Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Part 8

Nothing gets you in a productive mood like being in the crosshairs. Thanks in no small part to an insider trading scheme that was very ‘player character’ in its execution, Hydropolis is getting attention across the continent, attention that it may very well not want. For the employees of CabbageCorp, that means that it’s time to tie up loose ends…preferably before the tourists have bigger guns than they do.

When we last left our meddlesome mercs, they had placated Vlad’s boss with a promise of insider trading. The deal went wrong in the Russian Mob’s favor, and soon the whole world was wondering what was going on in this little corner of Kansas. The team also followed up on scientist/pervert Michael Forsythe, and in addition to helping ban him from the con scene they found themselves wondering what was going on in the upper floors of Jayhawk Agritech.

With the ‘Future of the Midwest’ conference fast approaching, a number of crises reared their heads in short order. The ghost town of Emporia had gone hot with a group of nomad outcasts trying to push out the Reclaimers who lived there. Emporia was where Jacob’s old flame Olga had relocated after repatriating some incriminating Jayhawk real estate documents, so the team was of course dragged into the shooting. Further complicating things, though, was that the outcasts were from the Kansas City Chiefs, TK’s pack.

The outcasts had blockaded the highway that went through Emporia, so the team rode into town taking an offroad route. Seeing that both sides had dug in for a siege, Mason suggested the only mildly suicidal tack of seeking parlay with the outcasts and finding out what was going on. After convincing the outcasts that they hadn’t taken sides, and seeing TK as another nomad, the two groups were able to talk. Turns out that the Chiefs had a new leader appointed with little warning, as their original, er, chief was stricken with sudden and severe heart trouble. Mason had an idea, and presented it to the team as they headed towards Kansas City to intercept the nomad pack that was bearing down on their location. The outcasts weren’t misrepresenting the issue; the chief’s inexperienced son was appointed hastily after the medical problems became apparent. Mason, thinking the solution was straightforward, called his boss to find out what Biotechnica could do, and then offered medical care to the pack. They accepted enthusiastically, but their enthusiasm immediately turned when the aerodyne with the big ‘Biotechnica’ logo touched down. The help was accepted, the problem was solved, and the team was told to never darken the doors of the Kansas City Chiefs again.

When one ally was lost in Kansas, another was gained in Texarkana. Philly had been scouring for leads on some bigger hardware, and this search was made more urgent by the upcoming conference. He was able to find one lead, pointing to a truck convoy that had left the Barrett gunsmith in Tennessee at the start of the Fourth Corporate War. Knowing that Barrett was synonymous with high caliber, Philly was able to convince the team to take a truck out and see what they could find. When they got there, though, it was clear that someone else had beaten them to the punch. Sneaking failed, and the two groups almost started taking shots at each other, until Mason recognized his favorite podcaster, hanging out with nomads and, from the show’s subject matter, presumably looking for cryptids. The mood was defused, and the team got to talking with the nomads. This group, the Ozark Boys, delivered the bad news that whatever guns were in the truck had been stolen years ago. What was in the truck was even more valuable, though: a large quantity of tooling for making more guns. The team agreed to lend the Ozark Boys their truck and their manpower, in exchange for future firearms.

Crises were springing up fast and hard, but the team kept their heads up. The Future of the Midwest conference was in only a week, and it was not clear what Jayhawk had to say about that.

The passage of time is a weird thing to manage in RPGs. If you know an event is happening in two weeks’ time, how do you fill that time? This is in some ways the reason why downtime mechanics were invented; if nothing interesting is truly happening, let the PCs fast-forward and explain what they were doing in a short summary, so you can get back to the good stuff. There are a couple problems with this. First, as I alluded to in the last adventure log, I wasn’t completely done with the notion that I was running Hydropolis as a sandbox, even if that was becoming less and less true by the session. In a sandbox, the implication (or at least hope) is that there’s always something going on, which makes downtime seem less appealing. The second issue here is that the Cyberpunk Red downtime mechanics are basically all stick and no carrot. This is a holdover from Cyberpunk 2020; in 2020 the only reason for extended downtime was to recover from injuries, so there was an underlying implication that being out in the action was better, and downtime was something to minimize. Red is a little better; there are different mechanics for long term projects, therapy to reduce cyberpsychosis risk, and, though this one really is barring any other use of the time, side hustles to earn a little pocket money. These downtime mechanics, though, still seem predicated on the implication that downtime is ineffectively spent time.

What I did for this game with timekeeping, after some trial and error, was declare that every five sessions represented an in-game ‘month’, and after those five sessions everyone got a free week of downtime to represent the time they didn’t spend on missions. This drove the players away from the false dichotomy of ‘downtime or mission’, and gave everyone time to think about what was going on in the background. It did not, on the other hand, resolve the major issue with Cyberpunk Red downtime mechanics, namely the fact that downtime is forced onto a hierarchy with ingame mission time and always placed at the bottom.

If it wasn’t clear, I like downtime mechanics, and I think having downtime be part of the ingame timecard instead of made into a choice is preferable. There are some games which make the choice at least interesting; Burning Wheel’s resources cycles mean that players must sometimes choose to invest large portions of time studying or working or advancing long-term projects. Similarly, Eclipse Phase ties the ability to spend XP with taking downtime, which is an ingenious way to ensure there is downtime while still leaving the choice up to the players. Ultimately, though, I have a preference towards systems like Blades in the Dark which enforce a certain amount of downtime. Oddly enough, it’s because I think it’s realistic. Game systems naturally gravitate towards the ‘game’ parts, the elements which are described and delineated by mechanics. This means on a macro level, your sessions will be about the missions, the adventures, the whichever experiences that make your characters work together to accomplish their ingame goals. The game may not concern itself with the characters buying rounds for everyone at a fantasy tavern or skipping rocks as they cool their heels in a hidden bolthole after a failed mission, but those are opportunities. This is where Blades in the Dark starts falling into the same mechanistic traps, by the way: There is defined downtime in Blades, but it is mechanically defined and easy to glaze over. One of the biggest character development gaps in most modern RPGs is what the characters do when they aren’t being ‘characters’, and even having delineated and enforced downtime mechanics doesn’t help that. And ultimately, even as I made my own downtime mechanic and even let the party own and operate their own bar (that’s still to come in a future adventure log), I still feel like I could have done this better. Jacob, Philly, and Mason drinking together and BSing is something that I feel like I failed to put into this campaign, and I really do think the campaign was lesser for its absence. I don’t think any particular game has solved this problem, but I think GMs can take some advice from these sessions described above: let your players take things at their own pace, and don’t feel the need to always throw something at them that you had in your back pocket. These missions weren’t bad, far from it, but, when looking back at the campaign, I struggle to see what I was trying to do at this stage of the game.

And what do I mean by this stage of the game? Well. Well well well. The Future of the Midwest conference represents a turning point, one where the campaign comes into sharp focus and everything goes full throttle. While CabbageCorp as a campaign wandered a bit, the last chapter was one that focused tightly and really delivered on being the Cyberpunk I remembered from my youth. Are you excited? You should be. Next time, all the cards are laid on the table and our cyber punks have to figure out what they’re going to do…The fate of the world may depend on it. Be sure to come along and join us when we return for the next chapter of this Adventure Log!

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

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