Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Sunday, May 09, 2004

OGL Cybernet (first draft)

OGL Cybernet is the first in a line of OGL genre rulebooks, each priced at $39.95, hardback, and weighing in at 256 pages (in color). So while not cheap, they aren't that bad. They are essentially stand alone books, rules only, though they have licensing programs that in theory, should permit setting books and such to be made.

I was able to get a slightly used copy of this for $20 (which seems to be about the going rate for these OGL books, used) a little while back, and was my first look at an OGL book. I actually ordered OGL Horror back in January, but I have yet to receive it (and at this point, doubt I will). I was actually going to wait until that arrived to review this (and review them together), but as that apparently isn't going to happen (this has not been a good year for me, mail order wise), might as well review it now.

Cybernet is largely based on the d20 Modern rules (and System Reference Document, SRD). I actually don't have d20 Modern, my only exposure to it has been this and reading the SRD online. Frankly, I don't like d20 Modern much - I greatly prefer the Spycraft/SG-1 combat rules (which uses the VP/WP System) and various other sources for classes. But, one of the things in the back of my mind is running a cyberpunk/horror game, which it seems like having OGL Cybernet and OGL Horror would be perfect for.

This isn't the first cyberpunk game for d20. The first was a fan product, done by a guy from Greece (not his real name, but I don't have it handy). This was revised a few times, but ultimately vanished for reasons unknown to me. It was actually quite good. Next up was Cyberstyle, from Dark Quest Games. I don't think this ever made it from PDF to print. I never saw it, so I can't comment on it. Then there was Digital Burn for d20 Modern, from Leisure Room Games, more famous for the people who now put out Earthdawn (they got a license from FASA). I looked through this, but was not too impressed, and was turned off by two things. One, it was $35 for a 160 page book, and it actually looked slimmer than that (thin paper) - unopened, it looked like a 128 or even 112 page book. For another, it used photographs of real people. Real gamers. While they weren't naked gamers, like in the Book of Erotic Fantasy, they were similarly unwashed, and looked more dorky than punk, which kind of ruined the mood. Plus of course, I don't have d20 Modern, which made it that useful.

So OGL Cybernet, I was interested in, because it was stand alone, seemingly a decent value (especially what I paid for it), and like I said, hopefully had crossover potential with other OGL titles (like OGL Horror).

It starts off pretty well. The art is nice and evocative of cyberpunk. Tattoos, odd colored hair and hair styles. Guns and katanas and such. There's an introduction to the cyberpunk genre.

It follows the typical d20 game, in that each character has the 6 standard abilities scores and a class (there is no race, everyone is human, and this is apparently factored into the classes and level tables). There's a variety of methods to roll up stats, plus a point buy method.

One of the new things introduced is the "Self" score. This is determined by the characters Charisma score. There doesn't seem to be any sort of mathmatical formula, it seems to be determined solely by a chart. A 3 Charisma has a self score of 1, a 10 is 60, and an 18 is 200. This is an important value because it determines how much cyberstuff a person can have before going bonkers. (Taking a page out of Ral Talsorian's Cyberpunk and Cyberpsychosis. Shadowrun has Essence, but if you get too low, it simply kills you. Usually).

I'm not sure about this. I buy the basic premise, that the stronger your self image is, the more likely you can keep your self together, persona wise, and thus handle more cybergear. But how strongly tied together is charisma and self-assurance/self-image?

Some of the most self-assured people I've known were also the most arrogant, and thus technically, have a low-ish charisma. A lot of very charismatic people are also very insecure. Bill Clinton, for instance, while he's about as charismatic as a person gets, he also has this amazing need to be liked, which causes him to pester people sometimes.

Or Michael Jackson - it's hard to say that he doesn't have a high charisma in his early career, but he definitely has not handled all that surgery well. So, this was one of those "Uh-oh, why did I buy this?" panics, when you first get a good look at a book that you've bought sight unseen. I think a better option would have been to use wisdom, or perhaps the average of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma (or maybe even Constitution). Or perhaps tying it into character level...I'm not sure. But it seems to me, tying it into one attribute is a bit risky, when it comes to munchkiny players.

On to Classes and Occupation.

Occupation is just sort of a background option, that gives them bonus abilities, mostly so and so skill being a class skill, no matter what, or a small bonus.

To a certain extent, I thought many of these occupations should have, or at least could have, been Classes. At least "Academic, Athlete, Doctor".

The actual classes are pretty few, only 6.

The Connection, which pretty much fits my idea of a "Fixer" or wheeler-dealer

The Corporate, which is sort of a business man. (Woohoo! I've always wanted to play a Cyberstockbroker)

The Jacker, which is apparently short for jacking in the hijacker or carjacker sense, not the other sense (this is perhaps a case of British slang being more amusing in American slang, having a different and generally more sexual meaning)

The Soldier, who is pretty much what it sounds like.

The Webcrawler, who are hackers. In the internet sense.

The Professional, which in this case, isn't slang, but literal. Basically cyberyuppies. Actually, ex-cyberyuppies. Frankly, I have trouble figuring out just what this class is. In game mechanic terms, they're sort of akin to the Expert in standard d20, but with special abilities. But they have lots and lots of street credibility for some reason.

So, actually, these are rather different archetypes than you'd find in other Cyberpunk games. No gang members, no street samurai, no cyberninjas, no rockers/punks. This seems to focus more on the corporate end of the Cyberpunk genre.

I think to a certain extent, these 6 classes parallel, or at least are based on, the 6 "Heroes" of d20 Modern. The Strong Hero, the Fast Hero, the Tough Hero, the Dedicated Hero, the Smart Hero, and the Charismatic Hero. Why? Well, there are 6 of them, some of the stats are similar, and most obviously, in a couple cases, they simply cut and pasted from the SRD, and forgot to change from So and Such hero to the new name.

The Occupation/Hero Type combination actually made sense in d20 Modern, because it would mix someone's profession, which what sort of hero they were (and what attribute they favored, actually). It makes no sense here. It mixes profession with profession.

Again, I was somewhat disappointed. Just because you can copy and paste from the SRD, doesn't mean you should. So the book was not off to a very good start.

For reasons obscure to me, these classes only go up to 10 levels. It's a d20 Modern thing. But there are several "Advanced" classes in the back of the book. These are sort of like prestige classes.

Actually, most of these pretty much seem to be taken from the d20 Modern SRD. A few missing, a few more, like the "True Hacker", some renamed.

One curious thing, it's apparently impossible to get a base attack bonus of +20 at 20th level in OGL Cybernet (which would be the best, for non-d20 fans). In d20 Modern, it's tough, because only 1 of the 6 base hero types gets it, and only 1 advanced class gets it. But in this, only 1 of the 6 base classes gets it, but none of the advanced classes do. Even classes liked the "Gunslinger" only get "Average" base attack progression (even in d20 Modern, which baffled me - a gunslinger who is average in combat. Okay...)

Guns! Armor! Combat!

It has guns. Not a ton of guns, but a pretty good amount. Granted, like in d20 Modern, all the stats are the same, so it's pretty much meaningless which you use, but there are a good 20 different handguns (including machine pistols), and 17 long arms, a mix of rifles, shotguns, and submachineguns (which really are closer to pistols, but are big pistols).

There's a combination of real world guns and future guns, extrapolated from real world guns. Like an Ingram M-20. Hmmm, now that I actually compare it to the SRD, it has the exact same guns as the SRD. Some are renamed, though, to the more modern names. So that's a bit disappointing.

There's also a wide selection of armor. Armor actually does stop damage in this, not just raising armor class. Good move, I think. Bad move, on the other hand, was keeping attacks of opportunity - they just don't add much to a game mostly involving firearms and not involving magic, yet are still a pain to keep track of.

One of the main ways to alter the deadliness of combat in d20 games that use hit points is to change the "massive damage threshold". Basically, it's the number of points of damage they can take from a single attack without having to make a saving throw or die immediately. In D&D, it's 50, or quite a bit. In Call of Cthulhu d20, it's 10, which is not much at all (especially given it's high-ish damage values for guns). In OGL Cybernet, it's set at the constitution of the character, which is a fairly good value (Conan does the same, and many people use it as a house rule).

The same was largely done with the vehicles and vehicle/chase rules from the d20 Modern SRD. In the case of the vehicle list, this is pretty funny. When I first read OGL Cybernet, I found it amusing that in the future, they were still driving Crown Victorias that looked exactly like the ones of today. Actually, it was changed to the "Ford Crown Queen Victoria", but I imagine that's a British thing. Most things are actually renamed, sometimes amusingly, like the Toysubishi (presumably Toyota and Mitsubishi merged). Also, apparently in the future, Colin Powell has a tank named after him.


One real nitpick - it uses the word "cyberwear", which drives me batty. Something of a pet peeve. It's cyberware! I usually like plays on words, but that is so Gurps-ish. Most of the time it uses "Cybergear", which is more tolerable.

There's actually quite a decent selection. All sorts of cyberlimb options, including an extra limb, called a "Waldo". Lots of cyber sensory organs and options (like cyber eyes, ears, nose).
Also a variety of misc. gizmos and implants. No "bioware", but there are some blood filters and such.

All in all, a pretty respectable list. Maybe not as much as the lastest Shadowrun supplement, but comparable to what was in the original book plus the first couple cyber books.

And like most cyberpunk RPGs I've seen, this one features skill chips. Though they actually seem to be worthwhile in this for the user, unlike Shadowrun.


The book is actually pretty nice looking. The illustrations range from excellent to bad but silly, and it really makes a good use of color - many are very vivid and colorful (and that's just the hair). Most are very realistic looking, rather than stylistic, though there are a few examples of the former...

It's actually quite a contrast from previous cyberpunk RPGs. Shadowrun has some color plates, but the art on them was by Jeff Laubenstein, who has an odd style. And the colors were somewhat muted. Most cyberpunk RPG art is in black & white, which gave it something of a noir-ish feel.

The most striking difference, is pictures of the matrix/web/internet/decking. You expect that to be colorful, but in other games it never really was. It really shines here.

The Setting

Well, it actually doesn't have much of a setting. Just some companie names (in the equipment section). They do have a "Cybernet License", similar to the d20 license, which will let publishers put out products using these rules and the logo. I know some PDFs are planned (From Kilm Publications,, whose website won't go on until June 25th, apparently), and someone put out a soundtrack cd full of electronic music (which is silly, as everyone knows the future is polka!).

In theory, this is a good thing. Much like not everyone would like the same setting for D&D or fantasy, not everyone has the same tastes in cyberpunk. Some people like Gibson & Sterling, some like the Snow Crash guy, some like Effinger, some like Cleopatra 2525, me, I like Mick Farren (who besides writing 2 cyberpunk-ish books, is also something of a musician, and whose music cds are ironically enough, sold at - the #18 site when you do a search for his name on Yahoo. And funnier yet, if you follow that link, they also suggest the Lizzy McGuire movie soundtrack. Oh my.).

But how many settings will we actually see? I would imagine if there was money in it, Mongoose would be putting them out.

So long

So, it's a mixed bag. I actually like the equipment and cyberjunk sections of the book a lot. They would make a good supplement for d20 Modern (or just d20 in general).

The conversion from d20 Modern SRD to OGL Cybernet was pretty bad. I know the author is a fairly talented guy, it's a shame he just took the easy way out and did a somewhat slapdash job on the classes (and to a certain extent, the guns and vehicles). And it's a shame Mongoose seems to endorse this sort of thing (OGL Cybernet, Conan). Heh, I probably doomed my already slim chance of ever getting any review copies from Mongoose. But eh. I don't review for the man, I review to make silly jokes.

Call it a C-. With some revision, I think it could be a lot higher. Even though a lot is repeated, it still is a better value than Digital Burn (at least in pure physical terms), and AFAIK, there's nothing else Cyberpunk for d20 available, at least in print form.

I'll probably be using some of it eventually, for the OGL Horror/Cyberpunk crossover (I used to run a Dark Conspiracy/Cyberpunk mix a long time ago). But I'll probably either just adapt the cyberstuff to Spycraft (if I ever come up with better classes for that) or possibly use the d20 Modern classes.