Tabletop RPG Review: Beta Red

Image by Egor Grositskiy

I’d like to thank Heeroic Studios Gaming for sending me a review PDF of this ahead of their upcoming Kickstarter.

Cyberpunk is my jam.  It’s a subgenre that has always clicked for me since I was a little kid.  Before I’d ever read William Gibson, I’d loved Max Headroom, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s movie “Cyborg,” and the music of Ministry.  Before I understood the politics and philosophy, I dug the aesthetic and vibe.  I’ve been into tabletop RPGs for almost as long. In spite of that, I’ve actually done precious little Cyberpunk gaming.  Perhaps Beta Red, with its fast-paced mechanics and hellzapoppin setting is the way to go?

Beta Red taps into a kind of over the top, anime-type version of Cyberpunk.  An A.I. revolution has already happened and been, if not thwarted, mellowed.  Cyber enhancements are a dime a dozen.  Folks are jacked up on drugs to help them adjust.  And there are psy-powered folks running around for good measure.  It feels like you could ‘slide the dials’ of weirdness if you wanted your game a touch more grounded or a touch more weird, without messing with things too much.

You pick what ‘species’ your character will be.  Human, robot, clone, or psychic.  There are character types to choose from, though it leans a bit more toward ‘archetypes’ than say ‘classes’ like you get in D&D-type games.  With skills and implants, characters are widely modifiable.  A lot of stuff like combat is abstracted so that it should be fairly easy and quick to run through.  There are a lot of examples of actions your characters can take.  Though it makes clear that it’s not an exhaustive list, it gives players a lot of options on things they might do.  All of this comes together in a way that makes me think somewhat of board games.  I could see this as being a bridge, a game to bring to your Thursday night tabletop gaming group when folks are curious about RPGs but not looking to dive into something as vast as D&D or even Cyberpunk 2020 (or Red, now). 

There are some useful random charts for GMs and a few adventure examples.  I don’t think the adventures are necessarily playable out of the book so much as frameworks for a GM to build on.  Essentially, it’s “here’s a premise, here are some options and complications, here’s a couple ideas of what might happen after.”  Considering I’ve read some RPG basic books, walked away saying, “OK, that was cool, but what the hell am I supposed to do with it?” having some examples, even if not fully fleshed out, is nice.

What I read was not the finished product, as the Kickstarter hasn’t launched yet.  But this looks like it could be a fun game to try out with the RPG-curious or as a palate cleanser between heavier games if you’ve got a regular RPG group. Crank up what ever music you want as the soundtrack for revolution (I’m partial to Ministry, Body Count, M.I.A., and Devo), get some friends, and fight the power.

Check out my Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.  And take a look at my Patreon page, where I’m working on a novel and developing a tabletop RPG setting. You can also read my fiction over on Amazon.

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