2400 devlog: Resistors

Resistors is a game about activist hackers struggling to get by and make a difference in a hyper-corporate cyberpunk dystopia. Download it as part of the entire 2400 collection on Itch.io, or on its own or in the 2400 bundle on DriveThruRPG.

Cyberpunk aesthetics vs. praxis

As I wrote on the original Itch devlog, I struggled for several months about whether to even release this one. My first 2400 game, Inner System Blues, already covers cyberpunk — why bother with another? You can certainly use elements from either in the other, and the cyberware in Resistors even has some overlap with Inner System Blues. (And if you read that original devlog, you’ll notice it was basically a rough draft for this blog post. I’m all about recycling.) At their heart, though, I think of these as pretty different games.

Inner System Blues unabashedly revels in the style of cyberpunk. The tables have you picking out flashy clothes and doing tropey jobs for untrustworthy clients in suits. It’s meant to be a wry, self-aware take on “no ethical consumption under capitalism.” You might get recognition for helping out the little guy, but the game’s intentionally agnostic about whether you should “do good.” Maybe cyberware or psi make you kind of like superheroes, and “with great power comes great responsibility” — but that’s not necessarily the kind of “power” that matters most in a setting where even the super-powered are gig workers just struggling to get by.

Resistors, on the other hand, is explicitly about trying to effect change. It is very much born out of my frustration with politics as usual in the United States. (I actually ended up changing some entries on the “Pro-bono jobs” list to sound more fun, deciding “Con politicians into passing fair redistricting” might be a little too specific to my personal interests.)

Like Inner System Blues, Resistors is about struggling to get by. Unlike Inner System Blues, it doesn’t offer even a meager mechanical incentive to help people. But the entire game is predicated on the assumption that doing good matters to your characters. To me, right now, taking down the corrupt cops and untouchable plutocrats is an even more intoxicating power fantasy than “pretend you can jump really high.”

You can still pretend to jump really high in Resistors. That’s fun too, and the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. (My way of signaling how corporate-controlled the setting is was to name it “New Coke City,” after all. ) But I did want to ground it in the ongoing battle against oppression and hardship.

And just in case it’s too abstract to just tell you that corporate rule is especially hard on those facing poverty and disability, the players need to deal with it personally whenever they pay extra to jailbreak a prosthetic arm so it can’t be remotely overridden.

Hacking as tech wizardry

It took nearly a year between when I first had the idea that turned into Resistors and when I actually released the game. The original germ of an idea wasn’t all that stuff above about activism; I came up with all that later to get me excited enough to actually finish it. Absent all that, all I had was an idea for a game mechanic: What if hacking in a cyberpunk game were modeled after spell casting in D&D?

In Resistors, a hacking program (“spell”) can be executed instantly. Trying to hack without a dedicated program takes a lot longer (“ritual magic”). If you have an override key (“spell slot”), you can execute a hack risk-free. Each override key cutter you buy gives you a self-expiring, 24-hour key every day (refreshing “spell slots” daily).

Given how often hacking was likely to happen in Resistors, I decided to more explicitly describe what characters risk by it. On a 1–2, they’re locked out and detected; on a 3–4, they’re detected, but not prevented from doing what they meant to do; on a 5+, you get to pull down your sunglasses and whisper, “I’m in.”

That rule also gave me an excuse to build in some niche protection: You can share hacking programs with your teammates, which would be akin to multiple (maybe even all) members of an adventuring party being able to cast the same spells. And so, while you can share programs with teammates, it’s inadvisable: If you get detected, the owner of the system pinpoints your location and the location of anybody you’ve shared the program with.

(I don’t think every game needs niche protection, but I think it makes sense for this list of “spells.” It’s much easier to come up with a list of “effects that could potentially be anything because MAGIC” than to come up with a list of “things you can do to machines and augmented reality displays.” Plus, each program’s effect is a bit broader and more powerful than a typical 2400 talent or psi power to justify the added risk and/or cost in override keys. And so, these hacking programs sometimes have really specific effects. I could imagine it being a bummer if you spend your hard-earned credit on a program you never get to use because your buddies have one-off versions for the rare occasions it’d be useful.)

I am happy with where the hacking rules and program list ended up. It took me so long to execute, though, because I don’t actually like spell casting in D&D. I strongly prefer when a game tells you “magic is risky for these logical reasons” over “sorry, you ran out of spell slots.” And in fact, my first attempt to execute this idea ended up getting turned in to Codebreakers instead … which replaced the “spell casting currency” with a minor twist of the standard risk rules. But “cyberpunk with spell slots” felt like a fun design exercise that I bet people could hack into other interesting 24XX games, so I wanted to see it through.

Eventually, I got the idea that this might play like “Leverage meets Burn Notice with magic spells,” which made it much easier for me to get excited to solidify the hacking rules and finish the game. I ended up having to backtrack to figure out the thing I usually do first in other games: character creation.

An all-wizard adventuring party

When I tried designing a Leverage-style team as a classic cyberpunk “crew” for Resistors, it felt … off. A “street samurai” fits fine in the deliberately stylized Inner System Blues. Silliness of some elements aside, Resistors is supposed to feel a bit more down to earth. When I picture its characters, I don’t see Adam Jensen from Deus Ex; I see Ebon Moss-Bachrach‘s character in The Punisher — a very skilled, potentially quite dangerous person who badly needs a shave, a shower, and some sunlight.

Meanwhile, I felt that if I was going to devote a quarter of the player-facing space to “magic spells,” I wanted to make sure that list wouldn’t be useless content to everybody else at the table. One way to address that concern would be for hacking programs to act more like “magic items” anybody can use; you’d just need a certain skill or talent to do more open-ended or lengthy hacking. (That’s exactly how I justified a column of “incantations” when designing Legends, later on.) But this raised the same concerns described in the parenthetical note above about niche protection: I worried handing out “magic items” would devalue the “spells” for those who did specialize in them.

I decided that the best way to satisfy all my concerns would be to make an “all-wizard adventuring party” — tech wizards (in-line skates optional). If I’d gone with the Inner System Blues approach to skills, Hacking would basically be a “required” skill in this game, which felt silly. I also worried most players would feel left out a lot of the time if I broke the Hacker specialty into more focused sub-specialties.

As a result, Resistors characters each choose one or more very broad skillsets to increase instead of picking a specialty (much like in Orbital Decay). Plus, any Resistors character can hack with a broader Tech skillset — even if never raised past d6. This way there’s still room to differentiate characters, but nobody should be so specialized that they’d feel cut out of a scene

Combining with other 2400 games

Despite all the distinctions pointed out above, Resistors is still pretty easy to strip for parts or expand with modules from other 2400 games, especially Inner System Blues (which has an even larger list of gear and cyberware) and The Venusian Job (which has some procedures you might find useful for running heists and Leverage-style jobs). Here are some “conversion notes” in case you need them.

Characters could be made from either Resistors or another game. Technically the game works fine with some characters having narrower skills (like in Inner System Blues and The Venusian Job) and others having broader skillsets (like in Resistors) — even a single character might have some narrow skills and some broader skillsets. (If two overlap, just use whichever is highest. Having a d8 in Hacking and in Tech doesn’t make you a better hacker in this game — it just means you are just as good at a bunch of other technical skills, and are on your way to getting even better at hacking in particular.)

That said, you might find it avoids confusion to use just one game or another, or to unify how skills are handled between them. Here’s how you could build characters consistently between games.

To make Inner Systems Blues characters with skillsets, follow its character creation rules, but in place of skill increases from specialty or the human origin, increase 1 skillset for each instead. If you happen to make an android, take an extra cyberware upgrade instead of a narrow skill. If you happen to make a Psycher, you’ll notice that psi powers don’t map as easily as other skills, but there’s no “wrong” way to handle them. Options include…

  • Powers are skillsTelepathy (d8) and Telekinesis (d8), as in Inner System Blues
  • Powers map to multiple skillsets — telekinesis to Grit, telepathy to Savvy
  • Powers map to the Will skillset — Instead of using Resistors skillsets, use Data Loss skillsets, with Will for psi, alongside Strength, Speed, and Logic
  • Powers map to the Psi skillset — a Psycher from Inner System Blues could use this for telepathy and telekinesis, or only one of those plus a power from Project Ikaros or a TK mod from Data Loss

To make Venusian Job characters with skillsets, follow its character creation rules, but instead of skill increases from moniker, increase 2 skillsets. If you don’t plan on using the “surprise” and “kit” rules, also give the characters ₡3 to spend or save on gear from Inner System Blues or Resistors.

Translating between skills and skillsets is meant to be intuitive more than an official conversion process. In case it’s helpful, though, here’s how I’d map Resistors skillsets to narrower skills:

  • Grit covers Hand-to-hand, Intimidation, Labor, Shooting
  • Hustle covers Climbing, Driving, Running, Sleight of Hand
  • Savvy covers Connections, Deception, Persuasion, Reading People
  • Tech covers Electronics, Explosives, Hacking, Repair

For unclear cases, use your best judgment, and give the choice to the player if it could go either way. Driving, for instance, theoretically maps to Hustle because it’s about getting around, but it could just as easily map to Tech. And I’d certainly say a Rigger from Inner System Blues should use Tech for both Repair and Piloting their drones.

To make Resistors characters with narrow skills instead of skillsets, when prompted to increase skillsets during character creation, choose 2 skills associated with any skillsets (from the “Translating skills to skillsets” bullet points above, or alluded to in the game text). Optionally, you may wish to give every character d8 in Hacking.

Cyberware could come from Resistors or Inner System Blues alike, but cyber-parts taken at character creation are only “free” if they come with known health risks and corporate spyware installed. Otherwise, they cost credits just like in Inner System Blues. 

Androids are actually built with the same number of useful features between Resistors and Inner System Blues, but Resistors androids have a bit more flexibility. Inner System Blues starts androids with a granular skill increase; Resistors gives androids the option to start “jailbroken,” or with any cyberware upgrade. That upgrade might be a narrow skill increase (via Tutorware), but it doesn’t have to be. If you plan on playing in a setting where free androids aren’t subject to arrest, then give your android that extra upgrade, not the “jailbroken” feature.

Advancement can be handled consistently even if you mix characters who have skillsets with characters who have skills. After a job, each player chooses one of the following options:

  • Raise 1 skill (none⮕d8⮕d10⮕d12)
  • Raise 1 skillset to d8
  • Mark a skillset already raised to d8 or higher, or raise a skillset you’ve already marked
  • Optionally, roll all 4 skillsets, and raise any that roll their max; if none roll their max, choose another option above

All the rules are “optional” in this game, but I sometimes feel the need to point that out specifically for those that leave a lot up to the roll of the dice.

Jobs could be selected using the Inner System Blues job-finding roll, and you could technically combine that with the hardship roll from Resistors. I worry that it may be overly punishing, though, so you may wish to select one or the other. The assumption in Resistors is that you can line up jobs pretty easily; the tough part comes after you finish them and life gets in the way.

The setting could draw on locations, jobs, and people from any 2400 game — but wherever you set your game, I won’t take it personally if you don’t name it “New Coke City.” Personally, I need a little bit of levity in my cyberpunk dystopias, or else I get too depressed thinking about how we already live in one.

Featured image edited from original CC BY Beeple (Mike Winkelmann)

2 responses to “2400 devlog: Resistors”

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