With tabletop games making a huge resurgence in the past couple of years, it’s great to see not just more TRPG representation in pop culture, but also that tabletop developers are working to make their games more accessible to a wider audience than ever before. With the renewed interest in its world thanks to Cyberpunk 2077, it’s especially good to see the team at R. Talsorian Games (the creators of the tabletop side of the franchise) follow suit with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, the “starter set” for the latest edition of the classic TRPG.
Cyberpunk Red, for anyone unfamiliar, is the tabletop “prequel” to Cyberpunk 2077, bridging the gap between the old world of the original Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop game and CD Projekt Red’s upcoming video game. According to the franchise’s creator and veteran tabletop developer Mike Pondsmith, “If [Cyberpunk] 2020 were Star Wars, then Cyberpunk RED is basically Empire Strikes Back. And then 2077 is Return of the Jedi.”
Similar to the D&D Essentials Kit, the Jumpstart Kit for Red is a streamlined version of its full rules, which will be released sometime over the coming months (much like its digital counterpart, R. Talsorian ascribes to a “ready when it’s ready” release schedule). The set contains:
Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Rulebook
Cyberpunk Red World Book
EZ Reference Handouts (in both vertical and horizontal variants)
Four 11×17” battle maps (marked with standard square grids)
Six Pre-Generated Character Sheets
The digital version comes with PDFs of all of the above (the maps and standees/tokens can be printed out for physical use or ported over to a digital game table like Roll20), while the physical version contains actual sheets, maps, and books, plus thick-stock carboard punch-outs and plastic stands for the standees and tokens (We’ll have a full unboxing for you as soon as they become available).
What I appreciate with all that is that the box is entirely self contained, meaning you won’t need any other books or reference materials to play. While this does put a few restrictions on you and your fellow players, this is the best way for players – new and old alike – to get used to the ruleset of CP Red. Cyberpunk is a complex game system, even with the updates and revisions that have been implemented between 2020 and Red. This way, everyone can get comfortable with the basic mechanics before jumping into the full ruleset when it arrives.
The biggest limitation of the Jumpstart Kit is that it doesn’t include the full rules for character customization, instead opting to present players with a set of pre-generated characters to choose from – though that honestly isn’t much of a problem at all, as there’s still plenty of variety available. Characters in tabletop Cyberpunk take on one of nine Roles (six of which are available in the Jumpstart Kit), with a pool of 10 Stats that help determine how skilled they are in various fields. Instead of having every pre-generated character be locked into one arrangement of Stat points, each template has six of these Stat sets to choose from (or randomly roll for). This means you can re-roll the same character archetype and still have a very different experience playing them depending on which stat block you end up with.
Regardless of who you play as – or who your friends play as, if you’re the one running the game – your party will find itself with no shortage of activities (both legal and otherwise) to partake in. The 50-page “World Book” covers the basics of what’s happened to Night City since the days of Cyberpunk 2020 (spoiler alert: it’s not great) and what the state of the world is currently (another spoiler alert: it’s really not great*). It also contains a full adventure scenario, which is very similar to the story we played when Pondsmith came to visit us last year, as well as several other “missions” that can be played as standalone encounters or linked together by a creative GM. There’s also a ton of useful information that will help you craft your own stories around Night City, like profiles on local gangs and the delicately-balanced relationships of the remaining megacorps (plus you could probably get away with stealing ideas from some old sourcebooks and adapting them to fit your table).
While there are certain things that we’ll have to wait for the full rules to play with, such as the three remaining character Roles and additional Cyberware, weapons, and Netrunner programs, the only real limit to your experience with the Jumpstart Kit is your imagination (and, I suppose, the time you have to put it to good use). The digital edition, available as of August 1, 2019, will retail for $15.00 USD and the physical edition (available exclusively at GenCon 2019 initially then at your local hobby shop) will cost $29.99.
While its systems aren’t necessarily as intuitive or simple as other tabletop RPGs, I really appreciate how Cyberpunk aims to mix action-packed storytelling with a realistic take on the sci-fi future. The mechanics all make perfect sense once you get the hang of them, and they’re worth getting the hang of thanks to the rich world the Pondsmiths and their team have created. The revisions to the old rules seem to be almost universally for the better – at the very least, you won’t be having game-ending arguments about how shotguns work anymore – and the decision to offer up the streamlined ruleset before the full book is a smart way to acclimate both newcomers and veterans. Regardless of whether you’re just getting off the bus to Night City or a veteran Edgerunner, this is the best way to move forward in Talsorian’s vision of the dark future.
For more on the tabletop side of Cyberpunk, check out our earlier discussion with Mike Pondsmith about how Cyberpunk 2077 benefits from its tabletop origins, or if the gritty world of Night City isn’t for you, check out our suggestions for what tabletop RPG might be!
*We’ll post a full in-depth analysis of what Red’s story means for the world of Cyberpunk 2077 later this week once it releases during GenCon 2019.