A cyberpunk feels focused activist non-violent tabletop rpg
This doc is the game document, but you will also need these character sheets and handouts. Much of the rules still exist on these: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1uhnEgnbKgHZRV3OuD1LdtGLsD_vIzDSa/view?usp=sharing
If you playtest this please send me feedback at: email@example.com
It is updated on the regular so check back for new content. (most recent update 7/15)
SYNC takes place ten seconds in the future. It’s about exploring non-violent themes in a cyberpunk setting. The mechanics in the game encourage interaction and relationships. This is a minimal GM, maximum player interaction game where you talk with each other and develop relationships through roleplaying. What the PCs do and how their relationships develop is more important than a predetermined plot. In order to defeat oppressive forces working against them and their community, the PCs must care for each other emotionally.
Players: 3-5 + One GM
Time: 2-4 hours per session, currently works best as a many session game, quickstart coming
Mechanics: Powered by the Apocalypse (2d6) this game is inspired most by Monsterhearts and Night Witches
Materials: printed out Character Sheets, printed out Basic Moves and Group Moves sheets, game text, writing implements, 2d6
Keywords: cyberpunk, non-violence, sex, queer terminology, queer culture, activism, relationships, emotional labor, cyborgs, corrupt systems, oppression, race, near future America
William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition
Halt and Catch Fire
Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer
SYNC uses pbta mechanics. So, 2D6, moves, and the 7-9 middling consequences rule. Players are most likely to roll a 7-9, making those the most interesting narrative options.
SYNC has a focus on emotional and technological moves. So all the actions that players are incentivized to take involve talking about feelings, having conversations, being observant or sensitive, and interacting with technology.
The main point economy works like this. When players make a move (either basic or character move) they have the opportunity to gain points.
SYNC points are how well the character is connected with themselves. A SYNC point is gained every time the character rolls a highlighted stat. So, SYNC points are tied metaphorically to the character’s skills and the types of actions they’re taking in a session.
Connectivity points are how well the character is connected to their friends and chosen family (ie the other player characters). Every time a character supports another PC by listening and validating their emotions they gain a Connectivity point.
SYNC and Connectivity points are then used to make Group Moves. Each player must spend an equal amount of SYNC or Connectivity points in order to even make a Group Move. So for example, everyone spending 3 SYNC points and 2 Connectivity points makes a certain Group Move possible. Group Moves are the only way characters can lessen the impact that Factions are having on themselves and their community.
SYNC points can also be used on buying new character moves. So players must choose between improving themselves, and improving their group, and when to do which.
That’s the basic point economy, and what drives the main themes and metaphors of the game. These mechanics in particular were inspired by Night Witches and Monsterhearts.
Imagine now, but like, a little more futuristic. As William Gibson articulated: ten seconds in the future.
We’ve got better tech, but we’re not transplanting brains quite yet.
Things are more corporate, capitalist, corrupt than now. But we already live in a cyberpunk dystopia.
We’ve developed some biotech but not much. Printing organs that people can use, replacing minor body parts but not whole bodies, embedded wifi and enhancements but nothing too wild yet. Robots are a little smarter and more pervasive. AI is becoming a tool we all use. The internet is bigger and scarier and stranger. Old tech is still in heavy use. Maybe there’s a few ultra high tech things but they all belong to companies mostly out of reach.
The aesthetic is meant to be near future so that tech can be a metaphor. The tools we create are reflections of who we are. Technology is a way we connect. It’s how we create and grow relationships.
When creating technology in each iteration of the game with your own group, SYNC considers everyday tech more than weapons or massive earth changing tech like the higgs boson. It’s about the personal and the local. There is some inspiration for possible technology in the cities that are pre-made (Miami currently), so use them to set the tone for any city your group might create together.
The main settings to play at in this book are American cities just a little bit in the future. They’re cities that have something to highlight about the contemporary oppression, which is why I’ve specifically chosen Miami and Detroit to highlight. Other great choices would be Atlanta, Southern California, Tucson, New Orleans.
The future is rooted in the past. Describe architecture: Art Deco, Bauhaus, Post-Modernism, Mid-century, Contemporary. Think every day personal interaction, not massive scale. Present tech that exists to connect or disconnect characters and NPCs. Think about real cities and their current issues, and push them forward.
A predetermined quickstart setting for playtesting, Neo Miami is included in the handouts. More details further down in the document.
SYNC definitely can have violence in it’s narratives and storylines. Rather, there is the potential for violence, as there is in the real world. Unlike many other tabletop games, and cyberpunk games in particular, SYNC’s characters aren’t the ones doing that violence. So the things that make the characters our focus are their social and mental capacities, not their capacity to be ultra violent killing machines who are constantly fighting and killing in order to get what they want. The characters in SYNC are about as physically capable as you or I in a fight… even if we are well trained in martial arts there’s a good chance we’re not going to stand a chance against an armored private security officer or armed cop. When I run this game I say “Imagine you, the real you, and your capacity for violence, and that’s about how good your character is at it too.” Basically violence isn’t the preferred or best action to take in SYNC.
That doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t do violence, however. It is possible for characters to experience violence done to them, and this type of physical harm can be represented in conditions the same way any other type of harm can be… it’s just not tracked because the potential for a character dying from physical violence isn’t really an incremental part of this game. If players decide after many sessions they believe a character should die from sudden or random violence, or perhaps lack of ability to get medical help, that’s fine, but not really a focus of the stories that SYNC is telling. Most characters will live through this story, the stakes are more about how they live and what they can do to improve the lives of others.
The characters in SYNC are a combination of cyberpunk characters from various media who are primarily non-violent. The things they do in the fiction and their motivations are very driven by activism and trying to survive in the world without using the tools of the oppressor.
Each character has moves that detail the ways they interact with technology. While the Basic Moves of the game focus more on social interaction, the characters focus on tech and what they can specifically do.
One of the more body modded of the character options, Cyberbabes manipulate both their bodies and social media to their benefits. Cyberbabes like to use their body expressively to influence people. They also tend to have dark pasts, since it’s hard to get those cyborg parts yo.
Anoraks are obsessively into one type of media, object, or fashion. It’s usually something so strange that not many other people know about it, and they have groups of friends online who are just obsessed as they are. They’re fans, and they’re innocuous, and that’s what gives them their ability to get info about stuff in the world.
Analysts are coders, mostly, and their brains can analyze tech and the world in the same way. They have the uncanny ability to read people just by looking at them, in a somewhat Sherlock-y way. They’re sensitive, but that sensitivity is also their super power.
Creators of things, like fashion, furniture, industrial design. Designers see the world through a lense of objects. They have the ability to network with rad creators and nifty interactive glasses.
The Idol is a famous performer, and their main conflict is between their fame and the people they want to be close to. They have unique abilities to manipulate the media.
The Gearhead is a maker of small machines and robots. Their workshop is a second home, and they often feel closer to machines than humans. They have a few implants but aren’t as modded as Cyberbabes.
The Punk has access to pharma-apps, basically future drugs that enhance various abilities. They’re in tune with urban subcultures and the underground, and are kind of co-dependant.
Drivers have an amazing car that can do all kinds of neat stuff. They’re also emotionally distant, but intensely driven once pointed in the right direction. They’re more physical communicators than anything, and their garage is where they sleep a lot of the time.
The Insider needs to walk a fine line between activism and being on the corporate inside. They have more access than any other character but at a cost. They’re often in way over their head.
There’s four stats in this game. Rad, Savvy, Tough, and Tech.
Rad is the ability to be cool in culture.
Savvy is both knowledge and social intelligence.
Tough is physical and emotional fortitude.
Tech is understanding technology and how people work.
The moves in this game are designed to focus players toward a certain and specific narrative. Anything that is not listed on the moves is something that can be done, just not with great skill or great narrative emphasis.
All the characters in SYNC are experiencing forms of systemic oppression that they are driven to fight against. This oppression takes socioeconomic, political, legal, cultural, and institutional forms. During the first session, once players have created characters and their city and neighborhood, they’ll go on to create the factions that represent this oppression in the game.
Factions are important because they’re part of the point economy of the game, and they’re also the things that characters are trying to overcome. Factions are rooted in the city and culture each particular game of SYNC is taking place in, so consider how they relate to the particular forms of each near future American City.
Create three Factions to begin with. As the characters overcome them, players can decide if they want to create more, or end the game once all three are defeated.
- land being stolen or misused
- corrupt local government
- industry monopoly
- corrupt health companies
-decide how this impacts how the system failed you
Factions show up prominently in GM moves. A great way to introduce anything a Faction is doing in the narrative is by having a move happen to the characters and then building the character of the faction from there. You can also develop the Faction ahead of time, giving them concrete motivations and NPCs that are a part of that faction.
This section is meant to aid the GM in running the first session of the game. It walks through step by step the process of getting to roleplaying.
This game features: lots of character interaction and little one on one with the GM, non-violence, social activism, hacking, and relationships.
When I say Cyberpunk, what’s the first thing you think of? (point out the things that are and aren’t involved in this game, for example no street samurai, no ultraviolence)
It takes place ten seconds in the future. Things are a little more cyberpunk, but not dystopian. Not anymore than currently, anyway.
Your goal is to build cred. You need to network in order to gain any kind of momentum or sway over your situation.
The emotional interactions you have with your fellow PCs increases your amount of connection, which gives you the ability to sway things.
Explain basic rules
Do character creation (highlight how only three characters have the ability to do physical harm competently, and most characters are like regular people when it comes to fighting: not good at it! Its not a focus of the game)
Do enemy creation/place location
Start with three characters in someone’s apartment
Start other two in the neighborhood
Present some basic compelling NPC drama that pulls them in
HAVE A PARTY (all tomorrows parties)
ONLY DO SOCIAL ATTACKS IN A ONE SHOT (physical might be confusing in a one shot)
Describe to players a basic idea of what the game is, what its about, and what they’ll be doing. Explain safety tools (x card)
> Describe in short one liners (listed below) the different character options to the players.
> Players then fill out character sheets by assigning Stats and Moves as defined by character sheet.
> Have players describe their characters to the group, then do Backstory together (it’s hard to establish backstory without knowing the characters).
> Characters are now complete except for GID and Subculture option (which will be done during neighborhood/city creation).
Quick fun descriptions of character playbooks:
Cyberbabe - super cool social media manipulator with fancy cyborg body parts
Anorak - nerd who is obsessed with niche weirdness who specializes in internet friends
Analyst - able to analyze disparate points of data and people and get stuff from gigs
Designer - rad design skills and analysis and party pad
Idol - famous performer who can manipulate media
Gearhead - makes machines and loves the more than humans
Punk - boosts self with future drugs + street smarts
Driver - has a rad car also is kind of intense personality
Insider - works for the corps but is also trapped by them
The thing that brings the characters together. What are they working on as a group? Pick a loose goal the characters can be structured around.
- creating media that highlights examples of systemic oppression
- working to make tech cheap and accessible to the community
- creating pathways for people in the neighborhood to succeed
- highlighting safety issues to political groups
- campaigning for people who have no voice
Look at the city sheet. For each option, follow the instructions on the sheet.
Create collaboratively what the characters will be up against. See faction section.
Create a face for each faction. These will be key NPCs that are moving against the characters, and while there will be many more NPCs, these are the most powerful and influential. Think: CEOs, media financers, Board Members, Police Cheifs, etc. These aren’t villains, but rather people with motivations counter to the PC’s who are helping aid systems of oppression.
Encourage the players to engage with mechanics they might’ve forgotten about. Describe people, objects, and settings the way you’d like everybody to. Frame scenes some of the time, ask players to frame them the rest of the time. Encourage players to interact with each other! Say “where are the two of you right now?” Incorporate themes from the Playbooks for players so they remember they exist. Don’t interrupt players. If someone interrupts someone else, check in with the interrupted person! Trust what people say they want to happen, but ask questions to clarify, and then suggest what the best move would be. Sometimes, a move isn’t needed!
- the future is more realistic if it also contains objects from the present
- make the city feel beautiful
- make every system feel broken
- everyone’s got a problem
- focus on small moments in time
- the weather is like a character
- emphasize the importance of touch, connections, and bodies in spaces
- reveal vulnerabilities
- make factions seem cold
- make cybernetics seem warm
- create the feel of a chaotic global free market economy
- keep threats personal
The best tool for the GM is the list of GM moves on the GM Moves sheet. These are a series of actions the GM can take when PCs roll a 6 or under. They can also just generally be inspiration and things the GM can do whenever they desire.
- isolate the characters physically, emotionally, and socially
- expose them (or people they care about)
- make them go to a resource they don’t want to
- a faction moves against them
- someone has bad news
- someone from their past needs something from them
- they go into Glitched
- give them a Condition
- add a dot to a Faction
- they need more money
- threaten their living situation
- threaten someone in their community
- start legal action
- they get arrested
- a harmful rumor is started on media about them
Start with setting intro scenes for each character: where do they wake up, what does their living space look like, what’s their morning routine, who do they go see.
Encourage characters to meet up! They have all these relationships after all.
Try to have 2-3 characters in each subsequent scene.
Characters don’t have to be in the same physical space to be in a scene together! They could communicate through various tech.
Consider one or two NPC moves the first session, but remember to constantly refocus on PC personality and action building.
Who are these PCs really? Let the players stretch in their new skin.
If NPCs do interact with them, encourage interactions that bring out those characters and help them shine.
Don’t let any scene last more than 10 minutes. Time it if neccessary!
This is a pre-generated quickstart for a convention, one night play, or campaign if you don’t want to create your own city and scenario. It’s great to use for the playtest as well.
In near future Miami, too many hurricanes have begun flooding parts of the interior, making certain parts of the city underwater, and transforming some old roadways into waterways. The city’s culture is still predominantly Hispanic and Latino, and the Spanish colonial history continues to have a great influence over contemporary race and class issues.
> Pick two things as a group from each list on the Neo Miami sheet. (If you’re very short for time or would prefer to do pre-game worldbuilding, the GM can pick these ahead of time, and then players can define one Location each in their neighborhood).
Use this for the Neo Miami playbook in the handouts. When creating NPCs and need inspiration, or want a random roll.
GENDER (pick one, no rolls)
she/her, he/him, they/them, ze/hir, xe/xem
RACE (pick 1 or 2, no rolls)
White (German, Italian, Irish, English, French, Russian, Polish)
Hispanic or Latino (Cuban, Nicaraguan, Honduran, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Columbian, Venezuelan, Peruvian, Argentinean, Ecuadorian, Spaniard)
Black (Haitian, Jamaican, Bahamian, British West Indian, Trinidadian, Black Hispanic)
Asian (Indian, Chinese, Filipino)
PERSONALITY (roll 2)
2 - angery & abrasive
3 - chill vibes
4 - analytical
5 - sensitive
6 - aggressive
7 - craves attention
8 - action before words
9 - social butterfly
10 - anxious
11 - cozy
12 - emo
STYLE (roll 1 predominant, then roll 3 within that style)
2 - lots of silver jewelry thai influence
3 - long flowy black transparent fabrics
4 - implanted chrome fangs
5 - digi-tarot display gadget
6 - big black boots
7 - evil tattoos
8 - strict v shaped bangs
9 - fishnet
10 - dark makeup
11 - big round black hat
12 - black nails
2 - spiky hair
3 - mismatched bright patterns
4 - spike studs and patches
5 - fishnet
6 - tattered outdated fabrics
7 - many piercings
8 - shaved head
9 - bomber jacket
10 - sharp edged things
11 - switchblade
12 - cigarettes
2 - ocean colors
3 - headphones
4 - surf suit
5 - hydro board
6 - shorts
7 - fin attachments
8 - go pro drone
9 - weed
10 - shaved sides
11 - blue lipstick
12 - sun bleached hair
2 - both masc and femme styled
3 - flower print short sleeve button up
4 - white sneaks
5 - pastels
6 - abstract eye makeup
7 - cute backpack
8 - hydrobike
9 - digibuttons
10 - radical haircut with shaved in patterns
11 - dangly earrings
12 - pink
2 - big brand sneaks
3 - oversized striped jacket
4 - urban digi camo
5 - outrageous pattern matching shirt and pants
6 - cuban hat
7 - chrome grill
8 - white tank top
9 - neck tattoos
10 - sweats
11 - logo fonts on clothes
12 - button down flower print
7 Sport chic
2 - slick sunglasses
3 - partially visible boxer briefs
4 - expensive skintight stretchwear
5 - health goth
6 - tracksuit parts
7 - neon windbreaker
8 - hover board
9 - two braids
10 - streamlined stripe bodysuit
11 - neon sneakers
12 - headphones
2 - all white linen
3 - sandals
4 - perfect tan
5 - sculpted bod
6 - manicure
7 - gold jewelry chains
8 - designer sunglasses
9 - conservative bikini
10 - batik
11 - bamboo tech
12 - wearable solar panels
9 HD (highdef)
2 - hoop earrings
3 - synthetic tight fabrics
4 - diamonds
5 - camera
6 - knockoff fashion brands
7 - saturated colors
8 - cute accessories
9 - fake hair
10 - hologram fabrics
11 - perfect makeup
12 - designer purse
10 Retro plastic
2 - neon plastic transparent jacket
3 - bright latex
4 - fake fur
5 - giant heels
6 - bright rimmed smart glasses
7 - long claw nails
8 - shiny lipstick
9 - leopard print
10 - long eyelashes
11 - plastic watches
12 - barretts
11 Beach skin
2 - skimpy strappy top
3 - bikini
4 - sun shields
5 - athletic bod
6 - energy efficient loungewear
7 - cool sunglasses
8 - flowy transparent swimwear cover
9 - nude (only on beach)
10 - shiny things that reflect light
11 - backpack with unfolding chairs, microfiber towels
12 - drink in hand
12 Modern Mods
2 - fake leather jacket
3 - urban primitive body mods
4 - a limb is plastic
5 - digi tats
6 - eyes with vid projectors
7 - hair color extensions
8 - sculpted face
9 - androgynous body mods
10 - furry mods
11 - chrome horns
12 - extreme eye dye