Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Part 4

Not everything goes according to plan in the dark future. Not every lie will be detected, not every trap will be disarmed. And when things don’t go an edgerunner’s way, there’s no time to get mad…only even.

When we last left our ragtag group of highway robbers, they had been fired upon with some pretty hefty hardware. The hitters responsible? Hired by Jayhawk, and sent home down two and with the remaining two lucky to be alive. Clearly, the information Olga had stumbled onto was not anything Jayhawk wanted getting out. The firepower, though, was an open question. The drone looked an awful lot like the one which was seen getting passed through an Arasaka loading dock. The hitters had the control rig in their van, and they said they rented the thing. …Rented? Bubbles was able to hack the control rig and put a backdoor in the drone. Not enough to control it remotely, but enough to gather some data and maybe tell where it called home.

Beware Mobsters Bearing Gifts

Bubbles’ gambit paid off, though not in the way she expected. A couple days later she received a message, politely informing her that her backdoor had been closed, but that the sender was very impressed and would like her to join him for lunch to discuss a job offer. Suspicious, but intrigued, Bubbles asked to bring the whole team. What followed was a positive response and the address to a Polish restaurant tucked away in the suburb of Augusta. Augusta is a bit of a weird place in the Hydropolis area…a group of locals pushed hard against any corporate incursion when Jayhawk first founded Hydropolis. They got what they wanted, but with so much land around to plop down shipping containers and prefab buildings, all that really happened was that Augusta became a ghost town. The eerie silence of the old-timey Kansas main drag of the original Augusta town center is palpable, and makes the little restaurant seem even more cozy. The team is ushered to a long table in the back and immediately served pierogies, bigos stew and kielbasa, of a quality far beyond what’s in any prepack in the area. Bubbles, TK, and Doctor Kong started tucking in, while Philly and Mason looked at each other and waited for the host.

In walks a tall Russian man of slight build who introduces himself as Vlad. He sits down, insists his guests eat, and begins eating himself. He picks Bubbles out of the group and admires her technical handiwork once again, before turning to Mason, who he immediately identifies as the de facto group leader.

“I hope there’s no hard feelings about what the drone was used for,” Vlad begins. “My aim here in Hydropolis is to encourage the fledgling edgerunner community through my materiel rental business. Not only do I think you could become customers as well, I have an opportunity for you to make a little money.” Vlad was, unsurprisingly, attempting to acquire more and bigger toys for his business, and lifting the combat drone out from under Arasaka’s nose was just the first thing he had in mind. He sent the team a data dump about an abandoned factory in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

The Truck Job

The job was simple, at least at first glance. There was an old Mexican Metals manufacturing plant in Ponca City that was abandoned when Mexican Metals went bankrupt prior to the Fourth Corporate War. Arasaka recently used eminent domain to claim the facility, but it’s such early days that for the most part they don’t know what’s in it. All of the tooling has been removed, but at least one warehouse full of completed but unshipped power armor is rumored to be on site. All the team needs to do is steal one shipping container, which according to existing documentation will have four suits of power armor inside.

Now, the site was so far from any Arasaka offices that it was rumored to be lightly guarded, but as it was a black site officially there weren’t any easy ways to find out. Even so, while the risk of going in guns blazing was lower than it would be closer to home, it still left for many potential consequences. The team had a different idea.

Using the photos he took of the drone handoff, Jacob blackmailed the Arasaka procurement employee who stole the drone. All he wanted was a purchase order opened under the title “Ponca City Container – Unknown” and the paperwork sent to him. Then, the team rented a truck, bought some unsuspecting clothing that looked like a set of work uniforms, and proceeded to drive straight in the front door of the facility, complete with a bribe of high-quality fast food and alcohol.

It worked. The crew had been operating in the dark and on overtime for several weeks now, and as they were behind it looked like resupply wasn’t coming anytime soon. The purchase order was signed, the container was loaded right onto the truck for the team, and they were told that if they brought burgers next time too, the crew would ‘owe them one’. Using a corollary of the ‘vest and a clipboard’ theory, the team made the heist look easy. Or so they thought.

After getting outside the city limits, the crew opened the container to examine their prize. The four suits of power armor were there, along with something else…a transponder. Bubbles deftly disarmed the device, which was positioned inside the truck and designed to turn on with a light sensor, something that could not be seen or detected from the outside. Now, Mexican Metals had been bankrupt for decades. No one was listening to that transponder, right?

It wasn’t long into the ride home that someone started following the truck. Fortunately TK noticed their first vector of attack: land mines, of all things. Before long a pitched running gunfight broke out between the team in the rental truck and what looked like a heavily armored RV, engaging from long distance. The team had enough bodies to pour gunfire on the RV and eventually they broke off, thanks to support from the King and Kong box truck following the rental.

When they arrived back to Augusta, Vlad was not happy. Turns out the gang they encountered, the Mescaleros, had been squawking about someone tripping a Mexican Metals transponder and now these power armor suits were red hot. Vlad didn’t pay them. He did offer to consider partial payment if they took out the Mescaleros, who had already given them a run for their money. The team left, empty-handed.

Don’t fuck over your players. Never do something to just make their lives difficult without cause and without a path for them to turn it around. The Mexican Metals arc of Vlad’s story has two halves: The half enabled by good dice rolls, and the half enabled by bad dice rolls. The good dice roll part is obvious, the team walked into an Arasaka-claimed facility and got a shipping container of power armor handed to them with a smile. Now here the team did roll very well, though I have to credit their plan, especially using the in they already had with Arasaka procurement. It was well thought out and it deserved to go well, and that plus how the dice landed made it go incredibly smoothly. Getting home was another story. The information about Mexican Metals that the team needed to know to avoid the transponder squawk and to know it was important were both gated behind a Local Knowledge roll that nobody made successfully. Meanwhile, the Mescaleros, the gang that harassed the PCs (and in-game is still at large)? Vlad told them about the Mescaleros over lunch, but to Philly after he talked about wanting a sniper rifle. Vlad mentioned that there was a gang in Oklahoma riding around in an armored RV with a big sniper rifle on the roof. Instead of asking more, the conversation was interpreted as another mission prompt and tabled.

As a GM, it’s not my responsibility to give away the ending, so long as the players know what to ask. This session probably could have been better on that front, but it was at no point a bait and switch. The Mescaleros and their ambush were in there from the beginning, as were the rumors about the Mexican Metals transponders and that nomads and road gangers had made improvised listening stations on abandoned cell towers. Of course now the players know all this (and it could come up again if they’re returning to Oklahoma), but they learned it the hard way this session.

Vlad, of course, screwed them. As you’ll see later the team didn’t exactly take it on the chin, but for this time it’s an important lesson. Many people, especially criminals and corporate executives, do not get to their station in life by being honest and forthright. I will say, I appreciated how my players reacted to this. It was “Vlad screwed us over”, not “Aaron didn’t pay us for the job”. Make villains who are awful people, who the players truly dislike. They’re going to enjoy getting them back that much more. I’d say more, but…that’s for next time.

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

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