Hello and welcome to the first part of Pen & Die’s cyberpunk solo beginner’s guide! I have loved the cyberpunk genre for a long time. From reading classics like Neuromancer and Snowcrash to watching Bladerunner and Ghost in the Shell, the dystopian future where technology and greed have subsumed most people’s lives intrigues and terrifies. Huge opportunities for adventure lie at every corner. Danger abounds for anyone that sticks their head or avatar in where it doesn’t belong. Humans lose themselves to the Net, drugs, and the machinations of those so far above they might as well be gods. And yet there’s the need to try to make a difference. Or at least get a pay day. All this and more awaits in the cyberpunk genre but now we have to figure out how to get there.
Any time you decide to start a game up, you have to make a choice on what system to use. The game system becomes even more important when you’re playing solo or co-op. Your comfort comes first as you have to choose what level of complexity works best for you and whoever you’re playing with. Sure, this is also the case in a regular group game with a referee. However, you’re likely to be spending a lot of extra time looking for that right table, dealing with a wrapper system, and working with spark tables to give story inspiration in a solo game. If you can’t remember how to do important things in your game system, you will likely end up frustrated with all the index searching you will be doing.
So the beginning of our little series focuses on game systems that offer that cyberpunk flavor without burning out your input jack with too much info. In my opinion, these games offer the right balance of simplicity and depth.
Cy_Borg slides in as the newest, weirdest, and likely most solo friendly of the systems on this list. If you’re looking for a realistic, likely-future experience; Cy_Borg will not satisfy you. However, if you like what Mörk Borg did to fantasy, then you will love what Cy_Borg is doing to cyberpunk. This cyberpunk world reeks of style, death, darkness, greed, and rebellion. More to the point, you can pick up the rules quickly as this is more of an OSR style system. It also comes with lots of tables to help you figure out what you’re doing, who you’re doing it for, and what’s trying to kill you. Using the Solitary Defilement rules really rounds out this experience and gives you a lot of solo bang for your buck.
In my opinion, cyberpunk is not all that far off from other sci-fi. As such, I would suggest as a possibility the classic Stars Without Number, an OSR D20 system. Kevin Crawford created an amazing solo and GM’s resource with this book. Although more of a sci-fi and space game, there’s still plenty of useful material here such as rules for cyberware, tables for creating NPC’s and Urban Encounters, and Adventure Seeds. Combine with the right wrapper and spark tables, and your cyberpunk dreams leap off the page. SWON can also be found with a free edition, although there is a bit of reduced content. Mr. Crawford’s Cities Without Number brings his signature style and tables to the cyberpunk genre. CWON keeps us waiting for now though but should release by the end of the year. You can find Polychrome, a SWON cyberpunk adventure, here.
The Cyberpunk brand is always a good option, of course. Cyberpunk Red is the only game from the series that I have spent much time with and I have enjoyed it. CPR pushes the complexity up a notch but does contain more nuanced rules for cyberware, hacking, and operating. The D10 rules this game system and it is mostly skill based. However, the system runs smoothly and while you may find yourself looking up something specific, for the most part you are encouraged to roll with the “Rule of Cool.” A wrapper, spark tables, and an adventure generator will be needed for solo/co-op play however as this game is built for group play all the way.
Index Card RPG gives so much useful information and inspiration for how to simplify your game. Its cyberpunk version, Altered State, does this masterfully. ICRPG is a pared down D20 system that is thematic, simple, and a blast. The system comes with important advice for game masters that is also useful and adaptable for the solo/co-op player. Rule of Cool dominates that play style of this game.
Hack the Planet jacks up your heists in this Forged in the Dark cyberpunk RPG. Cyber-Hacked brings a cyberpunk rule set to the Black Hack, including succinct rules for running hacks on the Net. The Ultramodern(5) Redux loads up all sorts of new material for play in 5th Edition D&D, creating an almost entirely new game. UMR covers cyberpunk, mechs, as well as modern military rules. Free League produces another beautiful game with the Blade Runner RPG. Strongly thematic and based on detective style play, Blade Runner may give solo gamers a bit of trouble depending on their experience level. The game provides a Case File Generator, however, that could allow for very deep gameplay when paired with a good oracle and spark table. Shadowrun Sixth World is the 6th edition of the venerable fantasy cyberpunk game. Elves, orcs, dwarves, and magic all join in for your corporate wars.
Next we will be looking at what supplements will give you direction, answers, and support for your dystopian journey. You will find methods to create and describe your surroundings in your dark city. NPC’s will come to life as you discover their goals, secrets, and faults. And you will never lack for something to do with mission generators and events to react to.
Please check out Booting Up Cyberpunk Solo Pt 2