August 23, 2016 by brennon
With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided now out on PC and Consoles there’s probably a few of you who are going to be dragged back into the world of Cyberpunk tabletop gaming.
There are plenty of contenders out there for good Cyberpunk RPG systems like Cyberpunk 2020, Shadowrun, and Technoir for example but how about something a little simpler?
What Is Digital_Shades?
If you just want to dip your toe into the world of Cyberpunk role-playing and don’t want to be bogged down by masses of rules and complicated tables for Hackers then the SIMPLE system should prove to be an excellent storytelling device.
With no fixed setting Digital_Shades allows you to play your game in any Cyberpunk world that you could think of. Maybe it’s the dark streets of Night City from Cyberpunk 2020 or the rain slicked streets of Blade Runner. It could be a bit more clean and futuristic like the world of I,Robot or in the here and now like Mr.Robot. However you want to approach your game world this caters to it.
Effectively filling two sheets of A4 the game takes little to no time to teach and is about as complicated as boiling an egg. But, that doesn’t mean that the game suffers from this simplicity.
How Do You Play?
The game works off a simple character creation system that might feel familiar to players of World of Darkness. Assigned points will be added to a broad selection of skills at character creation and when you attempt an action within that remit you roll the number of dice applicable to your skill.
The values on the dice you roll then allow you to pick the result of your action. On a one to three you might fail the action with varying degrees of severity. Four means you pulled off the action but something complicated proceedings. Five or Six is a great success and might lead to further boons.
Similar rules apply to combat and damage is applied based on the weapon. Blunt damage is applied from the likes of baseball bats and fists for example while you also have sharp damage from guns and ‘bang’ damage from explosives.
As you take damage during combat you will come closer to taking a ‘Tough Bastard’ role which is there to see whether or not you can stick it out or must act defensively. Finally you can be KO’d. Healing and such is decided by the world itself. Maybe nanotechnology allows the repairing of wounds quickly or things could be decidedly worse.
With this simple system you have a way for people to play out both narrative and combat scenes with an emphasis on storytelling and players bringing their imaginations to the table.
What Makes It Cyberpunk?
Well, the system could very easily just be used for anything but the thing that drops this into the Cyberpunk world is the way Upgrades work. While other games might have you looking through a massive Argos level catalogue of items when you make a character these upgrades in Digital_Shades give simple bonuses and it becomes up to the player to distinguish how their Cybernetics take form within the game world.
All the common items are in there from subdermal body armour, Cybernetic limbs, eyes, brains, all manner of chips and gadgets. You can make yourself feel as ‘Human’ or ‘Augmented’ as you like since a lot of your choices can be switched out to fit into other aspects of character creation instead.
Away from the Cyberpunk feel being there for players you can also work together to make your own futuristic city. This is one of the best parts of Digital_Shades and it’s wonderful to see them exploring cooperative storytelling.
Just like with character creation the players come up with the look and feel of their environment too; making the city a character almost in of itself. They will roll for its systems and people, the way the government acts, the kind of rights open to citizens and even come up with key places of interest for them to explore.
This is all handy for a Games Masters and means that everyone involved has a vested interest in making this a living, breathing world they have a stake in.
All of this comes together to create a fascinating Cyberpunk toybox that is ripe for storytelling, fascinating tales and hooks that could lead you towards further adventures.
What’s The Appeal?
Not everyone is going to like Digital_Shades. The more intricate systems of other RPGs might draw people in that little bit more and they might desire getting lost within a very cleverly designed and deep hacking system for example. But, Digital_Shades can deliver in a different way.
By stripping away a lot of the complication and giving agency to the players and the Game Master as a combined whole you get a storytelling system where everyone can feel involved and do awesome things as long as they’re willing to get invested in the experience.
Allowing this freedom of choice within the system to explain what exactly happened when you fired that shot, or the complications that arises from you trying to hack that system is something I love in role-playing games. It’s why World of Darkness appeals so much because the emphasis sits on what YOU say you’re going to do.
Just saying ‘I shoot the guy’ doesn’t cut it here. You’re pushed towards explaining just how you’re going to shoot the guy. Do you aim for his knee to try and take him down and incapacitate him? Do you aim to wing him hoping to make him look down and hesitate as your friend comes in from behind and clubs him round the head?
This isn’t going to be for everyone. Some people like more hard and fast rules in their games. But, for those of you who love deep storytelling and narrative experiences, if you’ve ever played Fiasco even, this could give you the kick you’ve been looking for in a Cyberpunk world.
To sum up this system harks back to what we’ve been talking about here on Beasts of War about simplicity and accessibility. Allowing someone to do what they want and impressing on them that whatever they say might pay off means that SIMPLE is fun, mad, unexpected and will give you moments worth talking about.
When it comes to Cyberpunk role-playing I can’t think of a system I’d rather dive into more than this one right now. I love Cyberpunk 2020 but with storytelling and narrative development at the forefront Digital_Shades opens things up to explore social interactions in different ways not governed by numbers, and more working together between players taking the focus away from gunfight after gunfight.
As a fan of Android: Netrunner I think Digital_Shades hits a similar nerve. When playing this game I FEEL like I’m sitting there in a neon lit universe of Androids and Cybernetics where social groups and radicals are rebelling against Mega Corporations and each other due to the storybook nature of how characters and the world are created.
It’s a real hit with me and my group and I reckon if you’re interested in a different tabletop experience free of miniatures (I know, heresy!) this could get you that fix.
Now, time to plug back into Deus Ex and see if it inspires anymore Digital_Shades adventures!
Do you reckon you’ll give this a go?
"Effectively filling two sheets of A4 the game takes little to no time to teach and is about as complicated as boiling an egg..."
"By stripping away a lot of the complication and giving agency to the players and the Game Master as a combined whole you get a storytelling system where everyone can feel involved and do awesome thing..."