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Cyberpunk 2020: Wildside


The introduction, Welcome to the Wildside, lays it out clearly: Cyberpunk is what it is because of all the wheeling and dealing, the scams and the rackets, that go on in the underbelly of cities in the year 2020. Fixers are not mere thieves and rogues: they are go-betweens, go-to guys more likely to hire someone to do something than do it themselves, 'people' people who will always know who to talk to if you are looking for something... provided you can pay their price. The introduction concludes with the transcript of a lecture by a professor of sociology attempting to explain the phenomenon of the Fixer in sociological terms, or at least attempting to have a conversation with a real live Fixer.

Chapter 1: Fixers defines the Fixer as a power broker of the streets, a freelance negotiator picking his way between corporations and governments and the people or things that they need but don't want to admit to going anywhere near, the person who can put together a package - for a price - to deliver just about any result you might want. Within the Cyberpunk rule mechanics, the Fixer is defined by his special ability of Streetdeal, and the chapter proceeds to discuss this skill and its effective use in great detail. Contacts are the lifeblood of a Fixer's life and three systems are presented for running them effectively in your game, ranging from a simplistic one best suited to one-off games through to a fully-detailed one for someone who really wants to make his Fixer's networking abilities come to life by designing his contacts in detail, rather than interacting with unnamed ones merely through making die rolls. There are all manner of ideas for incorporating the Fixer's work into the game proper, rather than relegating it to the background and a few die rolls. Handled properly, information gathering and interacting with contacts can be an integral part of the game. Favours owed will come back to haunt a fixer at the most inconvenient moment... and favours owed to him may be the thing that swings it round to his advantage again. Plenty of fun to be had here...

Next, the concept of Fixer 'specialisation' is introduced: the idea that rather than being a general street-dealer, the Fixer will have a specific area of expertise in which his contacts and reputation are concentrated. Both player-character Fixers and their network of contacts can specialise to great advantage - you now know who to go to depending on your specific needs, and many have to speak to several Fixers to gather and equip a team and find out details of the security system of the building you intend to infiltrate, for example. Properly played, the Fixer is not a department store, a one-stop shop... although there may be layers, the party deals with one (perhaps a party member), but he then deals with several 'sub-contractors' to get everything the party requires. Some specialisms are well-suited to player-character Fixers, others work better as an NPC - and often provide scope for a wealth of side-plots if the referee is so inclined. Depending on the chosen specialty, the Fixer has access to a subtly-different skill set to suit the type of work he does... and probably has a different attitude and approach to life as well. There's also an interesting discussion of Organised Crime as it pertains to Fixers - many leading members of a Mafia family, a Tong or a Yakuza clan will be Fixers of some sort, and even those who remain independent will have to deal with 'the Mob' on occasion - and the chapter rounds out with some associated trades which are not themselves Fixers but with whom many Fixers will interact. Each of these can be NPC contacts or played as full-blown characters, and add to the richness of the Cyberpunk world.

Chapter 2: Name of the Game looks at the nuts and bolts of creating a Fixer character in light of what has already been said, how to fine-tune your choices to make an effective Fixer of whatever specialty you have decided to play. While skills are very important to a Fixer, equipment is not apart from reliable communications gear - you'll be hiring in specialist expertise and equipment as and when required rather than having to have it yourself. There are also some hints and tips on how to play the character once he's created... Cyberpunk is all about style, after all, and there's some good advice on how to develop your own spin on the successful Fixer. Next, there is a discussion on forming a business - being a Fixer is all about money, and however independent you want to be, if you are any good you will need hirelings, minions, to make it on your behalf. There's a lot of detail here, even to analysis of what you might need people to do and what realistic remuneration would be - perhaps too much detail for some, but excellent for those who are keen to create an alternate reality within their game. It can also spawn adventure plots of its own - if your business is threatened, or an underling starts getting ideas above his station and tries to take over, the Fixer's going to have to do something about it. Just in case you are thinking this is all more trouble than it's worth (although it can be abstracted to a few die rolls mst of the time), the next bit looks at how a Fixer can play a full part within a group of adventurers.

Next, Chapter 3: Tools of the Trade... but, as mentioned above, Fixers don't need a lot of gear so this is about those intangible tools: skills and knowledge and how to use them to good effect. Interpersonal skills, money, handling stolen property and identity are all covered, an impressive arsenal to set a budding Fixer on the road to reputation and financial success. For those who like the dice to do the talking (or for a referee unsure of how an NPC will respond), a lot of the interpersonal skills a Fixer need can be abstracted... although if you don't like role-playing your social and business interactions, Fixer may be the wrong role for your character.

Then, Chapter 5: The Street looks at the Fixer's natural habitat: the underbelly of whichever city he calls home. But it's more than that, most cities boast a 'Strip' where you know you can go and find what you are after. One - High Street in Night City - is described to give a taste of the sort of place. With an impressive listing of crimes you can commit (and the penalties if caught) the discussion moves on to the cityscape in general, with advice for the referee in how to design and describe places in true Cyberpunk style.

Finally, there are some Appendices on things that affect street life, but are not actually part of it. Things like religion and politics, which some people get passionate over while others are indifferent. Take care if any players are fervent members of a religious faith, they may be offended at in-game representations, but otherwise both religion and politics can provide fascinating depth to a game. There's also a list of reference material and some street slang to practise! For harassed referees, there are a few tables for creating an 'instant atmosphere' as well.

Whether or not you want to play a Fixer, this is well-nigh essential reading for anyone who wants to get to grips with the true alternate reality of a Cyberpunk game.

Return to Wildside page.

Reviewed: 5 July 2009