which they use to keep the peace.
  • Mechanical Muscles: "Fleshweave" cyberlimbs are disturbing prosthetics designed to look like the obviously mechanical parts are growing out of the user's natural limbs.
    • The "full conversion" cyborg the Gemini had the entire body replaced except for the brain. The artwork was a cut-away with the metal parts made to resemble a normal human's muscles.
  • Mega-Corp: Plenty; This IS Cyberpunk after all. One of (if not the) largest has to be Arasaka, who unfortunately is also quite evil. Others Mega-Corp's include Militech, the International Electric Corporation, the Lazarus Group, Petrochem and SovOil.
  • Min-Maxing: A common fan criticism is that the game's "Character Role" class system (which gives certain starting skill sets and unique abilities to characters of a certain class) leads to balance issues, the most frequent being that Solos (aka: mercenaries) are the only viable character types for combat situations (thanks to their special ability which gives bonuses to their spot checks and initiative rolls), and that consequently most Solo builds end up looking very similar (high Reflex attributes & combat skills + low social skills + reflex boosting augmentations). As a result, a number of fan-made rule modifications exist that remove the Character Roles entirely and allow players to build characters from scratch, similar to Cyberpunk's chief rival, Shadowrun. However, the sourcebook explicitly states that an adventure should be less about combat and more about story, and the Referee should make everyone in an adventure feel like they are contributing. That being said, Solos are intended to be combat masters, likely cyber'd up to the gills with low humanity and a literal hair-trigger temper, so it can be argued that they're actually shoehorned into the role, rather than dominating the gameplay.
    • It's worth noting that Solos are experts at combat and everything to do with fighting- so while they're dangerous in combat, they suck at everything else. This means that while Solos can start and finish fights, they are poor at avoiding them, pushing situations away from combat, and dealing with the (often messy) aftermath.
  • Neural Implanting
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: Reflex and Empathy. Reflex so that you can shoot first, faster, and more accurately than anyone else, and Empathy because that increases the amount of cyberware you can implant into yourself before going cyberpsycho. Solos have a profession skill which is added on top of reflexes for combat initiative. Combat rounds usually go "solos first, then everyone else".
  • Organ Theft: There are rules for selling organs to organ banks and there is mention of an organ lottery. Officially, you need a deceased donor card to donate organs and get a reward, but this can be faked rather easily.
  • Powered Armor: Two types in the form of ACPA and Hardsuits (Heavy armor with an exoskeleton for support.) Linear Frames are essentially unarmored powered exoskeletons that are clunky to operate without a man-machine interface port.
  • Recycled In SPACE: The supplement Deep Space allows adventures to be run on the final frontier. It's hard as the diamond with almost all the technologies featured there either existing in Real Life (chemical and ionic drives) or having been researched but cancelled (nuclear propulsion) and touching issues as the effects of microgravity on the human body and the finitness of the speed of light (read: radio communications) among others.
  • Retcon: Cyberpunk Red removes Cyberpunk v3 and its apocalypse setting in favor creating a prequel setting for Cyberpunk 2077. However, it will reintroduce some of the technology that was previously established in Cyberpunk v3's rulebook.
  • Shout-Out: There is a book of GM advice titled "Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!", referencing a famous line from Army of Darkness.
  • The Sociopath: Low Empathy characters are assumed to be this or something similar. Low Humanity characters are this, either temporarily or permanently.
  • Squad Nickname: The C-SWAT,note  PSYCHE-DIV, CYBEnforcement, and MAX-TAC note  are all colloquially known as "(Cyber) Psycho Squads" as they are special police squads who capture rogue cyberpsychos and who are just barely cyberpsychotic themselves, some of whom are rehabilitated cyberpsychos.
  • Super Reflexes: Combat in the setting is set up to be won by whoever gets to go first in a turn, due to its overwhelming lethality. As such, a number of augmentations exist to improve a character's initiative roll and you would have to be crazy not to take them.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Starting combat by delivering your character’s Catchphrase or a (potential) Pre-Mortem One-Liner under the Friday Night Firefight rules doesn’t end your round.
  • Upgrade Artifact: Skillsofts, chips with software that conveys skill in certain areas as long as they're plugged in. There's two variants: skill chips and knowledge chips. Skill chips give you a bonus as long as they're slotted, but they override any actual skill you have and have a hard cap: the best (and most expensive) chips give a +3 bonus to a skill, but if you have a +4 or higher bonus naturally, the chip forces you back down to +3 at best. Knowledge chips give you a bonus to any non-physical skill (such as special lore or important history) and do stack with your natural skill, acting more like having an encyclopedia in your head that you can access at will.
  • Zeerust: It's currently February 2020, and many of the elements depicted in Cyberpunk 2020 still have to become reality. For this reason, the videogame adaptation had its date pushed towards 2077.

Alternative Title(s): Cyberpunk 2020


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