In the dark future, there’s no such thing as an easy decision; you either have the hard part now or you have it later. When we last saw our erstwhile entrepreneurs, they had just tattled on a mobster named Vlad and put him on the receiving end of an Arasaka kill squad. Then they quietly scooped up all the documents that the corporates didn’t stick around to grab. Priceless opportunity, or painting the target on your back by hand? CabbageCorp employees have to find out, of course.
And among all the mob mischief, Biotechnica is still making moves. Mason’s boss is pleased with the dirt the team has found on Jayhawk, and is planning to exercise a stock purchase option soon. Knowing the contract that Biotechnica made them sign, Jayhawk chief technology officer William Squires reached out for a meeting. Not interested in hearing his pleas or complaints, Biotechnica brass kicked the invite down the chain until it hit Mason. Mason accepts, even though his boss says it’ll be seen as an insult and no meeting will be set up. Despite that prediction, he’s invited to take a ride by private car down to the Heartland Complex in downtown Hydropolis.
The meeting doesn’t go like Mason expects. Still coming off the adrenaline high of meeting Ryu-san, the whole team gets in place for a “hitting the fan” scenario. At the very least, Mason was expecting another hard-ass like Simon France, Jayhawk’s head of security. Dr. Squires, though, is affable and soft-spoken. He and Mason have a conversation about the Midwest, about the new dust bowl, and about food. Biotechnica had already hinted to Mason their plan, which involves reintroducing bison to the plains, and it struck him as well-intentioned but utterly kooky. Dr. Squires doesn’t go in depth into his plan, only mentioning that it won’t make the company money, and that the other two company founders are only humoring him. In short, Squires believes that if Biotechnica buys out Jayhawk, something they’ve threatened to do, his research will die and a real chance to improve the country will die with it. Mason thinks the doctor is an idealist to a fault, and apparently it shows across his face. As Mason shakes the doctor’s hand and gets up to leave, he offers one final statement. “I’ll get my project wrapped up by July 31st. That’s just two months from now. If you can help me get just two months, I can assure you you won’t regret it.”
Dr. Squires isn’t the only meeting lined up for our “heroes”. Vlad, may he rest in peace, was bankrolled by the Russian mob, and his boss, a very irritable Night City man by the name of Vasily, is looking to get Vlad’s real estate returned to him to square the dead man’s debts. Unfortunately, nobody knows where the deeds are, and the town hall in Augusta is not particularly deferential to foreigners. Vasily, at his wit’s end, even calls a contact at Arasaka, and gets confirmation that the team that killed Vlad did not take the documents (and you thought professionalism was dead). That same contact, though, did let slip the names of those who turned on Vlad in the first place. Those people who also swiped all the document’s from Vlad’s apartment.
It happened very quickly. Philly was informed that a man named Igor, who worked for Vasily, was coming into town and he was going to have dinner with him. Don’t know Vasily? He’s Vlad’s boss. Don’t know Vlad? Yes you do. In a show of force, or maybe last-ditch desperation, the dinner reservation was made to include the entire team, well save for King and Kong who were keeping the van running around the corner. With Igor’s exaggerated sighs and obvious sarcasm, the team had only bought so much time. Mason had an idea. You see, he had just had a meeting with his boss, a high level Biotechnica executive, who had given him inside information. A few choice stock picks would certainly be worth more money than a warehouse and commercial building in a backwater of Kansas. Igor was intrigued, and agreed. The flipside was that if the deal didn’t work out, he would return immediately to collect what he was owed.
It did work. It worked so well, in fact, that Mason found out the next day from his boss, seething to him that the stock price had jumped so high that their plan to buy out Jayhawk after the first option exercise was now impossible. Even in the dark future, insider trading has consequences. So now, Mason is on ice at work but the team has some commercial real estate, the Russian mob off their backs (for now), and a cryptic message about July 31st. Things were looking up…right?
When your players come up with a plan, you say yes! In case it wasn’t already very clear, neither I nor my group run a particularly conventional game of Cyberpunk. Back when we were in college, our experiences with Cyberpunk involved a campaign that killed three PCs in two sessions (two of whom died via PvP), a TPK that was kicked off by a party betrayal, and a retro ‘Realpunk’ campaign that also offed two PCs inside of two sessions. The notion that the dark future kills its inhabitants was broadcast loud and clear, as was the secondary goal of Cyberpunk. That secondary goal is to avoid combat. Guns get you killed, even if they’re in your possession. While Cyberpunk Red has toned down the clear and present danger honestly more than I’d like (there’ll be more on that in an In-Depth review sometime in the future), old habits die hard and both my group and myself lean into them. Big face scenes. Wacky schemes. Fraud. Identity Theft (and sometimes clone theft if it’s relevant). My group has come up with so many crazy ways to accomplish their goals without firing a shot that for us it’s almost more emblematic than combat.
Now, you can run a combat-heavy game, of course. If you’re playing D&D, you almost can’t not run a combat-heavy game. But when you are working with game mechanics and a GM style which lean towards making combat terminal, you are incentivizing your players to come up with non-combat approaches to problems. And frankly, this is good! There are so many more interesting conflicts in the world than just killing people. This group, as you’ve probably noticed, are hardened criminals and have killed a few people (and gotten a few people killed indirectly, like Vlad). But they’re also committing other, often more lucrative crimes, like fraud and identity theft and insider trading. And frankly, making your PCs into white collar criminals in Cyberpunk seems oddly more in-genre than just having them kill people. Why let the hackers have all the fun, after all?
There are two pieces of advice here, from very different sources. “Say yes or roll” is not one of the Apocalypse World agendas or principles, but it does come up in the GMing chapter. The basic idea here is that either characters are going to be able to do something, or the consequences of them not doing something are enough that a die roll should come into play. Now, I clearly didn’t let the characters convince Igor to take the stock tip without a die roll, but there’s no reason to say no to that course of action, even if it isn’t what the other players, the GM, or even the game mechanics themselves were prepared to have happen. There are enough skills in Cyberpunk Red to model this, so throw that die and see what happens!
The second piece of advice comes from GURPS, and is “when in doubt, roll and shout”. This is the bolstering advice to any group who tend to get into scheming, because it’s not unlikely that their schemes will wander outside of what’s defined by the rules. Now, you may say this is a good reason to use a lighter, less prescriptive ruleset, but ultimately the advice works for any game. Don’t stop a course of action because it isn’t in the rules. Come up with something close enough, roll a die, and go. You can always do a more thorough lookup later, if you, like me, end up having your players try insider trading a *second* time.
For a group like CabbageCorp, the watchword is always “curveball”. Whether you’re the characters, the players, or even the GM, you’ll need to expect the unexpected. Does it get weirder than stealing real estate from a dead man and then offering to pay for it with insider trading? Actually, yes it does. Hope you enjoyed the read, and hope you’ll join us next time for another Adventure Log!
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