This is 100% your bog standard random, silly, and clumsy hand scrape… but darned if it doesn’t look perfect for some sort of runic symbol that kicks off a grand adventure!
“The way we played it — the way my teenage friends and I read ourselves into the world — was as small-time operators, always. The corporations were behemoths, the system so massively corrupt and powerful that no one could win against it. You fought to survive around the edges of it, living off the scraps. “High stakes, low impact” — that was our house rule. Because punks don’t save the world. Ever. They just try to live another day.” — Jason Sheehan @ NPR
That little bit from a review of the new CP 2077 computer game drew my attention because it both mirrors how we also played the Cyberpunk RPG back in the day and because it captures so well what I’ve noticed in the current crop of cyberpunk releases. So many of them seem to hew strongly towards the cyber and the glitz and the machine gun prophecy, while steadfastly avoiding the punk and any deeper implications or explorations. More than one of the games I’ve read even begins with their premise as “you are elite mercenaries, plying your trade for the endless corporate wars.” CP 2077, at least as as Jason’s review describes it, also seems to push towards that side of things.
But the essential bit to our old Cyberpunk campaigns was always being on the edge of being quashed. And of the perils and impact of living within a complete corporatocracy. As we got older, ideas of the dehuminising aspect of it all got incorporated into our games, a subtext to the more foreground and obvious reduction of one’s humanity through cybernetics or braindance. Along with the questions that comes from being under that constant state of duress: what is considered winning to us, what does family or friendship mean, to what levels are you willing to go, is there an escape of sorts, and so on. That was the vital bit that made our cyberpunk games cyberpunk and therefore different from our other games.
Here we weren’t the mighty adventuring party, or the team of elite spies, or the superhero group, or the gritty commando unit, or mecha pilots, or slinging around in a space opera. (And to note, we played those games too and loved them!) In Cyberpunk, we were local, caught in the cogs, and eking out what we could, step by small step. And rather than just grabbing the neon and the cyber for the aesthetics, that to me remains the essence of what a good cyberpunk game should embrace.
Something came to me recently that’s worthwhile adding to my earlier thoughts on why I am in favour of bell-curve dice systems: With the clustering of results, and their lack of swinginess, they greatly reduce the dreaded “streaks of suck” where one poor roll is followed by another… and then another… and then another…
With a linear die system, such as a d20, you’ve got the same chance as rolling a 1 as you do a 10 as you do a 20. Rolling a bunch of bad rolls in a row isn’t all that difficult to do. And sure, sometimes those strings of bad rolls can be kinda funny in their own, peculiar, way. But more often than not it creates, at best, difficulties for your character and, at worse, puts them into great peril. And it can be frustrating as heck, a thwarting of self and an affront to the idea of competence.
(What about the opposite end? That can also be annoying… rolling several great rolls in a row where they are not useful, or having a string of them and then not having them for what feels like a very long time…)
But with a bell curve of results, even if your chance of failure may be the same on the whole, the distribution of those bad rolls is much more evenly distributed over time. Because the results cluster to the middle, rolling a bad roll is more likely to be followed by a middling roll than having an equal chance of having yet another bad roll. Which leads not only to less frustration but also to that greater sense of competency as well as confidence which allows for greater planning and, ultimately, more meaningful choices.
I played a tonne of the Cyberpunk RPG back in the day. My friends and I picked up the first edition (retroactively named/referred to as the 2013 edition) pretty much as soon as it came out, and it became one of our games of choice almost instantly. When the 184.108.40.206 edition came out, we eagerly snapped it up and kept right on playing. And even as I I headed off to university and beyond, new games were started with new groups. I’ve enjoyed it aplenty.
With the newly released Cyperpunk computer game comes a new edition of the RPG rules, this time titled Cyberpunk Red. Intrigued, I gave it a quick read through (hence the pun title for this post) and wow, is it ever a blast from the past. In that it feels as though it is from the past. In that the rules haven’t really changed all that much. In that it is as if 30 years of gaming and RPG rules and concepts growth hadn’t happened.
To be fair, the Interlock System that underpins the rules was (and still is) a pretty solid core. At the time of the first Cyberpunk game, it felt especially streamlined and fresh and a nice implementation of a skill+attribute based system. But with the reflection of having played so many other systems in the intervening years, the inelegant and sometimes even kludgy edges of the ruleset as a whole now show through for me. In addition, it hasn’t added any narrative hook support, something that’s intriguing me more these days.
All in all, reading the rules I was left with a sense of meh. I’m still keen on cyberpunk (in the full exploration of its genre, not just the aesthetic), but depending on the type of campaign we were going to play there’s a few other rulesets I’d gravitate towards instead. Rope in the good background info and world lore from Cyberpunk, yes, but upgrade to a keener operating system.
There’s this refrain I’ve seen pop up a few times over the past few weeks that, while the first time seemed amusing, by the third there was clearly some gross misunderstanding going on at best or, at the other end of the spectrum, some downright purposeful falsehood being peddled to promote hostility and prejudice.
So here’s the thing:
NO, D&D did not remove all distinction between ‘races’ in the game.
NO, all ‘races’ are not now the same.
NO, the publisher was not forced/pressured/browbeat into doing this by some sort of morality warrior mob.
NO, the game hasn’t been ruined.
What has occurred is that the recent sourcebook (Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything) notes that the standard attribute score bonuses of the various races (species) speak to archetypes and gives the option for you to switch them around on your character, if you choose. Also, you can swap out languages and proficiencies for another.
Now, I’ve made the argument before that attribute bonuses are the most boring way to differentiate between different species, while also being sorely restricting to RP and flavour. So I’m quite happy that this change has been made, opening things up.
But for those who are making the argument that without these attribute bonuses all races within the game are now the same, what they’re saying is that for them, a +2 to Dex is a greater differentiator than being resistant to poison. Or being a construct that doesn’t breathe or sleep. Or innate magic. Or, you know, breathing fire.
Which, to editorialize for a moment, I find absolutely and hilariously ridiculous.
Besides providing a more prominent distinction between the different heritages, these kind of abilities are also far more exciting and meaningful in their use and how they shape the feel of the character’s lineage. Best of all, in sidelining attribute bonuses it also sidelines the potential for them to invoke or reinforce limiting and/or negative stereotypes, connotations, and contexts that can bleed beyond the game.
So I would invite those who are worried to set that aside and see that far from being a diminishment this is a flourishment instead.
And to those who say the game itself is under attack by a bunch of hysterical agitators, I would like to say that we all can see that it is, in actuality, you who has got your knickers all up in a twist.
We’ve been playtesting the Aurora RPG Engine during our regular Sunday game and it’s been going very well! (Much smoother than I figured it would, actually, which has been a most pleasant surprise.) As we play on, I’ve noticed a couple of really neat things.
Postscript 2 – Further Probabilities
First, because Margin of Success is determined by the number of “remaining” dice, there’s an easy way to figure out what the probabilities are for achieving a certain MoS for a certain number of dice. This is because asking “What’s the chance of generating an MoS of 1 on 5 dice?” is the same as asking “What’s the chance of generating success on 4 dice, so that I have one die left over?” To which we already have the answer from the previously generated probabilities chart: roughly 50% (though again it’s really 45%).
This also makes it nice an easy to generate a matrix to quickly reference the probabilities for each MoS:
Or, as a chart showing the chance of getting at least MoS X:
Postscript 3 – Hidden Rolls & Discoveries
Second, the above leads to another very cool and interesting thing: the system is bidirectional.
Typically, the difficulty of a task is handled by adjusting the base dice pool. This allows the player to viscerally feel their chances and properly size up the situation, thus letting them make appropriate choices (and fully RP it out). However, there are certain instances where it may be more appropriate to not “give away” the difficulty of a task to the player and have them roll blind. In certain campaign and genre styles – such as one where the characters are expected to be over their heads or one where it is a grim and failure-heavy milieu – this may apply to most of the tests/rolls. For others, this may be saved for more uncommon circumstances where the level of tension is heightened by explicitly being uncertain and not in the know.
The sweet thing here is that, as evidenced above, the probability of success when removing dice is the same as requiring an MoS equal to that number of removed dice. Therefore, if a player needs to succeed on a test where the difficulty is pegged at minus 2d, the test can instead easily be run ‘blind/hidden’ by having the player roll and checking if they get an MoS of at least 2. If not, then the test is failed.
This can also be useful for areas like perception, discerning realities, investigations, and similar, where the GM may not want to tip their hand that something is there (by specifying there is a penalty) and where the overall margin of success can be used to determine the amount or exactness of the information gained or discovered. For example, the players are searching a room and there is a particular item that is difficult to find (the GM has determined it’s well hidden indeed at a -3d difficulty). They roll; on an MoS of 0 they find a few mundane items, on an MoS of 1 they find some important documents, and on the MoS of 3 they find the secret compartment containing the important item. To flip it around, if the characters already knew the object was in the room but just not where, and they were actively searching for it, the GM could let them test normally with the up-front 3d penalty.
(As an aside, Star Trek Adventures does a version of this for many types of searching, sensor, and etc tests, giving a basic amount of information on a success and allowing the player to spend Momentum (their version of MoS) to give additional and more exacting details and information.)
With this bidirectionality, the engine gains even more flexibility and adaptability, all in service of running the game in a way that supports the campaign genre, tone, and style.
Looks lovely, a game where the intent is towards balance and harmony of the land and people. I am also super excited that it comes with trilingual instructions. I can’t read Inuktitut, but I love that they’re there!
Can’t wait to play, though, of course, given what’s going on right now… it’ll be a while before I can get together with someone to play. Alas! Until then I will dig into the rules and admire the lovely box (and maybe try playing against myself).
Playing over Discord during these physically distanced times has been working out quite well, albeit with the occasional moment of hacking something together. To whit, you might get a kick out of this map of an epic assault the crew recently did, as annotated realtime by me in Photoshop as our ‘battle map’…
- Characters are in blue
- NPCs in yellow
- Structures, vehicles, and antagonists in red
- Effects and actions are in cyan (and sometimes green)
- Situation modifiers in the upper right corner
- Map is not to scale! So it says in the lower right corner
It was quite effective and very fun to do, chronicling everything as we went forward. And I am super amused at the end result in this crazy work of ‘art’. BTW, that shuttle at the left side of the map? It was sitting on the pad for the most of it, and I made great use of the layer transform tools to ‘animate’ it as the player inside piloting, fired the big guns (hence the giant cyan Xs on various bits), and then made their escape with all the kidnapped folk safely onboard…
Needless to say, a good time was had by all involved.
(Super bonus points to all who recognize where the base map comes from…)
Here’s a quick, off the cuff, totally not fleshed out or playtested idea on how to handle a pet class (ie someone with an animal companion or similar) in D&D that may resolve the current disappointment/issues with the current iterations of the Beastmaster Ranger (and similar) classes.
To begin though, I get the difficulty in crafting this kind of class. There’s a few of major things to balance: first you don’t want to add too much complexity (having a player have to manage two full-fledged characters), and second you don’t want to add too much power (where the character + their companion’s abilities overshadow everyone else at the table). And while the revised Ranger and it’s Beastmaster subclass from Unearthed Arcana seems to have found a mostly workable solution for that, there is a third area of balance that remains the Achilles heel: hit points. To avoid allowing the companion to become a vast sponge of extra hit points for the party, the companion’s AC and Hit Points remain modest… which means they are all too often going down like a chump. Sure, the Ranger can resurrect them, but few want to play a class where their best bud is dying every other day.
So here’s the concept: Have the companion fully share the combat economy with the main character, not only in actions and attacks, but in Hit Points as well. How this is fluffed will depend on the specific pet class – a ranger or druid could have a real spiritual connection/ bond to their companion, a warlock might have a more parasitical and/or arcane tie, etc – but the basic idea is that you can balance the class almost as a single actor within a combat encounter. So when the main character takes a move action one or both can move, and when the main character takes the attack action, each attack they get as part of that attack action can be performed either by the main character or their companion. And when one gets hit, both are closer to being knocked down.
At its simplest, as well as in some ways the most extreme, everything about the two could be set to be exactly the same: to hit, damage, AC, etc. It’s one character, just being two places at once on the board. (To be fair, though, if both are caught in an area attack, they only take the damage once). It’s also workable to have some minor differences between the two in AC and attack power.
The nice thing about this is it makes it easy to turn nearly any character into a pet-using class, since there’s little change in their effective contribution to the party’s abilities and power. Of course, even if using the option of complete identicalness, there are some extra benefits that come from having two bodies in play, but they mostly fall into the same category of advantages that come from having a familiar (albeit one with much greater hit points, though outside of combat that should matter much less). The biggest impact may come from having an extra ally for the purposes of controlling territory or granting the Rogue sneak attacks. It’s fair then to have the character need to swap out a minor class feature, or make a custom Feat that allows them to gain the companion (with, I’d say, a few extra riders or a single +1 ASI, since the power gain wouldn’t otherwise be a full feat’s worth).
The last tweak that may make this sing is to allow – or require – the character or companion (whichever one takes the damage when this occurs, or a choice if they take area damage simultaneously) to drop unconscious when they reach 25% of their Hit Points.
So that’s the idea. Iffn’ and when I get a chance to test this out, I’ll report back. And if you try it, please comment below with how it went and any suggestions you have!