Review of OGL Cybernet

Review Summary
Capsule Review
Written Review

July 19, 2004


by: Jeremy Reaban


Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)

OGL Cybernet is a stand alone d20 cyberpunk rulebook based on d20 Modern. While some bits are very good (like the cyberware and the computer rules), it suffers from a poor conversion from d20 Modern and the lack of a setting. Snazzy looking book, though.

Jeremy Reaban has written 125 reviews (including 2 d20, d20 Modern reviews), with average style of 3.51 and average substance of 3.94. The reviewer's previous review was of Legends of Excalibur.

This review has been read 10650 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: OGL Cybernet
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Line: d20, d20 Modern
Author: August Hahn
Category: RPG

Cost: $39.95
Pages: 256
Year: 2003

SKU: MGP 6601
ISBN: 1-904577-61-X


Review of OGL Cybernet


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OGL Cybernet

 

"The old world dies, and with it the old ways. We will remake it as it should be, must be!"

OGL Cybernet is the first in a line of OGL genre rulebooks from Mongoose, each priced at $39.95, hardback, and weighing in at 256 pages (in color). So while not cheap, they aren't that bad, since they are in color, at least (compared to a slew of $30 160 page black and white books). . OGL = Open Gaming License, which technically means little, but in this case, means it's d20, but with character generation and such. The OGL line from Mongoose are essentially stand alone books, rules only, though they have licensing programs that in theory, should permit setting books and other sourcebooks to be made by other companies.

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.

OGL Cybernet is largely based on the d20 Modern rules (and System Reference Document, SRD). In fact, large portions are very much the same. At the time I bought this (late January), I was not a very big fan of d20 Modern, so this was very appealing to me (along with OGL Horror). However, much like OGL Horror, this product convinced me that d20 Modern is actually pretty good, though mostly by the problems with this product, not so much the pluses. Not to say that it's all that bad.

This isn't the first cyberpunk game for d20. The first was a fan product, a PDF, done by a guy from Greece (George Chatzipetros is his name). 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 Digital Burn, 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 page book. For another, it used photographs of real people (which rarely works, and in that case, definitely didn't)...

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).

 

"The future is ours!"

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, then about 10 pages in, we get into the rules.

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 mathematical 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 (I know, unless you use the Cyberzombie rules)).

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, at least if you believe the biographies of various famous people (and news articles).

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...(maybe 3-6 self points per 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. And it's definitely quite a change from the average cyberpunk game, where it's usually those who are a bit standoff-ish/psycho to begin with, that get cybered up.



"You know him, you love him!"

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. This is taken directly from d20 Modern, and in that, is meant to represent what their job or occupation was before becoming a "Hero". Unfortunately, it doesn't quite mesh as well here.

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, no "nomads", no celebrity poseurs. This seems to focus more on the corporate end of the Cyberpunk genre.

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/Advanced Class combination actually makes sense in d20 Modern, because it would mix someone's profession, which what sort of hero they were (and what attribute they favored, actually), and then they could pick up a more adventuresome career later (the advanced class) after adventuring for a while. Like you would have a "Tough Hero Doctor" or a "Fast Hero Athlete" who later became a "Daredevil" or somesuch. It makes little sense here. It mixes profession with profession. An "Athlete Webcrawler" or "Doctor Jacker". Hrrrmph. Or "Rural Corporate", I guess they drive a BMW Truck. And what to make of the Religious Jacker? Heh.

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.

Like d20 Modern classes, these 6 classes only go up to 10 levels. Why do the core classes only go to level 10 in d20 Modern? Beats me. But this at least has an advancement chart for character levels greater than 10 (unlike OGL Horror). There are several "Advanced" classes in the back of the book. These are sort of like prestige classes.

Actually, most of the advanced classes also 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 like the "Gunslinger" only get "Average" base attack progression (even in d20 Modern, which baffled me - a gunslinger who is average in combat. Okay...)

 

"We gonna kick some ass today... 'til there just ain't no more ass to be kicked..."

Cyberpunk games are usually fairly violent, with a lot of focus on combat and guns. This has a lot guns. Not a ton of guns, but a pretty good amount, more than say, Spycraft did. However, this is not as good as it seems, because they are just has the exact same guns as d20 Modern. Some are renamed, though, to the more modern names, though often the name change is pretty uninspired. Like from the Colt Python to the Colt Viper (like they'd name a .357 magnum after a little sissy snake). So that's a bit disappointing.

There's also a wide selection of armor. Here is one change from d20 Modern - 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.

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, dyin time's here." 

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. And now that I look, so does d20 Modern. Oh well, still a good idea.). What is different, is the DC (or target number) of the save. In d20 Modern, it's 15. In OGL Cybernet, it's 10 + half the damage inflicted, the same as Conan (and many house rules). This does make combat a lot deadlier than D&D style d20.

Though as mentioned, in this, armor stops damage. It would have been nice if they had used the Wound Point/Vitality Point rules instead of standard Hit Points, but at the time this was written, those rules weren't open content.

 

"Open the door, sit in the seat, turn the key and go!"

The same lifting direct from the d20 Modern SRD was done with the vehicles and vehicle/chase rules, with just a few name changes and tweaks. 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 (admittedly, in Robocop, the cops drove Tauruses, but those at least looked futuristics at the time). Actually, it was changed to the "Ford Crown Queen Victoria", but I imagine that's a British royalty thing. Most things are actually renamed, sometimes amusingly, like the Toysubishi Tacoma (presumably Toyota and Mitsubishi merged). Also, apparently in the future, Colin Powell has a tank named after him.

 

"And so it was in the 22nd century, the Age of the Machine."

What would a cyberpunk game be without cyberware? Thankfully, this has quite a bit, and is generally well done. 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.

There's also a small selection of "bioware", which are basically improved biological replacements for existing body parts/organs.

All in all, a pretty respectable list, especially as it only takes up around 20 pages. Maybe not as much as the latest Shadowrun supplement, but comparable to what was in the original book plus the first couple cyber books (of course, those were really padded, one item per page). Echoing Shadowrun, they come in quality grades, Gamma, Delta, Beta, Alpha, with Alpha being the best (tricky - they reversed the grade scale from Shadowrun).

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.

As mentioned earlier, the amount of cybergear a character can have is determined by their self score (and of course, money). The self cost is randomly determined, generally from 1d3 for something small, to 3d6 for something big. (I think would use the average of the roll if I ever used this system, because otherwise the range is simply too great.)

Like I said, the self score is determined solely be the charisma stat. As the self decreases due to implanted cyberstuff, the charisma also decreases. Again, while this does perhaps explain Michael Jackson, it seems somewhat counterintuitive to me, that in order to be massively chromed (full of cyberware), you'd have to start out incredibly charismatic.

On a related note, there's also a fairly good section on drugs. Gotta have drugs. At least in a cyberpunk game.

 

"Without further ado, it's time to start running!"

Most cyberpunk games tend to have a completely different set of rules in the computer world (net or matrix or here, 'web'). But these stick pretty close to the d20 rules, including combat. Defense programs, "Ice" (Instrusion Countermeasures Electronics, I think), are basically just statted like d20 monsters/characters.

Combat programs for the hacker are like weapons, and they can also write armor programs to help product them. These work just like in the real world combat system, except there is a lot of customization possible. Depending on how good they are at writing programs, they can spend a number of points on various enhancements to the weapons/armor.

There's also a wide variety of non-combat programs given. For only about 20 pages, it does a pretty good job of covering such a large subject, including 2 examples of hacking during 'runs.



"He's bad, he's beautiful..."

The book is actually very 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 latter...

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, almost caricature-ish 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 (well, there was some in the first Matrix book for SR, but it used computer graphics from circa 1990 - really crappy looking CGI, not actual art). It really shines here.

There is an index, but it's not that great. I just tried looking up "Massive Damage" and it didn't have it. (Unlike OGL Horror, the rules are).

 

"The year is 1999. The gang controlled areas have become known as free fire zones. The police will not enter. There is no law."

Well, it actually doesn't have much of a setting. Just some companie names (in the equipment section and scattered elsewhere). 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 products are planned (From Kiln Publications), and someone put out a soundtrack cd full of electronic music (which is silly, as everyone knows the music of the future is polka! Space Polka.).( I probably shouldn't have plugged them, as they flamed me for posting an earlier version of this review on the Mongoose boards, but eh, I have to call it like I see it).

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 Walmart.com - 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.

It's also a bit lacking when it comes to GM aids in the book itself. There are no lists of NPC stats, etc. So this will increase the GM's workload, at least at first.

 


"Raining fire from the sky!"

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

But conversion from d20 Modern SRD to OGL Cybernet was pretty bad and well, uninspired, in the character class and equipment sections. To a certain extent, I understand that it's much easier to simply copy and paste from the SRD than to write whole sections from scratch, but when you do that, you better make sure it still makes sense. I really don't think you can justify the gun/equipment. Just renaming things is not really acceptable in my book.

Maybe he had a deadline - I remember, this was first announced as a d20 book, not "OGL", and this was apparently changed due to a request by WOTC (and presumably went from add-on to stand alone game as well). But it is an expensive book and the buyer deserves better.

"Who loves you, and who do you love?"

Call it a C-. A 2.5 out of 5 or so for the rules (I did like the cyberstuff, the net stuff is good and I do like the d20 system in general, but the classes are awful). With some revision, I think it could be a lot higher. Even though a lot is repeated from d20 Modern, 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, yet. Call it a 4.5 out of 5 for style, really I really do like the art, especially the vivid color.

I'm not sure how I'll use this. The reason I bought this and OGL Horror was that I wanted to run a Dark Conspiracy style game, only a bit more into the future, with cyberware and such. Both this and OGL Horror turned out to be disappointments, unfortunately, specifically, the classes from this, and just about everything in OGL Horror, which makes things tricky.

Still, with some tweaking, my original idea seems possible (I've come up with more classes for OGL Horror and bought the gun book for Spycraft and will also likely use the VP/WP rules instead of Hit points as well), so it's not a complete loss. However, with d20 Future just around the corner, presumably with cyberware rules, I'm not sure which I'll use - the stuff from this book, or the stuff from that. (The latter will have the advantage of being freely available in the SRD, although almost all the text of this is also open content).

Actually, if you can get it cheap enough, I would almost say it's worth buying for the artwork

 

(All the quotes come from the "21st Century Jesus" cd by Messiah, which for some reason, I tend to equate with Cyberpunk, though it's probably not really. As an aside, everyone should own this cd.)

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