Cyberpunk RED Alert: Lifepath
The Lifepath system has been a staple of games from R. Talsorian for decades and Cyberpunk RED is no exception. Of course, like we do with every game, we’ve taken Lifepath and tweaked it. How does it work now? We’ve prepared a radio drama to show you!
Meet Charlie, who will be Gamemaster of a Cyberpunk RED campaign set in Night City! Charlie’s meeting with one of the campaign’s players, a veteran of many a dungeoncrawl and space mission named Victoria. The scene opens with the two of them meeting online via an unspecified but popular video conferencing platform. They’ve already exchanged greetings and are getting down to the good stuff. Making Characters!
MUSIC: WELCOME TO NIGHT CITY. ESTABLISH. CONTINUE UNDER DIALOGUE FOR 3 SECONDS BEFORE FADING.
CHARLIE: In Cyberpunk RED, character creation starts with Lifepath. It generates a background for your character using a series of tables.
VICTORIA: Really? Usually we just, you know, write our backgrounds don’t we?
CHARLIE: We do, but this’ll be a good way to create a character with lots of plothooks who fits well in the world. Don’t worry. There’s still plenty of room for throwing in your own details. Think of it as a skeleton. It lays down the bones, you add the organs, muscles, and flesh.
VICTORIA: Gross metaphor, but I’m willing to give it a try. What do we do?
CHARLIE: Start at the beginning. Go to the end. On each table you’ll either roll a die for a result or, if you feel it is too important to leave to chance, you can pick a result. And if a roll comes up that just doesn’t fit what you want, we can change it.
VICTORIA: Sounds good! What’s first?
On second thought, this’ll be an unbearably long blog post if we throw up the whole script. Let’s summarize from here on out. A Character’s Lifepath is split into two parts. The first, their general Lifepath, helps determine where they’re from and aspects of personality and style.
Back to the story!
Victoria starts with Cultural Origins to determine where their Character comes from. They roll a 6 on a 1d10. That mean the Character, or the Character’s family, was originally from Sub-Saharan Africa. Charlie tells Victoria that Africa’s in the midst of a technological boom thanks to its close association with the residents of orbital platforms and stations known as the Highriders. Victoria has family in Ethiopia so they decide their Character comes from there. Victoria isn’t sure why their Character left home yet, but they will figure that out as they go.
Cultural Origins also determines a “native language”. All Characters in the game know Streetslang, a trade pidgin, but they also get 4 free Levels in a language based on their cultural origin. Victoria picks Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
Next comes Personality. If Victoria has a specific style of play or concept for the Character, they’re free to pick but they’re intrigued by letting their dice dice choose for them. Victoria rolls another 6 on 1d10. The table lists the Character’s personality as “Stable and Serious”.
Dress and Personal Style
Style’s important in the Cyberpunk world, so Victoria needs to know what their Character’s visual presentation’s like. There’s three tables here: Clothing Style, Hairstyle, and Affectation You Are Never Without.
Victoria rolls 4 for Clothing (businesswear), 9 for Hairstyle (short and curly), and 5 for Affectation (nose rings).
Victoria takes this all in and decides the Character’s family instilled in them a need to “dress to impress” from a young age. “Outsiders rarely look below the surface”, their father told them, “Make sure your surface says you mean business”. Thus, Victoria’s Character prefers sharp suits and keeps their hair short but natural. The nose ring is a little touch of home, as it was a gift given to the Character before they left home.
Motivations, Relationships, and Values
There are four rolls for this section to determine what Victoria’s Character values, how they feel about most people, who their most valued person is, and what their most valued possession is.
A 5 on a 1d10 says Victoria’s Character values knowledge above things like money or power or even family. With a 2 on a 1d10, they are neutral about most people and willing to give them a chance before making a decision one way or the other.
According to the dice, a 4 on a 1d10, Victoria’s Character values a friend most among all the people they know. Victoria isn’t sure who that is yet, but tucks away the information. Finally, a 9 on a 1d10 suggests the Character’s most valued possession is a toy. That Victoria knows right away. They still own the old toy spaceship they played with as a child.
Original Family Background
Victoria knows their Character comes from Ethiopia but not much about their history beyond that. They roll on the Original Family Background table. The result is a 6: Combat Zoners. They don’t like that, especially as they really enjoy the concept of Africa being an ascending technological power in the world, so they disregard the result and pick Corporate Technicians instead. Their Character’s fathers, Victoria decides, worked in the motorpool for an Ethiopian company that specialized in exporting luxury goods to the Highriders in orbit. They grew up fairly safe and secure as a result.
Because they picked a specific outcome for Original Family Background, Victoria decides to pick on the next table, Your Environment, too. Looking over the ten options, they decide the Character grew up in a safe Corp Zone, walled off from the rest of the city. A nice middle-class lifestyle. One that maybe hasn’t prepared them for the harsh realities of Night City.
Of course, nothing’s ever perfect in the world of Cyberpunk. Victoria goes back to rolling on the next table. With a roll of 10 on a 1d10, they learn the Character inherited a family debt. At first, Victoria assumes this means they owe money but the more they think about it, the more they like the idea of owing someone powerful a “favor”. One of their Character’s dads, they decide, was sick and required high-end, experimental therapy. They don’t know who yet, but someone provided that therapy and now Victoria’s Character owes them big time.
Friends are next! Of course, Victoria already knows they have at least one friend, as they rolled “a friend” for who they value most earlier. This table will help Victoria decide who else is in their life as the game begins. Victoria rolls 1d10 for an 8, subtracts 7, and comes up with 1 additional friend.
People you can truly trust are rare in the Dark Future.
A second d10 roll of 1 tells them this friend is like an older sibling to them. Charlie, the GM, suggests Victoria’s Character had the good fortune of meeting someone when they came to Night City. This person took Victoria’s Character under their wing and helped them avoid some unpleasant ends. Victoria agrees.
Of course, the flip side is enemies. Again, Victoria rolls 1d10 and subtracts 7 from the result. This leads to a negative number. Looks like Victoria’s Character hasn’t made any real enemies yet. No one who would single them out for revenge, anyway. If they had made an enemy, Victoria would have rolled to determine who the antagonist was, what caused the enmity, what the enemy could throw at their Character, and what they were going to do to get back at them.
Your Tragic Love Affair
It wouldn’t be Cyberpunk if there was a happily ever after, now would it? Charlie notes this table doesn’t mean Victoria’s Character hasn’t had happy love affairs. They might even be in a relationship now, if Victoria wants them to be, but tragic love affairs make for good plot grist, so that’s the one that gets a roll.
Victoria throws a d10 and gets a 2. The lover mysteriously vanished, breaking their Character’s heart. Charlie loves it and makes some notes, already getting inspiration on how to weave this into the storyline.
Your Life Goals
The time has come for Victoria to determine what their Character wants out of life. They roll a 9 on a 1d0. The Character, it turns out, is chasing after fame and recognition. Victoria’s Character grew up safe and cared for in a Corporate Zone and now they want to prove themself to the world. This isn’t out vanity, Victoria decides, but out of a need to not only be the best but be acknowledged as such.
That ends the general Lifepath. For the next part we’re going to play a game of “What If” and see what happens when Victoria picks two very different routes. Each Role, which is somewhat akin to “Classes” from other TRPGs, has its own Lifepath to help Players know not only how their Character “grew up” but how they function in their “job”. We’re going to see what happens when Victoria picks two different Roles for their Character: Netrunner (hackers deep diving into NET Architectures to fight programs, override systems, and steal data) and Exec (Corporate power players looking to climb the ladder and advance their agenda).
Let’s get to it!
Role-Based Lifepath: Netrunner
Victoria decides to name their character Maryam and, furthermore, decides Maryam left home to seek their fortune after being rejected for a Highrider NET security position. The sting of it is what drives them in hopes of gaining the recognition they crave.
What Kind of Runner Are You?
With a 1 on a 1d6, Victoria learns Maryam is a freelancer who will hack for hire. That makes perfect sense. They’ve only been in Night City for a little while and are still getting their feet wet. Maryam gets gigs wherever they can.
Partner or Solo?
Victoria has a choice here. Does Maryam hack with a partner? Or do they run on their own? If they have a partner, there will be a roll to determine more information about just who that partner is. Victoria grabs a drink, thinks about it, and decides Maryam’s working alone for now.
What’s Your Workspace Like?
Victoria’s next roll is a 5 on a 1d6. Wherever they work, they keep things neat, tidy, and organized. That makes perfect sense given their Corporate background and their preference for sharp businesswear. Not to mention that serious attitude.
Who Are Some of Your Clients?
Of course, during the campaign Maryam might end up working for various NPCs the GM uses to hook the Crew into the game’s plot, but Victoria also needs to know more about their Character’s regular clients. It can’t be all run and guns and dangerous infiltrations after all. Victoria rolls another 5 on a 1d6. Local Fixers and Nomads hire Maryam to secure their systems. While Victoria hasn’t decided who Maryam’s valued friend (from back in the general Lifepath) is, they decide that the friend did introduce them to some contacts who threw them security work.
Where Do You Get Your Programs?
Oh, that’s a good question! Victoria rolls 1d6 for a 6. It turns out Maryam finds most of their programs in various Night Markets: shops that Fixers set up for an evening to sell a limited supply of goods. It might even be Maryam works security for some of these Night Markets, ensuring malicious Netrunners don’t infiltrate the local NET Architecture and cause trouble. Victoria likes that idea and it ties in nicely with their previous roll on the “Clients” table.
Who’s Gunning for You?
While Victoria didn’t roll any enemies in Maryam’s general Lifepath, no Netrunner goes through life without ruffling some feathers. Charlie watches in glee as Victoria rolls 1d6.Enemies make for great plot fodder, after all!
The d6 comes up on a 1. It might be a rogue AI. It might be a NET Ghost. Either way, it is bad news! Victoria and Charlie talk and decide Maryam cracked an old Data Fortress before leaving Ethiopia. Something was inside and, somehow, that something’s followed Maryam to Night City.
Role-Based Lifepath: Exec
Netrunner is one road Victoria could have traveled with Maryam, but what about this?
The thought of playing a Corporate player trying to navigate the morally gray Cyberpunk world appeals to Victoria so they decide Maryam will start off the campaign as an Exec.
What Kind of Corp Do You Work For?
Oh, good question! Instead of just rolling the type of Corporation randomly, Victoria asks Charlie about the various Corporations active in Night City. Charlie opens the rulebook, shows Victoria the Night City map, and points out the various Corporate HQs: the Biotechnica Campus, the Continental Brands Offices, the Zhirafa Office Park, and so forth. Victoria notes Morro Rock sitting by itself offshore and asks about it. Charlie explains that Orbital Air, an African-based Corporation, is building a launch platform there to throw planes into space.
“African-based, you say?” Victoria says with a smile, “Space, you say?”
It couldn’t be more perfect! Obviously, Maryam was recruited right out of school by Orbital Air, went through some training, and has been sent to Night City to help work on the Morro Rock project! Charlie likes the idea, too. Orbital Air doesn’t have a big presence in Night City, which means it might send a junior Exec to work with a group of Edgerunners and advance their agenda instead of using a team of employees. Perfect plot hook material.
What Division Do You Work In?
Of course, the question is, what sort of work does Maryam do for Orbital Air? With a 3 on a 1d6, it looks like Maryam works in Research and Development. Thinking about it, Victoria decides Maryam isn’t a technician but, having grown up in a family of Techs, they can “speak the language” and function as an effective project manager in a technically-oriented department.
How Good/Bad is Your Corp?
On the one hand, Victoria isn’t sure they want to work for an evil Corporation. On the other hand, there’s a lot of pathos to be had in being a good person who finds out your employer is not so good. Charlie refuses to give any details as to Orbital Air’s moral agenda, so Victoria’s left with a decision: choose or roll? A little reluctantly, Victoria rolls a d6 and gets a 4. It looks like Orbital Air is willing to bend the rules to get what it needs but isn’t entirely ruthless or evil. At least, as a whole. Individual Corpos in the company could still be horrible.
Where is Your Corp Based?
This is one Victoria can’t roll, since they’ve already picked the Corporation Maryam works for. Orbital Air is, by nature, an international company. In fact, it not only has offices in many cities but in space as well! The 4th Corporate War hit Orbital Air hard but they’re working to rebuilt the travel infrastructure so they’re an International Corporation with offices everywhere.
Who’s Gunning for Your Group?
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Corporate world without intrigue and enemies, would it? Victoria rolls a 6 on a d6. It looks like there’s trouble not just for Maryam’s R&D team but for Orbital Air as a whole. An International Corporation is working towards a hostile takeover. Victoria asks Charlie who the enemy is but Charlie shrugs and refuses to answer. The truth is, Charlie doesn’t know yet. They’ll have to read up on the other Corporations and decide which one is behind the power play.
Current State with Your Boss?
This is another one Victoria decides to pick instead of roll. They think back to the Friends portion of the general Lifepath. There’s someone in Night City who mentored Maryam when they first arrived. Victoria decides that someone was Maryam’s immediate supervisor: someone who acts like an older sibling. Possibly even an old family friend who picked Maryam specifically for this job and wants to see them succeed. With a hostile Megacorp out there eyeing Orbital Air for a takeover, Victoria wants to know Maryam has at least one ally in a nasty Corporate world!
Boom! We’re done with our tour of the Lifepath system in Cyberpunk RED. The Lifepath run by Victoria for Maryam generated a ton of background info for the Character and great plot hooks for Gamemaster Charlie: there’s the debt Maryam owes because of their sick dad, a friend Maryam values who acts like an older sibling, a love interest who vanished without a trace, and even a mysterious enemy (who is either an AI or a international Corporation depending on the Role-Based Lifepath).
You can see how Lifepath really packs builds information both Player and Gamemaster can use for Character and campaign building.
Next Friday, we’re going to drive around Night City a bit and learn about what it is like in 2045!
Until then, stay safe in the streets!
Really enjoy the way the lifepath has expanded from the Jumpstart. I’m especially impressed with the addition of the role-based portion of the lifepath.
This should prove interesting for my players just getting into the genre
Absolutely cannot wait for this game!