Shadowrun hasn’t been on a hiatus or similar if you’re wondering about the lack of Shadowrun related posts, but rather I couldn’t talk about certain events until the players in this game had passed a certain point. This is because an interesting NPC turns up in this game, after their appearance in my other campaign Icarus Protocol. In order to keep things surprising I had to delay the write ups of these games for a while.
Mostly Flesh and Steel: Ghost in the Machine
In this run I wanted to begin to establish more about what was going on in the overall matrix of Shanghai and hint at what the mysterious Wu Shen might actually be wanting. This meant establishing that something major happened when Renraku lost a part of their Shanghai matrix grid suddenly and without signifcant warning. They dump shocked numerous users and caused a near major disaster when they took it offline in a huge hurry. As nobody in Shanghai knew why they had done it and even the other megacorporations weren’t saying anything, this meant there was a suitable mystery to investigate.
And who better to figure something like that out than a group of runners with an excellent reputation for sneaking into places they shouldn’t?
As the runners gain karma from runs, they become more notable and thus people who have an interest in the things they do tend to seek them out directly. Their most recent potential Mr. Wong contacted them via an anonymous dead drop in the shadownet, informing them to meet at an old traditionally style diner in “Old Shanghai”. The region is named for the large number of old style Chinese buildings, lack of major technological or infrastructural upgrades and the more remote location of the district on the outskirts of Shanghai. This makes it a perfect place to meet with individuals when you don’t want to be noticed, but don’t exactly want to be engaging with unknowns in a “lawless” area of the city.
Unfortunately due to other thing going on, the parties decker Radical Edward wasn’t able to attend this session. This is actually where I had to readjust my plans on the fly, because the decker was obviously an important part of this run when I initially designed it. Without him, there would be several difficulties in portraying a critical part of the run or even communicating what exactly is happening. The obvious solution to this problem was to make the Mr Wong – who has the alias “Scorched” – a directly integral part of the run and a decker himself. This change actually made this run make more sense in retrospect, because as a decker who got scorched while doing a job on the Renraku grid when it went down, he had more of a beef and hence motivation to find out what really happened.
Thus the Runner’s ended up meeting the Mr. Wong’s drooling frame in the diner, while a bored looking elven woman sat nearby, fiddling with some of her cyberware. Here I introduced Anodyne to the players and gave them some time to interact with her. This interaction was quite important and allowed them to get to know her a little bit, especially because she would be coming with them on this particular run having been hired by the Mr. Wong earlier. Aside from boosting the number of characters in the run, it was also useful because it meant I could have lots of time to have her logically interact with Found in particular.
After all, Anodyne was here for a distinct reason.
In any event, the Mr. Wong eventually came back to life and assessed the runners more directly. I decided to make to make it rather ambiguous if he was limp because he was in some kind of coma or because he was wired into the matrix (being in VR renders your meatspace body entirely inert). During the initial set up conversation, I decided to give him the moniker “Scorched” after the extensive damage to his brain caused by the sudden dumpshock he went through. As the party lacked a decker, Scorched would be coming along for the run and the runner’s job was basically to get him in and out without being shot. Simple, right?
On the drive to the Renraku Grid Matrix Farm, which is a well defended building in downtown Shanghai, I decided to have a scene that will become very important later for these players: A large group of anti-cyberware and metahuman enhancement protestors. These protests have become a regular sight in Shanghai ever since the bombings from Wu Shen and later on several Human-Metahuman Vampire Virus outbreaks in the city. Essentially the protest movements are an anti-corporate measure and have begun to spread like wildfire, as the megacorps are too busy engaging Wu Shen – who appears to be a highly gifted decker of some kind – or his demented followers. In any event, I wanted to give an indication to the runners as they passed that a strange raven haired woman clearly recognized them – carefully watching as they went by.
They didn’t know who she was or what she was about, but they it was enough to make them sufficiently paranoid. Making players paranoid is somewhat of a specialty of mine. Little moments like this though are important for establishing later events and hinting at things to come. Not to mention that it also enhances world building and ensures the runners are aware that things are moving in Shanghai around them.
In any event they soon reached the building in question, only to find it absolutely crawling with corporate security of every kind. They had even managed to bring in a large tank, which pretty much meant that any direct assault on the facility would be nigh suicidal. Of course they had a quick think about things and Junior decided to create a bit of a distraction to lure one of the commanding guards over. Acting drunk, he got himself slightly hit by a vehicle and then managed to get the head guard over. Distracting him for just long enough for Scorched and Nanna to do some hacking, convincing the system they were supposed to go in as extra security.
This worked well because there was a lot of extra contract based security on site, so even if they weren’t clearly recognizable as being corporate, they could still easily get inside. Here they discovered that Renraku had chosen some odd allies in what they were trying to do, with a bunch of people from Aztechnology dragging in some nasty and strange reagents further into the facility: Blood Magic! This naturally confused the runners and they knew one thing: It couldn’t mean anything good. Interestingly this really got them focused on interfering with the reagents and trying to see what precisely they were doing. Most crucially, Found admitted to Anodyne that she’d handled cases like this before and worried it was some kind of virus. This apparent previous experience pricked up the elves ears in particular….
Working out what was going on took much of the remaining session, with the runners eventually determining Renraku had called in this blood mage to do a special ritual. The idea was to “possess” their trapped deckers within the matrix and then use the spirit to tell them what exactly was going on inside. By this point the group had determined that what was happening inside the matrix was some terrible stuff, but with only scorched (the Mr. Wong) to go in they needed to trust in his abilities. Unfortunately, he ended up getting stuck in there and something awful happened to him – his body convulsing terribly and blood cascading from his nose. Forcefully jacking him out and dumpshocking him (again), Raijin had a very clever idea to use “Read Thoughts” to get his last memories.
This revealed a terrible scene, with a strange angel like entity within the matrix seemingly “devouring” the brains of the trapped Renraku deckers inside. This strange creature was – according to scorches last few memories – some kind of xenosapient AI, which had either turned on Renraku or infiltrated their systems. Apparently it planned to “travel” from this region of the matrix to actual meat space, by taking over the heavily connected cyberware brains of the deckers. It was definitely not going to be good to let it do this, so the runners prepared a quick plan to extract scorch (to keep him and their payment safe), while simultaneously blowing up the matrix connections and servers where the strange thing was.
Unfortunately at this point that’s where this session ended and then by the next session I actually lost one of the players, while the decker was still elsewhere (so could not attend). Additionally I committed a pretty big sin – at least to me – in that I ended up coming 2 hours late to my own game for various reasons. So not only was I late, but I was down a couple of players and I had to truncate the run. In the end I decided to gloss over a lot of the initial effects, such as what happened when the blood magic ritual failed and avoiding the Renraku security. Instead I moved right to the climax with the protest moving down to the facility – seemingly on the commands of someone else.
Once at the facility, several protestors injected themselves with something strange and then the security watched in horror as a new version of the CWHMHVV was unleashed! This one absorbed the bodies of everyone with cyberware nearby and ordinary people, combining them at random into terrible amalgamations of flesh, steel and firepower. These creatures immediately began to rampage through the security and the crowd, with one of them smashing its way right into the facility.
This creature had a unique twist that I wanted to try out, which was to break a larger creature down into component “parts” with their own condition modifiers and initiative rolls. Overall this approach actually worked extremely well, with the creature capably performing as I hoped it would and providing a stiff (but manageable) challenge. chasing the runners throughout the facility and then up to the roof, where after disarming its tail based ranged weaponry, they were able to use levitation to slowly escape (while it jumped off the roof to splat below).
While a rushed conclusion, it was certainly pretty exciting and it worked out really well. I can’t wait to run another one of these multi-initiative “part” monsters again in future. Plus the run still accomplished my goals of hinting at entities in the matrix, which were far beyond just being of a “human” nature and just as importantly, Anodyne got some interesting insights into how the runners thought.
Everything is going to plan, despite the little hiccup I gave myself.