Hello and welcome to Booting Up Cyberpunk Solo Pt. 3! In this part, we begin play with Cities Without Number from Kevin Crawford. Cities Without Number comes brand new from publisher Sine Nomine, also responsible for Worlds Without Number (fantasy) and Stars Without Number (sci-fi). All three of these books are excellent as well as cross compatible. In fact, I will be using some of the tables from these other two books in this CWN game. Additionally, I will use Augmented Reality to help set the mood, the Game Unfolding Machine Version 2 to assist with GM direction, and Ken Wickham’s Science Fiction Grammar Fuel for my spark table. Finally, I added in The Perilous Wilds – Revised Edition because it has some wonderfully unique name tables. If you are familiar with the Without Number series, then you understand the mechanics of Cities Without Number. Aside from a few additions, the rules mostly mirror those from the other games.
Did you miss the first two parts of Booting Up Cyberpunk Solo? You can find them here:
Playing Without Playing
A solo player may choose any of multiple ways to get their game started. Would you rather throw a character together and then explore, generating the world on the fly? How about rolling up and creating the setting so that the backdrop of your adventures is already complete? On the Geek Gamer YouTube channel, it was said that all of it is playing. Try out different methods. If you find yourself feeling bored or unsure of how to proceed, try switching to another mode. Inspiration often arrives alongside change.
Play to Find Out
Once you create characters, you are free to take them out into the world and generate it on the fly. World building by exploration presents a perfectly valid option. In fact, many great writers essentially use the same technique. They write to see what happens and work from there. Solo play gets a little trickier than just writing from imagination though. If this method appeals to you, I would suggest making sure you have a pretty good play procedure together and that you keep your number of source tables low. Searching for the right table in the middle of your game can really disrupt your flow.
Other authors create outlines of their stories. Outlines allow for more planning and a different kind of crafting. A book like Cities Without Numbers provides numerous tools and tables that work very well for this style of play. You can roll up contacts, NPC’s, your city, the districts, and even the mission/adventure before really playing. Does that feel like you (the player) will know too much? Try only rolling the part you need when you need it.
Personally, I love world building and generation. I could, and often do, just sit and roll up settings, NPC’s, and monsters. Creating them early allows me to create tables from them so that I don’t have to do it on the fly. Altogether, I like a hybrid approach, building some portions out before actually playing and then generating the rest as I need it.
Either way, you need your PC(s) and that’s where I started.
Operator 1 – Ying Valavolg
First, I rolled up my beginning character, Ying Valavolg. I took the name tables from Stars Without Number and the Perilous Wilds and rolled them together. I love the cross cultural naming of series like Altered Carbon and the Expanse. CWN contains tables that allow you to randomly roll up background, skills, growth, and contacts. You can always just pick if you have an idea or something catches your eye though. I chose to roll randomly and then choose her Edges and Focus. Ying formerly managed in one of the City’s big corporations. I figure I’ll leave the details hazy until they become salient for the story. Ying has since been called to become an assassin. At least, that’s the Focus that caught my eye for her so that’s what she’s doing now. Her Edges are Killing Blow, making her especially deadly in combat, and Face which gives her the Connect skill and the the ability to pull up an acquaintance each week. Ying brings deadly skills when she can get close to an unsuspecting target, but will not do well if exposed to open combat.
Operator 2 – Vipul Gunung
I like running two person teams in my solo games. I appreciate the variety in skill and personality. So I made a partner for Ying, the monk wizard Vipul Gunung. Vipul started life as a trader, crossing through what’s left of the South American rain forest. The pockets of wild land that have not been overtaken by the SA Metro contain the last vestiges of those that reject the grime and greed of the megacities. Vipul learned from the last Wizard of the Amazon how to draw magic from the land. While still learning, a corporation seeking the secret of eternal life “harvested” that pocket of forest, killing the natives, and leaving only wasteland to be paved over in the sprawl’s never ending expansion. Vipul barely escaped. His vows prevent him from using cyberware, but he has no desire for it anyway. He rarely even uses tools and prefers to use his well honed body in a fight.
I’m going to wait until I start play before I roll up their personality traits. Maze Rats is my go-to for this kind of character development. Other materials with personality generation tables certainly exist, but Maze Rats brings so many options in such a small, simple package.
The City of your cyberpunk game adds as much or more as your characters do. In some ways, your City can actually be your main character, depending on how you play your game. Operators come and go. Sometimes corporations do too. But your City will likely always be there with its own flavor and its own way of grinding people in its gears.
I chose to place my City in South America. The SA Metro first connected the largest cities in Brazil: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Belo Horizonte. After it spread up the coast it began to reach inland seeking out the cities of other countries while devouring the precious resource of the Amazon. Although tendrils stretched out to Asunción, Buenos Aires, La Paz, Lima, and Bogotá; the Amazon and her children resisted. The magic of the ancient rain forest aided in the guerilla tactics of those seeking to resist the corporations and their ravenous expansion. Few expect the natives to succeed in their struggle to live as they choose. However, that doesn’t stop them from devoting their lives to stopping the SA Metro through any means necessary.
So how did we (the players) get here? Cities Without Number has some good advice on creating a city, including a table to generate some problems in it, but most of its focus is on character and district level materials. Generally, we will be following CWN’s guidance on generating the City, but with a few fun bits from other supplements thrown in. I began by rolling on the Location archetypes world truths table in the Game Unfolding Machine V2. After receiving the jungle response, South America seemed like a fresh place to set our cyberpunk adventure. I then rolled a couple of times on the CWN City Problems table a couple of times and used the Sci-Fi Grammar Fuel table for Cyberpunk to add some flavor. My first problem is Inept Rulers. The Grammar Fuel table added that they “befriend symbioses criminally.”
If you’ve never used spark tables before, this may seem a bit strange. If you haven’t encountered them, a spark table consists of columns of words, often actions and subjects, that help to describe something. This can be a scene, what a character is trying to do, a feeling, or whatever else you would like to apply it to. GM emulators like Mythic, GEMulator, and the Game Unfolding Machine will have general spark tables, sometimes referred to as oracles. However, I prefer to use Ken Wickham’s Grammar Fuel series when I can as they have been collected and organized by genre. This means that I have more control over the feel of my story. For instance, I used the Cyberpunk table here, but if I want to give my game a horror feel, then I can pick from one of those sub-genre tables and apply the results.
The City’s Rulers
I’m not planning to roll up everything about the City’s rulers just yet, but I want enough to get an idea of what the City should feel like. Working with the Inept Rulers “befriending symbioses criminally,” I arrive at the conclusion that the rulers make corrupt deals regularly. I would imagine with corporations, gangs, cartels; whatever group will help keep the City somewhat orderly and the rulers rich. Honestly, this probably just tracks with most of human society. I rolled up one more problem from the CWN tables. Tyranny also plagues the SA Metro with the description “implant security powerfully.” While this might mean something like armed city security or even funding for gang thugs and such, my instinct brings something else. I think that the rulers are paranoid and have contracted one of the City’s corporations to implant some sort of security monitoring in people. Maybe they have cameras or audio transmitters implanted when they go in for medical procedures. We can figure that out later. For now, I think we have established that the City threatens all of it citizens with its corruption and that a pall of paranoia hangs over everyone.
The Tomb District
Zooming in, we enter into our starting district. CWN contains a table of district traits followed by descriptions of those traits. I rolled up two and received “Tomb District” and “Gang Warfare.” CWN defines a Tomb District as one in which there was some sort of conflict or catastrophe that killed an enormous amount of people. Corpses litter certain areas and numerous unsavory individuals or groups find use for such an environment. Gang warfare is pretty obvious but makes for an interesting setting. What was the catastrophe? Rolling up a descriptive phrase with Grammar Fuel, I receive “Prey on Rescue Crew slowly.” Sounds to me like we’re not looking at a conflict but rather something biological or chemical. For the Gang Warfare, we get “survive crime revengefully.” That’s not super helpful to me at the moment. We will just hold on to it for later.
Continuing through CWN’s generation process, we arrive at local corporations. Our first, 14 Combine (there’s a name generation table to help inspire), focuses on transport and logistics. Employees hold a cultish outlook but the corporation enjoys a respected reputation. They’re seeking to spread an ideal but lately their execs have been killing one another. Grammar Fuel adds that they seek to “bypass biological drug organically.” This is a lot to interpret and requires some bending to make interesting. It’s always an option to roll more seeking some clarity but that can also muddy the water. Given that 14 Combine focuses on transport and logistics, I think that they are exporters of Amazonian compounds from the rain forest. Various pharmaceuticals and other materials from the unique lifeforms supply this corp with the revenue to pursue it’s obsession. The cult of 14 Combine seeks to bypass the natural aging process through the organic compounds found in the Amazon. They seek immortality. To them, death is a disease to be cured and they believe that the rain forest holds the cure. It’s probably their fault that this is a tomb district.
One more corporation to round out the local fauna, Awora Industries also calls the Tomb District home. They focus on computing while relying on their vast stores of money and influence to brutishly handle problems. Having ties with the local government lends them strength and they are seeking to back a useful terrorist group. Unfortunately for them, they have overextended into new markets. They need to “target detective desperately.” Inspiration flounders on this one for me, at least for anything more interesting than the obvious. I’ll leave it until it comes up, if it ever does.
CWN suggested rolling up a couple of gangs for your starting district, but it also seems like the right way considering that gang warfare was our second district description. Anywhere that there is struggle, people band together for protection or to take advantage of others. While gangs tend to be viewed as problematic in modern society, perhaps we should consider both the circumstances that birth gang society and the possibility that maybe civilization is born from the gang mentality. Regardless, gangs are a cyberpunk trope, especially in struggling areas. They serve as potential dangers, patrons, or targets. Gang factions may not always have as much power and influence as the corporations (really just richer, cleaned up gangs) but they can certainly have an impact on the societal landscape. Here are the two gangs that I rolled up.
The Sand Pack
Named after the cheap euphoric hallucinogen that most of the members use to escape their wretched lives, the Sand Pack focuses on mercenary work. Work that is mostly the kind of dirty disreputable tasks that corps and other gangs alike don’t care to touch. Their style is wretched and all except those at the top of the chaotic hierarchy spend their time poor and starving. Crushed beneath the gritty powder called Sand, this gang has already run through all of the easily accessed valuables in the district and now performs hits, smash and grabs, and kidnappings for whoever will give them a few credits. As a matter of fact, it occurs to me that they likely get most of their money from the 14 Combine by kidnapping people for use in their illicit anti-aging experiments. Grammar Fuel supplied “coerce reproduction of neon robot.” I don’t really know what that means. If and when we encounter them in play, we will expand and perhaps through some generation of actual members find a meaning.
The Shotgun Outfit
Our second gang styles themselves as corpo’s, but always have to fight the stigma of being wannabe’s. Their criminal focus is on fraud although they’ve used their strong gang alliances to try to break into dealing drugs and racketeering. However, they overstepped their bounds and were recently beaten down in a bloody fight with a rival gang alliance. They’ve taken to the Tomb District to hide out and formulate a new strategy. They’re also working to formulate a plan to recover a large shipment of illicit items that was captured during their rout.
Finally, I rolled up a couple people that still live here in the Tomb District. Although the regular citizens have fled or perished in the Tomb District, there are still a few unaffiliated individuals who have found reason to stay there.
Arvi is the type of man you talk to when you want someone hurt but don’t want it to come back to you. This freelancer specializes in violence although he tends to be a bit cowardly on his own. Don’t expect him to be personally getting his hands dirty. His calm demeanor would suggest that he’s always in control, but the rumor around is that there’s a corpo outside the district that’s unhappy with Arvi. Evidently, Arvi and his crew abandoned a shipment of the tools of his trade when they were ambushed by local gangers. Abandoning profits is rarely good for business so Arvi has taken the opportunity to do some dirty work in the Tomb District. He misses his pleasure bars and sometimes sneaks out to get a taste but knows consequences are waiting for him. Grammar Fuel gave us “confess disabled arsenal disruptively.” This tells me Arvi knows of a weapon stash that would change the balance of power, but is waiting for the right opportunity.
Main strength: Violence
Quality: Stays Calm
Problem: Supervisor displeased
Flaw: Prone to fits of cowardice
Desire: Indulge in pleasure
Grammar Fuel: “Confess disabled arsenal disruptively”
A former exec for Awora Industries, Inez left when she had enough of their lying, greed, and bullying. She sees the importance of access to the Net for the few people that are still surviving in the District. Imagining herself as a cyber Robin Hood, Inez has taken her small fortune that she earned at the company and applied it toward stealing their bandwidth. While she would rather convince them to work with her honestly, she drives toward the need to pay some restitution for what she did while working there. That and she has a bit of a compulsion to garner some local fame and adoration. Inez tries really hard to be honest in all of her dealings. That’s probably part of what happened with the company and why she no longer works there.
Main Strength: Money
Quality: Avoids Lying
Problem: Botched last responsibility – somewhat interpreted as having been fired from the job at Awora
Flaw: Reckless desire for fame and glory
Desire: To escape past choices
Grammar Fuel: “Persuade faction to coax revamped computer network”
We’ve created our operators, city, district, local corporations, gangs, and a couple of NPC’s. Kevin Crawford stresses in each of the world building sections of each Without Numbers book to only prep what you need. Unless you’re having fun. Personally, I like to have a broad view of my adventuring environment. From here, I can generate missions, interactions, and events without having to stop and generate a new NPC, corporation, etc. However, you may prefer to generate everything on the fly. You could make your operator, roll up an assignment, and roll up everything else as you get curious or it’s needed. Whatever works best for you and is the most fun.
In the next part of Booting Up Cyberpunk Solo, we will take Ying and Vipul on their first mission in the Tomb District. Cities Without Number has a pretty extensive section on mission creation and use the Mission Tag system like the other games, so we should be able to come up some interesting adventures. If you would like to use anything that has been created or interpreted here, please feel free. If you’re interested in any of the materials that I’m using you can find them in the links below: