I recently picked up the corebook for Cyberpunk Red, and have read through the whole book. I haven’t done anything with the rules yet, so I can’t speak to those. However, I do have some thoughts about the setting, particularly the changes in the Time of the Red.
Cyberpunk Red, as a game, is faced with a predicament similar to the one that Shadowrun faced with the transition from 3rd to 4th edition – developments in computing technology, particularly the rise of wireless networking, causing the old iteration of the world to start turning into something a little too zeerusty.
Like with Shadowrun, R. Talsorian Games decided to have a massive internet crash force the setting into one where wireless computing was much more common and prevalent. In this case, it’s a pervasive series of viruses spread through out all of the world’s network infrastructure by the Iconic netrunner, Rache Bartmoss, in this case due to a triggered dead man’s switch. Similarly to how things went in Shadowrun 4th, it turned the old Net into a deathtrap that no one would dare enter.
However, unlike with Shadowrun, this was paired with the events of the Fourth Corporate War, between Militech and Arasaka, which trashed much of the world’s infrastructure. As a consequence, the underlying infrastructure of the internet – the cables, satellite uplinks, and other hardware that allowed the actual connections over long distances were trashed. This also lead to the environmental catastrophe from which the “Time of the Red” part of the setting takes its name.
Also, unlike in Shadowrun, apparently everyone in the setting decided that there’s no actual reason to rebuild the Internet. That all the seismic cultural, economic, political, and corporate upheavals that the internet allowed, and which allowed all those megacorps to spread and thrive, and allowed for new forms of art to be created and spread, for new communities to grow and thrive, for disparate populations to meet and grow together, that all of that was an evolutionary dead and they decided let’s not do that again. So, instead we get a bunch of localized, city scale nets that Do. Not. Talk to each other (and, which going from Cyberpunk 2077, persists for another 30 years to the future).
On top of all of that, there have been massive global pandemics spread by wildlife. In response to that, rather than finding ways to treat the virus, or to create vaccines for it, instead the response was a coordinated effort to deliberately wipe out all the animal life on Earth. On purpose.
They didn’t get all of it, but they got most of it. That doesn’t make it better.
I realize this is cyberpunk, not solarpunk. Cyberpunk doesn’t have to have the hopeful elements that Solarpunk is known for. This is a dystopia. Things are intentionally imagined to be bad. If there is a hopeful path to the setting, it’s not obvious, and it’s definitely not easy.
That said, as written, with the way things are in the Time of the Red, the setting as of 2077 doesn’t look like the way it does in the game. It looks like Dubai in Spec Ops: The Line.
So, why did the setting step on these rakes? I think it’s somewhat two-fold. I say somewhat, because it all links back to RTG’s Cyberpunk RPG basically being the first Cyberpunk tabletop RPG on the market (beating GURPS Cyberpunk by 2 years!)
Basically, Cyberpunk’s ultimate problem, from a setting standpoint, is that it’s meant to be a kitchen sink setting, without any of the shortcuts that other kitchen set settings in, for example, Heroic Fantasy, can fallback on. There’s no magic like with D&D settings, and the world of Cyberpunk is our earth.
It’s a setting that has to fit Gibsonian Netrunning, AI Cybertanks like from Walter Jon Williams, cybernetic dissociation like from AD Police, and the lawless roads of Mad Max (the first one) and Steve Jackson Games’ Netrunner, and all of this with giant megacorporations with power equivalent to governments.
I haven’t read Cyberpunk 2020 yet. Maybe they made it work there. God knows that Ghost in the Shell and Bubblegum Crisis made it work. Yet here, in the Time of the Red, in their overzealousness to shake things up in order to update the tech, they may have excessively overturned the apple cart and left a setting that could ultimately cause GMs having to spend time figuring out how to fix their missteps that they’d rather spend devising adventures for their players.
If you’re interested in picking up Cyberpunk Red, it is available for purchase digitally from DriveThruRPG. I do also recommend picking up the book from your FLGS if you have one available, but I do realize not everyone has that option (and your FLGS might not have it in stock). Buying anything through that link will help to support the site.
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