Author: Christian Sahlen
Publisher: Stockholm Kartell (Free League Publishing)
Page Count: 168
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $24.99
Print (Free League) – $42.76
As this particular game is entirely based upon the MÖRK BORG rules set—which is ridiculously popular at this point, having spawned a number of side projects and ventures (such as Qvke Borg and Vast Grimm)—it was naturally expected that the production values of this game would be astounding, and the creators did not disappoint. The cover alone is deeply cyberpunk, and the aggressive, neon, spray-paint-meets-digital font immediately draws you in.
The publishers described the game as a:
Nano-infested doomsday RPG about cybernetic misfits and punks raging against a relentless corporate hell.
CY_BORG is not as brief as MÖRK BORG, though, regarding page count, and that is to be expected—especially considering the game covers so many different subsystems that are traditionally found in the cyberpunk genre. No longer will characters be worrying about lashing out with mere swords and clubs. Beyond simple melee weapons, there is a listing for gunnery. As one would expect, there are rules for cybertechnologies, hacking the ‘Net, narcotics, corporate enemies and cults, Nano powers, and more!
Note: Free League Publishing provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. Please visit our Product Review Request page if you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review.
The setting for CY_BORG remains just as bleak as its inspired source material. As the book states, “The World is ending. Again and again.” Ecological catastrophes and man-made miseries are just a few things wrong with the world at this time. The book states everyone is either interfacing or infected—or both. The year is 20X3, and the megacity is known as The CY. Player characters are encouraged to break every rule in the book, except for Rule #00: “Player Characters cannot be loyal to or have sympathy for the corps, the cops, or the capitalist system.” Miserable Headlines are rolled upon reaching midnight of every game day, the same d66 type of roll made in MÖRK BORG for its Psalms, and that particular event makes its rounds on the news that night. This time, though, the authors clearly state how the Miserable Headlines should be utilized and how often the gaming group should decide to have them take place. This is a marked improvement from MÖRK BORG, which was, at points, a little vague about how the Psalms were to be directly included. As the 7th Headline would naturally come to pass, however, the book is not to be burnt this time; instead, the world is discovered to be a simulation run by mysterious and unknown entities. The authors then advise the reader to replay the entire campaign.
Rules / Character Creation
The rules for generating a baseline character are the same as MÖRK BORG, with an original stat generated between 3 and 18 (from 3d6, rolled in order) for the five Abilities—Agility, Knowledge, Presence, Strength, and Toughness. This is another departure from MÖRK BORG with the inclusion of Knowledge—used to represent scientific understanding, the use of technology, and the manipulation of Apps (computer programs stored on a cyberdeck). The raw stat value is then compared to a chart where the player will record a result from -3 to +3. These new values will become the core scores that will be added to a single d20 roll and compared to a Difficulty Rating (DR). As with MÖRK BORG, the average/normal DR is a 12, but it can go as low as a 6 (simple) or as high as an 18 (almost impossible). In CY_BORG, the players roll all dice; when an enemy hits them, the players must roll to defend, and any damage a player receives is modified by any Armor they are wearing. There are various levels of armor in CY_BORG, as well, and they can be ranked from no armor (Tier 0) to StyleGuard (Tier I, -d2 damage) to an ExoSuit (Tier IV, -d8 damage). Similar to the Omens found in MÖRK BORG, CY_BORG makes use of Glitches, bad luck that sometimes works in favor of a player. For instance, a Glitch point can be used to deal maximum damage with an attack, reroll a die, or neutralize a Critical or Fumble. Beyond the essentials found in most games, that being stats, starting equipment, et cetera, CY_BORG leans heavily into the cyberpunk focus. There are entire tables for Style, unique Physical Features, Wants, Quirks, Obsessions, and even Debt owed to a crime syndicate, an anonymous hacker, or maybe even a semi-sentient AI. This is terrific as this is also inherent motivation for player characters to get out into the harsh world if only to get that proverbial monkey off their back!
Character generation can be nonspecific, but it does not have to be. Like with MÖRK BORG, there are also very specific Classes. A d6 can be rolled, and the methods for generation are slightly altered to suit the design of the class in question. They are:
- Shunned Nanomancer – An individual infected with Nano, said to be strange alien bacteria riding nanorobots, who can do amazing things… and sometimes be triggered by an Infestation.
- Burned Hacker – One of the sharpest deckers in CY, haunted by a terrible truth, but with the ability to manipulate amazing Apps on their cyberdeck.
- Discharged Corp Killer – A good soldier in bad company, this tough-as-nails killer is highly trained and taking the fight back to his employer – and corps in general.
- Orphaned Gearhead – Disillusioned by the flakiness of people, this individual can fix, drive, and pilot any machine – the only things they trust.
- Renegade Cyberslasher – Death incarnate, this cybernetically-enhanced individual no longer kills for a cause or clout but instead for money.
- Forsaken Gang-Goon – Fresh from a gang that had their back, this individual keeps his edge and now watches his own back by focusing upon a specialty, whether brawls, breaking and entering, or fencing goods.
Combat sees a little bit more care than merely hacking and slashing (although there is plenty of that!) that one finds in MÖRK BORG. The initiative remains the same, with a single d6 rolled by a player character, where a result of a 1-3 has the enemies acting first, and a 4-6 has the PCs acting first. The Agility value (-3 to +3) for each PC can be used to determine individual PC initiative by adding a d6 roll. In this, nothing has changed. Melee is still handled the same way as well, testing Strength versus a Difficulty Rating (DR) of 12. Damage is then rolled normally. Ranged combat, however, sees some modification, as Single Shots are treated quite differently than Autofire. A single shot remains the same as firing a bow in MÖRK BORG, testing Presence against a DR12 to hit (and then rolling damage), but in CY_BORG, many guns have higher rates of fire. Now, Agility comes into play for the first time, tested against a DR12 to hit (and then rolling for damage), but a successful hit also allows for a second attack, against either the same target or another one nearby, up to a maximum of three attacks!
There are even rules for Drone Combat because of the Orphaned Gearhead class (with the drones and their details available in the class’s description). Criticals and Fumbles still exist, but now with Fumbles, a weapon can misfire, run out of ammunition, or even explode! At the end of combat, players can count their bullets (and hope that their magazine is not empty) and catch their breath to even heal a little bit. While these rules are glossed over a bit compared to other combat subsystems for other tabletop roleplaying games, this fits perfectly with CY_BORG’s ease of play. Optional combat modifiers also exist, taking Cover into account, as well as Aiming, Range, and even Suppressive Fire. The authors preface this particular section with a commentary of, “More tactical, a bit crunchier,” and thus, the rules exist to be added in at the discretion of the GM.
A robust list of enemies is available as well. Guards and goons, raving wasteland scavengers, cybernetic menaces that have lost their minds, drones, enhanced beasts, “cydroids,” the Bloated (walking corpses ready to literally explode from their Nano-infections), and even ghostly AI are all ready to terrify the player characters. As with MÖRK BORG and its monstrous menageries that are produced by other individuals and companies, it is only a matter of time before third-party products arrive for this game as well!
Scenario – Reaper Repo
The greatest thing about CY_BORG is that entire scenarios can be designed randomly using several tables. The one I used was generated by the author Christian Sahlen, called “Reaper Repo.” It comes with your digital purchase. As per the brief intro, the job is that Doc Joy, a Svärta reaperdoc, hires the PCs to steal a killmatch VIP’s new chrome legs. The design was allegedly stolen from Doc Joy in a break-in a few weeks back. He offers a sum of money and a reward of cybertech if they complete the job, but he warns that any damages to the legs will result in a pay deduction.
This scenario leans heavily into the setting of CY_BORG wherein a “reaperdoc,” someone who is a back-alley surgeon, wants the players to find a “killmatch VIP.” In the setting, violence is commonplace, but unlike on the gridiron, American football players of our world, killmatch participants might not live to play another day. Cybernetically enhanced and bristling with weapons, they kill for screaming, bloodthirsty audiences.
As for the actual scenario, “Reaper Repo” is simply designed with a single map—the layout of the target’s penthouse—where he and other killmatch VIPs (as well as a host of fans) are on a two-day party binge. I thought this was great because everything is self-contained for what could easily be an evening’s play, and it is an excellent introduction to CY_BORG overall. Random events are listed, wherein something interesting can occur every game hour, from rivals storming in and crashing the party to fights breaking out between the VIPs. Furthermore, the author has detailed eight VIPs—with their stats and personalities included (blessedly brief, which is also a bonus)—designed for immediate roleplaying interactions.
I generated random characters in advance for the scenario, and the players picked which one they wanted, but I left out the Orphaned Gearhead because the particular class would not be able to easily benefit from the one thing that they do best, which is the piloting of sizable machines. Hindsight being 20/20, I could have easily given the class the Flying Drone option, but we had more than enough characters for the players present.
As for the actual scenario, it was even more chaotic and violent than I could have expected, but in the most glorious of ways. In every single room of the penthouse, there is something with which to interact, and there are also hidden elements here and there to surprise players (without spoiling anything)! The Random Events table was only used twice, but what occurred, generated from that very list, turned the scenario on its ear. There are also many ways the evening’s events can end, too, and suggested by the author—listed as “Aftermath”—are varied and violent, true to the CY_BORG’s wild design.
Like MÖRK BORG, from which the authors say CY_BORG is a “hacked” production, the physical similarities of the books are obvious. The book is digest-sized hardcover. The pages are glossy and thick, and the art does, indeed, remain wildly strange and, at times, downright unusual. The pages are so busy at times, however, that it is a little easy to be distracted, especially if the artwork is the primary focus of a page and the text surrounds it or is found in the corners. There are, at times, lists where columns are suggested, but they are not aligned—and this could be easily disruptive to some. With the intensity of its images, colorblind readers should be aware of this in advance. It would be great if the company worked on a printer-friendly PDF version that focused entirely on the text with minimal artistic distractions.
If you have enjoyed MÖRK BORG in the slightest and are also a fan of the cyberpunk genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up this game. The charts and tables alone are astounding. From random weather generators to infested items, quick-generation listings for NPCs on-the-fly, and full Mission and Corporation generators, preparing for a game is a snap.
~ Brad Williams
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