This might get a bit contentious…
As many of you may know, I’ve been playing and running (not to mention designing) tabletop roleplaying games for well over four decades now. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means, especially when it comes to game design, but I’d like to say I know a thing or two about the subject. So when I saw a particular discussion come up recently on Reddit (I know, I know…), it caught my interest.
So what was this particular discussion about? Someone was looking for suggestions on games he might run for his group. This is nothing new, on Reddit or any other public forum where TTRPGs are discussed. But it was the particulars of the discussion that caught my attention.
The Original Poster wanted suggestions for games to play, but they also had a few special criteria which these suggestions must meet:
- They must be Modern in design
- They had to be Cyberpunk-style games
- They must have significant amounts of support (supplements, adventures, etc).
This left me a bit flummoxed, to be honest. Getting deeper into the discussion, the OP did not consider anything published prior to the year 2000 to be ‘modern’ in design, which cut out a large amount of the potential options. Also, by requiring that there be a significant amount of game support for said title, this killed off a large amount of other options, including my default answer, when someone is looking for a Cyberpunk game to play: “The Sprawl”.
In fact, the OP specifically discounted “The Sprawl”, citing its lack of supplemental support. Which is frankly dumb, but okay… whatever…
I wrote up a response to the OP once, then re-wrote it, then deleted it and started over a third time, because each of my responses really didn’t fit all of their requirements. “Cyberpunk Red”, for example, was released just last year, but is in no way a modern design. It is in fact just a minor revision of the much older “Cyberpunk 2020”, updating the setting more than it does the mechanics. Plus, Red has no supplemental support of its own, at least not yet. One could use the vast supplements and adventures from CP2020, but again, that would be using works from an older age of roleplaying.
So I ended up suggesting the one game that seemed to fit all of OP’s requirements, except for the unspoken one: That the game actually be Good.
Anyway, I suggested “Shadowrun Sixth World” (aka Shadowrun 6th Edition).
- It’s Modern
- It’s got a lot of direct supplemental support
- It is in the Cyberpunk genre
- It also sucks on Ice
Now then, I did take care to point out SR6W’s faults to the OP, and advised them that they likely would not enjoy the experience. Others had already pointed out to them that many older games are way better than new TTRPGs, but the OP remained undeterred, being convinced that any such game published in the 20th century is utter trash.
I would love to see the OP make that statement to a crowd of “Old School Revival” TTRPG fans, in a dark alley, but I digress.
The point here is this: New does not immediately mean Better. Likewise, a game need not have a massive amount of supplemental materials and adventures to be complete. The truly ironic thing about OP’s requirements is that in order to build up a large amount of supplemental material, a game will likely be on the older side. Perhaps not old enough to drink (published pre-2000), but pretty damn close.
Personally, I would think that choosing a modern Cyberpunk game would be better than most other options, even if it meant not having many supplements available. “The Sprawl”, for example, is probably the best Cyberpunk game I’ve ever read, despite having little-to-no officially published supplements and adventures. What makes “The Sprawl” workable in this situation, though, is that it is open for group development. It is built for the group to create the world together, which means you can take any adventure module for any Cyberpunk game, and make it work. The same can also be said for other supplements, especially for “Cyberpunk 2020” (Oh dear, no! It’s OLD!). This is all assuming you are ignoring all of the unofficial, fan-made supplemental material for “The Sprawl”.
So, with only a little work (or the inclusion of fan-made materials), “The Sprawl” would fit all of the OP’s requirements. But okay, they were very specific that that game just wouldn’t do, so let’s look at another…
What about “Cyberpunk Red”? Sure, it doesn’t have any supplemental support of its own, but one could use stuff from CP2020, right? But that’s OLD! Can’t have that, can we? Oh, but then there’s this to consider: “Cyberpunk Red” is only a minor mechanical revision of “Cyberpunk 2020”. Effectively, they are much the same game, with most of the changes lying in the setting material, as Red is set roughly 20 years after CP2020.
“Cyberpunk Red” might be a new game, but it is far from a Modern design. In fact, R. Talsorian Games’ “The Witcher RPG” is technically a Modern game, having come out only a couple of years ago, but it is basically the same system as used in CP2020, with added rules for magic and different races. That’s it.
So is “The Witcher” a modern TTRPG? It came out well into the 21st century, so… yeah, it is. But in actual, mechanical fact, no it is not. The same goes for “Cyberpunk Red”, when you get right down to it.
In the end, there is no good answer to the OP’s request. “Shadowrun Sixth World” is absolutely not a good choice, as it sucks on ice, but otherwise fits their requirements. This goes to show just how ‘modern’ games aren’t always the best option. If you have to play “Shadowrun”, the correct answer is to track down 2nd edition materials (you can still find it on PDFs, if you know where to look). If that isn’t going to work, 3rd edition will suffice, although I found it to be significantly inferior to the edition it replaced.
Outside of Cyberpunk games, I defy anyone to tell me that “Dungeons & Dragons” 5th edition is superior in any way to “Old School Essentials”, the OSR retroclone of D&D “Basic/Expert” edition (OSE is exactly like B/X edition, but laid out in a much easier-to-use manner). D&D 5e may be popular, but it is not nearly as interesting as OSE is.
Now, I’m not saying that older games are always better than new, far from it. As I have said many times before, I prefer more modern systems like “Powered by the Apocalypse” over many older games like D&D. That said, I’m not going to simply discount a great game like “Shadowrun 2nd Edition”, just because there is a newer edition (Sixth World), which is inferior to 2nd edition in nearly every way!
In short, the whole argument is ridiculous. Play what you want.