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Icarus Protocol

Now that I have got used to how Shadowrun as a system works, I can start to push how I make Runs and the overall complexity. In the first two sessions of this campaign I have run, most of the operation took place at a single area and was designed to be concluded within around 3-4 hours. Now I started to push what I could do with Shadowrun and make Runs that were more complex, had more moving parts and most importantly – more investigative elements. One of the key elements of Shadowrun, even if it can involve rolling a lot of dice, is preparation and a longer Run with more elements I felt would help reward the players for thinking creatively about problems.

Additionally, rather like the pacing I found with Trail of Cthulhu a longer Run also lets me introduce more NPCs, then have the actual time to roleplay them into memorable interesting characters. A “One and done” system usually means constraining what my players can do into a very “Here is the run, just focus on doing it” kind of attitude and that makes life fairly difficult to do anything else. By taking two sessions I do extend out the campaign a lot, but I get some additional depth and time to build NPCs. Both of these are very important to me and the way I run my games, so this was the first of the more complicated Runs I introduced to the Shadowrunners.

Here I decided that the Runner’s job came from a fairly familiar source, which rather defies the typical “Mr Johnson/Mr Juan” set up. Upon accepting the invite to the Saint Michel, an extremely upper corporate French restaurant and diner from the Mrs. Juan they went to visit. Again Eric went in first, checking it out in the matrix where one can eat simsense dinner or have drinks as if you are actually there (which means all patrons must enter the restaraunt in Hot-sim VR). It all checked out and eventually the rest of the Runners entered to have their meeting with the Mrs. Juan in the VIP area. Security and wait staff were already expecting them of course and they were led right in to where she was waiting.

Naturally I wanted the Mrs. Juan to be familiar this time to the party and they had their meeting with the eccentric new star of Aztechnologies magical research division: Arias Ticjudos (who they met previously, albeit briefly). Arias of course is not the sort of person to just hand a job to anyone, but attempted to get to know the Runners better before she described the assignment. Naturally it was time for a bit of a moral conundrum and see how the Runners reacted. Here, Arias talked about the nature of “Freedom”, which she defined as being able to decide what you did with your life without the yoke of others making your decisions for them. This was a trait that she said she admired in Shadowrunners and why they were there with her that evening: They impressed her with their actions at the party.

Then she introduced a “wage slave”, who worked at Aztechnology for several years making magical fetishes for sale in stuffer shacks (a cyberpunk Wal-Mart equivalent). Here she revealed what the Runners already knew, that most people who were really into magic weren’t dumb enough to buy them and they were thinking of phasing it out. The guy, Antonio, had been working for the company some 28 years making these things and was due to get corporate life benefits at 30 years of service. Guaranteeing putting his children through a good corporate owned school and giving him a decent shot at a comfortable retirement.

Unless she fired him then and there of course, naturally giving the Runners the decision.

So you might wonder at this point, why would they fire a random guy for no reason outside of spite or just purely being a sociopath? Because Arias gave them a little incentive each – something I knew would be important to that character or something I knew they would really really want – to agree to her plan to fire him. What’s more this wasn’t a democracy: If even a single Runner decided to say “Fire him” that was it and Antonio would get his marching orders to the – very long – unemployment lines the next day.

The question is: Why do this at all in the game and what is the point? There are two main reasons to do this and both are to drive character development. In the first case, I got an immensely fascinating divide among the players as to how they voted and why. It will actually be worth an entire post of its own in future and will be worth discussing at quite a bit of length. There were some interesting and very important pieces of character development for the Runners that came out of this. Secondly, it also builds Arias’ character and how she chooses to interact with the Runners in future (as she’s a pretty central character!). The long term consequences vs. the short term gains were the important part of the result here.

If you’re wondering, Antonio is going to be escorted out of his office by security.

And no, I’m not revealing how anyone voted 😉

After this was concluded, Arias began to talk about what she actually wanted the Runners to do. This job involved investigating a known serial killer operating out of a chop shop somewhere in the city. Various people had been taken off the streets, with their cyberware and organs harvested, then dumped in various places. Although corporate security forces were “investigating” they had proven rather incompetent due to high level interference blocking a lot of what they were trying to do. In short, someone was literally getting away with murder, taking peoples organs and then discarding whatever wasn’t valuable. The fellow in question earned the street monikor “Doctor Chop” and for various reasons, including killing one of her more valuable interns, Arias wanted him dead.

There were some other provisions for the job as well, such as getting a bonus if the Runners did it “creatively” and Arias informing them that a bit of public destruction/exploding of things was more than acceptable. She would keep security off their backs as well, so long as they were keeping in line with the parameters for the Run and not blowing up too much Aztechnology related things. She had only a few leads, notably that a gang was thought to be assisting the good doctor and to tread carefully: Corporate fingerprints were all over the job in various ways. If they messed up and he got away, or they were clearly identified doing the job they could bring the wrath of considerably powerful opponents on them.

As an aside: Before the game started one of my players, whose character is Kelpie (their face) couldn’t make this session. Thankfully with advance notice I went through some of the conversation with Arias in advance and got her opinions on the vote, plus how she would decide to vote (which was to disdainfully vote that she couldn’t possible agree to fire this man right in front of the other players – a small, but oddly important action). I allowed the Runners who were there to move the conversation in general, but allowed them to use Kelpies stats for the negotiations and such, so it worked out well. Her character has an “unmissable” event that has removed her from doing part of the run….

None the less the Runners set off to begin preparing, starting with Mister summoning some spirits, while Eric plus Skemm searched the matrix for evidence of these abductions/killings. Several murders over the past six months fit the bill and the pattern of behaviour was related to a local gang in the area: The Red Devils. Known to generally be a low grade biker gang and dealing in BTL (Better Than Life) chips, they had recently had a bit of an equipment and cash upgrade. Most of the abductions and subsequent body dumpings happened around their main shit-hole of a clubhouse: The Leaky Brain (a reference to the wonderfully dystopian world of Remember Me).

With preparations complete, the Runners quietly snuck up on the place and it was time for Skemm – the parties rigger – to really show what he could do with his drones. The stealth drone (whose name escapes me right now) sidled up first and had a look through the window of the bar. Having an invisibility spell cast on it from Mister certainly helped matters as well and it was able to quietly assess the numerous gangers talking loudly in the bar.

After calibrating the sensors, with the drone hanging just outside of an open window, it could pick up snippets of a conversation implying the gangers had taken a shadowrunner recently. She was currently being assessed at one of their chop shop fronts before being moved on to the boss later. They described their boss too, who was a skinny, tall man with a German accent and a highly unpleasant skeevy demeanor. Apparently the Runner was targeted due to buying upgrades from another clinic they wanted, but the drones sensors couldn’t quite pick out what it was from all the other noise in the bar (someone broke a glass on another gangers head, causing considerable noisy shouting).

With enough information to isolate things down to a couple of potential clinics used as fronts by the Red Devils, the Runners went and got in contact with “Faerie”, who informed them that the Red Devils used one of the clinics in particular. He also gave them a warning about something they already knew: That someone powerful in Aztechnology wanted the guy involved in the whole thing dead and they should be careful. Why? Because a team of Shadowrunners had got involved and was rumored to be interested in blowing the guys brains out.

Word travels fast basically.

Heading on over to the shop, even with the rain making the invisibility trick harder, the drone slid through into the chop shop without even a single ganger noticing. Here is where the Runners decision to be very careful at the bar and not just pick a fight really paid off: Nobody was expecting company. Even dripping water down on the floor as the drone quietly snuck past the gangers wasn’t enough to give an alert (the gangers did not succeed at perception too well vs. the drones impressive stealth + magical invisibility).

None the less the drone slid into the back, where a bookshelf had been moved revealing a hidden staircase down into a lower room below. Once down the drone picked up some strange noises, one a strange choking sound and the other an odd squishy one. When it entered, expecting the runner to be in harms way, it found that a tall elven woman in a surgical gown was busily stabbing a dead ganger, while simultaneously choking out a man in surgical gear with some IV tubes. Protip: Always remember to properly check and disable auto-injectors that a Runner might happen to have installed.

None the less, Skemm rapidly opened up some communication with her and she soon agreed to their plan to assault the clinic. She just needed some time to get dressed and then she would join the fun. The drone then floated back up to the top and prepared to open fire, giving the players a good taste of how the surprise rules in Shadowrun work. If you haven’t read the play report of the first session of Mostly Flesh and Steel, I’ll give you the TL:DR, everyone dies. Horribly.

Only one ganger had any sense whatsoever and could manage to act coherently in the surprise round, which basically ensured his death at the hands of Skemms drones (She had her doberman drone also out and about during this, with a lovely shotgun proving its effectiveness by murdering a ganger right off). Mister drumped a manabolt right into the store as well, where I discovered it combos extremely well with the metallic drones who were completely immune to its effects (only harms organic things). That was an interesting thing to discover.

None the less, the drone inside continued his killing spree, while Eric had a bit of a tough time trying to hack and interfere with the active gangers smart linked gun for the most part (rolling no successes at one point!). The elven shadowrunner, “Anodyne” coming up and making good use of those implanted weapons of hers to do some serious harm to the gangers. Overwhelmed by the runners assault and with a scary crazed elven woman with blades in her arms behind him, the last ganger with any sense fled…. Only to get cut down by a melee interrupt attack (something I wanted to show the players could be done in advance).

After some pleasantries, they investigated the place and identified where the main nerve center of the operation was. An upmarket clinic in the northern part of the city, which was basically sticking in cyberware and organs into different individuals, then abducting them to take them back. Then reselling them on again. Quite the efficient scheme and it seemed that Ares Macrotechnologies were at least partially behind some of it. Hence the corporate interference. Additionally the Runners found some organs that had not yet been moved on to the main clinic, which they figured a certain Ms. Simms might be able to make some use of for them. Naturally they grabbed them (naturally).

After demolishing the front of the store to slow down any pursuit or discovery of what they had done, the Runners sped away in their vehicle to plan the next step of their Run.

And hopefully confront Doctor Chop in person…