Cyberpunk 2077 & Other RPGs Should Embrace Their Tabletop Roots

ytsfreeSeptember 11, 2022

The unpolished original release state of Cyberpunk 2077 disappointed many fans, but, like many other video games adapted from tabletop RPGs, one of its biggest flaws is its failure to grow the TTRPG that spawned it. Relatively few video game fans are aware that Cyberpunk 2077, one of the most high-profile games of the decade, is even based on a tabletop RPG. The tabletop RPG called Cyberpunk was first published in 1988, just four years after the release of William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer birthed the genre. CD Projekt Red’s game advanced the timeline from the 2005 edition of the tabletop game that was set in 2030. A new edition of the tabletop Cyberpunk RPG, called Cyberpunk Red, released alongside the video game in 2020, but Cyberpunk 2077 makes minimal efforts to acknowledge its tabletop roots or entice video game players to tell their own stories in the Cyberpunk world.

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The Phantom Liberty expansion for Cyberpunk 2077 adds story content, but there has been no announcement of it including a digital starter rules PDF for R. Talsorian Games’ Cyberpunk Red RPG. Starter kits that provide the basics of a tabletop RPG rules system, along with a sample adventure, were once a mainstay of the TTRPG hobby. These would allow prospective fans to experience a new rule system and campaign world, and often served as a bridge for hobbyists to expand from Dungeons & Dragons into other tabletop RPGs. Providing a simple digital starter kit along with every purchase of the Cyberpunk 2077 video game is an obvious way to grow the visibility of the game behind the game and could propel more video game fans into the tabletop RPG hobby. This remains a major missed opportunity for Cyberpunk Red, and similar missteps have been made with video games like Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Shadowrun Returns.

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The Shadowrun Trilogy’s console editions maintained the quality of the original PC versions, but they did nothing to make up for the failure to market the tabletop RPG of Shadowrun. Shadowrun Returns launched alongside the 5e Shadowrun tabletop RPG rules, but did little to promote the TTRPG game, and the new console ports offer negligible support for the newer 6e Shadowrun ruleset. The same is true of games like Pathfinder: Kingmaker and Wrath of the Righteous. Those who are already fans of the tabletop RPG source material provide these video games with a built-in fanbase, but the video game market is larger than that of tabletop RPGs. Providing free basic rules and an adventure would provide exposure and easy access to the tabletop RPG experience for those titles.


Non-D&D Tabletop RPGs Need To Leverage Their Video Game Adaptations Better To Grow

Some might argue that it is obvious that these games are based on tabletop RPGs, and heavy-handed cross-promotion is unnecessary. While this is true for video games adapted from Dungeons & Dragons, even Baldur’s Gate 3 falls short on tabletop D&D promotion opportunities. D&D is culturally ubiquitous, but there may be some video game RPG fans who are not familiar with Pathfinder or Shadowrun, and certainly many who were not aware of Cyberpunk’s tabletop RPG origins. A slew of video games based on the original White Wolf World of Darkness tabletop RPGs have released as of late. Vampire: the Masquerade video games like Bloodhunt and Swansong could promote the 5e Vampire: the Masquerade tabletop RPG, and Werewolf: the Apocalypse – Earthblood could have done the same for 5e Werewolf.

Simply crediting the tabletop source material in a game’s title screen is insufficient. Tabletop RPGs have embraced digital options more than ever, as more fans purchase PDFs through sites like DriveThruRPG, or digital versions of books through virtual tabletops like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds. Offering either a direct PDF download, or a digital code to access one through a storefront, adds little expense. D&D Beyond offers free digital Spelljammer adventures to promote the new 5e D&D campaign setting. It is not unreasonable to expect a Baldur’s Gate 3 purchase to include D&D Beyond access to the Heroes of Baldur’s Gate adventure module, if not a shorter adventure tied more closely to the video game’s story. Podcasts and shows like Critical Role have leveraged digital media to promote classic tabletop gaming, but video games are not offering the same level of cross-promotional support.

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The original IP game Disco Elysium arguably did more to encourage video game fans to dip their toe into tabletop RPGs than most video games based on TTRPG licenses. Disco Elysium made its simple, tabletop-inspired, 2d6 system highly visible to players, and the game’s entire structure provides a masterclass in excellent game master skills. Developer ZA/UM reportedly plans to release their own tabletop RPG world called You Are Vapor, but the studio’s own tabletop experiences were with house-ruled D&D. The strange rules of Disco Elysium can improve home D&D games, but fans need to make the leap from video games to pen and paper RPGs to benefit from these techniques. Classic D&D-based video games like Planescape: Torment were a big inspiration for ZA/UM, but Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition offered no more gateways to tabletop D&D than any other licensed video game.

The Missed Opportunity To Include Tabletop RPG Starter Kits With Video Games Continues

The link between tabletop RPGs and video games is nearly as old as either hobby. A series of “Gold Box” games based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons provided a wealth of PC RPGs in the DOS era, and Larian’s Baldur’s Gate 3 is among the most eagerly anticipated RPGs in years. While these missed opportunities for D&D are regrettable, it is the lesser-known tabletop RPGs that lose more by failing to leverage their video game adaptations properly. If only a fraction of those who purchased Cyberpunk 2077 went on to buy Cyberpunk Red products, it would still be a massive boost for the tabletop game. Pathfinder: WOTR is ideally suited to cloud gaming on Switch, but the Pathfinder tabletop RPG can provide endless entertainment at a gaming table or via a Zoom chat.

There are cases where video game IPs have spawned tabletop adaptations, as with the TTRPG based on Fallout or the Dark Souls adaptation of D&D 5e’s rules. These products leverage the established fanbase of video games to promote original tabletop RPGs, but the video games based on existing tabletop RPGs rarely capitalize on the opportunity to do the same. D&D has grown more than ever in recent years, but this success has not impacted the TTRPG hobby evenly. While some fans who enjoy RPG video games like Cyberpunk 2077 or Shadowrun Returns have migrated to trying the tabletop RPG source material, the video games should be doing much more to encourage this. By openly embracing their tabletop RPG roots, and including direct access to starter kit rules, video games like Cyberpunk 2077 can have a legacy that goes beyond DLC, thanks to the limitless potential of tabletop storytelling.

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