Patrons for Cyberpunk Games
The setup, converted from Classic Trav: The party can seek a Patron by spending a week trawling bars, the hidden internet, phoning their contacts, etc.– this takes the whole party’s time, it skips any downtime actions or other big moves. They roll a die, and on 5+ they then get to roll on the Patron table to see what type of patron they’ve met. Fixers that trust the party can add in another roll on the party’s behalf, but if the job comes through them, the fixer takes their cut (results of Fixer on the patron table are jobs where the fixer hires the party directly– no cut is taken).
The table generates their general affiliation– you then throw together an NPC on the spot, run the meet, toss a final (relatively easy) reaction roll to make sure the meet goes well1. The details of the mission are explained, and the party gets to accept or decline the mission. Only after this are the details of the mission determined (so that the party’s decline option doesn’t nuke your session)2
d66 Cyberpunk Patrons
note: the Rumor results on this table are intended to be specific leads the characters can use to ‘freelance’ a heist– info they can follow up on in order to score for themselves, without cutting in middlemen. Freely swap in other high-value results specific to your game: doubles should feel good on the Patron table. Matter of fact, swap in whatever you can think of.
First, some nuts and bolts, then I’ll explain myself: The table vaguely and generally gets Bigger as the numbers rise. A high result on either die should suggest greater risk and greater reward. This doesn’t really need to be there, it’s just for the dopamine. Roll it with casino dice3. The Snake Eyes result is an irresistible reference to the Tom Maddox short story. It means you’re marked, either by the law or someone you wronged or something else. Get out.
Also, this is gonna mean right about one in-game month per mission for the party, which I’m sure was the intention in Traveller– to simplify the bookkeeping. This means that the pay rates shouldn’t go lower than the party’s monthly spend. I would argue they should be a bit more than double it; this gives the party a month’s buffer they can use to decline a job next month, skip a month for non-job-hunting downtime, etc.
The lowest jobs on the table should probably be a touch below that two-month mark, and the highest jobs on the table probably hit near the six month marker. That’s my rough guide for how the remaining economics of the system can shake out. Assuming for a second that two-month mark is right about 5,000 credits (a number I absolutely just made up on the spot), I’d expect the pay to look about like the following:4
|Patron Roll Sum
|Pay per runner
Finally, randomizing the final result would be done with another 2d6:
Pay Modifier Table
note: the Snake Eyes result here means the patron tries to screw you on pay. Roll again to determine the nominal price they’re offering; treat snake eyes on that roll as a result of 12.
I know what you’re about to ask: Why the fuck are you doing any of this?
Cyberpunk games are my ancient nemesis. I hate them fractally. If I look in detail at any given lore piece or mechanic, I invariably hate it, equal to my hatred of the system as a whole. These games– probably the ones you’re thinking of, maybe some of the ones you’re not– got me my start in the hobby, and so I’ve learned over time exactly what about them pains me.
Imagine it this way: if you were one of the prisoners in Plato’s cave, who knew only shadows, and after being dragged to the surface and after learning what cows and carts are, you returned to the cave and to the shadows before which you had spent your early life. You would look at that wall, and see the shadows crawling over it, but now, knowing the true shapes of cows and carts, you would instead perceive only the distortions caused by the roughness of the wall, its cracks and irregularities. And those features would represent more than the natural imperfection of the stone; they had been for all those years your deceivers. The faultless lies of the stone might engender a deep, irrational hatred– scar tissue from your old false beliefs.
The basic manner in which a session in Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 20XX begins is: someone in the party receives a phone call. The phone call then offers them all a job, and the party says “yes”. They always say “yes”, because to not accept the job would be throwing the GM’s session prep in the garbage. The games usually require and reward heavy prep, and so if all those NPCs, maps, and security systems are tossed after 30 seconds of play, nobody’s having fun. It’s a hostage situation. They might as well be soldiers receiving orders.
The dissonance here gets especially heavy when the party is betrayed, set up, or sent into a suicide mission. These then become things that the GM did to them, rather than consequences of the game. GMs usually avoid doing those things, because it feels unfair, because the game relies on the GM feeding discrete adventures to the party like a video-game level select screen.
The cyberpunk RPG wants to feel like a “social sandbox” where you navigate your contacts, allies and enemies, and make decisions on who to align with, who to help, who to save, who to screw. If a simple yes-no is enough of a variable to dismantle the entire illusion of player choice, how can it possibly earn consideration as a sandbox?
My answer to this dilemma is that the run shouldn’t exist until the players roll it. Basic jobs should be randomized and improvised, and should be simple enough that a GM can do this on the fly. These simpler missions should provide the bulk of the early gameplay– until the party builds enough contacts and reputation in play that the social environment can feel like a tactile and strategic environment for them to play in5.
This being a die roll skips the Cyberpunk Date Night scene, which I have always found boring. Puppet theater put on by the GM in front of a captive audience that would prefer to skip to the part where they make some sort of decision.↩︎
This means a couple of things for the system: first, missions have to be simple enough that they can be improvised on the fly, or assembled from random tables and spare parts. second, this amount of randomness and improvisation is going to be bad for highly tactical stealth and combat subsystems. It can’t depend upon the GM having a battlemap to whip out for every occasion so that the party can make sense of their environment– it’s gotta fit entirely within the braincase.↩︎
I’m extremely tempted to have sevens on the table lead to some sort of complication. I could build this into future versions of the table, but I don’t want the base version to have every Mercenary job be universally ratfucked; it’d be too easy to see through the screen.↩︎
Convert this to the lifestyle cost system of the cyberpunk RPG of your choosing. One note on the subject, which I intend to write on later: I dislike that systems tend to treat lifestyle as an abstract item that you purchase off a store shelf, rationally choosing to forgo the lavish lifestyle for slumming it. If there is to be a lifestyle cost slider, it should go up automatically as your bank account swells.↩︎
Once this social environment exists, and the party understands it intuitively, it becomes easier to weave in larger, prepped jobs without threatening a railroad. The party’s motivations are known, the reputations and relationships of the party’s contacts are established. This is the sustainable campaign state that the neotrad cyberpunk RPGs can still get to, if they escape the uncertain early missions. The patron roll still has utility here, though, as it helps with low-prep sessions, provides a fail-state if a week of prep gets bungled in play, etc.↩︎