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Cyberpunk Red (I didn't know it was out!)

MGibster

Legend
I went down to my friendly local game store yesterday and saw a shiny new copy of Cyberpunk Red. I always had a great time with the original Cyberpunk games back in the day, 2013 and 2020, and couldn't resist the siren call and happily made my purchase. The first thing I noticed when I opened the book was the font on the table of contents. I don't typically notice something like fonts but it looked so much like the font used in Cyberpunk 2020 that it really brought back a flood of memories. I haven't read through the entire book yet so this isn't really a review so much as thoughts I'm having as I do read through it.

So let's talk about Humanity, it's loss, and cyberpsychosis. For those of you who are new to Cyberpunk, characters have a statistic (attribute) called Empathy which is the "ability to relate to and care for others, and take others into consideration. Particularly important as it offsets the effects of cyberpsychosis, a dangerous mental illness common in the Dark Future." A character's Empathy will determine their starting Humanity which is a "measure of how well you interact with the world and other people in it" which seems rather redundant now that I think about it. Every point of Empathy a character has translates to ten points of Humanity. i.e. If a character has a 5 Empathy they have a Humanity of 50. If they have an 8 Empathy they have an 80 Humanity.

The primary loss of Humanity in Cyberpunk will come from the installation of cyberware (mechanical arms, eyes, or the Mr. Studd Sexual Implant). Each implant comes with a random cost to Humanity. For example a cyberarm will cost the player 2d6 points of Humanity. So when the character gets their arm replaced if they roll a 7 on 2d6 they would subtract that from their Humanity. This might have an impact on their Empathy as well. If they have 70 Humanity and need to subtract 7 for that arm they'd have a 63 Humanity and their Empathy will have gone down from 7 to 6. And of course the lower your Empathy/Humanity gets the more disconnected you feel from other people until the problem is so severe you're in a cyberpsychosis situation.

Cyberpsychosis, or Depersonalization Disorder, is characterized by "feeling detached from one's life, thoughts, and feelings, People with this type of disorder say they feel distant and emotionally unconnected to themselves...they may perceive their body to be a different shape or size than usual...cannot recognize themselves in a mirror." In game terms, a cyberpsychotic character is often, but not always, violent, lacking remorse or guilt, impulsive, and characterized by callousness and a lack of empathy. (These are also traits common among PCs in general, right?)

Cyberpsychosis was always something I had questioned about Cyberpunk even when I was a snot nosed kid who didn't look too deeply at the implications of game mechanics in the games he played. Should a soldier who lost his foot to a mine have his Humanity lowered because he uses an artificial foot? Would an implant designed to correct a damaged nervous system result in the loss of Humanity? According to the rules of Cyberpunk 2020, so far as I can remember them, the answer was yes. But that's changed with Cyberpunk Red.

"Developing cyberpsychosis is not triggered merely by putting in cyberwear. It is the voluntary removal of a functioning body part to replace it with a machine." I'm not quite sure how to work that in from a narrative point of view. In the past, if my character had cyberlimbs I had always figured he had replaced his natural limbs which were damaged beyond repair. But overall I like this a lot better than cyberwear resulting in a loss of Humanity regardless of the situation.

Cyberpunk Red also has the possibility of Humanity loss through mental trauma such as torture, witnessing a horrific death, imprisonment, etc., etc. While I kind of like the addition, I'm not sure how that fits into the game itself. I see how it could fit into the genre, the the game really emphasizes style over substance so this seems like an odd addition in some ways. I wish they had done a little more with it. Perhaps doing some edgerunning for a good cause instead of money might give PCs a boost to their Humanity? Food for thought I guess.
 

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ruemere

Adventurer
[...]
"Developing cyberpsychosis is not triggered merely by putting in cyberwear. It is the voluntary removal of a functioning body part to replace it with a machine." I'm not quite sure how to work that in from a narrative point of view. In the past, if my character had cyberlimbs I had always figured he had replaced his natural limbs which were damaged beyond repair. But overall I like this a lot better than cyberwear resulting in a loss of Humanity regardless of the situation.
[...]

It's archetypical devil's bargain. You gain something in exchange for a piece of yourself, with strong emphasis on the thing not being an equivalent piece of you.

Whether this is a plausible or realistic in any way, this is up for debate. Given the existence of phantom pain syndrome, and considering how difficult sometimes it is to cope with something that is artificial or not working (I have broken enough stuff to learn it the hard way, and still hate the experience), I would assume that the premise is not impossible or improbable.
 

Tantavalist

Explorer
Cyberpunk's Humanity rules always struck me as strange. It felt like you were being sold on the idea of playing a cyborg by the game's elevator pitch and then punished for doing so. Would it be fun to play a Wizard in D&D if you slowly went insane and eventually became an NPC every time you got access to a higher level of spell? Vampire: the Masquerade had one of the most punishing morality systems in RPGs and even that didn't punish PCs for learning new Disciplines. Because vampire powers are cool and getting them is a key part of why players buy into the game.

And that's just from a game mechaics point of view, without bringing any real-world issues into it. Since Cyberpunk was first published the use of prosthetics in the real world has become a thing and I don't think anybody is going to claim that people being fitted with them are somehow becoming less human. The idea that voluntary vs. involuntary cyberware makes a difference is probably correct, except that real-world studies on the mental effects of physical trauma would suggest the game has it the wrong way round. The guy having a leg blown off and replaced would be the one with mental health issues, not the one actively seeking to have upgraded legs.

Cyberpunk 2077 made the correct decision to just ignore Humanity Loss from cyberware because doing otherwise would cause controversy and make the game less fun to play. I'd just ignore Humanity for the same reasons. How does it really hurt the game to do so?

The one major issue would then be Cyberpsychosis, which you'd need another explanation for. Given that most cyberware is second-hand tech from older generations installed in back-street clinics, along with how often PC software/hardware incompatibility causes bugs in the real world... Nope, can't see why people who jack large amounts of this direct into their nervous systems might go crazy.

Doing it this way turns cyberpsychosis from a "Man vs. Machine" issue to one of socio-economic inequality and oppression. I think that makes a much better theme to explore in the cyberpunk genre, as well as one that's more fun to play out at the table.
 

MGibster

Legend
Cyberpunk's Humanity rules always struck me as strange. It felt like you were being sold on the idea of playing a cyborg by the game's elevator pitch and then punished for doing so. Would it be fun to play a Wizard in D&D if you slowly went insane and eventually became an NPC every time you got access to a higher level of spell?
I never viewed it as punishment. Mostly I viewed it as a game balancing mechanism and a way to represent the disassociation one must have to voluntarily replace their body parts in order to run faster, have the most fashionable eyes, or to be able work a day job for a corp.

Since Cyberpunk was first published the use of prosthetics in the real world has become a thing and I don't think anybody is going to claim that people being fitted with them are somehow becoming less human.
Cyberpunk was first published in 1988 and humans were using prosthetics as early as 1,000 BCE. But like I said, in Cyberpunk Red, Pondsmith goes out of his way to make it very clear that simply replacing a lost limb doesn't result in a loss of Humanity. It's the act of voluntarily replacing your fully functional limb that results in a Humanity loss.

The idea that voluntary vs. involuntary cyberware makes a difference is probably correct, except that real-world studies on the mental effects of physical trauma would suggest the game has it the wrong way round. The guy having a leg blown off and replaced would be the one with mental health issues, not the one actively seeking to have upgraded legs.
We're not talking about "upgraded" legs we're talking about complete replacement. If I asked my doctor to replace my perfectly functioning legs with Oscar Pistorius prosthetics I have no doubt he'd have concerns about my state of mind.

Doing it this way turns cyberpsychosis from a "Man vs. Machine" issue to one of socio-economic inequality and oppression. I think that makes a much better theme to explore in the cyberpunk genre, as well as one that's more fun to play out at the table.

It's already a socio-economic issue in Cyberpunk. Therapy that mitigates the loss of Humanity due to cybernetics are available but few people can afford to pay for it or take the time off from work to go through such programs. Thus, those who are suffering some cyberpsychosis are typically coming from the lower socio-economic classes.
 

Tantavalist

Explorer
It's already a socio-economic issue in Cyberpunk. Therapy that mitigates the loss of Humanity due to cybernetics are available but few people can afford to pay for it or take the time off from work to go through such programs. Thus, those who are suffering some cyberpsychosis are typically coming from the lower socio-economic classes.

I've played the older versions of Cyberpunk more than I've GMed them, and that was something like twenty years ago. But I don't recall anything like this.

Is the therapy you mention something that Cyberpunk Red added, or were there rules for it in older editions that I somehow missed or forgot about?
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
Cyberpunk's Humanity rules always struck me as strange. It felt like you were being sold on the idea of playing a cyborg by the game's elevator pitch and then punished for doing so. Would it be fun to play a Wizard in D&D if you slowly went insane and eventually became an NPC every time you got access to a higher level of spell? Vampire: the Masquerade had one of the most punishing morality systems in RPGs and even that didn't punish PCs for learning new Disciplines. Because vampire powers are cool and getting them is a key part of why players buy into the game.

And that's just from a game mechaics point of view, without bringing any real-world issues into it. Since Cyberpunk was first published the use of prosthetics in the real world has become a thing and I don't think anybody is going to claim that people being fitted with them are somehow becoming less human. The idea that voluntary vs. involuntary cyberware makes a difference is probably correct, except that real-world studies on the mental effects of physical trauma would suggest the game has it the wrong way round. The guy having a leg blown off and replaced would be the one with mental health issues, not the one actively seeking to have upgraded legs.
It's worth noting that there's a genre Cyberpunk has been trying to emulate. It's not simply about the glitz of flashy cybernetic eyes and style, nor is it just about the pursuit of superior performance (combat, skill, hacking, or even sexual with the aforementioned Mr Studd) with cybernetic enhancements. Hand in hand with all of that is the social dissolution, even sociopathy, of megacorp/post-apocalyptical/cyberpunk culture. Pursuit of those enhancements and agendas comes with the inexorable decline in real human connection.
 

Tantavalist

Explorer
I read quite a lot of Cyberpunk novels when I was younger- a good chunk of what the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook listed as inspiration. I don't recall any of them showing a direct causal link between getting implants and becoming less human. While the CP2020 rulebook explicitly stated that it was getting the implants that made you lose Humanity, not the things you had to do to get them.

There's a genre that Cyberpunk tries to emulate but the Humanity rules actually make it worse at doing that rather than better. What should probably have been done is a system for putting the Cyberware outside of what PCs can typically afford and then requiring them to play out those Devil's Bargains to get them.

But enough about Humanity (which I recall being divisive even back in the 90s). Focus on the positives. Are there any changes to the game in CP Red that stand out as improvements over CP 2020?
 

There's a genre that Cyberpunk tries to emulate but the Humanity rules actually make it worse at doing that rather than better. What should probably have been done is a system for putting the Cyberware outside of what PCs can typically afford and then requiring them to play out those Devil's Bargains to get them.
The Red rules definitely take it closer to the genre, but yes, that was problematic. Shadowrun and 2020 also shared a deep flaw in that more expensive cybernetics cost LESS humanity and/or rich people could get therapy to prevent cyberpsychosis, which felt like it ran hard against the genre. Rich people should be able to conceal their psychosis better, but it should be channelled into being a serial killer on the side or something, rather than simply being more human or more able to cope. I'd need to check to see if Red fixes that in some way too. It does definitely have some stuff about losing humanity from stuff other than the implants. Honestly I like your idea that humanity loss is about what you do (which could include chopping your arm off to replace it with a 12mm SMG, but is not limited to it), and then maybe the expression of that loss could be modified by stuff like what caused it.

I glanced through Red myself a few weeks back. The rules seem... meh. For my money, Cyberpunk's combat peaked in 2020, with the original FNFF, and all those since have felt like generic rules applied to Cyberpunk in a way that doesn't quite work. It's the same here. The other rules are definitely towards the "rules-heavy" end of the scale, not quite all the way there like GURPS, say, but pretty heavy, enough to completely put me off running it with those rules.

The setting on the other hand I think is probably the best iteration of the Cyberpunk setting. It's set in 2045 and it manages to nail a different tone which whilst more post-apocalyptic, seems more modern and also just seems like it would actually allow for the sort stuff that all the Cyberpunks (2013, 2020, Cybergeneration, V3.0, Red and 2077) say goes on, to go on. In particular corporations are much LESS powerful and MORE numerous - i.e. corporations are the focus not megacorporations, and this makes so much more sense for the setting.

2077, as expressed in the CRPG, is more like 2020, and seems like it would be a worse fit for a TT RPG. Initially I was confused as to why Pondsmith had gone for a game in-between 2020 and 2077 rather than capitalizing on the likely success of 2077 (and despite the issues it's had, it is very successful), but the gameability of the setting clarifies that.

All that said the one example adventure I read, in the long tradition of example adventures for cyberpunk RPGs, was some of the dumbest naughty word I've ever read. Plus ca change I guess.
 

MGibster

Legend
I've played the older versions of Cyberpunk more than I've GMed them, and that was something like twenty years ago. But I don't recall anything like this.
They had rules for therapy but it involved having all your cybernetics removed in addition to the therapy. I don't imagine it was uses with any frequency and it likely slipped under a lot of radars.

Is the therapy you mention something that Cyberpunk Red added, or were there rules for it in older editions that I somehow missed or forgot about?
As near as I can tell, the rules for therapy without the removal of cybernetics first appeared in Cyberpunk Red. But given the years and the number of supplements they produced for 2020 I can't say for sure.
 

MGibster

Legend
Shadowrun and 2020 also shared a deep flaw in that more expensive cybernetics cost LESS humanity and/or rich people could get therapy to prevent cyberpsychosis, which felt like it ran hard against the genre.
What you see as a flaw I see a fundamental part of the setting: Rich people have nicer things and the poor suffer.

Honestly I like your idea that humanity loss is about what you do (which could include chopping your arm off to replace it with a 12mm SMG, but is not limited to it), and then maybe the expression of that loss could be modified by stuff like what caused it.
This is an area I think Red could have explored a bit better. But on the other hand I don't know if I really want to keep track of Humanity like I would in Vampire.
I glanced through Red myself a few weeks back. The rules seem... meh. For my money, Cyberpunk's combat peaked in 2020, with the original FNFF, and all those since have felt like generic rules applied to Cyberpunk in a way that doesn't quite work.
I'm leaning towards your point of view here. There's a style skill that I really really understand what it does from a mechanical point of view and that drives me crazy. So the character is good at looking fashionably appropriate, great. What does that mean for game play? Or having separate skills for rifle, handgun, heavy weapons, and then tacking on another skill for firing automatic weapons.

In particular corporations are much LESS powerful and MORE numerous - i.e. corporations are the focus not megacorporations, and this makes so much more sense for the setting.
I'm with you on this one too. I actually like the corps being less powerful.

All that said the one example adventure I read, in the long tradition of example adventures for cyberpunk RPGs, was some of the dumbest naughty word I've ever read. Plus ca change I guess.
I haven't gotten there yet but now I'm looking forward to reading it.
 

MGibster

Legend
It's been a long, long while since I've run a Cyberpunk/Shadowrun type of game. But one thing I noticed, or at least it was my perception, is that not only it was very difficult for edge runners to eek out a living it often cost more to go on a run after you calculate medical care, ammunition expenditure, lost equipment, etc., etc.

In Red, to afford a Generic Prepak lifestyle and live in a studio apartment it comes out to 1,800 euros (eb). I picked this combination as it's the lowest level a PCs can pay for and have a relatively safe place to sleep, stow their gear, and their vehicles are less likely to get messed with. The pay for a typical job breaks down as follows:

Easy: 500 eb - Armed resistance not expected.
Typical: 1000 eb - Armed resistance expected but you can prepare for it.
Dangerous: 2000 eb - Armed resistance overwhelming.

So in a given month, if nothing goes wrong, a character can live a fairly comfortable life by working two typical jobs in a month or one typical job and two easy jobs. It's probably not healthy to take a dangerous job very often. But it's still not easy to actually get ahead. Of course there's always the possibility of a big score at some point.

Characters have the option of doing side hustles which PCs can work at whenever they have 7 days free during the month. This might be playing a small gig at a club, performing a medical procedure for a client, or writing an expose depending on what the PC's Role is. But generally you don't make a lot of cash doing it and too many weeks of that kind of work will see them evicted when they can't pay the rent.

You can also sell items of course. There are some general rules for the cost of items based on their price category (cheap, expensive, luxury) but I'm not sure if the prices associated with that on the chart are for selling it or buying it. But you can supplement your income fairly well if you come across a big score. Say stealing some cards from a Wraith gang or something.
 

What you see as a flaw I see a fundamental part of the setting: Rich people have nicer things and the poor suffer.


This is an area I think Red could have explored a bit better. But on the other hand I don't know if I really want to keep track of Humanity like I would in Vampire.

I'm leaning towards your point of view here. There's a style skill that I really really understand what it does from a mechanical point of view and that drives me crazy. So the character is good at looking fashionably appropriate, great. What does that mean for game play? Or having separate skills for rifle, handgun, heavy weapons, and then tacking on another skill for firing automatic weapons.


I'm with you on this one too. I actually like the corps being less powerful.


I haven't gotten there yet but now I'm looking forward to reading it.
Re: rich people, I think I'm not conveying the issue correctly. Rich people should have nicer cyberware, but it's antithetical to the cyberpunk setting if rich people are "more human" whilst being equally cybered-up to everyone else. There are basically two ways to go with rich people in a cyberpunk setting - the first is they're also cybered-up and everything is cut-throat as hell at the top, and whilst they may act more human superficially, they're just actually worse and less human/humane than the 'punks, especially given everyone they're crushing beneath their orbital crystal heels. The second is that they have escaped the rat-race entirely and live in some kind of unaugmented utopian state which is protected from the dystopian state. This is a common concept in 1980s manga stuff that touches on cyberpunk ideas. Likely the police and so on exist basically to maintain this utopia/dystopia distinction (Appleseed isn't quite there but it's not far off).

So I think they should have their therapy and so on, but it should merely change the expression of their lack of humanity, and the obviousness of it. I feel like it's a missed opportunity, but easy enough to fix.

re: Humanity yeah I feel you re: VtM-style humanity, it would change the focus... and yet... and yet... that kind of is more appropriate to the genre in a lot of ways. I guess it's something I'll think on.

re: System, it's like, this is 2021, we have all sorts of amazing rules-light and rules-medium systems, where we use rules-heavy systems it's because they provide really strong gameplay or the like. Red doesn't manage any of these. System-wise it's just a better-written and more elegant version of the old FUZION rules, more complicated-feeling than 2020 (outside of combat) and so much less complex inside of combat that it makes you wonder why not just use a rules-medium or rules-light game with the same setting?

The lack of individualism in the guns and bits of cyberware and so on seems like it's missing what made 2020 and Shadowrun different to later, more generic cyberpunk games, so you're kind of getting the worst of both worlds. The generic approach to equipment of rules-light cyberpunk stuff combined with enough rules to make things fiddly.

re: Adventure - hah! You'll know it's the one I mean because it involves loggers...

It's been a long, long while since I've run a Cyberpunk/Shadowrun type of game. But one thing I noticed, or at least it was my perception, is that not only it was very difficult for edge runners to eek out a living it often cost more to go on a run after you calculate medical care, ammunition expenditure, lost equipment, etc., etc.

In Red, to afford a Generic Prepak lifestyle and live in a studio apartment it comes out to 1,800 euros (eb). I picked this combination as it's the lowest level a PCs can pay for and have a relatively safe place to sleep, stow their gear, and their vehicles are less likely to get messed with. The pay for a typical job breaks down as follows:

Easy: 500 eb - Armed resistance not expected.
Typical: 1000 eb - Armed resistance expected but you can prepare for it.
Dangerous: 2000 eb - Armed resistance overwhelming.

So in a given month, if nothing goes wrong, a character can live a fairly comfortable life by working two typical jobs in a month or one typical job and two easy jobs. It's probably not healthy to take a dangerous job very often. But it's still not easy to actually get ahead. Of course there's always the possibility of a big score at some point.
This is actually a really big problem with most editions of Shadowrun and it's sad that Red added to the problem instead of working out a new approach.

The issue is, people aren't going to risk their lives the way the PCs are asked to, for that little pay, and no expenses. Not even in the settings Shadowrun and Red outline.

Why? Because you could do a naughty word "straight" job and live in the same conditions. People don't become criminals and engage in dangerous stuff because they can make the same money as working at McDonalds. This is incredibly clear from y'know, all of human history. Especially the 20th century and beyond. People become criminals and engage in dangerous stuff because they can, and do, make 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 times as much money as a criminal, as they could as a straight job. You can look at the history of drug-dealing to see this.

Shadowrun danced with trying to justify this by having the players be SINless and thus unable to get a straight job, but as the setting broadened out, that didn't really work, and they largely forgot about it.

The players aren't, in Shadowrun or Red, completely useless gutter-punks either. Even with the normal starts, they're relatively well-equipped and well-trained and each worth several dumb punks in combat terms. You couldn't pay someone like that bottom-dollar.

You mention that selling equipment can make a nice sideline, but it's more like, in both SR and Red, because of how ludicrously un-generous the money is, that becomes the main source of income, which is fine if the game is intended to focus on that, but typically it isn't. This is much discussed in Shadowrun, because at least in a couple of editions, there were formal rules and they ended up making it so if you wanted to get rich in SR, doing shadowruns was a sucker's job - poor pay and often ripped off on even that. Stealing cars though? That was big money, according to the rules. Even if you give PCs pennies on the Nuyen, as it were, it's much more valuable to basically steal everything that isn't nailed down (especially cars and all cyberware) in early SR. The only long-term solution is to pay PCs a more reasonable amount.

Basically what you really want is rules that make money easy-come easy-go. PCs should be paid a lot more, but want to spend a lot more, and that spending should be constant.
 

MGibster

Legend
Re: rich people, I think I'm not conveying the issue correctly. Rich people should have nicer cyberware, but it's antithetical to the cyberpunk setting if rich people are "more human" whilst being equally cybered-up to everyone else.
You're looking at this in terms of more human or less human and that's not what Humanity measures. A character with no cybernetics at 50 Humanity is just as human as the character with 70 Humanity and some cybernetics. Humanity is connected to Empathy which is a measure of how well a character connects to other people.

The wealthy have the time and resources to shield themselves from the vicissitudes of 21st century life. They don't have to worry about someone breaking into their home, where their next meal is coming from, and they can mitigate the risks associated with cyberwear. Far from being antithetical to the setting I think the divide between the haves and have nots is a fundamental part of the setting.
The lack of individualism in the guns and bits of cyberware and so on seems like it's missing what made 2020 and Shadowrun different to later, more generic cyberpunk games, so you're kind of getting the worst of both worlds. The generic approach to equipment of rules-light cyberpunk stuff combined with enough rules to make things fiddly.
I have mixed feelings about this. Do I really need dozens of pistols or rifles that all do approximately the same thing? Not really. But when it comes to style over substance, it's a lot cooler saying I'm packing a Tamiya G-70 than saying I have a very heavy pistol.

The issue is, people aren't going to risk their lives the way the PCs are asked to, for that little pay, and no expenses. Not even in the settings Shadowrun and Red outline.
You're right, most people aren't going to live such a risky life. But in Red, the characters are the type of people who would rather live fast, dangerously, and on their own terms than play it safe even knowing it would mean living longer and more comfortably. It's not just about money it's about ideology. I expect most edgerunners die relatively young.
This is much discussed in Shadowrun, because at least in a couple of editions, there were formal rules and they ended up making it so if you wanted to get rich in SR, doing shadowruns was a sucker's job - poor pay and often ripped off on even that. Stealing cars though?
Ha! Back in the day, sometime in the 1990s, my group came to the same conclusion in regards to stealing cars in Shadowrun. In Red, a compact car goes for $30,000 and let's say the PCs can sell them for 10% of market value. A five man team could steal 5 of them a month and net each member $3,000 for work that's less risky and more rewarding than a difficult run.
People become criminals and engage in dangerous stuff because they can, and do, make 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 times as much money as a criminal, as they could as a straight job. You can look at the history of drug-dealing to see this.
According to this article from 2017, in one study the average criminal who made their living selling drugs, burglarizing, or forging checks made about $900 a week. But in one of the Freakanomic books, the authors noted that many Chicago street dealers were making less than minimum wage.

Basically what you really want is rules that make money easy-come easy-go. PCs should be paid a lot more, but want to spend a lot more, and that spending should be constant.
I'm completely with you on this one. The PCs should rake in the dough for successful jobs and most likely spend it as soon as they get it. Life is short, especially for an edgerunner, so they might as well enjoy it while they can. Why do these games futz around with income like this?
I would have liked to see some rules for negotiating the price of a job. Perhaps adding modifiers for any reputation the PCs might have.
 

Far from being antithetical to the setting I think the divide between the haves and have nots is a fundamental part of the setting.
I don't think I'm getting it across still.

A fundamental part of cyberpunk is that the people at the very top are the worst monsters. They often have pleasant facades, but behind that, they're horror-shows of assorted kinds. If they have higher Humanity and therefore EMP, they're demonstrably not the worst monsters. That's the flaw I'm getting at.

But when it comes to style over substance, it's a lot cooler saying I'm packing a Tamiya G-70 than saying I have a very heavy pistol.
Yes. And it sorta does this a bit by suggesting branded names of weapons and so on (though not many), but cyberpunk, as a genre, is about particularities of tech and weapons and so on. Never generalities. Gibson's stuff is a particular examplar of this. Cyberpunks continually seek an edge - the gun that's made of weird material so evades a kind of scanner, the gun which holds two more rounds than you'd expect, the cyberclaws which aren't just steel but have a monocrystal edge so they can shred armour, the rifle with a special kind firing mechanism so that it remains accurate even when firing rapidly, and so on. The differences that might seem small on the surface, but when your back is against the wall, can make the difference. It's fine, even in-setting for food and so on to be generic, but the tools of a cyberpunk themselves should be specific - specific brands, specific customizations, peculiar mechanisms and so on. Cyberpunk 2020 totally got this and the Chromebooks exemplify it. Shadowrun got it pretty well but not quite as well. Red pushes it aside because really, it means you need books to cover it, to make it work.

You're right, most people aren't going to live such a risky life. But in Red, the characters are the type of people who would rather live fast, dangerously, and on their own terms than play it safe even knowing it would mean living longer and more comfortably. It's not just about money it's about ideology. I expect most edgerunners die relatively young.
But have you ever met people like that? Or even seen interviews with them or read books by people who survived such a lifestyle? They aren't interested in low-money, hard-work, high-risk stuff, they're interested in high-risk, high-reward stuff. It's a big part of the genre. What SR and Red basically has is a straight job in terms of money and effort, just with massive risk. It's not right for the genre. And ironically Red's lifepath stuff doesn't really make sense for the sort of no-hope gutterpunks who would kill a man for 500EB, because PCs are too competent.

And it doesn't have to be that way. The only reason it is, is they expect the PCs to carefully scrimp and save, never waste money, and so on to get gear and equipment, because I guess, they came to this from games like D&D and Traveller, rather than really thinking about the fiction, the vibe, the genre they were deriving from (as was the fashion at the time).

And yeah even in Red as you illustrate that means stealing cars is a better option (and surely still a thrill, c.f. Gone In 60 Seconds), and even if you write an adventure where it's all about the risk and thrill, if you stick to the reward scheme they suggest, players aren't dumb, they can do math. They can work out that picking up and selling the guns from the thugs who came to kill them just made them more money than the actual mission, and that was just the guns. If they chop a few cyberlimbs and steal a couple of cars, they're even further ahead. And thus that becomes the de facto focus of the game (esp. if one of the party members is a Fixer or other person who can make more money moving this stuff...).

I think if I run a cyberpunk game of any kind again, I'm going to offer a lot more cash for missions etc., but also stress the difficulty of obtaining stuff a lot more, and that you may end up paying way over the odds for things (again, it helps if things are specific, because people want specific things more than general things), and I'm thinking there should be actual mechanical benefits to blowing all your cash on parties and booze and so on. Like maybe there's some kind of "stress" meter or something or "willpower" which lets you get better rolls but needs to be refilled by this kind of thing.
 

MGibster

Legend
I think if I run a cyberpunk game of any kind again, I'm going to offer a lot more cash for missions etc., but also stress the difficulty of obtaining stuff a lot more, and that you may end up paying way over the odds for things (again, it helps if things are specific, because people want specific things more than general things), and I'm thinking there should be actual mechanical benefits to blowing all your cash on parties and booze and so on. Like maybe there's some kind of "stress" meter or something or "willpower" which lets you get better rolls but needs to be refilled by this kind of thing.
Pirates of the Caribbean had PCs spending their money partying as a way to unwind from spending weeks or months at sea. I'm thinking something like spending eddies adds to the character's reputation. People see him driving a sexy car, drinking the finest liquor, wearing dope threads, snorting premium synthcoke from the cleavage of a 500-eddie-a-night joytoy, sporting that cool pistol just like the dude from Bushido X, and just living his life like a baller and they know he's a successful edgerunner.

And it doesn't have to be that way. The only reason it is, is they expect the PCs to carefully scrimp and save, never waste money, and so on to get gear and equipment, because I guess, they came to this from games like D&D and Traveller, rather than really thinking about the fiction, the vibe, the genre they were deriving from (as was the fashion at the time).

I agree and I'm not a big fan of that kind of thinking in more modern games. I absolutely hate it when my players start looting bodies immediately after a fight with the intent of collecting their weapons and armor to sell. Where the hell are you going to carry all those rifles and body armor? It's one thing if they take some choice pieces of gear but just to loot and sell later? Come on!
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I don't think I'm getting it across still.

A fundamental part of cyberpunk is that the people at the very top are the worst monsters. They often have pleasant facades, but behind that, they're horror-shows of assorted kinds. If they have higher Humanity and therefore EMP, they're demonstrably not the worst monsters. That's the flaw I'm getting at.
Ultimately, you're making the same mistake people have made since time immemorial (or at least since the creation of D&D) about Wisdom. It's taking the name of the stat and imparting too much meaning to it. Just like having a high Wisdom doesn't really mean the character is wiser about making their life choices, Empathy doesn't determine whether the ability to relate to other people is used for good or evil. High Empathy mostly means that you get people, all the better to truly relate to them and feel their pain or manipulate them. Your choice.
 

MGibster

Legend
I'm a little disappointed in the life path. In 2020, you could get lucky and pick things up like extra skills or eddies because of your life experience. On the other hand you might lose REF because of an illness or eddies because of a financial loss of some kind. But I did have some fun rolling on the Red life path. I don't think my Solo would be a Korean with spiky hair otherwise.
 

Ultimately, you're making the same mistake people have made since time immemorial (or at least since the creation of D&D) about Wisdom. It's taking the name of the stat and imparting too much meaning to it. Just like having a high Wisdom doesn't really mean the character is wiser about making their life choices, Empathy doesn't determine whether the ability to relate to other people is used for good or evil. High Empathy mostly means that you get people, all the better to truly relate to them and feel their pain or manipulate them. Your choice.
I get why you'd think that but that's not the case. My concern is that the idea that some corporate bigwig who will casually order actions that will lead to the deaths or mutilations or worse of dozen or hundreds or thousands of people is somehow going to remain "sane" and able to understand and relate to humans, when some streetpunk who gets all four limbs chopped and replaced will go cyberpsycho seems completely wrong. Especially if said corporate has had similarly severe if more expensive modifications.

I don't think you could climb the corporate ladder in Red's world and remain truly human, and I do mean you'd have difficulty understanding people. You'd be so distant from mainstream humanity's experience that you would genuinely have difficulty understanding and relating to people. You'd have to operate by constructing a theory of mind for them and making guesses and assumptions and so on. Corporates would be able to afford psychologists and therapists to help them maintain the illusion, but would be no less distant from humanity (one might compare this to claims that some forms of therapy/treatment can make some psychopaths/sociopaths more dangerous by teaching them how to mask their problems better without actually causing them to behave better).

Of course an alternate take would be that cyberpsychosis is an unscientific half-myth developed to serve the corporations and the police, like "excited delirium" or "stockholm syndrome" (indeed the latter is incredibly successful, many people repeat it as if it's fact, rather than a somewhat ridiculous theory concocted specifically to try and cover up an incompetent and risky police action in Stockholm in the 1970s, and which has little or no scientific research to support it, and much to refute it, despite the superficial attractiveness of the theory, and that trauma bonding is real - but different - see here). Hmmm. Actually I think that's probably the way to go. Like maybe have there be some kind of distancing effect cause by cyberware, but actual cyberpsychosis is nonsense, instead we have it being used as an excuse to just kill rather than make any attempt to rehabilitate or capture members of the underclass with significant cyberware (and to avoid looking into whether cyberware malfunctions or incompatibilities actually caused the issue - something mentioned in Cyberpunk 2077, I note), and equally, in an "Affluenza" defense way, used to excuse criminal indiscretions from the ruling class, no matter how extreme or relatively minor their augmentations.
 

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