There's a whole heap of goodies in the download or in the box, depending on which version you have. Apparently the box also contains dice, otherwise there's no difference in the contents. Two books, reference cards, maps, pregenerated characters and some standees... everything you need to leap back into the near future.
Where to start? The 45-page Rulebook seems promising. This begins with The View From the Edge, an essay that sets out the stall of what it means to be cyberpunk. This paints the picture from the earliest days, when cyberpunk was the province of science-fiction authors, through the fictional alternate history that permeates the game from its first incarnation as Cyberpunk 2013 and then Cyberpunk 2020 - don't worry if you are not familiar with these games, you'll get the idea. However, the Fourth Corporate War has cut a swathe through everything, and much of what the cyberpunk of 2020 thought was normal is no more. Even Night City was a casualty, a nuke apparently. We're now in 2045, but there's still a place for the hip, freerolling, wired-in cyberpunk, operating more on the wrong side of the law than the right.
A brief precis of what a role-playing game is, for those who don't know, and a glossary of streetslang - you gotta sound right, choombatta, and then on to section 2: Soul and the New Machine. This takes a closer look at the philosophy, the look and feel, of cyberpunk... and reminds that, a major corporate war and the use of nuclear weapons later, there are few if any vestiges of civilization that would be familiar to people in society today. Players need to remember that it's personal, style over substance, attitude is everything, and you need to live on the edge. Oh, and rules are there to be broken. Then there's a look at Roles (read: character classes). There are nine: Rockerboys, Solos,
Netrunners, Execs, Techs, Lawmen, Fixers, Medias, and Nomads (not all are covered in the Jumpstart). Next an overview of the character sheet, follwed by details of what everything means in terms of playing the character game mechanics-wise. The skills used for the pre-generated characters are explained.
Next up, 3: Lifepath. This is the system for generating a background for a character, and even with pre-generated ones there is scope for putting your own spin on the character that you are going to play. At each stage you may choose an option or roll for it. There's an example of how to do this, along with explanations of what this means for the player... and how it provides a bit of fun for the GM as well. All that backstory ready to exploit!
Then comes 4: Putting the Cyber into the Punk. This looks at the uses and abuses of cyberware, how to be stylish about your enhancements, and how the end-point of the exercise is survival - yours. With a few scary notes on cyberpsychosis, there are details of the various types of cybernetic enhancement you can have. Just remember: it's as much about fashion as it is about utility. We then move on to 5: Getting it Down. This covers how you actually play the game, when its time to use game mechanics rather than role-play to advance the plot. A lot covers combat because, let's face it, that's when you need to get the dice out... and of course it's a part of the game that most people enjoy. There's also a bit about task resolution, especially opposed tasks, when you want to use one of your skills to accomplish something.
Next, my favourite bit: 6: Netrunning in the Time of the Red. This explains the gear you need to go netrunning and how to use it, both in-game and in terms of game mechanics. This includes getting into brawls in the Net, which can be as deadly as doing so in the meat world. There are also times the Netrunner will have to go along with the rest of the infiltration team and brave the dangers of that sort of combat as well. This ends with an example Netrun, then back to real-world combat with 7: Thursday Night Throwdown, a variant on the original Friday Night Firefight rules. It's all an aid to streamline combat, to give you all the thrills without getting bogged down in the minutae of the rules. An alternate to brawling, the use of Reputation as a competitive sport, is also covered here. Finally there are summary cards of each of the pregenerated characters.
Speaking of pregenerated characters, there are 6 of them, with rather silly names - Torch the Tech, or Grease the Fixer... well, you may change those to something a bit more sensible if you prefer. Each comes with a page of backstory, character portrait and a full character sheet, as separate cards to give to each player.
The second book (or PDF) provided is the World Book. This provides 50-odd pages of background, setting, and adventure, starting with 1: Welcome to the Time of the Red. More detailed recent history explaining what the Fourth Corporate War was and how much damage it did to the world you now inhabit. The United States is fragmented, no longer a superpower. Night City, even 20 years later, is still a mess. The rest of the world is also in a state of flux. A good chance to make your mark, you might think, if you survive long enough, that is. Megacorps also suffered, but there are still corporations flexing the muscles pretty much unchecked. Then 2: Dark Future Countdown gives a detailed timeline of events from the 1990s onwards to the present day of 2045.
It may be battered, but Night City is still there, according to section 3. This gives a potted history from its foundation in 1994 to the present, bombs included. It's in the middle of a veritable fury of rebuilding, plenty of opportunity there. Just avoid the Hot Zone Wasteland, where the central business district used to be. Plenty here on politics, public services and law and order... yes, there is some! The next section 4: Everyday Things gives the lowdown on living there, aimed particularly at newcomers (which players will be, even if their characters are not... it's often best to play the characters as new arrivals too, so both can learn together about their new home). Vehicles, weapons, getting the news, shopping, it's all here. The food sounds terrible, though.
We then move into GM territory with 5: Running Cyberpunk Red. Plenty of good ideas about how to make the environment come to life for your group, opposition they might face, activities they can engage in. There are some sample encounters you can throw in whatever is happening, whatever the characters are trying to do. Finally, there is a fully-fledged adventure, The Apartment. The basic idea is that all the characters in the soon-to-become party live in the same apartment block, one of the few privately-owned (by one of them) blocks in the entire city. Someone wants to change that, gobble it up... and so the party needs to unite and fight for their home. There are notes on the other residents, and suggestions as to what might happen: pick and mix as you choose. There are some plans too. But that's not all. A collection of Screamsheets present more ideas for further adventures which you'll have to flesh out, three of them.
This contains all you need to get going, to see if the new version of Cyberpunk appeals. It doesn't matter if you don't know the original game, but if you do it moves the timeline along in a logical and believable manner. If you don't, just jump in and enjoy the delights that await!
Return to Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit page.
Reviewed: 2 August 2019