Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cashing Out in GURPS Cyberpunk games

Note: While the following was written with the Cyberpunk genre in mind, these musings might work equally well with similarly mercenary genres, such as GURPS Dungeon Fantasy.

Cash and CPs

Cyberpunk settings (and a few other genres) tend to feature a lot of augmentations - cyberware, bioware, etc. - which boost a character and can be purchased by cash. While the GM could demand that characters also pay character points for these augmentations, that never quite sat right with me - the genre often is all about getting the latest tech and best upgrades, and charging CPs would serve as a brake for that.

Yet Cyberpunk games should also support non-augmented character types - so there needs to be something they can spend their hard-won money on as well. Here is my suggestion on how to deal with this:

1. The "Wealth" advantage is not used for Cyberpunk games. Instead, all characters start with zero money. Any starting equipment or cyberware must be purchased with character points. As per the "Trading Points for Money" rules, each CP spent on money at the start of the campaign results in 10% of the average campaign starting wealth. Considering the generally depressed economy of Cyberpunk settings, I'd set this "average starting wealth" at the TL8 level, or $20,000 - which means that:

1 CP = $2,000

2. Social Status cannot be purchased with CPs directly. Instead, effective Social Status is dependent on whatever "Cost of Living" a character has paid for during any given month. So in order to maintain a "Social Status 0", a character has to pay $600 each month - if he pays only $300, he falls down to Social Status -1, with the corresponding reaction roll penalties. Conversely, someone who pays more is obviously successful, and gets better reactions.
3. Finally, cash can be converted into CPs at the same ratio (that is, $2,000 turn into 1 CP). This can only be done during "downtime" - between jobs or missions. These can not be spent freely, but are limited to the following:
  • Social advantages - Reputation, Contacts, Allies and so forth. By spreading your money around, you make new friends and allies.
  • "Impulse buys" (as outlined in GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys) which grand a temporary, one-time advantage. By spreading your money around, you get some good karma, which can save your skin at a future date.
 This will ensure that characters who are less focused on gear will still have plenty of stuff to spend on which provides them real, tangible benefits.

The Retirement Option

Even with moderate character point awards, characters can eventually become very, very powerful - but that isn't necessarily appropriate for all games and genres. Cyberpunk, in particular, tends to focus on the "underdogs" of the world. Thus, more experienced characters need to be taken "out of the action" eventually to maintain that focus. In a long-term campaign, the "team" might exist for a long time, but older members frequently drop out while new ones join.

One way of weeding out existing characters is, of course, by death. But some characters - whether because they are luckier, tougher, or simply cowards - will live longer than others, and thus become more powerful. Thus, there needs to be an incentive for these characters to retire instead of doing one job after another.

To retire, a character must have accumulated savings. The savings must be equal to one hundred times the monthly cost of living of the Social Status they wish to retire to. Thus, someone who wishes to retire at Social Status 0 must pay $600 x 100 = $60,000, while someone wishing to retire at a luxurious Social Status 3 must pay $1,200,000 - but someone "retiring" to the street only has to pay $10,000. Retiring has the following benefits:

1. The "starting character points" for all new player characters in the campaign increases, depending on the Social Status the former character retires to: 1 CP for Social Status -2, 2 CP for Social Status -1, 5 CP for Social Status 0, and +5 CP for each further +1 to Social Status.

Example: The "default" starting CPs for characters in a street-level Cyberpunk campaign is 150 CP. After three characters have retired - one at Social Status -2, one at Social Status 0, and one at Social Status 2, the starting CPs for new player characters becomes 150+1+5+15=171 CPs.

This way, the overall power level of the campaign still increases, but at a lower, more manageable rate.

2. The player should make a note of the total character points (including all "earned" character points but not those gained via cash) of his old character, and the character points of his new character. The difference goes into a special "pool" of character points.

Example: An experienced character who retires with 205 CPs is replaced by a new character with 171 CPs. 34 CPs go into the pool.

These CPs are transferable between characters and can be spent on the following:

  • Social advantages revolving around retired player characters - in other words, you can use retired PCs as Allies, Contacts, Patrons, etc..
  • Impulse buys representing short-term, one-time advantage as outlined in the previous section.
That way, the CPs of the old character are not completely lost. However, if a character dies during the campaign, the difference in character points between the old and the new character aren't added to the pool. Thus, retirement is something that player characters can and should work towards throughout the campaign.

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