Cyberpunk Red, the tabletop prequel to Cyberpunk 2077, knows a thing or two about ranged combat. Set along the ruined, smoking edge of the West Coast in the year of our lord 2045, it’s an atavistic American hellscape polluted with nuclear fallout, a city-state crippled by late-stage capitalism, and a literal battleground for the most high-tech class warfare ever conceived by humankind. So yeah, there’s guns — plenty of guns — and a ruleset that deals with them expertly.
But, like the makers of any truly great tabletop role-playing game, developers at R. Talsorian Games know that seeding its world with potential narrative hooks and secret backstories is their primary function. Its latest offering, Black Chrome, accomplishes that in spades. It’s much more than just a “tech and style guide” for Cyberpunk Red. At its core, this equipment book is actually a stunning rebuke of our country’s ascendant gun culture, among other things. It’s also an excellent starting point for new players looking for a fun, thematic romp through a neon-soaked near future that does not have their best interests in mind.
So what does a satirical firearm look like on the page? The weapons in this book are more than just a pile of stats. Like the Eye and the Hand of Vecna in Dungeons & Dragons, each of the guns in this book has a backstory, or the potential for a backstory, that should easily provide fuel for clever game masters and eager players. Here are just a few examples:
- The Arasaka Prototype Variable Assault Rifle is just your average excellent-quality rifle, but attach the right set of aftermarket conversion parts and you’ve got your own futuristic combat railgun. The gun calls to mind the modern-day issues surrounding auto sear switches, which turn ordinary handguns into submachine guns.
- The Georgia Arms Matchmaker, which is literally a pile of plumbing supplies turned into a single-use shotgun. “Designed by dissidents,” as the description reads, it’s easy to see how weapons like this evoke the modern-day concerns over so-called “ghost guns,” do-it-yourself weapons of war that are currently just a 3D printer away from hitting the streets.
- The Pursuit Security Incorporated Crowd Buster, which combines a public address system with an assault weapon, with the stated goal of “dispersing large, unruly mobs.”
- The GunMart Engage Rocket Launcher, which follows the same kind of logic that puts AR-15-style rifles into the hands of deer hunters to extrapolate out a future where armor-piercing anti-tank weapons are available at the local Walmart.
- The Sanroo Hello Cutie Ultra-K8 Assault Pistol has a self-cooling barrel and an audio playback feature that can pipe the user’s voice out with “selectable anime filters.” The “terrifying little machine pistol” was banned by the Japanese government “after a mass-shooting incident.” Now, the bright pink weapon — which giggles when you reload it, mind you — can be found for a good price in Night City if you have the right connections.
- The Tommyknocker, an overpriced combination pistol and shotgun that presents as modern-day tacti-cool, but in actuality is so cumbersome that it will regularly fly out of your hand if you fire it one-handed.
- And finally, the E-TACK Public Defender. This little bit of police overstock includes a Taser and a ballistic pistol mounted on the same grip. Would you believe that it was “discontinued due to the difficulty of mentally switching between the two modes in combat situations”?
Imagine kitting out a group of first-level players with nothing but these kinds of subtly cursed weapons. Rather than looking forward to going in guns blazing, game masters are likely to have a much more cautious group of players thanks to Black Chrome. But they’ll also have many more stories to tell — and potential hooks for the kinds of morally ambiguous adventures needed to upgrade or augment their kit.
Maybe that first early-game firefight will inspire players to head off looking for parts. But what part of themselves will they need to sacrifice along the way to make an upgrade happen? Plenty of items in this book answer that question directly, as they require that players give up their precious humanity points to integrate with the most sought-after tech.
Black Chrome is full of internal contradictions and Sophie’s Choice-like deals with multiple devils. It’s a complicated book for complicated characters, and it might just be one of the best new products that R. Talsorian has released for its marquee TTRPG franchise yet.
Black Chrome is available now, both online and from local retailers. The book was reviewed with a pre-release digital copy provided by R. Talsorian Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.