C2020 Redux: Character Creation

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

Project Overview
Task Resolution and Skill Training
More core mechanics

The next topic is going to be character creation. The vision for that is going to be pretty involved, so it’s best treated as this independent stage of play that takes an entire session on its own when you get into it.

Design strategy outline

This is getting a bit more involved than before, so let’s start with an overview of the plan:

I intend to get rid of the C2020 point-buy character creation and replace it with a lifepath-based model. (The game already has a distinct lifepath element, so I’m not just pulling this from thin air.) This means that the system does not present any real formal balancing or power level logic or anything like that; you just create various characters and they are who they are. It’s more of a little simulation engine for human life than something to build-optimize. If you want to play the baddest of asses, just make the lifepath choices to get your character a couple of decades of that sweet burro experience.

The lifepathing should interface with the rest of the game seamlessly in the sense that it doesn’t present a special boot-strapping game mode that is used once at the start of the campaign and discarded; rather, let’s give it a name — call it LifePathing in camel-case — and say that LifePathing is the highest-order abstracted play mode that can be used to work out downtime and time skips on the scale of several years. So you begin the game by LifePathing yourself a character, then move into the SimPunk stage of play (explained in the overview article; a slice-of-life mode of play where players enact actions week by week), and finally play drills down into the NailBag (conventionally cinematic blood opera sequence, with action set over a few days at most). And, when necessary, play can move back up to the LifePathing level when SimPunk proves too slow and detailed for the scope of the situation.

In other words: you can move in and out of LifePathing at any time in a character’s life, and the math should work out. This is different from most trad rpgs in that they (C2020 classic included) usually feature distinct math for character creation and character development; you can’t “go back to character creation” later on and fix the character up. (Yes, Ars Magica is a prominent counter-example. As I’ve remarked before, a lot of this Redux thinking is just me applying AM to C2020.)

Because the game is rather detailed on the level of trait mechanics, the lifepathing process is also quite involved; creating a character will surely take an entire session of play — hopefully a pleasant one. I will be controlling the cognitive load (number of options, etc.) by modularizing the character creation choices in a Role-based way (as per C2020 classic, but more so): characters adopt various Roles as they move through life, with each Role allowing access to a limited set of Skills and other Traits, as well as their own distinct life events and such. This should keep the choices involved in character creation manageable in scope. The implication is, of course, that we’ll be adding various less adventurous Roles into the game simply to support the LifePathing — civilian Roles like “Student” (or perhaps simply “Civilian” to begin with; controlling complexity even in bootstrapping the game design).

I’ll make note of a specific simulation feature that I want to make explicit: real people in real life do not have as much control over their lives as the LifePathing makes available for the players. You can take this as reflective of how the player is not really their character, and the highest virtue of LifePathing is not really to simulate life; rather, granting the player definite opportunity to shape the character’s life above and beyond their own means of controlling their life is most appropriate for the purpose here.

I am also planning for the peculiar feature of having seamless support for a second character creation method, the “concept first” approach. Games like C2020 can legitimately make use of characters created either organically via process like the LifePathing offers, or characters created by the player inventing an idea of who they want to play and then filling in the particulars. These two approaches are both creatively legitimate for this kind of game, but they’re unfortunately procedurally contrasting; the same procedure cannot offer both solid prompting and top-down freedom of choice simultaneously, which means that we’ll be featuring a bit of a split process here depending on what the player wants to do. I see no reason why a single game should force players to do one or the other when you can just have both. Besides possibly making character creation a nicer experience to some players I’m hoping to have some opportunity for clever tricks in this area.

The LifePath sheet and Role brochure

One of the character sheets used by the game should be a dedicated LifePath sheet that the player uses to keep track of the character’s personal history. While the main character sheet records the character’s current state, and is used during the process to keep track of where the character is at, the LifePath sheet will be useful later in retrieving information about the character’s past. Here’s how it would look like, in its main part:

RoleSpanEvents
The Role the character had back thenHow long it lastedImportant events during that time

Character creation would, in its essence, be a process of starting with a new-born baby and walking them through the pathing process until the player is satisfied — “This character is ready to play!” The LifePathing is controlled by the player in its broad outlines, but random life events and such may cause some wrinkles, and I generally don’t recommend being too goal-oriented in LifePathing; if you need to get the exact character you want, I’ll discuss the “concept first” thing later in the article.

The practical LifePathing process is straightforward and goes like so:

  1. Pick a fresh character sheet. Newborn children have no appreciable Traits (not strictly speaking true, but a tabula rasa position serves the game better than strict realism) except for the following basic Stat line that comes online pretty quickly for healthy babies:
    INT 1 — enables cognitive learning
    EMP 2 — enables relationships and early language learning
    WIL 1 — already stubborn
    TEK 1 — enables technical learning
    COD 1 — enables learning motor skills
    BOD 0 — insignificant in strength and size
    GEN 4 — could be higher or lower on the basis of parentage or genmods
    (We could probably simplify this array; just set everything to start at one except GEN.)
  2. Pick a starting “baby Role” for the character. The baby Roles are special Roles that a character adopts as a newborn and holds onto for the first seven or so years of their life. The Role mostly pertains to the circumstances of the family, so there’s a “poor baby”, “middle-class baby”, etc.
  3. Process the character’s life year by year according to their current Role’s brochure. This involves distributing Improvement Points to various Traits, resolving random life events, balancing the budget and possibly making some life choices for the character. Typical life events would be occurrences that grant the character with a Trait adjustment (e.g. a new personality trait, bonus Skill advancement, a Stat bump; whatever) or force them into a new Role or whatnot, the typical lifepath system stuff.
  4. The Role might force the character out, or the player may take a voluntary exit and send the character to a new Role at some point. The character keeps all of their Traits, possessions and whatever if this happens; they just switch to follow a different Role brochure next year.
  5. Continue processing until either the player thinks that the character is ready for play, or decides to discard the character, or the GM requests a stop.

As can be seen, most of the structure in the process hangs off something that I’m calling a “Role brochure” for now: the way the game is shaping out, we’ll need every Role to come on its own loose sheet that summarizes all the pertinent Role details for character creation and beyond. A player would presumably hold onto this sheet (or pamphlet, possibly; we’ll see) for their character’s current Role as a quick reference, switching it out with the GM for different ones when the character changes Role.

An example of a Role brochure might go something like this:

‘Pura Enforcer

Psycho-Pass is actually set in Japan, but in a wider cyberpunk setting I like it more as a a self-contained Singaporean police state.

The police force in the ‘Pura is highly roboticized, with several thousand public order drones replacing beat cops. Criminal investigation is handled by elite Investigators leading teams of Enforcers. The latter are citizens deemed latent criminals by the Sibyl System, a computerized career allocation system utilized in the ‘Pura.

Enforcers are expected to think like criminals and participate in violent altercation, which requires a certain psychological make-up. As latent criminals enjoy limited citizen rights in the ‘Pura, the Enforcer can be understood to be a type of slave soldier.

Requirements and Training

Occupations in the ‘Pura are assigned by the Sibyl System. A deviant citizen over the age of majority (16 years) willing to handle guns and take instruction may be assigned to Enforcer training regardless of prior background. The Role is generally understood to imply a descending spiral in mental health, a vital issue in the ‘Pura, so the choice is is not easy.

Most characters enter the Role without prior relevant education, which is compensated for by a 6-month training course worth 20 Study Rating for each Role skill; the player may pick one focus skill (double SR). While there are many abilities that would be useful for Enforcers, the official doctrine considers them little better than attack dogs (and with luke-warm training at that), so success in the Role may come to rest on skills brought from prior life experience.

LifePath process

Annual finances: 10 000 ‘Pura credits for discretionary spending; room and board covered by the government.
Annual training: 100 SR to skills from exposure and training courses. 100 SR to Traits.
Time commitment: 50%, but the discretionary time is curtailed to quarters; supposed to be spent in self-care.

Annual events table, roll once per year or fraction thereof. The default roll is 1d10+[years in the Role]. On a ‘1’ — a “Complication” — use the result but also roll again without experience adds as per “Busy year”.

RollResult
1Making a mistake: You messed up on the job, somebody might have even died. Chance of black-listing.
2Breakdown: The horrible things you saw on the job influence your mental well-being… Chance of black-listing.
3Injured on the job: Enforcing can be dangerous, and you got unlucky in a violent altercation. Death chance!
4Office politics: You have formed a special relationship with one of the Investigators you work with.
5Outside contact: You have gained the attention of someone from the outside society.
6Inspiration: A new hobby or Passion reorients your life. A chance for change, or just some extra SR.
7Personal Drama: Gain or lose family members, find or lose love, achieve personal satisfaction or grudge. As the Role is so socially restricted, 50% chance that the development is still-born, what might have been stunted by the tyranny of the ‘Pura.
8Quiet year: Nothing interesting happens. The Role drops a Perk if available; otherwise player choice of Trait drops a Perk.
9NailBag: A dystopian cop movie scenario occurs, with this character in the main hook. Stop LifePathing and play it, or let the GM resolve and determine consequences. Highly dramatic and high stakes, of course.
10Busy year: the roll explodes, roll again and add +10. Additionally, roll a second event with no modifiers.
11+Advanced event: If you hit an empty slot, the GM extends the table with a new Role-appropriate event slotted in the result slot. If the slot below (at result-1) is empty, duplicate one of the prior events into that slot as well. Round tens (20, etc.) are always “Busy year”.
Suggested default advanced event: the first season of Psycho-Pass happens to the character. Take it from there.
SimPunk process

[A description of how the Role relates to slice of life play. The most important part is a list of Role-unique weekly actions that the character can take due to their specific lifestyle. More on this when I explain the SimPunk in more detail.]

NailBag process

[A description of how the Role relates to scenario development. The most important bit are the societal hooks: why does a character in this Role get mixed up in a violent and ludicrous cyberpunk story? More on this when I explain the NailBag in more detail.]

Role skills

Attention (200, WIL) — A general perception skill, mainly covers gauging situational safety and making the right split-second choices.
Dominator Gun (50, COD/TEK) — A type of high-tech pistol with various specific features; the only type of gun legal in the ‘Pura, and only then in the hands of the police force. Sub-skill of more generic Shooting (200, COD) and whatnot, albeit other guns are not trained with in the ‘Pura.
Enforcer Law (50, INT) — A sub-skill of Technocratic Law (200, INT), the legal system of ‘Pura, covering only police procedure and interactions.
Intimidation (100, WIL) — Highly effective in the ‘Pura, as citizens are generally ill-prepared to resist, so civilians fold to a Basic (TN 6) performance.
Psychic Stability (200, EMP) — Training on this is primitive in the ‘Pura, -50% to SR quality in formal study.

Other Traits

Passion: Stir-Crazy (100) — As latent criminals, Enforcers lack freedom of movement and association. It’s a bit like prison, really.
Personality: Callous (100) — Less stress reaction to violence and suffering, difficulties with empathy.
Personality: Criminality (100) — Helps in “thinking like a criminal”, encourages deviant impulses.
Personality: Restrained (100) — Same as other ‘Pura Roles; the techno-surveillance state encourages a stance that becomes second nature.
Reputation: Enforcer (300) — The reputation only applies to the Sibylla system and technocrats relying on it.

Perk Drops

Psychological maladaptation flaws are common. Otherwise the concept is “cool yet tragic dystopia cop”, so criminal investigation, fisticuffs, shootery stunts.

If you’re familiar with Burning Wheel, this is very similar in some ways. BW goes for a crazy ambitious number of individual Roles, with the dense mechanization basically providing one line of unique profiling to each. What I’m envisioning here sort of makes each Role their own little mini-setting, with the technical potential to be very different from each other as LifePath experiences.

Role Brochures certainly help organize the mass of mechanical cruft the game’s Trait system implies, but creating a bunch of them is still a significant amount of work, so it’s probably not something that I’ll really get into unless we actually go on to play the game for real at some point. The way I see it, the Roles get to carry most of the content weight, which in C2020 is significant, as it runs on so much detail in Skills and other Traits. It’s doable, but not for a lark.

The entirely most important part of the brochure arrangement is that it should constrain the point-buy distribution of points into Skills such that a character only has a handful of Skill options available at a time depending on what their current Role is. Taking a character through multiple Roles over a life-time will cause the personal Skill list to rack up, but hopefully a well-designed Role Brochure will keep the local set of choices moment-to-moment fictionally meaningful and concrete. There’s no “and here’s 200 points to distribute between these 200 skills” step in there, the points distribution is actually much more structured once you have a reasonable variety of Role Brochures available. You’re only in one Role at once (most of the time), and that Role has a half dozen Skill options, and you’re mostly only allocating points to the Skills of that Role.

The LifePathing activity could possibly be structured some more (such as in C2020 classic, in which it’s presented as a very formulaic affair of chart-rolling), but I think it should ultimately work out as a dialogue between the character player and the GM (or other assigned mediator), as an imaginative journey through a life, with the event dicing and point-budgeting as content cues that feed the imagination. The point of the process is to engage in automatic writing, channeling the setting.

Emergency exit from LifePathing

The Traveler thing where you can outright die in lifepathing is, of course, hilarious. It’s not contradictory with the creative goals of C2020, so sure, the LifePathing process could produce life events that make the character non-feasible to play further. That was this guy’s story, time to roll up a new face.

In the big picture it’s more likely that players don’t want to put the amount of brain-power that a single character takes to develop in this scheme into something that might get killed by a single bad dice roll. Thus, the “emergency exit rule”:

If you don’t like a LifePath event and feel like it’s worth the trouble, declare emergency exit: the LifePathing will stop and the GM uses the event as the scenario kicker for their next NailBag.

How useful this is, and where, depends a lot on where in the campaign’s overall structure LifePathing gets done. When starting up a new campaign it’s a feasible boot-strapping strategy to simply have the players start LifePathing various character, and have each player stop when the character stumbles out of the LifePathing scratched and bleeding; that’s your starting situation for the NailBag part of play. A sort of sudden start, a “well one day you stumble in the middle of a firefight” kind of thing.

Alternatively, the LifePathing could stop in a more controlled manner, segue into SimPunk (week-by-week slice of life event development), and then go from there into the NailBag. Because every character has their own individual journey into the NailBag, you can combine these other play modes to get there. The emergency exit rule works as a good safety in the sense that if something horrible happens to the character, the player can try to wriggle out of that by pushing play down into a concrete scene that begins an “adventure”.

Stages of Growing Up

While most Traits develop by Role Brochure, Stats mainly don’t, outside of Perk drops. Instead, a character has their initial Trait array from earlier, which will then be modified over their lifetime as follows:

The Baby Stat Line

INT 1
EMP 2
WIL 1
TEK 1
COD 1
BOD 0
GEN 4
… and distribute points equal to GEN between the other Stats, one to each. Enter Early Childhood.

Early Childhood

~7 years in a baby Role; usually little happens aside from a few bonus Stat adjustments.
+1 to all Stats except GEN
… and enter Childhood proper.

Childhood

~7 years in child Role, learning life skills.
+1 to all Stats except GEN
… and enter Adolescence.

Adolescence

~7 years in adolescent Role, preparing for an adult Role. Often tragically cut short in Cyberpunk.
+1 to all Stats except GEN
… and enter Adulthood.

Adulthood

~7 years, rolling over particularly at Role switching or other important life events.
1 to a single Stat
… and repeat until Senescence sets in. Maybe test GEN against a TN one step higher (so 3, 6, 9, etc.) every time an adult life stage ends to find out if it’s time to enter Senescence. Suitably gritty, but manageable with a healthy lifestyle.

Senescence

~7 years, rolling over particularly at Role switching or other important life events.
1 to all Stats
… and repeat until sweet death claims the pustulent meat.

The 7-year “life stages” are marked on the LifePath sheet; each is a minimum of 4 years and a maximum of 10 years long. The end comes whenever the character’s life suffers a major disruption during the time-frame, as determined by the GM. (Aging makes for a nice consequence for failure, but it’s also appropriate if the character’s spent a long time in a single Role and then changes careers.) This may well occur in hindsight, e.g. the character hasn’t shifted life stages for a decade, so the GM pinpoints the past moment when they actually shifted. In an utterly unremarkable life the stage shift is always precisely 7 years, unlikely as that is.

For example, a character living an extremely rough life (deprivation and responsibility from a young age) could become an adult at the age of 12, developing mature faculties before their time. Similarly, a slow development is possible, with (speculative scifi) extremes having adolescence only begin after two decades of life. It’s a funky little concept, makes tracking character age a bit more fun.

The general strategic conceit is that biological age is one of the most important factors in Stat development; taking a direct hand in who and what you are in this regard is the purview of science fiction, quite literally, as only the privileged self-maintenance oriented characters will have the wherewithal to do direct character optimization on their own Stat lines via conditioning, therapies or, ’80s style cybernetics. For the most part you work with what you have, and that means a Stat array that blossoms towards adulthood and then begins a slow deterioration afterwards. All kinds of civilization-based mitigation of the cruel facts of biology come on top of this.

Discounting changes caused by LifePaths, Perks and environmental factors, the adult mean for all Stats is in the ballpark of 5 points, with deviations to either direction caused by independently accruing factors in an approximate binomial distribution, so kinda like a bell curve but not directly dice-generated. In the original C2020 Stats are extremely vulnerable to minmaxing in a way that I find flies counter to the game’s creative goals; it’s better if the players save their specialization ideas for Skill development and accept that most people most of the time have relatively average Stats. Deviating for more than two points from the mean is already entirely visible as a character trait, marking someone notably deficient or genius in this area of life. (For all the good that does you; Stats aren’t as directly dominant here as they are in orthodox C2020.)

Creating characters concept first in C2020

Concept-first character creation is historically absolutely central to how the traditional tabletop roleplaying game has developed; the high traditional style of game basically emerged from the step-wise abandonment of the more random generation oriented early D&D tradition. I am obligated to believe that this was driven by a genuine desire for something more along the lines of princess play; I can barely imagine it myself, being as how ill the point-buy character creation suits my own sensibilities.

The game texts of the traditional era don’t generally do a very good job of being usefully explicit about it, but the fundamental creative conceit that you need to make any sense of these extremely free point-buy character creation schemes is that you should be starting with a potent character vision first thing, before you start jumping through the mechanical hoops. And the concept isn’t even just “you gotta have an idea”, it’s a creative passion threshold requirement: the game won’t work well if you’re not excited about your clever, emotionally charged character idea. It’s a high bar to pass, and it’s kinda funny how little these games acknowledge that. I only ever learned to play these concept first games correctly after I realized that the more excited I am with a character idea, the better the free customizing oriented character building subgame serves me. This is implicitly obvious to some people, but not to all of us.

(I usually link people to the story of how I played an animated train in 5e D&D as a particularly clear illustration of how very much better I am at this sort of thing than I was in the ’90s, but the Story Games forums were discarded like an old potato, so I guess that story went the way of the dodo.)

The lifepath-based approach we wrestle with above is basically the opposite of concept first character creation: it’s “circumstance before inspiration” in that the expectation is that you enter character creation with an open mind and let the process and the dice inform your creativity. The system outright breaks if you enter with a preinclination, as the game constantly fights against you, giving you the wrong random inputs.

Orthodox C2020 is a bit funky in how it tries to bow to two masters in this regard. There is an core kernel of an idea in there, but there’s also a historical muddle: maybe you roll your Stats (very “character generation”, not so much “character creation”), maybe you point-buy them, who knows. But after that wicket is passed, you will def choose your character’s Role, and point-buy the hell out of character Skills. You’re creating your own ideal cyberpunk, not just some person buffeted by the winds of LifePathing.

The wonderfully weird part comes after that, because the game expects you to enter the lifepathing segment after determining Stats, Role and Skills. There’s again muddled uncertainty about whether this is even a standard part of chargen, maybe you can just skip it? And you certainly can pick and choose lifepath options instead of rolling if you’d like. But still, the game expects that you have first envisioned your ideal cyberpunk, purchasing their skill pattern, and then you go into this random table thing that tells you little things like whether your character’s working or middle class, do they have siblings, who was their first love — little things like that.

So what orthodox C2020 is claiming is that it’s sensible to combine concept first character creation with lifepath generation by doing the “hard” mechanics bits (Stats, Role, Skills) concept first, and then continuing to lifepath all the “soft” character backstory bits. And it’s even very explicit about doing it in this order. I could see how in some possible world I would combine lifepath generation and concept first point-buy by doing the lifepath first and then “filling in the details” with the point-buy, but the other way around? You first choose how many gun-shooting points you have, and then randomly roll for your character being a 15-year old barista? I guess if nothing else, at least we know where the priorities lay.

OK, so that’s crazy coo coo. Might be crazy like a fox, and it’s certainly original, but I’m not in the mind state this year 2020 to appreciate the hidden wisdom of the arrangement, so I’ll just leave you with the observation that the original game is doing something interestingly weird. So weird that when we actually play the game, it’s not uncommon to ignore some part of it: you either enter the point-buy without a firm concept (end up distributing points kinda randomly, in my experience), or you enter the lifepathing without really wanting or needing to do it because you already have your concept.

Concept first without point-buy

I want to support concept-first character creation in CRedux for various reasons, among which prominent the idea that some people really want to enter a princess play game like this with a character they’ve carefully envisioned in advance. It’s not wrong to hear from a friend that they’re going to run C2020, decide that you want to play a nightclub singer with a pet monkey, and plenty of other minute detail, and then just make the character you want.

The point-buy, on the other hand, needs to go: it doesn’t serve any purpose I can discern. (I do not discern game balance or balancing characters against each other or the other reasons you might be thinking of; those aren’t part of this game, you’re thinking of D&D or something.) Point-buy is very common in this type of game, in everything from Runequest to GURPS, but I do believe this to be a doctrinal error brought about by conservative tendencies in traditional game design.

So here’s how you go about creating a CRedux character concept first:

If you have a strong idea for a character you want to play, then instead of starting from the character’s childhood and outright rolling dice for what might happen to them in life year by year, simply scribe your character idea like so:

  1. Pick one or more Roles that fit the character concept. If your concept is about the feel of the character, simply decide how old they are and how many years of their life they’ve spent in each Role. A longer time-commitment will generally mean that the Role is stronger. If your concept is about some specific Skills, like you want to ensure that you have a high Gunnery Skill or something like that, pick a Role that focuses on the Skills you want and go with that.
  2. Fill the LifePath sheet introduced before from the future to the past: decide on the character’s last Role (the one they are in as the game begins), figure out how many year’s they been doing that, and go backwards. Feel free to leave “blank years” in your LifePath; the character can have a mysterious past that you fill in later. Just fill in the years you need to realize your character idea. Leave the childhood years and whatnot empty unless your concept tells you that something interesting happened to the character that particular year.
  3. As you go, you should fill in the Role (what the character was doing in society that year), because that helps us calculate what Traits the character picked up from that experience. You don’t have to roll for LifePath events as described in the LifePathing process; those rolls might, after all, harm your concept. Instead, fill in any events that your backstory concept determines for you. Don’t invent events for the sake of it, but do put in all the things that are important to your concept. For example, if you know that your character left the army on a dishonorable discharge at some point so as to end up as the character you envision, put that in there.
  4. Determine the final Stat line the character has at the age they enter play. Instead of the incremental method used in LifePathing, you directly set the value of each Stat to match your character concept. Use the following table. You don’t need to justify the Stat line more than you care to, but the character’s assumed to have gained the profile as a combination of life events and Perk drops from their developing Traits.
ConceptValue
Deficient — The character is noticeably, pitiably under-performing in this aspect of life. There is probably a story to why this is the case; birth defect, past injury, infirmity of age, etc. They are unable to develop common life skills to routine levels, being limited to a maximum of 4 for Skills relying on this Stat. Stat can be lower, but at that point you’re playing an invalid; a character at ‘0’ in a given Stat is literally unable to perform that life function, being e.g. limited to permanent bed rest.2
Low — Pick 3–4 to depict a character whose talent is under average in a way that does not make them categorically incapable in life. ‘3’ is clearly easier for others to notice, but even a ‘4’ — practical minimum for competing in that area of life with others over the long term — will be noticed by close acquaintances over time.3–4
Normal — The level of talent generally considered normal. Pick something in the 4–6 range for Stats that the character concept doesn’t make a big deal of.5
High — A noticeably talented character will be in this range. A good general pick if you just want the character to be heroic in that regard. If I was making an admirable “cinematic” character they’d have basically all Stats in this range, and still have self-esteem issues because pretending to be average-to-bad is basically what we do to cope with being better than the people around us.6–7
Exceptional — The Stat range doesn’t have a formal ceiling, but at this level you really should start explaining things; either multiple independent factors have aligned to make a genius, or the character is benefiting from some exceptional advantage. I assume that the highest “natural” Stat levels on the planet in most Stats are at ’10’. A character having multiple exceptional Stat should probably also have a high GEN to account for their extreme talent.8+
  1. For each Role the character has, you can calculate how many Improvement Points they gain for Skills and other Traits you might be interested in. You can work on this step in parallel with the earlier steps to arrive at the values you want if it feels more natural to first decide on the desired Skill level and then figure out how much IP the character needs; this is not a guessing game. The simple way to approach this Skill point-buy is to assume that the character gains an average of 100 Study Rate per year in the primary Skill for the Role they’re in, and 50 SR for all other Skills on their list. Multiply that with the relevant Stat (use the final Stat value we determined above; the character hasn’t been at that specific number for their whole life, but this is simpler) to find out how many Improvement Points they’ve gained for that Skill in a year. Multiply by the number of years in the Role and you get their IP total in the Skill. This can then be turned into the actual Skill value.

    For important Skills that you want to e.g. finish up to Stat ceiling, you might want to go the other way around: figure out how many IP that takes, divide by Stat × 100 to find out how many years the character needs to spend in a Role to perfect the Skill.

The concept-first character only gains life events and Perks that the concept specifically calls for. The player is, of course, free to do LifePathing for the extent they’re comfortable with; I would expect most to be happy with some amount of random vagary.

While the mathematical outcome of the concept-first method is not precisely the same that you would gain for a hypothetical character ending up with the same LifePath from bottom up, it’s close enough for our purposes; a player motivated by the details will have the competence to align the results.

So there you have it: because of the way the character definition in C2020 is essentially accumulative (characters accumulate Trait Improvement Points as they go), there’s no particular reason why you can’t just let the player fill in the LifePath in whatever order they desire. For some players it makes a lot of sense to enter the process birth-first and then slowly roll their way through life until something so interesting happens that it should be played in detail, and that’s their entry to the campaign. For others it makes sense to decide first that their character is a 32-year old disc jockey and freelance contract killer, and then plan backwards from that accordingly to give the character the background and statistics that fit the concept.

What C2020 in particular doesn’t have any need for is a balancing system for various characters against each other: the game’s about tense crime stories, NailBags as I’m apparently calling them in the CRedux project, so what’s the problem with one player playing a teenager in over their head, while another plays a virtuoso combat burro (that’s my new in-setting name for Solos, “Combat Burro”). Just decide what statistics you want for the character and fill the sheets in accordingly. Cyberpunk life is so very, very short that you don’t need to earn the right to play a character with high skills.

You totally could go even further and say that there’s no need to structurally justify the character’s high Gunnery Skill by their X years spent as a soldier; why couldn’t you just scribe a neat ’10’ under that Skill and start playing? I fully agree with this notion, and there are many games in which this is totally my advice (yeah, really), but, well, my C2020 understanding isn’t really that it’s one and the same. This is a game with a detailed character creation system. It wants to spend some considerable time working out your character’s backstory. We want you to consider your character a creative masterpiece. You can spend some time calculating how many years your character spent in the Marine Corps to attain their minmaxed combat stats.

That being said, the system is intentionally time-reversible, and I explicitly support reverse-engineering Skill ratings based on years-served, so in actual play I expect to have the character sheets filled with various spontaneous details that we didn’t get around to in character creation. Ars Magica (my totem lighthouse on this) very much presents the character creation as a carefully fine-tuned affair where everything is put into its place before actual play begins, but maybe it would be more fun to play this kind of thing slightly looser? Just get things 80% in order, and fill in the disinteresting details when they cease being so disinteresting, in actual play. I think that a game like this specifically needs a firm simulation chassis that can reproduce lost numbers and create quick estimates because for all that I think that it’s core gameplay, the nitpicky spreadsheet character maintenance needs its time and place, and sometimes you just want to set it aside for a bit to do something more concrete.

I could very easily see this as the place where I lose a player, because done at all wrong this sort of thing can get hellishly boring. Lots of minutiae over not particularly interesting things. To play C2020 I believe you got to want to spend that time micromanaging a complex character spreadsheet. That’s your personal dollhouse. If our teenager memories of the game mislead us to think otherwise, there is certainly no textual support to that sort of thing in the game text itself: the truth of this game is that you spend a lot of time imagining your vivacious masterpiece of a character before they finally get to concretely do something in the game. This is one of those “write two pages of backstory for your character” games, fresh out of the early ’90s.

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