Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, has skyrocketed its fame since the release of its fifth edition (5E) in 2014 … with a little help from Critical Role as well. Nonetheless, D&D 5E has brought a fresh look and easy-to-use mechanics that wowed many players and newcomers all around the world. It brings more attention to the role-playing aspect of the game. It doesn’t delve too much with how combat works, like what we saw in 4E.
Many game designers follow D&D 5Es footsteps and expect the same results. That’s not always the case. The truth is, not all game systems can be like D&D. They all have their own approach and style of play. Should we really see D&D 5E as a new standard in tabletop RPGs? And the answer is no, most definitely not. So, why not look into other tabletop RPGs? Do you want to try other systems but you’re unsure if it’s the right one? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll be looking at 5 key differences between D&D 5E and, for today’s post, Cyberpunk Red.
What is Cyberpunk? It’s two things actually…
Number one, it is a subgenre of Science Fiction, and number two, it is a tabletop role-playing game published by R. Talsorian Games. And those two things collide to make this one big universe of a dark and gritty future where Mega corporations are the source of poverty and anarchy. And yes, it’s named after a subgenre. You don’t really see that every day.
You might have heard films like Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and The Matrix. These are all considered Cyberpunk films for their dark dystopian world and philosophical meaning behind their stories. But what about the game system?
Cyberpunk Red follows similar tropes—a dark future in a dystopian world where the main character is not the hero or the villain; they’re just survivors. R. Talsorian Games proprietary role-playing system, the Interlock System, has been used in many of their games including: Cyberpunk Red, Cyberpunk 2020 and Mekton. The system only uses two types of dice: d10s and d6s. The d10 die is mainly used for skill checks such as aiming, dodging, jumping and more. The d6 die is mainly used for damage rolls done by weapons such as guns or swords. The Interlock System is famously known for its Lifepath System where every character’s background does not directly affect gameplay. It rather gives options in role-playing for both the players and Game Masters (GMs).
Right off the bat, we have one big difference between D&D and Cyberpunk—the setting.
This is the world we live in… D&D?
D&D has a high fantasy world where monsters, elves, dwarves, and goblins roam the landscapes of Faerûn. Wizards and druids possess an outwardly power that can control the five elements, defy physics, and enter multiple dimensions. This power is what we call Magic. And there is a lot of it. The setting for D&D can be somewhat compared to JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
Usually adventures or stories for D&D are lighthearted, easy to understand, and easy to approach. Although, you can go for a story as complex as Star Wars or even Princess Mononoke. Fantasy stories tend to portray a family-friendly environment that most of us can relate to. The awesome moments come where Gandalf casts a spell in front of a fiery demon about to ravage his friends, or when Kvothe finally gets to utter his first name, or when Harry casts his first Expecto Patronum. These are the obvious key moments where most of us can’t wait to experience.
Cyberpunk, on the other hand, has a very dark and mature tone. Contrary to fantasy, Cyberpunk tends to be orientated more towards young adults with a better grasp of the world. There are many conflicts that relate to Mega corporations. These corporations take advantage of the world’s injuries for profit. Technologies advance rapidly for the benefit of tomorrow’s plans: war, market manipulation, government conspiracies, and other vile schemes. These themes surround the world of Cyberpunk with high tech, such as cybernetic enhancements and prosthetics. Usually, Cyberpunk doesn’t bring up those obvious key moments that one would expect in a story. You have to read between the lines to really get a kick out of it.
Cyberpunk is a high tech and low life world where flying cars are the efficient way of travel and cyber prosthetics is the new norm in style. And no matter what you do in life, you always do it in style. At least this is the way in Night City. Cyberpunk follows three important concepts: Style Over Substance, Attitude Is Everything and Live on the Edge. This is all screams 80s neon style anarchy… and that is exactly what it is. Much like the aesthetic you see in Blade Runner, Cyberpunk follows that same line. If you’re a fan of Neuromancer, you’ll probably see a lot of references thrown everywhere in Cyberpunk.
So, if you’re a fan of Sci-Fi with themes of disorganization and humanity, and you like neon lights sparkling lively in the slums of the city, then Cyberpunk is worth checking out.
The dice used in tabletop RPGs does not determine how excellent or super the system is.
Rather, the dice used in a system determines the difficulty in succeeding certain actions. For example, D20 systems use the d20 die to resolve actions. Using the d20 die will only give you a 5% chance in rolling any number from 1 to 20. Proficiencies and other bonuses will increase those chances and provide a better representation of your character’s skills.
The rest of the dice used, like d4, d6, d8, d10 and d12, are for rolling damages, heals, or other attributes. This is the system that D&D has been using since 3E. Although, this system does cater more to that of a Medieval Fantasy setting. Stars Without Number does an excellent job implementing its old school style d20 mechanics to a vast Sci-Fi universe. But that would be an entirely different post.
If we jump back to Cyberpunk Red, the Interlock System only uses d10s and d6s. The d10 die is used to resolve actions. Like D&D where it uses a d20 instead. So, you might be asking… why not just use a d20 then? Well, it’s more complicated than that. But to summarize it in one sentence… it’s all about probabilities. Using the d10 die will give you a 10% chance in rolling any number from 1 to 10.
Hmm… I like those odds. For a futuristic setting with bullets flying all over, these odds seem appropriate.
And to finish it off, the d6 die is used for damage rolls. The more powerful the weapon, more d6s you’ll roll. Pretty straightforward.
“How do you want to do this?”
Cyberpunk Red is a futuristic dystopian Sci-Fi system that contains guns… lots of guns. You’ll most likely be in one or two firefights per session. Let’s start with the shooting mechanic. Shooting in this system requires the players to roll a d10 + their relevant skill. That value would then be compared to the Difficulty Value (DV) shown in a table where rows show different types of guns, and columns show distance in meters. Once the hit is successful, the player would then roll the appropriate amount of d6s depending on the weapon type. Pretty easy, right? What if you want to take cover or dodge bullets like Neo? You definitely can…
Taking cover in Cyberpunk Red is like using an on and off switch. You either are in cover, or you’re not. There is no partial cover in this system. This makes things simple and doesn’t bog down the pace of the game. Covers in this system have hit points (HP). If you’re behind cover, the opponent would have to deplete the cover’s HP first. Then the cover would be destroyed. What about dodging? If your Reflex stat is greater than 8, you can attempt to dodge. Which then you’ll contest your roll against the shooter. Simple as that.
Car chases can be exhilarating and fast paced. But you might want to tweak a few things here and there to make it fair for the players. How car chases work is pretty much the same as on foot. Instead, you have a driver doing all the Driving Skill checks. Cars can also protect you from shootouts. Just like cover, cars have HP as well.
The most iconic mechanic in Cyberpunk would have to be Netrunning. What is Netrunning? We got you, choomba. Netrunning is pretty much entering The Matrix while using AR goggles. You can see the real world and cyberspace at the same time, but it is not what you think. Entering cyberspace, all you see is a bunch of blocks of data, lines of code, icons from different programs, and so on. Think of it like Tron or Johnny Mnemonic entering the virtual internet. You get the idea.
Netrunning is a game in itself. Everything you know in the real world won’t translate to cyberspace. There are different actions you can do. You’ll be attacking programs or defending yourself from other Netrunners or hacking your way in to gain control of the cameras. The possibilities are endless. The mechanics are the same though: 1d10 + relevant skill, in this case, is Interface.
The Core rulebook provides you a handy NET Architecture generator using d6s. However, you have to come up with the details of the control nodes. The control node is what connects between cyberspace and the real world. This is where you can hack security cameras, doors, lighting, etc. To do any of this, your character must be jacked in while being inside the establishment. You can’t hack the richest guy in Night City while cruising inside the Nebuchadnezzar, sorry. That’s how the internet works in Cyberpunk Red. Once you read more into the lore, you’ll understand why.
“Simplicity is complexity resolved.”
D&D has had its ups and downs with previous editions throughout the decades. With 5E, they provided easy-to-use mechanics with a good role-playing balance. The gameplay is smooth where players do not have to reference the Player’s Handbook frequently. Everything you need to know is in your character sheet—unless you’re a wizard. Rare penalties or bonuses do not bog down the game because of the new mechanic they added: Advantage and Disadvantage. The players roll two d20s and pick either the highest one for advantage or the lowest one for disadvantage.
D&D does not require you to look up any tables or formulas when doing certain actions. Certain character features or abilities might bring some uncertainty. But once you’re proficient with the Player’s Handbook, it will land to the GMs discretion for any clarification. You might be jumping back and forth with some spells. With some preparation beforehand, everything should be cleared up.
Cyberpunk Red has improved tremendously from its previous editions. Currently, it’s a lot more streamlined, easier to read, and contains exceptional art. The gameplay is fast paced and deadly. You might end combat from 5 to 8 rounds. Cyberpunk has always been about its themes and role-plays, so you might not get into combat so often. If you manage to go through a mission without any combat, that’s considered to be an achievement. If you do end up in combat, well, you might end up in the core rulebook as well.
It’s not always easy to simulate fire fights and futuristic combat. But we believe R. Talsorian Games did a great job with this edition. There are a few tables that you will need to reference perhaps a few times during gameplay such as shot DVs based on range and critical injuries. There are more than 60 skills that you can use. And you might get lost and say, “Where is that skill again?” while you look through your character sheet. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll know where to look. You might be also thinking, “Why so many skills?” Cyberpunk makes sure you have all the available tools when role-playing certain scenes. But yes… it is an absurd number of skills.
For the most part, penalties and bonuses either come in 1s, 4s or 8s. So, this a good rule of thumb if you want to dish out any advantages or disadvantages to the players depending on how complex the action is.
You might jump to different mechanics within a game such as Netrunning, car chases and melee combat. This can get a little overwhelming if you’re not a Cyberpunk veteran. But it is all manageable with the layout of rules put to you in the core rulebook with the GMs help.
If you’re coming from D&D and planning to play Cyberpunk, it can get a little overwhelming at first. But once you get into the system and have the feel for it on how it works, it is truly a fun experience.
Finally, we have character creation…
The character creation process, we believe, is the most important exercise in any tabletop RPG that you’re trying to get into. We all love creating our characters. We always strive for the best backstories, best builds, and best looks. We’ll see how well that translates to our game systems.
D&D has, somewhat, kept its character creation formula intact throughout the decades. Choose a race, read through the pages, and add the necessary bonuses and feats. Choose a class, read through the pages, stare at the class level table for a few minutes, and add the necessary equipment and bonuses. Choose a background, read through each one, and pick the one that fits your backstory the most. That’s pretty much it. It’s straightforward, and you might finish in 30 min or less. There are a few instances where you’ll miss a few details such as passive perception or even languages. But once you do this a dozen times, you won’t miss a thing.
Now, it can get a little overwhelming if you’re choosing a wizard or a spellcasting class. You’ll need to choose a focus, a school of magic, calculate how many spells you have in your spellbook, and calculate your spell save DC and attack modifiers. And learn extra rules for preparing spells, casting spells, casting at higher level spells and that sort of thing. We recommend for beginners to use any other class that are not heavy spellcasters such as Wizards and Druids. Although, they are pretty cool.
Cyberpunk Red does not have options for races. All characters in this world are human. The character creation process for Cyberpunk is quite different from D&D. Fortunately, the core rulebook provides you a flow chart on the step-by-step process. The catch is that there’s three different methods in creating your character. There’s the Street Rat, Edgerunner and Complete Package methods. If you start at Street Rat, the process is way faster, but it’ll be like playing with premade characters almost. Edgerunner gives you more flexibility at a reasonable time. The Complete Package method gives you full access to everything but might take you more than an hour or so to finish… if you’re not a veteran.
Cyberpunk is all about style, so expect a part of your character creation process to be about looks and hairstyles. Doing the Street Rat and Edgerunner methods is quite simple, and you’ll be done in no time. Starting off, you pick your role. Roles are the equivalent to classes in D&D. After choosing your role, you now go into the Lifepath system. Here you will answer a series of questions and choose the best answers that fit your characters background. Once you have your stats, you will then set your skill points. Since there are so many skills to choose from, the Street Rat and Edgerunner methods will have skills already set for each role. Unless you’re going for a more eclectic type of role, you might want to do the Complete Package method.
Next on the list is picking your weapons and armor. This is where the Edgerunner method gives a little more flexibility compared to the Street Rat method. The Street Rat method will have weapons and armor already chosen for you. Whereas, the Edgerunner method will have a set amount of money, or Eurodollars, where you can spend it on weapons or other items.
Last but not least, you will be picking your outfit and your cyberware. Outfits does not add anything to your stats or to your armor. This is simply just aesthetic. Give it some thought, what would your character look like on the big screen of Night City? Or how would your character dress in an executive event? Style over substance, remember? As for cyberware, this is where the fun begins. Cyberware gives you additional features or bonuses to your character. You want to jump higher? Install some cyberlegs. How about experiencing your own brain dance recordings? Get some neural links. This is where Cyberpunk Red shines with a variety of cyberware to choose from. I am sure once you play a few sessions, your character will come out with one less limb. Ripperdocs and Medtechs got you covered and install some sick chrome. Just remember, the more chrome you have on you, the closer you get to cyberpsychosis.
Cyberpsychosis is an additional mechanic that is geared more towards the GM. But what is cyberpsychosis? It’s a dissociative disorder which occurs when someone with pre-existing psychopathic tendencies enhances themselves via cybernetics to the point they no longer see themselves as humans. In short, the more cyberware you have installed, the less control you have over your character—to the point where the GM will take over your character and will act accordingly to what cyber psychos would do, which is to get ultra-violent.
Do you want the Red pill or the Blue pill?
D&D 5E and Cyberpunk Red have a lot of similarities in terms of gameplay mechanics. Is Cyberpunk Red more complicated than D&D 5E? Yes, it is. However, both systems offer different styles of play. We cannot say one is better than the other. We can only ask: “Are you in the mood for high fantasy or dystopian sci-fi?”. Of course, there’s only one right answer and that is… High fantasy.
In all seriousness, Cyberpunk Red has come a long way and has improved drastically from its first edition, Cyberpunk 2013. The core rulebook is easy-to-read, and the mechanics are streamlined for a wider audience. You can easily jump in and play after reading the rules just once. If you’re a D&D fan and wants to get into a dystopian sci-fi setting, we recommend Cyberpunk Red from R. Talsorian Games.