An Introduction to the Dark Future of RMSS.

Copyright Michael A. Bott 1998

"The sky was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
-William Gibson, Neuromancer

So began one of the most influential stories in Science Fiction history. William Gibson was responsible for coining a few words that are now commonplace (most notably 'cyberspace'), and for the creation of a genre known as Cyberpunk.

Though this genre has a large following, there are very few pen and paper RPGs on the market for a pure Cyberpunk game. This column is intended to be a guide for running a cyberspace genre game using the extremely versatile and detailed Rolemaster Standard System. It will be divided into two parts, the first being a guide to building a world (complete with timeline, cities, personalities, and organizations) and the second being a guide to tweaking the rules to work for this genre.

Dateline: Los Angeles, 2200 PST,
December 31, 2096

-Billboard at the 10/405 Junction

A Dark Future
100 years turns the world that we know into a world of extremes, a world of opposites. From the glittering zaibatsu strongholds to the dregs of Sprawltrash, from the psychic purity of the 'Net to a sensual assault of designer hallucinogens, extremes lie around every corner. Life is shorter, harder, and cheaper.

Business Corporations have merged, and merged, and bought other companies, and grown until the surviving corporations are either very specialized with their particular product or service, or else very big. It is not uncommon for a corporation in 2098 to have an annual gross income topping 100 billion dollars, and several multinational zaibatsus gross over 1 trillion dollars per year.

Technology has encroached on everyday life to the point that for some jobs it is required to have specific cybernetic implants. It is now no longer necessary to learn about computersóthey are so integrated into society that one ìpicks them upî the same way one does walking, reading, or talking.

The 'Net
The Internet of old, as we used to know it, has grown. It has matured. It is now an entity in its own right. When a corporation wants to exist on the 'Net, they are forced to play by its de facto rules. "Standards" no longer declare what occurs, it is a pure democracy as the users decide the standards simply by using them.

For GMs Only
Conflict and mistrust between players is often a driving force behind a successful cyberspace campaign. Encourage your players to trust no one, to keep secrets when itís to their advantage, and to never show all their cards. It's a delicate balancing act for a GM, but for some reason in this setting player conflict WORKS. When you can force the players to work together despite their misgivings, the mood becomes distinctly different from classic high-tech science fiction captain and crew, and radically different from all-for-one attitudes typically encountered in fantasy settings.

Making it Happen

"'Tis God gives skill,/But not without men's hands..."
-George Eliot, Stradivarius

Skills are the heart of RMSR, so we must start here. In this article, we will look at every skill important to our genre

The Armor skill requires slightly different classification, although table T-3.3 will suit our purposes for standard armor. Without benefit of Future Law (An upcoming ICE publication), we will have to make do with SpaceMaster classifications as follows:

Armor * Heavy - This category includes Armored Exoskeleton. AEX is extremely bulky, and is the toughest protection available short of powered armor. Includes AT17-20

Armor * Medium - This category includes Armored Bodysuits. It reaches from pliable suits covered with armored plates to ballistic mesh suits covered with hardened plates. Includes AT9-AT16

Armor * Light - This category includes flak vests and the like (Light Body Armor), and extends clear into the range of reinforced flak armor. Includes AT5-8.

Artistic * Passive
The only additions required here are Computer Graphics {In} and Computer Sound {Re}, for obvious reasons.

Awareness * Searching
Drug Perception - This skill provides a bonus for detecting the influence of drugs, be they influencing the user of the skill or the target of the skill. {In}

Awareness * Senses
Because combat is a fairly typical occurrence in the streets of urban sprawls, it would be a good idea to mention Situational Awareness, Combat {In}. In addition, VR Awareness (The ability to remain oriented while immersed in VR)

Body Development
Drugs are a reality in cyberpunk-style gaming. Characters who use them regularly (for whatever reason) often prefer to develop an affinity for them. There are three categories of Drug Resistance {SD} for the purposes of this skill system: Stimulants, Depressants, and Psychoactives. Drug Resistance offsets the penalties of activity while under the influence of a given type of drug. It also gives a half-rank bonus to resist addiction per the RMSR Addiction Rules. These skills are Restricted for most Professions. They use a Combined Progression, rather than the standard Body Development progression for a given race.

Skills: Operations, Combat, Intrusion, Utility
Restricted: --
Applicable Stat Bonuses: Re/Me/SD
Skill Rank Bonus Progression: Standard
Skill Category Bonus Progression: Standard
Group: None
Classification: Static Maneuver, Moving Maneuver, and Offensive Bonus
This category encompasses skills that provide bonuses to using CyberDecks
Skill descriptions:
Operations - This skill provides a bonus for basic Cyberdeck operation, including movement within Cyberspace, and also acts as a "perception" skill within Cyberspace. It also provides a bonus to use unclassified programs, such as Operating Systems. {SD}
Combat - This skill provides an offensive bonus for attacking another Sentience within Cyberspace. {Pr}
Intrusion - This skill provides a bonus to a static maneuver or research/construction project involving the bypass of Cyberspace security, also known as Intrusion Countermeasure Electronics, or ICE for short. {In}
Utility - This skill provides a bonus to use any Utility program, such as a search engine, compiler, or ping scanner. Note that Utility programs are often integral (and precede) a Combat or Intrusion maneuver. {Em}

Directed Spells
This category should be removed, for obvious reasons.

Knowledge * General
(Note: All lores are called Knowledges in a Cyberspace campaign. Lore is far too antiquated a word)
Heraldry should be replaced with the following:
Corporate Heraldry - This skill provides general knowledge about product or service lines, logos, and typical colors associated with many zaibatsus. {Me}
Corporate Knowledge: (Specific Corporation) - This skill provides knowledge about a specific corporation, including major stockholders, standing security forces, product or service lines, security policies, annual earnings, Board of Directors, etc. {Me}

Knowledge * Obscure
Cult Knowledge (Specific Cult) - This skill provides specific knowledge of a given religious Cult (Scientology, L.A. Church of Christ, The Discordians, etc.) including ceremony, beliefs, philosophies, and current following. {In}
Society Knowledge (Specific Society/Organization) - This skill provides specific knowledge of a given organization (Mafia, Ancient Illuminated Seers, Inhabitants of Walled City, etc.) including philosophies, retirement plans, current following, origins, etc.

Knowledge * Technical
The following knowledges are necessary to most techie types, and a few netrunners. They are also self-explanatory.
Cybernetics Knowledge {Me}
Hardware Knowledge {Me}
Software Knowledge {Me}
Programming Knowledge {Me}

Power Awareness, Power Manipulation, and Power Point Development
These must be removed for obvious reasons.

Science/Analytic * Specialized
Should include, but should NOT be limited to: Cybernetics, Computer Science, Genetics, Pharmaceuticals, Nanotechnology, Horticulture/Hydroponics, Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science. These skills should only be available to a character with a collegiate degree or equivalent.

Technical/Trade * Professional
Skills appropriate to a Cyberpunk setting includes, but is not limited to: Marketing, Corporate Management, Military Organization, Architecture, Surgery, Medical Diagnostics, Mining, Drilling, Fashion. These skills should only be available to a character who had access to special training.

Technical/Trade * Vocational
Includes: Administration, Finance, Stock Market, Cybernetic Technics, Genetic Technics, Computer Technics, Computer Programming, Mechanical Technics, Weapons Technics, Electric Technics.

Weapon Skills
The weapon skills need some rearrangement, as the focus on weapons in a Cyberspace game should move from melee weapons to firearms. The weapon categories are as follows:
One-Handed Melee - Includes clubs, knives, and monowhips.
Two-Handed Melee - Includes Mauls and Large Swords.
Missile - Includes bows and crossbows.
Thrown - Includes grenades and shuriken.
One-Handed Trigger - Includes pistols, machine pistols, and submachine guns.
Two-Handed Trigger - Shotguns, rifles, assault rifles
Support - Miniguns, gauss rifles, grenade launchers, rocket/missile launchers.
Systems - The use of vehicular weapons systems.

The above changes are listed below for easy reference.
Group * Category Skills
Armor * Heavy Armored Exoskeleton (AEX 20-17)
Armor * Light Light Body Armor (LBA 5-8)
Armor * Medium Armored Body Suit (ABS 9-16)
Artistic * Passive Computer Graphics
Computer Sound
Awareness * Searching Drug Perception
Awareness * Senses VR Awareness
Situational Awareness Combat
Self Control Drug Resistance: Psychoactive
Drug Resistance: Stimulant
Drug Resistance: Depressant
CyberDeck Operations
Remove Directed Spells category
Knowledge * General Replace Heraldry with Corporate Heraldry
Corporate Knowledge
Knowledge * Obscure Replace with Cult Knowledge
Society Knowledge
Knowledge * Technical Cybernetics Knowledge
Hardware Knowledge
Software Knowledge
Programming Knowledge
Remove Power Awareness
Remove Power Manipulation
Remove Power Point Development
Science/Analytic * Specialized Cybernetics
Computer Science
Artificial Intelligence
Technical/Trade * Professional
Technical/Trade * Vocational
Urban Contacting
Weapon * 1-H Melee Cobra
Weapon * 2-H Melee Maul
Two-handed Sword
Weapon * Missile Crossbow
Compound Bow
Weapon * Thrown Grenade
Weapon * 1-H Trigger Pistol
Machine Pistol
Weapon * 2-H Trigger Shotgun
Assault Shotgun
Assault Rifle
Weapon * Support Minigun
Gauss Rifle
Rocket Launcher
Grenade Launcher
Weapon * Systems GM

Feel the Future

Skills are but one part of building an effective foundation for your characters. The next column will lay out race and profession, complete with skill costs and descriptions. We will also cover some more aspects of cyberpunk world design, including a basic timeline, a sample NPC, and more Gamemaster hints. Interested in more? Want to see something specific next column? Write me at and let me know.