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 wait the time before this DLC release, Cyberpunk 2077 fans could do worse than return to the franchise’s RPG roots, and try out tabletop RPG systems like the imaginative shadow run, the Cyberpunk RED games that inspired Cyberpunk 2077or the recently released CY_BORG Role play. The latest of these game systems features low-complexity rules, fever dream artwork, and a setting that embraces the “punk” part of the cyberpunk genre.
The Cyberpunk 2077 video game, set in Night City, a dystopian future metropolis, was based on Cyberpunk tabletop RPGs from R. Talsorian Games, even 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 setting 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 modeled after religious scriptures helps Game Masters determine how close the world is to ending). The player characters 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 make their cyberpunk genre tabletop RPG spin-off solely because of the humorous pun (DARK CASTLE sounds a bit like “Cyborg” and it “hacked” the tabletop roleplaying game to make a roleplaying game with computer hackers). Still, the dark, apocalyptic themes to DARK CASTLE translate very nicely to the crazy dystopian game premise of CY_BORG, gives the tabletop RPG a spiciness and urgency that other cyberpunk RPG systems lack. To paraphrase CY_BORGits own 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.”
If Cyberpunk 2077 has Night City as its signature adventure-friendly location, filled with its own stories, central characters, and competing factions and corporations, then CY_BORG’s own open-world cyberpunk genre map is the polluted, run-down, infected sprawl called Megacity Cy. The CY_BORG rulebook brings this game setting to life with a mix of erratic text and fever dream background art, painting a picture of a metropolis ravaged by unchecked capitalism, pollution and a digital ecosystem out of control. Besides the classic cyberpunk squads 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 space.
CY_BORG’s light rules are available to tabletop RPG newcomers
The biggest barrier to entry for Cyberpunk 2077 fans interested in the cyberpunk genre of tabletop RPGs may well be the rules they need to learn. DnD inspired video game RPGs often automate the process of leveling up a player character. Tabletop RPGs, as communal exercises for 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 such as Shadow runa game system notorious for having a labyrinthine character creation system and several convoluted rules for data hacking and cyberspace navigation.
The great mechanical advantage CY_BORG has over other cyberpunk RPGs is the sheer accessibility of the 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 starting gear, attributes, hit points, flaws, and debts for the various megacorps. Alternatively, they can choose starting character classes with colorful names like Shunned Nanomancer, Burned Hacker, Forsaken Gang-Goon or Discharged Corp Killer. The basic dice mechanic parallels the skill checks DnD – roll a twenty-sided die and try to beat a difficulty between 6 and 18.
The finest performance of CY_BORG may be the rules for computer hacking – specifically how clear and easy to analyze they are compared to some of the computer hacking rules for video games or table games that Shadow run (or the early edition grappling rules DnD). Aspiring hackers in the world of CY_BORG must have a Cyberdeck to hack into cyberspace and gather information. These Cyberdecks (like DnD Wizard spell books) may contain a series of apps that give the hacker specialized abilities such as activating nearby devices, creating false alarms or destructively overloading the parts of nearby cyborgs. Fumble hacker rolls trigger random knockbacks that damage the hacker or their deck.
CY_BORG’s deadly gameplay allows players to play real punks
Like its predecessor dark fantasy RPG DARK CITY, CY_CITY is built from the battered bones of the Old School Revival RPG subgenre, attempting to emulate the gameplay of Basic DnD from the 1970s where danger lurked everywhere in the dungeons, players’ 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 i Cyberpunk 2077, but a little more like the main characters in Cyberpunk: Edgerunners: flawed, messy, riddled with problems, and extremely likely to bite the dust in the game’s final act against the Game Master’s deadly, party-wiping 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 are likely to 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 of the 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 race to the end against their cyberpunk dystopian reality.
More: Cyberpunk Tabletop RPGs to play while Cyberpunk 2077 gets patched
Source: CY_BORG/Kickstarter, Free League Publishing/YouTube