What the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG can tell us about Cyberpunk 2077

Everybody in Cyberpunk 2020 starts with an Outfit, a carryall with everything you own in it including an inflatable bed. Its typical PCs are homeless and rootless, drifting from job to job, and most of their possessions are temporary. As it says in all caps, “THE FUTURE IS DISPOSABLE.”

The raw material for CD Projekt’s next video game, Cyberpunk 2077 [official site] – and no, I don’t know its release date either – is a pen-and-paper RPG called Cyberpunk 2020. The game’s moving the timeline forward because reality is catching up and 2020 seems worryingly close. The tabletop RPG has done something similar – its original rules were published in 1988 and set in 2013, the second edition jumped forwards seven years, and there was a third edition set in the 2030s nobody talks about. (Just as long-running TV shows have a season fans disown, RPGs have their verboten edition.)

Cyberpunk 2077 is wisely going back to 2020 for inspiration. The most popular edition, it was detailed in a 250-page rulebook, over 30 supplements, two novels, and a card game. That’s a lot of source material, a solid base for launching wild speculations about the video game from. So let’s do that – while discussing what made Cyberpunk 2020 interesting in the first place.

Here's one of my favourite quotes from the Cyberpunk 2020 rulebook: 'The best cyberpunk games are a combination of doomed romance, fast action, glittering parties, mean streets and quixotic quests to do the right thing against all odds. It's a little like Casablanca with cyberware...'

Its designers, foremost among them Mike Pondsmith, based their game on first-wave cyberpunk, the original 1980s stories by William Gibson and co. That means mirrorshades and leather jackets, but more importantly a cynical view of how we’ll cope with technological advances. Computers get better and our lives get worse, to grossly simplify the themes of an entire genre.

In the Cyberpunk 2020 timeline this technoshock is so extreme it brings on full socio-economic collapse, the future arriving so fast that mass psychosis comes with it. Megacorporations provide a neo-feudal alternative to an incomprehensible social order, but some reject this, embracing their status as disposable chrome outcasts. They look back to the 80s to look forwards, creating a revolutionary movement inspired by cyberpunk fiction.

Sometimes Cyberpunk 2020 predicted the future accurately. For instance: “The phone of the future is mobile and cordless, allowing the cyberpunk on the go to talk from his car, office, or even on the streets.” However, it then explained that those phones would be the size of walkie-talkies. It also suggested that to compete with TV, newspapers would rely on fax, “the letterwriting mode of the future”.

This isn’t like a zombie movie where no one says “zombie”. Its heroes are called cyberpunks, or sometimes Edgerunners, and it’s both cringey and wonderful. I hope CD Projekt keep this – it adds humanising lightness to an otherwise dark setting. Characters are aware they’re in a world resembling genre fiction. They use “Gibson” as slang for someone who predicts the future, and call the man himself “Saint Willie”.

Cyberpunks are defined by Roles. Techies and Medtechies specialise in repair and surgery, while Nomads are vehicle specialists and road warriors. Rockerboys/Rockergirls are guitar-wielding bards who convince their audiences to start riots. Netrunners are hackers, but saddled with such complex rules hardly anybody played them. Solos are cybered-up soldiers and assassins modeled after samurai (much more popular with players). Medias are truth-telling reporters with cameras bolted to their heads. Fixers are streetwise dealmakers with criminal connections. All those Roles suit an anti-authoritarian game about sticking it to the man, but Cop and Corporate were both playable Roles as well.

Though the text encouraged revolution, there was freedom to play other ways. You could be junior executives at Arasaka hiring cyborg ronin to sabotage rivals, or detectives on the mean streets. A Rockerboy, Rockergirl, or Media could turn everyone else into members of their entourage. Lots of players compromised for a middle-ground of amoral mercenary work, but the potential was there.

While Night City is where most of the books took place, there were also supplements detailing the rest of the world, like Rough Guide To The U.K. According to that a state of undeclared war existed between Scotland and England from 2013 to 2018, and Cliff Richard will still be charting in 2020.

An open-world RPG would be perfect for this, with storylines for separate factions, recruitable companions embodying the Roles, and the option to stop freelancing for the local police precinct when you get bored and sign on to join a boostergang instead. In a tabletop RPG freedom makes a lot of work for the poor person running the game. In an open-world video game, it’s expected. There will absolutely be a main questline about taking down a corporation, but we’ll be able to ignore it if we want.

Characters in Cyberpunk 2020 were defined further by Lifepaths, randomised choose-your-own adventures. They gave characters families, rivals, romantic histories, and backstories as convoluted as any BioWare companion. I don’t expect CD Projekt to make a one-to-one adaptation of all the RPG’s rules, but Lifepaths were its defining innovation. Since we’ll be creating our own characters rather than playing someone with history like Geralt, it would help realise them tremendously.

We also know Cyberpunk 2077 will be set in Night City, in the Free State of Northern California. Night City is divided into a Corporate Zone that’s all videoboard skyscrapers, flying cars, and people waving Eurodollars around – the world currency of 2020 – and beyond that Controlled Zones run by crimelords. As a matter of style it’s always dark and raining in Night City, a cute excuse for Cyberpunk 2077 to maybe not bother with a day/night cycle.

Netrunners manipulate the Net with programs that work a lot like spells in a fantasy RPG. Some have hackish names like SeeYa and Jack Attack but then there's Hellbolt, Wizard's Book, Hydra, and Succubus II. As the cyberpunks are aware they're emulating cyberpunk fiction, Netrunners are aware they're emulating video games and D&D and treat data fortresses like dungeons.

A nuke was detonated in the centre of Night City in one of the line’s final supplements, part of an event called the Fourth Corporate War, which gives CD Projekt some leeway in making the map their own. How much rebuilding happens in the 50 years since we’ll have to wait and see, but I expect to see a new Corporate Zone carved out of the city and a radioactive ghetto downtown.

Still, it wouldn’t be Night City without old landmarks like Afterlife, a nightclub built in a mortuary, the Totentanz dancehall with its double-digit nightly death count, or biosculpted posergangs (there’s one where all 400 members resemble JFK) selling designer drugs called Slam and SynthCoke on the streets.

Outside the city there’s a freeway wasteland straight out of Mad Max. Not much cyberpunk fiction deals with the countryside, but Cyberpunk 2020 assumed you’d take the occasional roadtrip. There’s likely to be a slice of the country in Cyberpunk 2077, where road raiders ambush corporate convoys and Nomad families evicted from their farms eke out a living.

The other important location is the Net. I mentioned the Netrunning rules were so complicated that hardly anyone bothered with them but a video game can skip that problem entirely. Complex rules can be handled by the computer, and companion NPCs don’t sit around running out of snacks while our hero hacks into a Dynalar Technologies data fortress. Given how central it is to the genre, it’s a safe bet Netspace will play a part in the video game.

It would be too much to expect all of Night City's gangs to survive to 2077, which is a shame. Among the colourful highlights were the cult of the Inquisitors who believe cyberwear is blasphemy, the chromatic metalheads called Steel Slaughter Slammers, the killer clown Bozos with biosculpted white skin and red noses, and the Julliard, a union of street performers who protect the city's persecuted mimes.

The Net is presented as a blue-white grid with a topography based on connection – places with poor access or corrupted data are mountainous, while good connections make flat plains. Long Distance Links let you jump to far places, otherwise you slog through the Wilderspace between. In Cyberpunk 2077 we might see hacking explore an alternative space with its own geography, rather than abstracted as a minigame.

The other virtual realities in Cyberpunk 2020 are braindances, which are recordings of an individual’s experiences that can be relived by others in the comfort of your squalid dystopian apartment. The emotions recorded are felt as vividly as the physical sensations, meaning that while actors can try to fake it the most effective recordings are real. They’re SQUID discs from Strange Days, basically.

In a game braindances could be much more immersive than audiologs. As Resident Evil 7 had us play through found footage via videotapes, Cyberpunk 2077 could let us step out of the character we’ve created to see things from another perspective – although without the audiolog cliché of dying at the end, since if you die in a braindance you die in real life.

Finally, there’s Cyberpunk 2020’s take on cybernetics: eyes with targeting reticles, brain implants for new skills, skinweave armour, and the whole gamut of artificial limbs and weapons. There’s a cost for this beyond the eurobucks, though: the more metal you integrate the less human you become, measured in a loss of Empathy points. Characters with less Empathy are cold fish, slightly robotic, and find it harder to connect with baseline humans. At zero Empathy you suffer cyberpsychosis, with symptoms from compulsive lying and kleptomania to full-blown rampaging murderousness.

Cyberpunk's third edition had a digital virus crash the Net and a nanotech virus eat all paper printed after about 1980. This loss of records apparently resulted in an uncertain future where nobody was even sure what year it was, which is a hard idea to take seriously. The other thing that was hard to take seriously was the artwork, photos of action figures posing in mirrorshades like Barbie and Ken recreating that famous “R. U. A Cyberpunk?” spread.

Thanks to the CG teaser video released in 2013, which shows the aftermath of a woman’s descent into cyberpsychosis and then recruitment into one of the MAX-TAC “psycho squads” who hunt cyberpyschos, Cyberpunk 2077 is obviously going to deal with this. It isn’t a sensitive take on mental illness, and it’s one I’ve never been super comfortable with. The idea that robotic legs allowing a cripple to walk also reduce their humanity is galling and the portrayal of mentally ill people as kill-frenzied and ranting about “meatsacks” isn’t great either.

Yet its exaggeration makes it impossible to take too seriously, and it does fit with the game’s themes. The theme of our reliance on technology alienating us is obviously a pertinent one. It’s hard not to see the particulars as owing more to a need to limit players who want to abuse the ability to cyber up than to a desire to explore complicated ideas about humanity, but it could happen.

And exaggeration is a hallmark of Cyberpunk 2020. It’s a rock & roll future, even beyond the rockerboys/girls and biosculpted Jim Morrison impersonators. It’s rebellious, juvenile, hedonistic, and dressed ridiculously. There are designated Free Fire Zones downtown, gangs of killer clowns and street performers, and one of the competing private ambulance firms is called REO Meatwagon.

Since the word “cyberpunk” isn’t one you need to pay for to make another game about neon cops and robbers, there’s obviously something about Cyberpunk 2020 specifically CD Projekt want. As much as anything I hope it’s this tone, one that’s all about attitude and style. If Cyberpunk 2077 doesn’t have systems for fashion choices altering how NPCs react to you I’ll eat my video jacket.


  1. Nocifer says:

    Nice summary for the uninitiated (myself included).

    As for the whole juvenile exaggeration thing, I get that it’s a staple in this game’s TT version but I would hope that CDPR tone it down a bit and transform it into a more mature and thus arguably more enjoyable setting, in the same way they toned down some of the more fairytale-y elements of the Witcher universe in their own trilogy, which imho is way more grim (in a good way) and narratively down-to-earth than the books themselves.

    • Landiss says:

      I get your point, but in the books witcher is killed by a peasant with fork, during a massacre of non-humans. What is more grim than that in the games?

      • Zhivko Yakimov says:

        Getting the worst possible ending, maybe? Ciri is lost in the White Frost and Geralt kills the remaining Sister of the Wood in revenge, after which lets himself get surrounded by numerous monsters, having lost the will to live. Some of the endings in the Witcher 3 can be pretty grim and depressive.

        • Landiss says:

          That ending was the best IMHO and it was really in line with the books.

      • Erayos says:

        I found the whole Flotsam chapter in the Witcher 2 to be the most violent depiction of the world’s grimness and probably worse than anything in the books if you put them together.

        SPOILER WARNING for those who didn’t play the game.

        In no order, you have a non-human execution, an anti-human pogrom that happens at some point, an elve abused by the commander of the city bearing his child, the usual brothel with a few elves, an escaped psychiatric patient doing some kind of pagan magic while preparing fisstech (the commander’s mother), and probably her ancient asylum, ruined and filled with tortured ghosts. All in a single chapter, at least the remaining of the game was not as violent.

        • Landiss says:

          Yep, but this is really based on the history of the universe as it was described in the books.

          To be precise – I’m not saying the games aren’t grim. I just don’t really see books to be that much different in this regard. Yes, there are fairy-tales tropes that Sapkowski uses, but the story is not a fairy-tale.

          On the other hand, it is a few years since I read the books the last time (and to be fair, they didn’t strike me to be as good as when I read them the first time, as a teenager).

    • jeremyalexander says:

      I see what you’re saying, but I would disagree. I think the over the top rerto 80’s cyberpunk style would allow it to really stand out and be fun. I think if you tone that stuff down it just becomes generic cyberpunk game number 564. To me, that was the problem with CDPR’s Witcher series. Until 3, none of it really stood out. It just seemed like any other fantasy rpg, only with some mild nudity and a little darker in tone. The Witcher 3 was a good game and was a little better at it, but in the end, barring a few moments, its style was still just fantasy rpg. I’ve been hoping someone would take fantasy rpg’s into wild new territory the way Planescape did back in the day, but aside from the mediocre spiritual follow up to Planescape, we still just get dwarves, elves, mages, dragons, etc. I hope CDPR really runs with the crazy in this game.

  2. thekelvingreen says:

    For anyone wondering why third edition Cyberpunk is so reviled, take a look at that last image, the one of the posed toys. The third edition was full of pictures like that.

    It was a brave artistic move, but made the whole thing look like an episode of Adam & Joe, and that wasn’t quite the tone they were trying for.

    • jeremyalexander says:

      That’s funny, I wondered what that picture was from.

  3. frightlever says:

    That was interesting. I’m well aware of Paranoia and Shadowrun, though I never played them at the time (read some of the Paranoia books though) but must have completely missed Cyberpunk 2020 – seems very Mega City One, to be honest.

    • Artist says:

      Ahh, Paranoia! Good ol’ times.
      It was very smart PR-move of West End Games (the developer) that clones come cheaper in a 6-pack, hehe!

  4. Jody Macgregor says:

    Author here, dropping by to note that I’m partial to alt-text and you should hover over the images for a few snippets of extra info.

    • wombat191 says:

      nice addition.. thank you

    • Manburger says:

      I have made a habit of checking alt-text on RPS, one of the few sites (that I am aware of) that tend to make good use of it (another being Dinosaur Comics).
      I appreciated the extra information you provided there. Also, appreciated this article as a whole, great work!

    • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

      Im sorry if this sounds pedantic, but you really should use the title attribute instead of the alt one for hovertext. The latter is meant to provide descriptions of images for blind people using screenreaders, and many browsers (rightfully!) don’t display it as a tooltip. All of this is made only more confusing by commonly-used name „alt text“, because IE 7 and earlier used the alt attribute when no “title” was available, and people learning HTML by trial and error thought that was the way to do it.

      • baud001 says:

        Well, I checked the HTML code of the page and it’s the alt attribute which is used in the article. So in that context, alt text is exact.

        • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

          I wasn’t correcting peoples language, i was trying to give a tip to the RPS team (see how the comment i was replying to starts with “Author here“). They propably won’t act on it; they always use “alt”-text instead of “title” text and i always have to view the source code to read it.

  5. Premium User Badge

    john_silence says:

    My teen cyberpunk RPGing was all about Shadowrun; I was intrigued by Cyberpunk 2020 but the ship had sailed and my group didn’t look back. It sounded like too serious an alternative for our silly bunch.
    Jody’s detailed feature reminds me how Cyberpunk 2020 was pure Gibson. CDPR’s adaptation seems more appealing than ever. So now I can’t wait and this is years away :(

    • wombat191 says:

      well it was as serious as you wanted to be honest. having played both they were pretty similar in tone.

      shadowrun however was awesome fun.. wendigo’s still creep me the hell out

    • Artist says:

      Our troupe was deep into Fantasy RPG late 80s, so it was easier for us to adapt Shadowrun, with its fantasy elements, than Cyberpunk. Even with all the magic mumbo-jumbo Shadowrun always felt more mature to us. Especially with the refined 2nd- and 3rd edition.

  6. Arglebargle says:

    One of the big assets of the Cyberpunk movement was the great body of really good slang it delivered. Much of it felt very real, far better than the usual game designer pick-a-word. Felt that was an aspect that helped the Witcher game series as well.

    I was friends with Bruce Sterling at the time, and Bruce was really tight with Gibson. During the time of Neuromancer/Schismatrix, they were trading manuscripts and giving each other critiques. One of the odd things was that they were coming up with a number of the same slang terms for things independently.

    • wombat191 says:

      bruce sterling was one of my favourite authors.. an amazing writer

  7. Arglebargle says:

    The whole empathy/cybershock thing always did seem a bit of cybershlock game design. Maybe a case could be made for brain implants having some creepy seepage into consciousness, but the rest of it was far too obviously a technique for a GM to control player min-maxing.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Yeah, look how other games which I believe are roughly from the same period, WHFRP and Call of Cthulu also have similar ‘insanity’ rules.

    • Archonsod says:

      It didn’t prevent mini-maxing (the setting did that). It’s there to cover the rather glaring logic gap in the setting – given cybernetics are a) superior to their organic equivalents and b) immune to inconvenient things like ageing, if there were no drawbacks then anyone who could afford it would be going full cyber. It also happens to gel well with the dystopian theme.

    • Meatpopsicle says:

      There’s also the philosophical idea of body dysmorphia, and possible confliction in the nervous system. Things like phantom limbs and not seeing your cybernetics as part of you. Or constantly needing to upgrade body parts to br better more perfect etc. Those could all lead down dark paths of psychosis.

      Look at what lots if people suffer with just having normal bodies and then exacerbate that by having all this technology available and usable when the manufacturers could care less about how it effects it’s users.

      Sort of the play on plenty of people are already fucked up, now add in thr distopian soup stock and watch the whole world go nuts.

      I guess distopia’s allow you to tackle difficult subjects by taking it to such an extreme that it’s hard to claim that group X is being taken advantage of, exploited etc etc.

    • Zhivko Yakimov says:

      Personally, I like much more the idea of body tolerance of cyber parts, rather than any direct emotional impact. I mean, there could be emotional consequences of having to cope all the time with hardware that your body doesn’t wish to accept, of course. However, putting someone with too much technology as incapable of empathy (or an outright sociopath) makes it a too black-and-white concept.

      I’d rather see the possibilities of transhumanism explored as another path for human evolution. Think Ghost in the Shell (the anime, not the feature film) or Deus Ex, for instance. I am aware that this repeats the theme in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, but I have the feeling CD Projekt can do a better job out of it.

    • dashausdiefrau says:

      I saw too many young people being wasted on World Of Warcraft and on Travian to understand the effect of software addiction on people. I am pretty sure internal hardware upgrades would have the same brutal effect.

  8. tigerfort says:

    Just as long-running TV shows have a season fans disown, RPGs have their verboten edition.

    The classic example of this, of course, is Paranoia, where both the 3rd and 4th editions (and of course the disasterous sub-edition 3.11, “Paranoia for Playgroups”) have been enthusiastically scrubbed from reality. I would like to assert that I know anything about either of these, and also to categorically deny all rumours of my involvement in the Gehenna Incident, which in any case did not happen.

    • wombat191 says:

      ah i miss paranoia.. just as fun for the GM as for the players and with a good group, the best game for encouraging backstabbing and total party destruction..

      paranoia.. if you havent had at least one nuclear detonation a game, you arent doing it right

      • tigerfort says:

        I backed the new edition on Kickstarter; haven’t had a chance to play it yet (and probably won’t for at least another year), but the rulebooks are pure joy.

  9. FunkyBadgerReturns says:

    Loved Cyberpunk, and love any article that does it justice – like this one.

    There were some really good sourcebooks as well – Rough Guide to the U.K., the first two Corporate War supplements, Pacific Rim (if you got a copy that didn’t fall apart), Neo-Tribes etc.

    Cybergen was pretty neat as well, if you could avoid turning it into a superhero game.

    • wombat191 says:

      dear god i hated cybergeneration.. one thing i did laugh was the comment about the old edge runners coming out of retirement, digging up the cache of burred weapons they had and teaching these kids how to properly rebel !

    • apa says:

      1) Style over substance
      2) Attitude is everything
      3) Always take it to the edge
      4) Break the rules

    • Vulpis says:

      I’d hope to see stuff from the Chromebooks show up myself, particularly the biomods.

      Recently CDPR had a problem with someone trying to ransom a ‘dev document’ to them. My immediate reaction was ‘Yeah, I could get a copy of 2020 too, bubba…’ :-)

  10. Chillicothe says:

    I’m glad cyberpunk is coming back slowly before it comes for real.

    • wombat191 says:

      well we dont have cyberware to the extent of the literature but we are living in a cyberpunk dystopia already

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        As the saying goes, if you’re under the age of 40, you weren’t promised flying cars and food pills, you were promised cyberpunk dystopia and that’s what we got.

    • Vulpis says:

      Enh..the older cyberpunk authors have already admitted to not quite getting it right, especially where the Net is concerned.

      • April March says:

        It’s hard to get technology right (who would’ve imagined smartphones even 20 years ago?) but it’s even harder to get societal change right, and I’d argue that cyberpunk hit that pretty close to the mark.

  11. icarussc says:

    No mention of it, so maybe it’s not a popular opinion, but frankly, I prefer Shadowrun’s obvious goofiness to Cyberpunk because it just admits, on the face of it, that what is happening is fundamentally unserious. I like that kind of honesty, and I find that it enables some more fun role-playing. Plus, the utter cannibalization of the Cyberpunk setting means that you don’t lose any of the good bits.

    I loved HBS’s Shadowrun games (Hong Kong was phenomenal), but seeing CDPR take on a project like that would be amazing.

    Love the alt-text, by the way!

    • Jody Macgregor says:

      Thanks! I like Shadowrun too — Dragonfall is my favourite of the HBS games.

    • SaunteringLion says:

      Dragonfall and Hong Kong were criminally underrated. I’ve dabbled with, and liked to varying degrees, Divinity: Original Sin, Torment: Tides of Numenara, Pillars of Eternity, and Tyranny.

      Shadowrun was by far the best of them, the one that stayed with me. A dream sequel would be a single core game with the scope of Returns/Dragonfall/Hong Kong combined, a Baldur’s Gate II set in Seattle or wherever.

      But CD Projekt Red just might have something superior cooked up.

    • This banana says:

      Well, people have different opinions I guess…

      I for one always hated the Shadowrun setting. I just didn’t want any of them fantasy Orcs’n’Elves in my dystopian cyber-future, and it just rubbed me the wrong way. Never been a huge fan of Warhammer anyway…

      But this article got all my sensors lit up like a Christmas tree, because I’ve swallowed the Neuromancer Trilogy like nothing else back in the days, and now I’m REALLY looking forward to this game. It’s just my jam right away, with all its cyber-deck, neon-pink, mind-jack and space-dub gloriousness! I hope they also put a little bit of the Wintermute philosophical complex into it. That would be amazing!

      Anyway, yay Cyberpunk!

    • Zhivko Yakimov says:

      Yes, the fantasy elements of Shadowrun do seem to drive away cyberpunk purists. It doesn’t mean that the cyberpunk parts of the game are bad, though. I have seen William Gibson himself say that Shadowrun (the tabletop game) reflected perfectly his ideas of a dystopian future, were it not for all the elves, dwarves and orcs.

      I personally find it a lot of fun, especially the age-long conspiracies – it creates a whole other element of mystery and opportunity. Besides, Shadowrun treats magic in a very mundane manner most of the time, which I find refreshing – just another set of uncommon skills. There are of course powers beyond comprehension, but they usually don’t play a part in everyday life, and they are not that much different from AIs, for instance.

  12. milligna says:

    Everything sounds great. Except “Saint Willie.” There’s no way of making that sound reasonable.

    • Artist says:

      You have so spell it in an sarcastic way – that works. Suits the spoilt brat who never gots over the fact that he wasnt declared demi-god of literature because he wrote on decent novel centuries ago, he!

  13. wombat191 says:

    ive been waiting since 1990 for cyberpunk 2077 and im really hyped for it, the trailer showed they get the source material and more than that the feel for cyberpunk.

    one thing about the tabletop game was how brutal the combat system was, and this was in a world where MAX-TAC would deploy 20mm sniper rifles to take down cyberpsycho’s

    one thing to remember about about cyberpunk is the cynical optimism of the game, yeah the world was shit but you werent going to sit around being a corp wage slave you were going to change the world, thats the fundamental core of the genre embracing the rebellious punk side with its noir aesthetics.

    so choomba’s are you and your edgerunners ready to change the world while also raising todays body lotto score? :D

    • Aetylus says:

      Aye, that teaser trailer combined with fact that the bloke who penned the Bloody Baron’s Family Matters quest chain may well be working on the game bodes very well.

  14. ohminus says:

    “The idea that robotic legs allowing a cripple to walk also reduce their humanity is galling and the portrayal of mentally ill people as kill-frenzied and ranting about “meatsacks” isn’t great either.”

    But that’s not the idea at all. A simple set of legs will not usually strip someone of their humanity, all the more when it really just lets you walk, but deliberately replacing larger parts of your body and with parts that have abilities far beyond the normal is supposed to carry the risk of not being able to empathize with normal people anymore.

    And the issue is not with “mentally ill people” either but with those suffering from a very specific psychosis.

    • Raoul Duke says:


      Those comments in an otherwise great article sound like someone looking for reasons to be offended. I mean, it’s a fundamentally fantastic fictional setting about massive body and mind modifications where a theme is that doing too much of these things can send you nuts and/or rob you of your humanity in an already chaotic and violent world. Not a story about how a crippled orphan learned to walk again and then suffered nasty discrimination.

      I for one hope that they don’t go down the (recent) Deus Ex path of taking all of this Very Very Seriously and as a result coming off like a bad undergraduate think piece about the philosophical implications of body modification blah blah blah. Gimme some psycho razor girls and other over the top characters with silly haircuts please!

    • Vulpis says:

      Yeah…there’s a difference between someone replacing a limb lost in some fashion (though that does have some trauma associated with it) with a ‘normal’ prosthetic…and someone voluntarily getting their healthy limbs lopped off in order to get ‘superhuman’ cyber substitutes.

    • AyeBraine says:

      I would add that body modification addiction and surgery addiction are both absolutely a thing. Body image and identity disorders are, too.

      I’d be surprised if a developer like CD Projekt wouldn’t write around this issue proficiently, extrapolating into the future where transhumanists are no longer harmless university professors with a strange hobby.

  15. Fnord73 says:

    I hope its a game to listen to Wiseblood to. Or old Foetus.

    One of the few tabletops I played alone being both GM and 2 characters when I was 16.

  16. SaunteringLion says:

    “The idea that robotic legs allowing a cripple to walk also reduce their humanity is galling and the portrayal of mentally ill people as kill-frenzied and ranting about “meatsacks” isn’t great either.”

    What makes it so peculiar is what sort of underlying ethos is used for this mechanic to actually make sense? Obviously it can’t account for any religious worldview with souls, because then empathy would be tied to that.

    Alright, fair enough, we’re in an ostensibly hard-and-fast materialist world. So why, at all, would replacing body parts trigger a psychotic break? Is your cingulate cortex deteriorated? The amygdala or insula? A oxytocin deficiency?

    Like if they worked that into it, somehow, maybe. But no, somehow it’s just an ill-founded sociological theory. Dude down the street with prosthetic legs, glasses and the ventricle assist device doesn’t spontaneously feel less human.

    At least in Shadowrun, there’s magic coded into the world and your essence diminishes the more cybernetics you acquire.

    • wombat191 says:

      they never directly explain it, and its never said people get a few pieces and snap. its always described as being slow and insidious, with people becoming more and more detached from people around them, where it becomes an addiction to get more cyberware, before eventually loosing touch with reality and people around them, by the time people get to that point they have EXTENSIVE modifications.

      cyberpsychosis needing max tac to turn up and put them down is common but its not the only result but its the most public.

      is it realistic? probably not, but comes back to the theme of trying to hold onto your humanity in a world where its not valued anymore

    • stiffkittin says:

      The point wasn’t to give a credible scientific explanation for an imaginary phenomena though. It was a thematic and narrative element meant to highlight the body horror and otherness in the act of voluntarily replacing ‘natural’ body parts with ‘better’ artificial ones. It was as much about the psychology of the willingness to go through that door as the physical side-effects.

      The implementation was absolutely gamey and abstract sure, it had a necessary mechanical purpose after all. However the fundamental idea wasn’t intended as a 1-to-1 scenario where everyone in the world who gets a glowy tattoo or designer iris’ loses some tangible amount of empathy for their fellow humans. It was about the narrative of your characters – the bleeding edge – in this particular setting, and their inevitable decline as they sacrifice their bodies & identity for the sake of fashion/violence/ideology/profit.

      • Mungrul says:

        I enjoyed the silly fantasy of the humanity concept, and the necessity of it as a game mechanic in order to limit player character power levels. I played a heavily-modified psycho clown who ended up taking over the Bozos in our campaign. He even had a red nose that was a detachable grenade.

        But morally, I knew the whole idea was flawed.

        My Dad’s an amputee, having lost a leg in a motorcycle accident at a young age and before I was born, but his artificial leg doesn’t make him any less human. Hell, if anything, it made him more compassionate. He’s a retired social worker.

        I think there’s interesting philosophical discussions to be had when it comes to cybernetic parts replacing parts of the nervous system and brain, but these are still in the realm of pure conjecture.

        But artificial limbs we have extensive knowledge of, and the better they get at replicating the limb they’re replacing, the more they help people re-integrate with society.

        Personally, I think high-tech limbs with power requirements aren’t quite there yet, and aren’t practical enough for every-day use; what use is a leg if it stops working when the battery runs out of power?

        But at least in the case of non-powered artificial legs, the tech is very mature and practical (at least in the UK).

        My Dad’s current leg has a vacuum suction cup to hold it on to his stump, and a highly engineered and durable knee joint that has been tailored to his stride by his limb-fitter (yes, this is actually what they’re called, and they’re all pretty cool people, having to come up with practical engineering solutions on a client-by-client basis).

        It needs no power, and is easily maintained by Dad, and even allows him to sit cross-legged thanks to (relatively) recent advances in the use of lockable universal joints for the knee.

        It even has one unnerving feature that normal legs just can’t reproduce: that same knee joint allows Dad to twist his leg so his foot’s level with his face when he’s sat down, which makes it incredibly easy for him to put his shoe on!

        • Mr.K says:

          I think the idea was great. Now, admittedly I don’t remember how exactly the psychosis was implemented in practice, because we always had sort of a customized twist in our games, but I always thought the psychosis was more something like an extreme existential crisis than mental illness.

          When you replace a limb with “a better one” you’re not usually really effected by that. When you replace most of your body with cyberware it might be a different thing. The question – at least in my mind – always was whether you feel like a human when you’re largely not a human. If you replace everything with cyberware, you’re a machine aren’t you? How about if you replace 80% of yourself? 60%? Where do you draw the line and how do you feel about yourself in those situations. This is emphasized further by the fact that the cyberware does essentially give you “superpowers”. When you’re half-machine and you can – and have been able to for a long time – easily kill someone with one arm do you feel as humane as you did when you were 100% natural? I’m guessing not.

          I do think the execution of all this was, understandably, quite gamey but I think the idea itself was great.

  17. ArbiterLibera says:

    You have to keep in mind Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be based on precisely that – Cyberpunk 2077 aka new edition of the game we have yet to hear anything about. Building up expectations at this point is just setting yourself up for a disappointment.

    • wombat191 says:

      there is nothing wrong with expecting it to be the very first perfect game in the history of all video games.. nothing i tell you

    • Zhivko Yakimov says:

      The only thing is that Cyberpunk seems to be using the same approach as Shadowrun – new editions take place in a more distant future. On one hand, this provides continuity, but on the other, later editions still need to incorporate decisions from earlier editions that do not work well anymore, instead of starting fresh.

      A good example is wireless internet, which was invented a little bit out of nothing in Shadowrun, even though it would make more sense to be there from the very beginning.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I really wish they’d gotten their balls all the way out and gone with the first edition setting – the grimdark, neon-spattered dystopian techno future of the year 2013.

  18. Harlander says:

    As well as the various editions, there was also a sequel: CyberGeneration, where a nanotech plague kills millions of people but leaves people under 20 with superpowers. And attitude.

    • wombat191 says:

      doesnt take a plague to give people under 20 an attitude :P

  19. Shotgunpunk says:

    This game is going to be balls to the wall slamming fun. I just know CD project red are going to give this a dose of their awesomeness. Itl have so much personality and vibrance….cant bloody wait.

  20. ffordesoon says:

    I think the Empathy mechanic could work without being offensive if they reframed it to refer specifically to those implants which make the PC “better” than normal humans. That’s the point of the mechanic, right? You lose Empathy for normal humans when you have shiny chrome proof you are no longer constrained by their limitations. An amputee with a normal prosthetic arm or leg isn’t going to lose Empathy, but someone who buys legs which grant them superhuman speed may indeed begin to feel they’re above everyone else.

  21. Eightball says:

    >the future arriving so fast that mass psychosis comes with it.

    And in the game!

  22. sapien82 says:

    That would be really frightening

    I always enjoyed the pseudo science diseases that were hinted at in cyberpunk , and other sci fi , like the brain diseases from body aug’s etc and brain implants from rejection and neuro degenerative diseases like in the ghost in the shell manga. I remember playing cyberpunk 2020 rpg with my friends when I was 10 at a games club , we;d play 40K then play some pen n paper. Great stuff

  23. Sithinious says:

    Wow, reading this really took me back. Not just to Cyberpunk 2020, but to all of the pen & paper RPG’s of yesteryear. Sometimes reading the rulebooks was as fun as playing the games.

    I hope this game is fun and maybe just a wee bit nostalgic.

  24. Gordon Shock says:

    One of the finest article in recent weeks, thanks Jody!

    These days I am playing Mankind Divided so this article is perfectly timed. As much as I love the Witcher series I will always choose Sci-fi over fantasy and so the prospect of CD Red working on this is wildly exciting. Hopefully they will divulge new details about the game during this year’s E3.

  25. Asurmen says:

    I want to know whether we’ll finally find out what the Mr.Studd Sexual Implant does, other than something all night every night that she’ll never know about?

  26. zipdrive says:

    I just wanted to make a note that, unlike the article claims, the lifepath mechanic was not an innovation by Cyberpunk2020, but originates from Traveller SF RPG which was published over a decade earlier.

  27. Atrak says:

    I still have my original Cyberpunk 2020 Book. One of my all time favorite RPG’s. The ‘Friday Night Firefight’ section has some very detailed combat mechanics regarding gunfighting that apparently they did a lot of research to come up with.

    I actually though that the the empathy loss aspect of cyberwear was handled rather well.
    When you start slapping on cyberwear willy nilly Your not just getting a replacement limb etc, your getting something that can do things that the human body can’t. The more you do this, the further from human you become until your punching through steel doors and seeing into spectrums of light that the human eye can’t.

    At this point it’s not strange to think that the now changed person would have trouble identifying with humanity and lose something.
    Of course if everyone is doing it then ‘humanity’ is a bit of a loose term, but I liked the idea of the system in theory.

  28. AyeBraine says:

    I so loathe the “traditional” cyberpunk illustration style that most of the cyberpunk fans seem to embrace wholeheartedly, up to this day. It’s as garish, unconvincing and contrived as a Vallejo painting (which they absolutely are in terms of artistic style, and quality).

    The funny thing is, both original Gibson’s trilogies were a welcome contrast to this. Yes, there were artificially muscled-up people, people sculpted to look like movie stars, and cybernetic mercenaries. But the main draw for me was that they were all so grounded. They were plain, sweaty and unkempt like modern day drug dealers, or prim, toned and understated like Silicon Valley billionaires. The deadliest assassin in Neuromancer looked like a middle-aged Japanese tourist in Hawaiian shirt. The genius hacker was a hollow-cheeked junkie in a plain T-shirt and jeans. The “tech wizard” was a puffy country boy in a stinky biker jacket. The hired killer was a nondescript guy without a single chromed limb or a single flowing trench coat in his wardrobe. The poster girl for a cyber-mercenary, Molly Millions, would look like a fashion buyer today. It was a world of convenience stores, 4-star hotels, shopping malls, dusty waiting rooms smelling like ginger, and badly designed nightclubs; a world of cheap plastic furniture and leaky aluminum profile window frames. The height of indulgence was minimalism, baseline-human appearance, oak paneling and tasteful antiques — not chromed limbs or hoses sticking out of your ass. Weapons weren’t fetishized, were mundane and utilitarian, and had provenance like in real world – bought from police surplus on the side, cheap old junk, or standard-issued (and sometimes bespoke — and hence rarely flashed).

    And yes, “punks” with silly hairstyles and edgy clothing were absolutely the same as in our world — loitering young posers trying to impress passers-by.

    (By the way, here is how a certain real-world top security flaws specialist (read hacker) looks – that’s cyberpunk I could stand behind)

  29. Matchstick says:

    Probably a bit late to post this if anyone is going to read it but there is a BIG bundle of Cyberpunk 2020 RPG PDFs in the latest Bundle of Holding offer
    link to bundleofholding.com

    (Been hoping BoH would get around to doing a Cyberpunk bundle for years)