At Gen Con, R. Talsorian Games will release Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart. Physical books will be available from their booth (1852) and digital copies from DriveThruRPG.
Cyberpunk Red is the sequel to Mike Pondsmith’s classic Cyberpunk RPG, advances the timeline beyond the fourth corporate war between Arasako Security and Millitech Arms and the prequel to CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077.
This review does not cover the full game and, furthermore, we have been asked not to linger on Cyberpunk lore and world details. Why? Spoilers. Those can come out after the Jumpstart is officially released and, I imagine, there may be some coordination with CD Projekt RED marketing around Cyberpunk 2077 too. After all, we know Johnny Silverhand, an established Cyberpunk character, a name who appears in this Jumpstart, will be played by Keanu Reeves in the computer game. These games share more than than a title and a genre. They are the same world, same history, same gear, and they share some characters.
So, what’s left to review and what’s a Jumpstart?
A Jumpstart is equivalent to a Beginners Box or quick start, and Cyberpunk Red’s Jumpstart will set you back $29.99 or $15.00. As R. Talsorian Games describe it, this is like buying early access to a demo area of a computer game but without any time restrictions. The Jumpstart has everything you need to take one of the pre-penned characters and start playing, but it doesn’t have anything else.
For example, there are nine classes/roles in Cyberpunk Red, and the Jumpstart has summaries of 6 of them. The other 3 require you to buy the full game.
Cyberpunk Red roles
- Rockerboys – musicians (cyberbards!)
- Solos – assassins and bodyguards
- Netrunners – hackers
- Techs – doctors, mechanics, sparks
- Medias – influencers, press, media stars (requires the Cyberpunk Red rulebook)
- Lawmen – cops (requires the Cyberpunk Red rulebook)
- Execs – business raiders, power brokers, lawyers (requires the Cyberpunk Red rulebook)
- Fixers – deal makers, criminal organisers, smugglers
- Nomads – transportation experts, road warriors
That doesn’t mean RTG are charging you £29.99 for wafer-thin content. There are loads in the Jumpstart. You get the rules summary and an introduction to the cyberpunk world; this includes two different books, each about 50 pages long, pre-genned characters, character tokens, battle mats and handout letters.
Jumpstarts, Essentials Kits, Quickstarts and the like are all the rage. I see the attraction; for some gamers, they are a toe in the water or a cheaper way to try Cyberpunk Red without buying the whole game. That’s going to be attractive to people attempting a tabletop RPG for the first time or a non-D&D world for the first time. They’re also there for collectors and the impatient. Want Cyberpunk Red now? No problem; the Jumpstart will tide you over for now.
I said I see the attraction, but that doesn’t Jumpstarts, or Essentials Kits are for me, and I don’t think they’re for everyone. I’d rather wait for the full version. I trust R. Talsorian Games more than enough to deliver a cracker; I don’t need a sample.
As it happens, I have a digital copy of the Jumpstart to review, and I like it.
First impressions matter and the first thing I noticed about the core rule book within the Jumpstart was the layout and formatting. It’s clean and crisp. Pages have white backgrounds and decorative red borders. The style reminds me a little of Entromancy, which is a good thing, except Cyberpunk Red as far more art.
The Witcher RPG uses grey backgrounds and puts blue highlighted tables on them. Cyberpunk Red uses red highlighted tables, and against the Jumpstart’s white backgrounds, they look clean. I prefer them to the Witcher’s colourings.
You also get blood. It works well but, surprisingly, Cyberpunk Red puts NPC quotes in smears of red blood to grab your attention.
The time of the red
This review is unable to go too deep into the lore of Cyberpunk Red as part of the early access agreement with the publisher. However, there are essential basics that need to be shared so you can see how significantly the game has moved on.
There is no more ‘the internet’ for Netrunners to explore. Not as such. This change redefines the world. I think in all my previous Cyberpunk games I’ve spent as much time online as a character as I did offline and in any physical threat. Those times are gone, netrunning like that is not possible in the Time of the Red.
Now, in Cyberpunk Red, there are only local networks. Individual buildings have their networks or many networks. Some well-maintained complexes might chain networks from building to building, but the idea of a world wide web is history.
As a result, Netrunners need to get up close to their target networks. They need to put themselves within range of physical security as well as virtual defences to hack a system.
Cyberpunk is an RPG, and this change makes a huge deal of sense. It means netrunners aren’t a character class that requires the GM to run two different games. It means there are things for other characters to do while there is a hacking scene. I wholeheartedly approve.
It’s also incredibly dangerous for a Netrunner to leave the physical area of the network they’ve jacked into without disconnecting first. This change introduces some weighty tactical considerations that I’m sure will add lots of drama to games.
What happened to the internet? The fourth corporate war ended with a nuke going off in Night City.
That’s pretty much all the lore this Jumpstart review is going to go into. There’s a whole 50+ World Book that comes with the Kit that explains more and reveals an easy to follow timeline from 1990 to 2045, the present day.
The World Book also contains an adventure so you’ve something to play straight out of the box.
Cyberpunk Red game system
The core system is always the same. It’s;
Stat + Skill + 1d10 versus Difficulty Value
There’s a 20% chance of a critical; such as a critical hit or a critical failure.
In combat, that means it’s the attacker’s stat, plus attacker’s skill plus a d10 versus the defender’s stats, skill and a d10. Defenders always win on ties.
In ranged combat, unless the defender has excellent reflexes, the difficulty value is determined by the weapon you are using.
Cyberpunk Red leans towards the simulationist aspect of RPGs but not as much as previous versions, nor even The Witcher. For example, there are hit locations, but in the Jumpstart they seem only to be headshots or not. It’s +6 difficulty to hit the head, but any damage that gets through after armour is doubled.
Another example of the simulation/realism in Cyberpunk Red is that armour will deteriorate in health as and when attacks penetrate it.
I can cope with this. I expect Cyberpunk to be a bit county, it fits the theme, and at its most extreme the Jumpstart Kit is only ever a bit county.
Lastly, in the game system section, I want to call out reputation. Your street cred matters as a cyberpunk and Red has a whole system for it. Simply put, the more rep you have, the more likely you are to be able to cow someone. That doesn’t mean they won’t fight you or try and outsmart you, but they’ll have penalties for trying to do so while they’re scared of you.
Cyberpunks in Cyberpunk Red
The notion of cybernetics has been upgraded in line with our more modern technology. As a result, cybernetics are smaller, slimmer and more natural looking (if you want them to be) than some of the shiny chrome examples from the early genre.
Cyberlimbs are robust and powerful, resistant to damage, able to dish out pain than a meaty punch and given the system uses 1d10 as the modifier a simple +1 makes all the difference.
There’s a medical condition called Cyberpsychosis that limits how extreme any one person’s cybernetic enhancements can get. People suffering from cyberpsychosis become crazed and aggressive. I predict we’re going to see a lot of them in the computer game.
The Jumpstart is just a quick look at Cyberpunk Red, but it’s a promising one. The system works, and the world seems exciting.
It’s important to say that the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart fulfils its promise. If you want to put your toe into the cyberpunk future and play a whole game, ideally without skimping on support, then this is absolutely a product for you.
If you know you’re going to need everything Cyberpunk Red/Cyberpunk 2077 (especially those things that have print runs), then you’re going to want to snap the Jumpstart Kit up too.
I can’t wait for the core rules to be released.
Are you planning on pouncing on the Jumpstart Kit or do you think you can hang off until the main rules come out?