Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Part 5

In the dark future, everyone is looking out for number one. Sometimes, though, it’s what you do when everything’s gone to hell that really shows people who you are. When we last left our band of eager mercs, a deal had gone sideways with a Russian mobster named Vlad. Vlad tasked the team with acquiring a shipping container full of power armor, but when a motorcycle gang caught wind of the successful heist he withheld payment and took the goods anyway. Nobody in the CabbageCorp family was too pleased at that development.

What happened next, though, was interesting. Vlad was, arguably, the first mob boss of any stripe to poke his head up in and around Hydropolis. The city, being a somewhat more successful corporate project than Night City to the west, didn’t have organized crime and local gangs ingrained in its founding. The gangs of course still existed, gangs like the Kilrathi and Ringlings which defended inner city territories both from Hydropolis police and each other. But the pervasive monetary corruption that was organized crime, the businesses of weapon, drug, and human trafficking? Blissfully absent.

Mason made a judgment call and told his boss at Biotechnica what had happened. Biotechnica was still in the mode of maximizing their investment with regard to Jayhawk, and an investment in Jayhawk was an investment in Hydropolis, given how much the city and corporation were intermingled. The blackmail material slowly floated through legitimate channels until it landed in an Arasaka inbox. And then, frighteningly quickly, Mason received a phone call.

The phone call was from an interpreter, a multilingual analyst who worked with Arasaka in Tokyo in the office of a man she only called ‘Ryu-san’. Ryu-san was Arasaka’s second oldest employee after Saburo himself, and was the company’s comptroller. Rumor had it that the man still performed some of his audits on paper. He was also the second-most feared man at Arasaka. Saburo did kingdom building somewhere from his private estate, but Ryu-san would show up at offices to examine accounting irregularities. And, due to the sensitive nature of Arasaka offices in North America at the time, Ryu-san would be showing up in Hydropolis to conduct an audit. The interpreter stated that along with the fraudulent purchase orders Ryu-san had received evidence that Arasaka materiel was used to attack bargoers, and that Mason and his team were connected by virtue of being in said bar. He wanted to have a short conversation as part of his work.

After some discussion in the team, Mason went alone to the Arasaka office in downtown Hydropolis, where he met, alone, with Ryu-san for barely half an hour. The accountant quickly went through all the fraudulent documents, some of which were forged on the orders of CabbageCorp members. He asked about the attack, which Mason described faithfully. And he asked who was in possession of the drone. And the power armor. The answer was Vlad. It wasn’t stated what Vlad’s affiliations were, but it was known. Ryu-san thanked Mason and dismissed him; Mason experienced the quietest and most comfortable near-death experience imaginable.

On a rumor that was sent back through Biotechnica, the team returned to Augusta where Vlad’s restaurant was and decamped to a local bar, which at roughly 3 in the afternoon was abandoned. As they were warned about, an AV full of heavily armed Arasaka personnel hovered over the building and let eight solos fast-rope in through the roof. There were explosions, there were gunshots. The eight solos left. About ninety seconds later, gunshots echoed in the distance, likely from where Vlad’s warehouse was located. The team waited until all noise subsided, and then quickly left the bar.

Like true professionals, the Arasaka team took nothing. The restaurant was a mess but mostly intact, but the apartments above had been devastated by grenades, breaching charges, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Vlad, alone in his bed, still wore a look of surprise on his extremely deceased face. Not wanting to loiter too long, the team emptied his safe, swept the room for valuables, and ran to the van to get to the warehouse. Once they arrived it was clear all the big toys were gone; the power armor, drones, and even other vehicles were all missing. There were a few small arms, mostly not Arasaka make (of course), but otherwise there was a dirt floor and a lot of bullet holes in the roof. Vlad, and essentially every impact he had had on the Hydropolis area, was gone.

Many weeks after I ran this session I realized I was, somewhat at least, running afoul of Cyberpunk canon. Arasaka is gone from North America in the Cyberpunk Red core book, due to their involvement in the Fourth Corporate War. What I did not realize was that in Cyberpunk Red as-written they aren’t really back, especially not outside of Night City. Now, as we’ve talked about in other articles about canon, this doesn’t really matter. My version of the Cyberpunk timeline need not match up exactly with the official one; the only people who need to have everything straight with the official timeline are Talsorian employees. It also illustrates some of what I may have implied was a trap of the Cyberpunk metaplot in my Cyberpunk Red review, namely that Arasaka is the classic antagonist from Cyberpunk 2020, and their inclusion in Red is largely based on them being, well, the classic antagonist from Cyberpunk 2020. The thing with known antagonists in games, though, is they really do a lot of work for you. I told the party they were receiving a visit from Arasaka’s head accountant and I don’t think I had ever heard them more worried in this campaign than they were then. I can’t deny how much oomph a well-established villain like Arasaka has, especially when I saw it work in my own game.

There is the matter of how the team chose to resolve the issues with Vlad, using their corporate resources rather than direct violence. A lot of that has to do with my group’s history, with Cyberpunk in particular. When I ran Cyberpunk in college, I tended to, well, play for keeps. In my very first campaign with this group, one of my players (who is still in the group and is Mason’s player in this game) was playing a media. There was a prolonged traffic stop which involved an NCPD AV-4 providing backup as the cops interviewed one of the other characters. This media, though, named Lenz, decided to antagonize the AV pilot. Yelling at him, throwing rocks at the AV’s windshield, normal vandalism and hooliganism. The irritated pilot turned on the chin turret and said over the AV’s speakers: “put the rocks down and stop yelling, or I will fire.” You know, Cyberpunk, right? Lenz gave him the finger. As the GM, I turned to the player and said “just before this continues, I am going to tell you he’s not kidding.” Lenz threw another rock. The driver opened fire. The player made me roll every single die of damage to a) ensure the character was actually dead, and b) ensure his head was destroyed, because otherwise he’d “put the brain into a Dragoon”. Well, the character was very dead and the head was very gone, and the character’s collection of blackmail material went into the public net, causing a very dramatic right turn in the campaign’s plotline. Still, I learned a bit about improvising, and my players learned that a lot could happen very quickly if you pissed off the guy with the chin-mounted minigun. Two more characters were killed merely one session later, both from PvP that arguably stemmed from the aforementioned blackmail material. We still consider it one of the best games of Cyberpunk I ever ran.

What was I talking about? Right, using corporate resources. As I was saying, my players often seek non-violent solutions in games because the violent ones are always the most dangerous. Using your corporate overlords to tattle on a mobster, though, is something that only works once. Now, the consequences of this aren’t necessarily all that present in this session, and some of them still aren’t front-of-mind even as the game continues presently. But, this was a point where the group locked in with their corporate alignment. And while the Exec might not feel that so hard, the other characters are going to feel a squeeze if they push against this alignment.

Still, a Russian mobster is dead and a high-level Arasaka exec has our team on his radar. This is, at least for me, an archetypal session of escalation for a Cyberpunk campaign. In short, things are going to get more and more complicated, until suddenly they get very simple. And unfortunately for CabbageCorp, there’s a whole lot more complicated to go. What’s going to happen with the Russian Mob? What about Arasaka? Hell, what about all those documents the characters stole? All these headaches and more are going to come back and haunt every character as they continue their precarious employment with CabbageCorp!

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

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