Saturday 31 May 2014

Another Alternate XP System for CP2020

So I'm happy with how the Alternate XP System for Cyberpunk 2020 turned out. It's simple, elegant, and intuitive. I did have to put a bit of thought into how to keep players from abusing the system with extraneous skill checks, but it didn't complicate things too badly.

But then I had another alternative idea for a similar system, which is a little bit simpler. I'm not sure which system I prefer--I think I'd like to try this one out first and see how it works in practice...

The Rule

Every time you succeed in a skill check by rolling exactly the minimum number you needed for success, you improve 1 point in that skill.
  • No more than 1 point can be gained in this way for a particular skill in a single game session


This rule only applies for real, challenging applications of a skill, not practice or low-difficulty activities. For example:

  • Skill checks as part of training/practice can't be awarded a skill point. Instead the GM should come up with an alternative ruling. (If you want to increase your Karate skill by 1, spend a month in training and then roll 1d10 vs your current skill level, etc.)
  • The same applies to Knowledge Checks, which just verify if the PC knows a particular domain-specific fact. This, as opposed to cases where the PC actually spends time/effort researching or figuring out something novel.
  • Making a Personal Grooming/Wardrobe & Style check every time you dress in the morning doesn't cut it. You need to use your looks on a real goal--get the girl, get the bouncer to let you in without checking ID, buy the right clothes for the event in a time-consuming/expensive shopping trip, etc.


Mad Dog shoots at the security guard from close range, so he needs a 15 to hit. His REF is 6 and his Pistol skill is 5, so he rolls 1d10+6+5. He rolls a 4+6+5=15 which is the minimum roll he needed to hit. As such he gains 1 skill point, bringing his Pistol up to 6.

The guard's partner get's the jump on Mad Dog, grappling with him. Mad Dog draws his knife and attempts to stab the guard. The partner rolled a 2+5+2=9 on his Dodge & Escape. Mad Dog has a knife skill of 9, so he rolls 1d10+6+9, so there's no way he'll roll exactly a 9, so the task is too easy for a blademaster of his talent to possibly gain a skill point from the encounter. That's fine--he may want an easy win. If, however, he wants a chance improve some skill, he should pick something more risky, like using his boxing skill of 1 to punch the guy. Then he'll roll 1d10+7+1 and if he gets a 1 on the d10 then he'll gain a skill point in boxing. These creates an interesting strategic trade-off between higher chance of success vs. improvement.

Later on, Mad Dog gets in a knife fight with a rival gang-leader. Mad Dog chooses to fight left-handed(-4) to challenge himself more, thus increasing his chances of improving his knife skill.


I like the simplicity of this system, but I have a few concerns. For one, I'm not crazy about the fact that a higher roll loses me the skill point. BUT, it's OK, I think. When I just barely make a roll, there is something more exciting/significant about that for me than if I make it by a lot.

I'm wondering if this is going to result in my players getting way too many skill points(1-2 on average per 2-3 hour session makes sense for me). I don't think it's going to be a problem, since at best they will have a 1 in 10 chance of success per skill test, but I'd like to see how it goes in an actual play test.

I'm also worried that players will get too caught-up in trying to gain skill points and will lose focus on the game. This might also be a reason to cap the number of points you can gain per session, so that players can focus on in-character concerns once they've earned their skill point for the session...

Friday 30 May 2014

Alternate XP System for Cyberpunk 2020

Improvement Points--they're such a pain! The DM has to award them. The players have to spend them. It's a lot of bookkeeping to for everyone to spend time on.

I always liked XCOM's character improvement system. Your attributes improve as you use them. So successful shots improve your accuracy, carrying heavy loads improve your strength, etc. So here's a similar, simple system for your Cyberpunk 2020 game:

The Rules

Every time you succeed in a skill check AND the number on the d10 is greater than your level in that skill, you improve 1 point in that skill.

  • You can only gain 1 skill point per game session(or perhaps 2 for really long game sessions)
  • You can choose to not receive the skill point, in hope of improving some other skill later in the session
  • The player needs to declare they're adding the skill point at the time of the roll. Otherwise it's assumed they chose not to recieve the skill point now. (If your players are a bit absentminded, give them leeway of a minute or so)


This rule only applies for real, challenging applications of a skill, not practice or low-difficulty activities:
  • Skill checks as part of training/practice can't be awarded a skill point. Instead the GM should come up with an alternative ruling. (If you want to increase your Karate skill by 1, spend a month in training and then roll 1d10 vs your current skill level, etc.)
  • The same applies to Knowledge Checks, which just verify if the PC knows a particular domain-specific fact. This, as opposed to cases where the PC actually spends time/effort researching or figuring out something novel.
  • Making a Personal Grooming/Wardrobe & Style check every time you dress in the morning doesn't cut it. You need to use your looks on a real goal--get the girl, get the bouncer to let you in without checking ID, buy the right clothes for the event in a time-consuming/expensive shopping trip, etc.
  • No skill points can be gained for skills of less than Average Difficulty(less than 15)


Mad Dog shoots at the security guard from close range. His REF is 7 and his Pistol skill is 5, so he rolls 1d10+7+5. He rolls an 8+7+5=20 which is a hit.
  • Since his die roll(8) is greater than his skill level(5), his Pistol skill increases to 6
  • But, really he wanted to improve his Hacking skill and he's planning on doing some hacking later in the session. So he chooses not to receive the skill point now to Pistol, in hope of possibly gaining a skill point in Hacking later on.


  1. You no longer have to deal with experience points
  2. Skill improvement is more natural, since you generally will have to use the skill fairly often to get better at it
  3. Skill improvement gets progressively harder as your skill level increases, since you need to roll higher than your level
  4. It creates an interesting meta-dynamic--players have to use skills they're bad at to improve them. Also there's a gambling element involved, giving up the skill point now for the one you might potentially get later in the session.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Upgrade My Cyberpunk!

One of the problems with Cyberpunk 2020 is how quickly it has become filled with anachronisms. There are the obvious ones, like how internet/telephony technology have evolved. There are also the less obvious ones, like how our outlook has evolved regarding current technological revolution or how the Martial Arts world has changed.

In any case, it's a bit of a challenge creating a Cyberpunk setting without the anachronisms but that still remains interesting. So let's look at a few general approaches towards tackling this:


So the most obvious solution is to just patch-up the most anachronistic stuff. Modern cellphones/computers/internet exist, but the world is still ruled by the Zaibatsus, and humanity still finds themselves increasingly objectified by the technology that becomes an essential part of their lives/bodies. Classic cyberpunk with a few minor tweaks.


Here, you don't just lose the anachronisms, but you update all the technology/society for what the speculative near-future looks like.

Viracades project, a relatively new CP2020 blog, is building-up some really great material informed by the latest and greatest in Post-Cyberpunk Literature.  He's got a society where 3D Printing has reached maturity and  robotic drones are ubiquitous. He's got a Music Dealer trying to evade the DRM police. I really like his updated vision of the Cyberpunk setting and I'm sure there's a lot more good stuff to come...


This one's inspired by Gardner Dozois' short story "Recidivist". Wintermute succeeded in it's mission to merge with Neuromancer and the AI's have ascended to godlike status. They're like the pantheon of Greek myth: decadent, perverse, omnipotent, and thoroughly superior. Humanity is completely at the mercy of their whims and, in fact, it seems like the only reason we still exist is that we amuse them.

Here, the world is post-apocalyptic, the technology from the AIs is inscrutable in it's working, in fact it might as well be Magic. Ultimately, this setting feels more like a Fantasy set in the Post-Apocalypse than a Scifi game.


I imagine an alternate, subtler vision of the Recidivist Universe, where the AI's are more like Lovecraftian Old Ones. They're largely indifferent to Humanity(so not post-apocalypse), but vaguely malevolent. There are cults that worship them whose rituals risk the entire world as we know it. There are places where their influence is felt, where a sort of gateway forms between our Dimension and others the AI's find more interesting. Basically Cyberpunk but with a pall of Lovecraftian Horror spread wide over the Sprawl of Corporations and Runners and Hackers and bizarre Techno-Punks.

Sunday 25 May 2014

Castle-Crashing: WFRP Empire Campaign Sessions 22-24

Well, it's been a while since I wrote a session summary of our WFRP Campaign, so let's do some catching-up. I think this took place over 3 sessions, but life's been a little crazy lately, and this old brain of mine ain't gettin' any younger, so please excuse me if it was only 2 sessions.

So, the resistance reported that they knew of a path into Castle Von Wittgenstein via subterranean tunnels. Much dungeon delving was done, at the end of which we found a passage up into a ruined building full of sick Mutant villlagers, waiting for the Healing Expertise of Lady Somethingorother(Wittgenstein probably...)

Much chaos and destruction ensued, the horses were released from the stables, Siegwart ran away from a haunted tower, and a score of guardsmen got Elven arrows through the eye(WFRP 1e Elves are soooo unbalanced).

To throw fuel on the fire, our 20 resistance fighters also joined the fray and the castle was taken. BUUUUT it's essentially a two-part castle with a gatehouse surrounded by double drawbridges keeping us from the the more interesting part(see image above).

So, we equipped our rebels with the large amount of arms and armor that we won and left them in charge while we went back down into the ground. A subterranean river-ride later had the party under the unconquered section of the castle. After slaying some more guards, including an Ogre, the adventure turned from Pitched Battle to Travelling Freak Show Circus, interacting with strange Mutant servants and Nobility. The battles in this section included:

  • Fighting an old lady's cats
  • Murdering a Crazed Taxidermist(I wonder why he was so mad, it's not like we vandalized his precious...oh wait, yes we did)
  • Feeding Ogre parts to a living room
  • Sniping back and forth with annoying Poltergeists

Suddenly, the DM fell on a formula for what he'd been trying so hard to do for the past 10 sessions or so: a battle that actually challenged the party! We rounded the corner right into a Chaos Warrior and his Giant Slayer Dwarven friend. It was a rough battle, especially since the Dwarf had a magic axe and was nearly impossible to damage. Our Elven Archer, usually the MVP, got charged and chopped down with a vicious critical hit and our Dwarven Warrior also went down fighting. But we made it through, short a couple of fate points. Siegwart even landed the final blow! Oh how far that our scumbag Bawd has come!

Friday 16 May 2014

I Love it When a Sandbox Comes Together!

There's nothing like the joy of when your sandbox setting starts to take shape and show a life of it's own. I've had "Surfers of the Apocalypse" on the back-burner for a while now and I'm starting to think about fleshing it out. I started brainstorming who might be the major powerful factions the players could encounter. There's definitely a fair share of "Out of the Dark" mixed in here...

AliensShock and Awe attacks on Earth to subdue it's population quickly. Hopes to use subjugated humanity as a pawn in intergalactic politics.Flying around in ships. HQ in West LA Federal Building, as well as other strategic locations.
SurvivalistsLive out in bunkers/caves in the woods. Whatever it takes to survive, including preying on anyone who enters their territory. Eventually mount Guerrilla attacks on Invaders Santa Monica Mountains
ArmyMajor bases have been nuked. Survivors still intent on fighting an insurgency against the invaders.All over
Black Dragons GangTriad. Experts in criminal enteprise/extortion. Can get anyone anything for the right price.Fled Nuked East LA to the Valley
Latin KingsGang with drug dealing focus. The invasion is bad for business, so now they're looking to branch out.Based in the Valley
Devil's DiciplesMotorcycle Gang taking full advantage of their ability to navigate the gridlock on the roads. Charge to get people places.PCH and other Major Highways
ScientologistsSurprisingly, their mysticism works against alien troops. They're gathering an all-star team and looking for a way to launch them to the Aliens' mothership.Hollywood HQ
FreemasonsTrying to summon the Great Old Ones in defense of Earth. Need a relic from the Scientologist HQHollywood Masonic Lodge

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Tales of Blood and Glory: Warriors

"Warriors" is one of eight recent anthologies of short fiction edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The twenty or so stories contained within are a mixed bag, both in terms of their quality and in terms of their content. With a title like "Warriors" I thought this was going to be like reading The Best of Robert E. Howard: muti-genre stories that celebrate Humanity's best qualities as embodied in the warrior spirit. For the most part, it's not, and in fact a few of the stories really aren't about warriors at all, except in the most tangential of ways. Perhaps more effort should have been made on the part of the editors to collect a cohesive group of stories. Instead it seems like more of an effort for many of these authors to promote their latest novels, which are conveniently listed in the introduction to each story. (Remember when short stories were a literary genre in their own right, rather than a marketing scheme for the related novel?)

Also, maybe it's hard to do that these days, celebrate warriors for being warriors. It seems like many of today's authors can't write about soldiers in a truly positive way. I suppose that's a good thing, that we've lost our taste for war, but it's also regrettable that we've lost our appreciation for traits like grit, honor, and self-sacrifice. Anyway, let's talk about the stories that I liked and a few that I didn't.

1. The Good

The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland

An unapologetic Viking yarn. Pure awesome, though they really should have made it to the island and fought Cthulhu or something...

Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale

A humorous Picaresque about a couple Buffalo Soldiers. A fun read.

The Pit by James Rollins

Don't tell anyone, but this tale of a dog-fighting champion brought a tear to my eye. The modern descendant of Sailor Steve Costigan's bulldog Mike...

Out of the Dark by David Weber

It took me a while to decide if the twist-ending of this Genre-Bending tale was "cheating" on the part of the author. I decided it isn't. It's sort of like Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog" in that you reach the twist and you realize the Author's been setting up this elaborate joke the whole time and said joke is on you, Dear Reader. BUT you forgive him because it was a hell of a ride getting there. That said, this is a novel tie-in...

Ancient Ways by S. M. Stirling

Neo-Cossacks, Mongols, and Tatars adventuring in the Post-Apocalype Caucasus, having Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser-eque adventures you say? Count me in! Ties in to his Emberverse series, apparently...

Recidivist by Gardner Dozois

An amazing Post-Cyberpunk tale. Less gritty than classic Cyberpunk, but in some ways grimmer nonetheless. Think hundreds of years after Neuromancer. The AI's have become autonomous and the technology that Humanity so loved has superseded us entirely. If I had to pick a favorite from "Warriors" this would be it, even if it doesn't really fit in this collection.

Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg

There wasn't much action in this Silverberg yarn, but the atmosphere was so powerful I really liked this one. It's like the old folks home for Warhammer 40K characters or something...

2. The Bad

Clean Slate by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block was apparently working on another Serial Killer story when Dozois asked him for a submission for this collection. He slipped in some little line about "Daddy's Little Warrior" and hoped no one would notice that this story does not belong in this collection.

Another novel tie-in

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon

This one started-off sounding like a Steampunk Fanfic, but I overcame my misgivings and decided to give it a chance. When the protagonist started describing his experiencing shagging his fellow Officers I decided this one wasn't for me...

3. The Forgettable

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman

An interesting Post-Cyberpunk premise, but ultimately just an excuse for some light erotica.

Dirae by Peter S. Beagle

A well written supernatural superhero tale but didn't really go anywhere so interesting and didn't really belong in a collection about warriors, quite frankly.

Seven Years from Home by Naomi Novik

This was the second Novik story I've read, the first being His Majesty's Dragon. Novik's writing is immanently readable and she has these interesting ideas, but she doesn't really take them so far. This Ecopunk story is a great example. A super-technological society based around living in symbiosis with nature and... all we get in the end is a simplistic tale of "Environment Good, Industry Bad". Plus the warriors aspect was rather tangential. Maybe Novik should collect submissions for an Ecopunk Anthology--that might be interesting.

The Mystery Knight by George R. R. Martin

How to describe this one? It's like a couple of Shakespearean Fools as a Hedge Knight and his Squire. And they're living in the Game of Thrones universe, so when they happen upon a provincial jousting tournament they end-up embroiled in a high-stakes game of rival conspirators. An entertaining-enough read, but it really is more of a teaser for The Hedge Knight than a stand-alone short story.