Publisher: R. Talsorian Games
Authors: Fran Stewart, Jay Parker, Melissa Wong, Mike Pondsmith, Monica Valentinelli, and Trace Wilson
Artists: Adrian Marc, AgusSW, Bad Moon Art Studio, Catatau, Dani Hartel, Diego Martinez, Domhnall Hegarty, Eddie Mendoza, Ernanda Souza, Hélio Frazão, Jeffrey McDonald, Neil Branquinho, Pedram Mohammadi, Richard Bagnall, Santiago Betancur, Sebastian Szmyd, Shen Fei, Storn A. Cook, and Torben Weit
Pages: 198 pages
Price: $40.00 in hardcover or $20.00 in PDF at DriveThruRPG
Tales of the RED is a decidedly mixed bag, so let’s lead with the good. The book contains nine missions perfectly sized for one-shots or drop-ins to an ongoing campaign. Each mission feels unique and comes with new challenges to keep things fresh.
Missions aren’t designed to be overly prescriptive. While they are fairly linear in nature, there is still room for crews to problem solve in interesting ways, though GMs will need to be on their toes to keep things in check and moving along smoothly.
Actual layout is clean and screen-friendly. References are hyperlinked, ensuring navigation is seamless. The art adds to the worldfeel, and generally avoids the “nipples through armor” issue which plagued Cyberpunk 2020. The occasional in-world ads that appear help Night City to feel like a real, lived-in place, adding to the sense of authenticity and the strength of the worldbuilding.
It’s clear that there’s been a lot of thought put into the design of these adventures and that everyone involved truly cared about delivering a high-quality experience for fans. If you loved Cyberpunk RED, and are looking for quick, low prep options to run at a table, this is a solid addition to your library.
Now, that said, let’s talk about what’s not so great.
Cyberpunk 2022 didn’t have the most nuanced take on disability and its depiction of women in its art wasn’t exactly stellar. When the initial Cyberpunk RED material debuted, it seemed like some of those issues had been addressed. There was a much broader take on the existence of disability in a cyberpunk setting and a general consensus that erect nipples poking through armor didn’t really add to the world. Even if things weren’t perfect —and let’s be clear: perfection is a little much to expect— they seemed to have considerably improved.
After Tales of the RED, I’m not so sure.
There aren’t many topics that strike me as taboo at a gaming table, as long as everyone knows and is in agreement. Mental illness, intimate partner violence, and violence against women can all be explored in thoughtful, nuance ways; Uncaged spent four volumes delivering a masterclass in doing just that.
Tales of the RED’s opening missions are plagued by such a poor take on mental illness and such a casual depiction of horrific violence against women that I nearly refused to finish the book. A woman of color is murdered by her boyfriend as he descends into a thinly-veiled analogue to paranoid schizophrenia. Six women are abducted, lobotomized, mutilated, and murdered. Stalking is nonchalantly thrown in as a detail with no regard to its impact on the character or her reaction to having her dead husband’s stolen severed head returned.
While some will insist that it’s just a game — and a game designed to be dark and edgy, at that — the fact remains we live in a world in which the mentally ill tend to be among the most vulnerable and the least capable of accessing quality care; in which women of color are disproportionately more likely to experience intimate partner violence; and in which women historically were lobotomized for failing to perform in alignment with men’s standards. That’s not great baggage from which to uncritically draw.
I don’t think the team at R. Talsorian meant any harm with these choices. They were in-line with the world and so they used them. For some gamers, maybe even most gamers, that’s all that matters. But for others, here’s hoping the R. Talsorian team puts their prodigious and obvious skill and talent towards other ends in continuing to develop the Cyberpunk RED world.