Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after a headshot

Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after taking a headshot

The original Cyberpunk rulebook has a simple and nasty system of armour, which is completely broken. In this system your gun does a handful of dice of damage, between 3d6+1 for a good submachine gun to 7d10 for a high quality sniper rifle, and your armour has a stopping power (SP) that ranges from 4 for a leather jacket to about 24 or 30 for full-grade military armour. If the damage you roll exceeds the SP of your armour, you take damage, from which you can subtract your body type modifier (BTM) before you take any actual damage to your body. BTM is usually between 2 and 4, and you can take about 30 hits before you die, but you can only take 8 hits before you start having to make shock checks to stay conscious, and 12 hits before you start making death checks. These checks become progressively harder, and these wound states (in blocks of 4) come with increasing penalties to activity. This means that taking damage is a rapid death spiral, and as soon as you can you buy one of the basic, easily-accessible armour types that makes you immune to low level damage. See the example at the bottom of this post for more details.

The result of this rule is the exact kind of nihilism I decried in a post on cyberpunk some time back, which attracted a lot of negative attention. It also drains out a lot of the sense of tactical battle skills and planning that seems like it should be the essence of a fight in cyberpunk, because highly-protective armour is much more easily accessible than highly-destructive guns: for example, “Motocross Armour” (SP 24) is easy to get, but the most easily accessible gun is the FN-RAL assault rifle (Drew is a proud owner of one of these) which does 6d6+2 damage, not enough to get through the Motocross Armour + BTM, and definitely not enough to penetrate Drew’s Motocross armour + body-weave + BTM (total target: 31). So instead of dashing from cover to cover, worrying about getting hit, Drew can just stand in the middle of the room gunning people down. If she’s up against people with SMGs she can use the same tactic naked (SP12+BTM=target of 15). Under this rule system you don’t need cover, tactics or planning, you just need a good set of motocross armour and a spine of steel (or, in Drew’s case, a complete lack of any sense of self-preservation and a COOL of 9). This rule is also, I suspect, unrealistic: although this blog says that armour has outpaced guns, this highly entertaining youtube video suggests that even a normal pistol firing certain kinds of normal ammunition can go through very effective armour and still do a lot of damage (the hole from the Hungarian bullet at the end looks to me like it must be at least a Mortal-2 category of damage!) Obviously we don’t want to play in a world where the first shot kills us, but as players we want to keep at least some sense of that furtiveness and care that we assume real soldiers must engage in, especially in close-range firefights of the kind we’re regularly caught in, and we don’t want the game to degenerate to a slugfest between heavily-armoured foes at 10m.

Our house rule, that bullets that don’t penetrate armour still do one point of stun damage, completely changes the dynamic of combat. When someone lays down suppressive fire on a small area you suddenly value cover very highly, because if your dodge/escape check fails you’re looking at 1d6 points of shock damage; you can only sustain this for a few rounds before you’re out for the count. And finding cover makes fights tougher, because moving around and ducking in and out of cover reduces the number of shots you can take and increases your activity penalties. This is why Drew bought her armour-cracking gun …

Drew’s Beautiful New Gun

Realizing that we are usually outnumbered in combat, and with this new rule making force of numbers a dangerous foe, Drew decided to invest in a weapon that can even the odds rapidly. Our street dealer, Coyote, can’t buy really good guns easily (probably because he is so ugly), and so Drew hasn’t been able to get the sniper rifle she keeps asking him for, but he is also very good at modifying existing weapons. So Drew bought herself a cheap, easily-available Nomad 7.62 bolt action rifle, and Coyote modified it to fire electro-thermal (ET) shot. Neither Drew nor I know what this means, but we don’t care: it adds 50% to her damage. This mod can only be applied to non-automatic weapons with caseless ammunition[1], but it means that Drew now has a 9d6+3 damage rifle with an accuracy of +2 and a six-shot cartridge. The accuracy bonus for this gun means that if she is not moving and focuses on just the one shot she hits the head with a roll of 2 or more on a d10; if she has to perform a second action she hits on a 4 or more. Head shots do double damage after SP and BTM modifiers, which is why in our last session Drew killed 3 men with 5 shots.

This gun is also in a tasteful pastel blue. Drew tries to avoid pink when she is working with other combat teams, because she wants to be taken seriously as a riflewoman.

Tactics for breaking armour

In our last session we ended up facing off against five guys with power armour, which has an SP of at least 28, carrying fairly heavy automatic rifles (probably FN-RALs, like Drew’s) and at least one shotgun (scary!). We lucked on a very effective method for breaking down armour within the revised rules, however. This was pretty simple: Coyote used a high-rate-of-fire Kalashnikov to lay down suppressive fire when they first arrived in combat, forcing them back through the door they were entering by, and Pops dropped burner grenades on them. Burner grenades don’t do huge amounts of damage but anyone who is hit by them has to make a COOL check to stay in combat and not put out the flames, and the flames themselves continue for a few rounds, causing additional stun damage under the revised rules. Drew, of course, was laying out head shots, because a single headshot with her beautiful new gun will probably kill someone even if they have SP 30 and BTM 4, especially if it has armour piercing ammo. Once Coyote and Pops had expended their initial ammunition, Coyote switched to throwing fragmentation grenades and Pops switched to three-shot bursts with his FN-RAL, which don’t do heavy damage but are likely to wear down single opponents fast with stun damage. Meanwhile Drew continued with the head shots, aiming at individual opponents who posed the most threat.

Unfortunately Pops and Coyote are really shit at delivering grenades, so most missed, but two of our support team managed to do that job. With this tactic, Drew cleaned up the riskiest guy in the first round, a lot of damage was laid down on the enemy in the second round, and in the third round the burner grenades caused two of the remaining guys to expire; the last two went down from another fragmentation grenade after that. None of these guys were dead (except Drew’s first target), just shocked and exhausted; but Drew soon fixed that.

This tactic works because it maintains a heavy pressure of stun damage on the whole group, because no one can stand in the blast zone of three grenades while they’re on fire and being shot at without eventually giving up the ghost. Under the previous rules, everything we had thrown at them except Drew’s ET round would have done nothing. If Pops now improves his heavy weapons skill so his grenade launcher is actually effective, and we find Coyote a better suppression weapon (e.g. a mini-gun) then this tactic will be even more effective. Even power armour won’t stop us now!

Example: The original rules

Ghost has come out of his hidey-hole in our first adventure, and finds himself facing off against a squad of three gangers armed with SMGs, who are there to kill him. He has warning, and has donned a set of full combat armour that he spent much of his starting money on. He needs to get down the hallway to the lift. The three gangers fire 3-shot bursts at him, hitting him twice and delivering 1d3 shots per successful burst, for a total of 3 hits. They roll damage, but their SMGs are crumby, doing 3d6 damage, and his SP is 24, so there’s no risk he will take any damage. He walks down the hallway towards them, shooting them down one by one as the rest of the group catch up and start gunning them down with assault rifles. Ghost is a hacker.

Example: The revised rules

Drew is lying on the ground unable to move, in plain sight, after a lunatic ganger tried to wrestle her and get her helmet off in our sixth adventure. Two men at the end of the hallway armed with assault rifles let rip on her with suppressive fire, and unable to dodge properly she takes 5 bullets. The men are using kalashnikovs, which do 5d6 damage, but Drew is wearing full combat armour plus SP12 sub-dermal armour (she’s a sensible girl!) so she has a total SP of 28. All five bullets hit her for less than 28 damage each, and she takes nothing. The GM, in a fit of rage, makes up the new rules, and so Drew takes one point of stun damage from each bullet that hit her. The GM, who is a complete bastard, also degrades her armour slightly. Drew is now in the lightly wounded category (-2 on everything) and if she takes 3 more bullets, even if they don’t penetrate, she will need to start making stun checks to stay functional.

fn1: One amusing thing about this game is that, since I’m not a gun nut at all, with no experience of any form of projectile weapons (I have never touched one, and have only even seen one in someone’s hand once), I have no clue what any of the language means, I just treat it as categories of stuff like magic items. One of our players was a conscript in his national army, and has a lot of familiarity with the various barbaric instruments of death that Drew deploys; I leave the details to him.