So you’ve just finished Cyberpunk 2077. You did all the sidequests, maxed out your level. Heck, maybe you went back to see the other life-paths and get the other endings. But you are just jonesing for more of this edgy Cyberpunk style. You think to yourself “should I play original Cyberpunk 2020?”
Pfff no! As someone who lived through that era of roleplaying, trust me, it’s not worth it. The system was clunky and unbalanced and frankly, we have better roleplaying games in this day and age. At most, read the books for the lore.
No, the game you want to play is Cyberpunk Red, the latest edition of the Cyberpunk tabletop roleplaying game that was co-developed with CD Projekt Red to fall more in line with Cyberpunk 2077. It’s a much better system and it will more directly scratch your Cyberpunk itch, being more closely tied to the game and all
What is a tabletop roleplaying game? (Seriously, we are doing this again?)
This seems so trite and stereotypical… which is like the opposite of punk… but let’s cover our bases for anyone out there who still doesn’t know their roots.
Tabletop RPGs are the progenitor of RPG video games. They involve a bunch of people, a bunch of dice, and a bunch of storytelling. You get around a table and a Game Master or GM describes the world to you while you and your friends play characters described on character sheets and interact with that world. It’s pretty much exactly Cyberpunk 2077 except instead of interacting with your computer, you are interacting with your buddy Steve, and instead of your computer doing calculations to describe how much damage you do or how likely you are to talk your way out of a situation, you are rolling funky shaped dice.
So most people remember the first Cyberpunk game to be Cyberpunk 2020, which put you in the far off future world of… 2020… phew. But the first edition of the game actually came out in 1988. It came in a box with everything you needed, from dice to character sheets to adventures to run. This would later become tradition, despite the fact that Cyberpunk games also went the piecemeal route. You can, in fact, get a jumpstart kit for Cyberpunk Red that includes everything you need to play, including the dice. So if you are just getting started on your roleplaying journey, drop $30 on the kit and you are on your way.
How does the tone of Cyberpunk Red differ from Cyberpunk 2077?
You are in luck. Most of the lore is shared between the two games. So if you played Cyberpunk 2077 you pretty much know what you are dealing with.
There are certain things that were technically mentioned in Cyberpunk 2077 that should have showed up more often. For one, this can be described as a “post-body” society. Technology and bio-hacking have made it so that as long as you have the money, you can be whoever you want to be. This means that there are plenty of people who have modified their bodies to have animalistic features. Yes, Cyberpunk has a bunch of technofurries. This also means that the world is kind of post-gender too. Do you know that poster in Cyberpunk 2077 of the girl with the huge penis? That’s because, in this world, who you are isn’t dependent on your body since your body can be changed if you have enough eddies. Who you are, is determined by what and who you set on fire. It is unapologetically queer.
Another thing that was implied in Cyberpunk 2077 but wasn’t made explicit is that capitalism is the enemy, full stop. Getting your body modded costs money and money has to be earned. The world has gotten to a point where simple utilities like pure water are rare. Almost everything in existence is unhealthy and every job, no matter how mundane, comes with a possibility of death. With the economy and society no longer looking out for you, science takes its place. Your faulty meat stomach might not be able to handle the slop you get from street vendors, but a shiny new synthetic stomach will… if you have the money for it. Money causes the world’s problems and so you spend more money to solve them, causing more problems in the process.
These two things together have created something of a crisis of identity. Humanity has been devalued by rampant capitalism, and who you are is no longer tied to your physical body. This is part of what pushes Cyberpunks to try to make a name for themselves and it’s what leads the game to push the four rules of Cyberpunk roleplaying, which are basically Johnny Silverhand’s MO.
Style Over Substance
What you do doesn’t matter, but how you look doing it does. Every Cyberpunk wants to be a rock star. Burning down a corp is useless if no one knows it was you who did it. Your image is a brand, your reputation is everything, and your look needs to be your own. In this universe, clothes absolutely make the man.
Attitude is Everything
When capitalism rules everything the law only works for those who have money. This means that most of the Cyberpunk world’s laws are more like recommendations. Everyone is carrying weapons, everyone can kill you, that random hobo on the street might be able to hack your brain and make it explode from the inside. No one is going to care that you carry a gun. No one even cares if you know how to use a gun. People will care when it seems like you are willing to use that gun and they aren’t. So stride into the bar looking like a killer, make your presence known, demand a job, and set yourself apart from the pack.
Live on the Edge
The Cyberpunk world is not a safe world. Anyone who plays it safe dies anyway and, worse, they die nameless and faceless, nothing more than a number in a corps ledger book. But constantly risk your money, your rep, your life, and your life will have meaning. Your goal is to throw yourself at danger and stop right before it costs you everything. Cause fights. Burn buildings down. Start the revolution. Stay committed to the risk and never play it safe.
Break All the Rules
All of the rules, including these rules, exist to be broken. In a Cyberpunk world, the only rules are the ones you set when you burn your legacy into legend.
How does the system of Cyberpunk Red differ from Cyberpunk 2077?
Believe it or not, the system of Cyberpunk Red is actually a fair bit more complex than Cyberpunk 2077. Instead of five stats, you have 10 stats to juggle:
- Intelligence – How smart you are
- Willpower – How determined you are
- Cool – How much you can influence and impress other people
- Empathy – Your ability to relate to other people
- Technique – Your ability to manipulate tools and technology
- Reflexes – Your response time and coordination
- Luck – How lucky you are
- Body – Your general toughness and ability to stay alive
- Dexterity – Your general athletic physical competence
- Movement – Your raw speed
You may notice that five of these stats are the same as the stats in Cyberpunk 2077. The rest are all wrapped in.
Cyberpunk Red also presents you with a bunch of skills to learn. Every roll in the game will be a stat, plus a skill, plus the result of a 10-sided die, versus some target number. Combat is the same but versus an opponent’s defensing roll. There are also special rules for netrunning/hacking and other special kinds of combat.
Here are a few other things that were omitted from Cyberpunk 2077.
Installing cyberware makes you less human, reducing your empathy and possibly entering you into a state of cyberpsychosis.
Cyberpunk 2077 lets you build whatever class you want but Cyberpunk Red has a class system. You get to play:
- A Rockerboy – literal rockstars
- A Solo – assassins, bodyguards, and other general killers
- A Netrunner – a cyber wizard of the net
- A Tech – rogue doctors and mechanics that excel at joining meat and metal
- A Media – journalists, celebrities, and social media influencers
- A Lawman – cops and other tools of the government
- An Exec – Corpo junkies looking to make business deals
- A Fixer – smugglers, deal makers, and information brokers
- A Nomad – transportation experts and road warriors
Cyberpunk Red also has a life-path system, separate from its class system, where you get to choose and/or roll for your character’s background, motivation, goal, and even their past relationships.
Luckily, if all of this is making your eyes cross, the jumpstart kit will give you a bunch of pre-generated characters ready to roll… but not roll… because they are pre-generated… get it?
Is Cyberpunk Red the game for you?
In general, I would say that Cyberpunk Red is a bit less complicated than everyone’s favorite Dungeons and Dragons but not by much. The core mechanics are very simple. It’s all just rolling a D10. Character creation is also simple. GMing is far simpler, with much fewer stats to remember.
There’s just a lot of nitty-gritty rules to remember. Each special weapon or piece of cyberware has its own rules. Each piece of your cyberdeck has its own rules. If you want to, you can dive into nitty-gritty rules for every little thing every character can do.
The key phrase here is “if you want to.” Remember, rules are meant to be broken and Cyberpunk Red, much like Dungeons and Dragons before it, is built to have 75 percent of the rulebook just thrown out. Anything you don’t like can be easily replaced with the game’s core system of rolling a d10+stat+skill. You can handle combat that way, netrunning that way, social interaction that way, In fact, even if you are paying attention to most rules, all your character’s relevant stats can be fit on something smaller than an index card.
The cool thing about Cyberpunk Red is how integrated it is with the Cyberpunk 2077 lore. If you played through the game, you know a ton of NPCs, important events in history, social elements, and much more. You literally don’t have to research any other lore to start up a tabletop game. Just use the characters you know and go from there.
For its low price, I highly recommend Cyberpunk Red for any Cyberpunk 2077 fan that is looking to get into the tabletop roleplaying hobby. The jumpstart kit will get you up and going very quickly as long as you have a group to play with. It’s also the closest experience you will have to the video game. So if you want to take that leap, put on your leather jacket and mirror shades and jack in, because there’s a whole world of Cyberpunk waiting for you Samurai.