RPG Reviews – Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit – R. Talsorian Games

I connect music and role playing games very closely. When playing as a kid, my group used to put on grunge, or rock, or whatever we were currently listening to – but casually, as if playing D&D was no different from Risk. Though somewhat fitting, early albums by The Tea Party are forever tied to a lengthy Al-Qadim campaign we played. Once I experienced music being used as a proper score, however, everything changed.

If done right, music enhances the atmosphere of the game, and as a player/GM, helps put me in the right headspace to play. This is almost no truer than when playing in the cyberpunk genre. How I envision these games is directly tied to what music I imagine as the soundtrack. Shadowrun gets trance and euro-EDM-electronica that evokes a pulse of life in a sea of technology. Infinity is the soundtrack to every Masamune Shirow-inspired anime, with video game soundtracks for good measure. Cyberpunk Red, for me, sits right in the 90s. If you heard an artist on the soundtrack to The Crow, Strange Days, Judgement Night, or Johnny Mnemonic then that’s who I hear when reading this Jumpstart.

Cyberpunk Red is a dark future cyberpunk roleplaying game. While it does have Gibson’s Cyberspace trilogy and Stephenson’s Snow Crash in its DNA, along with a wealth of other authors, just as many inspirations seem to be cinematic ones – especially gritty 80s and 90s action movies featuring gruff heroes and settings of urban decay. Though I do like other games in the genre, I feel Cyberpunk Red stands out in terms of sheer attitude and punk ethos. Your characters are clearly meant to be rebels against a vile establishment, carving out your take in spite of everyone aiming to keep you down. To do that you’ll use your words, your fists, the latest technology (whether implanted or hand-held), and you’ll bring the fight to the system.

The Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit contains a rulebook, world book, quick-reference sheets, and a set of pregenerated characters.

Disclaimer: This title has been provided for purpose of review.

A future in red (The World Book)

As the Cyberpunk franchise has been around for a while, and has had numerous sourcebooks and adventures released, the setting lore is an obvious draw for old fans. Thankfully, it’s accessible to newcomers, establishing a starting point for the game that opens up lots of possibilities for stories.

Considering the current state of affairs in our world, one could potentially bump the timeline of the game forward, so long as the slightly retro atmosphere is maintained, but otherwise Cyberpunk is set in an alternate universe to ours, where the future predicted by cyberpunk authors came true in the 1980s and got worse from there. What I didn’t expect is cyberpunk writers and visionaries actually being called out in the setting lore as inspiration for the contemporary cyberpunks – a fun self-referential element.

The World Book gives an overview of the setting and where the world stands now in “The Time of the Red”. I don’t want to give away much of the history between Cyberpunk 2020 and this edition, so I’ll give a brief overview instead.

Despite the presence of lots of neon and chrome this is not a sleek, streamlined iTech future. The Fourth Corporate War resulted in a catastrophic explosion that caused massive infrastructure damage to the United States, and the majority of the world has fared little better. This is very much a post-apocalyptic cyberpunk setting. Governments do exist, though the political boundaries are not as we know them, and the megacorporations are no longer as “mega”, having been severely damaged by the 4th Corporate War. They still have power at a regional and national level just not globally. Due to the reduced infrastructure though, there are fewer restrictions on their ambition, allowing them to be just as good antagonists as ever.

There’s a very helpful timeline that covers the entire history up to “present day”, which I appreciate, being new to the game; there’s also an overview of the signature location for Cyberpunk: the urban sprawl of Night City. It’s described in brief, but useful detail, including the history, movers and shakers and also security/law & order and methods of transport.

General culture and media in The Time of the Red is also covered – everything from food to clothing to the new “‘Net”, which diverges from the pan-connected world we live in to a local network, where the difficulty for huge media broadcasters to consistently disseminate content allows for social media influencers to run amok (and be very effective PC concepts!).

For a Jumpstart with limited page count, the World Book does a great job with the Gamemaster advice on how to run Cyberpunk Red. Mood and atmosphere are covered, of course, emphasizing paranoia, urban decay, and social/setting contrasts, but it also covers how to form this dangerous group of PCs into a team, and how to create missions to suit them – incredibly useful for a game genre that can lend itself to brooding, loner PCs. The book finishes with a full sample mission and three outlines for future missions – a very solid way to wrap up the World Book.

Fighting the System (The Rule Book)

Cyberpunk Red uses a straightforward die mechanic: Stat+Skill+1d10 roll +/- situational modifiers versus a difficulty value. Rolling over succeeds, below fails. In combat, characters get a move action and basic action, which encompasses grappling, throwing, shooting, etc. Netrunner characters may make use of multiple NET actions in a turn. Using “cyberdecks”, wireless computers, Netrunners connect to local systems and networks, using Programs to hack through the system defenses to achieve their goals. By removing the presence of the interconnected, worldwide Net, this means the group’s Netrunner will need to be on site to hack any local networks.

Combat in Cyberpunk Red is designed to be a simplified version of the old Friday Night Firefight system – allowing exciting action without being overly detailed. The same core dice mechanic as the rest of the system is used, opposed by the defender or distance (for ranged combat). Characters only have a single Hit Point rating – while attacks affect Body Locations, the primary mechanical representation is in how much damage is reduced by armor at that location. Armor can be reduced with each hit, eventually wearing it down to nothing. Hit Point loss causes penalties to dice rolls, relative to the character’s full Hit Points. It’s nice how dangerous combat feels, as appropriate for the genre. I also appreciate the combination of Hit Points and Death Spiral. Also appropriate for the genre is having rules for Reputation, which can allow characters to impress or intimidate others based on how awesome they are perceived. I think that’s a great mechanic for a game so heavy with attitude.

While the full core Cyberpunk Red book will have a variety of character creation methods, the Jumpstart uses pregenerated templates. Rather than fully realized characters however, skill ratings, gear, and Roles (“classes” in Cyberpunk, like Netrunner, Fixer, Solo) are preset, but Statistics (innate capabilities) and Background can be generated by the player. Background is set via a Lifepath system, which will create family, friends, motivations – and tons more will be included in the final rules.

While I imagine the section on cybertechnology will be very expansive in the core book, it still receives good treatment here. Cybernetics are ubiquitous in the world of Cyberpunk Red – most everyone has at least mild modification; getting various versions of cybersenses is equated to getting your ears pierced. Enough detail on other modifications is given in order to provide rules and context for this product.

It’s worth noting that while the concept of “cyberpsychosis” is discussed – the idea that too many modifications causes one to exhibit a lack of self-preservation, disregard for others, and a quick temper, in addition to no longer seeing themselves as human – this only occurs in individuals who already have psychopathic tendencies. How it all works will be detailed in the full rules, but the rules as written declare that basic cosmetic changes, medical and therapeutic replacements, and gender correction surgery explicitly do not contribute to cyberpsychosis – removing the implication that recipients are “less human”. Having seen some online concern on this subject, based on how cyberpsychosis was treated in previous editions I believe, it’s great that the writers made a point of addressing this.


This is a great starting product. It provides an excellent introduction to the rules and setting in a concise format, and while the options are limited compared to the full rules, there’s still plenty to work with and get your group ready for diving deep into the dark future of Cyberpunk Red. It provides an exciting update to a classic game, presenting a different kind of cyberpunk setting that screams with attitude.

You can pick up the digital version of the Jumpstart at DriveThruRPG here!

This copy was provided for review purposes. All DriveThruRPG links in this article are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking one, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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