So You Want to Build a Cyberpunk? Part One

If you’ve read any of my previous articles on the subject of R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk Red, you could gather that I’ve been delving deeply into the game system since it was released in late 2020. The previous articles I’ve written have covered each of the Roles (akin to Classes from other game systems). Now, we’re going to get into the nitty-gritty of building a Cyberpunk (or Edgerunner as they’re called in-universe) as well as how to flesh out the backstory for your character.

Welcome to the Edge, choomba.

Before getting started on building a character, the first thing I would suggest is immersing yourself in the genre of Cyberpunk. There’s a section in the core rulebook that covers some of the genre’s classics, including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Neuromancer and Burning Chrome by William Gibson, Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa Scott; as well as film and TV shows like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and Altered Carbon. Some additional options I can suggest would be Alita: Battle Angel, A Scanner Darkly, Judge Dredd (avoid the one with Stallone, though), and Love, Death & Robots. Any of these films, books, and TV shows can get you into the mindset of what the Cyberpunk genre can be.

Once you’ve soaked your brain in the battery acid of the genre, it’s time to start building a new character to play. First thing you should know is that there are three methods for creating a character: Streetrats (Templates that are pre-generated), Edgerunners (bit more freedom but still structured), and Complete Packages (points systems that allow you the greatest amount of freedom). For the first time out, particularly if you’ve never played Cyberpunk 2020, start with either Streetrats or Edgerunner templates to give yourself the easiest path. Unlike other game systems that can take a half-hour or less to generate a character, Cyberpunk Red can easily take an hour or longer, so plan a Session Zero before getting into gameplay to get the characters made.

First thing you’re going to do is pick one of the ten available Roles (which I’ve covered extensively in my previous essays). With a Role in mind, you can then start working on your Lifepath. The Lifepath system for Cyberpunk Red is easily one of the deepest character generation systems I’ve come across in my nearly three decades of gaming experience. Most other game systems leave filling out the backstory to the player without much assistance. In Cyberpunk Red, you get to build the character from scratch with guides where you can pick your option or just roll randomly to see what you get. I’ve used the random roll methods because I like seeing what fate throws my way and building from there but there’s nothing wrong with picking and choosing the options that work best for your build.

Let’s say for the sake of argument (and the purposes of this essay) that you’re going to build a Solo, the walking death machines that are built primarily for combat in this setting. First thing you’re going to pick is your Cultural Background, which gives you options like North America, Western Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asian, and everything in between. When you pick your Cultural Background, you also get to pick a language from that region that you know, with each of the choices being regionally appropriate. As a rule, if you’re setting your game in the default setting of Night City, California, it should be assumed that your characters already know how to speak English, so there’s no need to put that on the character sheet. Your character also starts off with ranks in Streetslang, the language of the street rats and everyday people of the world.

Next up, you get to pick your Personality, with options like Shy and secretive to Intellectual and detached. Between the Cultural Background and your Personality, you’ve got the first building blocks for who this person you’re going to be playing as actually is. Which then leads to Dress and Personal Style. One of the key tenets of Cyberpunk Red is Style over Substance: if you can’t look good doing it, it’s not worth doing at all. Unlike other game systems where clothing is an afterthought, the Style of clothing, accessories, hairstyling, and personal affectations (items) you choose to carry allow you to build a personal statement about your character. And this in turn gives your gamemaster the ability to play off how other people view your character. If you walk into a meeting with agents from a mega-corporation dressed in Gang Colors or Bag Lady Chic clothing, they’re not going to take you that seriously. If you show up at the bar of a local gang dressed in Businesswear or High Fashion, they’re going to eat you alive thinking you’ve got money.

The next items to select are your Motivations and Relationships, which means what do you value most as a character and how to do you feel about other people. Motivations can vary from Money to Honor to Power, while the relationships can range from you like most people to kill them all and let the gods sort them out. This bleeds into who is the most valuable person in your life and what one possession you value the most, giving you two things (a person and an object) that ground your character to this setting.

This covers the initial personal portion of the Lifepath system, which help build the basics of your character. My next essay while cover the background aspects of the Lifepath, including family background, tragedies you’ve endured, and if you start off with any friends or loved ones.

Until then, choombas, stay on the edge.

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