Cyberpunk 203X: A Chat With Mike Pondsmith


One of the most hotly anticipated games of the new millennium has been R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 203X, the third incarnation of the definitive Cyberpunk RPG. After some rethinking, restructuring and much grumbling by fans (myself included), it appears that there's finally a neon light on the horizon.

One of the most hotly anticipated games of the new millennium has been R. Talsorian's Cyberpunk 203X, the third incarnation of the definitive Cyberpunk RPG. After some rethinking, restructuring and much grumbling by fans (myself included), it appears that there's finally a neon light on the horizon.

The R. Talsorian website is now featuring a 15 page PDF preview of the forthcoming Cyberpunk 203X. But that wasn't enough for us--we went right to the source, and spoke with Mike Pondsmith himself, to get some insight into what went into the new game, and what's to come.

What you can expect: Cyberpunk with the gain turned up.

Gamegrene: The most obvious question on everyone's mind is, what's up with Cyberpunk 203X? Is there a shelf date yet? What can we expect? What'll be different? Will there still be Netrunners and Rockerboys and Solos?

Mike Pondsmith: Whoa. Lot to cover there. Shelf date is February (I hope). What you can expect: Cyberpunk with the gain turned up. Night City is now the largest City in the world. The Net has collapsed, but there are new net things even cooler. Rival groups (including the megacorps) are vying for world control. There are new cybertechnologies that reflect the changes in the genre. New weapons, new tech, new characters, new goals. Netrunners, rockers and solos will still be around, but in multiple forms depending on the altcult. Get ready for Idols, City Fighters, Transporters, Imaginators, Dragoons and Whaleboys, for example.

GG: Tell me a little about the Fuzion system for those who are unfamiliar with it. How much of Fuzion does the new Cyberpunk incorporate?

MP: Fuzion is like a hybrid between Mekton and Interlock, by way of Hero. There are a few new Stats (CON), and few have been taken out (ATT). REF has been broken into REFlex and DEXterity (it was a real game breaker before). Resolution is still STAT+SKILL+1D10 against a Difficulty Value (DV). The only big change is that I scrapped the old Wound Track--the main reason for this is that in V3, you will be dealing with, humans, animals, altered humans, full cyborgs, power armors, robots and vehicles all in one arena. There's no way the old Wound Track could move between all of these--especially when a player can go from normal human to four-armed human in one character. So yes, we're using Fuzion's all over HP system. However, most of the rules are couched in traditional Cyberpunk 2020 terms and you'll recognize a lot of stuff right off the bat.

GG: Show us in your crystal ball what's in store for Cyberpunk fans over the next year or two.

MP: The main book, followed by a Ref's toolkit right off. Then we want to do a new sourcebook every other month. These will be a bit shorter than in the past, but packed with stuff you can use right now; tools, characters, locations, etc. There will also be a lot of new stuff posted on the website.

GG: What got you interested in Cyberpunk in the first place?

MP: Blade Runner. My all time favorite movie. One of the few worlds I'd like to live in. I love the technology and the dark, film noir style. What can I say? My favorite places all have wet city streets with reflected neon signs.

GG: What are some of the works that have influenced the feel of the new Cyberpunk game? Did you go back to the classics (Gibson, Stephenson) or is there new stuff people should check out?

MP: The classics are still represented, but there's been an explosion of Cyberpunk stuff since the 2020 days. Even Stephenson and Gibson have expanded. You'll see stuff from new literary sources, Japanese animation (they do some really interesting stuff), several new movies that have come out, and a lot of our own twisted creations. A lot of the book is also a commentary on the current 21st century, how corporations influence modern life, the ideologies of groups, government, modern warfare, elections, cloning, name it.

GG: With D&D 3.5, a new GURPS, the new World of Darkness, etc., where do you think Cyberpunk fits into the broader scheme of gaming nowadays?

MP: Hey, you left out Champions and Call of Cthulhu! All of these games represent a move back to classic RPG sources. I think Cyberpunk will be in great company.

GG: Do you play any online RPG's (such as Everquest)? What's your opinion of them? Have you tried any of the Cyberpunk-themed ones (like Anarchy Online?)

MP: I've played Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, Everquest, The Sims, There and Toontown, to name a few (LOL). I've been working as a designer on Matrix Online for the past year, which is about as close to a Cyberpunk MMORPG as you can get without being CP.

GG: Everyone always asks, who is R. Talsorian, anyway? Is it a real person?

MP: Let's say its a real person who never plays RPGs and leave it at that ;-)

I've been looking for to this revision ever since I heard rumors about it many moons ago. Finally seeing it for preorder in PREVIEWS a few months back was rather pleasant. Here's hoping they dropship the damn thing to me.

Dun Dun DUN!

At last... I can barely contain myself. Upgrade time I think, oh yes indeed!

I never really got into CP 2020 all that much. What I played I really enjoyed but it was just one of those games that never caught on in my game group. I do, however, look forward to taking a look at this new version.


I really hope 203X doesn't go the way 2020 did, with Chromebooks and Maximum Metal-like stuff, which turned the game the game into an arms-race that hasn't anything to do with cyberpunk fiction. I hope they realize that cyberpunk isn't about your character's latest toy or implant (the four-armed character quote doesn't give much hope, though). I hope the main book has some real setting info, not a pointless catalog of guns and cyberstuff.

All and all, I want a deeper, more mature game, the game which most CP2020 fiction hinted at, but the actual rules and setting info never encouraged. Style is important, but it sucks without substance.

Otherwise, I'll just stick with Ex-Machina, which gives me more info about 4 (mature, serious cyberpunk) settings in a single rulebook than CP2020 one did about one (shallow, not really cyberpunk) setting it its main rulebook.

The problem I have with Ex-Machina is precisely that it does provide 4 different settings. You basically have to pick one, which means 75% of the setting content provided is useless to you, no matter which one you pick. I'd have much preferred twice as much content about one of those settings.

Actually, it's not that hard to combine some of those settings. Heaven Over Mountain and Underworld in particular are very local in their natures, and can be easily used together or plugged in other settings. Daedalus only deatails one nation: the Space Elevator from HoM could be in another, and the Underworlds could be the places really troublesome people are sent. Only IOSHI is really self-contained, IMHO.

And even if you don't use the 4 settings, there's more info about any one them in Ex-Machina than there was about CP2020's in the corebook. CP203X's has more potential, though, since it will have sourcebooks published for it, unlike Ex-Machina, which is AFAIK a one-shot deal by GoO. The fact that CP203X may have a richly detailed setting that may overcome 2020's failures is the only reason I'm keeping it in my radar: the second I see a Chromebook/Maximum Metal attitude, its the second CP203X goes to my /ignore list.

Ok i can see some points here about the game and the hopes there is for the new version and as one that has been waiting for this game since it was announced in the 90's no matter what they do with it you will have rules for what you want to do. That is how i see it anyway and also Sourcebooks tend to be optional anyway right??

It depends. I can say that atmosphere isn't realated to the books at all. When I wanted big tank i could use it. It's all up to GM. Four handed psycho yep.. It could still be a good atmosphere quest (look at Alien I movie). Powered armors ? I love them, but we never played with them in CP2020 they are too strong

I hope Pondsmith watched Dark Angel or bought the DVDs.
i'd love to see more on Transgenics types in the Cyberpunk world.

Mike, congradulations on 2030! I know you've been wanting to do this for a while. And congradulations on The Matrix Online, I had no idea you were involved in this. It bodes well for The Matrix Online that you're involved, and sounds like a lot of fun for you to boot.


And now, by linking back to the Slashdot article that mentions this interview, I create an infinite loop that will destroy the universe within 17 days.

Give or take.

Well, you've gotta love those reality destroying paradox loops. I had a Magic deck based around that combo once.


I think the imaginary history should start at 2005.

Regarding the comment about CP 2020 overdoing it on Chromebooks, etc... In the end, I think R.Tal (like any other company in the world, gaming or otherwise) is going to publish the supplements, etc. that the players want. As far as the style vs. substance debate (which I also remember from the original rulebooks), I think a lot of that hinges on the gaming group (and GM in particular). What I hope for out of the new CP is some flexibility. Someone else mentioned Dark Angel (which I also like a lot; well, the first season I like a lot. The second season I like because... well, because it has Jessica Alba in it, and that's about it). I also like Ghost in a Shell (go anime). And I like David Brin's novel "Earth," which is Near Future but not really CP--although it has some aspects that are not entirely unrelated to CP. What I hope for out of the new CP is a system that can be adapted without doing too much violence to the system and / or requiring massive equipment rewrites and "house rules" to represent the setting desired.

Maximum Metal was all guns and glory, admittedly. It was one of the first supplements I bought (along with Blackhand's Street Weapons; I was a bit of a gun nut), and I rarely use it. The Chromebooks had a lot of the same high-powered attitude to them, but the fashion stuff was what I found was missing from my game. My favorite supplement for 2020 was Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads. Despite the name, the book was a very intelligent GM supplement that detailed on how to being atmosphere into the game, how to steer it away from being entirely violence, and how to work in every character class effectively beyond the combat implications. Primitive Screwheads affected the way I ran my CP games, much more than any bunch of guns and powered armor would. I have high hopes for 203X, and do plan to buy it when it is released. I'd say that though CP2020 was a game with room for improvement, it was based on a good system, and with the improvements, I expect 203X to be quality.

That arms race you detest demonstrates some of cyberpunk's common themes, IMO. The influx of bigger and badder guns is the direct result of rapid technological progress in a world where people are hungry for new ways to kill each other. The guy with four arms is the result of a transhumanist culture that sees the human body as just another tool to be modified as one sees fit. (And his reason for being modified adds a bit of a twist.. for instance, was it a combat modification made on him by an organization that only sees him as a faceless object, or did he get the extra pair because chicks dig the chrome?)

Meanwhile, there are many, many interpretations of cyberpunk out there. As Pondsmith said, "You'll see stuff from new literary sources, Japanese animation (they do some really interesting stuff), several new movies that have come out, and a lot of our own twisted creations." I think a game that attempts to incorporate all of that would be amiss in NOT having a guy with four arms.

Finally, as someone else said, the company is going to sell what sells. If the majority of the players want a Militech high-performance synthetic spleen and sniper rifle and are willing to pay money to get it in a book, then that's what R.Tal is going to publish. It's a kind of selling out, but then again, that's the harsh reality of the RPG business: companies who don't successfully pander to their market eventually lose the ability to produce ANYTHING.

If you want a more mature game with lots of weird transhumanist character soul-searching, ethical dilemmas, evocative culture shock, or whatever, then you need a GM and players who understand those things and want to incorporate them into their games. True, the CP2020 books did focus more on toys and targets than on Deep Meaningful Hooey.. but it's always been my experience that the group defines the game, not vice-versa.