Continuing on from my previous essays about character building, the next step is building the campaign (the story your players are going to experience and influence). There are no hard and fast rules for running a tabletop roleplaying game, particularly one like Cyberpunk Red. But there are some tips that I can share. While I’m new to running Cyberpunk games, I’ve been running roleplaying games off and on since I was 16 years old.
Yes, that means I’m getting old. You can stop chuckling now.
The bulk of my work with tabletop gaming comes from running Dungeons & Dragons, which is as different as you can get from Cyberpunk Red. If you’ve ever run a campaign in Shadowrun or similar systems, you’ll have a much better frame of reference for the kind of game you’ll be making.
The one key thing to keep in mind (and this holds true for any tabletop game): It’s not your game.
As the Gamemaster (Referee, Dungeon Master, etc.), you are part of the collective storytelling that will occur at the table (or online). Your players are going to bring a lot to the table, particularly because of the rich story threads the Lifepath system offers. Having said that, Cyberpunk Red has a more linear progression to its storytelling, primarily because the main story arcs you’ll be running are the Jobs your crew of Edgerunners are working.
A good frame of reference to use is the one-shot (single session campaign) The Apartment, which can be found in the Jumpstart Kit. This one-shot is set in Night City, the primary setting for the Cyberpunk universe. Even if you don’t end up running The Apartment, it can give you a few good ideas to pull from when creating your own homebrew campaign.
Second thing to keep in mind: Just because its in the book doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Tabletop games are often marred by their overreliance on RAW (aka Rules As Written). Sometimes, this is a good thing, particularly if you’re just starting out with the game system and are learning as you go. But if there aren’t specific rules for a given situation, make it up on the fly and revisit it later to decide if that was a good course of action or not. It’s better to keep the game rolling than stop for 10, 20, or even 30 minutes while you review the rulebook. At the less arguing that occurs at the table, the less stressful the game session will be for everyone involved. A good house rule I always use with my gaming groups is that we’ll make the call at the table and then review later.
Third thing to keep in mind: the setting and the atmosphere.
Cyberpunk Red is not a game for those who want to play heroes. This is a world of black and gray morality, of compromises that have to be made just to find a quiet place to sleep and something to eat. In a setting where mega-corporations have more power than governments and are constantly looking for ways to increase profits at the expense of people, this is not where you find the selfless heroes who just want to take down the bad guys. This is often because the bad guys are the ones who pay the best. The players should never feel comfortable. They should never know who is completely trustworthy and who isn’t. When they get their victories, it should feel earned. That is the atmosphere you want to create in a Cyberpunk Red campaign.
Now, as far as campaign settings go, you can’t go wrong with running your game in Night City, mainly because the core rulebook provides a ton of details for the city. If you decide to create your own city to use, be aware this is going to increase your workload quite a bit. Creating a city from scratch means establishing where it is in the world of Cyberpunk Red, what factions exist within the city, what (if any) government presence exists within its borders, and how isolated it is from the larger world. For me, I use Night City in my Cyberpunk game, mainly because as much as I love world-building, I can do that just as easily within the established lore of Night City, picking and choosing which pieces of lore I want to use and which ones I don’t wish to include.
Remember to make the game personal. If the stakes aren’t personal for your players, then they aren’t going to be as invested in the game and its setting. Use the Lifepath creations to inform the kind of game you’re going to run (particularly if your players rolled up Enemies, Friends, and Tragic Love Affairs). Work with your players to build out their neighborhoods so that they feel it when things go bad in their part of town. Most especially, take stock of what Roles your players have decided to play. If you have a Netrunner in the party, be sure to create opportunities for them to hack the Net Architecture while the rest provide them with cover. If you’ve got a Nomad in the party, make sure to create scenarios that take place outside the city limits of your setting so they can interact with the Nomad Clans and Families.
Above all else, have fun. The sole reason to run these games is to spend with friends and family. If no one is having fun, including the Gamemaster, then you need to have a serious talk with your players and work out the kinks of the game.
Now go find the Edge, choombas, and make sure to go out with style.