The Best Cyberpunk Games

There are a ton of Cyberpunk RPGs around, and for better or worse, they all have their own unique spin on the genre, as well as mostly unique rules. Most of these are available on DriveThruRPG as a pdf. Please pay for them if you want them, their authors spent a ton of time working on them.

The Heavyweights

  • Shadowrun. If you want Cyberpunk + Magic, this is The Game. The rules are a bit wonky, but it’s the gorilla in the room for that genre. There’s a ton of editions, I played 3rd, which was ok. I’ve heard the latest versions (4th and 5th) are a bit messed up, but have not played them. I don’t even know of any competing products for cyberpunk + magic, though there’s a game on the horizon

However, I don’t like magic in my cyberpunk. I feel like it destroys too much of the grit if you can just cast spells to get around things (and it adds so much more complexity when you already have complexity from high tech).

  • Cyberpunk 2020 is the grandfather of the genre. It’s pretty playable if you totally ignore netrunning (which you absolutely should). It’s very combat-focused and deadly, and uses its own special system of d10s. It is the original, and if you love cyberpunk, you should definitely play it a few times. The flavor in the writing is just awesome.

Far Future

Cyberpunk is traditionally a near future dystopia, but the themes all work just as well in a far future, and many recent games go this route.

  • Stars Without Number is a interesting sci-fi system based on old school D&D (aka OSR / Old School Rennaisance). It has an expansion called Polychrome that makes it cyberpunk-compatible. Its unique system lets you generate entire worlds for use with your game. Its base book is free (which is still like 200 pages), and has gotten pretty good reviews.
  • Eclipse Phase is a sci-fi space-faring RPG based on the Altered Carbon books (and later TV show). Everyone has a cortical stack that can let them jump between bodies, and death is rarely permanent. A bit too high tech for my tastes, and the cortical stack takes a lot of the fear out of death, which IMO is critical for Cyberpunk.

The Generics

I love universal systems in theory, because you can do anything, but in practice, the extra step required to translate in-game things into generic ruless is kind of an annoyance.

GURPS is a universal roleplaying system and has an explicit cyberpunk book. Hero System is much the same and also has a Cyberpunk book (though it’s out of print).

New Age

These systems use more storytelling-driven systems that are significantly different for the players. Instead of rolling a shooting skill, you might roll to see what happens if you “Mix It Up”. As an old RPGer used to his straightforward skills as descriptions of concrete abilities, these are a bit too different from traditional roleplaying for me, but a lot of people love them.

  • The Sprawl and The Veil are two PbtA games, but very different in feel. They’re both less focused on combat than storytelling, so combat is pretty rules-light. The Sprawl is mission-based, which really divides the game down into bite-sized missions, which may be good for some people, but turned me off. The veil is very mental, existential, and explores emotions more than combat.
  • Remember Tomorrow is a rules-light system (I think it’s like 40 pages and half of that is just descriptions).
  • Technoir is another rules-light system based on applying adjectives and verbs and uses d6 dice pools.

The New Traditionalists

These are the ones that most closely resemble traditional RPGs with a “near future cyberpunk” feel. This is the list I’d probaby look at to actually play myself.

  • Ultramodern 5 and Neuropasta make 5th edition D&D into a cyberpunk-able game. Neuropasta is a bit more shiny happy star trek style than most cyberpunk settings, which is a bit of a turn off for me.
  • Interface Zero is a newer title with the most crunchy system outside of Shadowrun (it has like 300 pages which is about half rules and half setting) with what seems like a good amount of money behind it. It has three versions - pathfinder, fate, and savage worlds, so you can pick the ruleset you prefer. I haven’t read through it much (mostly because it’s so big), but it seems like fairly standard cyberpunk, maybe a bit further into the future than some “near future” ones (there are androids and “new humans”). My main nitpick is they make anthropomorphic animals (think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) a standard race which is… just a bit much IMO.
  • Neomancer is a newly kickstartered standard cyberpunk feel with its own dice pool mechanic.

In Development

There are new RPGs coming out all the time, and that includes cyberpunk RPGs.

  • Entromancy is a novel and RPG work-in-progress. It’s the only competitor to Shadowrun’s magic + cyberpunk that I know of (and as far as I know, it’s not anywhere near ready to play).

My Picks

If you haven’t played Cyberpunk 2020, I highly recommend it. Even if some things are wonky, it’s good to see the thing that launched an entire genre.

Interface Zero looks like a good modern option with good crunch.

Personally, I am not a rules-light fan, so if you’re into PbtA etc, you’ll have to make your own decision.

Shadowrun, obviously is the only choice for magic + cyberpunk right now, but it’s not my thing (not that I’d say no if someone was running it).