As we charge headlong into the future, I’m always wondering how William Gibson was able to get so many things right when he started with Neuromancer. Corporations gain more and more power, even in today’s current economic downturn, as governments are courting big companies to encourage job growth and hiring. Some of that unchecked growth will make for an interesting environment in the near future. Add to that the amazing technological and medical research growth of the last 50 years and it seems impossible that we won’t end up in a world resembling Gibson’s dystopian view.
The concept of the “cyberpunk” has been around since the 1980s in science fiction stories by Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick, Richard Kadrey, and many others. In the late ’80s, R. Talsorian Games published Cyberpunk 2013 and has gone
through a couple of revisions since then. The game takes all the cyberpunk ideas of cybernetics, cyberspace, high-tech drugs to “boost” various aspects, and a mercenary world ruled by the corporate economy. Other games such as Shadowrun (originally from FASA and now from Catalyst Game Labs) took a cyberpunk world and add magic.
It seems impossible to me that the last time I played in a cyberpunk game was in college, but time does fly. I enjoyed fragging my share of characters in the game as a player (typically dying in a hail of gunfire or explosions). So I’m always on the lookout for games that incorporate the cyberpunk style and substance in both their rules and setting…
Enter WYRED from Rev. Lazaro (R.E. Davis). WYRED adapts the Wyrm System first used by Stargazer Games’ Warrior, Rogue & Mage for swords & sorcery (and the more recent Resolute, Adventurer, and Genius game that incorporates pulp adventure elements) and incorporates all the classic cyberpunk elements – street operatives, techies, hackers, fixers, punks, cops, reporters, and rock stars. Toss in a generous helping of body augmentations, drug use, vehicle and hacking rules… and you have the beginning of a quick way to get up and running with a cyberpunk campaign.
(Think of this more of a “preview” than a “review” of WYRED, since my notes are aimed at the 4th rough draft put out a few months ago. I’ve heard there may be changes afoot for the next revision, so consider my comments more high-level than anything else for now.)
Like WR&M and RAG, WYRED offers a pretty simple formula to getting started.
“Character Creation” kicks things off by offering some suggested character concepts for folks not familiar with the cyberpunk genre. Though many of us find terms like “ronin” or “fixer” to be pretty much second nature (after growing up with movies like Cyborg, Robocop, Freejack, Matrix, and Johnny Mnemonic (check out Cyberpunk Review’s “Cyberpunk Movies By Decade” list for a much more comprehensive list); television like Max Headroom; and too many books to list), this is a great touch to offer some ideas on what to play character-wise.
Once you have a concept, it’s easy to set up your character’s three attributes – Chrome (physical performance & survival capacity); Wires (agility, skill, and precision); and Data (knowledge and analytical capabilities). With 10 points to distribute into the three attributes, a max of 6 points and a min of zero, you have to make some hard choices right away. But having the character concept ahead of time should inform this decision. For example, if I was defining a Ronin, I might go with Chrome 4, Wires 4, and Data 2, figuring I can always augment my Data later.
Now with attributes in hand, you can pick skills (you get 4 skill selections, but can take a single skill 4 times if you want to), and “Perks” – which include augmentations, equipment, and drugs. As the book says – “A character shouldn’t even be caught dead without at least a modest level of gear and enhancers in order to get by in the mean streets of the future.”[sic] You have an amount of money equal to the sum of 1d6 and your character’s highest attribute times $6k in credits, so hopefully that will be enough to get them started in a cyberpunk lifestyle.
Lastly, you have to figure out some secondary stats – Wounds (6 + Chrome), Defense (Chrome + Highest Attribute), Initiative (average of Wired + Data rounded down), and Edge (start with 6 points). Edge is just another way of saying “Luck” or “Fate” – ways to edge your way around a bad roll or ensure a good one when you need it.
And that’s really it. Like all the Wyrm-based games, character creation is pretty easy.
Past that, the mechanics are pretty easy as well. Basically you try to tie or beat a difficulty level (DL) with a die roll (1d6), any applicable attribute modifiers, and any applicable skill modifiers. Add to that the exploding die (roll a 6 on a d6, you get to roll another die, and so on) and that’s really it. That’s the beauty of the Wyrm system for me – simple mechanics. Combat works pretty much the same as well – start with Initiative, resolve combat actions, etc. There are new rules in WYRED for hacking & cyber combat, as well as for vehicle chases.
The rest of the book deals with defining a list of skills, perks, augmentations, equipment, and so on. Each of these adds the shiny bits we’ve come to expect from a cyberpunk-themed game. Cybernetics, drugs with great effects for a short time and an ugly addictive factor, weapons to blow holes in your enemies, and a lot of flash.
Lastly, there’s a section on “Running Wyred” for GMs. Like the opening section offering a list of character concepts, this section kicks off with a list of common themes – from society breaking down to the insane urban jungle, corporate warfare, and the fact that the line between “good guys” and “bad guys” is impossibly blurred at times.
If you’re interested in how one of the last documented playtests went, check out this forum at RPG Table Talk (not all SFW). There is also some new activity (from June 2011) about recent developments for the game.
As far as nits go, there are quite a few little editing errors and such scattered throughout the text. Spacing is erratic at times. A few headings are missing. Writing-wise it could benefit from a good edit pass to make the voice more consistent throughout and correct the few grammatical errors. That said, this is a rough draft and says so on the cover – so it’s a work in progress and we’ll give it a lot of slack!
I find it fantastic that Michael Wolf’s first Wyrm-based game – Warrior, Rogue & Mage – has kicked off such a flurry of activity over the last year. Really you could take and run just about any type of campaign – from an H.P. Lovecraftian horror to a Conan campaign, from heroes of myth and legend to space rangers – with minor tweaks to attributes, skills, and equipment, just like they did with RAG and now WYRED.
Hopefully Rev. Lazaro and his playtest group are successful in the next round of updates – I think they have a great start for a game that captures the spirit of cyberpunk without going overboard on rules. Check out the last draft of WYRED and see for yourself what they have so far!
- Interview: Michael Wolf – Stargazer from Stargazer Games and Stargazer’s World (gameknightreviews.com)
- My Future’s So Dark, I Need to Wear Mirrorshades from Geekcentricity ” Role-Playing (geekcentricity.com)
- Interview with Jeremy Keller from Stargazer’s World (stargazersworld.com)
- Genre Bending with Dream Park from A character for every game (rpgcharacters.wordpress.com)
- The Inner Demon from Cliff’s Game Design Workshop (shadowitz.blogspot.com)
- Book Review: Resolute, Adventurer & Genius by Andrew Modro and Jason Cabral (gameknightreviews.com)