The upcoming DLC for Cyberpunk 2077, Phantom Liberty, is set to give fans of Cyberpunk franchise with new missions, weapons, technology and a game story centered around espionage and espionage. To interrupt the time before this DLC’s release, Cyberpunk 2077 fans could do worse than return to the franchise’s RPG roots and try tabletop RPG systems such as shadow run, that Cyberpunk RED games that inspired Cyberpunk 2077or the recently released CY_BORG RPG. The last of these game systems has low complexity rules, fever dream art, and a setting that embraces the “punk” part of the cyberpunk genre.
That Cyberpunk 2077 video game set in Night City, a dystopian future metropolis, was based on Cyberpunk tabletop RPGs from R. Talsorian Games, even to the point of including iconic NPCs like Johnny Silverhand. Both the video game and the original RPGs center around urban outlaw protagonists with cybernetic augmentations and computer hacking skills, hostile to the mega-corporations that rule their dystopian world. The setting of CY_BORG, created by Free League Publishing, is similar in several ways to the world of Cyberpunk 2077but also very distinct in its game mechanics, anti-authoritarian ethos and undertones of Armageddon.
CY_BORG’s apocalyptic sci-fi environment is heavily inspired by MÖRK BORG
The basic rules, layout and themes of CY_BORGreleased back in November 2022, owes a lot to its immediate predecessor, the doomed world fantasy RPG DARK CASTLE. Inspired by the mechanics and ethos of the Old School Revival movement of tabletop design, DARK CASTLE is an RPG set in a pitch-black world predicted to end very soon (a dice chart styled after religious scriptures helps Game Masters determine how close the world is to ending). The player’s grades of DARK CASTLE, easily generated and easily killed, are not glorious heroes or chosen ones, but a motley collection of broken fools seeking wealth, glory or salvation in the little time they have left.
The developer of DARK CASTLE (which means “Dark Fort” in Swedish) may have decided to create its cyberpunk genre tabletop RPG spin-off purely because of the humorous pun (DARK CASTLE sounds a bit like “Cyborg” and it “hacked” the tabletop RPG to create an RPG with computer hackers). Yet the dark, apocalyptic themes are gone DARK CASTLE translate very nicely to the crazy dystopian game premise from CY_BORG, giving the tabletop RPG a spice and urgency that other cyberpunk RPG systems lack. To paraphrase CY_BORGown tagline, seen on the game’s successful Kickstarter page, “The world is ending. Again and again and again and again and again and again and again.”
Whose Cyberpunk 2077 has Night City as its signature adventure-friendly location, filled with its own history, central characters, and competing factions and corporations, so CY_BORG’s own Cyberpunk genre open-world map is the polluted, bug-ridden, infected sprawl called Megacity Cy. That CY_BORG Rulebook brings this game setting to life with a mix of erratic text and frantic background art that paints a picture of a metropolis ravaged by unchecked capitalism, pollution and a digital ecosystem that has grown out of control. Besides the classic cyberpunk tropes of street gang cyborgs, mega-corporations trying to buy and sell the world, and hackers entering cyberspace with “tires”, CY_BORG also has the novel idea of ubiquitous nanotechnology contaminated by bacteria from outer space.
CY_BORG’s Light Rules is an accessible tabletop RPG
The biggest barrier to entry for Cyberpunk 2077 fans interested in cyberpunk genre tabletop RPGs may well be the rules they need to learn. DnD inspired video game RPGs often automate the process of leveling a player character. Tabletop RPGs, as communal exercises of the imagination, often force players and the Game Master to memorize game mechanics, such as when and how to roll dice, unlock new abilities, or add equipment bonuses to certain PC actions. These rules can become particularly complex in cyberpunk genre RPGs Shadow runa game system notorious for having a labyrinthine character creation system and several convoluted rules for computer hacking and cyberspace navigation.
The great mechanical advantage CY_BORG has over other cyberpunk RPGs is the sheer accessibility of its rules for character creation, basic actions, combat, and other, more typically “punk” Cyberpunk 2077-style actions. Players can quickly spawn new punk player characters by using dice charts to generate their starting gear, attributes, hit points, flaws, and debts to the various megacorps. Alternatively, they can choose starting character class with colorful names like Shunned Nanomancer, Burned Hacker, Forsaken Gang-Goon or Discharged Corp Killer. The basic dice mechanic corresponds to the skill check of DnD – roll a twenty-sided die and try to beat a difficulty between 6 and 18.
The finest performance of CY_BORG may be its rules for computer hacking – specifically how clear and easy to parse they are compared to some of the computer hacking rules for video games or board games such as Shadow run (or the Early Edition Battle Rules DnD). Aspiring hackers in the world of CY_BORG must have a Cyberdeck to hack into cyberspace and gather information. These Cyberdecks (related to DnD wizard spell books) may contain a variety of apps that give the hacker specialized abilities, such as activating nearby devices, creating false alarms, or destructively overloading parts of nearby cyborgs. Fumbled hacking rolls trigger randomized knockbacks that damage the hacker or their deck.
CY_BORG’s deadly gameplay allows players to play true punks
Like its dark fantasy RPG predecessor MÖRK BORG, CY_BORG is built from the battered bones of the Old School Revival RPG subgenre, which attempts to emulate the gameplay of Basic DnD from the 1970s, when dangers lurked everywhere in the dungeons, player characters were fragile, and players had to use lateral thinking to survive. Player characters i CY_BORG are not one-man armies like the V protagonist Cyberpunk 2077, but a little more like the main characters in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: flawed, messy, riddled with problems, and extremely prone to bite the dust in the game’s final act against the Game Master’s deadly, party-ruining threats.
It’s harder to keep a cyberpunk character alive CY_BORG than in certain other cyberpunk RPGs; even if they survive and level up, they’ll likely be riddled with unattractive nano-mutations, burdened with debt, dying of a terminal condition like the protagonist of Cyberpunk 2077, or on the run from the private armies and Black ICE in Megacorps. In some ways, the doomed status of one CY_BORG character can be liberating for players, especially if they are fans of Cyberpunk 2077. Instead of worrying about keeping their fine-tuned characters alive, they are free to have their characters make reckless, rebellious punk choices and rage to the end against their dystopian cyberpunk reality.
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