I've owned a copy of the 2nd edition of Cyberpunk (Cyberpunk 2020) for years now but never had the ability or gumption to run a game (same for gurps). Lately though I've been playing and DMing a lot of D&D and I feel that my skills are high enough that I can finally run a CP2020 game. My issue is that the sourcebook itself is clunky in its description of rules and there doesn't seem to be any sort of guide lines for creating fights and challenges that are appropriate for the PCs (mechanically speaking).

I know about LUYPS! (Listen Up, You Primitive Screwheads!) and I've read it, but most of the advice in there seems to be story and tone advice (which I don't need being a huge cyberpunk fan already). I'd appreciate some sensible guidelines for setting up my session plans, to help get this campaign going.


I've run CP2020 many a time (Usually Trauma Team games) The CP2020 book isn't as nicely edited as it could be it's true; then again it's far better than something that WW usually produce!

The system itself is very simple, but what I'd recommend for a new campaign in the system is:

  • As mentioned there is no real balance system for cyberpunk, you play it by ear and by experience of the game; the only real comparison you have is the special ability levels, but gear and circumstances can completely wipe this away. Armour is the major balance factor in combat; metalgear and suchlike will really give whichever side has it a major advantage. Similarly with weapons, assault rifles really skew the balance in whoever has them's favour, but this sort of gear should be heavily restricted, it's paramilitary after all - you shouldn't wander into starbucks with a Ronin Light Assault over your back or the cops are going to be there very quickly!
  • Run a combat first, really, get the players some generic characters as a test run and playout a simple shootout, the combat mechanics flow well when you understand them but they are irksome and it's best to get all that unfamiliarity out of the way immediately so when a real firefight happens in the campaign it will flow nicely rather than stuttering.
  • Balancing fights is principally about numbers, weapons and armour; look at the players armour levels (if any!) and balance what their enemies have against this; if the players are wearing heavy armour jackets and flak pants (which in any police patrolled area is likely to get them stopped!) then firing pistols that do 2d6 damage at them isn't going to do anything!
  • Cyberpunk should not be a fight-based encounter system; fights are very, very dangerous and healing is slow. Players should be thinking how to avoid shooting anything rather than opening up with their Uzi's at every opportunity.
  • For the first games stick to the stock CP2020 book for gear and equipment, there are a large number of suppliments that can really make things annoying or "what does that do" or unbalanced until you understand how your flavour of CP will work.
  • Keep it low-tech and money lite to start off of; there are dozens of things characters can buy at the start that can turn themselves into unstoppable monsters, be careful with this or it'll soon spiral out of control before you understand the system.
  • Keep netrunners as NPCs. No, really, yes it's an integral part of the world but they will slow things down and split the party up; certainly for the first few games until the whole world has settled down and you're finding your GM feet this will save your sanity and stop all the other players getting very bored during netruns.
  • Print yourself out a combat cheatsheet or GM screen, it'll save you looking everything up all the time in the crazy organisation of the Friday night firefight rules section.
  • Finally, combat in CP2020 is very dangerous; without armour players can get blown away by a saturday night special if it hits them in the head, players will need to be smart and use cover (there's a mantra for cyberpunk if I ever heard one) rather than running in all guns blazing.

Finally here are some links for stuff I've found useful for CP:

Mockerys cyberpunk page - first page you should look at
The Chrome page

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The first batch of my players came from a D&D background. They rushed into every combat encounter as if it was some sort of opportunity. All their characters died very quickly the first time. And a few times after that.

A few sessions later, they developed a healthy habit of avoiding combat as much as possible, and preparing for a fight if they can't avoid it. They learned that in the dark future, every kid with a ripper is a threat they would rather avoid than confront. Avoiding and circumventing threats became the new challenge.

In the dark future, every challenge is asymmetric and inappropriate. Do not nerf the opposition. Your players could and should find a way of dealing with it. Hint: It's probably not combat!

Do not "create fights". Create NPCs with goals, motivations and capabilities. See how your players react to your NPCs and react in return. That's the game; a series of reactions.

And let the dice fall where they may. If a stray bullet surgically removes the cerebellum of the rockerboy, so be it. Welcome to Night City.

Once you do that, your players will learn to take the challenges they can possibly handle and avoid the ones they can't. You won't have to worry about "balance" and you all will have more fun with the game.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "Do not "create fights". Create NPCs with goals, motivations and capabilities." Excellent mantra! \$\endgroup\$ – Rob May 9 '18 at 12:19

Cyberpunk as a Gaming Genre is not Cyberpunk as a Literary Genre. The two overlap somewhat, but just as D&D and Sword & Sorcery literature only somewhat overlap, so also CP2020 and the Cyberpunk genre only somewhat overlap.

The tone advice in LUYPS is there to illustrate the differences for fans of the literary genre, as much as or more than being there to educate the new-to-the-genre.

Also note that D&D style Grinding is not normative to the CP2020 game - it's deadly, since damages are usually higher than armor values.

That said, there is no mechanical balance written in.

But since you want a system for balance...

You can obtain four key metrics, tho', from the stats:

  • Average Damage per Hit (details below)
  • Average Worn Armor (AV+BTM)
  • Average Attack base (Ref+Weapon+WpnAcc)
  • Average Defense base (Ref+Dodge)

Assuming even skills, a character hits 45% of the time (defender wins ties - see table for proof, below). Each point of difference in the attacker's favor is a 10% improvement; each in the defender's is a 10% reduction.

Average damage is found easiest by taking the minimum rolled damage (all dice rolled 1), adding the maximum damage (all rolling max) and dividing by two... or just accept that a d6 is average 3.5, and a d10 is 5.5, and total it up.

The damage you do per round is going to average equal to your rate of hits times the average damage minus their AV... with the caveat that the actual average will be higher if the AV exceeds average damage but doesn't exceeed maximum damage, as the formula says "NO!"...

So, find the average damage per hit, and take the percentage of it that would be hits...

Example: Mook M has Ref 5, Weapon Skill 2, dodge skill 2, and a weapon doing 3d6, and 4 AV. PC A has Ref 7, Skill 4 each weapon and athletics, and a weapon doing 3d6 damage, and 8 AV.
A has an 11 total for attacks, vs a 7 defense, and thus has 45+(4x10) percent chance of hit - 85%. He averages 10.5 damage per hit, less the target's AV4, for 6.5 damage per hit, and .85 x 6.5 = 5.525 damage per round. That's gonna hurt under CP2013; under 2020, it adds up pretty quick
The mook, by comparison, hits about 5% of the time, with an average ddamage of 3.5 per hit, for .175 damage per round on average.
Still, said mook is a threat. The PC should be able to handle 3-4 of them no problem... but sooner or later, one will get lucky and put the hurt in.

A final warning about balance

There's this neat thing called Synergy... when two things together perform more than the sum of those two together. Characters in combat tend to be somewhat synergistic, especially if the GM runs NPC's as a cohesive whole and is a creative tactician.

Roll Comparison:

         Attacker Roll
         1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10
D   1    D    A    A    A    A    A    A    A    A    A
e   2    D    D    A    A    A    A    A    A    A    A
f   3    D    D    D    A    A    A    A    A    A    A
e   4    D    D    D    D    A    A    A    A    A    A
n   5    D    D    D    D    D    A    A    A    A    A
d   6    D    D    D    D    D    D    A    A    A    A
e   7    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    A    A    A
r   8    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    A    A
    9    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    A
R  10    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D    D
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Try to have one combat possibility per get together. Where DnD tends to go fight to fight with a little dialog to sell junk, CP2020 tends to be like a half hour TV show serial. In the 1980s, the A-Team tv show had one big combat and the rest of the show built up to it.

When planning a scenario, plan an alternative scenario.

For example, last week, the DM wanted us to join the army to help defeating the nomads. Instead, we decided to join the nomads who valued individual freedom, to defeat the Nazi-like army. We could have gone for guns and money, as expected, but we preferred freedom instead of getting computer chips tracking our every move from then on.

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