Systems For Punks

TL;DR: you can get the game on my Itch.io.

I played Cyberpunk 2.0.2.0 (R Talsorian Games, 1990) back in the 90s, like everyone I knew. The Finnish translation was superb, an improvement over the original, and very popular in the local scene. We house ruled it heavily. Later editions haven’t been very good, and we stopped playing in the genre.

Systems For Punks cover, depicting a woman wearing a pink top and carrying a gun linked to her wrist with wires. There's a green glow emitted in front of her, like she's hacking something with a bright display.

In 2020, the year the original game was set, two exciting releases were on the horizon: Cyberpunk RED, a new edition of the original RPG, and the videogame Cyberpunk 2077, based on that game. I wanted to run games in that world, and re-read 2.0.2.0, and found it too old school to bear. The Life Path system is fun, but everything else I could do without.

Beginnings

I tried to channel my creativity into writing, and released two short adventures/scenarios usable with any cyberpunk game system: Mrs. Wong’s Better Than Real Pork Chops (no good gangbangers) and Outside, Looking In (nomads).

They aren’t what you’d call traditional cyberpunk gaming. I have no interest in writing or running the sort of games we played as kids, spending all day kitting out our characters with as much murder gear as we could, and then spending the rest of the session, if we even got to it, in a protracted gunfight. I’m a lot more interested in the punk of cyberpunk – subverting the ultra capitalist system, making technology work for the little guy, taking on the establishment, DIY happiness, creativity in a world of breadcrumbs fallen from the table of the rich and the mega corporations.

You could say that what I was making was a counter reaction to my strong need to return to the games of my youth. I have a longing for them, but I don’t want a rerun of what we did back then.

Since there wasn’t a system to play them with, I had to roll my own. Systems For Punks was released after brief playtesting, and I kept it as concise and simple as I could.

I got so into it that I illustrated the whole text, something I haven’t done in decades.

Illustration of two women looking at the viewer. One beckons the viewer closer, the other stands in the back with a big gun. There's a city skyline behind them.

Being in Night City

When Cyberpunk 2077 was released, suddenly you could see, hear, and interact with an immersive Night City – just like you imagined, but so much richer, busier, louder, just more. I was excited to play cyberpunk tabletop games already, but the videogame ignited a need in me.

Then a new edition of the RPG, Cyberpunk RED, was released, and I expected to cast my half-finished system aside and move to the new game. I was not impressed. None of the changes from 2.0.2.0 felt good, and it didn’t have any systems I wanted to play with. The character classes especially feel off to me, like they belong in a different world. As RED wasn’t the system I was going to use for my Night City adventures, I returned to my own design.

Illustration of two punks hugging in an alleyway. One has a cybernetic arm. Both have disconnected wires going into their heads.

Systems For Punks

I wrote the game to be setting agnostic. It doesn’t do anything weird with the genre, and as long as your needs are high stakes action, ultra violence, netrunning, and high drama, it should work well for you. Despite my counter culture beginnings with this work, it’s pretty vanilla in practice. The less traditional stuff is in the scenarios, and they’re separate from the game text.

The game works with a D6 dice pool. Only the highest result counts.

You spend resources to add points to the outcome. I wanted to bring player agency to how much they invest in a conflict, and I like the bidding feel of Fate, and wanted some of that.

It doesn’t have a bespoke combat system. The conflict resolution works for combat, and combat specific things like damage are built into the mechanics. Netrunning does have a few optional extra rules.

It doesn’t have anything like the Life Path system in R Talsorian’s games. Instead, I’ve written highly specific scenarios like the two I’ve released to build colorful, dramatic characters.

Illustration of a fully cybernetic ganger spreading their arms under a highway overpass. Behind them is dry brush. The sky is pink.

What’s next?

You can get the game on my Itch.io.

As of 1.40 in January 2024, I’m still not quite happy with the resolution mechanic. It is too easy to end in a tie. Ganging up on someone helps with that.


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