Cyberpunk Red is a table top role playing game that bridges the gap between 1988’s Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. Set in the same fictional universe established in Cyberpunk 2020, Red moves up the timeframe 25 years to 2045. It’s got style, it’s got substance, it’s got something for everyone! So lets get into it!
SIDEBAR – I have not played the original Cyberpunk 2020, and as of the writing of this review do not have a copy of Cyberpunk 2077. My knowledge of the setting was originally from those who had played 2020, or the occasional YouTube video about it. For those of you who are also unfamiliar with the setting, know that I’m writing this with the same perspective.
The core rulebook is a generous 455 page tome covering everything you will need to run the game! R. Talsorian Games deserve special recognition for the artwork alone. From cover to cover, Red is flooded with striking imagery which only serves to heighten what is already a vibrant setting. You could look for hours at the images in this book and certainly find inspiration. Aside from the core rules, there are sections for lore, timelines, equipment, everyday life along with a smattering of world building short fiction. Each section is logically laid out for easy reference.
No doubt this is a section that most people want to know about, and I assure you that Cyberpunk Red does not disappoint. The system was created with three methods in mind for character creation:
- Streetrats – This is a template based quick and easy version of character creation that allows you to create a balanced concept from the ground up, in the least amount of time. I would recommend this for beginners, or when a GM wants to make pre generated characters.
- Edgerunners – This is a hybrid of the two systems. There are portions that use templates along with sections that are a bit more free form. This adds a few more steps to the build process, but not enough to hamper it down.
- Complete Packages – Simply put, the third method is the most time consuming and the most precise. At it’s core, the Complete Package utilizes a point buy system to create a character from the ground up. Unless you are intimately familiar with both the mechanics and your desired outcome, this methods will take a long time to complete.
Regardless of the system that you choose, you will have created a complete character that fits within the starting guidelines, complete with backstory, cybernetics, allies, enemies, etc. The character sheets are called Screamsheets, which provide a clear character model for placing cybernetics as well as the usual character information. Also, special mention to the nice flowchart system, as it reminds me of reading WIRED.
There are ten character Rolls to choose from, and each one has a unique Ability to stand apart from the others:
- Rockerboys – Punk rock Bards who fight the system
- Solos – Bodyguards/Mercenary types
- Netrunners – Hackers and data retrieval experts
- Techs – Inventor/Engineer/Mechanics all in one!
- Medtechs – They heal people, or help with cybernetics
- Medias – Media icons who can weaponize information
- Execs – Power brokers and facilitators who work in the corporate system
- Lawmen – Beat cops who want to make a difference, even unconventionally
- Fixers – Merchants and deal makers. Everything is a commodity to them
- Nomads – Smugglers/Vehicle experts who patrol land sea or sky
I personally like all of the concepts. Each one provides a unique bonus while not hampering you to fit into a very specific role. Additionally, with enough diverse skills, you could easily run a game where everyone is a Rockerboy, or Nomad, etc. As the game progresses there are additional rules for multi-classing.
There are a total of nine skill categories that house several skills within each. There is a degree of granularity regarding combat skills, as you will have to be specific: handgun, autofire, brawling, martial arts, etc. There are even skills like wardrobe/style, and professional grooming. In the world of Cyberpunk, style matters.
When it comes to Cybernetics, you are given a veritable cornucopia of choice. There are cybernetics for every occasions, and then some! Here is how they break it down:
- Fashionwear – Purely cosmetics stuff. Neon hair, glowing tattoos, etc.
- Neauralwear – Interface options, reflex and olfactory boosters, etc.
- Cyberoptics – Anything to make you enhance vision, also a dart gun that shoots out of your eye!
- Cyber Audio – Used to amplify hearing, boost senses, detect or broadcast audio
- Internal Cyberwear – A whole bunch of interesting stuff including gills and vampire teeth
- External Cyberwear – sub-dermal pockets (gross), hidden holsters and armor
- Cyberlimbs – Enhance your arms and legs, attach weapons, punch super hard, etc.
- Borgwear – add more eyes, arms or just increase slots for additional upgrades!
Cybernetics will give characters either aesthetic or static bonuses, while others give some sort of noted weapon or ability. There are no bad choices here. The only thing to worry about is having too many cybernetics, which puts your character as risk of becoming psychotic. The more cybernetics you put into your character, the greater humanity loss, and thus susceptibility to this form of psychosis.
Red does not disappoint with equipment. Again there are several options for different types of play. Melee weapons, ranged, heavy, etc. There are sections for useful tools and every day equipment. Personally, I like the armor section because it’s not too bulky and the pros/cons of each type is made easily accessible. As noted above, the first two character creation options will just give you a nice layout of useful items to grab and go.
Cyberpunk Red is streamlined when it comes to mechanics. For most checks you have an established Difficulty Value (DV), and you roll STAT + SKILL + 1D10 versus said DV. Opposed rolls work the same way with ties going to the defender. Obviously, I’m not going to outline everything here, just know that the rules are clearly defined and easy to understand. There are quick reference guides and charts to make combat much easier. Also, it should be noted that D6s are generally used for damage.
Vehicle combat is also very easy to understand. It takes into account things like where the drives falls in the initiative order, and how driving would differ if you were interfaced with the car versus actual normal driving.
SIDEBAR – It should be noted that I’m well aware of the reputation of hacking rules in TTRPGS. Most are either hour long side quests for a single character or grossly oversimplified rules. With that being said, I was very happy with what I read in this section!
Red organically incorporates Netrunning into the game without hampering it down. I cannot overstate how important that is for a game to run smoothly. Anyone who wishes to play a Netrunner will not feel ostracized or otherwise useless. I don’t want to give away the whole rules set despite to say that you will still be resolving skills like any other. Generally speaking, the Netrunner moves from floor to floor within the Net Architecture either making skill rolls or combatting the threats within. Success means finding or hacking things, while defeat could mean character death.
On the GM side, creating Net Architecture isn’t too hard to do, but still requires some planning ahead of time. The tighter the security the greater the number of floors or threats within (sometimes both). The GM creates the number of floors, what’s in them and any branching paths within (if any). With a quick reference made, the GM can basically wing the rest of it and know that the threats are scaled and not impossible to win from the get go.
Overall, I’m very happy with the Netrunning section. It provides substance while not partitioning the game session to accommodate a single player. Netrunning is akin to moving parallel to the other players in “meatspace.” I have no doubt in my mind that any GM could easily understand and handle Netrunning.
A great portion of the core rulebook is dedicated to the lore of the world. If you are completely new to the world of Cyberpunk, this book is the perfect introduction. It outlines major events and logically interweaves them into the greater narrative without overwhelming anyone. You can easily understand what happened and how A led to B, etc. From this framework it explains life in the Cyberpunk 2020 timeline while pushing the timeline forward to 2045.
With that being said, the world of 2045 is vastly different form the 2020 predecessor. Night City itself, along with the entire world has been altered due to a devastating combination of environmental/economic disasters, along with the 4th Corporate War. It doesn’t help that Night City was “lightly nuked” in the time between games.
The characters made for Cyberpunk Red will have grown up in this new world of red skies and rebuilding. Even the character background generator take the events of this world to heart while fleshing out a personal story. Additionally, the core book contains plenty of material outlining what life is like within the many districts of Night City and around the world.
There is a wealth of other sections and pockets of information provided within the core rulebook. I have never played in this system before (nor it’s predecessor), but after reading this, I’m going to see if my group wants to give it a try. If you like the Cyberpunk genre, or just want to play in a world where style and attitude are as important as skill, give this game a try!