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Mostly Flesh and Steel: I, Spy.

Following the path that I took with Icarus Protocol, I decided that the strings were going to increasingly come off with this run and my players were to have far more say in how the run is planned and how they handled things. Of course the advantage of giving your players more freedom RP wise is that it makes them feel like they have much more control over the game. However, it does mean I have to be prepared for a wider array of situations and think on my feet more. A challenge that I quite enjoy by this point!

Of course there is some complication to this game, where two of my players who were behind both of the combat orientated Street Samurai unfortunately had to leave the game for other reasons. This is always disappointing, but thankfully I have enough interest that I could quickly call in a couple of other players in a pinch. Unlike the previous run, I had deliberately made this run more combat orientated and in a very lawless area of Shanghai called the Vertical Desolation Zone (VDZ). Then both front line fighty types left and so I needed to call in a couple of other players, who fit so well I actually invited them formally into the game!

This meant with Candy (Street Samurai) and Tiny (Street Samurai) leaving the game, I needed to come up with a bit of a backup plan and thankfully I had access to the Shadowrun Boxed set. Using the pregenerated Coydog and Sledge gave the party the extra combat grit and utility required to get through the rather tough first encounter I had made. It was also the simplest and fastest way to get a couple of new players into the game in a sudden pinch. Overall this worked pretty well, but I did discover that these pregens aren’t exactly intuitive to play for a player unfamiliar with shadowrun. Thankfully it didn’t take very long to get into the game using these and they were a huge asset.

For this run I wanted to get a bit of a spy or technothriller feel, so to assist with this I wanted the meeting with the Mr. Wong in this Run to feel kind of sketchy and out of the way. When the Runners heard of the job it came through several of Raijin’s Yakuza gang contacts, who suggested that a “securities” company might be interested in acquiring the services of some Shadowrunners. After organizing a meeting, the Runners met them in an ominous location: The ruins of the bombed Shiawase Coregrid building in a nearby abandoned parking lot. Even though the area was regularly patrolled by security drones, the runners were told not to worry about them and come at 6pm that night.

Here a tense negotiation with the black coated and leather clad, while also heavily armed security team took place. Their leader, a bald man with a bad disposition, explained the situation to the Runners. Another suspected terrorist had been caught out planning an attack and had gone into hiding. Unfortunately, the people she was hiding with were a rather infamous gang called the Iron Hands in Shanghai and they had closed ranks. The security forces had been unable to get any meaningful information and the gangs heavily armed fortress like buildings made a direct assault impossible. As a result individuals who wouldn’t be immediately seen as “outsiders” were required for the job. Particularly individuals who could be as discreet as the Runners had proven themselves in the past.

The terrorist they needed hunting down was a woman called Sasha “Saberfyre” Shu, who was a known rigger and noted for using different drones. Apparently one of these drones, a Lockheed Optic-X2 had key information about an operation that the terrorists were about to commence. Security forces apparently damaged it and they suspect the difficulty in sourcing parts to repair the drone is what is keeping her from enacting whatever their plan is. So speed would be of the essence here, especially considering the denizens of the VDZ were busily heavily arming themselves for a fight to protect this potential terrorist. Taking out Saberfyre and destroying or recovering her drone was thus of the utmost importance to the future security of Shanghai.

With the jobs general conditions understood, the Runners pumped the Mr. Wong for some more information and decided to try to get some more funding, which they actually did. Most importantly, they were able to reduce the time penalty imposed on the actual Run. This time penalty I felt made this Run stand out a bit, because with every day that would pass after the first it would impose a penalty of -1000 Nuyen to the total and thus pressure them for a result. There wouldn’t be a lot of time to go looking for floorplans and as Sasha could go further underground if she got wind of them, the Runners needed a careful but quick approach.

Here is where my players had some great thinking, with a suggestion to go and talk to their previous Mrs. Wong, Jade Snake. Jade Snake had a lot of connections and sure enough, knew a fair amount of useful information about Saberfyre – much of it contradictory to the Mr. Wong’s claims. For one the players learned that Saberfyre usually did a lot of bribery or blackmail type jobs. Usually recording individuals in compromising positions and then selling the footage back at an exorbitant price (or threatening to throw up the trideo right onto the matrix). She was also generally a go between for Jade Snake and BTL (Better than life) chips, which the Iron Hands were infamous for producing. Interestingly, Jade Snake described Saberfyre as a complete wuss when it came to gore or blood, with the rigger refusing any job that might potentially hurt or kill someone.

Something wasn’t quite adding up about this “terrorist”. Especially as Radical Edward had been looking up who their potential employers were on the matrix and figured out they were potentially linked with Miltech – a securities company for one of the megacorporations.

Either way it was time to go and have an investigation of the VDZ, which was originally a group of five megatowers constructed to house corporate wage slaves. Unfortunately flooding damage, poor conditions and general expenses due to the locations caused them to be abandoned for better accommodations later. The Iron Hands decided to move in, fortify the place and then turn them into huge vertical fortresses and gang houses. Now the collection of fortified buildings, which has been walled off from most of the rest of Shanghai and firmly patrolled, is known as the Vertical Desolation Zone or “The Hanging Garden of Drek” by the locals. It’s one of the best zones in the city to score either black market weapons or BTL chips.

An image that originally inspired the VDZ

Getting in would ordinarily be rather hard, but I had forgot that the pregen character Coydog (who entered into this game rather impromptu style) had levitate and with an amazing roll, was easily able to get nearly 1200kg of stuff over the wall. That meant a pretty easy infiltration for the group, who were a shade lighter than that total to say the least. After getting into the building they found their first destination: A bar where most of the leadership and people of importance within the Iron Hands tends to hang out, the Pelican Isle. Being a dive bar on the top of a 80 story building it was not an easy trip up and I emphasized the broken down bridges, wires and similar criss-crossing the zone between each of the five towers.

The dive bar itself had a few gangers outside, who were firmly distracted by Radical Edward and Nanna with the ever present “poisoned” cookies (which did lead to an interesting discussion on how she knew what cookies were or weren’t poisoned). I allowed the Runners to develop some personalities and roleplaying, most notably by the obnoxious AR stripper pop-ups that appear when patrons enter the bar. These ARO’s decide to tempt customers by producing scantily clad dancers of different genders, fetishes and sometimes the odd… other thing. Sure you could pay to get rid of them on your AR overlays, or you could hack them and turn them all into entirely adorable puppies, which was Radical Edward’s solution and it was the best.

Asking around the bar for Sasha and dropping the name Jade Snake got the bartender to at least listen to the Runners, before directing them to Tier. She told them to keep their mouths shut and to follow her, as “corporates” had been asking around for Sasha previously. Tier was excessively paranoid and didn’t want to give the Runners any information about where she could be in a crowded space, leading them outside of the bar and across one of the bridges to another building. Here I emphasized that these bridges were fairly crowded as well, with merchants literally standing with their backs to drops hundreds of feet down below in an attempt to sell things to those crossing between them.

Raijin, Coydog and Sledge went across the bridge, but Nanna jumped into a doberman drone and sent it across, while Radical Edward also stayed in the bar (whose matrix host resembled a decadent Roman palace). Eventually we came to the main reason for Tier taking them from the bar: To lure them into a fairly dangerous ambush. This ambush involved a couple of elements: One a large toxic spirit of earth hiding in the remains of an old dead tree (Tier is a toxic shaman). Meanwhile, several gangers armed with pistols hiding up above the Shadowrunners, while a fifth one carried an AK-98 with underslung grenade launcher. Although the characters did try to convince Tier they were friendly, she was having absolutely none of it and decided to initiate the ambush – but decided not to stick around trying to bolt for an exit.

When combat began Radical Edward noticed in the matrix that the grenades the orc leader carried were mini-grenades, with a setting that usually prevented them from going off early being disabled (meaning he could use them in close quarters under 5m). A quick hack on the fly to shove 3 marks on the grenades and a quick trigger ensured a massive and sudden kaboom. In many ways, I did allow things to happen this way because I wanted to show my players one very important thing about grenades: The Chunky Salsa effect! In the confined space of the second level of the building the grenades detonation bounced off the nearby walls multiple times. This resulted in a shower of orc bits and fine misty red particles as the inevitable result.

An important lesson had been learned about running silent with your weapons and grenades in the matrix, plus I got to basically demonstrate reasonably safely to the players why grenades are utterly terrifying. Either way, the resulting shootout was tough with Raijin and Coydog both being injured, but ultimately coming out the other side in one piece. The same couldn’t be said for one of the orc ganger jobbers, who was eviscerated by Sledge’s assault rifle. Even the toxic spirit copped a major fireball and didn’t last long under subsequent sustained fire, leaving Tier attempting to escape: But a bullet through the knee* saw to that and the rest of the ganger jobbers decided they were going to get out of there before the Shadowrunners paid all their attention to them.

Next session, it’s time to find out what Tier really knows and if she’s going to tell them where Sasha is …. or not.

*[Insert skyrim reference here]