Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Part 11

There are many reasons to return to somewhere you’ve already been. Maybe a favorite bar has the right atmosphere for you, or a certain country provided an unforgettable vacation. For CabbageCorp, though, retracing steps usually happens when an earlier discovery is about to turn bad.

Don’t get me wrong, the team’s apartments in Potwin provided a safe (though corporate controlled) haven, and downtown Hydropolis has been walked up and down. But just like building a bar on the wreckage of a former enemy, the team once again will have to pull something useful out of an earlier haunt.

While returning from the ill-fated visit to the Biotechnica Nature Preserve near Spokane, Mason was informed that his former direct report, Brick, had been promoted to lead a team of his own. Mason interviewed a new team member, a support netrunner, but his relationship with Brick wasn’t exactly over. In fact, just a day later Mason and CabbageCorp were answering Brick’s distress call out in Emporia, Kansas.

Emporia, Kansas was a town occupied by Reclaimers, and CabbageCorp had been here once before; when Olga needed to get out of Hydropolis with dirt on Jayhawk, Emporia is where the team brought her to. The reason that Emporia had become a Reclaimer haven was that Jayhawk had, a few years past, closed a facility in the area and never went anywhere near it again. Why they closed the facility was about to become readily apparent.

Brick and his team had broken into the old Jayhawk building and were taken unaware by extensively mutated plants. What was worse (a lot worse) was that since the plants were modified to be hyperplasic, that is to grow larger and faster than their baseline relatives, they also adopted an evolutionary tactic made famous by certain plants in nutrient-poor environments like the sundew and venus flytrap…they craved flesh. The CabbageCorp team extricated the heavily wounded and traumatized Fireteam out of the death greenhouse, but stuck around long enough to see if they could grab any files. It did look like there was a horrific accident which set the experiments on ‘fast-forward’ and killed a whole bunch of researchers…It also appeared that someone had revisited these files not too long ago.

To figure out what was going on, the team revisited one more location, the abandoned building where they found an OldNet gateway back when they first met Fireteam. Now knowing what the equipment was, they set to work with concrete saws and opened an access panel where Bubbles could jack in. Bubbles immediately met an AI, one who had been using the downlink. The connection was physically isolated so there were no security protocols, per se; the AI simply asked Bubbles what she was doing. Bubbles asked the same in return, and the two had a conversation. Bubbles learned a lot about the ‘why’ of Doctor Squires’ project, which the AI was programmed to assist. Basically, the AI would correct the mistakes of the earlier hyperplasic plant programs (which had both gone horribly wrong) and use the technology to regreen the Midwest. The project would transform North America for the better, with the slight wrinkle that everything in the plants’ way while they spread would die. In other words, complete botanical apocalypse. Debating the merits of the project went nowhere, but the AI said it would welcome outside data to compare with its current material. Of course, said material was in an air gapped server room, there was no way for the AI to use the data outlink and the server room at the same time. Bubbles would have to have this conversation inside Jayhawk’s Heartland Complex.

Is this setting up the endgame? Of course it’s setting up the endgame. The stakes have been set, a literal ‘botanical apocalypse’. And while I made it clear that Squires is unlikely to be convinced or stopped (I told the players he’d “pull an Ozymandias” if they tried to kill him), the AI is apparently receptive to Bubbles attempts to convince.

While Bubbles’ player did make some pretty great rolls in the encounter with the AI, there was also the fact that the players were resistant to destroying Hydropolis, as well as destroying the midwest. When it was clear that Squires’ plan could actually work, erasing the canon environmental damage that created a second dust bowl, there was at least some discussion of letting it happen and just fleeing to outside the blast radius. There was still a backup plan of ‘flee outside the blast radius’ anyway, but the plan of ‘destroy the complex before the mutant plant spores are launched’ never really got off the ground.

And that circles back to this idea of revisiting locations. For the two dozen-odd sessions this game took (I clearly did not write Adventure Logs that were discretely one session each), I only partly built up Hydropolis as the sort of living, breathing setting that could rival, well, Night City in its depth and history. I don’t think I did anything wrong by not finishing this, it simply takes more time to let the players visit locations and visit them often enough that they get a feel for what the city and its geography is like. But even so, taking out the biggest feature on the skyline was not going to be a preferable plan for the team.

At this point in the campaign I was aiming for the exits, and it’s kind of clear in the way I let everything collapse towards one final objective. ‘Save the world’ isn’t a very Cyberpunk objective, but in a lot of ways this wasn’t a classic Cyberpunk campaign. Like in many of my games, I feel like I could have slowed down and made things a lot richer, a lot more interesting. The problem with that always comes down to how you’re going to execute it, and also where it intersects with what the players want to see. My group has always gravitated towards plots built around relationships and characters…Jayhawk was whatever, but Simon and Doctor Squires were interesting. Biotechnica was interesting because of Chad Horvath the long-suffering site manager and Sarah Harris, Mason’s boss who was the first to react to the team’s extralegal shenanigans. And in a way, listing off these NPCs and knowing that I can visualize them and know who they are says that I did succeed at making the campaign world complex, interesting, and densely populated. What I needed to remember at the beginning was that my group was never going to care about the geography more than the people.

There’s obviously one more session (and Adventure Log) left, but this was, story-wise, the conclusion of my writing. It was clear what had to happen, all that’s left is for the players to run through it. So while I can discuss boss battles and encounter planning next time, post-mortem is almost more appropriate here. I have historically turned up the treadmill on my campaigns at a certain point, leading them to an end fairly deliberately. While in high school and college this came out of advancement creep and being a generous GM (I am still generous to a fault in a lot of cases), in recent years it’s something I do deliberately, and something I usually do when I get bored. I’ve written a whole article about wandering eyes and it is an eternal problem for me as a GM, but I also realized that Cyberpunk Red had shown me what I needed to see. Cyberpunk 2020 was for a long time my favorite system, and when Red came out it was obvious that I was going to run it. Growing bored of running in the system isn’t really a strike against the system, rather I got comfortable with the fact that my interests in games have changed. In 2020 and 2021 I ran Eclipse Phase, Cyberpunk Red, Masks, The Sprawl, and Electric Bastionland. Two things happened. First, I really got to feel the difference between running a more traditional game, which is built around cause and effect and game physics, and a more narrative game, where the dice are there to throw bombs in your story, physics be damned. I like both, but they tend to be good at different sorts of stories…and honestly ‘corporate shenanigans’ cyberpunk works a bit better with more narrative support. The conceit fought the system’s attempts to rein in the power level, because CabbageCorp wasn’t really an ideal Cyberpunk campaign. If I were to run Red again, it would be on the streets, much lower level, and would really hinge on all the subsystems built into the game. If I were to do something like CabbageCorp again, the sort of over-the-top campaign my group often aims for, I’d probably use Fate with the Interface Zero rules. More flexibility, more narrative bombs, more fun. My current game illustrates these preferences perfectly: For the same group which played through the CabbageCorp campaign, I’m currently running Twilight:2000, and it’s great. Low level, really turning on all the survival systems provided for that game, and using the mechanics to full effect to create many interesting decision points.

In the end, I enjoyed running CabbageCorp, and it helped me understand what Cyberpunk Red is good at. To that end, while I’d run the system again, the campaign I’d run would probably be very different from this one. As far as this one goes, though, we have one left. CabbageCorp is going to make a run on the Heartland Complex, and if all goes well, maybe they’ll save the entire country.

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

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