This is Audio EXP for the 14th of November 2020, and the title of this episode is ‘Cyberpunk Red review, World of Darkness and other RPG News’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #70]
Cyberpunk Red, the tabletop RPG successor to Cyberpunk 2020 and the prequel to the computer game Cyberpunk 2077, is out this week. Geek Native had an early look.
This week also sees big news from Paradox Interactive, the owners of White Wolf which we’re still digesting but before we get on to that and other geeky news, let’s try and think about the future.
The Christmas season, whether you’re religious or just using the excuse to buy gifts for friends and family, is going to be very different this year.
In August, for a competition to give away the game Gameception, I asked readers Has the COVID-19 lockdown changed your Christmas shopping plans? and nearly 200 people responded.
It was a multiple-choice answer all about board games.
- 51% of people have no plan on changing their board game buying habits.
- 44% of people plan on buying more board games this Christmas.
- Only 5% of people plan on buying fewer board games this year.
I hope that’s good news for the industry and local gaming stores, especially ones with websites that can facilitate online sales.
As regular listeners of Geek Native’s Audio EXP know I get a lot of these stats from competitions on the blog. There’s one running now with worldwide shipping.
The competition is for a game called It’s Contagious!. Yep, it’s a COVID-19 inspired family card game.
As the Kickstarter isn’t over, we don’t know if it’ll be successful, but the prize here is not for the final mass-produced version. The prize is for one of the custom-made prototypes.
It’s Contagious! has been on TV in America, so these prototypes have been pretty effective. It’s not often I get to run a competition with a worldwide reach, and so I wanted to call it out on the podcast.
Two other bits of board game news make the edit today.
The first is for Salvage Hidden Treasures a game from Ocean City Games that has funded but is still running on Kickstarter, in which you spend gold off the seafloor to buy more boats to find more gold.
Creative concept, right? Easy to see how that can become a game. Geek Native has a Salvage Hidden Treasures winners’ guide and video on the site.
I think it’s a pretty nifty way to introduce the game so thanks to Ocean City Games for filming it.
The other bit of board game news, and our bridge into RPG news, is Steamforged Bardsung.
Bardsung is a one player or more dungeon crawl adventure board game that leans heavily into RPG elements. It’s also on Kickstarter and doing amazingly well.
Luke Gygax, D&D’s co-creator Gary Gygax’s son, has joined the growing list of guest writers.
Luke will be writing an adventure for the game and will join Ian Livingstone. Yes, that’s the same Ian Livingstone who founded Games Workshop and the Life President of Eidos, although he actually resigned from that role.
Rhianna Pratchett, the first woman guest author for Fighting Fantasy – a series co-founded by Ian Livingston – and Terry Pratchett’s daughter, is another guest writer.
So, now we’re on to RPGs let’s talk about Cyberpunk Red.
I liked the game much more than I feared I would!
Why did I have doubts? Well, I gave The Witcher tabletop game a mixed review. While I hope I acknowledged it’s strengths, I didn’t like the county simulationist aspects of it.
In fact, I think it was that review which put me on RTG’s radar.
Last year, I reviewed the Cyberpunk Red Quickstart and used the phrase “promising”.
A promise, I think, is a thing that’s not yet been delivered. I could see how good Cyberpunk Red might be, but the Quickstart didn’t get it to that place. It was, after all, only a quickstart.
Now, Cyberpunk Red is the real deal. It delivers. Promise kept.
That said, it’s still far more county and simulationist than, say, Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition but it doesn’t feel as intrusive as it did in The Witcher.
First up, it’s a big book at over 450 pages. It costs $30 in PDF and will cost $60 for the physical book when that hits the shelves next week in the States.
Mike Pondsmith’s team at RTG use that space well. The book feels like a magazine. There are whole short stories in here and loads of great art. Oh gosh, the art is fantastic and really brings to life The Time of Red. In my written review I’ve been as liberal with the share of art as I dare go, sorry to say that I don’t have a way to do the illustrations justice over a podcast.
We get images people with only a few cybernetics, and plenty of illustrations of heavily-enhanced punks, of street life, of weapons and each of the 10 roles – character classes of Cyberpunk Red – look badass.
One of my few complaints was that, as with the Quickstart, two of the roles are gendered. You can be a Rockerboy or a Lawman. The Rockerboy illustration actually shows a female guitarist and the Lawman is under so much armour, well, who knows.
I’m sure the “Red” in Cyberpunk Red is, in part, a nod to CD Projekt Red, the computer studio behind The Witcher computer game and who are making the Cyberpunk 2077 computer game. In the in-game universe, though, “Red” comes from the phrase “Time of the Red”.
The setting for Cyberpunk Red is known as the Time of the Red because a nuclear bomb went off in Night City, which ended the fourth corporate war and turned the sky red.
RTG do a great job at crafting a culture and a world that seems on the brink of total collapse and yet thrumming with energy and potential. Night City of the future is a dangerously exciting place.
Oh, and this is the Night City that old cyberpunks will know. Yes, a nuke’s gone off, and the worldwide NET is gone, but Cyberpunk Red does not re-write cyberpunk history. Everything that happened before has still happened.
In other words, Cyberpunk Red avoided the Twilight 2000 trap. Twilight 2000 is a game that found itself re-writing itself to try and remain contemporary as we passed the year 2000. Now there’s a new version in the works that rewinds all that, and establishes the original Twilight 2000 plot (ish) as an alternative timeline.
Cyberpunk Red just embraces the alternative timeline from the outset, or at least, simply doesn’t worry about it.
What about the rules? As I’ve said, they’re more detailed than say D&D 5th edition, and there are more complex formula to work out combat.
These rules simply didn’t stay in my head on my first browse through the book. It was only when I played a session zero than they stuck. It was a case of not getting it until trying it for myself.
I’m pretty confident the same will be true for most gamers. If the resolution checks don’t immediately make sense, I think they will soon.
If you and your whole group are brand new to tabletop RPGs, and I guess that’s possible with Cyberpunk Red then, hmm, I suspect there’s a learning curve there for you. I expect YouTube to be flooded with tutorials shortly.
It’s also worth saying that I think the complexity here makes Cyberpunk Red better. The exceptions and formulae help make certain characters can live up to their full potential in combat, or while hacking into the local intranets that protect buildings and which survived the collapse of the global NET.
I also think the cyberware rules make sense. Some cyberware is really just to give your character a slight edge in a few situations but, more importantly, make them look or act cool. These cybernetic enhancements are relatively easy to pay for and easy to get installed.
On the other hand, on the other end of the scale, some upgrades are truly impressive. They’re the sort of thing that the big baddie will surprise the group with and for player characters to aspire too. These cybernetic enhancements cost lots of money and need to be installed in well-equipped hospitals.
For most cybernetics, there’s also a humanity cost. Are you really you if there’s a robot eye interpreting the world for you or internal machines that govern your beating heart so you can punch harder?
Except for medical and therapeutic cybernetics, these hardware changes to your body cost humanity, and that might result in mental health issues.
That’s an adult take on the dark future, it stops too much min-maxing with the technology, but that medical exemption is also essential. In real life, our prosthetic limbs are rapidly developing into more cybernetic-like replacement limbs and I’m sure RTG nor any GM would want to tell a player with a replacement foot that they are any less human.
Lastly, the download is peppered with in-game adverts. I’m reminded of something like the Starship Troopers film that used cut scenes to the world of the day to help contextualise the story. Cyberpunk Red does the same thing.
So, do I recommend Cyberpunk Red? I do.
If you bought and hated the Quickstart, then I’m not sure Cyberpunk Red’s core rules will transform the game for you. If you purchased and were slightly disappointed by the Quickstart, then I think you’ll be much happier with the full rules.
Cyberpunk Red is one of the two big RPG news stories of the week. The other, for me, is the big changes to the World of Darkness.
Paradox Interactive have taken the World of Darkness back in-house. This comes about two a bit years after White Wolf, who Paradox own, had such a rocky time with Vampire: The Masquerade that they put Modiphius Entertainment in charge.
It means Justin Achilli, the creative lead, has a team much closer to him.
However, Paradox has appointed Renegade Game Studios as the publisher and, I think, Renegade will be helping with the marketing too.
It’s not been made explicitly clear what’s happened to Modiphius who seemed to steady the Vampire ship nor Hunters Entertainment who only won the license to produce the 5th edition of Werewolf: The Apocalypse last year.
It’s early days, but I want to find out what’s happened to both. Will there be any resets or reversals with Vampire? I suspect not, it’s entirely possible that Paradox will appoint the same freelance writers as Modiphius did and carry on from there.
But what about Hunters and Werewolf? Are we back to stage one with that book? Will we see any of that project? Hunters appointed a large and diverse team of writers and, presumably, they’ve been working on it for a year. Will they get paid? What will Hunters do now?
Hunters closed all their World of Darkness Discord channels and purged their site of any mention of it. I hope they’re okay.
Look, I’m not saying Paradox can’t take their baby back home. Of course, they can. I’m not even just fretting like a fanboy about delays. I am honestly worried and curious about how all this went down.
Hunters co-founder and marketing boss Ivan van Norman was in the news just a week or so ago for landing a role as the head of Critical Role’s tabletop design studio Darrington Press. Is he working two jobs?
Now, there’s the suggestion that Paradox are still in conversation about the World of Darkness with third parties and traditionally Renegade and Hunters have worked closely together so let’s hope the change is a win-win for all involved.
With this news comes updates for Vampire and the return of the Tzimisce, Ravnos and Salubri clans via a new Vampire: The Masquerade Companion book.
Dungeons & Dragons also got an updated errata which brings rules closer inline with Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything.
I think there are two freebies worth pointing out this week before we begin to wind down too.
The first is called The Island of Dead Sand and it’s a pay-what-you-want for Lex Arcana.
I’m calling it a freebie because that is what the marketing team for Quality Games did.
Lex Arcana is an alternative history fantasy game in which magic and monsters are real, and the Roman empire used magical foresight to prevent its collapse.
Players in Lex Arcana are magical experts who investigate or deal with supernatural threats for the Legions. In The Island of Dead Sand the PCs are returning from Britannia when their ship runs into a powerful storm just before the Pillars of Hercules.
The other freebie is a Quickstart on Itch.io for Defenders of the New Century. The Quickstart has some lite rules, some pre-made characters and an adventure.
Defenders of the New Century is set in a world with only one tiny landmass; an island about the same size as Ireland.
Technology has developed to trains and Tommy guns, but magic is real too, and that small island is home to nine nations.
In the aftermath of a war, towering Gates begin to open on the island and all around the sea. The fact that the land is being swallowed up is terrible, but giant monsters have swum out of the ocean Gates, and now sea travel is impossible.
However, a few people have started to develop superhero level powers since the Gates have opened. Are they part of the problem, or could they be part of the solution?
The last thing on my radar that I want to squeeze into this episode is an AI that generates free fantasy portraits for you.
You can find links in the show notes or perhaps try searching for Portrait Generator Geek Native.
The creators of the AI maintain that it was the computer that drew the illustrations and that the computer has no copyright, so these images are free for you to use and there are thousands of them.
The code is also available, if you’re technical enough, to feed into your own training data – more images – and make even more faces.
And on that note, let’s call it a wrap. Keep safe, stay out of melee range and see you next week.
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