Cyberpunk Red is a new and updated cyberpunk roleplaying game from the creators of the original Cyberpunk 2020 system. As well as featuring updated rules, it also progresses the timeline between 2020 and 2077 where the Cyberpunk 2077 video game kicks off. So if you’re here choomba, it means you want to know more. So pull up a chair, get something with a kick to drink, and settle in, you’re in for a ride.
You can buy all the Cyberpunk Red products from our tabletop sponsor, Firestorm Games.
People generally fit into 1 of 3 categories.
- You’re a Cyberpunk 2020 player or you’ve heard of it and you’ve already pre-ordered, you’re just here for affirmation.
- You’re hyped for Cyberpunk 2077 and you’re here to see what all the fuss is about.
- Everyone else, you might be here because of the pretty colors, the awesome art, or simply by mistake.
Whatever the reason, you’re in a good place. The original Cyberpunk 2020 roleplaying game was a fantastic system and such an incredible setting that it’s inspired a huge amount of tie-in entertainment media since its 1st edition was published in 1988. So much so, that CDPR invested in making the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 video game with the system’s creator, Mike Pondsmith.
For those new to Cyberpunk 2020, now Red, it’s a roleplaying game set in a futuristic setting where megacorporations are world powers. Cities are split between utopian wonders and gang-invested hives. Cybernetics, hardware, and computers connected directly to humans are commonplace and looks and attitude are everything. Sounds cool? Then let's go.
If you are brand new to Cyberpunk or roleplaying in general, then Cyberpunk Red has a starter-set, the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, which contains everything you need for your first few games. It’s got a primer rulebook and background book, a premade adventure, premade characters, dice, and some maps and character standups. You can check out our review here. In this article, we’re going to review the full Cyberpunk Red rulebook which is also perfectly fine to start your Cyberpunk games with if you want to go all-in, which, as you will learn, is the Cyberpunk way.
The main theme of Cyberpunk, and what new players to the genre can struggle with coming from other RPG’s, is that your player-characters are distrustful survivors, only out for themselves and crew. To survive in the Red, you need to be selfish, because everyone else is, and even if someone isn’t out to get you, they don’t care to make your life easier.
There are 4 key rules for Cyberpunk characters:
- Style over substance
- Attitude is everything
- Live on the edge
- Break the rules
The Cyberpunk Red rulebook is 458 pages filled with incredible art, detailed history, punchy rules, and awesome gear to kit out your character for the street. There are short narratives scattered throughout the book, to help get the feel of the setting for players and Games Masters and the layout, structure, and colors used throughout are on point.
For players, Cyberpunk Red has 3 types of character creation with varying degrees of involvement in the process. Streetrat is a quick system with a lot of pre-generated stats that you can pick from quick tables. Edgerunner gives a little more flexibility in fine-tuning your character and the Complete Package puts you in charge of every detail of creation.
No matter which method you choose, it all starts with picking a class, and Cyberpunk Red has 10 classes available:
- Rockerboys - Musical rebels
- Solos - Warriors and muscle
- Netrunners - Hackers
- Techs - Mechanics and inventors
- Medtechs - Healers and cyberware installers
- Medias - Reporters, stars, and social influencers
- Execs - The workers of the megacorps
- Lawmen - Law enforcement and security personnel
- Fixers - Tradesmen of information and equipment, legal and not so much
- Nomads - Road warriors and pirates, usually from the rural areas around the cities
Cyberpunk Red gives you loads of ideas for background and personality for your character, which you can either choose or roll from tables, or simply design yourself if you have your own concept already. The Lifepath system flows very well, and you might have no idea about your character initially, but as you progress through the flowchart, you’ll build your own picture and flesh out the character according to your own design. There are also some handy-life paths that tie into each Role to get you going.
Of course, if you want to skip straight to the cyberware section to work your character backwards to get those mantis blades fitted or find out what stats and cyberware you need to carry that railgun (BODY 11 just in case), then that’s fine too.
The rules system itself is as punchy as it ever was, with the focus on getting it done. Straight tests are against a difficulty value (DV) and are your Stat value, plus skill value, plus the roll of a D10 looking to exceed the DV number. The focus of the system is the skills and equipment you use to get things done and that’s the real focus of the book. It feels light on physical rules, heavy on skills and equipment detail, and a real focus on fleshing out the time of the Red with narrative and background detail.
Netrunning is streamlined into the system and Netrunners can either take a meat action (physical) each turn, or as many Net actions as their interface rank lets them. The highest interface rank lets characters take 5 Net actions a turn, for all kinds of online shenanigans while the rest of the party handle things in the real world.
Where Cyberpunk Red shines, is that it gives players and games masters all the tools they need to create epic stories and then lets them get it done. If you’re looking for a guided tour through the system, then your best bet is the Jumpstart Kit, especially if you’re new to games-mastering. The Cyberpunk Red rulebook is well written, very well laid out, and full of incredible detail, but there isn’t a step-by-step adventure for the GM to run. Instead, there are Screamsheets, double-page newspaper-style adventures with hooks and details that you can flesh out into the adventure that suits your players. Combined with the background details provided, which is substantial, there’s everything you need to run the world for your players to burn.
The Bottom Line
Cyberpunk Red has been worth the wait. For veteran Cyberpunk players, it’s the system you know and love, ramped up with added detail for the time of the Red. For experienced roleplayers, it’s a simple system that encourages you to build the characters you want and create the stories you enjoy. For video gamers looking for anything to do with Cyberpunk 2077, there’s a lot here, and it’s a great read cover to cover to get you ready for 2077. For brand new roleplayers, welcome, get the Jumpstart Kit, play the adventure, and then come back, and join us in the Red.
Get This Game If:
- You to play THE Cyberpunk system.
- You want a punchy system that's about style over crunchy rules.
- You want any details you can about Cyberpunk 2020, Red, 2077.
- You really love mantis blades.
Avoid This Game If:
- You’re brand new to roleplaying games, get the Jumpstart Kit, then come back.
- You want magic in your RPG.
The PDF copy of Cyberpunk Red used to produce this review was provided by R Talsorian Games. Cyberpunk Red is available in digitial and physical formats.