Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp, Part 3

The life of an edgerunner is a tough one. And when you’re slumming it in Hydropolis there isn’t nearly as much work to go around as in glamorous Night City. Sometimes you have to pursue every lead you’re given. And sometimes, if your name is Jacob Capone, those leads include your ex-girlfriend.

When we last saw our merry band of corporate sycophants, they had followed up two leads from Biotechnica which led to improperly disseminated Jayhawk Agritech…tech. Biotechnica was pleased with Mason’s work so far, and now all of CabbageCorp had some money to spend. It was time to follow some leads, take some downtime, and most importantly, go shopping.

The Night Market

While the team had successfully found an underground transit route through the city’s waterworks, goods were still being snarled at the city transit points, unable to easily make it in or out. One of Philly’s contacts had the brilliant idea to kick off a Night Market right inside of the city’s largest entryway, the Butler Transit Point. This bloke, a skinny and quick-talking jack-of-all-all trades named Wendell, had arranged a meet in one of the lower levels of the Butler Parking Garage, an improbable complex that cut into the artificial foundation that kept the city upright on the soft soil of a floodplain. About ten stories down, dozens of trucks diverted into the lot, tempted by the chance to recover some cred for only the cost of an overnight parking ticket. The crew picked up some choice goodies in the market, and Doctor Kong even pocketed some extra cred helping out with cyberware installs. It was also a good place for rumor and hearsay, and Jacob found out that the underworld was still buzzing about the April 1st fiasco. He also heard about a new fixer moving into town, a Russian mobster who apparently had a lot of guns. Beyond that particular detail, it didn’t seem like the other shoppers knew much about this guy at all.

Just Because You’re Paranoid Don’t Mean They’re Not After You

After an unfortunate run-in with the (armed) employees of Jayhawk Power and Light, the team had a standing order to find one Olga Andrews, presumed cyberpsycho. Olga is also Jacob’s ex-girlfriend, which unfortunately for him made the first step clear. All Jacob had to do was reach out; you see, he broke up with her, in part because she was acting too protective of him, and doing so with an array of military cybernetics that made him uncomfortable. From how her behavior was described by Simon, Jayhawk security exec, Jacob was expecting the worst. He got a whole lot more.

While Olga does have a lot of cyberware and may be prone to perceptual shifts and intense mood swings, she’s not ‘psycho’, per se. She asked to meet Jacob in a well known borg bar, and told him people were coming after her. This gave Jacob pause; paranoia is a cyberpsychosis symptom, but in the Media world it’s also a best practice. The whole team came along on the trek, being kinda sorta maybe inconspicuous at the bar, while Olga and Jacob sat in a booth and discussed what Olga had found. Of course, any worries about paranoia disappeared entirely when a combat drone walked up to the bar’s facade and started spitting 25mm cannon shells through the window. Everyone hit the deck, no one was hurt, but even so self-preservation was never the strong suit of CabbageCorp. Follow that drone! The team gave chase, ending in a parking deck where the perpetrators were attempting to leave the scene in a van. The combat was brief and violent, and two of the rival edgerunners were dead as the team closed the distance and held the survivors at gunpoint. The employer? A Jayhawk fixer. The drone? A rental. Rental? Apparently a guy named Vlad down in Augusta was building a business renting out heavy equipment to aspiring heavy hitters. Upon closer inspection, it did seem that the drone was the same one that the team had witnessed “falling off a truck” out the back of the local Arasaka office. Very interesting. Jacob was going to have to get the rest of the story from Olga…and the team was going to have to visit this Vlad character.

This session was the first time I ran a ‘true’ combat in Cyberpunk Red. There was the drone swarm from before, but I knew just from looking at the stat block that the swarm was a harassing enemy and wasn’t a true threat. When I put four mid-level stat blocks at the team, though, they steamrolled them with minimal damage. While I had written a little while back that Cyberpunk Red wasn’t that much less lethal than 2020, this combat really made me reconsider that perspective. However, there are a couple things I learned which are worth noting to any other Cyberpunk Red GM.

First, the combination of low-end stat blocks and the tightening of the to-hit math are a real double-whammy in terms of feel. While I imagine that Cyberpunk Red combat probably feels pretty good against two sides of evenly matched opponents, the stat blocks in the book, especially the lower end ones, will get steamrolled by even a mildly optimized set of characters. These low-level characters felt dangerous in 2020 because of the existence of lucky shots and the honest chance that anyone with a gun could get lucky and kill you. While there was an attempt to maintain that here, the fact that it took me three combats to see a single critical (and when I did the players got it, not the enemies) really minimizes that feel.

Ultimately, take some of the free releases that Talsorian is doing as guidance. You need tougher opponents for this game, period. I’d go so far as to venture that most opponents, barring obvious cannon fodder, should be built like PCs. If you want something more D&D-like, you have all those low-level stat blocks and they work great for attrition. For me, though, combat is rare and dangerous; I’ve ended up statting my mooks with the lieutenant stat blocks, the threats with the boss stat blocks, and actual bosses will be built like PCs.

It’s also worth noting that the numbers have been tuned in such a way that the size of your sides is huge. There are plenty of issues running eight player characters, trust me, but a big one is that they’ll steamroll smaller groups of enemies, especially if it isn’t evenly matched on the stat level. As I found out (the hard way), there should be at least as many enemies as PCs, because the numerical advantage will cancel out most other advantages.

Stepping away from combat for a moment. These sessions were a lot of test driving. While I found combat to need a shift from how it was represented in the book, the Night Market rolls were great. I told the players what was available based on rolls from the chart, and it generated a lot of interesting knock-on story. There was the bit about Doctor Kong and doing cyberware installs, but there also was some searching for items that didn’t end up at this Night Market. While I didn’t prevent the players from gaining access to the toys they wanted, kicking the can down the road opened up some other scenes and some more opportunities for setting exposition as the team wandered around the unincorporated areas surrounding Hydropolis.

These sessions of the game represented a shift from introducing the setting and premise to starting to take the rules for a spin. While there were some rude awakenings for a 2020 veteran, I’d say overall things ran very smoothly and the game handled all my weird ideas and premises with aplomb. I’m not going to say everything was perfect for a group like ours, switching over after nearly a decade of running Cyberpunk 2020. That said, these sessions were when I saw that I could really push this campaign into some fun places. What sort of fun places? Well, you’ll just have to tune in for the next edition of the CabbageCorp Adventure Log!

CabbageCorp is played with Cyberpunk Red. Check out the last installment here, or the next one here.

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