Paying the price for metal

av Magnus Seter
In the latest version of Cyberpunk, the Cyberpunk 2020 game, we found a smooth system dealing with cybernetics and a greatly improved Friday Night Firefight, this time incorporated into the game. But there are still some problems bugging me, both in the cybernetic section and in the combat section. In this arcticle I will discuss some of the major problems and suggest changes to balance the game and make it even more playable.

In any Cyberpunk game the actions of both non-player characters and player characters centers largely around the concept of cybernetic enhancements. How to get the money for them and finding someone who'll install it for you. Little thought is given to the effect of Humanity Loss and the impending doom of Cyberpsychosis. Why is that so?

Because the risk of sucumbing to Cyberpsychosis is, in the Cyberpunk game, virtually non-existing. Sure, you'll loose a lot of Humanity and your character gradually becomes a cold, scheming bastard, caring nothing for the lives of others. But that doesn't affect the average cyberpunker because they already play all characters like that, high starting Empathy or not. And when you are down to Empathy four, or even three, you just stop buying cybernetics and walk away with all the advantages this can give you, suffering almost no disadvantages at all. And nothing wrong with that, given the guidelines set in the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook.

And all the same, if we look at the basic literature where games such as Cyberpunk 2020 claims to have gotten their inspiration and the kind of worlds the games try to recreate, cybernetic enhancements and implants plays a far more sinister role. The availiability is low and the psychological toll taken by the odd implant is high, very high. This results in us finding far less cybernetically enhanced characters in standard high-quality Cyberpunk literature than in a standard Cyberpunk scenario, where they seem to crop up around every corner. This gives the cybernetically enhanced characters of this fiction more value than the enhanced cybergrunts in your standard cybergame, and serves as a valuable plot vehicle instead of being run of the mill canon fodder.

All in all this means that if your aim as a gamemaster of Cyberpunk 2020 is to recreate some of the atmosphere found in such books as Neuromancer, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Count Zero et al, then a revision of the Humanity rules need to be made, to correctly mirror the effects of cybernetics on the human mind.

This adds up to some rules that if used could balance the advantages gained when installing cybernetics with the price paid to gain such enhancements and implants. They are not brand new, and were originally created for the Cyberpunk 1.0 game, but as the Cyberpunk 2020 game uses the same basic system for the loss of Humanity the rules will apply equally well to either version of the game.

I am proud to presents to you, brought to you from our sponsors, the rules for Cybernetics cost (revised), Humanity cost (revised) and the Add-up Humanity cost (new rules).

Cybernetics cost and Humanity cost: From now we will be dealing with two categories of cybernetics, namely Cheapware (also called Psychoware) and Realware (also called X-ware, X for expensive). The distinctions between these two categories are mainly price and humanity cost, but also to some degree availiability.

Cheapware (Psychoware) is relatively crude but functional and available at any common ripperdoc's clinic. It is very much less costly than X-ware, often being more that ten times cheaper. The price cut compared to the X-ware is possible due to several circumstances. Firstly, this cyberware mainly uses steel as a base, instead of aluminium alloys and plastics. As to Reflex boosters and other such implants and enhancements the Cheapware Ripperdocís often uses obsolete and cheap technology, resulting in crude implants and poor operation. Secondly, the installation is carried out using dated machinery and psychosis-inducing painkillers, all to cut the price.

The effect of these factors is a price thatís only 10% of the cost of X-ware (see below), but a Humanity cost thatís double the normal. Also, if not properly cared for, the Cheapware often break down and cease functioning (when installing the cyberware roll a D10. The result is the quality number of the implant. Once every 24 hours or in particularly demanding situations the player must roll lower than the quality number, or his cyberware will stop functioning, requiring a level 20 Cybertech roll or a level 25 Basic Tech roll to start working).

The Realware (X-ware) on the other hand uses state of the art technology in all stages of installation: new plastics, myo-fibrular muscles, light aluminium alloys, the works. The installation is carried out in high-tech clinics, often in Scandinavia or some Asian country, using the latest in medicine to avoid the alienation and the other psychological effects that results in Humanity loss and, in the end, Cybepsychosis. The patient is often kept and monitored for some time to spot any flaws in the cybernetic enhancements and their installation and to spot any unusual psychological reactions.

This adds up to a price thatís 10 times the normal, with a Humanity cost thatís normal and a 100% reliability.

To sum it all up. Cheapware costs the amount of money listed on pages 66-69 in the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook, but have a Humanity cost that is double the ones listed in the rulebook. The X-ware costs ten (10) times the amount listed in the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook and have a Humanity cost as indicated on the list.

For example. One of our characters is having a new arm grafted. He's a bit short of money so he opts for the Cheapware installation, which results in the costs of E$3 000 and (2D6 times 2) in Humanity loss, let's say an average roll of 7, resulting in a loss of 14 Humanity points. If he had opted to pay for the X-ware he would have had to front E$30 000, and would have recieved a standard Humanity reduction.

Add-up Humanity costs: So, now youíve got your cyberware, either itís Cheapware or Realware, and youíve paid the humanity costs, no more trouble. Right?

The effects of cybernetics is not something you just go through and then put away in some dark closet deep inside ypur fevered brain. Cyberware wears you down. Chips away blocks of your humanity, slowly, like a poison. Eats into your brain, warping your thoughts, creating a sense of disbelonging, a sense of humanity slipping away. Youíre an outcast, a nobody, a rogue tiger, a killing machine.

I could go on like that for a couple of paragraphs, but that would only take up a lot of space, so I wonít. The rules to create this effect in your own Cyberpunk 2020 game are simple, but be warned. If you like to give your players a fair chance of surviving the future of Cyberpunk you should be careful to fully utilise these rules. If you on the other hand delight in giving your players trouble and anxiety, and having them always on their toes and having them pay dearly for the mistakes they do and the cybernetics they buy, as any Cyberpunk gamemaster should do, then go on, use the rules, or even better, make them meaner. There is no excuse for being nice to the players. Fear and Ignorance, ignorance and fear, as one RPG wisely put it.

The effect of constantly wearing a cybernetic implant is that your mind begins to brood upon it. It wears you down, makes you think about it, metal vs flesh, machine vs human being. Due to this effect anty character (non-player or player) loses one (1) point of Humanity for every major implant retained per year. Major implants are those needing a Major or a Critical surgical installation.

Example: A character wanders around with a Processor installation, the programs Martial arts +2 and Pistol +2, one set of Interface plugs a Cyberarm and one set of Mr Studdô Sexual Implant. Checking the list, we find that the character has got two major installations, which means that heís got a yearly Humanity cost of two (2). In a space of five years, he'll loose one point of Empathy.

Thatís not all though. For every major nervous breakdown, wound or anything that causes more than an ordinary amount of emotional respones, you loose some of your Humanity. Examples of situations where this occurs is when your lover walks out on you, when you are badly wounded, when you kill someone you didnít need, or meant, to kill, or when youíre having a bad trip. When such an event occurrs, check the list below and apply the appropriate Humanity loss. Codes for Humanity loss can be found on page 65 in the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook.

Lover walks out on you, Very Low to High.
Critically wounded, Low.
Mortally wounded, Medium.
Every kill made, EMP 1-3 Very Low, EMP 4-5 Low, EMP 6-7 Medium, EMP 8-9 High, EMP 10 Very High.
Bad trip, Medium.
Violent crime witnessed, Very low.
Violent crime committed, EMP 1-3 Very Low, EMP 4-7 Low, EMP 8-10 Medium.
Death of very close person (friend or lover), Medium to Very High.

With these examples in mind the individual gamemaster can create his own Humanity losses for the events that will occurr in his own campaign, based upon the outlook of his players and the specific characters involved.