C2020 Redux: Core Mechanics Pt. II

C2020 Redux is a speculative revision of Cyberpunk 2020 for modern (read: my) tastes. Here’s the story so far:

Project Overview
Task Resolution and Skill Training

Here I’ll continue with some further remarks on the core character development and resolution mechanics. This continues directly from the last post, so I’ll be assuming that we’re already familiar with what Skills are and how tasks are resolved and so on.

An outline on Stats

As I discussed earlier, I’m making a major change to how C2020 handles Stats. Stats, or as they’re more commonly known, Abilities, are a constant feature in trad game design, particularly as a contrast to Skills. Generally — and C2020 is nothing if not general — Stats are unchanging while Skills develop; Stats depict a character’s natural talent while Skills depict learned, well, skills; Stats are few while the Skill list may span the heavens; all characters have all the Stats, while there are often Skills that a character does not possess. The idea of distinguishing between Stats and Skills is such a basic one that it’s easy to become blind to it altogether.

Anyway, C2020 classic treats Stats as a sort of baseline competence for characters in task resolution, adding the Stat value to every Skill check. As the numbers in Skills and Stats are ostensibly equivalent (both in the 1‒10 range), this means that Stats form roughly 50% of the weight of competence that a character brings to the table in task resolution; an untalented character shouldn’t even show up to the competition, in other words. I’m doing things a little differently; Stats still contribute to task resolution for non-Skilled characters, but not to the extent of the classic rules.

But first, let’s look at what my Stat lineup looks like. I’m making some changes here on general principles, to better match the Redux gameplan.

Statistics are intended to describe a character’s general capability and talent in a given area of life.

Abstract Thought, General Intelligence, IQ — INT
INT represents the character’s abstract thinking abilities; a low score indicates slower and shallower thought process. INT is the relevant Stat for Skills and tasks involving abstract conceptualization, analysis of information and reasoning.

Emotional Intelligence, Empathy — EMP
EMP represents the character’s degree of socialization and in-born capacity for understanding other people. Low scores indicate social perception dysfunctions, such as autism. EMP is the relevant stat for Skills and tasks involving understanding other people.

Ego Formation, Willpower, Punk Attitude — WIL/PNK
These are actually two alternate Stats: characters who work with society get WIL, while outsiders get PNK. A character with both will find that they tend to work on cross-purposes and erode each other. Both Stats are relevant to overcoming adversity and keeping cool, but WIL also grants long-term determination while PNK helps the character thrive in crisis situations.

Applied Intelligence, Mechanical Aptitude, Technical Talent — TEK
Applied intelligence determines the character’s intuitive aptitude to using technology; a low score in TEK indicates a lack of detail-orientation, spatial awareness and mechanical intuition. The Stat is relevant to using, repairing and building all kinds of things both in the workshop and the field.

Agility, Dexterity, Body Coordination — COD
COD represents the character’s physical talents; a low score indicates a clumsy individual. COD is relevant to learning most physical body-using Skills such as shootery and kickboxing and whatnot.

Strength, Stamina, Size, Body — BOD
BOD represents the size and strength of the character’s physical body. A low value is small and weak, a high value big and strong. BOD isn’t used with Skills directly very much, but it plays a part in all kinds of grotesque flesh-related affairs, the way you’d expect it to.

Health, Beauty, Genome Quality — GEN
GEN represents the character’s overall health; a low value may be caused by injuries or inherited genetic issues. Tasks may occasionally rely on GEN, but like BOD it’s most often used as an independent factor where e.g. physical beauty influences social situations.

As you can see, I’m renaming some Stats, rearranging some definitions and dropping a few (goodbye Luck, Movement Rate; you will not be missed); reasoning is mostly obvious, I think. The Stats by their nature tend to have multiple names and facets, so I’ll make a point of using the abbreviations to refer to them. Some aren’t the most transparent, but that’s the price of living in the sleek and fast retro-future.

I’m dropping the pointbuy Stat assignment altogether and instead using life-paths. The details will have to wait for an article on character creation, but here’s the basics:

All Stats start at 3 in character creation, then adjusted immediately for early childhood circumstances. A number of points equal to GEN are distributed between Stats to account for in-born talent. Around puberty the Stats are again adjusted, after which during adolescence lifepath events modify the numbers further. One last round of adjustments on the cusp of adulthood, and that’s that; adult Stats can change, but it’s more rare. While low Stats are normal for children, ~5 is normal for adults; characters generally notice if their acquaintances fall outside the 4‒6 range in some Stat or other.

Stat adjustment in adulthood comes mainly from Perks (more on those later). Cybernetics can also be used to modify Stats; a drastic procedure to be sure, but sometimes necessary.

As was discussed in the earlier article, Stats are used for three primary purposes related to Skills:

  • A character can default to a Stat when attempting a task for which they have no Skill. Sometimes this is because an appropriate Skill simply doesn’t exist; there’s no particular guarantee that human civilization has a Skill for every occasion. For example, a character resisting radiation sickness would probably do it by defaulting to BOD and GEN.
  • When Skills are trained, the Study Rating achieved by the character is multiplied by the Stat that influences the development of said Skill. This is usually either INT (cognitive Skills), EMP (social Skills) COD (physical Skills) or TEK (tool-using Skills), but pick the one that makes the most sense in the context. Exceptions exist, such as PNK substituting for any other Stat when it comes to Practical Experience (adventuring xp rewards).
  • The maximum value of a Skill is equal to double the dominant Stat for the Skill. This basically represents the character utilizing their physical, physiological means to the maximum extent possible. This is rarely relevant for the talented, but a low-talent individual may find their progress in the Skill curtailed too soon.

Other Traits and their use

Now, let’s kick this crazy ’80s Sim shindig up to a new gear: what else can be quantify and feed into the character development / task resolution engine aside from Stats and Skills? The original C2020 hints at the direction with strange pseudo-stats like Reputation, but I want to go deeper into the rabbit hole. In fact, I want to excavate a basement and live there, playing SimPunk.

I’ll use the term Trait as a general name for things like Skills: they start at zero, are raised with Improvement points like Skills, and can be checked like Skills. Various possible Traits include things like Personality, Passions, Relationships and Reputation, and probably something more that I’m not thinking of right now.

Personality traits are deep habits, virtues or vices of the character. They’re mostly developed during character creation, usually only go up, and they change slowly; either the player or the GM may assign improvement points to them should events dictate developments. A character may call on a Personality trait to support (discussed later in detail) an action in accordance with the trait. The GM may likewise call on a personality trait to compel the character to act; the player either accedes, gaining automatic support, or resists the personality trait with other traits (TN trait + 3), defaulting to WIL/PNK. Because characters amass personality traits over their life, some people get locked down into patterns of behavior while others foster complementary Personality traits to retain more mental flexibility. Personality traits normally have a Complexity of 15.

Most Personality Traits in retrofuturistic 2020 are pop-psych type theory stuff. They are often very over-lapping, and which ones (if any) a character actually develops depends on their life history. For example:
Type A personality supports achievement and inhibits relaxation. Type B is the opposite. 2020 American pedagogy has largely accepted the typology, and public school students are generally grouped accordingly.
On the streets, Pavlovian two-factor rules: the triad of Dominance, Compliance and Excitability traits define gang dynamics and pack roles.

Passions are a little bit like personality traits, except they’re emotional dependencies targeted at some focal point like an idea, thing, person or activity. Compared to personality traits they’re more powerful but also more mercurial, arising and extinguishing several times over a lifetime. Like personality traits, either the player or the GM may assign improvement points to them. Passions, however, decrease in value in every session of play all on their own. Passions can be used to inspire (gain a bonus die) or compel (as with Personality traits) the character. Passions normally have a Complexity of 5 and the TN for inspiring the character is either 6 (obvious circumstances) or 9 (mild circumstances)

Relationships are a bit different in that they quantify a social reality between two persons: the stronger the trait, the deeper the relationship. Relationships do not need to be positive, antagonists can develop a relationship as well. The trait is shared by the characters, which means that either may use or influence it; the GM or either participant in the relationship can assign improvement points to it. Relationships develop at moderate pace and normally only go up (going down requires avoiding the other person for extended periods of time). Either character can get inspired or compelled by the relationship like it was a personality trait, and the relationship can support (discussed later) the characters when they’re working together or against each other. Relationships normally have a Complexity of 15.

Reputations are more diffuse than Relationships, as they track superficial recognition and social position of a person. A character can have multiple reputations for different things, in different places. The Reputation can be tested to support social checks, or simply to recognize the character, by either the character themself or anybody meeting with them. Characters with a relationship are immune to their relationship’s Reputation; even a single point of Relationship over-rides a Reputation. (Or maybe you need a few points if the Reputation is particularly high, I don’t know.) Reputations have a Complexity that depends on the breadth of the community among which the Reputation is a thing.

This is almost like a free trait rules system (think Heroquest) in that I’m mechanically tracking all sorts of things. However, there’s some very distinctive method to the madness:

  • The character creation and development rules should make this stuff mostly local; you only need to track things insofar as you need to track things, rather than having to maintain large lists of mostly-useless character traits. If it starts looking like you don’t need some stuff in actual play, ruthless excision is the way to go. I’m envisioning most characters to only have a few of these socio-psychological Traits on top of their Stats and Skills at a given time.
  • Although traits are basically like Skills mechanically, they’re each supposed to behave according to their own significance; you can’t “use my love for my wife to hack this computer” like you’d do in a real free trait rules system, substituting traits dramatically. The Passion “I love my wife” can inspire as per the above, but it cannot resolve a task.

My goal with the wider, more consistent range of Traits compared to C2020 classic is to support quantifying the lifestyle and goals of a character better. With Traits you can track things like the development of a habit, or the extent and significance of a relationship, or the character’s slow rise to pre-eminence within a social circle. This should act to give teeth to concepts like romance, social climbing, drug addiction, and so on. Even combat rules will benefit from having a consistent model of character psychology to fall back on.

On the role of the Role

In C2020 classic a sort of point-buy professional template, called the Role, has great prominence. Its mechanical significance is mainly in that characters are mostly limited to learning Skills within the constraints of their Role, but in my experience of play the Role has soft influence much greater than that: for adventure gaming purposes it’s a character class, of course, but as the Roles are also real-world occupations with particular political context, they determine much about the given character’s societal position: your social class and the kinds of game content you encounter should and would often be determined by your Role.

I love the Role, but its major mechanical impact only makes sense for point-buy purposes, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for other ways to use it. Here are some basic notes about it:

  • Humans have a Role going at all times; only Zen mystics and such care to train in being-without-being necessary for not having a Role. The Role is both a social and psychological identity: you are a Rocker because you think you are, and because the society acknowledges that you are. A character’s Role may be in peril from either the internal or external direction; both their Reputation and Passion have to support the continuing existence of the Role.
  • Roles come with an inherent special Skill that represents your facility in living the Role. A character just entering the Role starts at a low value, but over time improves (by either exposure of on-the-job training). A character may only hold one Role at a time, but the Role skills from their past roles do remain afterwards, and you can swap Roles with some effort.
  • Roles have lifestyle expectations that may include minimum requirements of Skill, Reputation, wealth, and so forth. To hold a Role is to perform it in daily life, which has implications for how the character spends their time.
  • There are probably some character development short-cuts that rely on the Role, e.g. a character can only train Skills concordant with their current Role during character creation and that sort of stuff. We’ll see.
  • A character’s Role will be used in constructing NailBags, the specific dramatic scenarios prepped by the GM. I’m envisioning this as a fairly powerful process where the fact that a player character is a Corporate or Prostitute or whatever is one of the fundamental building blocks of what the NailBag will be like: the fact that you choose to play a Media character means, on some level, that your adventures will be Media adventures with Media themes. Your Role defines the kinds of Nails in your Bag.

In C2020 classic the Role special Skill is this weird Perk-like special ability, but here I’ll add a bit more definition into it. I’ll discuss Perks later, but Roles have associated powerful Perks as well (basically similar to the Witcher RPG, the bastard son of C2020), unlocked by improving the Role Skill, so we can still sneak in the special ability thing that way. The basic use for the Role Skill, however, is that it can support or replace the various Skills and other Traits used to perform that Role in society; Role Skill support is always considered to be inherent and naturally synergistic with its base Skill for a character performing their Role, so you can’t even see it from the outside when the character is doing it: you’re just better when performing your Role.

I envision the WIL Stat of the character naturally concordant with their Role, and the PNK Stat as naturally discordant; you remember these two types of ego formation statistic that a character can have, they’re in the character Stat list. A character’s Role Skill maximum is limited by their WIL, and you cannot use the Role and PNK to support the same task, and so on. A character with a powerful punk attitude does not benefit from being a “consummate professional” the way a more conforming personality does.

Perks

Actually, it’s time to talk Perks here. “Perquisites”, also known as Feats, Advantages, Secrets and other things in various games, are modular mechanical special privileges that a character has in comparison to others. They differ from Traits by having their own little snippet of unique rules text that changes the rules for just this character.

C2020 classic doesn’t do Perks outside the Role special ability, but it’s a common and popular part of modern games, so you’re probably familiar with the idea. The reason for why I want to have Perks in CRedux is possibly surprising: I want non-Skill Traits to have interesting capstone effects that reward a player for committing to the development of single Trait. I mean, it’s nice if a Skill gets you a Perk, but what I’m really into is the idea that when you get your Relationship with the sweet Marjorie up to 5+, they’ll teach you to skateboard like they do.

Also, I guess that Perks are helpful in “drilling down” in acknowledging various exotic mechanical circumstances that Skills would be unreasonably difficult for. A Perk can grant a character some special maneuver that others cannot try, for example, or access to a new Skill, or other minutiae that are most gratifying to handle via the formal structure of Perquisites.

Whenever a character gets any of their Traits (Skills and Stats included) up to 5+ (professional level), they qualify for gaining a Perk from that Trait. The Trait qualifies for a second Perk at 10, a third at 15, etc., but that is understandably rare. A negatively perceived Perk is called a Flaw; they work the same way, except that the character generally detests their flaws.

The character actually gains the Perk from the Trait at a suitable time, such as:

  • After rolling a Cool success (result double the TN) or Bunk failure (under half the TN) with real stakes involved.
  • After rolling a Cinematic success (result 18+) with the Trait.
  • By expending a Practical Experience SR for the Trait after a NailBag (adventure) on the Perk instead of IP for the Skill.
  • After reaching a score of 10 in the Trait without gaining their first Perk.
  • By engaging in appropriate training, having cyberware installed, etc.
  • As a consequence of a traumatic event.

Basically, the existence of a sufficiently developed Trait is a precondition for granting the Perk, but you also need a particular triggering event for the Perk to drop. There’s no need to be particularly hard-ass about this, but neither is it necessary to treat any flimsy excuse as a legit Perk drop. The GM should encourage a culture of considering Perks a few times per session, but not let the Perk hunt steal all the attention. They’ll come soon enough once the Traits are in place. The GM controls when Perks drop, so they can pay whatever amount of attention they consider pleasant to them; just don’t play favourites between the players, treat everybody to the same standards.

To track which Traits have dropped Perks the character sheet should either group Perks under their associated Traits, or have room for marking Perk drops on each Trait. In writing we can use a plus sign after the name of a Trait to indicate that it has dropped a Perk, e.g. “First Aid +”.

The particular Perk that each Trait drops is chosen by the GM from a range of options that depend on the nature of the Trait and the triggering condition of the Perk drop. The GM offers the Perk, and the player has the option of accepting or discarding it; if they discard the offered Perk, they might have the opportunity to gain a different Perk from the same Trait later on. The Perks gained from more interesting Traits and more interesting drop events should be more impressive; more unique, more interesting, more powerful, such that the players might grow some ambition about their favourite Skills and the Perks they gain.

Flaws are dropped and gained the same way as other Perks, except they’re generally consequences of traumatic events rather than positive successes, and the GM usually needs to sweeten the pot to make the player accept the Flaw; the Flaw basically replaces some more serious consequence that the GM might be willing to apply instead. Better crippled than dead, amirite?

Note that because cheap (low complexity) Traits are relatively cheap to gain, the GM cannot treat Perk drops in an overly mechanical way; more consequential Traits drop better Perks, and the Perks of simple Skills and other cheap Traits mainly relate to the immediate scope of the Trait. This could all be arranged into a more formal mechanical constellation, but I don’t believe the overhead to be worth the effort, so for now the Perk drops remain hand-tailored by the GM.

The game needs a prepped selection of Perks for the various kinds of Traits as a starting point for a GM to work with, but for now, a few examples suffice to make the point. I consider the following wildly speculative for now, as they pertain to parts of the game that I haven’t considered carefully yet; they’ll serve to sketch out some of the possible use cases for the concept of the Perquisite.

Perk Name:Drop Condition:Description:
Specialization (subfield)Drops on cheap Skills, common drop conditions, as result of explicit training and as a general default when the GM is feeling uninspired. Can, unlike other Perks, drop on a Skill up to three points lower than requisite (as low as 2+).The character is particularly effective in some specific use of the skill. They can either use the Skill outside their normal purview, or they gain a +2 personal modifier to the Skill total when using the Skill in their field of specialty, whichever is appropriate.
Injury (type)Drops on BOD or other Stats as a Flaw. Stats can carry one more Flaw than their Perk limit indicates, so even characters with BOD <5 can take up to one injury. A similar Flaw works for long-term mental trauma just as well.Typically a -2 personal modifier to Skill tests hampered by the injury. Could be a penalty die or other effect, too.
Crippling Injury (type)Drops on top of a pre-existing injury when the character doesn’t have enough BOD to pick up a separate second injury. A bit cutesy, I know, but that’s the entertainment in complex systems like this.A more serious penalty, e.g. -3 and a penalty die to activities, or a mental Skill block (forced to panic when using said Skill) or other fun stuff.
SocializedA typical first drop off a supportive, nurturing Relationship. The starting point of the social Perk chain, if you will.The character gains access to the special Skill “Humanity”, representing the awakening of their latent pack instincts and other evolutionary package that only comes into play for humans living in community. The Trait gives an edge in various social situations and makes developing Relationships easier.
Expert Skill (specify)A typical drop off an academic Skill with practical applications, or generally as an alternative to specialization.Expert Skills are Skills that are not independently available; either you transform a prior Skill into one, or you can only start developing it after gaining access via a necessary background Skill. For example, Hacking is an Expert Skill that is commonly learned by first learning Use Computer.
Combat SenseThe signature Role Perk of the Solo, it drops off the Solo Role. The character must have actually been in a life or death firefight.The character’s Solo Role inherently supports combat awareness, initiative and cool under fire checks.
Improved Stat (specify)Drops off complex Skills and other Traits that imply permanent and fundamental lifestyle elements. A simple way to get this would be a BOD drop triggered by a cyberware installation.I imagine there is a variety of Stat Perks that could be slightly different, but the basic form is a simple +2 to a single Stat.

As you can see, the true nature of the Perk is that the GM controls how often and what kinds come into play; the players can cajole for Perks, but I’m thinking that the last thing we want is a D&D-like Feat list dynamic, with the players poring over hypothetical Perks and making character build plans for them. Better that this aspect of the rules remains available and mechanically potent, yes, but also elusive and tightly wedded to the events in the game fiction. You won’t and can’t know what Perks the GM makes available to you; only the events of play will tell, and it’ll depend on a lot of factors, not the least the GM’s individual mechanical aesthetics and the developing needs of the campaign.

Specifically, regarding the overall highly emulative nature of the rules system: I envision that while the GM might make some decisions about the Perk ecology, e.g. decide that “almost all humans have the Socialized Perk”, I will try to not make these assumptions myself, and I encourage much of the Perk stuff to work on the rule of cool instead: I rolled a critical while using the shotgun to shoot a mobster, therefore I now gain the Mobster Slayer Perk, which will heretofore remind us of this fun adventure and become a distinguishing mark for the character. The Perks are more of an element of C2020’s melodramatic side than its reality modeling, if that makes sense to you.

Advanced trait check variations

Finally, with all of the above covered, let’s circle back to the question of task resolution. We’ve covered the basic resolution check earlier, but a summary won’t hurt, particularly as a few new concepts were introduced above.

A character write-up consists of their Stats, Skills and other Traits. All Traits can be trait checked by the unified check formula:

[Trait rating] + [Personal modifiers] + d10 vs. [Target number] + [Circumstance modifiers]

The check succeeds if the final sum on the left side (the check result) equals of exceeds that on the right side (the final TN). Furthermore:
Rolling a natural ‘1’ indicates a Complication.
Rolling a natural ’10’ explodes; roll again and add to result.
A result equal to final TN is a Flimsy success; a result one point lower is a Flimsy failure.
A result under half of the final TN is a Bunk failure. A result double or over the TN is a Cool success.

The basic check formula may be modified by a number of resolution modes, some of which can be in force simultaneously:
Defaulting from a Trait to a less relevant Trait adds one or more penalty dice to the check.
Routine check drops the die roll altogether, removing the chance of Complication.
Careful check gains a +3 personal modifier to the check; the die does not explode on a ’10’.
Inspired check gains a bonus die. Any die showing a ‘1’ gains Complication.
Panicked checks are forced to Default (or fail if there is no Default); the primary Trait supports the Defaulted trait.

The scheme is a bit involved, but C2020 is a big game and you’re supposed to read the dice like a nomad huxter reads synth-tea powder stains, so I believe all of the above and more to find use in a serious campaign. Keeping that basic scheme in mind, I’ll pile up some more answers to common task resolution skill hell issues.

Personal and Circumstance modifiers

Personal modifiers are what the player attempting a Trait check adds to their roll; Circumstance modifiers are what the GM adds to the base Target number to calculate the final TN. They are mathematically pretty equivalent in that they influence the probability of success the same either way, but the doubling/halving stuff does care, and more importantly: some modifiers are easier to set on one side of the table or the other, which is probably why these trad skill systems have ended up with such a dual modifier arrangement in the first place.

When modifiers are applied to Trait checks, each should be accompanied by a clear explanation of how the modifier relates to the fictional situation depicted by the check. This is to keep the players honest. The number of individual modifiers per check should consequently be relatively low, as we don’t have all day to talk about the particulars.

Personal modifiers originate in the particular circumstances of the character attempting the check. Their sum total cannot be more than the value of the primary Trait; in other words, personal modifiers can at most double the Trait value, or drop the total to zero in the case of negative modifiers. The most important types of personal modifiers are support Traits, Perk bonuses, assistant support, equipment bonus, tactical bonus and distraction penalty.

Support Traits are character Traits that pertain to the circumstances of the check but are not the primary Trait to be tested. The most common situations are useful secondary Skills and situation-matching Personality Traits, but you can figure out more opportunities easily. The one important limitation is that a Trait cannot be added in Support if another overlapping Trait is already factored in: a Stat cannot support a Skill based on that Stat, a Personality trait cannot be added if another similar Personality trait is already factored, and so on. When a Trait supports, it grants a +1 personal modifier if its value is at least one half the value of the primary Trait, or +2 if its value is equal or higher (or +3 if it’s double, I suppose). Traits weaker than one half of the primary Trait do nothing in support.

Perk bonuses are rather varied, as Perks do not have a standard format, but the common Specialization Perk offers a straight +2 personal modifier to a Skill check when the Skill is used in a situation in line with the specialty.

Assistant support is relevant when the task is one where the character can use a helper. Note that this is not the same thing as a cooperative task, which involves the combined efforts of many people; to count for support, the assistant’s participation must be optional. When assistance applies, the assistant’s primary relevant Trait supports just like an inherent support Trait. Characters may need some sort of leadership or teamwork check when the nature of the task or the number of heads involved makes utilizing assistants difficult.

Equipment bonuses are gained when the character is performing the task with equipment that is not only sufficient for the task, but actually sophisticated. To qualify for an equipment bonus, the situation needs to be one where the basic TN of the task is calibrated with the assumption of inferior equipment. The equipment bonus is a +1 (or a -1 for inferior equipment, I suppose), or a +2 for outright futuristic, computer-aided Skill use. If the task utilizes several pieces of equipment in non-overlapping, distinct roles, the equipment bonus has potential to be higher, but that’s probably a bit rare.

Tactical bonuses are gained when the character sets up a combo move by chaining multiple tasks (or other circumstances) together. For a tactical bonus to apply, the character needed to set up a circumstance in advance to make the later task easier for them; e.g. preparing distance markers for a firing zone before a sharp-shooting task. Integral preparations that do not depend on external circumstances do not count; those are factored into the Skill value. The tactical bonus is a +1 (or a -1 for inferior tactics, I suppose) or a +2 for dramatically decisive maneuvers.

Distraction penalty is a bit of an exception in that although it’s a penalty and would thus be easier to apply as a circumstance modifier, it’s also inherently a personal character issue, so… Either way, the distraction or depression penalty is caused by a character refuting a Trait compel, such as when the character is doing something they find distinctly unpleasant or unsuited to their talents. Its value is -1 to -3 depending on the strength of the originating Trait.

Mostly this personal modifier business is pretty straightforward, but I imagine the support mechanic can prove surprisingly involved, as it involves things that are written down on the character sheet; it’s a bit of like trait compounding in free trait rules systems where you pore over a long list of traits to find something relevant to the situation. There certainly are some reliable hidden synergies here, like the relative ease with which Stats can support Skills; BOD (the Stat representing physical size, strength and constitution) is a good example of a Stat that can support most physical Skills without running afoul of the overlapping magisteria limitation, as it’s not the primary default for most Skills (that being COD).

The GM should, however, keep a strict handle on run-away support application. I imagine that players might be prone to “thematic supporting”, for example: a character should not get to support their Shooting Skill with their Animal Handling just because they’re currently at a zoo, for example, as the animal handling is not immediately integral to the task of shooting even if it’s easy to imagine other maneuvers aside from shooting that you might make in a zoo that would make use of Animal Handling. On the other hand, supporting Shooting with Ride Motorcycle would be perfectly legit when trying to take a shot from a moving ‘cycle, as the actual task integrally makes use of both Skills. Refer players wishing to combine Skills in a more innovative way towards the tactics bonus; that’s what it’s for!

Circumstance modifiers are applied by the GM to modify the initial difficulty class of the check. The difficulty classes are rough steps of 3 points each, target number zones intended to be distinct enough for the GM to be able to determine the appropriate difficulty class of a task with relative ease. Circumstance modifiers exist to make analytical determination easier: to arrive at a final Target Number, you first imagine the task in white room conditions, determine the difficulty class, and then apply the distinct circumstances involved in the actual situation. Circumstance modifiers are usually positive and therefore make the task more difficult, but exceptions do exist.

The exact types of circumstance modifiers depend on the nature of the task; a Skill list or similar could ostensibly include Skill-specific modifiers for common situations, but we’re probably better off training the GM. The general principle is that minor factors are worth a +1 and major factors are worth a +2; if the circumstance factor is relatively more powerful than that, the task is generally not possible at all without first addressing the adverse circumstance. For circumstances that make the task easier, the reverse holds true: if a -2 does not suffice to reflect the significance of the factor, the task should probably be construed differently to account for the overwhelming circumstance factor involved.

Common circumstance factors that come up in a wide variety of tasks are things like:
trying to perform the task under time pressure (it’s more difficult because you have to move and think faster),
being externally distracted (the task is usually performed without loud noises etc.),
the task being unusually expansive (more concurrent mental load than usual),
having to improvise on key task elements like e.g. tools (having to replace standard procedure with on-the-spot solution)
wearing constraining equipment (when the task is usually performed unencumbered)

Although a single factor should never modify the check by more than 2 points, multiple factors may, of course, cause greater swings. When faced with dominant circumstance factors the GM should generally reconstrue the task in light of the circumstance, which may mean switching to a different Skill altogether, and the task becoming significantly easier or harder, and its outcome – consequences of success or failure – shifting around. For example, if a character is trying to shoot at a target in low-light conditions, and you determine that a +2 modifier is insufficient to express how much more difficult this is than the white room scenario of the shooting range, this is an indication that it’s too dark to shoot! Deal with that, perhaps by chaining Stealth and Shoot checks to sneak closer and shoot from point-blank range.

Circumstance modifiers can be secret. While making outright secret resolution rolls is a traditional technique, I think it’s overall more trouble than it’s worth. It is also rare that the difficulty class of a task would be completely opaque to a character. However, the GM is encouraged to be clear to the players about the concept of secret circumstances; whenever a character does not know of a circumstance while initiating the task, the GM might not tell the player about the circumstance either. They would only reveal the modifier’s presence after the roll. This is not the same as deciding on the modifier after the roll; the GM should determine all modifiers (except the gut correction) in advance for reasons of procedural hygiene and only rely on post-facto fixes when obvious mistakes have been made. If it helps the process, the GM should write down the secret modifiers in advance to the roll and reveal the note afterwards to make it clear that modifier comes from a secret, pre-established circumstance and not an off-the-cuff fudge after the roll.

The special circumstance modifier of the GM gut correction is a +1 or -1 on the TN that you can throw in for whatever petty reason you’d like. Even just to mess with players relying on the TNs being relatively stable. Call it the inherent imprecision of the resolution system, the white noise in the sensors. Its best use is in satisfying the GM’s intuitive feel that things are being too easy or too difficult; no need to be able to justify it in any way, unlike other circumstance modifiers, which you should all be able to name and explain when asked. Unlike other modifiers, feel free to do the gut correction after the roll if that’s how you roll; I don’t care.

On-going tasks, interrupting tasks, composite tasks

Tasks are not instant, and sometimes they take a long time. A “task” for traditional rpg purposes is a distinct, integral, purposeful activity, which does not eliminate the possibility of the task taking a long time. The task of preparing a meal can take hours, for example, despite being distinct, integral and purposeful. Other tasks take just moments, of course. Furthermore, with on-going tasks characters can often be engaging in several tasks simultaneously, as individual tasks have natural breaks that are interleaved with other tasks in the routines of life. Writing a novel can be construed as a single task, but rare is the author who does not undertake the task of cooking a meal in between starting and finishing a manuscript.

A traditional Skill-based task resolution system approach to on-going tasks has been to require multiple task checks to complete the task. Runequest style, if you will. C2020 doesn’t really comment on the matter, and generally speaking even longer tasks are resolved with a single roll. I’ll bring a bit of my own twist on that, as I want to be able to emphasize on-going tasks in the slice of life portions of the game.

An on-going task is one that has the potential to be interrupted by external events. While the concept is usually relevant for tasks requiring hours and days of work to be accomplished, even a momentary task may be interrupted by e.g. specific enemy action intended to disrupt the task. In this sense all tasks are “on-going” while they are in the process of being executed.

The detailed timeline of events while resolving a task is needed when there is a chance of the task being interrupted. Like so:

  1. The task is established by describing what the character is trying to do. The players discuss the parameters of the task, such as how long it is expected to take, what tools and resources it requires, what Skills are relevant, the difficulty class and Target Number of the task, etc.
  2. The player of the character attempting the task makes the task resolution check. At the same time the character begins the task in the fiction. The players see the outcome of the check, which is for now called the prospective result of the task; for short and simple task the prospective result almost instantly becomes the final result, but not so for an on-going task. The prospective result is better understood to be an indication of whether the task is on the way to successful completion right now, given that nothing unexpected occurs to derail the outcome.
  3. Once the task has an outlying prospective result at hand, the players may move on to focus on other concerns running concurrently in the game; the on-going task will keep. The GM will come back to it when it’s time to figure out any possible interruptions.
  4. Task interrupts are outside events that impact the planned performance of a task, invalidate the prospective result and require the task resolution to be redone. The GM determines whether an on-going task is interrupted by the usual event management processes (of which I’ll write more specifically later); basically, the more protected and routine the on-going task is, the less likely anything is to happen to interrupt it.
  5. If a task interrupt occurs, it is dealt with as any other event, after which the player has to decide whether their character is going to continue with the on-going task. At this point some of the time and other resources committed to the task have already been expended, and the task itself has progressed to some extent; giving up on the task means that those commitments are a loss, but the interrupt may have made continuing infeasible.
  6. When the task resolution is redone, the resolution particulars are usually basically the same as the first time, excepting any changes explicitly caused by the interrupt or task progression. The result of the last task check made on the task becomes a major personal modifier for continuing the task, so the check gets a +2 if the last check was a success (the task was proceeding towards success before the interrupt), and -2 if the check was a failure (the task was veering towards failure before). The interrupt itself, and its handling, may also well cause a separate circumstance modifier if the interruption affected the task.
  7. The play continues normally, with the on-going task continuing to progress in the background until interrupted again or coming to completion.

This interrupt-based task management system has a potentially confusing feature in that the player of the character sees in the prospective result whether the task is progressing towards victory or defeat. This means that they have an inherent interest in attempting to interrupt the task and redirect it towards success if the initial check was a failure. This self-interrupt is an intended feature: the difficulty class for saving a task headed for failure is usually at least one step higher (need to notice the problem and correct for it both), and the character still suffers the -2 personal modifier for continuing off a failed roll, but it is possible to attempt a correction. Correcting a quick action is of course more difficult still, as it leaves the character with very little time to realize the problem and fix the issue, but a master swordsman is indeed theoretically able to initiate a strike, notice a problem and correct in mid-swing to succeed after all.

Another common source of interrupts is when the initial task check rolls a natural ‘1’, resulting in a Complication. I’ll discuss Complications more thoroughly later, but for our purposes it’s relevant that often a Complication is also an interrupt, requiring the task to be rerolled. (I’m saying “often” instead of “always” mainly because I want to be clear that it’s not a formal relationship, but rather one based on the fiction: sometimes a Complication may allow a task to proceed uninterrupted and only come to bear afterwards, in which case there’s no interruption.)

The third common source of interrupts are composite tasks: when it is natural and interesting to construe of a task in terms of several discrete sub-tasks, that’s a composite task. The sub-components of the overall task may consist of multiple similar tasks utilizing the same primary Skill, or they may involve entirely different Skills. For example, a “sail to France” task might involve both a Sailing and Navigation task for the poor bastard whose GPS breaks down.

Composite tasks should be handled as on-going tasks with a mandatory interrupt: you check the appropriate Abilities for each sub-task, and the overall success of the task depends on whether the chain of mandatory and possible external interrupts ends up successful in the end. Just like a single-Skill on-going task, it’s just that you already know going in that there’ll be multiple checks along the line.

Note the conceptual difference between a composite task and an integral task with Skill support; it’s up to you to decide which you like better for various situations. If a character was trying to shoot a shotgun while riding a motorbike, I would interpret that as a Shooting task with Drive (bike) support; if the character was racing to catch a target on foot, so as to shoot them, I well might construe that as a composite task with a Drive check followed by a Shoot check. But the important thing is that you have the formal tools to choose from to depict various situations mechanically; the right breakdown is the one that feels right.

The concept of the self-interrupt is pretty interesting, I don’t know if it’s going to be a massive head-ache in actual play. What it is actually saying is that if you fail in any task roll, you can try again at TN +3 (or +6 if it’s a quick task that you’re unlikely to fix on the flight), unless the cause of the failure happens to be something too convoluted to fix on the flight. This implies that characters working on easy tasks (relative to their Skill rank) don’t actually fail often; if TN +3 is something you can pass on the second try, that first low roll can be covered over by the second check. It might be worthwhile to compare this to the semi-fudgy way climbing tests and such have been traditionally used in adventure games: fail the check and you get to “hang on” and try again in the hopes of not falling to your death.

Another important implication here is the hostile interrupt, I’m going to be discussing that more a bit later. For now, consider the procedure: first character A tries to do something and we establish that they’re going to be successful; then character B tries to interfere, and we establish that they succeed in interfering; then character A tries to recover and possibly finish their task despite the interference. It’s a bit peculiar in trad rpg terms, but seems sensible on the surface.

Handling Trait check outcomes and Complications

As has been discussed earlier, check resolution primarily produces a binary pass/fail judgement on whether the Trait activates (Task succeeds, Passion applies, whatever). However, there are a few special results that deserve a few words of explanation. This is all no doubt very familiar to the experienced roleplayer, but there could be a few fresh twists, so read on.

Firstly, there is one perpendicular dicing result that does not directly pertain to the quality of the success or failure: if you roll a natural ‘1’ on a Trait check, it indicates a Complication. (When I say that Complication does not pertain to success, what I mean is that the ‘1’ on the die is a normal dice result that you sum up and use normally in comparing the result to the TN to find out whether there was a success. The Complication thing comes on top of that, and doesn’t replace anything.)

When a Trait activation check die rolls a ‘1’, you get a Complication. Complications are unexpected interruptions in resolving the task. The exact nature of the Complication depends on the situation, it can be internal or external, minor or more serious than the task it Complicates. A sudden heart attack would be a Complication, for example, and rolling a ‘1’ obligates the GM to establish a Complication that could at worst be something like that.

If the nature of the Trait activation does not give rise to a Complication, no Complication occurs. If several resolution dice are used and more than one ‘1’ is rolled, the GM may wish to introduce several Complications at once. Complications usually interrupt the task and therefore require the task to be either aborted or continued with a new task check (accounting for the success, or more likely, failure of the initial check that caused the Complication).

I don’t know yet how the exact nature of the Complication is determined. C2020 classic would say “random table” (you can look at the fumble tables in there for ideas), but I’d rather get by without that. I’m leaning towards running with whatever good idea anybody shouts up on the spot in reaction to the dice roll, arbitrarily, but there are some minor issues with that as well. Ultimately this has to wait until I have a clearer sense of the way content gets introduced into play in general.

Setting Complications aside, the check itself produces a result quality on a range, from worst to best:

Bunk Failure – result below half TN
Normal Failure – result below TN-1
Flimsy Failure/Success – result at or a point below TN
Normal Success –result above TN
Cool Success – result above double TN

These should be understood as alternatives to each other, such that every check outcome falls somewhere in the range. A few words on how to interpret the results:

Normal results, success or failure, are the baseline interpretation for task outcomes; the GM may ignore the other degrees of success and failure whenever they feel like it. They’re intended to be useful, and there’s no guarantee that they will always be so.

A Normal Success in a task check indicates that the character achieved what they set out to do. The consequences of the success are determined by the GM, and they are generally of the nature expected. A Normal Failure likewise indicates that the task failed and the effort expended in it was wasted, which may well have its own consequences.

A Flimsy Success or Flimsy Failure are similar to their normal counterparts, except if the task can only fail or succeed partially, it does that. Sometimes a flimsy result is the same whether success or failure, while at other times there are differences. Either way, on a flimsy result it is obvious to witnesses that the character struggles with the task. The task may be immediately tried again if a more conclusive result is required. Flimsy results count as only minor modifiers (+1 instead of +2) for task chains.

A Cool Success indicates an effortless virtuoso execution of the task. The Skill on display is evident to witnesses. The Practical Experience award for the situation gains a +2 to Study Rating. As performing the task does not require the character’s full attention, a Cool success allows them full multitasking, support opportunities, outcome synergies and follow-up combos as per the nature of the task.

A Bunk Failure indicates a failure caused by clear lack of competence on the part of the character; it’s their fault, not the circumstances as such. Any witnesses will realize that the character is not up to the task. The character cannot self-interrupt or otherwise retry a Bunk Failure, and an on-going Bunk task will usually terminate shortly and spectacularly.

While the Bunk/Flimsy/Cool thing resembles a degree of success system, it’s not intended to primarily present an expanding task scope or task significance; rather, it’s mainly a narrative color thing that might matter in a specific situation. A Cool success is in no way a “double success” or “greater success”, it’s just a success achieved with style and minimal effort. If these special success qualities end up mattering in a situation, it’s because of what happens around the task, not because the task itself is scaled up. In this regard a Cool result is best understood as maximally harmonious and appropriate, while a Bunk result is maximally disruptive and incompatible with the efforts of others.

Probably the most important practical effect of the Cool success as I’m envisioning it right now is that it influences the action economy: if a character can accomplish a task Coolly (at double difficulty), they can do something else simultaneously as well without extra penalties. A way to leverage high Skill, that: instead of focusing on a more difficult task, try to achieve Cool on a simpler task and save up time and effort for something else.

Opposed situations and conflict resolution

Many roleplayers might not realize this, but opposed checks in task resolution systems are the historical antecedent of conflict resolution as it’s understood in modern rpg theory. C2020 knows of opposed checks: if two characters are vying directly against each other in a way that compares Skill, they can just roll Skill checks and whomever rolls higher wins the contest. (The opponent’s result is the TN for the purposes of the various task resolution stuff.) Simple enough, but also potentially misleading, as a task resolution system does not actually use opposed contests very much: you are rarely in a situation where a character’s task is to directly compete with another character in a symmetric fashion. A sportsman does it, but for a cyberpunk it’s not an everyday occasion (unless they’re a sword fighter or a rap fighter, I guess).

Instead, how opposed situations work in a task resolution framework is in terms of tactical action: the characters act concurrently to accomplish discrete tasks that have effects, which in turn curtail the opposition or simply achieve the goal in front of their nose. Instead of rolling competing Shooting checks and seeing who rolls higher, you try to act first, roll Shooting against a calculated difficulty (more difficult if the target is under cover, of course), and hopefully Shoot your opponent before they get you. In a social situation, similarly, you choose a tack and try to present your case well with a Skill check, and if you succeed, that causes pressure on the opponent to accede to your viewpoint.

I envision the task interrupt discussed above as an important way for characters in conflict to interact with each other: if you witness another character trying to accomplish something, one way to react is to try to interfere with the execution of their task; how easy this is depends on whether the foe is expecting the interruption, which is directly reflected in the Target Number of your own task check. Interrupting a foe trying to shoot at somebody is as simple as throwing a shoe at them, while interrupting a swordsman trying to strike at you basically requires beating them in a direct contest of skill; their own task is specifically to get through your interference to complete their strike, after all!

All this is well and good, but as any rpg theorist worth their salt will tell you, you can’t escape the question of conflict resolution: given that we want complex dynamic situations in play to drive towards meaningful resolution instead of getting lost in the minutiae, going around in circles or having the important stuff resolve accidentally on the side, what to do? Also, given that we want to pace play intelligently and not deal with every situation in the most excessive wargaming detail, what to do? Conflict resolution method is the answer, and here we sort of step outside the chassis of a traditional rpg, because traditionally conflict resolution has been the implicit invisible of a rpg system: you have plenty of rules for how to resolve a shot, but no rules at all for flagging, evaluating and determining what that shot means – what stakes it might resolve. This is, of course, particularly true outside the combat rules, which actually do manage to resolve conflicts on occasion; in other situations you’re usually not quite so lucky.

(Not having rules does not mean that a trad game doesn’t have a system – that it definitely does have. The system is that the players grind through various task resolution steps interleaved with GM narration, with the GM telling the other players what consequence their task checks have, until the GM wraps the situation out and declares that everything’s been resolved satisfactorily. It’s sort of a narrative over-structure that encompasses all the task resolution rigamarole.)

CRedux needs effective goal-resolution in SimPunk mode and effective conflict resolution in NailBag mode, so I’ll be coming back to this later in more detail.

Ascension, a weird d20 trick

This one’s not so much “advanced resolution” as it’s an insane dice trick.

A new resolution mode called Ascension: An ascended check is made when the character has superhuman potential. The check uses a d20 instead of a d10. Both a natural ’10’ and a natural ’20’ explode. Circumstance modifier factor cap doubles in ascended checks (so maximum +4 instead of +2). Playing your theme song lifts the personal modifier cap altogether.

While the above is originally math for the sake of math, I’m thinking that C2020 can make use of it in a few places for the shock factor: for one, high-level Perks could very selectively allow characters to use it in specific circumstances. For two, certain equipment full of high-energy plasma, control-support AIs and its own theme song might operate on a superhuman level like this, as could e.g. psionics and other scary scifi magic things. For three, I’m thinking that out there in space, where the wretchedness of the cyberpunk Earth is but a glint in the eye of the telescope, humans, or maybe aliens, live in a society so superior that this is just what they do. Such an ascended man might be an interesting visitor in a C2020 campaign. Even worse: they are already here, and they are the Man, and we didn’t even know.

Basically similar to the Shade thing in Burning Wheel, just for a different dice system. I don’t know if I need a “superheroic mode” in playing C2020, but if I do, at least I know getting there doesn’t require much more than swapping the die.

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