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Scan These Great Cyberpunk RPGs

Scan These Great Cyberpunk RPGs

This year’s E3 started off with a hell of a bang; more gameplay and story from Cyberpunk 2077, a release date of April 2020 and a cameo from Keanu Reeves that many are speculating is Johnny Silverhand, a character deeply important to the setting’s lore. In case you missed it, or want to get blown away again…

It’s great that we have a release date, but that’s 10 months from now! What to do in the interim? Luckily, cyberpunk as a genre has a pretty storied history in tabletop RPGs. Cyberpunk 2077 is set in a tabletop RPG world, much like sister game The Witcher came from a series of novels. Rather than play that video over and over in the background, why not bust out some high tech heists featuring cool characters, sweet tech and maybe just a hint of dystopian melancholy?

Cyberpunk 2020/Cyberpunk Red

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For GMs that want to go direct to the source, Cyberpunk 2020 is the past of Cyberpunk 2077’s retrofuture (if that makes sense). This was one of the first cyberpunk RPGs on the market and set the template for a lot of what followed. Most games feature PC Edgerunners who did dirty jobs for corporations, criminals and whoever else would be willing to slide some credits their way to get the latest cyberware. Going through these books is a fascinating look at where technology has traveled versus where some folks thought it might go. Fans who want to jump into the year 2077 can do so as of Gen Con 2019; publisher R. Talsorian Games is releasing a jumpstart kit for Cyberpunk Red, a new edition of the game set in the video game’s continuity.

Shadowrun

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For most fans of cyberpunk tabletop, there’s a long standing race between two settings that rivals things like Coke vs. Pepsi, Star Trek vs. Star Wars and PC vs. Mac. Shadowrun came out shortly after Cyberpunk did and upped the ante by adding in fantasy elements to hook new fans. Running a neon neural network is cool, but so is matching wits with a CEO who also happens to be an actual fire-breathing dragon. Shadowrun has also got a presence in the video game world with a series of great isometric RPGs featuring X-Com style combat and Bioware style NPC management for anyone looking to check out the world on their own. A new edition is slated for this summer.

Shadow of the Beanstalk

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Although the late, lamented Android: Netrunner is no longer with us, Fantasy Flight Games is keeping the setting alive with this book for the Genesys RPGShadow of the Beanstalk adapts the Android universe to the system made famous by FFG’s Star Wars RPG. This cyberpunk setting feels fresh thanks to a more modern take on some of the class and technology issues as well as touching on some of the “what does it mean to be human?” themes of classics like Blade Runner. Players can make full synthetic characters who explore the mysteries and dangers of the Beanstalk, the space elevator that’s become central to the Android setting. There’s also a great art book full of setting details that compliments the RPG rules.

Bonus trivia: Android: Netrunner was an adaptation of the Netrunner CCG which was originally set in the Cyberpunk 2020 universe!

The Veil

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Fans of the anime-influenced side of cyberpunk will find a lot to love in The VeilThis Powered By The Apocalypse  game features playbooks directly inspired by Ghost in the Shell and Battle Angel Alita. Playbook choice determines what the big issues of the game are going to be. The game also features influenced by JRPGs. Players choose what they add to rolls based on what they feel at the time. Players decided if their character’s are sad they have to hack someone’s cyberbrain or mad they have to get into a brawl with a robot. Use the same emotion too much and it causes a limit break like issue that has to be resolved with some deep soul searching (and role-playing).

The same company, Samjoko Publishing,  also recently released Hack the Planet, a cyberpunk game where the dark urban future of cyberpunk clashes with the apocalypse of climate change.

The Sprawl

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For those tables who want to roll their own dystopian future, The Sprawl integrates making the world and making characters in the first session. Players of this Powered By the Apocalypse game not only choose their playbooks but also create the megacorporations that hire their crew to do dirty deeds dirt cheap. The designers also have supplements that add more unusual elements for GMs that want to shake things up a bit, such as Altered Carbon-style body sleeving, horror elements  for a dash of the supernatural or even quick hit missions perfect for a one shot or convention slot.

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Images Credits: R. Talsorian, Catalyst Game Labs, Fantasy Flight, Smajoko Publishing, Arden Luderes

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer (Star Wars RPG, Firefly RPG, Camelot Trigger) and professional nerd. who occasionally tweets and livestreams RPGs with the Theatre of the Mind Players while his meat body resides in scenic Milwaukee, WI. 

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