The 4th Corporate War’s over and the big dogs have retreated to their corners to lick their wounds. That leaves everyone else to fend for themselves in a shattered world.
And that’s just fine. ‘cause you’ve got interface plugs in your wrists, metal in your limbs, and chips in your skull. You’re wired in, loaded with chrome, and ready to take it to the Edge.
The Namesake RPG of Cyberpunk [ edit ]
Although Cyberpunk Red might seem like a relatively new game, having just been released in 2020, it originally dates back all the way to 1988. You see, Cyberpunk "Red" is really just the fourth edition of the "Cyberpunk" RPG from the 80's (which was also rebranded as "Cyberpunk 2020" in its second edition).
In all of its editions Cyberpunk has been a go to system for, well, Cyberpunk. However, the third edition was, to many fans, a shift in the wrong direction. RPG Geek ranks the third edition 903rd out of all RPGs ... while the game's second edition comes in at 109th. Fourth edition (ie. "Red") instead returns to many of the second edition mechanics, but with added polish, and in doing so has won back many fans.
Of course, it also hasn't hurt the game's launch was tied to the launch of a massive video game, set in the same universe: Cyberpunk 2077 ... but since we're here to talk about the RPG, not the video game, let's take a look at the rules of Cyberpunk Red.
Cyberpunk, Cyberpunk RED - Rules SummaryCollapse
Character Creation [ edit ]
To begin a Cyberpunk Red player must pick a Role (ie. class) for their character. While there are a few combat-focused Roles, more are instead non-combat, such as the Rockerboys (street performer), Medtechs (doctors), Execs (corporate management) or Netrunners (hackers).
After their Role the player chooses or rolls on a series of tables to determine the character's Lifepath. These choices/rolls set the character's cultural background, outlook on life, family, friends, enemies, and so on. There's also separate tables for each Role, so for instance a Rockerboy can discover or decide that they are a musician, a slam poet, a DJ, an Idoru (pop idol), etc.
Next the player determines their character's stats. There are ten stats, which can range from 1 to 8 (normally). They're mostly familiar versions or variations of D&D stats (eg. Intelligence is the same in both, while Body combines D&D's Strength and Constitution into one stat), but there are also new stats for things like luck, movement speed, and ability to work with technology.
A player can determine their stats in three ways. First, the game includes a table for each Role, with rows of stats pre-made for that Role. Either the player can roll once and take the whole row's stats, or they can roll for each stat separately. Because it's tailored to the Role, certain stats aren't possible: for instance, a Tech can never roll a Cool stat above 5. If a player doesn't want to roll at all, they can instead use a point-buy system, typically with 62 points (though generous GMs can offer up to 80) distributed however they want among the ten stats.
Characters also have two stats derived from their other stats: Hit Points and Humanity. Hit Points should be familiar to most gamers, but Humanity is somewhat unique to Cyberpunk, as it represents the character's ability to socialize with other humans (something they can lose if they become too much of a cyborg).
After their stats the player buys skills, with each skill's degree of mastery ranked on a scale from 1 to 10. Again the player can choose to by a set of skills and ranks in those skills, or they can opt to buy skills. If they choose to buy they can either spend 86 points to choose almost any skills (with no skill having a rank lower than 2 or higher than 6, and certain skills costing double the number of points), or they can choose a hybrid approach that focuses their buys on class-relevant skills.
Finally the character purchases their gear, including weapons and armor (and as the book makes clear: "you do need weapons and armor"). Once again players have the (fast) option of choosing gear based on their role, or going to the "Night Market" and purchasing gear themselves. Cyberwear (ie. cybernetic implants) can potentially be included in this gear.
Core Mechanics [ edit ]
To perform a difficult action in Cyberpunk a player will usually make a skill check, which is accomplished by rolling 1d10 and adding their corresponding stat and skill to the roll. For instance, to fire a hand gun a player would roll 1d10 and add their character's Handgun skill plus their Reflexes stat.
The total number must equal or exceed a difficulty number set by the GM (eg. 9 is considered simple, 21 heroic). GMs can also add modifiers, such as a -2 if the character slept poorly the night before, or a +1 if the character spends extra time on the action. If the die rolled is a natural 1 or 10 it is considered a critical failure/success: the player rolls a second die and subtracts (for failure) or adds (for success) it to the final total.
Also, each character has a Luck pool, which resets to full (ie. their Luck stat) at the start of every game session. Before a check a player can spend Luck from that pool, to add one to the roll for each point spent.
Combat [ edit ]
Initiative in Cyberpunk is set once at the beginning of combat, by having each participant roll 1d10 and add their Reflexes stat. Each turn of combat is 3 seconds, and a character can make two actions during their turn, a movement action and a regular one.
Attacks are made as skill checks with the appropriate weapon skill (and its corresponding stat). They have to beat (not equal) a defense value based on the attacker's distance from the target and the defender's Dexterity, plus their Evasion, plus a 1d10.
If the attack hits the damage dealt is reduced by the defender's armor's "stopping power". Note that attacks can target specific body parts, and if they do they use the armor on that part ... if any. Any damage that exceeds the stopping power is subtracted from the target's hit points.
At less than 1/2 HP a character suffer -2 to all rolls. If a character drops below 0 HP they suffer further penalties, gain a critical injury from each subsequent attack (eg. collapsed lung or broken arm), and have to save each turn or die. A save simply means rolling anything but a 10 on a d10 ... but each round the character remains below 0 HP, that number drops by one (to 9, 8, etc.)
But is it Any Good? [ edit ]
Of course, the real question many gamers will want to know is: are those rules any good? Back in 1989, Cyberpunk 2020 (ie. second edition, which the game was based on) won the Origins Gamer’s Choice Award, Best Science Fiction RPG ... but when it comes to awards, Cyberpunk Red hasn't managed to pick any up. If we instead look at online reviews, Amazon, with more than 350 reviews, has an average score for the core rulebook of 4.8/5.
Similarly RPG Geek gives the game an incredibly high 9.25/10 ... but that comes from only four reviews. Drive Thru RPG however has a lot more (180 reviews), and it too has a very high average score, of 4.7/5.
All of this is to say that if you're looking for a fairly standard cyberpunk setting (and perhaps a recognizable one, to players of Cyberpunk 2077), with a long gaming heritage and well-revised and popular rules, Cyberpunk Red really is a great option to consider.