Hello everybody! I’m back once more, this time to talk about the newest, soon to be released rulebook for the latest version of the long running Cyberpunk brand from R. Talsorian Games, Cyberpunk RED. This will be the fourth edition of the setting, which began in 1988, the third edition having launched in 2005.
RED is set in the year 2045, and serves as not just a continuation of the tabletop games, but is also designed to work as an on-ramp into the upcoming game by CD Projekt Red, Cyberpunk 2077. Set thirty two years before the much anticipated video game, this new edition of the RPG will explore a world after the Fourth Corporate War, when regional governments have begun to step up and seize control from the Megacorps that once reigned supreme.
But we’re not here to talk about the video game, we’re here to talk about the tabletop. So, with that in mind, let us take a look through this book and see what’s what in the next era of Cyberpunk.
Gritty Neon And Scraping By
Let’s start off by discussing one of the more essential elements of a good tabletop game: world building. Cyberpunk‘s always been pretty good at this, particularly when it comes to Night City, and RED is no exception. Everything is laid out in the book, and not just with exposition dumps. Sprinkled throughout the pages of the rule book you’ll find text drops, detailing moments in the lives of important figures of the lore, fake advertisements for products and services from the setting, and plenty of gorgeous color pictures showing glimpses of the setting, bringing it to life.
Of course, there are exposition dumps, and they’re all quite good, going into coherent, clear detail about the recent history of this world, and the nature of the various factions across the globe, giving you more than enough to work with in creating an interesting setting.
Overall the world building is quite excellent, one of the better examples of it that I’ve seen recently.
The Nuts & Bolts
Of course, all the world building imaginable doesn’t mean anything if you have bad mechanics. Hard to enjoy the setting if playing the game is a disaster. And fortunately the mechanics in RED are quite good, if on the standard side.
I confess that it’s been some time since I’ve played Cyberpunk 2020, the third edition of the game, and I don’t have its rulebook beside me, nor any of the other editions, so I won’t be able to compare and contrast and highlight all the changes made.
From what I can tell, combat is fairly simple and standard, with an emphasis on flash and high tech weapons. There’s nothing that made it stand out from D&D‘s fifth edition or some other games I’ve played recently. It does go fairly in depth though, covering not just your wound states and how much different types of armor protects you, or what damage different vehicles can do, but even going into how much help cover actually provides. It’s rather impressive, even hammering out how much an overturned table, a refrigerator or a sofa would protect you. So while the combat might not be anything ground breaking, it is detailed.
One area of the combat that does stand out is your character’s reputation. In a social media driven world, full of flash and egos, the reputation of a character is very important. Reputations can be positive or negative, and will impact how characters can react around you. In addition to character interactions, this can also impact combat. Built into the game is a sort of aggressive posturing, called Facedowns, using reputation and cool (this game’s equivalent of charisma) which will either make the loser of the ensuing dice roll back down or take a penalty to all actions. It’s a nice way to work in your character’s personal lore and actions as a factor in the fighting.
Of course it wouldn’t be cyberpunk without hacking, called Netrunning here. In-game events have resulted in a more streamlined and simplified process than in previous versions, done primarily with a VR headset style setup. Netrunners can thus see the real world and the virtual world at the same time, and have a variety of options available to them on their turn. Each turn they can choose to make one real world move (Meat move) or as many Net moves as their equipment allows, though they’re still allowed to do some basic physical actions regardless. The moves themselves are fairly straightforward, if perhaps a little unusual given the less tangible nature of them.
All in all, Cyberpunk RED has a good set of mechanics under its hood. They’re clearly defined and laid out, with the game taking care to explain how your character’s role impacts what they can do, how to determine outcomes of situations, and overall how to behave and achieve your goals in this setting. Nothing is groundbreaking or especially noteworthy, but honestly that can be a blessing, as it makes it much easier to remember all of your options and the rules by not fixing what wasn’t broken.
Playing Your Choomba
I’ll be a bit briefer here, since gameplay is fueled by mechanics. For the sake of not being redundant, let’s focus on the nature of the roles, aka classes.
In all honesty, this is a rather balanced stable of roles here in RED: Rockerboy (rebellious artist), Solo (assassin/bodyguard/soldier for hire), Netrunner (hackers), Tech (mechanic/inventor), Medtech (healer), Media (independent journalists), Exec (corporate big wig), Lawmen (cop), Fixer (deal maker/information broker), and Nomad (driver, transportation). Each comes with their own abilities, motivations, experiences, and portion of the world they operate in, and honestly, there is no one role that seems inherently better than the others. Even Rockerboys and Medias have things to recommend them. I can’t really say there’s anything that leaves one role more unbalanced than the others, no need to go for a ‘all or none’ rule to deal with imbalances akin to how Star Wars RPG’s usually handle Jedi.
So yeah, between a good stable of mechanics and a balanced distribution of roles, along with not requiring any esoteric dice or other physical equipment, this is some solid gameplay.
Putting The Cyber In The Punk
While how a rulebook presents itself isn’t quite as important as how it plays or builds its world, it is still useful to take into consideration. And fortunately, Cyberpunk RED’s core rulebook is honestly a very lovely looking example of the medium. As I mentioned in the world building section, its full of well done color pictures and in universe ads for products, and it’s also littered with quotes from characters and little story snippets to build up the lore.
And on a more pragmatic note, everything’s coherent, easy to read, and well set up. Nothing of importance is hidden in odd little side boxes, the tables are all clearly labeled, this is a very nice, well put together rule book! (With the quick caveat that I’m using the PDF and cannot speak for the physical book.)
Is It Worth The Eddies?
Determining the value of this sort of thing is always a bit tricky, as at the end of the day you’re the only one who can decide if something is worth it for you to purchase. What I can say is that there will be two versions of the rule book available for purchase, a PDF and a physical copy. The former will be releasing on November 14th, while the latter will be coming out on November 19th. The PDF is set to cost $30, while the physical is set to cost $60. And clocking in at a hefty 458 pages, loaded as it is with information, rules, world building, and lovely art, this feels like a rather fair price for the physical (and in line with most other RPG companies). Maybe a little on the pricey side for the PDF, but not excessively so in my opinion.
All in all Cyberpunk RED looks to be a worthy new edition in the acclaimed series, with plenty here for those familiar to the series or to those drawn in by the upcoming video game. With excellent worldbuilding, good presentation, and solid mechanics and gameplay, I heartily recommend it to anyone with a fondness for the genre or the game. Pick it up and give it a shot!
You can pick up the digital copy of Cyberpunk RED from DriveThruRPG, or you can grab the physical copies from your FLGS starting on November 19th.
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Thanks to R.Talsorian Games for the images and review copy used in this article