by Amy Luther
I first read about this idea in Over the Edge, from Atlas Games. I filed it away in the back of my head and didn't really think about it again until Cybergeneration came out. Now, I don't especially like Cybergeneration, for reasons I won't go into here, so the idea of playing a kid never appealed to me. But at some point in the last year or so, the 15-year-old juveganger from Cybergen collided headlong with the pubes from Over the Edge and the following concept was born.
In our games in 2020, any child between the ages of fourteen and eighteen (or sixteen, if you go by Home of the Brave) can be emancipated or declared a legal adult, with all the rights and privileges thereof.
The minor in question must meet the following requirements:
The minor must pass a battery of psychological exams which ensure that he (or she) has the emotional maturity to survive as an adult. This is weighted in favor of stability, so one must actually have slightly higher-than-average COOL (7+), but only an average EMP (6+).
The minor must score at average or above average levels in a standardized 2020 IQ test (INT 6+), ensuring that he meets "minimum intellectual requirements for independence," i.e. isn't so stupid that he'll be forever taken advantage of in the adult world.
Minors with any sort of disability are ineligible for emancipation. No exceptions. (GM's judgement call, but obviously this means those who are blind, deaf, suffer from congenital gross deformities, etc).
The minor must have the 2020 equivalent of a G.E.D., accomplished either through completion of secondary school or through testing by an appropriate authority (Education & General Know of 2).
The minor must have an established source of income from an employer who maintains a current business license. The minor may be self-employed, in which case estimation of his net worth and yearly income will be assessed by a state employee.
The minor must have a signed statement of intent to employ from an employer who maintains a current business license. Employment must take place within one (1) week of the issuance of the statement, or it will expire.
Parental permission is NOT required; however, parental notification IS. If the minor can cite cause (fears of abuse or retaliation), he is not required to notify his parents. In this case, he will be declared a temporary state ward for as long as the emancipation process takes, with the state providing notification in lieu of the minor.
Parents can contest the emancipation process at any point by issuing a statement of intent to contest. If this happens, the minor and his parents go to court to resolve the issue, somewhat like a divorce proceeding. Burden of proof is on the parents. If the minor loses this case, he's remanded to the custody of his or her parents until he reaches the age of maturity (18 in our games).
DETAILS AND IMPLICATIONS
Emancipated minors become adults. They can:
Vote in state and local elections. Pay taxes. Marry. Own property (and be subject to inheritance laws). Have consensual sex with each other and with older partners. Own and operate a motor vehicle if licensed to do so, without a provisional license. Own and operate weaponry, if licensed to do so. Maintain a job without a work permit. Be arrested, tried, and jailed as an adult (see below).
In short, anything an adult can do, with the following exception:Depending on state liquor laws, emancipated minors may not be able to consume alcohol (i.e., if the state drinking age is 21 and the emancipated minor is only 16). This is a weird holdover from the old days of the 50 states and can vary considerably depending on where you are.
Depending on state laws, emancipated minors usually cannot partake of any legalized recreational drug. This ranges from light legal hallucinogens to cigarettes.
SO, WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN EMANCIPATED MINOR AND AN ADULT?
Well, an emancipated minor risks being returned to parental custody under certain and deliberately vague circumstances. If convicted of certain crimes, the judge may choose to revoke the minor's emancipation and return him or her to parental custody in lieu of imposing a sentence. Also, if an emancipated minor is found to be living a "vagrant," "self-destructive," or "antisocial" lifestyle (identified by loitering, disturbing the peace, or drug-, gang-, and violence-related charges, even if they don't go to trial), the state can revoke their adult status and send them home again. And once you go home, you're stuck until you're 18.
Emancipated minors will be prosecuted as adults for criminal offenses. Offenses which might be met with probation if committed by a juvenile (vandalism, disturbing the peace, etc), are instead hit with the full force of adult law.
General Note on Kids and the Law: Normal minors who are tried as adults (that is, in an adult court instead of a juvenile court, for murder or some other heinous crime) have all the rights accorded to a minor; that is, none. However, they will be treated as juveniles for the purpose of all other crimes, and might get off lightly. Emancipated minors, on the other hand, have all the rights that an adult gets when they go on trial, and though their sentences may be just as severe as those of adults (including being sent to an adult prison), they might also be "busted down" to normal minor status).
ABUSES OF THE SYSTEM, or LIFE AS A FREE ADULT IN 2020
It's Cyberpunk, after all, and adults can be bribed to issue fake certificates of employment or intent to employ if a kid (or a kid's parents!) pays them enough. Also, emancipation can be a legal way of being kicked out -- parents get sick of kid, pressure kid to apply, tired and bored (and bribed) city employees rush through the application, kid's out on the street by the end of the day. Of course, the kid has to have a job (or a promise of a job), but that's easy enough to arrange. "Oh, sure, uh ... Uncle ... Bob! Yeah, Uncle Bob's going to hire him as soon as he gets out!"
Chickenhawks have been known to provide child prostitutes with false emancipation papers, even if the kid isn't actually old enough to be considered for emancipation ("No, really, officer, I'm sixteen! Look, here are my papers!").
When you get right down to it, cops aren't likely to even notice street kids, much less care about them, as long as they're not sleeping in sight of the Boddukan or killing people at Arcade Arcade. And judges are often harsh on emancipated offenders; why put this juvenile delinquent back into the custody of his parents, where he can raise hell and get off with probation in juvecourt, when you can nip his criminal career in the bud by putting him in the pokey and off the street until he's sixty-five?
And we all know there's no better cure for juvenile delinquency than a bullet in the head.
HOW TO BE A KID - STATS
First off, you can use the system developed in Cybergeneration, plus or minus evolved powers depending on your campaign. Kids have a variety of roles to choose from, and there are ready-made rules for kid stats and skills. You should remember that emancipated kids will be a bit older than most kids in Cybergeneration, since emancipation age starts at fifteen (and the vast bulk of emancipated minors are sixteen or seventeen).
If you don't want to use the Cybergeneration "kid" skills, you can run kids like miniature adults in a standard CP2020 game, with some of the stat modifications suggested below. Personally, I'd at least convert the Cybergen roles over, since I can't quite get my mind around the idea of a fifteen-year-old-solo. But it's your call.
As you no doubt know by now, I don't use roles in my games, and I'm not a big fan of Cybergeneration. So, I use a method developed by Ocelot. Also, note that with Ocelot's Alternate Character Generation System, kids have significantly less skill points than the average twenty-eight-year-old edgerunner.
HOW TO BE A KID - ATTITUDE
First off, if you have younger relatives, take a few minutes to observe them, especially if they're in an appropriate age range (thirteen to eighteen). Teenage personalities are as varied as those of adults, so don't play every pube you meet as a tantrum-throwing spoiled-rotten corpkid. But there are some characteristics that adolescent kids tend to have in common that you might want to think about:You're not sure who you are yet.
You're trying to figure out who you are -- what you want to do with your life, what you like and dislike, what kind of friends you want, what your strengths and weaknesses are. You'll tend to experiment with a lot of new things: a dozen hobbies, a hundred musical styles, a thousand ways of doing your hair. You'll go through a lot of casual friends, but you'll pick two or three out of the crowd and get a bit closer. Maybe even very close, as you're also checking out the strange new world of sex.You're an idealist.
Kids in this age range see things in terms of black and white. They can't understand why injustice and evil exist in the world. They're not necessarily naive -- just because you're a Combat Zone-hardened juveganger and have seen the worst that humans have to offer doesn't mean you know why people are that way. You judge people on their actions, not their motivations. This is part of the reason the Cybergeneration universe is set up the way it is: teenagers are very, very quick to see the world as a great big battle of good vs. evil.You're impulsive and emotional.
Let's face it. Adolescence is a cannonball dive into the hormonal pool, and you splash everyone around you when you jump in. If you're happy, you're ecstatic. If you're sad, you're sunk into the blackest pit of despair. You might be prone to rapid mood swings, but it's more likely that you have the same emotional reactions that adults do -- you just exaggerate everything in typical teenager fashion. And you interpret the world around you through your own emotional lens. You may take the most innocent remark as a heart-rending insult or an ego-bursing compliment.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
"During the Collapse the population of America was decreased by about 100 million. One in three of these deaths was a parent. Almost half of the families were sole-parent ... families ... this effectively orphaned some thirty million children in the space of eighteen months."
-- Home of the Brave, p. 15
It's 2020 now, and most of these feral kids have grown up into the brutal Cyberpunk adults of today. But the legacy of the Collapse lives on. A society which left twenty million of its children to die in the Collapse is not a society which will bother to rebuild its social net. Edgerunners tend to abandon, neglect, or abuse the kids they have today, and the social worker of 2020 is the corner kibble machine. Orphanages? Don't make me laugh.
According to Home of the Brave, the large number of orphaned kids in the Collapse led to the lowering of the age of majority from eighteen to sixteen. Personally, I maintain the age of adulthood at eighteen, but the concept of emancipation still holds -- if you make them adults at an early age, you're no longer bound to take care of them, and in an era where profit and corruption rule, state budgets aren't going to provide for the welfare of a kid in a foster home. Emancipation seemed a logical step; if they can take care of themselves at eighteen, why not sixteen? Fifteen? Fourteen? You get to wash your hands of their care and feeding and earn a free pat on the back for making responsible, independent citizens out of them. After all, emancipated kids aren't going to run with streetgangs or become the junior corps of the Blood Razors, right?
EMANCIPATED KIDS AS PCs AND NPCs
With the publication of Cybergeneration, I've noticed a tendency nowadays to want to inject some sort of corresponding moral element into Cyberpunk. While I don't go for that, I love the idea of throwing kids into games, both as NPCs and players. In the real world, the one we live in today, the lot of a kid is nothing pretty. Kids are abused, killed, sold, prostituted, and worked until they drop. If it's true today, shouldn't it be even worse in 2020? If you're not comfortable with the idea of adding new victims to your Cyberpunk games, let me thow a few more ideas at you. Want a thorny moral problem? What will your players do when it turns out that the druglord who controls South Williams St. is a fourteen-year-old-girl? Could your gaming group handle playing a bunch of feral streetkids trying to scrounge enough kibble to survive another day? How about a group of rich corpkids, out for a night of the old ultra-violence in thrilling Night City? How's that forty-something solo from hell going to react to the fifteen-year-old boy who not only idealizes him, but is faster, stronger, and smarter than he is?