Black Chrome Review

New Goodies For Your Cyberpunk RED Game

May 25, 2023
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Welcome back, Choombas. It’s time to talk tech, specifically as R. Talsorian Games releases its first paid supplement for their new Cyberpunk RED system. If you’ve checked out our prior review of RED, or part 1 of our interview with senior designer James Hutt, you know I’ve got a soft spot for this incredibly well-produced, simple-to-play system dripping with flavor and attitude. Considering all the free DLC R. Talsorian gives us via the download page on their website, my expectations were high going into what an official, paid book would offer.

Does Black Chrome live up to the hype? And what exactly do you get? Let’s dive in.

black chrome cover.JPG Black Chrome

Designer: James Hutt, Jay Parker, Turbo, J Gray, Anne Morrison, Chris Spivey, Linda Evans, and Melissa Wong
Publisher: R. Talsorian Games
Format: Tabletop RPG
Price: $40 USD
Copy provided by publisher
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Over 100 pages of all new gear that your edgerunner heart's been calling for.

More Of A Good Thing

If you're unfamiliar with Cyberpunk RED's core book, but you're curious, please take a look at our review here. Assuming you're familiar with it, and with Black Chrome being the first proper, big book to expand the Time of the Red, you would expect, at the very least, to get loads of new toys. And you get those by the cargo crate! The book is packed to the warehouse walls with all new weapons, vehicles, cyberware, clothing, armor, and more. But let’s get this out of the way right at the start: looking at Black Chrome only as an expansion offering more gear is a massive oversimplification, choom.

It’s clear that R. Talsorian was listening to the community since the release of the RED core book, or that they were already aware of its shortcomings. For example, many complained that weapons didn’t have the same flair and individuality of guns from the gameplay era of the 2020s (the prior edition of the game), and there was no lack of lament over a shortage of artwork in that regard as well. Get ready to steady your cyberlegs when I tell you that every single item in this book gets a color illustration. Every. Single. Item. In color! While R. Talsorian isn’t backing down on the simplified stance of the combat and gear system, they’ve made enough interesting combinations of abilities, bonuses, and restrictions on the new stuff they’re presenting that I find I don’t care quite as much anymore. Exotic weapons feel exotic. New vehicles make my Nomad drool (yes, Nomad ranks are taken into account for access to these new goodies). Wacky gear makes me want to splurge on items I probably don’t need to be wasting eddies on. Did I mention they all get pictures? Yeah, that’s definitely having an effect.

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THIS is the kind of flavor we were missing from the core book. Cmon Choomba, admit it. Your solo needs one of these.

Nowhere does this hit home in my opinion harder than the fashion section. Every three items are modeled on a diverse cast of characters, shot in a police lineup style with their descriptions below. For a game system that prides style on being as big a factor as the heat you’re packing, they absolutely blew me away with this one. The clothing and armor chapter is the most beautiful blend of style and substance, form following function, that I think I may have ever seen in a TTRPG supplement book. Even the GM who only makes use of clothes/armor as gear and not a functional part of the roleplaying experience will find it hard not to draw extra inspiration here!

The dedication to making Black Chrome as enjoyable to read as it is informative doesn’t stop there, though. The book is formatted (at least for the equipment sections) as an app that your local fixer has tossed up, going live as soon as you enter their Night Market. In keeping with the style of the prior edition’s expansions, depicted as catalogues of products, this book has been updated to suit the Time of the Red perfectly. Heck, the book even encourages GMs to share listings with players, and characters in game can buy directly from the app while in a night market, ensuring some doomba doesn’t grab that shiny assault rifle before you can leg it across the market. Buyer beware, though! You’re usually not getting any refunds if the quality wasn’t what you expected.

The book provides default layouts for night markets as well as vendor booth listings on every piece of gear; GMs can lean on it fully to direct players towards their purchases or take bits and pieces to weave into their own creations. Go as little or as much as you want! I always love seeing stuff like this. GMs aren’t beholden to using everything the book provides, but for those that don’t have the time or the energy to do it all themselves, everything is provided to make the experience as smooth as possible.

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Pure drip on these clothing and armor lineups!

The Fine Print

If you know me by now, you know that I’m a total sucker for lore. So, in addition to the goodies presented thus far, do we get any lore expansions for our RED games? Well, yes and no. There are no groundbreaking, huge reveals in this expansion. You’re not getting anything here that’s going to force a major world advancement that cannot be ignored, but the book does offer a nice sampler plate of small improvements for you to munch on.

Black Chrome focusing in on gear makes it prime ground for discussing the economics of the Time of the Red. In case you were sleeping in history class (or just skipped that section of the core book), there’s a succinct recap of the factors leading to logistics being the way they are in 2045. There are notes on what megacorps are actually good (or bad) for in these times, and special mention is given to how fixers (who obtain) and techs (who fabricate) can get you what you need, as well as which involve more personal risk. The book makes a nice point of saying that while these professionals, mechanically, get players the stuff they need, they aren’t just stores. Many specialize in certain items, and introducing one is the perfect opportunity for added flavor, roleplaying, and possibly adventure that keen GMs shouldn’t miss out on. There’s even a short narrative that illustrates how these things can be laid out without spoiling the character of the setting. I love reminders like this!

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Nomad life goals right here. Yes, there are rules for owning your own train!

There are several other small but notable extras I love from this book. Particularly, lifestyle choices now include the availability of a player to rent a vehicle. Very useful if your group doesn’t have a Nomad! Just make sure you don’t wreck it, choomba. You’ve still gotta get your deposit back (the book doesn’t say you put a deposit down, but if you’re only paying 600eb a month for your lifestyle, it’s a total missed opportunity from your GM if you total the car and just walk away). Do you remember lifestyle choices? They’re those things that players pay each month of in-game time to support their public transit passes, the food they eat, and how often they’re able to get out for some drinks. I personally love the lifestyle system as a streamlined way for GMs to track what characters can pay for without having to nickel-and-dime them to death over quotidian transactions. Expanding on them is only a good thing!

Similarly, while GMs are welcome to invent their own fixers for these revamped night markets, the book provides several with full spreads of stats, gear, what they specialize in, and how they like to set up their markets. From Rex Royal’s Casino to Ms. Mynah’s Market, each is flashy and distinct in their own way. Even if you never use them in your own games, GMs will be able to get all sorts of ideas for the variety of ways in which the denizens of Night City do business.

And of course, if all you need at any point are some quick references with all the new gear in easy-to-read charts, you can find them at the back of the book. You can also find all the advertisements for the products! Share them with your players. Please. Too much work has gone into their descriptions and lovely artwork for you not to be literally showing your players what’s popping up on their night market apps.

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The hardcover printing of this book is absolutely gorgeous and feels great to flip through. If you're the type that needs a physical copy on your shelf, this book will fit in perfectly next to your copy of the core rulebook.

Pack It Up

What we get with Black Chrome is a 168-page, solid start to what I expect to be a series of fantastic expansions for Cyberpunk RED. While the lore-lover in me is sad at the lack of big reveals and story swings, I think what we get here is exactly what a first book should have: more of everything we want to start our adventures in the Time of the Red. And let's be real here. If you know how the supplements were formatted in the prior edition, you know the word Chromebook is synonymous with tech catalogues. In keeping with the vibe set down in the RED core book, you are given tons of goodies to play with as you see fit, but also we’re given a reminder. Homebrew if you want. Modify things. Use the book for inspiration. Have your tech players talk with the GM about modding or creating new gear. “Cyberpunk RED is a system for builders, and Black Chrome is a book full of tools,” per James Hutt. Play how you like.

If you’ve been having fun with RED, you’ll want this supplement for sure. Pick up a digital copy or a lovely hardcover. You’ll love every page from start to finish. I know my copy’s now a permanent addition to my TTRPG shelves, right next to RED.

Adam Factor