Friday, March 18, 2016

White Box Cyberpunk Ideas Pt 1: Character Classes

I want a simple cyberpunk game; one that isn't just gun/gear porn or two completely different roleplaying games that you play at the same time (the hacker doing things and everybody else doing things)  I've been waiting for this for a couple of years, but I'm not hopeful that I'll see it anytime soon. A few years ago I did a Shadowrun conversion for Stars Without Number, but in retrospect I'm not at all happy with it. I'm also thinking I want something modular that starts out more like Cyberpunk 2020, with the elves/magic stuff from Shadowrun as an optional add-on.

Given my recent proclivity for Swords & Wizardry White Box, I started working on a write-up WB style.

I'll start with the classes: enforcer, face, and neuromancer. The enforcer is basically this game's version of the fighter. The face and neuromancer two approaches to having a rogue/thief type class; the face is more of a bard/social class with some traditional sneaky type thief abilities, whereas the neuromancer is meant to be more of a dungeon type thief. (The dungeon being the corporate megaplex or whatever) When you get right down to it, what does a thief do? Pick locks, find and disarm traps, make sneak attacks...and my neuromancer write up does the digital equivalent of these.

A note on "contacts," a column you'll see in the class writeups- rules for these are forthcoming, but here is the short version:  characters can allocate points into contacts of various categories (criminal, dealers, etc) A character can call in a favor from a contact by rolling the contact number or less on a d6.

I had originally planned to have the neuromancer's programs work like spells, but that made zero sense and renaming/reflavoring all the spells started to get tedious. On the other hand, perhaps I could introduce a saving throw-based mechanic to determine if the programs are effective. Some of the spells could be repurposed to work as 'realspace hacks,' like turning hold person into a program that can paralyze someone with cybernetic limbs or an exoskeleton.

I had also considered a fourth character class, the hijacker, based on the Shadowrun concept of the rigger. This is a specialized hacker who essentially takes over drones/vehicles. I had planned to use the turn undead tables as a basis for their attempts to invade and control those systems. Perhaps I should give the ability to the neuromancer, using the character's level vs. the complexity of the system, measured roughly in HD.

My two main concerns with the first draft are thus: that the neuromancer doesn't have enough to do in realspace (although this has proven to be a problem in both early editions of Shadowrun and in Cyberpunk 2020), that the face is too unfocused, and that the enforcer is boring. (This, of course, parallels the argument that playing a plain ol' fighter is boring.) Any thoughts are welcome...

JB, your thoughts are especially welcome due to your work on Cry Dark Future.

Below are the first draft write ups for the three main classes.

Some call them street samurai, some call them solos, but enforcers are the muscle of the underworld, specializing in violence. 

Level    XP         Hit Dice    BHB   ST        Contacts
1             0          1+1          +0        16                1
2           2,000      2            +1          15              +1
3           4,000      3            +2          14              +1
4           8,000      4            +2          13              +1
5          16,000     5            +3          12              +1
6          32,000     6            +4          11              +1
7          64,000     7            +4          10              +1
8        128,000     8            +5            9              +1
9        256,000     9            +6            8              +1
10      512,000     10           +6            7              +1

Enforcer Class Abilities

Weapon/Armor Restrictions: Enforcers are able to use any weapons or armor.

Combat Machine: Against enemies of one Hit Die or fewer, Enforcers get one attack per level each combat round.

Saving Throw: Enforcers receive +2 to saving throws vs. death

Specialization: Enforcers receive a +1 to hit with either ranged weapons or melee weapons. This bonus is chosen at character creation and cannot be changed.

XP Bonus: Enforcers receive XP bonus for either a high strength score or a high dexterity score. This is chosen at character creation and cannot be changed.

Faces are social chameleons, able to navigate the various factions of the underworld. Well-connected and suave, they gain information the old-fashioned way.

Level    XP       Hit Dice     BHB   ST   Contacts    Talents
1            0            1            +0        14          3              4
2          1250         2            +0        13      +1              +2
3          2500         2 +1        +1       12      +2               +2
4         5000          3             +1       11      +1               +2
5        10000         3+1         +2        10     +2               +2
6        20000         4             +2         9      +1               +2
7        40000         4+1         +3         8      +2               +2
8        80000         5             +3         7      +1               +2
9      160000         5+1         +4         6      +2                +2
10    320000         6             +4         5      +1                +2

Face Class Abilities

Weapons/Armor: Faces prefer light weapons, but can use medium ones as well. They likewise prefer light armor but can wear medium. They don't use heavy arms or armor.

Saving Throws: Faces gain +2 to any saving throw against an effect that would confuse, deceive, or charm them.

XP Bonus: Faces get an experience bonus for having a high charisma score.

Talents: Faces are skilled in carousing and deception. At first level, they can use the following talents. The base chance of success for each is 1 in 6, though they gain 4 points to spend on raising talents. Faces also gain 2 extra points each level to raise whichever talents they choose. A talent with a 6-in-6 chance can only fail if two consecutive 6's are rolled.

           -A Thousand Faces: A face can also use this ability to disguise themselves, though posing as a             specific individual usually won't work if scrutinized by someone who knows the impersonated             individual.

         -Face in the Crowd: Faces can blend into a crowd or highly public area, becoming impossible to           spot unless they attack or otherwise give themselves away. They can follow individuals through           a crowd without being detected so long as they stay a reasonable distance back and don't call               attention to themselves.

        -Fast-Talk: Faces are masters of talking their way out of situations. On a successful roll, the face          is able to shift an NPCs reaction one way or the other: hostile NPCs can become neutral, neutral         can be friendly, etc. This cannot be done in combat.

        -Skulk: Faces can move around without making much noise or being noticed. They must have              reasonable cover or low lighting to use this ability.

        -Sticky Fingers: The face can pick pockets, palm objects, plant things on someone, or otherwise          perform feats of prestidigitation.

Strange Luck: Faces get by on wits, luck, and treachery. They may re-roll one attack roll or saving throw per game session.


Level   XP    Hit Dice    BHB    ST   Contacts    Hacking
1           0         1            +0        15       2                 4
2          1500   1+1          +0        14     +1               +2
3          3000     2            +0        13     +1               +2
4          6000     2+1        +1        12     +1               +2
5        12000     3            +1        11     +2               +2
6        24000     3+1        +1         10    +1               +2
7        48000     4            +2          9    +1               +2
8        96000     4+1        +2          8    +1               +2
9       192000     5           +2          7    +1               +2
10     384000     5+1        +3          6   +2                +2

Neuromancers Class Abilities
Weapons/Armor Restrictions: Neuromancers are techies, not fighters. They can employ only light weapons and light armor.

Saving Throw: Neuromancers receive +2 on any saving throw vs. technology

Implants:  Neuromancers begin with a Data Jack, free of charge.

XP Bonus: Neuromancers receive an XP bonus from having a high intelligence attribute.

Hacking:  With a cyber-rig, neuromancers can attempt the following actions within a system. The neuromancer must be jacked in to the network and have a grid-capable device on hand. Each task generally takes only a single combat round.

                     -Crack- The neuromancer can gain access to a restricted system or open a secured door                        in realspace.

                     -Decrypt- The neuromancer can decode data nodes and copy,  delete, manipulate, or                            otherwise meddle with information. Failure to decrypt often triggers security measures.

                     -Killer- If undetected, a neuromancer can launch a surprise attack against an IC                                    program or an enemy neuromancer. On a successful check, the neuromancer makes the                        attack  roll at +4 and inflicts double damage. On a failure, the neuromancer can still                            make an  attack, but the bonus is only +2 and inflicts normal damage.

                    -Spoof- The neuromancer becomes undetectable by IC and enemy neuromancers, unless                       they reveal themselves via an attack or are detected by sniffing.

                    -Sniff- Find enemy IC and spoofed runners in the same node.

                   -Spring- The neuromancer can disable security systems or traps on realspace by                                 accessing their interfaces through the grid.

Each task begins with a 1 in 6 chance of success. Neuromancers receive 4 points to distribute among their tasks, and an additional two points with every earned experience level after 1st. The maximum value for a task is 6-in-6. In this case, the neuromancer fails only if they roll two consecutive 6's on a d6.


  1. @ DMW:

    So, okay...a little background: CDF has morphed a bit from the B/X Shadowrun knock-off it was. Originally, I had no classes, instead using a "priority system" similar to the first couple-three editions of SR. This proved inconvenient, however, because it sabotaged the whole "fast character gen" that is one of the fortes of B/X.

    The current revamp has classes. Call 'em nine total, but they're really three classes, each with three variations (and you're required to pick a variation). For me, this was a good spread. For an S&W/Cyberpunk hack a more limited number is appropriate, IMO.

    SO...for yours specifically:

    Enforcer: good
    Face: good, possibly TOO interesting
    Neuromancer: problematic

    I understand the hacker/rigger/netrunner dude is a staple of cyberpunk games, film, and fiction. My experience (which I think you echo) is that it's a fairly terrible archetype to play at the table. In order for the character to shine, the player must work solo. When the other characters are shining, the hacker player is sidelined (or getting in the way of the other PCs).

    For my money, the inclusion of a neuromancer (or whatever) is an unnecessary adherence to the past. Consider the Keanu Reeves character in the film Johnny Neumonic. Consider the titular character of the book Johnny Zed. Both have "techie" and "hacker" skills. Both are active. Neither spends any real amount of time at a console working up and executing programs.

    When I've run games that included PC deckers (or whatever), the player was only taking the role because "the team needs one" (similar to the "well, someone's got to play a cleric" mentality). My advice: ditch hackers, or make the system real "snappy."

    That was the way I handled the original CDF. Turns out: still too dull. Now...well, I have a group of classes that all offer their particular skills, and one or more of them might have some skill with computers, but none of them are computer-centric.

    The easy fix? Ditch the neuromancer and break the "face" up into two classes: one more tech oriented, one more organic.

  2. (Hope that doesn't sound too bitchy)

  3. Instead of doing hacker abilities like spells, why don't you do them like the % thief skills? They get better as the hacker gets better and you can translate them over easier. e.g. Pick locks => hack electronic locks and passwords, hear noise => hack video cameras and other detection devices.

  4. @John- That's actually what I did in the class write-up above. (Although I do them x in 6 rather than %, which is also how I roll with White Box thieves)

    @JB- Not bitchy at all, man. And yes, you and I do share the same perception of the console cowboy as an archetype- totally in genre, totally suck-ass at the table. In fact, the only time I've ever had it work is in the Shadowrun Returns PC game series...and that's because there's only one player, me, playing all the characters. Even so, the hackers are pretty much mediocre at best on missions that don't have any (or very little) Matrix time.

    What about working up a techie class that has a rigger-like ability to control networked machinery? I'm thinking something similar to the Shadowrun rigger concept, but using the cleric's turn undead table. Just a thought. At least I know the other two classes are semi-solid!

  5. @ DMW:

    Well, as I said, I think the Face has enough going on that you could split it into two classes.

    In my current version of CDF (which, as I mentioned, now has classes), I have three types of "skill monkeys:" Faces (yep, just like you), Infiltrators, and Techs. For my game, faces are the negotiator types, the infiltrators the stealthy types, and the techs are the mechanical, tinker/repair types. None of them are hackers by trade, though all three have the option of taking "computer" skill (though doing so means forgoing a different skill, like pilot or commando or paramedic). These classes are the only ones that have the option of taking computer skill (which would allow "hacking" action)'s not even on the menu for the fighters and mage-types.

    But, to your question: the rigger guy is kind of a non-starter for me...though in my original play-testing I loved my brother's troll rigger in the heavily modified attack chopper (major carnage!). Here's the thing: do you want to limit who can use vehicles? Probably not (unless you want to lock civvies out of military vehicles or something). So what is a rigger? A guy who gets a bonus to driving because of his implants. Does that need a "class?"

    I'm just thinking of game play you want it to be NECESSARY that the party bring along a specialized driver, or simply convenient? In a way, it's the same deal as the hacker. Can anyone plug their brain into the matrix, or just specialists?

    What you may want to consider is the exact future-dystopian setting of your game. Maybe the only way to do ANYTHING "techie" (hacking, driving, drone rigging, trading stock) is to have specialized implants that the normal proles don't have. In that case, okay...get your organic face, your hard-case solo ("enforcer"), and your tech guru ("technomancer" or whatever). Don't futz around with programs, just give him the ability to co-op systems. Yeah, the undead table might be a good start for modeling their ability...hacking military installations, vehicles, and uber-data vaults would require higher levels (and rolls) than traffic cameras and police records, or hotel elevators and civilian rides.

    1. (given such a setting, parties that don't include a tech guy are going to have to hoof it, use public transport (the metro), or grab robotic taxis to make getaways...pretty darn inconvenient, but the additional player challenge does have appeal)

      (I also like that going this route gives players three very distinct options for navigating challenges in game: force, subtlety, or tech...the latter being a bit of a blend of the first two. 'Course I know which one I'd take...I'm not a very subtle guy)

  6. I like the idea of rolling a die to call in a favor; would the chance of success (i.e., the roll-under target) get smaller with each un-repaid favor called in?

    1. @Fuzzy-

      You basically have the right idea; contacts are x-in-6 and the number can be reduced (even to zero) by not returning favors or be getting your contacts killed. The rules will post later today.

  7. Heya, the "Chrome" guy here. Saw JB mention your project and blog over on his blog today, so I thought I'd pop by. You've made the right decision to not wait for me, by the way. I've got an idea and a dream, but little enough nose to the grindstone motivation to push me. Something could happen someday, but no one should hold their breath.

    I've picked up all the same White Box variants you have and enjoy reading them and the simple mechanics, but over time I've ultimately found them a bit too light for me. My ideas now run more to a B/X level (BFRPG actually) so whatever I end up doing will be based on that engine rather than WB. I've also realized I want to straight for a Shadowrun game and skip the CP intermediary.

    So please carry on. I'll be following along!

    1. And I value whatever feedback or input you'd like to share!