Adventure Log: Cyberpunk Red: CabbageCorp Finale

Riding in a Bell Super Huey generously called ‘ancient’, the CabbageCorp team is heading to the Heartland Complex. The five spires of the complex are the jewel of the Hydropolis skyline, and in one of them Dr. William Squires is preparing to unleash a cloud of plant seeds which, when guided by an artificial intelligence, will regreen the entire North American continent. They may also kill anything in their way, which is why CabbageCorp is trying to stop the whole thing.

A whole lot of things happened very quickly since we last checked in on the team. After discovering the severity of the matter, the team gave the OK to their Media Jacob Capone to leak the story to the press. Thanks to Jacob’s credibility, the story took off, and Militech sent a detachment of armored vehicles in the direction of Kansas. CabbageCorp had to stop Squires and his plan before the armored column got there and either kickstarted the apocalypse or started a Fifth Corporate War.

The team didn’t actually know which of the five spires Squires was located in, so the mission started with a tight fly-by. Fortunately, the command center for the whole operation was located near the top of one of the spires and had some lovely full length windows. Now it was just time to get in the building. The team had surveyed the defenses of the area, and while they had friends ready to secure the lobbies below, it was clear that the only way they’d get to Squires before he could just push the button was from the top. The plan was to fast-rope from the Huey…but nobody on the team had really fast-roped before. Jacob slid off the end of the rope and began tumbling towards the edge of the tower roof, caught just in time by one of his teammates.

The mission didn’t get less messy from there. As it turns out, flying a helicopter right by the window is an easy way to broadcast your arrival, and the team met immediate resistance as soon as they got in the building. The firefight on the maintenance level was messy, and the team was pinned back into a bathroom fairly quickly. After regrouping, the team decided they’d rather die anywhere but in an office bathroom, and pushed back out into the hallway. It wasn’t long before they had wounded two of the security team sent to deal with them, and put a gun to the head of one of the wounded. The combat was over, a stalemate. Bubbles and Relay demanded to see Squires. The guards, not really knowing what else to do, relented.

As soon as the team was brought to the control room, it was clear numbers were no longer in their favor. Squires also let them know the process was already starting, and there wasn’t anything they could do to stop it. Bubbles asked to jack in and talk with the AI. Squires was confused, but ultimately assented. He had a backup, and if there was any funny business Bubbles would be killed fairly immediately. What was the risk?

This conversation was different from the last one. The AI had all of their bandwidth available, and Bubbles was significantly more overwhelmed. The environment was made to resemble a forest, seemingly to put her at ease. Remembering last time, Bubbles offered up her own memories to expand the dataset. She showed the AI everything…when she was still Mireille, her parents and how much she loved them. The disappearance, her escape in the back of that cabbage truck. Her teammates, and her affections for them. Jacob, with a strong sense of justice, and Relay, with his silver tongue. Philly, the motivated, and Mason, the wily. Doctor Kong and Tyrone King, whose friendship for each other was as strong as their heavily augmented bodies. She showed the AI as many people as she could, people who were more than just biomass in the AI’s balance of outcome. The AI stopped its clock cycle for a brief moment.

“I see what you mean,” the AI said. “The chance for success may be smaller, but I think I can incorporate these inputs successfully. Thank you. …Bubbles.” The connection was severed.

The process continued, controlled entirely by the AI at this point. Whatever changes had happened had taken a barely perceptible amount of time, and the real fireworks were underway. From each spire a rocket filled with hyperplasic seeds was launched, flying to the upper atmosphere where their payloads were cast on the wind. Everything grew quiet. Minutes passed. Reports of the new plant growth were coming in from spotters, the plants were sprouting rapidly across the formerly barren plains. But then, the reports confirmed it. The growth had stopped at city limits. Whatever the AI had changed, it had worked.

In the next few weeks, Doctor Squires went into hiding. His plan had worked, but thanks to Jacob the whole country knew he had been ready to sacrifice millions of people. Jayhawk Agritech dissolved, and Biotechnica bought up the remainder of their assets. Now that there were plants growing in the midwest again, Biotechnica, Continental Brands, and Petrochem were all ready to ratchet up their plans for dominance. And as part of that, just when they thought they could go their separate ways, every member of the CabbageCorp crew received a letter informing them of a new employment contract.

Here’s a difficult thing about ending games: Climactic encounters pay off when they feel hard fought, but it’s really tough for you as a GM to actually let your players fail in the last session. In this last session, there were worse moments than that. I had the players roll for fast-roping as a way to set the scene for the encounter, and Jacob’s player fumbled. I think the net dice roll was a negative three by the rules as written. Now, he could have fallen off the building to his death, but what a crappy thing to do to a player in the last session. In combat? OK, that’s different. But tripping and falling? Come on.

It’s also worth noting that the events of the session seem short. Fast-rope in, have one combat, combat ends in stalemate, go in to see the boss. This did actually take over three hours, partly because there was a planning phase, and partly because the combat bogged down. The planning phase is worth noting, actually. I had prepped the entire building, and most of my prep involved what would happen if the team went in from the bottom. My logic there was that even if they did fly into the top, there’d be a massive security team there. Well, my players called my bluff. There were going to be more than just the initial three combatants, but taking a hostage ended up working very well, considering how high the stakes already were.

As far as the encounter with Squires went…there were some rolls there, and as was often the case the face characters in the group rolled well. That all said, I must concede that I wasn’t actually prepared to have the group lose. This was the longest campaign I’ve run, and I made the choice to have it all roll up into this one moment. As the group chose to take on the villain (a choice they didn’t necessarily need to make), it didn’t seem right to take that ending away from them.

This is something to consider when your campaigns near their end. What endings are you willing to actually have? Often, much like in this very game, a climax where the outcomes are ‘win’ or ‘lose’ is a false dichotomy, because you and your group already know that only one of those will be a satisfying ending. This is another reason I do like to use my epilogue as a chance for another Cyberpunk classic: the back to the beginning. Sure, CabbageCorp saved the world, but all they got out of it was another corporate contract and maybe a nicer cubicle.

Overall I enjoyed running this campaign. My hopes for it to be a sandbox were dashed, in part due to my prep and in part due to the pace of advancement. Cyberpunk Red set out to solve many of the problems that Cyberpunk 2020 has in its rules, and it did that fairly well for the most part. One issue that still remains, and is arguably made worse by the changes to the advancement rules, is the power differential. Now, Cyberpunk hardly has the same power differential as a game like Dungeons and Dragons, where first level characters are only just competent and twentieth level characters are demigods. That said, Cyberpunk still has more power differential than is typical in the cyberpunk genre outside of gaming, which makes keeping stories aligned kind of tough. As I learned too, the in-game expectations of having a corporate character can dramatically shift the timbre of the campaign. At the beginning, I wanted this to be a low-level game, with the characters sneaking into and out of the city and building up underworld contacts. It became eminently clear that I couldn’t explain why Mason, the Exec, was with the group if that’s what they were doing. And when there’s an Exec, there’s both more money directly available to the characters through their fringe benefits, and there’s more implied money because there are other corporate characters hanging around.

Another issue which is a perennial headache for my group is the party size balance. This isn’t stated anywhere outright, but Cyberpunk really starts to break down when you have six or more players. To go back to the Exec, the Team Role Ability is incredibly useful when you have three or four PCs and you don’t have a Netrunner, or you don’t have a Tech. When you have six to eight PCs and have covered pretty much every Role, then the Team members are just worse PCs running around. Similarly, it’s very difficult to strain the resources of the group when they have the ability to do everything in-house. In the game’s defense, these systems are never actually designed with large parties like the one I typically run with. I am finding, though, that some systems, particularly ones that are a little more harsh, can be more robust when it comes to party size. The game I’m running now is using Twilight:2000, and it’s handling a six person party very well.

Issues aside, I enjoyed this game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up running Cyberpunk Red again in the future. I think for next time, though, I’m going to change up my plan of attack. If I want to try another straight-up Cyberpunk game, I’d probably do it for a smaller group. Additionally, while Cyberpunk 2020 GMs often banned Netrunners, I may ban the Exec. That said, for a group of 2-4 players with strong high concepts, an Exec could fit…it would really depend on what the players bring to the table. Another thing I’d consider, especially if I was running again for a 6+ person group, is a high concept game. High concept games have always been part of Cyberpunk, especially since the Roles are so different from each other. A Trauma Team or a News Station campaign could be a lot of fun with Cyberpunk Red, especially given the stronger Media and more option-heavy Medtech. Also, if I wasn’t feeling so serious, I’d try to run a Cyberpunk version of ‘The Office’. Everyone’s an Exec, and intrigue and betrayals are punctuated with happy hours, team-building exercises, and the occasional visit from an outside consultant.

All in all, this campaign went well. I was very happy with how I did some things, and others I feel I need to improve upon. That said, everyone had fun and the game kept everyone’s attention for over a year. By most metrics, that would make it a success. For now, though, there are other games to run. I mentioned my Twilight:2000 campaign, and I have altogether too many other campaigns I’d like to run, whether I do so with my main gaming group or another collection of my friends. Eventually, though, another campaign will catch my eye, and I’ll start writing it down. When that happens, you can ready for a whole new Adventure Log!

CabbageCorp is played with Cyberpunk Red. Check out the previous installment here.

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