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Mostly Flesh and Steel: Chinese New Years

So last week I started the first of my biweekly Shadowrun games and this Sunday was the time to start my other game, Mostly Flesh and Steel. Where Icarus Protocol began in 2074, this game started on what would be the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations on the 14th of February 2075. Just like with Icarus Protocol, I had most of the same considerations:

A) Several players had never roleplayed before and in this case, all of the players were entirely new to Shadowrun (having only exposure to the core rules for a bit).

B) This Run really needed to be tutorial like, with how combat worked, how to interact with the Matrix and similar being important focuses.

The first game I ran had things be slightly simpler for me, because I ran it out in the middle of nowhere with a destroyed town with its secret underground lab being the focus. Here this game started right in the heart of Shanghai and I decided that the most important thing to start doing was world building. Shanghai is a deeply divided city at the moment, as the Chinese originating Wuxing Megacorporation attempts to hold onto its traditional control of the city. Meanwhile the Japanese Megacorporations, most notably Shiawase and Renraku, are making a considerable bid for control of key subsidiary corporations and the main public grid operation.

Wuxing in an attempt to combat this had forced the local government to keep the city “Culturally and Ethnically Chinese” by enforcing several policies across the city. For one, AR and VR programs in the matrix don’t automatically translate themselves to other languages: Only mandarin. They have also enforced traditional public holidays and celebrations like Chinese New Years, while making it illegal to celebrate holidays that aren’t “Culturally relevant”. Naturally this is causing increasing tensions and could lead to a substantial boil over between Wuxing security forces and Renraku’s Red Samurai in particular.

Emphasizing this background to the players (and hence, their characters) was pretty important as it forms a large part of the core of this game. Like with Icarus Protocol, I again decided to ask the players to identify who their characters were and a little bit more worldbuilding: Emphasizing that Runners rarely share their real names with anyone. Small things like this make a big difference in how you make the world feel unique and alive!

Raijin – Japanese born dwarven street Mage.
Candy – Elven Street Samurai who happens to be married to Tiny…Tiny – Troll Street Samurai and is in fact, married to Candy. It’s the horns.
Nanna – Elderly Chinese lady and the teams Rigger/Vehicle.
Radical Edward – 12 years old (!) and the teams novahot (means really good) decker.

Like with Icarus Protocol, the Mr. Wong (The local lingo for a Mr. Johnson among Sadowrunners in Shanghai) had arranged some starting details for the Runners and assembled the team. I also decided he had originally met their decker, Radical Edward in an old abandoned matrix grid at the docks in Shanghai. From there the Runners were assembled and other than Candy/Tiny the Runners didn’t have an initial attachment to one another. Good thing I could provide them with one by the end of this!

I allowed the players some time to just roleplay out some initial interactions like a “This is what my character looks like and my general job”, where we got an interesting age contrast between Nanna (a late 60s grandmother) and the 12 year old prodigy cyberdecker. Not to mention the married couple being a troll and shorter than average elf! Raijin kept to himself for the most part and set up a suitable “Mysterious” persona.

Eventually they were driven down into the Red Lotus communications building, where their first Run together was taking place. This job actually seemed pretty straightforward: With the laws as they are and Chinese New Year celebrations underway, the vast majority of employees were out enjoying themselves. Security was also going to be much lighter – if still formidable – than normal. This provided the perfect opportunity, because the vast majority of all Shanghai’s communications went through the matrix grid of this building in one way or another.

Indeed most significantly, this was the heart of the public grid in Shanghai. Taking it over would allow an individual to communicate with the entire populace practically at once. This is exactly what the Mr. Wong wanted to do, as he wanted to spread a message of a coming anti-corporate revolution amongst the downtrodden people of Shanghai. He was paying too, almost 150,000 Nuyen for the trouble and the operation would be pretty straightforward.

A milkrun, you might say.

The complication here was that being a key building for all communications data in the matrix, it was an incredibly heavy spam zone. In addition, the actual communications hub was on the top most floor – meaning that there was a substantial amount of distance in getting up there. Due to the New Years Celebrations, a strict no fly zone made simply flying up there impractical: But the Mr. Wong had a solution to that. The parking garage was barely guarded due to security being spread thin from celebrations. A maintenance elevator would take the Runners right where they needed to go. As long as they didn’t trip any alarms, they could get right up next to the communications nexus, upload the virus and right back out to an easy payday.

In order for this “easy payday” to materialize, they were transported into the garage by the Mr. Wong’s driver – who parked the maintenance vehicle in such a way that the camera’s vision of the disembarking Runners was obscured. Initially the player of the decker was a bit late, so I decided they would have to do things the good old fashioned way and just watch for breaks in the camera’s vision. Eventually they successful snuck their way past the cameras and then up to the security office, where three guards were playing cards.

Now, it’s worth noting that today I wanted to see what happened when one side got surprise on the other in Shadowrun. It turns out, it’s pretty grisly, as the Runners brutally dispatched all three guards before one of the poor guys had time to even stand up out of his chair and say something. Candy blew one guys head off, another got his chest caved in by Tiny and finally, the drone, Nanna and the Katana of Raijin accounted for the final guard. What a way to go!

This was an important lesson for me as a GM as well: Surprise rounds in Shadowrun are brutal. They heavily penalize the defender in terms of both initiative and the fact you get no defensive rolls to avoid being hit. You have to take whatever damage was dished out purely on your characters body and armor. This has a big effect of essentially making everything just super lethal very quickly. Important factoid to bear in mind if I want to set up ambushes or similar situations of the Runners.

In any event, the security room allowed the Runners to rewire many of the security functions of the building (a flaw Red Lotus had not accounted for) and then get up the maintenance elevator to the 96th floor. Plus the all important communications nexus, which was their primary objective and where they needed to get to. Unfortunately blocking their way was the intimidating figure of the buildings elderly, somewhat blind …. janitor. After complaining about the smell from the vents and mumbling about cleaning bathrooms repeatedly, he was fed the wrong kind of cookie by Nanna and then started to have a nap (cookies laced with high doses of sleeping tablets is apparently a thing in this game).

Then Radical Edward climbed up into the vents and found some weird red, bomb like devices, but thankfully (for them) did not fiddle with the thing to see what it did (which would have been bad). They were also all over the building, which could not have been good either but they pressed on ahead. Sadly, nobody had thought to ask Kuo how long the smell had been around while he was still conscious.

Hmmmm.

In any event, they barged into the communications room after Radical Edward got unlucky on a sleaze roll to try to silently hack into the systems there. The host sent up some black IC and other defenses, but thankfully they rolled poorly enough that nobody got their brains fried this time. Security was rapidly coming on the scene though and so the Runners barricaded themselves in the room, locked doors and took the employees hostage. Unfortunately this didn’t deter the security as they blew up the door and began to try to get in, with Candy, Tiny, Raijin and Nanna holding the line to gun them down first. Suppression I have to say is an amazingly useful thing to do in this kind of situation.

Here is where I did get a bit confused, because I got a bit lost with how drain was supposed to work. I didn’t seem to easily find in the book what particular roll the Mage was needing for drain, so just fudged it in response. Rule #1: Even when new, keep the game flowing whenever possible and fudge things for a while. It’s okay to get something wrong and everyone having fun, than looking up every rule in detail and 45 minutes later figuring out the solution. I have two weeks time minimum to figure this stuff out by next session: But only 4 hours or so to play!

In any event, Radical Edward easily succeeded in getting the upload sorted and the Mr. Wong’s voice came through loud and clear. Across every communications device in the entire city. Here he spoke of revolution, of how megacorporations were a capitalist cancer and how he was disappointed most in the people, those who willingly chose to inject cancer in the form of cyberware into their bodies. He emphasize though that while seemingly invincible, megacorps could be damaged and hurt by the peoples revolution.

He then gave a demonstration by pointing out the Shiawase central hub building in Shanghai…. and then dramatically demolishing it with a high explosive blast leveling part of the city, causing a shockwave to annihilate glass and small buildings around it. The glass of the Red Lotus building also shattered as well and then he called up the Runners. Here was my “Motivation to work together? You got mutually screwed” idea, where Mr. Wong informed them that they could not be a part of the new revolution (most of the party has cyberware in some way).

Remember those foul smelling things in the vents? Yeah they exploded, sending a cloud of red mist all over the place and over the security teams in the hallway first. This rapidly turned them into terrible, twisted piles of cyberized flesh and bloody ghoulish meat. These things, “Cyberzombies”, then set upon the mage (who was unaffected) and then towards the Runners. At this point it was the cue to get out and the easiest way was to jack the Ares helicopter sitting on the drone pad outside. 100m away down a sloping 55 degree angle glass roof.

Hence the Runners basically fled away from the increasing horde of cyberized zombies by sliding down the glass roof, shooting them as they swarmed out of the building towards them. You might be wondering why this is similar to what happened in Icarus Protocol – all in good time. All in good time. But it IS worth noting I planned from the start to interlink both games in some interesting ways plot wise. In any event, the Runners piled into the helicopter and got away, just in time in fact as the horde threw itself off the roof trying to get them.

With all security entirely focused on the ruined Shiawase owned building, it was a simple flight out from a very decidedly dodgy run….

Now who wants to buy one very slightly claw marked helicopter? It’s mostly new! We promise!

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