There are twelve character classes to choose from in Cyberpunk, and they're a far cry from the druids and bards and barbarians of Dungeons & Dragons. There are mercenaries, corporate raiders, med-techs who can graft machinery onto flesh, Max Headroom-like media manipulators, Netrunners who can jack into computer systems to disrupt or delete or steal data.
Some of the character types sound lame until you read the fine print. Rockerboys, who are essentially glammed-out pop stars, have a Charismatic Leadership skill that allows them to control crowds. At Level 5, you could incite thousands of people at an arena concert to destroy a neighborhood. At level 9, you have "the same sort of mesmeric ability as an Adolph HitIer - you can raise armies, start movements, and destroy nations."
One of the most innovative features in Cyberpunk is something called Lifepath, a system for generating an elaborate backstory for your character. Several rolls of the dice could determine that you're a secretive Bulgarian who is desperately in love with a professional rival that hates your guts. Different die rolls could result in you being an arrogant and aloof Micronesian whose CEO father sold you into bondage when his fortunes crashed, and now you don't trust anyone except for your digitally enhanced doberman.
"I wanted you to be able to sculpt an interesting character," says Pondsmith. "Nowadays, it seems like everybody does that - lifepath is everywhere."
Cyberpunk also had an innovative combat system called Friday Night Firefight. "Most RPGs have really complex combat," says Appelcline. "Like, you'll play for four hours, and spend couple of those hours on a single battle. Pondsmith created a combat system that was really quick and bloody and dirty and gritty - really true to cyberpunk."
"I didn't want people to have to deal with a lot of numbers," says Pondsmith. "And I wanted to make it like a real gunfight. The average one takes place at 12 feet distance, and it's not like movies where every shot connects and guns never run out of ammo - most cops throw 30 rounds down line and hit with two of them." A bullet that actually connects in the game is very likely to be lethal. "In Cyberpunk, you hoped you didn't get into a fight, and when you did, you tried to get out of it as fast as you could," says Appelcline.
Upgrading your body for combat is a core feature of Cyberpunk and a perfect fit for the kind of games CD Projekt Red has been making for years - The Witcher series is known for its deep character development systems - but Pondsmith tried to make sure that every cyborg enhancement was a carefully considered decision for players. "That's not just because of control of play and game balance," he says. "If you wanna maim yourself so you can be Robocop, you're gonna pay the price."