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Cyberpunk Red: One Year Later

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Of the two big releases in the Cyberpunk setting late last year, the tabletop one seems to have had the better time of it. Cyberpunk Red sparked some nostalgia in old players while introducing a new generation of players to one of the definitive settings in the genre. Surprisingly, that included me, as I spent my youth (and early parts of my career) over on the other side of the fence in Shadowrun’s Seattle. I was lucky enough to run a few games as part of my duties as host of Theatre of the Mind Players both from the original Jumpstart Kit and the full book. To celebrate the release of some supplementary materials provided by R. Talsorian Games (those mini-reviews will pop up toward the end), I decided to look back at the game now that I have a few runs under my belt.

Cyberpunk Red Core Rulebook​

Cyberpunk Red is an advancement of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. It takes place in roughly 2045 and overwrites the materials seen in Cyberpunk 3.0 and Cybergeneration. Cyberpunk Red is not a radical revision of the original game. Think of it more like a remastered version that cleans up a few cosmetics and gameplay elements, but leaves the original system in place for better or worse. Seeing this late 80s/early 90s style of game design was jarring on my initial read, but after running it I’ve come to love much of it. The basic stat+skill+d10 roll works pretty well on its own and plays a lot more simply than other games of the time. The exploding possibility on both ends also offers a way to mix in some narrative twists as needed. The wide skills also inspired my players to think creatively. How can I use my Personal Grooming and Style here?

One of the areas that was streamlined well was the lifepath generation system The original game generated a lot of history for characters, while Cyberpunk Red’s version generated just enough. My players loved this part of character creation and didn’t need much prodding to mix each other up in their stories.

The Roles were also improved in Cyberpunk Red. Each skill works in a slightly different way, from the combat analysis of the Solo allowing shifts in attack profiles to the Nomad’s ability to borrow family vehicles for specific runs. I’m usually a fan of unified mechanics but the different Role skills really help give each archetype a distinct flavor.

Cyberpunk Netrunner Deck​

One of the big challenges of the cyberpunk genre is the hacker problem. Games are set up to emulate the fiction, which features hackers dashing through a cool VR dungeon to get the important information. In play, however, that often meant the hacker player monopolizing the GM’s time while everyone else watched.

Cyberpunk Red streamlined this process by giving Netrunners multiple actions based on their Netrunning skill and simplifying data fortress construction to a single path of risk and reward. My initial read on this was that they went too far in the easy direction but in play it felt like just enough spotlight was given to the netrunner during a job. It feels like the netrunner does all the exploration while the game shifts back into the meat world and now we’re just at the challenge points of the run. It’s also easier to add complexity back into a table’s taste than remove it.

As Netrunners are the closest thing to wizards in this setting, the Cyberpunk Red Netrunner Deck is more or less a spell deck for the Netrunner player featuring all the programs featured in the core book. It also includes the ICE programs they might face as well as a small mini deck of nodes that can be used to generate a hack on the fly. Pick this up if netrunning is a focus of your Cyberpunk Red games.

Cyberpunk Red Data Screen​

We didn’t get into much combat during our game, but the moments where we did felt fast and brutal. Things really turn on the critical hit mechanics which ends fights quickly. Beware; if players can’t hit matching sixes, it can be a while to put down an opponent.

The key question for a GM screen for me is always “Does this have useful charts that I will use during play?” The Cyberpunk Red Data Screen fits all the things I wanted for combat in one area, though I think the Jumpstart Kit still has good reference charts for other things like Netrunning. If you only buy one GM aid, get this one because it’s freshly filled with errata, but if you can afford both, this combined with the Jumpstart Kit makes a deluxe suite of GM data.

Cyberpunk Red Data Pack​

This product recalls another relic of 90s game releases: the book of materials that barely missed the cut for the corebook paired with a less sexy accessory. In this case, the Data Pack comes with a stack of double sided character sheets for those folks who don’t want to use their precious printer juice.

There are also battle maps included. Given the dearth of modern battle grids, that alone makes Cyberpunk Red Data Pack a worthy purchase, even if the maps are printed on glossy pages rather than wet/dry erase material. They also look like they could be useful for the upcoming mini combat game.

The real value in this release comes from the booklet which includes a few one-page screamsheet adventures as well as a series of 20 entry tables of everything ranging from contacts to pocket contents. Each of these works as a lovely story hook or as a bit of color to fill out Night City.

Upon my first reading of Cyberpunk Red my thoughts were mixed but after playing it I find that the rules are a solid base refined just enough to appeal to more modern tastes. It’s a great entry point into the Cyberpunk universe, regardless of one’s opinion of its videogame big brother.

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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

Blue Orange

Adventurer
I guess the Rockerboys should be Hip-Hoppers now, eh? That actually is used all over the world by people for social criticism.

Maybe Pondsmith doesn't like rap?
 

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MGibster

Legend
I get that it is part of the setting, but it is a part of the setting that does not work. Genius or not, the idea of a lone craftsman hunched over his workbench out-producing a factory line in both quality and output doesn't work. And his remaining unmolested yet publically-accessible likewise fails.
I don't actually think it's part of the setting, because, as you rightly point out, it makes no sense. At least with William Gibson, the point wasn't that they produced higher quality goods on the streets, it was that on the streets they adapted the technology to suit their own purposes sometimes in ways the corps never imagined. Like taking an Apple watch and running the original Doom game on it. I could see a boutique producing very, very high quality equipment. But these would be prohibitively expensive and their clients would be those who could afford it. The wealthy or the most successful of edge runners.
 

I don't actually think it's part of the setting, because, as you rightly point out, it makes no sense. At least with William Gibson, the point wasn't that they produced higher quality goods on the streets, it was that on the streets they adapted the technology to suit their own purposes sometimes in ways the corps never imagined. Like taking an Apple watch and running the original Doom game on it. I could see a boutique producing very, very high quality equipment. But these would be prohibitively expensive and their clients would be those who could afford it. The wealthy or the most successful of edge runners.
Gibson did CP right: the high-end gear was rare, and storied.
 

CTPhipps

Villager
I get that it is part of the setting, but it is a part of the setting that does not work. Genius or not, the idea of a lone craftsman hunched over his workbench out-producing a factory line in both quality and output doesn't work. And his remaining unmolested yet publically-accessible likewise fails.

As to why mercs are used, that reason is as old as war: why risk loyalists when you can use hired guns instead? Again, an age-old reason being played out today.

I really want to love Cyberpunk; back when it first came out I bought the entire product line. But the setting has not aged well, and the writers have not addressed the failing core issues. I had hoped that they would have moved the corps in a direction based upon drug cartel's ruthless securing of both economic and political power, coupled with the electronics industry's already mentioned design maneuvers.

I haven't given up hope, but Red is not going to be The One.

I feel like if you addressed the issue then you'd start to seriously change what makes it cyberPUNK though because a major part of the setting is that technology is getting worse not better and regressing due to being not just dystopian but post-apocalypse in many respects. They eventually did update the setting to a much more science fiction-y and advanced setting but like Deus Ex: Invisible War this actually seriously messed with the setting's themes and appeal.

I mean part of it is the genre conceit. A Solo will kill dozens if not hundreds of professional soldiers and corporate mercenaries because they're Stormtroopers and you're Han Solo.

A TYPICAL SOLO ASSAULT ON ARASAKA

 

MGibster

Legend
Gibson did CP right: the high-end gear was rare, and storied.
I didn't actually read Neuromancer until I was in my late twenties or early thirties many years after I had stopped playing Cyberpunk 2020. (I didn't read Lord of the Rings until a few months before the first Peter Jackson movie was released.) I was a bit surprised by how different the novel seemed to be from all those cyberpunk campaigns I played in as a team. Compared to a Solo PC in 2020, Mollie Millions with her eyes, razor claws, and boosted reflexes would have been ill equipped for many campaigns.

But then I don't think any of my campaigns played out like Mike Pondsmith might have run his campaign. I remember one of the Cyberpunk 2020 books having an example character who was roughed up by the people he owed money to. Especially in my teen years, the majority of players I gamed with would find it unacceptable for their PC to be roughed up in such a fashion. Like D&D, Cyberpunk 2020 is an adolescent power fantasy for most.
 

I mean part of it is the genre conceit. A Solo will kill dozens if not hundreds of professional soldiers and corporate mercenaries because they're Stormtroopers and you're Han Solo.
Its sad that that still crops up, whether in Hollywood or in too many games.


Edited after Mannahin's good point.
 
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Its sad that that still crops up, whether in Hollywood or in games.
I'm fine with it in superheroic fantasy/space opera/wuxia. IMO that Equilibrium scene misses the point of Cyberpunk, as a genre. CP characters are human, and live hardscrabble lives.

Even the best, nastiest mercs can't take on a bunch of competent opponents at the same time. (Edit: unless they're doing so with some clever plan- an ambush, bomb, EMP pulse to disable the antagonists, etc.)
 
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MGibster

Legend
Why is it sad?

Is there a reason you prefer realistic action versus fun action?
For me, I prefer Cyberpunk (the game) to be a bit grittier. It's okay if a small force overwhelms a larger forces through guile and smart thinking. But the kind of nonsense we see in the Matrix or Equilibrium isn't what I want to see my my Cyberpunk game. Though I actually do enjoy that kind of nonsense in other games.
 





"Rockerboy" as a class in CP2020 made my skeleton cringe out of my body when the game first published. That they kept that name in Red is just wild, and indicative of how little they actually wanted to update, and how set they were on leaning into nostalgiapunk.

I don't have an issue with the character option itself, and I agree with @BrokenTwin--the game basically provides the framework to support a band campaign. But boy oh boy, Rockerboy....
I generated a (totally legal) rockerboy with a high Charismatic Leadership. I was to make a distraction so they could get in and out on the job. I instead shutdown a large portion of the nearby area with a live concert... I open-ended, sing +8 and Cha. Leadership +8, so was over 30 final total... GM ruled it an overkill. Rest of the group ruled it "disruptive play"... and overrode the GM's invite.
I don't know anyone else who played a rockerboy. (I was majoring in vocal performance at the time; essentially, opera. So it wasn't a stretch for me.)
 

I generated a (totally legal) rockerboy with a high Charismatic Leadership. I was to make a distraction so they could get in and out on the job. I instead shutdown a large portion of the nearby area with a live concert... I open-ended, sing +8 and Cha. Leadership +8, so was over 30 final total... GM ruled it an overkill. Rest of the group ruled it "disruptive play"... and overrode the GM's invite.
I don't know anyone else who played a rockerboy. (I was majoring in vocal performance at the time; essentially, opera. So it wasn't a stretch for me.)

If I had to guess, I'd suspect instead of reading it as a clever way to leverage a type that often is difficult to fit into the usual cyberpunk caper-based play, they read it as making the game all about you. People have seen enough of that in their gaming lives they're prone to jumping at even the appearance of it.
 

MGibster

Legend
It does seem to me that rabble rousing is one of the prime abilities of a Rocker Boy. It even features heavily in Johnny Silverhand's story with how he caused a distraction to get into Arasaka.
 


MGibster

Legend
Well, its hard to see how the Rockerboy special ability was going to be useful for much else.
You're right. Now that I read the Charismatic Leadership ability you're right. And that's probably another reason I never saw anyone actually play a Rocker Boy. Their main ability is only useful in a very narrow set of circumstances.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
You're right. Now that I read the Charismatic Leadership ability you're right. And that's probably another reason I never saw anyone actually play a Rocker Boy. Their main ability is only useful in a very narrow set of circumstances.
Some abilities are pretty general and useful for the special ops team/murder hobo equivalents in Cyberpunk, but not every campaign has to be like that. The rocker boy archetype could be the core of a particular type of campaign.
 


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