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Peter
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**Disclaimer** - I’m a long time role-player. Almost 30 years of experience. Examples and references below are based on my personal experiences and average responses of the people I’ve played with. This review assumes you have familiarized yourself with the publicly available information about the material discussed. (i.e. Advertised descriptions, RPGG game information entry, Possible publicly available rules, etc.) If you’re concerned about spoilers do not read this review. I try to limit details in my reviews, but some things have to be mentioned to give readers an idea of what is being discussed.

RPG AND/OR ITEM: Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0


Overview: -

Component(s) - The core book as well as almost all supplements and adventures are soft cover books. My copy which is closing in on twenty years old is holding up well. That is saying a lot. My main group of players tends to be unforgiving with books during play. Sliding them across tables and carpeting, flipping through pages like it’s a phone book during pizza ordering time, and staining pages with greasy fingers & sugary drinks. The soft cover is laminated to help protect it, and my cover is intact still, though it does have some creases and a dog ear or two. All the pages are intact and readable as well. This is the same for all the other books, (20 books in my collection), are in similar condition except for one which saw a bit more intense use and the front cover fell off at the crease were the cover is folded back to open it. (Still have the cover though.)

Also, all the supplements, (except for the box set), are 8.5x11 and fit well together on a book shelf. The box set, (Land of the Free), is slightly larger in both length and width because, of course, the books included in the box are 8.5x11.

Most of the early books released have color covers, but black and white interiors. The print / font is clear and easy to read, in other words its not real small font which requires an old guy like me to have to wear glasses to read. Later books included color pictures in them.

The art is decent and often helps immerse players into their characters / roles for the game. I honestly don’t see the art winning any awards, but it is of average or better quality.

Layout - Most of the books have information which is easy to find using either the indexes or Table of Contents. This is not always the case though. An example of a possible complicated layout is the Chrome Books. The series of four books didn’t always follow the same layout format. The theme of the layout, though cool, can be confusing at times. The Chrome Books are laid out as if they were catalogs full of ads touting the latest and greatest. The ads are grouped by category, weapons in one section, clothing another, services in yet another, etc. But occasionally an item which might fall into more than one category required a little hunting to find. Also, the ads don’t always visually announce the item in question properly so you can easy glance over it while skimming through the book.

In truth though, those concerns are small enough to not detract from the overall enjoyment of this RPG. Most of the books are laid out well and act well as references when needed.

System Design - OK, as a rules based role-playing game you are going to have to make a large mental investment to digest the majority of the mechanics. The system is no more complicated than any of the D&D systems used, and in some cases can be quite intuitive. Plan on playing two or three sessions before being able to function without constant rules referencing. There are some tables included in the supplements but as is common with many RPGs there will most likely be a need for you to create additional tables or quick reference sheets on your own. Luckily this game was popular and has been around a while, so there is some easily obtained and readily available user made content out there.

One of the more complicated aspects of the game is the skill system. For many familiar with RPGs this won’t be a challenge, but to someone new to this type of gaming it will take a bit to educate them. It’s a two part system, in which at character generation Character Points can be spent to improve skills, but then as the game progresses, your character earns Improvement Points, (IP), which improve skills fractionally. In addition skills become increasingly costly to 'purchase' as they increase.

The combat system, Friday Night Fire Fight (FNFF), is pretty robust and allows for a myriad of situations and outcomes. There are a few issues which I will discuss later, but overall the system works well for the ‘realistic’ combat resolution the game is trying to create. The aim is very bloody, deadly, and short firefights though it will take some time to complete the dice rolls and compute the results of each action. The system is similar to many first generation RPGs in that its combat system was designed to imitate reality, instead of streamline combat/conflict. As a matter of fact, FNFF was designed by working with real life law enforcement and combat references in an attempt to make the simulated combat as realistic as possible while still being playable.

Possible Issues - The first issue which has always bugged me, and some other players I’ve played with, is the rules detailing automatic fire. First, automatic fire allows a player to spray bullets at a target rock-n-roll style. Another option is a three-round burst. This allows players with automatic weapons to make more controlled fire. Simplifying the entire problem for this review, a three-round busts adds +3 to hit but, when you hit, you roll a d3 [ROUNDUP(1d6/2)] and the result is how many bullets that hit the target. Each bullet that hits is rolled separately for body location. With automatic fire, you get a +1 to hit the target for every 5 rounds fired. If you succeed you subtract the hit difficulty from the successful roll, and the result is the number of bullets that hit. The problem lies in that skilled players often get 3 or more bullets on target with auto fire where a super-commando, combat-expert may only get 1 bullet on target with a three round burst. This leads to lots of aimed full automatic fire which, statistically, is not what highly trained combatants do in the real world.

In addition cover fire, or suppressive fire is less than peak for use. In this case a character targets an area made up of a line of 5-foot squares, perpendicular to the line of fire, as little as one square, to as many squares as they can see. Then they open fire. A formula is used to create a Difficulty Level for anyone moving or exposed within this area. Characters in the target area then check to see if they are hit using a formula based on shooter’s skill and number of bullets used. The most common result being, threatened characters are hit by only one or two bullets. I know this sounds bad for the threatened characters, but when you account for armor, cover, and other factors it tends to be much less of a problem than being hit by 3+ rounds from aimed automatic fire. Again it creates a situation in which it is almost always better to use aimed automatic fire.

Another issue I hear a lot of concern over is the skill improvement rules. By the rules, skills improve with use. Would seem fair and realistic but very often does not prove so in practice. There are so many skills available, (infinite really), that many skills may never be used in game. Often this leads to players telling the GM, “I practice this skill in my down time. How many IP do I get?” Also, often skills used in combat are not tracked during the excitement and it won’t be till the session ends that players suddenly realize they didn’t track all their skill use.

The most common solution I’ve seen used is a GM handing out a number of generic IP to be distributed by players among skills as they deem fit. A fall back to XP type rewards used in other popular RPGs. This issue is more prevalent due to there being no levels for characters to earn. All character advancement is gained through skills.


Player’s Side:

Character Creation / Options - Who doesn’t like making a character? Well you’ll get plenty of opportunity here. You will be intrigued with the myriad of options. You will easily find a character type you can sink your teeth into and really build up anticipation to play. I thoroughly enjoy designing Cyberpunk characters as do many people I’ve played with. But you should read the next section to understand why character creation will be something you shall become intimately familiar with. I know that sounds bad, but with time it tends to smooth out. The game, as designed, will kill many characters and quickly. It is meant to be a brutal ‘survival of the fittest until the GM drops a car on the fittest’ type game. I elaborate on this in the What Characters (er... Players) Do Section below.

There is a detailed character background generation rules set in this RPG. This adds a great deal to the depth of characters played, but also increases the character generation time. This leads to a bit of conflict in which players may often skip background generation due to their characters dying so quickly in game. But if GMs tone down the death rate, deep characters with rich story-lines can be generated easily.

The system allows players to pick a Role. A Role has a career set of skills including a special skill only available to characters that hold that particular Role, and 9 other skills which people in that Role would use all the time.

EXAMPLE
Role: Cop
Special Skill: Authority - Ability to intimidate or control others through position.
Awareness/Notice
Handgun
Human Perception
Athletics
Education
Brawling
Melee
Interrogation
Streetwise

The core game details 12 Roles. Supplements expand this, but the reality is the possibilities are endless. A creative player and willing GM can come up with any Role conceivable. Create a Special Skill and pick 9 other related skills.

There is a balance issue raised by the Solo Role. Solos have Combat Sense which adds a bonus to initiative in fights. Well in this game it is very much who goes first wins. When bullets fly people die fast. Often characters, (Player and NPC), will go down before they can even get a shot off. Due to this, I find players either always want to play Solos or at least take Combat Sense if not allowed to play a Solo. Many GMs have found ways to house rule a balance.

What Characters (er... Players) Do - Characters will be "Edgerunners". A term referring to those few who are willing to run the edge of... well... anything to increase their status. Style is everything. Live fast, die young, and leave a pretty corpse.

THIS IS NOT A MOVIE STAR TYPE RPG. Did you really have to say that in caps? Yes, I did. This RPG, as designed, is a meat grinder. Hell, they even tell you in the rules that this isn’t your fairly loving, elf hugging, feel good RPG. This is the, "you’re going to be constantly paranoid and fearful of death, and if your not the GM isn’t doing their job" RPG. The system is designed to place players in a world of literal dog-eat-dog and backstabbing. Characters end up scraping together a living by killing the other guy and taking his stuff. Only to have some other schmucks trying to do the same thing to them.

The game is designed so players do not feel like Indiana Jones, or James Bond, or Luke Skywalker. There are no guarantees. Chances are your character will eat a bullet. If Quentin Tarantino designed an RPG this would be it. Any character in the story can buy it at any time. Evil is not a force to overcome, it is a choice to resist for as long as you can, if you want to. GMs are encouraged to keep things gray, no black or white. Player’s who feel they just succeeded in a critical mission for good, should find themselves having been played as pawns for evil. Players working to spread evil should find they have inadvertently helped good.

In other words, get ready to make up a lot of characters, and bring spares to any session you attend. This can be a turn off for many players. And as such GMs often find themselves having to tone down the game as designed in order to let the characters live long enough so players can actually become vested in those characters. After all this game is about style, helmets are for dorks and losers. But deadly head shots happen one out of ten times in a game where often hundreds of bullets fly in a single combat. You do the math.


GM Side:

Session Planning - If you like killing characters, this is the RPG for you. No trick is too dirty. The rules actually point this out, even going so far as to tell you to steal their stuff and then kick ‘em while they’re down. Heck the designers give you plenty of examples of dirty ticks to pull if you should happen to run out of inspiration. Just check out Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!!!! if you think I’m kidding.

That said, you also need to be ready for the Players to be unfocused and meandering with their characters. The drawback of killing PC’s faster than downing Cheetos during a session, is that Players will not be vested in their characters. They will treat them like video game heroes. "I died? Oh well, reload from last save." And they surely won’t attempt to follow any adventure path very closely. They will seek instant gratification, and cathartic release through combat with anything that looks at them cross.

To this end if you want your hard work on those adventure paths to come to fruition, you’re going to have to go easier on the characters and allow the players to build up interest in their paper alter ego.

Oh, but by all means feel free to kill off any PCs who appear to get too cocky. Have to keep the others in line right?

Ambiance - As the game details, fast and furious lifestyles are the intent here. Moral dilemmas and paranoia are the bread and butter sustenance of this RPG. It can be a challenge to strike that delicate balance. But when you hit the right mode you just captured lightning in a bottle. You can achieve story-lines just as intense and epic as any you’ll read or see on the silver screen. Also, there happens to be a lot of media you can draw upon for inspiration, Bladerunner, Jonny Pneumonic, Ghost in the Machine, Akira, Strange Days, and on, and on... and that’s just movies. There are books, comics, short stories, and many other sources.

The whole RPG is set in the DARK future. Humanity is but a resource to be used by those that have. Those that don’t have either live like rats, or become Edgerunners. The dividing line between rich and slumming is ultrafine in every sense. Towering fortresses and buildings are surrounded by crime ridden streets. A person could have nothing one day and ‘make it’ the next. The opposite is true. You can have everything and lose it instantly.

The game books help with setting the mood immensely, with a lot of in your face commentary and colorful suggestions. Included are a lot of NPCs who you will get to know only as quoted celebrities at first. But later supplements detail more and more about these colorful characters. Also detailed is an ever expanding list of slang used in the settings.

Roadblocks - Aside from the often noted possible balance issue with the Solo Role, the style of game play is the games biggest roadblock. Players enjoy the frantic cathartic release Cyberpunk offers for a short period of time, but it grows tiresome after a while. Players can become frustrated at having to make new characters more often than trips to the bathroom after sucking down a few gallons of Mountain Dew.

Invariably as a GM, if this RPG is to stand the test of time with your group, you’re going to have to tone the game down and allow characters to play in a developing story.

Another issue can be Netrunning. An actually very cool aspect of this RPG is the ability for characters to be cyber-linked to computers in order to "run" the net. Think the movie Lawnmower Man, or a computer graphics version of Matrix. It is often very important for a group of players to have a Netrunner with them but this can also be an issue. Netrunning all happens in microseconds really. Its broadband internet x1,000,000,000. It also requires the Netrunner to enter into the "Net" which is basically saying the Netrunner goes a different direction from the group. Often the GM finds themselves running two games, one for the Netrunner and another for the regular group. This can often result in the Netrunner character(s) or the non-Netrunner characters sitting around waiting for the conflict of the other to be resolved.


Summary:

As far as RPGs go, this is one of my favorites. The fast and dirty combat system gives players and GMs alike the feeling that everything is fragile. And when you actually achieve success, it’s all that much sweeter. Sure I like playing a hero character, (like Frodo), of a story who you know will most likely achieve success unless they make a huge mistake. But, I also like playing a nobody who may or may not amount to anything, but has to work just to make a buck. (like Porter in the movie Payback).

All in all, Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0. is a very good game. As with all RPGs it has flaws, but the benefits outweigh these. Players get ready to take a beating and get back up for more. GMs get ready to dish out punishment and make your players work for their successes.

Thank you for reading my review. It makes the effort worthwhile.

Edit: Added Netrunner paragraph to Roadblocks section. Edit 2: Added a bit on character background generation.
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stephen
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A classic game , superbly executed and a nice review.

One thing I would say is that it needs deft handling or endless player screwage can turn players off game as it did with me. The sense that you could not plan anything or try anything without it constantly being undermined and that what you gained one session would be taken away the next , made players apathetic.

The other problem is it shows its age with an eighties style that doesnt tie with the 21st century we all live in
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Mike Holyoak
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Very nice review!!

I think it's worth mentioning that Cyberpunk (at least my box set version) had one of the best background generators of any of the games that I played from that era (late 80's).

My game group actually were much bigger fans of Shadowrun when it came out, but even when my group made Shadowrun characters, I still had them go through the background generator section of Cyberpunk, as that helped determine initial contacts, favors owed, assets, etc.

It was invaluable as a GM, and really gave the players some initial meat that they could sink their teeth into as they fleshed out their characters into more than just stats.

For my group, it really helped convert us from "roll players" to "role players."
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Peter
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anubis9 wrote:
I think it's worth mentioning that Cyberpunk (at least my box set version) had one of the best background generators of any of the games that I played from that era (late 80's).


Added a small bit.
 
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Jacob Wood
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Very nice review!

I aws on the fence about whether or nto to pick up Cyberpunk 2020. I've been looking for some insperation for my own Cyberpunk-style setting, and thanks to this review I think I can safely say it'll be a good investment even if I only buy a copy for inspiration.
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