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I play as part of a small group of players still in full-time education (16-18), although there is one player who is 12. We play AD&D 2e regularly, and I am usually the DM, although one or two others have run sessions occasionally.

I would like to try a Cyberpunk or Futuristic game setting/system (not a modern setting/system). Which one would you recommend for me to look at or try, based on rules similarities? I am looking for something as mechanically similar as possible (THAC0, non-weapon proficiencies, etc.) although if this is not mechanically feasible I would be happy with a different method. I would also like the system to have a similar 'feel' if possible - not too abstracted compared with AD&D 2e, and preferably without feats.

Basically, I am looking for a mainstream futuristic/cyberpunk setting which is relatively easy to learn and DM coming from AD&D 2e.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

As this is a system-recommendation question, please adhere to both the FAQ and the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. In particular, all responses should be based on actual experience and contain references and examples whenever possible. – mxyzplk Nov 6 '12 at 21:54

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

AD&D/d20 based systems

If you want a D&D variant without feats then, as previously mentioned, you're going to be pretty much limited to Gamma World or house ruling your existing system as far as I know.

The only other way to retain the AD&D style mechanics (levelling and extra hit points) would be to move to AD&D3.5 and use something like d20 Future but this will involve feats which you're trying to avoid. However, I've played d20 modern style before and found the classes a bit bland and flavourless to be honest so I can't say I recommend this.

Outside AD&D

Moving away from the d20 style systems to cover your requirement "relatively easy to learn and DM" I would personally recommend Cyberpunk 2020 which I have played and GM'd many times both as campaigns and one-shots. The system is fast and simple and very easy to pick up.

Other features that fit what you want in it:

  • Classes, like AD&D it has class based characters. Each character has one special skill that compliments what they're meant to be good at. Each class has concepts that clearly mark out what each character's role is expected to be but the system means any character can try to do anything.
  • Non-weapon proficiencies Cyberpunk is a skill based system, there's plenty of scope for players to specialise in anything from Gunsmithing to Zoology. ("What sort of animal is that?" BANG "A dead one")
  • Simple A nice simple combat/skill system: Stat + Skill + Mods vs. Target number.
  • Not too much to learn; a GM can easily run Cyberpunk with only the core 2020 book, there's plenty in there to get you going and keep the players busy with many adventures for ages to come.
  • No feats There are no special abilities to worry about or look up beyond the single special skill each character class gets.

What it doesn't do that you'll have to relearn/change thinking on.

  • Armour absorbs damage rather than making you harder to hit. If a character takes 15 damage and has 10 points of armour they'll take 5 damage. Players can make themselves harder to hit by using stuff like cover and running.
  • Hit points. Health is very low compared to AD&D, your players won't be able to stand repeatedly taking damage. This is an important concept change for most Cyberpunk systems as it encourages players to think around problems rather than shoot them.
  • Levels Cyberpunk doesn't use levels, instead the players skills are improved with XP as they use them and from GM rewards. Cash and reputation are the other big motivators.

Despite these differences I'd highly recommend trying Cyberpunk as the system is very easy to pick up (I've never had any trouble explaining it to new players) and has an excellent "feel" for the genre. There's also lots of available materials much of which is now consolidated into cheap multibook packs.

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+1 for "What sort of animal is that?" BANG "A dead one". I think I'll try this system then :) Thanks for the clear and precise answer – Dakeyras Nov 7 '12 at 17:27
I have one more minor point: Which edition would you recommend? (If this is on topic) – Dakeyras Nov 7 '12 at 17:37
I'd definately go with the 2nd Edition; Cyberpunk 2020; which you can find on and suchlike places secondhand for around $10 or so as a first hit. – Rob Nov 8 '12 at 9:38
I second the 2020 recommendation. The handbook has flavor/fluff/style oozing out of it to help you get the setting right. I would also recommend the Night City guide for CP2020 as it gives you a solid world setting (much more in the normal handbook) and lots of DM advice/mechanics. Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads! supposedly does the same, but is mostly essays on why you should waste your PCs if they powergame too much. – Joshua Aslan Smith Nov 9 '12 at 14:43

Contrary to popular belief, original Gamma World and d20 Future aren't the only ways to do science fiction with a D&D-like system. While those have been out of print for years, a small independent publisher has been quietly and steadily producing Stars Without Number and a stream of supplements in print and PDF. It recently won a design award, the judges of which should make an AD&D 2e player sit up and take notice: David 'Zeb' Cook, Robert Kuntz, Steve Marsh, Sandy Petersen, and Dr. Dennis Sustare.

SWN is a game loosely set in a Traveller-inspired universe, using AD&D-era mechanics that will feel familiar to a group that's coming from AD&D 2e. It's actually based more directly on Red Box D&D so you won't find "THAC0" mentioned by name, but the math underlying the system is identical and all your mental habits from AD&D will translate just fine to SWN.

The setting is loose, and is more a collection of genre tropes that you as GM can slot together. It starts with the usual pile of random-or-pick tables for tech level, population, type, biosphere, etc. to get a new planet's state of affairs off the ground, but continues with a "tagging" concept that gives you an additional layer of story hooks and interactions with other setting details just by adding a few evocative words from an extensive set of lists:

The final step in world creation, and perhaps the most important, lies in assigning “tags” to the world. Tags are brief conceptual tropes that set the world off from planets of otherwise similar population and characteristics. You can either pick from the tag table to select qualities that sound interesting for a world, or else roll 1d6 and 1d10 to select them randomly. (SWN, p. 95)

If you roll up two worlds both with airless atmosphere, burning temperature, microbial life, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, 20th C tech, they suddenly become very different when you add the tags Tomb World & Trade Hub to one and Unbraked AI & Quarantined World to the other. Tags are also associated with other lists in the book that you can use to quickly build out the actors and forces on a world:

Each tag includes associated entries for Enemies, Friends, Complications, Things, and Places that fit with that tag. […] For example, two random tags for a world might be “Regional Hegemon” and “Psionics Fear”. Combining the “Colonial Official” and “Mental Purity Investigator” entries from the enemies lists of those tags, we come up with Heinrich Stalt, Imperial Mind Proctor, a grim inquisitor dispatched to the worlds under Imperial “protection” to purge them of the awful curse of psionically-active monsters. (p. 95)

Then when you start considering that those two worlds are connected by spacelanes to each other and other worlds and by the interests of vying interplanetary factions, all with their own set of tags (also all randomly-generated or hand-picked), then you start getting a feeling for how rich the setting of SWN becomes very quickly during the world-building process.

On top of the extensive world-building tools SWN gives the GM, it's also designed with different campaign scales in mind, so it works equally well for a group who wants to star-hop and see the universe as it does for a group that intends to play out the entire campaign on a single world. Playing on a single world allows you as GM to design a campaign around the tech level and societal forces that interest you: if cyberpunk is specifically appealing, SWN's rules already support that genre – you just have to pull together the already-provided puzzle pieces to make a planet ruled by corporations, criminal syndicates, and tech-savvy hackers. The espionage supplement Darkness Visible expands the GM toolbox for creating interstellar/planetary underground factions and secret agencies that would complement a cyberpunk campaign.

Best of all, core Stars Without Number is available in a no-art free edition in PDF, so there's no risk in taking a look.

Though there are plenty of reasons to look at other systems, I think that being in-print, easily available, and built specifically on the philosophy that D&D mechanics are best for a new genre because they're so familiar and time-tested, is a combination from the field of available RPGs that is uniquely suited to your needs. Take a minute to check out the free PDF and see if you agree.

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I hate that your SWN answer is so much better than mine that I had to +1 it! Nice job, SSD. – gomad Nov 7 '12 at 19:05
@gomad We cross-posted! Don't overlook that your answer has the virtue of not being a wall of text—have a +1. (I waited a day to see if anyone would recommend SWN so I could avoid taking time away from Skyrim to write one, and then we go and do it simultaneously!) – SevenSidedDie Nov 7 '12 at 19:26
Thanks very much for your comprehensive answer, I have now downloaded the SWN core pdf. It's very interesting, and I hope to play a game with it within the week :-) – Dakeyras Nov 7 '12 at 22:41
Stars Without Number was discussed on a recent Jennisodes podcast: – Simon Withers Nov 8 '12 at 3:16
@Rob Yep, a few new skill points each level, page 65. Character advancement is in the "Systems" chapter—not where I first looked for it either, but sensible enough in hindsight. – SevenSidedDie Nov 8 '12 at 17:38

For an AD&D-related system in a futuristic (not Cyberpunk, not modern) setting, I cannot recommend Stars Without Number enough.

Here are some reasons:

  • It's free
  • It's based on old-school D&D (can't remember if it's THAC0 or not right now)
  • It provides an incredible toolset for sandbox-style gaming in space including:
    • world creation
    • system creation
    • aliens (including PC aliens)
    • adventure generation

I seem to recall that some of the supplements are free as well. In any case, you since it's free, you simply can't lose by downloading it and checking it out.

NB: I have not played Stars Without Number, but I have used it's system, world, and adventure generation tools for other games.

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There are so many but focusing on what uses a system like ADnD 2nd ed will help narrow that search.

The closest you will find to ADnD 2nd ed is an older edition of Gamma World (like 2nd ed). And in truth that is more like old school DnD (a pre ADnD 1st ed game).

If you move up to 3.5 rules then it opens a bunch of possibilities for the D20 systems (Future D20, Apocalypse D20 and Gamma World D20). The differences between ADnD 2nd ed and 3.5 are many but it is still similar enough for most folks.

If you want to branch out more, Shadowrun 2nd ed was fun and not too hard. It is a combination of cyberpunk and magic. I can't speak for editions beyond the 2nd.

That's just a few of the top of my head.

EDIT: Ok, now I'm sold on trying Stars Without Number :)

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The problem of scifi rpgs can we synthezised in: great settings, poor systems. Cyberpunk, Traveller, Alternity (to which belong the Gamma World settings among others) are devastated by really outdated systems from the 90s, full of rules and tables, never updated. The new wave in RPGs design, a phenomenon that changed deeply the way of intend role-playing in other genres like horror and fantasy (just to cite the most traditional areas of RPGs) unfortunately didn't touch the mainstream scifi.

That's why I'd like to suggest you to try a new wave product, instead: Eclipse Phase, a futuristic setting focused on treanshumanism and conspiracy theories in a deep future.

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I'm curious as to how Eclipse Phase compares to AD&D 2e. Are there concepts or mechanics that a DM and players will find familiar? – Simon Withers Nov 8 '12 at 3:10
As far as I know, Eclipse Phase is a very traditional design. – SevenSidedDie Nov 8 '12 at 3:49
It's d100 vs. d20, so there's some significant differences, namely the fact that dodging is active, but EP's system is so simple it's really easy to learn. Also, EP can be altered for non-horror/transhuman settings really easily. – Kyle Willey Nov 8 '12 at 5:54
+1 Thanks :) I'll have a look at that if the SWN system doesn't catch my fancy – Dakeyras Nov 8 '12 at 8:57
@SevenSidedDie, traditional but modern. It's not outdated like - let's say - BASIC and it's not "extreme" lile Dogs in the Vineyard, but it's "modern" like we would say of Trails of Chthulu. – Gabriele B Nov 8 '12 at 10:39

This game is a good D20 modern adaptation to the cyberpunk setting, is closer to Cyberpunk 2020 feeling and have very good ideas on combat, implants and net resolution, the cover and interior art makes you quickly engaged, and is overall nicely done.

If you are familiar with D&D and 3.5 ruleset its easy to get to it, but since you come from AD&D maybe you need to get with some new stuff like feats and talent trees, but I think they are good and nice additions to get in the feeling of the characters.

As someone said before, Cyberpunk 2020 classless system and simple mechanics makes it a good option, but some people gets in his character better having a guide like the one the "class" features gives you, it's very easy to see where your character have the upperhand.

Regarding combat it has one of the D20 alternative rules I like, the armor doesnt gives you AC, that goes up with level, instead it gives you DR points, so it lowers the amount of damage, doesn make you harder to hit.

One of the most innovative and great rules of this game and D20 Modern in general is the money less system, so you don't have to keep record of every single dollar a character or a group of character have, instead there is a "Wealth" value that is used to check when you try to buy new gear. Personally it abstracts to a good degree all the financial stuff that could be very hard to track properly, and it merges on a good way the roll to acquire stuff randomizing the impact on your economy, also some of the characters skills like the Connector or Corporate class, have skills that reflect very well on this system how they got the contacts and resources to get the proper gear faster, cheaper or both.


As final note there is some .pdf errata about some rules that is nice to get.

For an extensive game review I found this review that would help you

RPG Net about OGL Cybernet

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I dont mind the downvote if there is some explanation added. – Corven Dallas Jan 8 at 6:50
I'd guess it's because of the lack of explanation - you haven't said why it's good, what (if any) experiences you had with it, etc. People tend to downvote posts that seem 'minimum effort' to them, especially on game-rec questions because otherwise it turns into a 'what's everyone's favourite system?' type question. – Dakeyras Jan 27 at 22:19
OK, My fault then. – Corven Dallas Jan 29 at 6:25
+1 Good explanation - I might check this out sometime soon. – Dakeyras Mar 8 at 5:26

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