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The Best Cyberpunk Game You’re Not Playing Right Now

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Cyberpunk is on a lot of minds right now. The two largest franchises in the genre, Shadowrun and Cyberpunk, recently released new editions to great fanfare. For fans of the genre who aren’t enamored with the backstory connections or the old school flavor of those editions, Peril Press released a small cyberpunk game called Neon City Overdrive that offers the same slick style of its predecessors while updating the mechanics and technological elements. I picked up the core book on sale from DriveThruRPG, read it and then immediately picked up the other small supplements in the line. Let’s jack into the game and see what makes this little neon ditty glow.

The core system of Neon City Overdrive will look familiar to fans of Blades In The Dark or fans of PbtA games. Players assemble a small d6 dice pool of action dice. The success of their roll comes out of the highest die rolled. A 6 means the player does what they want, a 4-5 means success with some sort of cost or complication, and a 1-3 means failure, a very complicated success or worse. The main wrinkle introduced by designer Nathan Russell is the introduction of danger dice. They are either rolled by the GM or in the same pool as the player as a different colored die. The result is the same: any danger dice that roll the same number as an action dice cancels it out.

Characters gain action dice for a role through their traits. Characters are defined by their trademarks and their edges which are designed to be broad competency with specializations. Gutter scum, for example might be able to pick pockets. The trademarks also suggest character flaws which can add danger dice to a roll. Our gutter scum might be always filthy which could hinder an attempt to say, talk their way into an elite nightclub. These flaws also suggest ways for the GM to interpret the dice; if the gutter scum rolls a 4 as their highest because one of the danger dice takes away their 6 they get into the club, but someone in the client’s entourage notices their broken cybernails and decides to insult them wherever they can during the negotiations.

One of the big sticking points in narrative cyberpunk games is the gear element. There’s a certain amount of joy in spending future bucks for slick gadgets and Neon City Overdrive comes up with an excellent compromise. Unless gear is a trademark, like a favorite weapon, a trusty cyberdeck or deadly chrome cyberclaws, it needs to be procured during the job. It is assumed players can get their hands on basic gear to do the job like guns and cars. But if a player wants something special, like a Hamato Kobretta 67 Cyberlink Sub Machine Gun, they need to acquire it by using a gear roll. Gear can have multiple tags and the more tags it has, the more difficult the roll is to get it. These tags also add multiple dice to a roll if they are relevant in the narrative. If there’s a vital piece of equipment needed for the job, like a Boeing-Microsoft-Amazon VTOL Drone, players can burn their other rolls for a bonus to get the big piece of gear. The process scratches that shopping itch nicely for fans of older cyberpunk games while not bogging down the session with flipping through books full of gear lists.

Combat and hacking use extended task rolls where a player needs a certain amount of successes. Bad guys and hostile systems can take 1-3 hits depending on their importance to the story. Partial successes advance the overall flow of the challenge while creating complications, like running out of ammo or altering the in-house hacker to the intrusion. When a player runs out of hits, they gain trauma traits that give them danger dice that linger until the end of the job. Stunt points let the players tilt their roll in their favor, like bumping a die roll or soaking hits with a last bit of luck.

The game has three expansions which, in addition to offering new trademarks, gear, threats and adventures, also break the game out into broader elements of cyberpunk. Skinjobs adds a transhuman element to the game by expanding the game into full-body cyborg conversions, resleeving and ghost chips which contain the digital copy of a human personality. Psions has rules for psychic powers, magic and nonhuman characters that want a little fantasy with their cyberpunk. It makes a Shadowrun conversion very easy but the two worlds presented in the book are compelling little mini settings on their own. The Grid expands the game into cyberspace and battlehacking cyberware wirelessly, with rules for player AI characters and more in depth hacking. Neon City Overdrive works well as a stand alone game, but each of the supplements is densely packed with great ideas. The whole line can be had on PDF for less than half of what you might pay for a AAA video game recently released on the same subject.

Neon City Overdrive is a fantastic small RPG that offers a good balance between traditional rules and a fiction forward design. I’ve used it to run previously established cyberpunk settings and ones based off of the sample settings included with the book. If you’re looking for a lean design that cuts like a monofilament whip and runs as fast as a Fairlight Excalibur, give this game a try.

If you enjoyed this game, please consider using the included affiliate links to purchase it from DriveThruRPG. Every little bit supports the reviewers and writers who bring you this content.
 

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland


Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
One correction... Shadowrun 6e was not released to great fanfare unless you mean the fan reaction has been a near unanimous abandonment of Shadowrun in its current form.

Everything else in this article is very cool.
Well said. SR 6e is one of the most inscrutable game rollouts I've ever seen. It's honestly like they're intentionally trying to torpedo the whole franchise. What sort of commercial enterprise has this for a major product/IP landing page?
 

robowieland

Adventurer
Shadowrun 6e sold faster than any other previous edition. How the fans reacted to it after they read their books is something else entirely.
 

Jiggawatts

Explorer
Could someone delve into the issues of Shadowrun 6E and where its disappointment lays, for someone who is curious but has never played franchise.
 


imagineGod

Legend
Could someone delve into the issues of Shadowrun 6E and where its disappointment lays, for someone who is curious but has never played franchise.
The only Shadowrun I played was the Kickstarter computer game version, which was pretty neat, though very old school in design and not so open world.
 

evildmguy

Explorer
Could someone delve into the issues of Shadowrun 6E and where its disappointment lays, for someone who is curious but has never played franchise.
I'm no expert on this but I will try.

First of all, lots of errors and things that make no sense. It's as if they released it with no editing. Lots of typos, rules that don't make sense, bad organization, and more throughout the book. If you are trying to play by RAW, there are so many issues that it falls apart. You can't play by RAW. (I watched a YouTube group try and do that and they quit rather than still play by RAW.)

Second, they tried to simplify some things and the idea was good and there are some good ideas but the implementation is bad. It's like having Acrobatic or Athletics instead of four or five skills. But then they still have one skill that could have been rolled up into the top skill.

Third, they changed the future history and some feel like it isn't SR anymore.

Now, I was running early this year and I found it fine for its simplicity but I'm also using 4E as the base for the timeline. Further, I could make a few changes to make things work for the things above. I have a lot of resources for it to do this as well as history with it. I also had new players, both to SR and in general, so they were willing to go along with what I did.
 

evildmguy

Explorer
The only Shadowrun I played was the Kickstarter computer game version, which was pretty neat, though very old school in design and not so open world.
And that is almost going back to 3E for the rules being used by the computer as well as the history and timeline. Nothing wrong with that! I do agree, not open world. It's more like a Baldur's Gate in that it is a more linear story doing missions, rather than an open world.
 


Grendel_Khan

Adventurer
Shadowrun 6e sold faster than any other previous edition. How the fans reacted to it after they read their books is something else entirely.
Interesting point. I had no idea it sold that well (at least initially). But I stand by my criticism of their overall strategy. For example, the choice of supplements to release is just bizarre.
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
I'm no expert on this but I will try.

First of all, lots of errors and things that make no sense. It's as if they released it with no editing. Lots of typos, rules that don't make sense, bad organization, and more throughout the book. If you are trying to play by RAW, there are so many issues that it falls apart. You can't play by RAW. (I watched a YouTube group try and do that and they quit rather than still play by RAW.)

Second, they tried to simplify some things and the idea was good and there are some good ideas but the implementation is bad. It's like having Acrobatic or Athletics instead of four or five skills. But then they still have one skill that could have been rolled up into the top skill.

Third, they changed the future history and some feel like it isn't SR anymore.

Now, I was running early this year and I found it fine for its simplicity but I'm also using 4E as the base for the timeline. Further, I could make a few changes to make things work for the things above. I have a lot of resources for it to do this as well as history with it. I also had new players, both to SR and in general, so they were willing to go along with what I did.
To add to this.

Armor doesn't Soak, so a bikini and power armor is the same.

Physical stats don't add to melee weapon damage, so a Pixie does the same damage with a sword as a Troll.

Riggers are absolutely unplayable.

The forced Edge mechanics make it needlessly annoying AF. The idea was to get rid of bean counting all the niggling situation modifiers and roll them up into just one overall abstracted Edge but it fails.

CGL didn't pay their freelancers who worked on 6e.

The one rules sourcebook, all about weapons and combat, doesn't fix the core problem and only exasperates it.

It's a rush job. Instead of doing a cleaned up 5e for a 30th Anniversary edition, much like what they did with 4e and 20th Anniversary... They pushed 6e.
 


evildmguy

Explorer
@Stacie GmrGrl Thanks! It has been long enough that I forgot those things. The armor and STR are very jarring. I dropped using Edge that way and just told the players the mods. Again, as most were new, they rolled with it.
 



Neon City Overdrive is my jam. You can do shadowrun or...the matrix..the system can support other genres. 💯👊✊
I've never been a fan of jam or preserves. I do like the tone of NCO, but my players refuse to play any system that precludes the use of a full set of dice, given that they all have purchased very expensive dice.

Shadowrun has, IMO, always suffered from a 'kitchen sink' setting, but until 6E it had done a credible job of trying to make it work. 6E ended that effort.
 


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