In many ways, Cyberpunk Red attempts to make with the Cyberpunk TTRPGs what 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons did with its 3rd Edition. A lot of people don't like this, but, for me at least, this is a good thing, since I found Cyberpunk 2020 sometimes too complex for little benefits.
One of the changes I love the most is the changes made to how weapons are listed and categorized in Red. Instead of a massive weapon list, R. Taslorian gave us a list of different weapon types which all use slightly different rules.
While the details and the flavor that came with CP2020’s weapon list was kind of cool, it was also way too much. When every weapon is unique, none of them are, y'know? Using a standardized list of weapon types allows CP Red to be much easier to understand.
However, a lot of the flavor and flair that came with CP2020’s guns are missing from this new system.
There are ways to work complexity, flavor and “the cool factor” back in. That is why I made Gunner's Arsenal. It is meant to be a resource for interesting and unique weapons that add cool guns back in the game without becoming too complex for players.
The basic idea? Add magic items in Cyberpunk RED.
Not actual magic items, mind you. There is no such thing as magic! Rather, I mean that I use the idea, the mechanic of magic items to spice up the guns and allow players to find much more interesting weapons.
This article covers the design choices and philosophies I have chosen to follow for this homebrew resource, as well as how I recommend you use these weapons.
For those of you who might not be familiar with Dungeons and Dragons (and especially it’s fifth edition), it’s important to understand how magic items in that system have become a core part of player progression.
In 5e, it is expected that the Dungeon Master integrate unique items – weapons, armor, talking teapots – whatever, as loot. This is connected to standard player progression in that game, in addition to the level system. Magic items are actually needed for players to stand up to the bad guys, mathematically speaking. High level players without magic items would actually be underpowered against the thing they are supposed to be fighting! (Fights in 5e are supposed to be “balanced”, a strange concept indeed that has no place in the dark future.)
Magical items, then, are just upgraded versions of equipment the players already have. Players can find a +1 sword, which adds +1 to their roll to hit and to their damage, for example.
Because of this system, DnD comes with a huge catalog of weird, quirky and powerful items, which DMs can pick from and distribute as loot to players.
The big thing to understand how magic items work is the “but” rule.
What makes these items cool for players, is not, in my opinion, the stat increase they provide. For me, these Items are interesting because of the “but” that you add to the rules of standard item to make magic items. Here’s what I mean.
“It is a sword, but it glows when orcs are nearby.”
“It is a shield, but when you throw it, you can use an action to have it fly back into your hand”
“It’s like a thing you know, but cooler.
To create “magical” weapons in Cyberpunk RED, I just took inspiration from what the game already tells us to do. In the Night Market section, there are already a bunch of what I consider to be “magical items”. The 3516 Malorian Arms, for example, is a weapon that behaves uniquely and is much rarer than “normal” guns.
Rules-wise, “magical weapons” are Exotic Weapons: weapons with a unique rule attached to them that modifies how they are used. In this homebrew, I also propose another type of unique weapon, the Weapon Variant.
Weapon Variants are weapons with a weapon type, a quality level (Poor, Standard, Excellent), and a unique rule. Unlike Exotic Weapons, which have some limitations, Variants behave exactly like the weapon type they belong to unless otherwise specified.
The difference between Variants and Exotics is mostly flavor-related, but also slightly changes how these weapons are balanced. Variants usually behave very closely to the weapon type they belong to, while Exotics are much more out there and quirky things to use.
Basically, Variants are usually better than standard weapons or sidegrades with unique characteristics.
For example you could just have a gun... say a heavy pistol, which uses bigger bullets. Instead of dealing 3d6 damage, it deals 3d6+1 damage.
It's like a Heavy Pistol, but it's a revolver, it deals 1 more damage when you hit and it has 6 shots in the magazine instead of 8.
That's a weapon variant. Give it a name, a cool description and you have a weapon variant that players will be really happy to find and use.
Obviously, weapons in Night City are made in factories by underpaid humans, not strange wizards in towers hundreds of years ago. How do we justify “mechanically magical items” to our players?
The best way to introduce “magic guns” is to make them rarer in the fiction. Like magical items in DnD, Variant and Exotic weapons are not everywhere, and it should be rare to stumble upon one. Most guns on the streets are just... normal guns.
For example, Exotic weapons and weapon variants can be military or corporate prototypes that wound up on the streets. Maybe the weapon is easily findable, but just isn’t popular, meaning that few shops and fixers can sell those weapons to the players. These weapons could also just not be sold to civilians, making them rare for edgerunners. Maybe some of these guns are made specifically for military units and police forces, so there is a very small number of them in circulation. Maybe some variants are made by local gunsmiths or criminal organisations, making them much harder to find, unless you are on good terms with these illegal manufacturers.
Basically, variants and exotics should be rare enough that they are impossible to find without looking for them. Even if there are thousands of copies of a specific Weapon Variant in circulation, it shouldn't fall into the player's lap. They'll either need to get in trouble or negotiate with a Fixer to get a hold of a Weapon Variant.
Here are some general rules to follow:
The power of the “but” rule lies in the fact that players need to know and need to have used the normal version of the cool thing they found. A “+1 Sword” is only cool because you had a “Sword” before.
Therefore, players should always start with standard weapons and find variants later.
Related to the last point, Variants and Exotic should be found during gameplay at the table. Players should find Variants and Exotics as loot on slain enemies, or by going through a social encounter at a Night Market or with a Fixer.
Unlike a game like Dungeons and Dragons, Cyberpunk Red campaigns and characters do not usually last long. You should start dropping Variants and Exotics as early as the first session. Your players are all one heashot away from death anyway.
Some Variants and Exotics can break combat encounters. Cyberpunk Red combat’s math is carefully balanced in terms of damage and actions. If you are scared of breaking the game in this way, mostly look for Variants and Exotics that add utility to weapons, instead of direct combat benefits.
This is general advice for any game with magical items. While you should give rewards that you know players will be interested in, you shouldn’t give them exactly what they want. If your player uses medium pistols, give them a variant heavy pistol, or an SMG. The game world, after all, doesn’t exist for them. If they find things that don't exactly fit their playstyle, it will make the world feel more real ("It's not the Referee who placed this gun here for me, it's what this character would have on them!")