Cut To The Chase
Neon City Overdrive is a new cyberpunk rpg put out by Nathan Russell/Peril Planet (creator of Freeform Unlimited), and is available in PDF for $8. From the sales pitch from their DTRPG Listing:
NEON CITY OVERDRIVE is a fast-playing RPG of cyberpunk action. With a focus on story and action, character creation is fast and the rules are intuitive. Create any kind of cyberpunk character you want and throw them into the action within minutes.
I am just going to preface this with my opinion up front: the game fucking rocks. It may be my all-time new favorite cyberpunk go-to. In many ways it feels like how I wanted Shadowrun: Anarchy to play out.
A Crash Course at the Pace of Gunfire
- The core mechanic is essentially rolling pools of d6s and taking the highest result. 6 is a success, 4-5 is success at cost, 3 and below is failure. Multiple 6s grant Boosts (better result); results at a 1 can cause complications. It’s player facing, with players doing all of the rolls.
- Difficulty on rolls is represented by Danger Dice (dice of a different color than your action pool). Danger dice are rolled together with your action dice, and dice with matching numbers are negated.
- Pools of dice (both action and danger) are determined by related Tags involved in the scene. Tags can take many forms — character features, environmental effects, narrative complications and more.
- Characters consist of various tags (not stat blocks). You have Trademarks (backgrounds, professions, special qualities etc). Each of these are defined by a few triggers, which list particular knacks and skills your Trademark benefits you by. Some of these are further developed into Edges, which are stand out talents. When building dice pools for your actions, you gain dice if they tie to your Trademarks and Edges.
- Gear is divided between Simple and Special. Simple Gear simply gives you a narrative device to perform actions (can’t shoot someone without a gun, can’t hack a system without a device, etc). Special Gear is equipment with its own Tags, which will add to the dice rolled where applicable.
Enough Techno Babble, How’s the Setting?
- It’s written as a generic, broad-stroke setting. The city implied is one with sprawling 100+ story arcologies and gutter sprawls in their shadows.
- There’s also quick write ups of surrounding wastelands, orbital paradises for the mega-corporate 1%, and even off-world colonies.
- Technology has cybernetic augmentations, a virtual cyberspace, gene hacking and “Skins” (manufactured bodies so consciousness may be uploaded to them).
- Casual mentions of drones, robots, hover vehicles, and more. In short: if you’ve seen it in your favorite cyberpunk/near future dystopia franchise, you can easily duplicate it here.
What Stands Out to Me
- First off — I love how flaws work in this game. They’re tied to your Stunt pool, which is the obligatory “spend this to swing in your favor” meta currency. You (as a player) trigger your flaws to refresh that pool.
- I also want to point out that all of the augmentations (cyberware, gene hacking etc) don’t automatically have flaws or an “essence” or “humanity” cost to them. Flaws can be attached to those tags (I like the concept of saying an augment is refurbished or a counterfeit knock off), but the dated and problematic trope of “unnatural parts degrade the soul” is not cooked in and forced on players.
- Let’s talk about Special Gear more — money is handled in the abstract, but I love how the game treats equipment acquisition. During game play (preferably before whatever crazy mission or objective the players are after), players may acquire up to four special pieces of gear. With each item, you list a number of desired tags, and then you roll 1d6 — matching or beating that number means you get the item, otherwise you lose that choice. You can also sacrifice another gear choice to add +1 to the roll.
- After every job you acquire leverage, which is the abstract currency system. You can spend it on stuff during downtime (like getting patched up, trained or even hop into another body). Or you can stash it — and use it to acquire Special Gear next session!
- Combat is pretty fluid but also pretty deadly. Weapons are weapons, relying on tags to make them stand out. Getting hurt is not a good thing, and even if you don’t die from a gunshot wound your injuries will hinder you.
Let’s Talk About SKINJOBS and PSIONS
Would you believe there’s already two solid supplements for this game already?
SKINJOBS is the first supplement released for NCO, clocking in at 22 pages and providing extra options for reskinning. Includes more detailed rules for hopping bodies mid-game (including the risk of “transfer sicknes”). It also has a more trademarks for androids, bioroids, gene hacked humans and theoroids (read: uplifted animal bodies). If you’re wanting to add some of that tasty post-cyberpunk, post-humanism elements like Eclipse Phase or Ghost In The Shell (with a touch of the Bladerunner films) then you need to toss some extra cred Nathan’s way. You will not be disappointed.
PSIONS, as the title suggests, is all about implementing psionics into your campaign world. You get seven fields of powers — Biokinesis, Metahealing, Precognition, Pyrokinesis, Technopathy, Telekinesis and Telepathy. Each one provides an assortment of effects and associated triggers to use with them. What I love about this supplement is how it offers prompts to tailor it to taste — are these gifts the result of mutation? Evolution? Nanotech? How is society treating them? And just a heads up: there are two mini settings provided! One of them is Psiberpunk, which is your expected “psychics against The Man” setting. The other one, Grimm City, is actually a fantasy cyberpunk with elves, ogres, magical spells and ancient relics among the wired city streets.
Just So It’s Said: PSIONS can be a framework/launch pad to hack the game into Shadowrun. But it’s also a different tone and feel — this is a world where Arthurian legend and Grimm’s Fairytales never really left. There’s an implication of more whimsy, and while I’m sitting here going “THEY DID THE THING!” I’m also appreciating this different lens on the melting pot of genres.
The criticisms I have are not grievances for me, but more of a subjective awareness of others expectations. This is not Shadowrun Gun-Porn — a weapon is a weapon, and unless it has tags they all have the serve the same purpose. There’s no massive catalogs of gear with degrees of damage and special combat simulation rules. Everything moves at the rate of narration. I think the generic setting is perfect — lots of hooks, tables and broad ideas; but really the GM and the players nail down the details. Folks who want the rich lore, backstory, and setting resources of games like Shadowrun, Cyberpunk 2020 or Interface Zero will be let down.
The dice mechanic will also not be everyone’s cup of tea — I’ve heard a couple folks not thrilled with dice pool mechanics, and I get that. The rolling of two separate pools of dice will throw others off, and it might be cumbersome for some online play. That said, I feel it’s more elegant and flexible than SR6 (or SR:Anarchy for that matter), and the player facing element of it allows for good solo/GM-less play.
Wrap It Up
Neon City Overdrive is a cyberpunk game as fast as the genre. Provides lots of quick options, tables and ideas for a group to quickly assemble and get moving. If it’s not covered in the book, it’s super easy to hack. Rules lite, narrative heavy, but also high risk if you don’t keep your wits about you.
It’s my new jam. Speaking for myself, it has dethroned the others since it meshes well with my preferences for fast-paced, quick and dirty systems. Between the core and the two supplements, I can honestly recreate or borrow elements of my favorite near future dystopians and run them like a hot blade through butter.