Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit: A Review

Editing Note: As I prepare to smash the publish button in blogger, I realized that I didn’t quite say everything that I wanted to say. There is so much more to this Cyberpunk Red world and this article is already twice as long as I would prefer. I’ll definitely have to continue my thoughts on this in another post. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Where do I start Choomba? I suppose the first thing I should mention is my disclaimer. Cyberpunk is not a genera I’m completely familiar with. I’ve read most of Cyberpunk 2020. and Neuromancer by Gibson and have a few other books in my que to read. I’ve played a few games of Shadowrun and watched Johnny Mnemonic, both Blade Runner movies, and a few other not so cyberpunk movies. I've never played any Cyberpunk games by R.Talsorian Games Inc. With this in mind I’d say its fair for me to be impartial between the different versions of Cyberpunk out there.

First off, I have to say that the production value of the Jumpstart Kit is phenomenal. High quality printed materiel and dice are included in the physical box. The current cost of the physical box is $30 plus tax and shipping but if you’re a digital fan or just want to print it yourself, it can be had for $15 over on DriveThruRPG. So head on over to your closest Vendit machine and get you some cyber mods for your VR system.

Before I received the jumpstart kit, I took some time to get familiar with Cyberpunk 2020. I briefly read through the RPG and watched some actual plays to get familiar with the system. My first impression was that it’s a bit clunky and slow, especially for combat. There weren’t any game sessions that used Netrunners so that tells me the rules for that aspect of the game is probably not that great unless the whole party consists of Netrunners.

Once the box arrived, I practically devoured its contents over the weekend. The box contains a 44-page rulebook, a 52-page worldbook, a folded 11x17 quick reference sheet, two 11x17 double sided maps, 6 pregenerated character sheets, a card stock sheet with 19 standees and 4 vehicles, some plastic stands for the standees, and a set of dice (2d10 and 4d6). Everything in the box looks amazing with the only caveat being the 2d10 dice. Those d10’s are almost unusable. You have to pay extra special attention to the orientation of the dice to know if you rolled a 6 or a 9. They certainly can’t be used to roll d100 because both d10’s look exactly the same. Normally you would either use two different colors to denote the ones position and the tens position, or one of the dice would have 00-09 to denote the tens position.

By now you might be wondering what is Cyberpunk Red? This version of Cyberpunk takes place in the year 2045. It’s essentially the in-between for Cyberpunk 2020 and Cyberpunk 2077. Cyberpunk 2020 is the previous tabletop RPG and Cyberpunk 2077 is the upcoming videogame RPG. The premise behind Red is that during the roaring 20’s, two smaller Megacorps went to war with each other trying to scoop up the resources of another bankrupted Megacorp. Well, these smaller corpo’s aligned themselves with some bigger fish that you might have heard of. One sided with the American based Militech Megacorp, while the other was backed by Arasaka. This in turn was the start of the 4th corporate war. Then came the bombing of the Arasaka towers in Night City. In 2023 a small nuclear bomb was detonated on the upper floors of the towers. Some blame Militech for the disaster while others say Arasaka detonated their own towers to maintain cyber security of their headquarters in Japan. It really doesn’t matter who set off the nuke. What matters is what happens next.

Nuclear fallout occurs for the next couple of years. The detonation at higher elevation flattened the central part of the city but most of Night City was spared total destruction. Then the US president stepped in and immediately nationalized the Militech corporation, effectively seizing the company and its assets under the auspiciousness of ending the global conflict. She then banned Arasaka from operating on US soil. The particulates from the nuclear explosion are floating in the air for the next couple of years giving the sky a permanent red hue. Even still today in 2045 the sky shines red during sunrise and sunset.

I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the world lore of Cyberpunk Red. It evoked many images to pop up in my head but at the same time I felt a bit confused. You see, I always thought of cyberpunk as a bunch of 80’s punk rockers with cyberware all over their body who had a nihilistic approach to life. To me, its about living in the apocalypse and the goal isn’t to save humanity, it’s about saving yourself. There are two groups of people, the rich and the poor. There’s no in-between. The poor scumbags of the city will do just about anything to get ahead and become one of the wealthy. It’s a story about the anti-heroes. The whole time I was reading Red, I kept thinking to myself this is way different than what I imagined. Red seems to be about rebuilding the city and surviving the post apocalypse. Then I look at the images in the books and am quickly reminded that no its not about post apocalypse. It just feels that way to me for some unknown reason.

 Although the corporations are still around, they aren’t as omnipotent as they were in 2020. The corporations used to control the city council but not so much anymore. The current Night City council is composed of Nomad families, Edgerunner factions, old city government, and a few corporations. Many of the city inhabitants live in apartment megablocs. Much like what you’d see in Judge Dredd. Store fronts are practically nonexistent with your shopping needs met by Vendit machines and your personal Agent (interactive PDA/cellphone). You need some new cyberware or perhaps just an upgrade installed? Time to head over to your favorite Ripperdoc. They can provide you with any of the legal items and cosmetic enhancements. If it’s illegal weaponry you’re after then you better have a good Fixer. They’re the ones who can point you to the Night Market.

Night City is broken up into 5 distinct areas with each one having its own ecology. The Hot Zone Wasteland is what used to be the central corporate zone of Night City (ground zero of the Arasaka towers bomb). The Rebuilding Urban Center Zone is the area immediately surrounding the hot zone that survived the blast. The Overpacked Suburbs Zone is what used to be the outer ring of old Night City (the safe suburbs where the corpo’s used to live). The Reclaimed Perimeter Zone is what used to be abandoned ghost towns of old Night City. Last but not least is The Open Road Zone. Here is the Mad Max area of the game. It is routinely patrolled by pack of Nomads to help keep it a little safer. If you venture out here you better be in a Nomad caravan.

This review is getting rather lengthy so I’m gonna wrap it up. There’s tons more to delve into but I need to talk about the system mechanics and give my overall thoughts. Cyberpunk 2020 used the Interlock system and Red is so similar that I assume its still the same system. They’ve tweaked certain mechanics in Red so I’m not sure. The overall mechanic is easy if you’ve ever played D&D. Its STAT+SKILL+d10 versus a difficulty value (DV) set by the GM. At first glance this seems fairly easy but from what I’ve seen of actual plays, it drastically slows down a game that should be more cinematic in my mind. Characters and NPC’s can have a health value of up to 50 hit points. This means combats are long and drawn out. It’s very similar to mid-level games of D&D in this respect. The attrition based systems are antiquated at best and not all that great.

This is why I’m going to abandon the Cyberpunk Red mechanics in favor of Savage Worlds. I think this game has tons of potential but not with the Interlock System. It’s also worth noting that Red attempts to fix the Netrunning rules by partially dismantling the NET. Yes, the NET is still around but it’s not global anymore. They are more like LAN’s now and the Netrunner has to get their butts off the couch to join the team in meatspace. One more thing to keep in mind is that these are Jumpstart rules. It’s not the full ruleset and this product seems to focus mostly on the world lore and Netrunning mechanics.

I will definitely buy the full rulebook of Cyberpunk Red when it’s released. If for nothing more than inspiration to run my own Savage Worlds Cyberpunk game. I must admit that I’m not opposed to the Interlock System at all. If someone invited me to play in a game of Cyberpunk 2020 or Red, I’d be all over it. For now though I’d still give this product 4 out of 5 eddies. If someone asked me if I’d buy it again, I’d say absolutely! It’s an excellent product. It’s not quite as good as FFG’s starter sets but that’s the gold standard in my opinion. See you on the flipside Choombata’s.

P.S. – I nearly forgot to mention that on Veteran’s Day weekend in the US, the Nerds-International group is holding an online convention open to the public November 8th-11th. We need more players and GM’s. If you’re interested in playing some Savage Cyberpunk with me then head on over to the sign up page at https://piersonjaime.wixsite.com/nivcon If there is enough interest in my game then I could be convinced to run another game on Sunday morning.

P.P.S. – I’d like to give a shout out to the 3 T RPG Podcast. My buddies Harrison and Nikk are very talented podcasters with a hilariously informative production. They have DCC actual plays and talk about all kinds of RPG’s.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Inktober 2019 Preview

After some deliberation I’ve decided I’m going to participate in Inktober 2019. Essentially all you have to do to participate is draw something using ink on a daily basis for the 31 days of October. Officially they want you to tag your art with #inktober and #inktober2019 and post it on social media. If you go over to inktober.com, you can find out more info and resources.

There is an official prompt list of a single word for each day to help inspire you to draw something related to the word (this is much like rpgaday). There are also other lists floating around that I suppose you can use if you want. As far as I’m concerned, the biggest thing is to draw something daily for 31 days using ink.
Some people like to draw their sketch with pencil and ink over the top of that. I may try that but probably not. While I want to use this to improve my art, I think part of the challenge for me is making mistakes and learning how to fix them using ink. This will no doubt be a big challenge for me to draw daily.

Another aspect to it is that posting your art online can be very intimidating. Art is subjective and I for one haven’t made a piece that I was completely satisfied with. Every artist sees where they screwed up and their eye goes directly to that blemish every single time they look at the piece.

I encourage everyone to attempt this challenge even if they don’t announce that they’re doing it or don’t want to post their work on social media. Just pick up a pen and doodle something on a Post-it note. I may not get something drawn every day but I will make the attempt. More than likely it will be more of the case that I feel my art isn’t good enough to post on that day. My daily posts will be on Twitter @mstark78 and I will make a weekly MeWe post. I’m undecided if I will blog my drawings weekly to be honest.

Every new project calls for new gear. Amirite? As you can see in the picture, I got a new sketchbook, a black Copic marker, and some cheap ball point pens. The next picture shows all of my old gear. Some of it will be used, then again, maybe not. Of all the ink utensils, I think my primary tools will be the black Copic, a sharpie, a ball point pen, a white gelly roll pen, and my Pentel brush pen. My fountain pens and dip pens probably wont get used at all.

The sketchbook will be interesting to use as I’ve never heard of this brand before and it’s specifically marketed towards markers. The little paper on the front cover also says that its ultra smooth surface is excellent for pen and ink, technical pens, and markers.

The Copic multiliners are great technical pens but I think I’ll reserve those for my dungeon map drawings. The first Copic multiliner I ever bought was the more expensive refillable one. I don’t recommend you buy those. At first glance they seem like a good idea. You can refill the pen and replace the nibs. Fuhgedaboudit. Just get the disposable multiliners. You’ll thank me later.

Interesting side note on the brush pen. It needs to be stored in the upright position (as if it were clipped into a pocket). I had about half of a refill cartridge leak into the cap that came pouring out when I took the cap off. It was slightly leaking out of the cap inside my pencil case but I had no idea what I was in for when I took the cap off.

Well, I think that’s all I’ve got this time. You folks have a wonderful day and don’t forget to head on over to the Nerds-InternationalMeWe page to check out all the great podcasts and bloggers over there. The pinned post at the top of the page has all the contact info.

P.S.   If you’re curious about narrative dice or you’re just looking for a podcast on the Genesys RPG then look no further. Finding The Narrative: A Genesys RPG Podcast is a member of Nerds-International and their hosts Tony, Chris, and Stephen are very knowledgeable on all of FFG’s narrative GM crutches.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

#RPGaDay2019 Week 4

As I sit down to write this last installment of #RPGaDay2019 I’m dreading the completion of this exercise. For some reason unknown to me I find myself unmotivated to finish it. I feel like its wearing thin on me. While doing weekly installments has been much better than daily it still feels hard to complete. I shall persevere.

22. Lost- Perhaps this one is better suited to lost in translation. There have been many times while playing games or even conveying information via text that the meaning of my intentions get lost along the way. During a game I interpret this as my lack of clue giving or lack of properly describing the situation to the players. Online while responding to posts on social media its quite easy for your intent to be misconstrued the wrong way. This is just something that happens and you have to accept it.

23. Surprise- In game terms there is usually a mechanic to “Surprise” the characters but what about surprising the players? I can recall only one time I was surprised as a player and that was because I totally wasn’t expecting a giant monster to come out of the water into the cultist lair. It’s very hard to surprise players nowadays. We’re all gamers and like to read so we all read the monster manuals. If I throw an Aboleth at a group, chances are high that someone will know how to fight it. I’m going to take a different approach with these types of things for my DCC Lankhmar game coming up soon. I’m hoping I’ll at least creep out a player or two.

24. Triumph- Defeating a mighty evil against all odds while the numbers are in the favor of your enemy. I can’t think of a time in a game where I felt truly triumphant. Savage Worlds is more of a cinematic game in my eyes which kind of takes away the triumphant victories. In Call of Cthulhu, just surviving is considered a victory so being triumphant would have a different meaning I suppose. I think in order to get that triumphant victory feeling it needs to happen over the course of a long campaign. One in which the characters are slowly achieving the overall goals to face the big bad guy with setbacks at every step of the way. They have to feel like the objective is hopeless yet achievable.

25. Calamity- Oh boy! I’ve been in many, many, many games where calamity ensued. The one that sticks out most in my mind is the encounter in my Irongate game. It’s the second session in a short campaign and the characters come across an encampment. The scene is an old RV camper off to one side with cages on another. Near the middle of the camp a woman is chained to the ground while someone is sawing off her forearm. The players don’t quite know it yet but these cannibals are the Fratelli family. One of the characters decides to go have a chat with these fine people while the other 3 sit back and watch what’s going on. Well, one of the 3 weren’t so sneaky and Sloth was sent to check it out. Someone attacked Sloth and the one talking to the cannibals tried to yank a shotgun away from Mama. Let’s just say that one character died, one got captured, and the other 2 limped away to safety. I wish I could have recorded that scene. It was a real fun one. Well, for me anyway. Hehehe.

26. Idea- They come from all over the place for me but mostly movies and books. I have shelves full of books that I might never play but I mine the information to use in other games. I’ve had a few good ideas from podcasts like Finding the Narrative, a podcast about FFG’s Genesys system (its their Star Wars game with the Star Wars ripped out). Tony, Chris, and Stephen are very knowledgeable on the game.

27. Suspense- Now this is a good one. How do you create suspense in a game? The easiest way is to end the session on a cliff hanger (no token needed). My buddy Eric just did it to us a couple of weeks ago. We were sitting in a local watering hole and after we gathered the needed information we’re relaxing when some German soldiers enter. Of course, the only one of us that speaks German decides this is a good time to go to the washroom. The Germans are coming towards us and as I grip my Colt 1911 Eric ends the session.

28. Love- I’m not a fan of toying with this emotion in rpg’s. It usually just feels weird and other times it’s a cheap way to force characters into action. Using the characters loved ones to force them into performing acts is an old cliché. It shows lack of imagination of the part of the GM. If the characters loved one is an active part of the story then it could be okay to an extent but should be avoided.

29. Evolve- Some people say that games need to evolve but I disagree. It’s the people who don’t like the game as it is that say this. I’m sorry but if you feel that way then you need to find a different game. Many people like the game the way it is and don’t need it to evolve into something completely different. I also feel like publishers do this just to make more sales. Look at D&D for example. No one can agree on which edition is best. A lot of people love 5e and hate 4e. Some people liked 4e but the game evolved because there was an overwhelming number of people who disliked it. Now 5e is out and they still haven’t produced any new content. All they’ve done is convert old products to the latest edition and people are clamoring for more.

30. Connection- Isn’t this what the hobby is about? Connecting with people around a table to have a good time. Sometimes those connections get stronger as time goes on and other times they weaken. What about connecting with your character. I’ve not experienced this but some view their character as an extension of themselves and they grow connected to it. It’s just a game folks. You should play some OSR type games where a character often dies and you show up with 3 backup characters.

31. Last- A fitting end to the challenge. The last thing I want to do is let people down. Scheduling an online game is hard enough but cancelling at the last minute always disappoints me. I will always try to let others know if I can’t make a game at least a few days in advance so it irritates the heck out of me when others can’t do the same. Sometimes these games are dependent on everyone showing up while other times it makes no difference if a player can’t show up. There have been stretches of time when I was only gaming once a month and when the GM cancelled at the last minute I was really pissed off. So please try not to let other people down.

P.S. There are a lot of people over at the Nerds-International community that put out great content and it wouldn’t have been possible without Jaime Pierson. The Brewery is his show where he does wargames, rpg’s, and reviews. Go check out his Youtube channel.