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Saturday 24 June 2023

Red Reports

Tales of the RED: Street Stories is an anthology of missions for Cyberpunk RED, the fourth edition of the classic Cyberpunk roleplaying game. It provides the Game Master with nine—technically eight because the last two in the book make up a two-part adventure—scenarios which take place in and around the Night City of 2045. The scenarios are all easy to add to an ongoing campaign, as well as to mix and match with missions of the Game Master’s own devising or Screamsheets from a supplement such as the Cyberpunk RED Data Pack. Published by R. Talsorian Games, Inc., the nine missions will find the Edgerunners chasing vampires, investigating a kidnapping, working a film set, diving off the coast of Night City, making a delivery run of the best threads in town, hunting down a deadly A.I. program gone rogue, fending off an attacker who is hunting Edgerunner teams, investigating murder on the virtual club floor, and ultimately tracking down the perpetrator of the murder! Whilst offering a wide variety of mission types, they all adhere to the same format as seen in the core rules for Cyberpunk RED. This is the Beat Chart system which breaks a Mission down into a ‘Background’—intended to read aloud to the players, ‘The Rest of Story’ which summarises the Mission for the Game Master, ‘The Opposition’ which describes the threats the Edgerunners will face, and ‘The Hook’, which is what will draws them into the Mission. The remainder is divided into Developments—non-action beats, and Cliffhangers—action beats, before coming to a close with the Mission’s ‘Climax’ and ‘Resolution’. These are all labels as much as beats and of course, the nature of each beat will vary from Mission to Mission.

From the start, there are a couple of issues with the anthology. One is that the Beat Chart system does read a little oddly in that ‘The Hook’, the beat which covers how the Edgerunners get involved in the Mission, comes after several beats. So, the Missions need to be read carefully and their format adjusted to in order for the Game Master to get used to the format. The other issue that a lot of the context and stats for the nine Missions are not placed with the individual Missions, but in a set of three appendices at the back of the book. ‘Mooks and Defences’ provides the stats for the generic threats that can be encountered in the various Missions; ‘Locations’ marks every place and location visited by the nine Missions; and ‘Biographies’ provides thumbnail backgrounds for all of the named NPCs in the nine Missions. This includes the maitre’d at a fancy restaurant in the second scenario! Thankfully each entry also tells the Game Master which of the Missions they appear in or are mentioned in. Not all of them have stat blocks, but they do, it is in the Missions where they appear. Having the biographies all in one place sort of works for easy reference, but separating them from their stats, not as much…

Tales of the RED: Street Stories opens with ‘A Night at the Opera – Darkness and Desire in Night City’. Night City’s University District has been beset by a rash of disappearances of young women over the past four weeks, but to date neither Campus Security nor Night City Police Department have made any progress. So the father of the latest victim hires the Edgerunners to investigate and find his daughter. Canvassing the campus—which involves some fun encounters with members of the student body—points to the involvement of a poser gang, the Philharmonic Vampyres, who embrace the whole vampire aesthetic—fangs, pale skin, Goth-style clothing, and pale skin. The best way to contact the Philharmonic Vampyres is to attend one of their parties. Unfortunately, when the Edgerunners do, the event erupts into a gang-on-gang gunfight! The Edgerunners do need to pay attention to the ordinary events going on around them to get the most out of the scenario, but this is a fairly, direct simple scenario underneath its gothic trappings.

If the first Mission in the anthology looked weird, then the second, ‘Agents Desire – The Case of the Missing Girlfriend’, actually is weird. A fixer—who may be just little too impatient for the Edgerunners, if not their players—puts the Edgerunners in touch with a high-ranking corporate whose partner was kidnapped from one of Night City’s top restaurants, La Lune Bleu, and he fears that he will only get her back if he gives up company secrets. The biggest problem for the Edgerunners is actually getting past the restaurant’s snooty maitre’d, and numerous options are suggested, including buying the right quality outfits and booking a table, hiring on as waiting staff, and so on. This presents a great social challenge for the Edgerunners and their players. Once inside, they can get further information and the story takes a turn for the strange, which foreshadows, but is not connected to, the events of Cyberpunk 2077.

The third Mission is different again. ‘A Bucket Full of Popcorn-Flavoured Kibble – Lights, Camera, Drama!’ gives the chance for the Edgerunners to hit the silver screen and be extras in the latest film by one of burgeoning Addis Ababa film studios. Not only do the Edgerunners get to make money from this job, there is opportunity aplenty for them to make money on the side. These include tracking down a supply of actual organic food for the film’s picky star, plant a listening device for a sleazy journalist, provide cybertech support, make a delivery for the film’s other star following his divorce, and so on. The Edgerunners are free to pick and choose which tasks they undertake, but the Mission has a picaresque quality to it, as the Edgerunners bounce from one small task to the next. There are some nice rewards too if the Edgerunners do play it—mostly—straight and promise of extra work too.

The change in the nature and style of the Missions continues with ‘Drummer and the Whale – Treasure Beneath the Sea’, in which the Edgerunners are hired for an easy job in—or under—Night City Bay. Their employer, whose hobby is looking for patterns in in the remnants of the global Net which got shattered during the Fourth Corporate War, has detected a pattern off the coast of Night City. With limited funds, he hires them to locate some washed up cargo container, which means searching the shore, part-shanty town, part-waste dump, all one environmental hazard. It seems that something is operating on the bed of the bay and shipping containers ashore on a regular basis. The question is, what is it, how dangerous is it, and how much will the right people pay for it? The aquatic nature of the Mission is challenging in itself and is in parts more technical than the earlier Missions, which should challenge the Edgerunners’ Tech and Netrunner. Overall, the Mission has a claustrophobic, dated feel to it as traditional rivalries straight out of Cyberpunk surface in Night City Bay and threaten a legal incident!

‘Haven’t Got a Stitch to Wear – A Suit Worth Dying For’ is more straightforward. High-end tailors Torrell and Chiang have proved popular with Night City’s rich and famous and demand for their suits and outfits has grown and grown in recent months. The demand is such that Torrell and Chiang have been forced to out-source minor alterations as their own staff are too busy working on new commissions, but that solution has gone awry when the couriers they normally use stop doing deliveries. With a growing number of impatient clients, the tailors hire the Edgerunners to find out why. The problem is that the couriers have competition. The Mission covers most eventualities, including the Edgerunners dealing with the problem, siding with the competition, or even setting themselves up as the competition. In whatever way the Mission is resolved, the Edgerunners do get to look at how Night City’s small business economy works and potentially make some contacts.

‘Reaping the Reaper – The Call is Coming From Inside Your Head!’ is a classic Cyberpunk scenario. A Night City urban legend tells of a rogue A.I. known as The Reaper, which body-hops Netrunner after Netrunner killing them one by one, only turns out that there is very much a basis of truth to the legend. This is a good scenario to run if the Edgerunners have played through ‘Digital Divas Burn It Down’ and ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ Missions from the Cyberpunk RED Data Pack, especially for Tech or Netrunner Edgerunners. However, it is potentially problematic in a number of ways. First, it is combat heavy in comparison to the other scenarios in Tales of the RED: Street Stories. Second, the Edgerunners are accompanied by a pair of NPCs, one a Solo, the other a Tech, which are there to cover the Edgerunners if they fail. Their presence definitely gives the Game Master more to keep track of, potentially undermines the efforts of the Edgerunners, and feels clumsy in terms of storytelling.

‘Staying Vigilant – Three Crews Dead, Will Yours Be Next?’ brings the action to the Edgerunners. It starts with them being invited to the Afterlife, the bar from the computer game, Cyberpunk 2077, as opposed to the Forlorn Hope, where they have been meeting previously. Trace Santiago, the Media and son of famed Nomad Santiago, wants help in investigating the recent deaths of three Edgerunner crews. With his media drone in tow, the Edgerunners need must battle their way past Night City’s Hot Zone to locate the ‘killer’. Like the previous Mission, this is combat orientated, but is more nuanced.

It seems like they are being plagued by vampires when another group of them seems to have committed murder at Delirium, a virtuality club, on the Edgerunners’ night out in ‘Bathed in Red – A Night of Fun or Night of Terror?’. With a body on the dance floor, their night is over and their reputation too when they are framed for the death. This is a murder mystery that builds into a conspiracy, with the vampire posers, who turn out to be homeless street children, holding some of the initial answers. There is a great contrast here as the story switches from a grubby virtual reality dance club where everyone wears visors to view the night as one of five different environments—Dark Cabaret, Deathpunk, Horrorpunk, Skatepunk, or Synthpunk—to the squalid home of the street children, and then again, as the mother of the murder victim, a rich corporate, gets involved. This is most complex of the Missions in the anthology and the most adult in tone, and that continues in the Mission’s sequel, the last Mission in the anthology. ‘One Red Night – The Final Curtain Falls’ picks up where ‘Bathed in Red – A Night of Fun or Night of Terror?’ left off, involves yet more of the murder victim’s family, and comes to a close in bloody, physical confrontation with the true perpetrator of the murders.

Physically, Tales of the RED: Street Stories is well presented with excellent artwork and cartography. It needs an edit here and there, but the Missions themselves are easy to read and digest.

What is so good about Tales of the RED: Street Stories is the diversity of Missions and stories in the anthology. Yes, there is a Mission involving a rogue killer A.I., which is classic cyberpunk and consequently a cliché, but the majority of the Missions will first surprise the Game Master and then her players with the situations their Edgerunners will find themselves in and having to resolve. Nor do they always focus on combat, though there is plenty of that as well as solutions to the Missions which involve means other than force. Although some are better than others, there is not a single bad Mission in the pages of Tales of the RED: Street Stories, the best including becoming couriers for a tailoring firm, working a film set, diving for salvage, and more. Tales of the RED: Street Stories is an inventive and challenging anthology of scenarios for the Cyberpunk RED which gives the Game Master a great range of choice to choose from. In fact, the choice is so good that she will probably end up running most of them!

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