Author Topic: Review of Cyberpunk Red  (Read 248 times)

Offline Nanshork

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Review of Cyberpunk Red
« on: December 19, 2020, 10:21:14 PM »

I apologize for the delay since my last review. I'm lazy and reading through a multiple hundred page roleplaying game book to analyze it is work and that's about the best explanation I can give you.  As is standard, I have no idea what I'm getting into here.  I've never looked at any of the previous Cyberpunk editions and haven't played Cyberpunk 2077 because I generally wait for games to be patched and on sale before I buy them.

Normally this is where I'd talk about the history of the game and when this edition was published (which is this year) and blah blah blah but honestly I'm going to assume that you're all like me and only care about it because of the video game so we'll just skip that part.  If you do care you probably know it anyway.  All I know is that this general system has been around for a while so I expect the technology aspects to be a little off.

The pdf is 458 pages, cover to cover.  Looking at the index, none of the chapters/subchapters are numbered but the book is laid out as follows:
 - Never Fade Away (This is italicized so is probably a short story)
 - View from the Edge (Or how to play a role-playing game)
 - Soul and the New Mechine (Making characters)
 - Tales from The Street (Probably more about making characters)
 - Fitted for the Future (Stats, skills, equipment)
 - Putting the Cyber into the Punk (CYBERWARE, and also something called cyberpsychosis)
 - The Fall of the Towers (Another story)
 - Getting it Done (Using skills, etc)
 - Friday Night Firefight (Combat rules)
 - Netrunning (Hacking rules)
 - Trauma Team (Damage/healing rules)
  -Welcome to the Dark Future (In game history)
 - The Time of the Red ("Current events" most likely)
 - Welcome to Night City (About night city, where you will most likely be)
 - Everyday Life (Appears to be a lot of flavor stuff about getting into the game)
 - The New Street Economy (Pretty self-explanatory)
 - Running Cyberpunk (Also self-explanatory)
 - Screamsheets (I have no idea)
 - Black Dog (One last story)

After the index we get what is basically an explanation for why this book exists, and the answer is because CD Projekt Red wanted to make a Cyberpunk video game.  This ruleset was created by the creator of Cyberpunk specifically to be a version that fits both video game and tabletop game requirements.

Never Fade Away is a short story so I'm skipping it as is customary for me, and I'll just skip over the other stories as well.

View from the Edge

As expected, this is an intro to Cyberpunk.  We got some in-universe language about what cyberpunk is and a general overview of the technology and history that make up the world.  Cyberpunk has a feel for it that looks like they're explicitly trying to make it not seem like Shadowrun (the word punk is in there for a reason).

Then we get "A Tabletop RPG primer".  I'm explicitly told that since I know what I'm doing I can skip this part and so that's what I'll do.

Lastly in this chapter we get a glossary of different street slang to get you into the mood.

Then there's an in-universe advertisement webpage.  That was unexpected, but neat.

Soul and the New Machine

There are three basic concepts to live by as a Cyberpunk player.

#1 - Style Over Substance
#2 - Attitude Is Everything
#3 - Live On The Edge

If that doesn't differentiate this from Shadowrun then nothing well.  Now on to something a bit meatier.

There are ten roles in Cyberpunk Red, and each role has it's own special "Role Ability" which starts at a value of 4 (we're still a little over 100 pages away from finding out what that means but a value of 4 means you've been doing this for about 4 years).  Each role gets a one-page description and there is a basic overview of what the role ability.

1) Rockerboy - Rock-and-roll rebels who use performance, art, and rhetoric to fight authority. (Role Ability: Charismatic Impact)
2) Solos - Assassins, bodyguards, killers, and soldiers-for-hire in a lawless new world. (Role Ability: Combat Awareness)
3) Netrunners - Cybernetic master hackers of the post-NET world and brain-burning secret stealers. (Role ability: Interface)
4) Techs - Renegade mechanics and supertech inventors; the people who make the Dark Future fun. (Role ability: Maker)
5) Medtechs - Unsanctioned street doctors and cyberware medics, patching up meat and metal alike. (Role ability: Medicine)
6) Medias - Reporters, media stars, and social influencers risking it all for the truth - or glory. (Role ability: Credibility)
7) Execs - Corporate power brokers and business raiders fighting to restore the rule of the Megacorps. (Role ability: Teamwork)
8) Lawmen - Maximum law enforcers patrolling the mean streets and barbarian warrior highways beyond. (Role ability: Backup)
9) Fixers - Dealmakers, organizers, and information brokers in the post-War Midnight Markets of The Street. (Role ability: Operator)
10) Nomads - Transport experts, ultimate road warriors, pirates, and smugglers who keep the world connected. (Role ability: Moto)

When it comes to making a character, there are three different methods.

1) Use a template
2) The fast and dirty way
3) Calculating everything using pools of points to buy things

All three methods have flowcharts to help with the character creation (the first two methods share a flowchart).  The first two methods involve rolling stats, the third buys them.  The first two methods get all of their gear assigned to them, the third appears to buy every single item individually.  From the flowcharts these look like the big differences.

Regardless of which flowchart you are using, here are the basic steps:
 1) Pick a role (and set role ability to 4)
 2) Run the Lifepath
 3) Generate Stats
 4) Calculate derived stats
 5) Set skills
 6+) Equipment

Tales From The Street

This is the chapter about running the lifepath.  The lifepath is a flowchart full of tables with options to roll from (with the ability to choose an option if you think the roll doesn't fit your character).  Some tables have more than one thing you roll for, and they are rolled separately.  I'll go through them and give a basic description of each.

 1) Cultural Origin - What part of the world are you from?  What is your native language?  (Everyone knows Streetslang.)
 2) Personality - What is one of your core personality traits?
 3) Personal Style - What is your clothing style?  What is your hairstyle?
 4) Affectation - What is one fashion item you always have on you?
 5) Motivations and Relationships - What do you value most?  How do you feel about most people?
 6) Most Valued - Who do you value the most?  What possession do you value the most?
 7) Family Background - What was your family like?
 8) Environment - Where did you grow up as a child?
 9) Family Crisis - What bad thing happened to your family?
 10) Friends - How many friends do you have?  What is your relationship with them?
 11) Enemies - How many enemies do you have?  Why are they your enemies?  What are their resources?  How will they act if they see you again?
 12) Love Affairs - How many tragic love affairs have you had?  Why did they end?
 13) Goals - What is your life goal?

In addition, there are also role based lifepaths.  They go over career specific parts of your life.

Fitted for the Future

Now we're getting into the basic rules of the game.  We start with character statistics.

There are 10 stats split up into 4 groups.  The Metal group contains Intelligence, Willpower, Cool (just how it sounds), and Willpower.  The Combat group contains Technique and Reflexes.  The Fortune group contains Luck.  The Physical group contains Body, Dexterity, and Movement.  Stats go from 1-8 generally (but can go higher). 

Each method of character creation has its own method for stat generation.  For the template method, find the table for your role, roll a d10 and directly copy the stats that the table says you have.  You can't have crappy stats this way but you can't deviate from what the table says in any way.

For the "fast and dirty" method, use the same tables as the template method but you roll a d10 for each stat individually which means less balance between stats but more potential variety between them.  Once again, you can't deviate from what you rolled.

For the calculating method, you get a specified number of stat points.  It's your basic point buy method on a 1-for-1 basis.

Derived stats are all about why you don't want to dump some stats.  HP are derived from Body and Will.  Humanity (which helps stop you from being a homicidal sociopath and is lost by installing cybernetics) is derived from Empathy. 

We then move on to skills.  Like most games, skills are complicated and I'm not going to do a deep dive here.  There are nine different skill categories based around what kind of skill it is.  All skills have an associated stat.  Skills are purchased, and some skills cost more to purchase than others.  Skills have ranks from 1-10, languages are a skill, and everyone starts with some basic skills.

Just like stats, the different character creation methods have different ways of selecting starting skills.  If you're using the template method, write down the skills that are listed on the table for this purpose.  Period.  If you're going fast and dirty, you get a pool of skill points and buy your skills based off of the list of 20 skills available for each roll (and you have to buy your basic skills, they aren't free).  The calculating method is like fast and dirty but you aren't limited in what skills you can buy.

Once skills are selected we move on to the equipment phase of character creation.  Here we get a general overview of what is what (with specific items being in the Night Market chapter).

Weapons are split between Melee, Ranger, and Exotic (with different weapons using different skills).  Non-exotic ranged weapons get attachment slots.  Armor has an armor rating (called Stopping Power) and Armor Penalty (which penalizes stats) and is purchased separately for the body and the head.

One of the things I like about weapons in Cyberpunk 2077 is that there aren't specific stats for every single type of thing.  Pistols are either medium, heavy, or very heavy.  There are examples of each, but you don't specifically stat out every kind of pistol you might want and try to figure out ways to make them different from each other.  Other types of ranged weapons are split up the same (for example a sniper rifle is a sniper rifle) and melee weapons come in four categories. 

To determine what you get, each method comes into play again.  Templates and fast and dirty get predetermined equipment based on their role and in addition get money to buy additional equipment or keep at their discretion.  Calculated characters just get a bunch of money and have to buy everything individually, including equipment we haven't gotten to yet.

After weapons and armor, you get an outfit.  An outfit is more than the clothes on your back, it is everything that you carry with you from day to day and since you'rea Cyberpunk character this includes a bag containing food and clothes and toothbrushes and whatnot because who knows what might happen.  An outfit is separate from Fashion which is how you dress and has its own sub-section.   Once again, templates/fast and dirty get what the table says and calculated characters buy whatever (but they get additional money specifically for fashion that you can't keep the change from).

Non-execs live in a rented cargo container with first month's rent and kibble free (yes, you're eating kibble).  Execs get fancier digs but they also have to pay rent each month.  Nomads can live in their vehicle due to their role ability.

Putting the Cyber into the Punk

Now we're onto my favorite part of any futuristic RPG.  Cyberware!  Cyberware is split into 8 types and each type has separate limitations on how many pieces and be installed.

As you expected, templates/fast and dirty get what the table says (with humanity loss already calculated for you) and calculated characters buy whatever.

But wait, there's more!  Assuming you can convince the other players to take advantage of attractive employment opportunities, you too can get free cyberware by joining the (covert) military, taking up a life of organized crime, or selling out to a corporation!  Of course there are downsides to these options, but they're all on the role-playing side and all you care about are those sweet sweet numbers right? Who cares if a bomb might be hidden inside of your body.

Then we get to The Fall of the Towers which is another story and to be skipped.

Getting It Done

Here is the chapter on non-combat rules (and some combat related ones too).  Initiative is Reflexes + 1d10.  On your turn you get a move action and an action.  Skill checks are d10 based too (of course) and stat + skill + roll.  It's all pretty easy to understand for anyone coming from the d20 system.  Crit successes are exploding dice (roll a 10, roll a d10 again and add it, can't get a third roll) and crit failures are exploding dice but bad (roll a 1, roll a d10 again and subtract it, can't get a third roll).  I like this better than auto-suceed/auto-fail.

Here is also where you learn what the Luck stat does.  You get a luck pool with points = stat which refill on a per-session basis and can be spent to increase rolls by +1 per point spent.

We also get a skill overview, which is basically what can you be expected to do at different skill levels with a base of 10 being a professional level of competency.  Role abilities are also described here, as are rules on multiclassing between roles (which can't be done at character creation).  For multiclassing, you just buy rank 1 in the new role with your improvement points (which we haven't gotten to yet but are probably just XP you use to buy character improvements with, pretty standard) and that's your new job.  You can spend points to improve your previous role but it's not the role you're seen as anymore.

A little bit on role abilities, they're all interesting and all dramatically improve as more points are put into them (with a maximum of 10 as normal).  I like them.  (As a Nomad you can put ejection seats in a helicopter and there are rules for what happens if you eject into helicopter blades.)

Friday Night Firefight

Here's where we move onto the combat specific rules, with a refresher on initiative and actions.

Since armor mitigates damage but doesn't make you harder to hit, combat works differently than what you might be used to.  Ranged combat to-hit targets are based off of the type of weapon being used and how far away the target it (unless the target has an Evasion of at least 8 because then they can roll to dodge bullets).  Since even normal people can attempt to dodge melee attacks those are straight up contested rolls.  Defender wins all ties.  Damage is all rolled in d6's.

There are of course special rules that can be used for ranged attacks (such as suppressive fire) and different rules for different kinds of melee combat (martial arts as an example).  Other special rules include things like rules for a human shield and how taking damage fucks up your armor and penalties for being wounded.  I like this game.

Being under 1 hp means rolling death saves (failing a death save is the only way you can die).  Critical injuries happen when you roll at least two 6's on your damage dice and confer actual penalties on top of automatic bonus damage (none of this multiplied damage on a crit in this game).  If you're hit while under 1 hp you automatically suffer a critical injury and get penalties on your next death save.

I want to say that vehicle combat is a little more complicated but it is covered in 4 pages so it really isn't that bad.

Interestingly, there are also rules for social combat, in the form of facing someone down.  The person who loses either backs off or takes a penalty to all actions made against the winner.  Nothing like a little intimidation.


Here it is, the hacking/decking chapter.  I expect this to be horribly complicated, I've never wanted to play a decker outside of a video game just due to the complexity.

The good news here is that netrunning doesn't take place in its own separate initiative count.  When it's your turn you either take a "meat action" (action with your body) or "NET actions" (netrunning actions).  You get your regular move action regardless.

The bad news is that this chapter is still over 20 pages long so while netrunning isn't anywhere near as bad as some Shadowrun rulesets I've seen it is way more complicated than "meatspace" actions.

All in all I was prepared to hate this chapter but it's not bad.  My main worry is that if I play a Netrunner there doesn't seem to be much you can do to boost your checks and black ice makes me paranoid.

There are also rules for how to create a net for someone to run (which is pretty simple) and how to set up your own net to control automated home defenses and whatnot.

Trauma Team

The chapter on healing, injury, and death.  We get the same information here that was in the combat section on wound states and critical injuries and death saves.  We also get rules on how to stabilize and heal naturally.

We also get information on what skills can heal what, trauma team insurance (like modern ambulances but they're armed and armored and you have to pre-pay for them to come), hospital visits, and everything else health related (such as drugs and therapy).

Welcome to the Dark Future

This chapter is all fluff and no crunch (but in a game like this that isn't a bad thing).  A timeline of how the world got to be the way it is can be found (divergence from our timeline started in the late 80's it looks like). 

The current year is 2045 (which I guess is why the system is Cyberpunk Red and not Cyberpunk 2077 like the video game). 

The Time of the Red

Where the previous chapter was about how the world got to where it is, this chapter is about what the world is now.  It's interesting but again all fluff and since I don't know any of the previous material (and am not running a game in this system) I'm not actively invested in it.

Welcome to Night City

Here's the story of Night City (the city the game is expected to take place in) with its history and current situation and whatnot.  It is made up of different zones, some safer than others, and all the information about who has power where and what role they have and what gangs there are and everything you need to make a believable city for your players.

Everyday Life

Where the previous chapter was about what the city itself was like, this chapter is about what life is like in general.  Crime and punishment, everyday technology, guns, vehicles, and other information about other general day to day items that aren't crunchy rules that need to be referenced.  It's nice.

I mentioned kibble earlier, here we learn that kibble is not actually dog food (so that's something at least).

The New Street Economy

Here we have not only the expected information about what do things cost, but we also get information on how the economy got the way it is, how to generate a night market (kind of like a big swap meet), and midnight markets (too exclusive for you to get into). 

When buying a weapon you can cheap out and buy poor quality, or open your wallet wide and buy excellent quality.  Poor quality weapons jam up, excellent quality ones give you a bonus to attack.

There are other economic rules here too, they're all pretty standard.

Running Cyberpunk

This is more than your standard "how to run a game" chapter but less than the amazingness that is the equivalent in the Alien RPG book that I have previously reviewed.  The first half of this chapter is all about how to really get into the feel of Cyberpunk and not just general hints for GMs.

The second half of this chapter is what I've been waiting for a while to find out about experience improvement points!  If the mission was a success, IP are granted to everyone with the possibility of bonus IP for individual players that stood out to the GM as deserving of more points.  If everyone failed then IP are still granted but it's a little more complicated.

IP are then spent on improving skills and your role ability (or gaining new role abilities) with the cost being based on what the next level would be of the specific thing you're improving.

We also get sample statted up NPCs to use and random encounter tables.


So screamsheets are the new newspapers, and this chapter is "news" about different things and what the players know and GM knows about what is going on.  They're basically a bunch of plot hooks/mini adventures.

To finish out the book we have the last story, Black Dog, and a three page character sheet.

Final Thoughts

I like it, I like it better than any Shadowrun version I've ever read which is the closest thing I can compare it to.  It's streamlined and interesting and I couldn't run it because I need pre-written adventures but I could totally play it.  Definitely a keeper!