Imagine this: a hotly anticipated Cyberpunk game finally hits the streets in late 2020. It has been in development for years. The game has few bugs and runs perfectly across all platforms. It has a smooth, appealing design. Players have the ability to customize their character. There are countless hours of gameplay readily available. Simply put, it just works.
One might be thinking that I am living in a fantasy world because the release of Cyberpunk 2077 was anything but what is described above. You would be correct in thinking that if I were talking about Cyberpunk 2077. However, I am not. Gasp!
The Cyberpunk game I am referring to is Cyberpunk Red, a new tabletop game from R. Talsorian Games and CD Projekt Red!
Before being clunkily thrust upon the video gaming public, Cyberpunk started its life as a tabletop game back in the late 1980s. Cyberpunk Red is the fourth edition of the popular dystopian game. The Cyberpunk Red core rulebook release in November 2020 was preceded by a release of the beginner’s box Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit at GenCon 2019. Set in 2045, neatly between 2020 and 2077, the world of Cyberpunk offers a bridge between the old tabletop game and the new video game.
While the internet’s favorite pastime currently is dunking on just how spectacularly botched the Cyberpunk 2077 release has been thus far, few are paying attention to Cyberpunk Red’s release. Its glossy presentation and easy to learn system offer a stark contrast to anything being experienced by 2077 players. Tabletop games never have to deal with frame rates, game crashes, and clunky graphics. Tabletop RPGs are the best console!
So what makes Cyberpunk Red such a great tabletop RPG? Let’s take a look.
The Cyberpunk Ethos Remains
Cyberpunk Red definitely looks, smells, feels, and acts like the cyberpunk genre. Fans of the older editions of Cyberpunk will be happy to see that the spirit of the game remains the same. Like Cyberpunk 2020, Red focuses on the four core principles that have always guided Cyberpunk:
- Style over substance.
- Attitude is everything.
- Live on the edge.
- Break the rules.
Cyberpunk Red takes great pains to introduce old and new players alike to the mindset of playing in the dark future. Early chapters “View from the Edge” and “Soul and the Machine” do a superlative job of explaining the attitude and spirit of the cyberpunk genre.
Early on, the rulebook asks, “So, you wanna be a Cyberpunk? Or maybe just look like one?” From there, Cyberpunk Red gives you a quick rundown of major events, cyber-lingo, and an overview of the four above rules. It then seamlessly rolls into a one-page explanation of the ten different roles characters can then assume. Each description offers insights into the world of Cyberpunk and then directs players to later sections in the rulebook where the roles are covered more in-depth.
Character Options Streamlined
Those character options for the ten roles are fairly thorough for a single rulebook. Cyberpunk 2020, much like 3e Dungeons & Dragons, had a very basic core system at launch, but as the game aged, more content was produced through rulebooks that made character options spin out of control. While there’s no doubt that Cyberpunk Red will have future books expanding on the game mechanics and adding more depth, the core rulebook provides a lean, streamlined experience for players.
There are three ways for players to create characters.
- Streetrats: This option allows for the fastest way to create characters by using templates provided. This is the recommended method for new players or those wanting to get started with the action quickly. The templates provided offer a few options based on rolling a d10 to derive all of your stats at once. Gear is provided for each character.
- Edgerunners: Similar to the above option, the Edgerunner character creation follows much of the same guiding questions/options to creating a character as the Streetrats, with the major exception being that you roll for each individual stat instead of all stats as a package. It also offers for more personalized options for creating characters.
- Complete Packages: For the experienced roleplayer, the Complete Package method allows for a complex way to create more versatile characters by calculating your stats using pools of points to buy stats and skills and money to purchase gear.
These character creation options provide diverse enough choices for players. Character creation isn’t laborious at all with whatever option you choose. The rulebook does a fantastic job of walking players through the process, providing many hypothetical examples of the choices one would make. Character creation is a seek, simple process that offers just enough customization options that serve the game rather than overwhelming the player.
Basic Mechanics Keep the Game Moving
The mechanics of the game are relatively simple. The game operates on a d10 system. When it comes to the player turn, each player can perform one move action and one action. Actions include (but aren’t limited to) attacking, grabbing, getting into a vehicle, and using an object or skill.
Much of the game operates on rolling for skills. A skill check is accomplished by adding in one’s stats and skill plus a d10 (Stat + Skill + 1d10). This skill roll is opposed by a Difficulty Value set up by the GM or the Defending NPC’s Stat and skill plus a d10 roll (DV or Stat + Skill + 1d10). In general, the core mechanic is as simple as that.
Players can also perform actions while Netrunning, the games version of running around in cyberspace. Perform checks on the Net are based on one’s Interface Rank (1-10, low to high). There are also Interface abilities players can perform when dealing with computers, consoles, and other pieces of technology. These checks also require using your Interface ability and adding 1d10 against a Difficulty Value set by the GM (Interface value +1d10 vs DV).
The core mechanics are easy to learn. The simplicity offers players the opportunity to get down to roleplaying rather than being bogged down by a needlessly complicated core mechanic. Cyberpunk Red allows for players to get into the game without a lot of messy mechanics.
Lore, Lore, Lore
One of the most impressive aspects of the core rulebook is the amount of great information players and GMs alike get in the book. One needn’t be an expert on the genre or previous editions to get caught up on Cyberpunk Red. Anyone can pick up and read the Cyberpunk Red rulebook and get a good handle on what is happening in the altered future of 2045.
Early on in the book, overviews are given on the major historical events that have taken place leading up to the dystopian world of 2045, or the Time of the Red. More depth and insight is given between the “Welcome to the Dark Future” and The New Street Economy” chapters (p. 233-381). That’s a significant chunk of the book devoted to giving the player an update on life in the Time of the Red and how Night City, the game’s primary setting, operates.
The book is interspersed with prose chapters detailing the demise of Johnny Silverhand, the de facto main character of the Cyberpunk tabletop game series up to this point. These chapters offer a neat introduction into just how players can roleplay their way through the game. They perfectly outline the Cyberpunk ethos and give us a moment to read about Cyberpunk’s most famous character.
Final Thoughts on Cyberpunk Red
R. Talsorian Games have outdone themselves with Cyberpunk Red. Anyone disappointed by the flubbed video game release can easily get their Cyberpunk fix by checking out the tabletop roleplaying game.
Cyberpunk Red is a streamlined, fast-paced game that offers an exciting alternative to fantasy themed RPGs. Cyberpunk is different, but enjoyable. If players are looking for something outside the norm, Cyberpunk Red is a clear winner.
More on Cyberpunk Red can be found by visiting rtalsoriangames.com.