Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets
– The Falcon, dialectical ephemeralist revolutionary, talking about lackeys
Our recent train heist involved a serious number of low-ranked enemies, the full complement of which hasn’t been described yet (Drew’s breathless reports take her a lot of time to write, even if they might seem like a rant she spat out over the phone to a friend in 10 minutes). During the latter part of this battle (after Bob Millet got naked) we had five PCs taking on 16 soldiers in a rather drawn out and exhausting gun battle, which was only a taster for the main event. We soon discovered that this makes battles slow and exhausting, and you spend a lot of time resolving rules for people who, though potentially fatal, are largely just going to serve to wear you down a bit. Cyberpunk doesn’t have any special rules for handling this, so you just have a huge number of different people making complex shots, rolling hit locations, doing damage, keeping track of armour, etc. Cyberpunk doesn’t really have a style that is suited for minions in the sense that e.g. Warhammer 3 or Iron Kingdoms have them, but we often find ourselves dealing with gangers, grunts or low-level cannon fodder who really should be treated as just that.
We have also begun to run up against the problem of the nihilistic arms race that I described a long time ago. We have good armour and we’re dangerous, so if our GM wants to put in enemies who can kill us – or even just hurt us – he needs to give them powerful weapons that he really doesn’t want our team to get. Not only does this really up the lethality of every adventure, but when we win we will get those weapons. Drew has been salivating over the possibility of getting a military-grade sniper’s rifle, that does 7d10 or 9d10 damage and gives her a +5 to hit – she can take down anything with that. Our GM obviously wants to stop us getting that, but if he wants to stop us he needs to deploy some serious grade stuff against us. So we also need to find a way to derail this arms race.
Rules for minions offer an opportunity to smooth down combat and slow down the arms race.
The basic principle of the lackey
The lackey is the Cyberpunk version of a minion or mook in fantasy RPGs. They turn up in groups, armed with the kind of military cast-off stuff that no PC wants, and they aren’t individually dangerous but if you don’t mow them down they’ll take a piece out of you. They serve to distract team members while the big boss is setting up the rocket launcher, or the real solos are mainlining their combat drugs and getting ready to wade in. You could probably ignore them because you can tell each of them is a scrawny boosterhead, but en masse they might just get a lucky hit.
The way this works in cyberpunk is simple. Lackeys come with base stats for attacks, damage and armour, but they get a +1 to hit and +1 die of damage (up to the number of dice their weapon delivers) for every additional member of the group. To further simplify things, they don’t have hit locations – their bodies are a single routine armour type. They also don’t have a Body Type Modifier (BTM) or hit points: for every four points of damage you do over armour, one lackey gets it in the neck. They don’t roll skill checks for e.g. awareness/notice, dodge/escape or other challenged actions, but have a simple single difficulty level for all actions against them. Thus, hitting them involves a single attack roll followed by a single damage roll, and then a count. They also don’t vary their attack type except for narrative fun – you don’t worry about giving them three shot bursts or single shots or whatever, because they just make a single attack each round. The sole exception to this is if the GM decides to give them grenades or have them lay down suppressive fire – in the former case the standard to hit rule for weapons applies, while in the latter case anyone who fails to avoid the suppressive fire simply takes damage equal to the level of the lackey multiplied by the number of them firing, minus BTM (armour doesn’t apply). This damage doesn’t hit any particular location – the lackeys are firing huge numbers of bullets so it is spread evenly over many areas. High level lackeys in large groups might deliver enough damage to knock a solo down, but they won’t take out any of her limbs because they delivered it through a wall of low-grade lead.
Stats for the four levels of lackey are given below.
- Level 1 (shit kickers): Armour 0, attack 5, dmg 3d6, basic difficulty 12, initiative 7
- Level 2 (gangbangers): Armour 12, attack 7, dmg 4d6, basic difficulty 15, initiative 12
- Level 3 (basic security): Armour 18, attack 10, dmg 5d6, basic difficulty 18, initiative 15
- Level 4 (corporate dogs): Armour 24, attack 12, dmg 6d6, basic difficulty 20, initiative 15
Key points about handling lackeys
Because no weapon can be boosted beyond the number of dice it rolls, there is no benefit to increasing lackey groups beyond a certain size: shit kickers don’t benefit from having more than 4 in a group, since they can’t do more than 3 extra dice with their weapon. This reflects the fact that people this useless can’t coordinate actions in large numbers; while corporate dogs can be up to 7 in number, which is a truly terrifying squad. Lackey squads can be larger than this (if some arsehole down in the docks can dose up 100 losers on enough ghostshock and set them loose then yes, you will find yourself having to gun them down by the dozen), but they won’t do more damage than twice the original damage of their weapon, because of reasons.
When a PC does damage on a squad of lackeys, they can’t kill more than the number of bullets they have fired. So Drew’s beautiful blue pastel rifle, damage 9d6+3, is a waste of time against lackeys because it only fires one bullet. However, if she switches to her FN-FAL, she can fire 3 shot bursts and take down three guys at a time.
When using multiple shots against a gang of lackeys, don’t waste time rolling multiple damage. Just add one die to your weapon damage for every bullet after the first. This applies to full auto, where every point of success above the target number indicates one bullet hits. Usually you would roll each of these bullets separately, but with lackeys you don’t bother; instead you just add one die per success. This rule doesn’t exist to benefit the lackeys or make them more dangerous, it is just intended to speed up combat.
When a leader is standing amongst his or her lackeys, area effect attacks do not harm the leader – the lackeys soak it up first. So if someone drops a grenade on such a squad, it might kill all the lackeys but it won’t harm the leader.
Grenades have no frag limit. If you drop a grenade on a group of lackeys, and you roll enough damage, it kills all of them. Don’t be a lackey!
Note lackeys have a fixed initiative. Shit kickers will probably react after your hacker, and you can rely on the higher level lackeys to act fast but not fast enough. You wanna kill corporate dogs, you gotta have at least a little bit of combat sense.
Pops, Drew and Coyote need to kill a man because of reasons. The man has holed up in an abandoned warehouse down in the docks. It’s some oil age shitheap, so they go in the easy way – Coyote attaches a strip of explosive to a wall and they walk through once the dust is cleared. Inside the warehouse there are a bunch of crates that they immediately take cover behind, but not before they come under fire from a squad of five gangbangers. Because the gangbangers were lying in wait they get the drop, and lay down a curtain of suppressing fire on the huge hole Coyote made. The difficulty to avoid this suppression fire is 15 (the target difficulty for all actions against gangbangers), and Coyote and Drew make it but Pops just misses it. He takes 2 points of damage multiplied by the number of gangbangers (5), so 10 points of damage, or 7 after BTM. He is injured but not badly.
Now they are through the curtain of suppressive fire they are able to roll initiative. The ‘bangers don’t roll, they get an automatic 12. Pops rolls 14, Coyote 11, Drew 19. Drew switches weapons to her FN-FAL, pops up and takes a three shot burst at the gang, but it’s dark and this is her second action so she just misses. Pops throws a grenade at the squad, rolling a 15, so it lands, but it’s only a 5d6 damage frag, one of the crappy ones that Coyote picks up cheap from his “friend” Twitch. Pops rolls 18, which is 6 more than the gangers’ armour, so he manages to kill one. Four remain. These four now have a chance to shoot at Drew, who had popped out; they roll 15 but with four gangers they get a +3, so hit her with an 18. Their weapons do 4d6 damage but with +3 dice, so 7d6. The GM rolls 34 on the right leg, which after Drew’s armour of 28 and BTM of 3 leaves just 3 points of damage. She shrugs it off. Finally Coyote rises up and fires two shots at the gangers from his pistol. His first shot hits and the second misses. The first shot does 6d6+2 damage, and Coyote rolls a mighty 33, enough to go through 5 gangers (33-12 armour =21), but he only has a single shot pistol, so he can only kill one. Three remain.
The round ends. Drew doesn’t bother dropping under cover; she squeezes off two three-shot bursts, hitting with the first. She rolls d3 for the number of bullets, and gets three hits! However, rather than wasting time rolling multiple damage rolls, she simply adds 2d6 to her weapon damage, for a total of 8d6+2. Damage total is not so great, just 30, but that’s 18 above the gangers’ armour, enough to kill four gangers. Having fired only three bullets she can only kill three, but there are only three left, so down they go.
The squad is gone. Pops pulls out his grenade launcher and pumps a couple of frag grenades up to the higher level. Drew returns to her beautiful blue pastel Nomad rifle, and takes cover in a corner facing up the stairs. Pops and Coyote head up the stairs to the upper level, moving fast and low. The man they have come to kill is out of lackeys, and out of luck …