This interview was taken at PAX Unplugged 2022. Adam talks with James Hutt, Senior Designer at R. Talsorian Games, about both Cyberpunk RED and The Witcher TTRPG. Part One contains our conversation about Cyberpunk RED, as well as some goodies to look forward to in the near future.
Adam: Thank you so I guess let's start with the general stuff. I've been hearing around the internet that there's kind of been a big influx to RED since Edgerunners hit Netflix.
James: Oh yeah it's been great. You know we're flush with new players and that's awesome because we love new players and we hope to stick around, you know, as we help them continue to have fun playing the game.
Adam: It’s kind of it's funny because I love cyberpunk as a genre, but I have for some reason never jumped in on this game, even though it's been around for literal decades. But when this edition went on sale I managed to grab a copy of it directly from the R. Talsorian website because that's the only place I could find it. It was it was a hot item and hard to get a print copy of.
James: Yeah we’re currently between print runs. We're working on it, getting it more into your guys’ hands. And you know, part of that is a lot of people bought the book after Edgerunners and we sold out. Another big part of it is anyone that's been alive in the past couple of years knows that the pandemic is not good for shipping.
Adam: It is not good for shipping.
James: It's also really hard to manufacture and buy paper. Excuses aside, we're getting another printing out and we're excited.
Adam: I got to say, for as much credit as Mike Pondsmith gets for having that that thing that a lot of science fiction writers have, I think where they look at what the near-future could be and kind of project, you know, a little bit of fantasy, but a little bit of, “this could very well be our world if we're not careful kind of thing.” It's funny that development for RED had to be going on long before the pandemic but the fact of global logistics being hit in the Time of the Red and then us having COVID.
James: Yes. It's not lost on us.
James: A lot of it we were writing during the pandemic as well at the beginning of it. So I think it's, you know, it's the game for the time, right? I'm very, very happy with 2045 and the stories we can tell in 2045. It's not post-apocalypse.
Adam: No, it's more like post-scarcity.
James: Yeah, it's a scarcity thing. And I think that's very cyberpunk. It's more gutter punk flavor in this era. And I like that flavor. I'm very excited to keep telling stories.
Adam: And I'll say that it's interesting to see that side of the setting. I’ve been doing a lot of learning since I jumped in on RED between the Roaring Twenties, this age of decadence with the corps kind of being at their high point, and seeing 2077 and knowing that they're going to start getting back to that before too long.
Adam: But in RED you've got this weird cat and mouse vibe of the world governments having stepped in and saying, “If you don't stop shooting at each other, we're going to bomb all of you.” And they kind of go, “Well, we can't fight a war on that many fronts, and we're kind of depleted a little bit. Maybe we shouldn't tick off the what's left of the US.” It's interesting to see the corps still being very powerful and very prevalent and still in control very much, but not in the sense of maybe how they were in the 2020s.
James: What I like about it is it creates more space around the margins to have the players come in and do something interesting. I think that it's just ripe for that material.
Adam: If you had a favorite thing you could explore or that you are exploring with a group, what is it?
James: Oh man. My favorite thing to explore with group in Cyberpunk RED is to tell like very down to the street stories where there may be representatives of larger narrative there, but there's a landlord or you're not dealing with Continental Brands, you're dealing with your local oasis that has a basic monopoly on food in the area. They're overzealously cracking down maybe more even than the company handbook says they should crack down, and that for me tells those stories of community punk that I like. I love that stuff.
James: And then maybe there's a gang somewhere in it, too. I like to really focus and tell a story. The great part is there are so many awesome gangs in Cyberpunk RED that you can pick one to be the star for the week.
Adam: Especially if the players are in a consistent area all the time. And that's that gang’s territory.
James: Yeah, definitely. This is one of the coolest parts about the book is that the more you learn about the different factions and characters of the Time of the Red, the more you're able to sprinkle them into your game and give that immersion.
Adam: You make it feel natural. You make it feel lived in.
James: Yeah. And you don't have four guys from a gang. There's like one guy. And what is he doing? He's buying groceries, you know what I mean?
Adam: Let me ask you this, because I think I had the initial reaction too of, “Oh, look how simple the system is. It's so easy to teach.” But then as we're going through it, I'm like, “Is it too simple?” And of course, I've seen some podcast stuff where you went into a lot of detail of weapon types and dual wielding weapons and why not just use Light Armorjack all the time. Which is a fantastic question I'm glad I got asked. I don’t think it’s charitable, but what do you say to folks who look at RED and go, “I feel like it's too simple” or “it's too pared down.”
James: I’m going to answer a question that neighbors that question. And it's, “How can I get a more deep combat from it?” And the answer is, unfortunately, that you can get away with only reading certain sections of this rule book. You can get away with it. And I've designed it in a modular way that if you want to only experience this part of the game, that's all the part you need to experience.
James: Obviously, there is more depth to the combat system than that question implies. There's ammunition types, there's cover, there's all of the different things you can do after you grapple someone. There's a martial arts system. You can put attachments into your guns. You can modify any item in the game through a character class. You can modify combat through the Solo role ability. We've got tons of extra guns that are in here that are all on the website for free. I would say that the answer to that question is digging in and saying, okay, how are you guys playing? If you learn more, you can do more.
James: And when all else fails you can homebrew because the system is built modularly. And honestly with homebrew in mind, I mean there's a role ability whose purpose for life is, “I like to homebrew, but I'm playing as a player in this game and not the GM.”
Adam: The Tech, yeah. The Tech is one of the most busted classes of this game. I feel like people are sleeping on it.
Adam: This seems like a really good point to mention the economy, because of the price categories. It’s more modeling a trading economy. It's not necessarily that nothing costs 200 eddies.
James: This is my fault. This is my doing.
Adam: But I like it! So with the Tech and the 100 and the 500 price categories, when you realize, for example, anything at the 500 and up you need a Fixer to get and at 100 and below you can buy on the street, and the fabrication expertise says you buy your materials at one price category lower than the listed item if you make it yourself. Tell me if I'm getting this wrong.
James: No, no, you're right.
Adam: You can buy the 100-cost materials on the street and make a 500-value item yourself. If you have the time. The Tech’s big resource that they never have enough of I feel like is actually time.
James: That is the thing that they are good at. A lot of the characters, the way the rules work from a design standpoint in Cyberpunk, each role is supposed to unlock an interesting new way to play a different area of the rules.
Adam: So the Media. I had a one shot that I ran and somebody played a Media and I was always sad that it was only a one shot and we weren't going to get to see them do more. Because the idea that they could start burning down small organizations was awesome.
James: The Media do the only thing that matters in the greater narrative. There's “I have a bigger gun” and there's “I matter more,” you know what I mean?
Adam: I mean, you could argue the Rockerboy could do it eventually, too. And this Solo helps your average guy on the street who just needs to be able to, you know, eat. They all matter, right?
James: Fair enough. The Media's big thing is that they can effect change within the narrative, at a character role power level. The Rockerboy’s big thing is the social combat in the game. They're great at it. The Solo, you know if you really like the combat system you might want to play a Solo.
Adam: So if I had to ask you to pick your favorite class, would you say Tech?
James: No, I love the Media. The Media is great because it changes the way you play the game, in my opinion. And you're always looking for ways to roleplay. And it incentivizes roleplay. I like roleplaying when I play roleplaying games. So, I I'm a big fan of the Media.
James: I love all of my children equally, you know. They're all great.
Adam: So let me ask you, are you allowed to talk about what's coming down the road for Cyberpunk RED.
James: I can say what we've announced. The Edgerunners mission kit, a tie-in with the anime. It's going to be awesome. You're going to get to play in the time of the anime. 2776 specifically. It includes a bunch of awesome stuff to play in that time period. Obviously, we got to give you this stuff to play there and it does include quick hacking.
Adam: I was going to ask, that's a huge part of 2076.
James: I wrote the netrunning system in RED. I designed it, and I’m designing the quick hacking system. I also want to get this out there. It's going to be compatible. If you're a fan of the anime, you're going to have a reason to buy this book. If you're a fan of 2045, you going to have a reason to buy this book. This is going to be great! I cannot wait for them to get it. And read it. That's why we make games. We make games so that people can play them.
Adam: So has Mike Pondsmith ever killed your character?
Adam: Have you played with Mike Pondsmith?
James: I have.
Adam: Okay. Wow. That seems like you should get an achievement.
James: It was a drop in drop out thing. I think I've gotten to witness Mike play RPG a couple of times. He's a great GM.
Adam: Do you have anything extra about Cyberpunk you’d like our readers to know?
James: I guess the one thing, the one thing that I love to bring up in every interview, just because I need people to know is that every month we put out free content on our website in the download center. I love making them. We love making them and we all we want you to read it.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview where we discuss the also-exciting TTRPG for The Witcher! If you love R. Talsorian’s work, The Witcher video games, the new Netflix show, or are just looking for something different in a fantasy setting, you won’t want to miss it!