Project Aphelion Solo Play #001: Hacking the Cyberpunk

About a year ago, we played a campaign of Shadowrun. It was delightful, even if the rules did what they could to make it annoying. The campaign came to an end of season one and we’ve never picked it up. But I am definitely not done with my character, Tomorrow: a Raven-mentored mystic adept with a head full of mischief and arcane research.

Resolved to not let Tomorrow move to the bleaker pastures of past characters, I’m taking her for a spin in solo play, using the rules of our upcoming strategy RPG, Project Aphelion. As Aphelion is a hard sci-fi game set in the 2280s and I need my character in the magical cyberpunk of 2055, we need to make some changes.

The campaign I want to play solo is going to have one main objective: finding Tomorrow’s missing sister, Chloe, who is hiding from Aztechnology in an undisclosed location.


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Meet Tomorrow

Sarah James, better known as Tomorrow (I wrote quite a lot about her at some point), is an elf, which gives her low-light vision and theoretically increases her agility and charisma, if she ever cared about such things. Conveniently, there’s no charisma attribute in PA, which suits perfectly my character living on pure logic. She is a mystic adept, which gives her access to sorcery and conjuring; she has a specialization in manipulation magic and air elementals and is generally rather useless in other areas of the arcane but as PA has no specializations in skills nor through-the-roof dice pool stacking, I’ll keep this to narrative. Neither system has levels. SR is class-less but operates on archetypes: Tomorrow started as a breaking & entering specialist which would make her an infiltrator or investigator (Investigative focus) per PA’s careers, but as the game progressed, she was moving more and more into the area of arcane research and communing with spirits.

Unique aspects of the character will require mostly narrative padding. Tomorrow was built around the “Mind over Matter” adept power, allowing her to use her logic in place of agility – while no such trait exists in PA, it’s trivial to translate mechanically. Her mentor spirit of Raven provides extra dice for con and manipulation magic but its role is mostly narrative (although requires a daily allotment of 1 hour for communing with the spirit). Affinity for Air, Astral Perception, Voice Control and Facial Sculpt are narrative as well. Sustenance reduces the need for eating to one meal per day (will reduce the upkeep cost of the character) and sleeping to 3 hours per day, leaving more space for doing stuff. Multi-tasking allows for perception checks without paying the action cost plus gives 2 free actions per initiative pass when not directly involved in combat, which can be wrapped up into a free physical or mental action per interval  in the same circumstances. Heightened Concentration allows me to ignore up to -6 of a single negative modifier; I’ll cut it in half to adjust to the system that doesn’t go into -20 dice pool mods.

For the general idea about the type of a person Tomorrow is…

She’s fun to roleplay.

System changes

The biggest change is the addition of magic, both conjuring and sorcery (there’s nothing about enchanting that can’t be solved by generic crafting rules). Magic should have a cost higher than just pools and conveniently, both games have something called Drain. Conjuring can be treated similarly to (bio)drone control, just with no material cost and with a number of uses equal to marks on summoning task, maybe even a consumable item, with bound spirits being equivalent to drones.

Character Creation

Tomorrow’s story is written in her backstory and a rather short but intense campaign. To simulate it, I’ll use the standard PA character creation rules, then add some improvements based on karma expenditures from the campaign.

Step 1: Focus

As stated, the best focus for Tomorrow is scientific (the other five are: creative, investigative, social, technical, and warfare, as the game supports a variety of playstyles). This focus plays the role of an archetype. Quoting from the PA rulebook:

People born with a passion for discovery can choose the Scientific Focus. Characters following it reach out into the unknown to uncover new boundaries of cognition for the betterment of all mankind – or credits. Money is always good motivation. Whatever the reasons, scientifically motivated characters are at the forefront of discovery.

Characters following the Scientific Focus find employment as researchers, doctors, theoretical scientists, lab assistants, pioneers, explorers, engineers, and maintenance staff.

Perfect start for an arcane researcher. I need a custom career of a magician. The main attribute of Logic fits the character perfectly, and now I need four primary skills, preferably connected to the primary attribute. I’ll pick:

  • Sorcery (Logic),
  • Conjuring (Logic),
  • Sciences (Natural Sciences, Logic),
  • Investigation (Wit).

These aren’t the only skills Tomorrow will have, but they are the most important for the career progression.

Step 2: Attributes

There are six attributes in PA versus 10 in SR. Quick conversion looks like this:

Physical attributes
Toughness – Body & Strength
Fitness – Agility & Reaction
Awareness – Agility & Intuition

Mental attributes
Resolve – Willpower
Logic – Logic
Wit – Intuition & Charisma

Edge and Magic do not exist in PA, but as I’m completely fine dropping the luck element and using Magic as a type of science (sue me), so I’ll replace it with Logic. Nobody can tell me it’s not balanced: A) SR is not balanced, B) I’m playing solo, so whom exactly am I hurting?

Do I roll for the attributes or do I use the point allocation system? Tomorrow already has her stats, but she’s basically average at everything but Logic. For the sake of fun, I’ll roll.

In PA, you roll 3d10 for each attribute, then discard the lowest and highest. Divide the remaining one by 2 (rounding up) and assign it to the chosen attribute. Sounds complicated? It is not – it gives you values from 1-5, weighted towards the average of 3. Here’s the rolls:

3, 7, 9 => 7/2 = 3.5 => 4
4, 7, 9 => 7/2 = 3.5 => 4
5, 6, 9 => 6/2 = 3
2, 4, 6 => 4/2 = 2
3, 5, 10 => 5/2 = 2.5 =>3
1, 8, 10 => 8/2 = 4

Final list of attributes: 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4

There are no dump stats in PA, and each affects the pools, number of actions, and/or initiative. To stay true to my character, I need her skewed towards the mental attributes (we’re substituting Logic for Agility/Fitness, remember, because we’re playing Shadowrun and nobody can stop us.) For simplicity, here’s the conversion.

SR: BOD 3, AGI 2, REA 3, STR 2, CHA 3, INT 3, LOG 5, WIL 3, EDG 3, MAG 6

PA: Toughness 3, Fitness 2, Awareness 4, Resolve 3, Logic 4, Wit 4

Roughly similar – in both games, 3 is the ‘human average’. I need a higher Logic score, but I’ll take care of that later in chargen.

Step 3: Opportunities

Opportunities in PA are bits of luck, extra chances, lottery winnings, etc. – a metacurrency for buying extra stuff during chargen. I don’t have any yet, but I’ll be gathering them as I go through the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Trials of Life part of chargen. They let me switch trials, buy gear, skills, contacts and traits. At the moment, I’ll just keep track of them and remember that I can spend Opportunities at any stage of the chargen process.

Step 4: Traits

Positive, neutral, or negative, traits give the character more depth. I’ll be getting some in the chargen for free and I can buy others (paying with opportunities for positive and neutral ones or getting opportunities for picking up negative traits). I’ll leave them for now, keeping in mind that free traits aside, I can only buy one trait per each life trial passed.

Step 5: Story of your Life

Now we’re talking! Time to recreate the backstory. Which is, admittedly, not complicated: a highschool dropout who went ‘shadowrunning’, got caught at 17 and spent the next 5 years in prison, hooked up on drugs and magic, then got out, learnt about her sister’s disappearance and laser-focused on getting her back.

I got a playlist, even.

Origin

PA is a scifi game and comes with origins suited for the 2280s: Earther, Colonist, Outer, Lifter, or Spacer. What I need is a race/ancestry of an elf. Conveniently, origins are basically pre-packaged traitsö I’ll just pick one positive, one neutral, and one negative. As long as they’re elf-appropriate, I’ll be fine, so I’m going for the ‘charismatic, delicate, sees in the dark’ theme.

Positive: First Impression: the character is adept and instantly making friends. Receive 2 points of Clout for the first Social Task attempted with a newly met person.

Neutral: Low-Light Adaptation: the character is well adapted to darkness and sees perfectly well in conditions of obstructed visibility. Reduce all Awareness modifiers for that character by 1. Modifiers caused by light intensity are increased by 1. 

Negative: Fragile: the character’s frame isn’t made to withstand harsh treatment and beating. Whenever the character suffers physical Drain caused by impacts, they take an additional point of Drain. 

Upbringing

Tomorrow is a daughter of a Texas Ranger and an environmental lawyer, a mix of white collar, Sunday school, and shooting at the bottles behind the barn. As far as the system goes, I’m just going to embrace the middle-class Industrial upbringing, as it opens the path to standard education, gives me 2 Opportunities, two rank 1 Citizen contacts (I’ll make them the parents, why not), and a Job Well Done action card.

(The other available upbringings in PA are: Outcast, State, Nomadic, Military, and High Society – you can mix and match them with any origin.)

If you don’t know, action cards are playable abilities and/or actions you can use in the game. They cover anything from using items to complex special abilities and, in this case, they will also cover specific spells. It’s a handy and handout-y way of keeping track of all abilities of the character. Job Well Done gives us this:

It is a very good card for Tomorrow as it will allow her doing stuff she’s great at (so has the best chance at scoring maximum marks) without burning herself out, which works perfectly with the Sustenance and Heightened Concentration adept powers – and with her laser-focus, sleep-is-for-the-weak personality. Does it mean she will be able to regain Stamina and Morale (ie. rest) by doing what she’s excellent at? Yes. It’s this level of a workaholic. The potential burnout through Drain just adds the believability. 

Trials of Life

Welcome to CYOA part! As designed, each character receives 4 free trials and can buy more for Opportunities. Each represents 3 years of life, starting at 15, and ending at 27 years old. I’m gonna cheat a bit, because I need to do at least 3 trials (school, shadowrunning, prison) and end up at 22 to keep the backstory straight. It’s not going to matter much. Three trials would leave the character unfinished, so I’m going to do the fourth free trial as well, to emulate the ‘campaign’ part of the backstory.

Trial 1

Industrial upbringing lets Tomorrow start either at work with “I Hate Mondays” or at “First Day of School”. I’ll go with the second one. This first trial tests only attributes as I don’t have any skills. Each test (task) in PA looks similar: you roll the number of d10 equal to your attribute against the difficulty of 6, reduced by skill and influenced by various modifiers. The trial lets me pick a test depending on the attribute I want to use. Because it’s Tomorrow, I’m going with Logic. I roll 4 dice (4 Logic) against the difficulty of 6 (so I need to get 6 or above on a die to score a mark.) This means I have 50% of scoring a mark on each die.

Here’s the trial:

Scientific Method (Logic)

Your scientific aptitude allowed you a chance to become a part of a community collectively pushing the boundaries of knowledge. If you can keep up with your peers, chances are your name will be written in history forever.

I have rolled: 4, 5, 7, and 7, giving me 2 marks and a statistically correct 50% success rate. With 2 marks, I read the effect:

  • 1-2 marks: receive tier 1 field suit, HUD terminal, a toolkit or a bot, a personal printer, and 1 Opportunity. Improve your 2 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1.
    Move to: You’re Hired (T2); College Life (T2); Expedition (T2)

Translating scifi into cyberpunk, I’ve received:

  • a basic jumpsuit,
  • a commlink/smartphone,
  • a magical-research toolkit (think study materials, research database access, etc.),
  • a mini 3D printer (SR does not have them, but I don’t really care about the state of Year 2055 technology thought out in Year 1989).

I also get 1 Opportunity (3 total) and I get to raise two primary skills by 1. I’m raising Sciences and Investigation, as Tomorrow only learnt magic later in her life. One trial passed, I’m spending 2 Opportunities to buy a positive trait: Exceptional Talent, raising Logic from 4 to 5.

The effect of my task gives me three choices for the future of my character, but as I have a set backstory, I’ll just go with what I need. (It’s not against the rules of the game – you can pick and choose if you have a specific story in mind. ) Yes, logically, Tomorrow would go to college or get a job, but she decided to throw it all away and become a criminal. So…

Trial 2

The Life of Crime. Not the best life choice, but we also were 17 at some point.

You make a living by stealing, smuggling petty goods, and doing odd jobs for a local gang or syndicate. Your future prospects as a small fish in an even smaller pond are rather grim unless you manage to make enough waves to rise above. 

Just like the previous trial, this is technically a Tier 1 trial, which means I only get to use my attribute, no skills. Lucky for me, I now have 5 dice on Logic tests, and we’re going to do a heist.

First Heist (Fitness)

A chance presented itself to strike out on your own and score it big—if you can do it fast enough and avoid triggering an alarm.

As you’ve noticed, it’s a Fitness trial – and here’s where I’m being cheeky and substituting my Logic for Fitness because this is what Tomorrow would do. She’s a smartass B&E adept. (Also, the Science Fair Logic task doesn’t fit the vibe) Let’s roll!

3, 5, 6, 6, and 7 gives me 3 marks and the effect:

  • 3-4 marks: receive tier 1 electronic lockpicks, survival gear, Stealth Suit HUD terminal, a Bot, and 2 Opportunities. Improve 3 Primary Skills by 1, up to 1.
    Move to: I Fought the Law (T2); Rock and a Hard Place (T2); I Know How They Operate (T2) 

In cyberpunk terms: a lockpick set and survival gear are self-explanatory, stealth suit is a camo catsuit for messing up with sensors. I don’t need a second commlink, so I’m getting an Opportunity that I’ll trade later for some other tier 1 piece of gear. I don’t use bots but I can make it into a bound spirit. His name is Steven and he’s an air elemental.

Extra 2 Opportunities and the ability to raise 3 primary skills by 1 up to max 1 – that means Sorcery 1 and Conjuring 1. There’s no other primary skill I can raise to 1 (they’re all already there), so I’m getting a free Opportunity, which I will spend as 1 point of skill into Con (Wit), as it’s appropriate for the criminal lifestyle. Afterwards, even though our suggested path looks shining, we’re…

Trial 3

[Tier 2] Going to Jail (Enforcing, Perception, Stealth, Intimidation, Con, Commerce)

Circumstances conspired against you, and you ended up in a slammer. Whether it’s a penal colony, old-fashioned jail, or one of many corporate resocialization stations, you might want to consider busting out somehow or making good with the inmates and the guards.

Not the best place for a young arcane researcher, but that’s what you get for being a dumbass. Tier 2 trials let us use the skills – but they also require us to use the skills. From the ones listed, my best chances are with Con. With 4 Wit and Con 1, Tomorrow rolls 4 dice against the difficulty of 5 (6 minus skill), so every result of 5 and above is a mark!

1, 2, 5, and 8 – thanks to reduced difficulty, that 5 counts, and I end up with 2 marks and the following effect:

  • 1-2 marks: gain 1 Outcast Contact at rank 1, Improve a non-primary Skill by 1 up to 1. Gain +5 Outcast Rep and -5 Law.
    Move to: I Fought the Law (T2); Bounty on My Head (T3)

An Outcast contact is going to be a gang magician and Tomorrow’s best friend, Lillian Friese. I get to improve any non-primary skill by 1 up to 1, so let’s put that in Stealth (Fitness). It’s hard to snoop around without it, and Tomorrow does a lot of snooping. A better reputation with the criminal world and every cop looking at her with suspicion is basically the starting point for Tomorrow in our past campaign, so all good here! As I want to put Tomorrow on a path of do-whatever-you-want, and neither of those options for the lifepath fit, I’ll just go with:

Trial 4

[Tier 3] Life Is Your Oyster (any Skill)

Life gave you lemons, but it just so happens you heckin’ love lemons. You have an abundance of options to further your life, enjoying the gifts granted to you, or perhaps investing in yourself?

Here’s what happened: After leaving the prison, Tomorrow has spent several months frantically looking for her sister, then slowed down and realized she needs money, skills, allies, and power. She set out to gain just that, mostly using magic as her standard operation procedure. That’s why I’m going to just see how this worked out for her. 

Logic 5 = 5 dice. Sorcery 1 = difficulty 5

1, 7, 8, 8, and 9 (lovely roll, thank you, Google). With 4 marks, we’re cashing in:

  • 3-4 marks: raise the Skill used in this Task and 2 non-primary Skills by 1 up to 2. Receive 2 Opportunities. Receive 2 any Contacts at rank 1 or raise already known Contact’s rank by 1 up to 2. Receive a Lucky Trait rank.
    Move to: Yet Another Day (T4, XX)

That allows me to raise Sorcery up to 2. I can either raise my favorite non-Primary skills, Con and Stealth, to 2 or pick new skills. I’ll go with the first option – Tomorrow is a specialist, not a skill monkey. I’m getting 2 more Opportunities (5 total). I’ll pick up two new contacts – a wider net makes it easier to search for missing people:

  • Dash, an elven hacker
  • Adam Wheeler, a gang’s lieutenant (more or less Tomorrow’s boyfriend – they got together at the end of the campaign, so we’ll see how this story goes.)

A Lucky trait is just icing on the cake, giving me one reroll of a failed die once per day – Shadowrun’s edge has found itself, and the universe again is in balance.

We went through 4 trials of life spanning 3 tiers – there’s tier 4 which works as a balancing tool for chargen. I’ll pay 1 Opportunity to go there, and I’ll keep pretending it took no time whatsoever, because Tomorrow is an elf and she’s likely to live hundreds of years.

Trial 5

[Tier 4] Yet Another Day

You reached a point in your life where you’re able to enjoy the fruits of your labor and not worry too much about your stability. You don’t have to worry about your day to day survival, and perhaps ponder branching out, reaching for more? Things aren’t bad, but they could be better – and as they say, everything said before “but” doesn’t matter.

In Tier 4 trials, we don’t roll – just add up the number of total marks scored previously and get your result (it’s always the last step and can be taken only once.) In short, the better you went in previous trials, the smaller your final reward is going to be (though still substantial) – and if you did poorly, you get a nice package of stuff to round up your build.

With my total count of 11:

  • 10-14: Receive an Advanced Action Card for your Career, and raise any 2 Skills by 1 up to 3. Receive 3 Income Trait ranks

This is pretty sweet – Income is going to cover Tomorrow’s arcane research business (she is making solid money selling spell formulas in a digital store). I’ll raise Sorcery by 1 up to 3 and Investigation by 1 up to 2. As for Advanced Action Cards, they are abilities unique for your career but as I’m making a custom career of a magician, I’ll need to come up with one myself. It will be one of Tomorrow’s spells.

Wrapping up

With the backstory built and cashed in, I’m out of chargen with basic gear, some skills, and 4 Opportunities to spend on traits, contacts, skills, or gear. I also have one HUD terminal to swap for something else – because life is dangerous, I’ll swap it for a basic non-lethal weapon for personal protection. This one sounds perfect as Tomorrow’s usually trying to not kill people (although she’s deadly when she wants them dead):

  • WardenclyffeCorp Zmey. A staple in non-lethal weapons, the almost century-old Zmey remains an effective and popular solution for crew looking for cheap weapons legal everywhere in the System. This electric arc thrower can be quickly expanded from a pistol, into a PDW, providing additional stopping power.
    Rating 1: Cl:1, Ca:1(5 shots), A:1, Ma:1, S:1, H:1, Mo:0, D:1, Fuel: Power Cell
    Notes: Zmey comes with a Folding Stock modification by default. It deals electric damage and won’t cause Injuries.

With 4 Opportunities, I want to cover the bits and pieces I talked about in the beginning. Raven mentor spirit is going to become a Rank 1 Contact (1 Opportunity), Sustenance adept power will get packaged under Low Expectations positive trait, cutting living costs in half (2 Opportunities), and the general Tomorrowness of Tomorrow befits the Driven neutral trait (1 Opportunity, giving her 2 points of Clout when she’s actively pursuing her goals and forcing to score points in Conditioning task to drop them to do something unrelated. It’s a bit cheeky of me but again, nobody can stop me.) I’ll keep the rest of her abilities in the narrative and if something feels flaky in the game, I’ll just fix it on the fly. Aphelion’s engine can take it.

That wraps up the chargen! Took longer to type than to make – if I didn’t have to type it all up, I’d be done in 30 minutes.

What’s the next step?

What’s left is coming up with the details of the custom career of a magician, but as it will take some thinking, I’ll get to it the next time! I will be also creating the setting for the campaign, setting up factions and their interests.

Read on, the Part 2 is already there!

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3 Comments on “Project Aphelion Solo Play #001: Hacking the Cyberpunk

  1. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Career Magician (part 2) | Double Proficiency

  2. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Campaign Generation (Part 3) | Double Proficiency

  3. Pingback: Project Aphelion Solo Play: Scenario Generation (Part 4) | Double Proficiency

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