Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit
By Mike Pondsmith, David Ackerman, J Gray, James Hutt, and Cody Pondsmith
R. Talsorian Games [96 pages, 6 dice, 2 maps, 6 pre-generated characters, 2 double-sided maps, 2 reference sheets, 23 standees and stands, $30.00 boxed set, $10.00 digital (no dice or stands)]
Cyberpunk, a popular science-fiction RPG first released in 1988, has gone through several editions, the most famous and much beloved of which is Cyberpunk 2020 published in 1990. This year’s much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 video game from CD Projekt Red (makers of the Witcher video game series) is based on the world and lore of the tabletop RPG.
The Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, released at Gen Con 2019, is the latest iteration of the tabletop game and serves as a teaser for the forthcoming full core ruleset and as a prequel to the Cyberpunk 2077 game by filling in chunks of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020‘s 4th Corporate War (a major event in the 2020 timeline). If that is unfamiliar to you, never fear, the included World Book provides enough background to catch you up.
The boxed set comes with six pre-generated characters, two reference sheets, maps, a set of Cyberpunk themed dice (4 d6 and 2 d10), and flat minis (or standees) along with two booklets: the World Book and Rule Book.
[Click the images for cyberpunk-sized versions.]
Starting with the World Book, the first chapter brings you up to speed with a brief history from 1980 to the Time of the Red. At the end of the Cyberpunk 2020 timeline and the corresponding 4th Corporate War, Night City (the primary setting of the Cyberpunk world) was devastated by a nuclear blast. That and the destruction caused by conventional arms and orbital strikes colored the sky a reddish hue. Cyberpunk Red ventures into post-apocalyptic territory, though on the upward curve of recovery.
The second chapter provides a timeline of events from 1990 to 2045, the present day setting for the game. Cyberpunk Red adheres to its version of events and makes no attempt to adjust for what happened historically, a decision this game master and player agrees with.
Chapters 3 and 4 dive into Night City, including a more focused history leading up to the 4th Corporate War and the subsequent events up to 2045. Additionally, more detailed descriptions of the hot zone (where the nuke went off), the suburbs, and the perimeter are provided. You will also find sections covering public services, transportation, the law, crime, food, clothing, and entertainment. Cyberbikes, an aerogyro, and an urban assault vehicle digs into the first set of statistics that come into play for the mechanics: speed, range, and structural damage points.
Chapter 5 covers how to run a Cyberpunk game. The game has always been about attitude, evidenced by the original version’s oft-cited motto and repeated here: “Style over substance. Attitude is everything.” This chapter goes about providing some key advice for portraying the cyberpunk world of Night City, including a selection of teams that the PCs are likely to be part of and the different types of missions common to such teams: heists, investigations, assaults, and defense. These are, in turn, tied to scenarios provided later in the book. The chapter concludes with descriptions of eight of the gangs that prowl Night City and prey on its citizens and a random encounters section. Roll a d100 and see what you get. These run the gamut from local law enforcement, Trauma Team, and scavengers. Here is the one for private investigator:
Roll 1d10. On 1–3, they are ahead of you, hassling an informant on the street corner concerning the whereabouts of a suspect. 4–7, they are shadowing someone ahead of you. 8–10, they stop you and ask you whether you have seen the person they’re following. The PI is armed with a Very Heavy Pistol and is wearing a Heavy Armorjack.
Not a lot of detail, but enough to give a game master the material to create an interesting encounter, and one that need not rely on violence.
Finally, the World Book ends with an adventure titled “The Apartment,” a game that Mike Pondsmith, the creator of Cyberpunk, has run at many cons. The summary of the adventure is:
In Part One, you’ll get Characters as invested as possible in their apartment building. In Parts Two and Three, a Corporation will try to take it from them. Characters must fight hard to survive and defend their little slice of urban paradise. Simple, right?
NPC descriptions, a rough description of events, and recommended concluding options based on the PC team’s makeup finish out the adventure. The genius of it is that while simple the potential outcomes are with an endless. The same set of players and characters may end up with starkly different endings. No wonder it’s a staple of Pondsmith’s repertoire.
The rest of the book is filled with screamsheets — in-world news stories — with short scenarios that give the basics and let the game master run with it.
The Rule Book contains enough to get started running and playing games in Night City. The first chapter digs into what a character is in the cyberpunk ethos of 2045 and gives you some handy street slang like CHOOH2, Posergang, and others.
Chapter 2 covers the roles players can choose from: Rockerboys, Solos, Netrunners, Techs, Medias, Lawmen, Execs, Fixers, and Nomads — roles familiar to Cyberpunk 2020 players. Each character has ten statistics, rated from 1-10: Intelligence, Willpower, Cool, Empathy, Technique, Reflexes, Luck, Body, Dexterity, and Move. Dexterity is a new statistic for the original game, seeking to better refine the differences between people reacting and general grace and control. The Body statistic determines character’s Hit Points, Wound Threshold, and Death Save numbers.
Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit includes 21 skills. From Brawling to Bribery to Play Instrument, characters will be able to do a lot with what is provided. While the core rules will feature more Abilities — specific special abilities for each role — only one, Interface, for the Netrunner is included in the Jumpstart Kit.
Chapter 3 covers the Lifepath, a feature of Cyberpunk originally (and also part of R. Talsorian Games’ The Witcher TRPG). This is a way to generate a character’s story by rolling for a background, motivation, goals, friends, enemies, love interests, and personality. The results can be diverse: Perhaps your family vanished and you are the last member, your motivated by money, intent on getting what is yours, you can rely on an old friend, but you should avoid that corporate executive. You also watched your lover go insane and are picky, fussy, and nervous. That’s one Lifepath, and you can see how it provides hooks for the character to role play and the game master to use in game.
The next chapter provides options for getting the cyber into your punk. Cybernetically enhanced hearing or vision. Full cybernetic limbs. Each offers benefits…but at the cost of descending into cyberpsychosis, which will be more fleshed out in the core ruleset.
Beginning with chapter 5, we get to the mechanics of play. Combat allows for players to complete 1 move action and 1 basic action per turn. These are familiar to veterans of RPGs, including things like attacking, grabbing, throwing, using a skill, or doing a NET action. The basic skill mechanic is roll 1d10, add your statistic, and add your skill. Generally, a roll of 14 or more is required, but the different levels are documented. To this, modifiers can be added…making things more difficult or easier. For example, not having the right tools for the job is a -2 modifier to the roll. Opposed tasks (trying to convince someone to do what you want) change from rolling against a set difficulty to the two characters rolling and the higher roll wins. You can always use from your pool of Luck to add positive modifiers to your roll.
Rolling a natural 10 is a Critical Success, which allows you to roll another 1d10 and add that to your roll. If you roll another 10, keep going. When you roll a natural 1, that is a Critical Failure, which means you roll another 1d10 and subtract the result from your original roll. Unlike a Critical Success, if you roll another 1, you do not keep rolling another 1d10.
The Rule Book provides guidance on which skill to use for what task along with instructions for taking extra time and complementary skill checks. One interesting mechanic is Cultural Familiarity. This is a measure of your character’s education and likelihood of having gleaned something from his or her endless consumption of media. The higher your Education statistic the more of a positive modifier you can use in lieu of a specific skill.
One of the bigger changes between Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk Red is how netrunning works. First and foremost, due to the 4th Corporate War, networks have been isolated from each other. Gone are the days of a Netrunner sitting far away in the comfort of their couch. In the Time of the Red, Netrunners have to get within six meters of an access point before using their cyberdeck, goggles, and body suits to jack in. This puts the Netrunner in close proximity to the danger the rest of the crew will face. Additionally, the Netrunner actions in cyberspace are neatly interlaced with “meatspace” actions—i.e., the real world. While the Netrunner’s compatriots can defend the Netrunner or do other things, the Netrunner can choose to do a “meatspace” action or several NET actions based on their Interface level, which is the Netrunner role’s special ability. NET actions use the same mechanics as skills and cover a gamut of specific actions with results. The Netrunner’s software comes in three types: Boosters that give a Netrunner mods, Attackers that fight against defense programs or other software and do damage, and Defenders that serve as obstacles for Netrunners to overcome. An example of a NET run in play is provided that is articulate and illustrative.
Cyberpunks tend to find themselves in fights, so Chapter 7, “Thursday Night Throwdown,” a nod to Cyberpunk 2020’s Friday Night Firefight, provides the combat rules along with a handful of weapons to inflict damage. Again, the mechanics are straightforward: For ranged attacks, roll 1d10 and add your Reflexes statistic and your Marksmanship skill against a target value determined by the weapon and its range. For example, a pistol from 13-20m has a target number of 20 while a rifle at the same range has a target number of 10. Melee is similar, though it is an opposed roll against the Defender’s Dexterity statistic, a 1d10, and his or her Brawling, weapon, or Evasion skill. Rules for burst and suppressive fire, armor, head shots, Death Saves, and healing are described.
The rules also provide for social combat, or a Facedown. Your character establishes his or her Reputation with the group he or she is confronting. Then both parties roll a 1d10, add their Cool and their Reputation, and the lowest role loses, either backing down or taking a -3 penalty on future checks until such time that they win a Facedown.
For the pre-generated characters, the box includes a Rockerboy, Fixer, Solo, Nomad, Netrunner, and Tech. One of the great things about these are that the stats are not 100% set. Roll a 1d6 and choose from the array that fits your concept. Then roll up a Lifepath from the Rule Book to set your character’s background, motivation, and so on. The standees match the character portraits of the pre-generated characters along with a couple of cars and bikes. The maps by Matt Francella of a city street, deserted road, office, and pool hall are great flavorful additions to the set. Oh, and the black dice by Q Workshop with the red Cyberpunk logo and details are really cool and stylish.
This is, in a word, a fantastic starter kit. Killer really. The lore and fluff bring you into the world, and the consistent game mechanics, character options, new netrunning rules, and scenarios provide a ton of space for game masters and players to fill out their days awaiting the core ruleset. Maximum Mike may talk about style over substance, but the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit is substance with a ton of style.
Patrick Kanouse encountered Traveller and Star Frontiers in the early 1980s, which he then subjected his brother to many games of. Outside of RPGs, he is a fiction writer and new convert to war gaming. His last post for Black Gate was a review of Behind the Claw by Martin J. Dougherty. You can check out his ongoing, play-by-post, referee-less Traveller game at basiliskstation.blogspot.com. Twitter: @patrickkanouse. Facebook: www.facebook.com/patrickkanouse