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RPG Review: CY_BORG by Free League Press
CY_BORG is a hellish, brutal, cyberpunk delight of a TTRPG with rules-lite gameplay, beautiful artwork and design, a rich world, and a robust community.
This article originally appeared on Geek to Geek Media.
Let me cut to the good part: I was sent the review copy of CY_BORG from Free League Publishing, and it has become not only my favorite RPG system to play, but also my favorite to create content for. CY_BORG is just that good, and if you're a cyberpunk or TTRPG fan, you're missing out by not having this on your shelf or in your digital collection.
What is CY_BORG?
CY_BORG is a rules-lite tabletop RPG based on the ruleset of the grimdark, death metal meatgrinder MÖRK BORG. It's not a sequel, but a follow-up or evolution, and MB players will definitely see some nods to their setting and adventures within the CB text.
It's a very easy system to learn: you create a character from a bunch of random tables for abilities, stats, weapons, armor, inventory, etc. Then during gameplay, you roll a d20 to both attack and defend, adding the modifiers you generated. For the most part, there's a standard difficulty of 12 that you need to meet or beat to succeed.
The GM can adjust that difficulty as they see fit, but the standard game stuff is set at 12.
And that's really it. (There's obviously more to it, but those are the quick-and-dirties.)
Side Note: Get MÖRK BORG Rules Free
If you want to get a feel for the system itself, you can download the base MB rules for free without any of the amazing artwork. It is easier to read in this format, so there's another benefit to nabbing it this way.
But if you're curious about any of the rules or things I mention about CY_BORG, you can find the original, fantasy versions of them here:
The Book and Extras are both style AND substance
Originally, I had seen the CY_BORG PDF, and it was beautiful. The art is stunning, and the content is incorporated into the art itself. In many ways, the system is the art and the art is the system.
Then I got the physical edition in the mail. I was blown away. It's an A5-sized (roughly 6x9) hardcover, and it is 100% the most beautiful book I have on my shelf. It has two bookmark ribbons attached to the spine for easy reference, and the inside covers both have the necessary reference charts.
The pages are glossy, which can mean they're a little harder to read in some lights, but it goes with the aesthetic. If they were matte pages, it wouldn't feel nearly as sleek. Even if it would have made it just a biiiiit more readable, sans glare. But cyberpunk is about discomfort, and having a glare occasionally goes along with that.
The cover has multiple textures, and the large, physical poster map they send with the add-ons package has gold foil only in the rich parts of the city. It is an amazing detail.
Additionally, the physical character sheets come in a tear-away pad because you're going to need a lot of them as your party members will die. I haven't counted how many sheets are in it, but it's dozens.
The digital character sheet is form-fillable, which makes it super simple to roll up a character and get going once you're mowed down by drones or SecOps guards.
My group did the Lucky Flight Takedown mission that was included in the core book over Discord. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance to play in person, but being online didn't hinder us a bit.
Character creation is a breeze, and almost every single bit of it is handled through random table generation. And it's fun. Don't think you're not in control of who your character is. You absolutely are. But by having random items, equipment, and abilities from the start, every character doesn't feel samey as they can in other games.
(For real, play a level 1 Cleric in D&D, a level 1 Bard, and a level 1 Sorcerer, and tell me they feel that much different.)
The adventure went smoothly because it wasn't written as a full narrative, but as a series of bullet points or an outline for what each room would hold, what NPCs were like, and what sorts of events would happen at random at different times of the day.
The party was able to make their own stories and do whatever they wanted to solely because of how the information was presented. And the random character generation meant they had tools for the jobs they needed because their bags were full of stuff they might never have picked on their own.
In general, I have to say it's a heck of a lot easier to GM Lucky Flight Takedown than it is to DM The Light of Xaryxis from the D&D Spelljammer box set. A lot easier.
Two Things Sold Me on CY_BORG
The first thing that sold me on CY_BORG as a setting and system is the character classes called the Renegade Cyberslasher. Just look at this guy! They are described like this in the book:
You are DEATH incarnate—a frenzied flurry of chrome, murder and blood-stained steel. But yours is no mindless rage. You match your trained and cybernetically enhanced body with an equally disciplined mind. You used to kill for a cause, for an ideal. Now? You kill for money.
So basically a former religious hit man...and one of the weapons they can use from their class list is called the godDAMN flail. I find that utterly hilarious, and the moment I saw that, I was sold on this world, book, and system.
The second thing is that this is a TTRPG that replaced the innocuous "first rule" with an actual first rule.
(In most RPGs, D&D included, it starts by saying the only rule is to have fun and that none of the rules supersede your party having a good time and telling a story.)
Not in CY_BORG. Nuh uh. Nope. In CY_BORG, though, they laid it out differently:
YOU ARE ENCOURAGED TO BREAK EVERY SINGLE RULE IN THIS BOOK. EXCEPT THIS ONE.
Player characters CANNOT be loyal to or have sympathy for the corps, the cops, or the capitalist system.
They might find themselves reluctantly forced to do missions for them or their minions. But make no mistake--they are the enemy.
CY_BORG is Brutal
There is a good chance your characters are going to die. The party I was GMing for actually had 2 deaths, and I fudged the rules juuuuuuust enough so that even though they were mowed down by SMG fire from SecOps guards, they were able to call in a Trauma Team and pay for resuscitation.
It wasn't a huge fudge, though. The rules say that if a character has over 1k credits in their bank account, they can be revived if they're at 0 or -1 HP. My party didn't have them in a bank account, but instead on credchips in their pockets. So I let the other party members call the Trauma Team and pay COD.
Everything about the world is brutal, too. It's not called a nano-infested doomsday RPG about cybernetic misfits and punks raging against a relentless corporate hell for nothing.
What About Third-Party Support?
CY_BORG has quickly become my favorite TTRPG system. With the future of D&D's third-party content uncertain with the open-gaming license fiasco, it's really refreshing to find that CY_BORG (and MÖRK BORG) have incredibly awesome third-party publishing (3PP) licenses.
The communities are great, and there is a never-ending supply of quality third-party content being put out. From Kickstarters to DTRPG to Discord and Reddit, if you need an expansion on the rules-lite system, it's almost certainly out there for you to pick up.
Or you can create it yourself, which is surprisingly easy to do for the system. I already have!
While this sort of game can be incredibly intimidating to get started with, I can't recommend enough sitting down with the book and reading through it.
I was able to grok the system enough to GM it pretty quickly but needed a lot of referencing the book during play. The basics are simple and easy to understand, and it feel like it was made for GMs to be able to say "eh, sure, that's cool" and keep the party moving forward.
It's technically a "rules-lite" system so there's not as much crunch as you'd get from something like Pathfinder 2e, but you definitely have a bit more than systems like Powered by the Apocalypse. (Though it's a bit less than the crunchier PbtA variation, Forged in the Dark.)
All in all, CY_BORG is a hellish, brutal, cyberpunk delight that I can't stop thinking about. I absolutely would not want to live in the city of Cy, but I damn sure want to play there as much as possible.
Rating: 5 out of 5 godDAMN flails
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