|CY_BORG - cyberpunk shenanigans|
CY_BORG is a roleplaying game which hacks the Mörk Borg game engine and stylistic art punk ethos to a gritty, dangerous cyberpunk setting.
TL;DR: I'm really impressed with CY_BORG. It's perfect for pick up and play Cyberpunk shenanigans. It is art punk and style-led, but there's a very simple and playable game with comprehensive support for the GM. it leaves me wondering what I do with that copy of Cyberpunk RED on my shelf; The Sprawl will remain my 'serious' cyberpunk game, and CY_BORG has taken the fun/fast/frantic mantle.Physically, it's the same size as 'Old-School Essentials', a small hardcover book with around 166 full colour pages. The layout and images blend together in a riot of colour and shape, echoing the genre. Occasionally, some of the palette choices are unusual - for example pink text on blue - but it never quite reaches the point of illegibility. I'm not sure how it'd work if you're colour-blind though.
CY_BORG's default setting is the city of Cy. The city endures after a catastrophe, or maybe multiple catastrophes. Nanotech is rife, and dangerous as it can infect like a plague. The net exists, interacted with by apps. The powers in the city are the gangs, cults and corporations, locked in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy. So far, so cyberpunk!
The book opens by describing different districts of the city, short passages packed with hooks and mood-setting images. This is the tone of the book; it sparkles with ideas and hooks but never goes deep into setting. Broad brush with spaces.
The description of districts is followed by a D66 table of headline events. These are elements to drive a short campaign. The speed it progresses can be agreed between the players and GM. By default, an event is triggered by a roll of 1; the dice used depends upon the rate of progression wanted. The roll for a 'miserable headline' event is made every midnight. The seventh event will reveal something of the nature of Cy (but it's a spoiler so I'll not discuss it further).
Rule #00 for the game is that characters cannot be loyal to or have sympathy for the corps, cops or the capitalist system for they are the enemy. They may end up doing missions for them, but that conflict is at the heart of the relationship. Characters are punks, outside the system.
Character generation is quick; cash and gear is quickly rolled on a table. You can choose to have a class (but it's optional), or just roll abilities
Abilities are Agility, Knowledge, Presence, Strength & Toughness. You roll 3D6 and reference a table to get a modifier ranging from -3 to +3. There are no skills; the abilities are used instead. Classless punks get an edge in rolling abilities to account for the benefits having a class brings.
Test are made by rolling a D20 equal to or higher than a difficulty rating. By default this is set at 12 but can vary down to 6 or up to 18. You add your ability modifier to the roll.
The character classes available are the shunned Nanomancer (infected by nano tech, it has given you weird powers), the Burned Hacker (you found something out and your life is in danger as a result), the Discharged Corp Killer (you've been discharged from service with extreme prejudice), the orphaned Gear Head (an engineer more comfortable with machines than people), the Renegade Cyber Slasher (a 'borged assassin with lost ideals), and finally, the forsaken Gang-Goon (your gang is gone, and you need to make your own way). The classes all tweak the settings for HP, glitches and can make you better at certain tests.
There are tables for your style, features, wants, quirks and obsessions. These are optional, but should be useful for inspiration and also for the GM.
Weapons and armour are randomly generated and range from a broken bottle to high powered guns and mono-filament blades.
Each character has a debt to pay off, to an impatient creditor. This is a motivation to take jobs, else they come to obtain body parts to make your payment.
There are some short equipment lists; like most cyberpunk games you can use tailored drugs to enhance your performance, or recreational drugs to harm or give pleasure. Cybernetics cover most of the areas that you'd expect, and the brain box option gives you a way to cheat death. If it isn't destroyed.
Apps are described, along with how to use them. Track people with a beacon worm, attack their cyberware but get it wrong and you could be facing a backlash that could hurt or kill you.
Nano-powers are effective (you can control people, heal people by drawing essence from another, and even recover memories from the recently dead) but there's always the risk of triggering an infestation.
All characters have glitches - these allow you to nudge the outcome of tests and damage rolls.
Damage taken reduces hit points; if you hit zero you can fall unconscious or potentially die (based on a D8 table roll). Below zero, you're dead unless you have enough money to call an emergency response team to save you.
You can also get Cy-Rage from hitting zero hit points. In this case, your implants misfire and you start to attack people nearby.
Combat is pretty simple; a D6 roll determines whether enemies go first or you go first. It's all player facing, so you roll to hit and also roll to avoid being hit. A natural 20 gives a crit - it doubles damage and reduces armour by a tier. If you're defending, you get a free attack. Fumbles come with a natural 1 and are bad if you're defending as you take double damage and your armour is reduced. If you're attacking, you can run out of ammo, or have a weapon break or even explode. Armour reduces damage taken by a dice roll. Auto fire weapons allow extra attacks if you hit (up to three) but at the cost of higher ammo use. There are a selection of additional mods ranging from cover to aiming and suppressive fire. I'd probably use them all. There are also simple morale rules - enemies may flee or surrender if they have tough opposition.
Character improvement happens at the GM's whim; they can do it after a number of missions, after enough credits are earned or when targets are met. You can increase your hit points or try and increase your abilities. If you have high abilities already, there's always a chance they may degrade. The abilities option affects all five of them, and in most cases negative or low scoring abilities will increase.
There's a section on opponents, and all the expected notes are hit. Gangs, security operatives, roadwarriors, crazed cyborgs, corporate killers, nano-infested cultists, drones, enhanced beasts, horrors and droids all have entries. Vehicles are covered with a few short rules, primarily focused around combat. There are two options which you tailor with weapons; armoured cars (which could be wheeled, hover, tracked but all use the same basic stats) or milcorp gunships (think VTOLs and helicopters). Mechs are an option, and extremely brutal. The section ends with <Ghosts>, AI entities or perhaps the detached egos of netrunners) that can attack through the RCD net interface that most people have. If you're interfaced, you're vulnerable.
The book then moves on to provide GM resources to tailor NPCs and prepare missions. The OSR heritage is shown with the use of random tables. There's a D100 table to pull up the key features of an NPC. In a similar way to player characters, the table has entries for style, features, role, obsessions and quirks. There's a separate D20 table for what they want.
The mission generator has nine linked random tables so let's try it out!
A Bodega owner acting on behalf of a clan of road runners offers 3000# if you escort a cult leader from an underground parking garage in Galgbacken in the Hills. The garage is protected by United Citadel Security. Theres a complication though - the events are being recorded.
That sounds kind of fun. Let's explore the Location, using another table. The garage is covered in Anti-Nano propaganda. There are abandoned mannequins which are actually knock-off skulker droids with sharp claws. The locked maintenance door leads to the temple of a small but violent cult.
I reckon there's enough there for a good evening of play. There are also tables for corporations and cults. The random section rounds out with a D100 table for random city events, and another table for net events.
The book concludes with "Lucky Flight Takedown", an introductory heist. where the characters are hired to raid a local casino which has manipulated the local neighbourhood into crippling debt. They need to destroy all record of the debt and prevent the casino coming back at them. Ideally, this should avoid mass murder and be low profile. There's a bonus if they rescue a local who's already tried to complete the mission and gone missing.
There's a decent set of floor plans, and relevant random encounter tables along with typical casino patrons and NPCs. It's a good heist scenario which should introduce the game well. There's an appendix of corps with key details of these capitalist foes. The index is well organised and useful, especially considering the coloured snow-storm of gorgeous artwork throughout the book. The end papers have useful random tables at the start (what's in their pockets, weather, names and infested items) and a comprehensive rules reference at the back.
Overall, I'm really impressed with CY_BORG. It's perfect for pick up and play Cyberpunk shenanigans. It is art punk and style-led, but there's a very simple and playable game with comprehensive support for the GM. it leaves me wondering what I do with that copy of Cyberpunk RED on my shelf; The Sprawl will remain my 'serious' cyberpunk game, and CY_BORG has taken the fun/fast/frantic mantle.
Bonus content: the Kickstarter also offered a digital asset pack which is very useful. A large map of Cy, with reference material on the back. A pad of A5 character sheets. Another pad of locations (floor plans with some random tables to customise) with multiple copies printed at A4. Another scenario where the characters get to crash a party to repossess some prosthetics! The pack is definitely worth considering, if only in digital.
6 October 2022