Coming from Kansas, Hydropolis feels like a real big city, and going out into the small towns in its periphery can really drive that point home. On the other hand, when the rest of the country has you in the crosshairs, everywhere in Kansas is going to feel real small. For the CabbageCorp operatives, both perspectives were about to be on the table.
When we last left our fascinating fraudsters, they had won over Russian mob fixer Igor with the promise of insider trading. Of course, the trade they ended up giving Igor was a bit too good, and Mason’s career was put in the crossfire. While his boss Sarah is none too happy with him, Mason and the others had a few other things to distract themselves with.
The team headed down to Augusta, back to the scene of the crime where Vlad was concerned. After deliberating for a good while, the team decided they would sell the restaurant and apartment building which Vlad had purchased, but keep his warehouse. They headed to the town hall to do the deed. Town hall was about as busy as the rest of the town, which is to say not busy at all. That did give the whole team the opportunity to meet Kelly Cook. Kelly was the self-appointed mayor of Augusta, and explained she was none too keen about all the big shot corpos over in Hydropolis proper, though she still wanted to see Augusta return to the glory days from before the Fourth Corporate War. Mason stayed appropriately cagey about his employer and motives, and the team was able to not only get the deeds registered but also get the recommendation of a realtor for liquidating the properties. When Kelly inquired about how Mason got the deeds in the first place, a little bit of mistaken identity worked in his favor, and nobody ended up asking any questions about the whole Arasaka kill-team unpleasantness from the prior week. While the team felt like they got away pretty clean, it was hard not to notice the gigantic vintage revolver on Kelly’s hip: a Magnum Opus Hellbringer, one of the most over the top guns from before the Fourth Corporate War. No one asked where it came from or how she got it, but it was clear Kelly was someone the team did not want to piss off.
Back in the city, things were moving a lot faster. Bubbles received an anonymous invitation to a chain coffee shop from a username she didn’t recognize. Suspicious, she strong-armed Philly into going with her to check out the situation. Once they arrived, a petite woman with a distinctly nerdy fashion sense started screaming at Philly, calling him a pervert, among other things. Bubbles was confused, to say the least, and when she got a word in edgewise and explained that she was Bubbles, the woman calmed down. Her name was Keiji Ito, and she and Philly actually had a working history, with Philly helping to find owners for the obscure and sometimes creepy things that she brought into the city. Her target now, though, was another otaku who also went by the nickname of Bubbles, who had apparently decided to go on a bit of a panty raid at a local con. Philly reluctantly agreed to help, after some pestering from Bubbles and the decision that it was probably best not to burn a contact, even one who creeped him out a bit. Once he found out who the other ‘Bubbles’ was, though, he and the whole team got a lot more interested. Turns out this Bubbles was a high ranking Jayhawk scientist by the name of Michael Forsythe. Forsythe headed the orbital agriculture division at Jayhawk Agritech, and this raised some eyebrows on the team; there had been rumors that the events which occurred while the team was in the back of their eponymous cabbage truck may have had something to do with Biotechnica trying to swipe orbital crop technology that was intended for the Outriders and other offplanet clients. Using Forsythe’s personal life as an excuse to spy on him seemed perfect. Of course, what the team found was a little more interesting.
Using Relay to charm his way past the guards and Bubbles to bypass the security system, the team tapped into the corporate cameras in Forsythe’s apartment. They did keep their word to Keiji and found several pairs of stolen underwear from the con, but the real dirt was in the recordings. It seemed innocuous at first, but Forsythe had been kept at work later and later, and it sounded like William Squires, the CTO and Forsythe’s boss, might have him stay onsite overnight to continue working. Something really big was going down at Jayhawk, and it sounded a bit bigger than just orbital agriculture.
Things moved fast for the team right then. Relay and Keiji hit it off during the operation, making Relay the second team member to find himself with a romantic entanglement. And just as the team tried to make heads or tails of what Forsythe and other senior scientists at Jayhawk were doing, they saw something interesting on the news. Turns out that Jayhawk’s stock price spike had been noticed further out than just Biotechnica. A consortium of megacorps had hastily pulled together a business conference to discuss the goings-on in their newly hot location, called “The Future of the Midwest Conference”. It would be happening in three weeks, and, oddly, neither Jayhawk nor Biotechnica were on the sponsor list.
There are three sort of events that occur in an RPG campaign: events mediated by the players, events mediated by the GM, and events mediated by the dice. The log above provides an example of each; the players went to Augusta to make real estate transactions, the dice told me that Bubbles would suffer a case of mistaken identity, and I was the one who cooked up the Future of the Midwest conference. Now, each campaign needs a different proportion of each sort of event, and this point in the campaign was one where I realized that the campaign wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.
I wrote the initial outline of Hydropolis as a precursor to a sandbox, but for multiple reasons it didn’t quite work out that way. The most active factions in the game have been the corporations, and the other hooks that were brought in didn’t quite mesh together. This made it a bit difficult to get a lot of underlying conflicts going, and pulling in other characters besides the corporate ones always seemed a bit disjointed. The introduction of William Squires, and then here the foreshadowing to the big corporate conference, were me giving up on running a sandbox behind the scenes. In the next few sessions it will become clear that the intrigue in and around Jayhawk, which was already the most developed conflict, is going to become primary. While I do believe my players became invested in the goings-on in the city, the sandbox I had envisioned never really took off, for a few reasons. First, as often happens in games I run (and many campaigns in trad systems), the characters were only ‘hungry’ for maybe the first three or four sessions. Having no money is the easiest motivation for characters, and it also incentivizes them to look far and wide for work, allowing you the GM to introduce more and more diverse conflicts, characters, and locations. Related to that, it’s really tough to have a party with an Exec and still keep them hungry, if only for internal logic reasons. But also related to having an Exec, in theory they’re working, which means in theory they’re getting direction from their employer in some manner. Now I didn’t have to make this central, but I love the corporate intrigue aspect of Cyberpunk plots, so I admit I leaned in. The last and most significant issue was I had trouble balancing the longer-term goals of the characters. Part of this was having so many characters in the game, but another was a timetable issue: Relay’s cult got a lot of screentime because his player pushed on those mechanics, but I wasn’t great at providing a better payoff than those short-term gains. Jacob, on the other hand, got a nice little arc with the Reclaimers but most of it resolved in the first half of the campaign. TK gave me an entire nomad pack to play with but I only managed to have them show up once. This session is somewhat emblematic of me pulling back on my sandbox aspirations to instead feed a central conflict. And while I do like how the game ended up, I can’t help but think there were some missed opportunities here. If I return to Cyberpunk Red after this, I’d probably run a campaign with a tighter conceit, and give it a little more room to run.
Nothing goes according to plan for the CabbageCorp operatives, but nothing ever goes according to plan for the CabbageCorp GM, either. I might not have had the focus or prep time to run the sandbox I envisioned, but the back half of the CabbageCorp saga turns the tension up high; in my mind it only gets better from here on out. Jayhawk Agritech and Biotechnica have only really begun the struggle, come see how it plays out in the next Adventure Log!
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