Mostly Flesh and Steel: The Ascendant Cult Part 1
With my decision to begin new campaigns some time ago, I had to think about how to conclude my current two Shadowrun games, Icarus Protocol and Mostly Flesh and Steel. In both cases, I decided to go with a plot first approach and move both games towards resolving their core stories sooner rather than later. As a result in this game it was time to go towards resolving the core problem the Runner’s admittedly help create, Wu Shen and his anti-corporate and anti-cyberization terrorist group. Thankfully for them, their previous allies in Miltech, who the Runners helped with a certain tricky situation during I, Spy came through for them: They’d found one of the main “cells” of The Ascendant Cult.
This was the perfect opportunity for the Runners to strike back at The Ascendant Cult directly, earn some goodwill from a major corporation while getting paid, find out more information about the cults overall plan and with some luck – possibly some clues as to where Wu Shen himself was. Of course there was a little complication to the whole affair, because the Mr. Wong from Miltech didn’t want a simple “Beat down the door and destroy the cell” operation – the Runners were going to have to infiltrate it directly. In other words they had to get inside of the cult and then identify what their plans were, who was really in charge and so forth from within. Miltech figured that the Runners would be best for this, given their reputation and skills for infiltration they’ve already gained with various clients.
I began this Run by having the characters visit the Mr. Wong in an old style, American themed restaurant called the “Revolving Door”. It’s actually built up the top of a large building and the place tackily “revolves” around, so one can see various sights among the city of Shanghai as it does so. Unfortunately the place does not really serve great food – being far too overly greasy and fatty for the local pallet – and most importantly, is in generally bad condition itself. The seats are, how shall we put this, likely to come away with your shirt when you leave? In any event, the Runners had time to look around before the Mr. Wong arrived and they soon overheard an interesting conversation. Another Runner was doing a deal here and they managed to catch that he was going to be stealing a shipment coming from the United States via an Aztechnology shipping company.
There was some debate among the Runners if they should get involved in this or not, but I decided to leave it as general “Background” for the time being. Albeit, I did think of what might happen if the Runners became more interested in this shipment, than what the Mr. Wong had to offer them. In that case, I did in fact have a backup plan in mind and it possibly would have involved a couple of high speed car chases through some streets. Thankfully though the Runners decided not to get too distracted and waited for the Mr. Wong to arrive – who was an incredibly strange pale elf with an OCD for any kind of dirt. Quite why he picked this place, indeed if he got the choice in where to meet, was quite the mystery.
Here I had a lot of fun describing this guys unusual quirks, such as the fact he wouldn’t “sit” on the seats. Instead he used his leg and thigh muscles to “pretend” to sit but without actually putting his bottom or back on the sticky leather seats. Similarly, he would place his hands “on” the table by having them hover about 1″ or so directly off the surface. Whenever he touched anything, one of his bodyguards would disappear to get him a wet soapy wipe so he could clean his hands immediately. Even though they weren’t sure who this fellow was, I like to think he had quite a bit of personality to him all the same. I tried to keep a low, fairly creepy, tone of voice to him while he spoke and while I couldn’t quite pull off the whole “doesn’t blink much” part, it overall worked really well.
In any event the Runners learned that Miltech had been keeping tabs on various cult cells around Shanghai, but recently lucked out by finding a major and more stable group. This lot were often seen near an abandoned factory and a few other out of the way meeting points, which seemed to be their general recruitment zones. In particular, the only major “leader” that Miltech have been able to identify seemed to associate with this group, where he handed the Runners an image that was immediately familiar: A raven haired woman with harsh features and blue eyes! This was the same woman who a couple of weeks earlier, had given the Runners a strange look as they passed by and who then later directed the “protesters” to the final bloody scenes outside the Renraku matrix building.
An image of the Ascendant Cultist Denise, who was one of the main instigators of the attack on Renraku (among other suspected plots).
This was the “Hook” that I genuinely needed to get the Runners full attention on this mission, but once they had that and the pay sorted they began the exciting process on planning exactly how to do this. Interestingly they actually came up with quite a good idea almost immediately, which was for Radical Edward to use their matrix skills to “Catfish” the cultists. Catfishing, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, is basically pretending to be another person online in order to fool someone else into giving you personal details, falling in love or any other number of nefarious reasons. Here Radical Edward wanted to pretend to be a disenchanted youth, eager to join up with the cult who wants to fight back against the corporations, metahumanity and those who have been surgically augmented.
After spending some time and rolls setting up her fake matrix social media accounts, a fake life history and even a fake forum posting history, Radical Edward just had to sit back and wait. Eventually one of the “recruiters” she had targeted as being associated with the cell took notice and her “credentials” checked out. It wasn’t long before she was offered an appointment at an old abandoned graveyard, in order to get a “test” of her dedication to human rights. Interestingly the players did debate how many of them they would send, but ultimately chose to just have Radical Edward go by herself and forgo as much obvious technology (like a cyberdeck) as possible.
Before going however, I ensured they would have some time to look up other approaches and try to find out if anyone else had worked for the cult before. After reaching out through appropriate channels on the Shadownet (the Matrix made to cater for the needs of Shadowrunners) they soon found one. Someone by the code name of “Tyre” sent them a message, asking them to meet him at his garage called the “Red Stripe”. After going there, suspecting an ambush initially (as Runners are want to do), they soon found a tall battered looking rigger who told them a bit about the cult. He basically gave them a couple of important clues: The first was that the cult had a large stockpile of the virus they were using to terrorize Shanghai. The second and just as important clue was how the cult gets “into the heads” of people – using either technology or magic. Generally speaking, once inside a cult cell someone becomes increasingly brainwashed into being a “true believer”. If they wanted to be one or not.
A Grave Meeting
With this information in mind and everything else suitably arranged, the Runners decided to continue with the original plan of having Radical Edward infiltrate the cult. At this point I actually forgot to ask for more details about the “Catfishing” persona she had come up with, but none the less it didn’t seem to break the rest of the run that much (I don’t think my players noticed I hadn’t kept up with this). Either way Radical Edward, complete with Ares heavy pistol – which was a bit of a comical combination given her size and the pistols size in comparison – waited around in the graveyard for their cultist recruiter to turn up. Being in a graveyard at night with hardly anyone else around, even with the other Runners in an over-watch position, was a prime moment to have the local mausoleum creep open and some ghouls to come out!
The first of which, a badly scarred fellow with something you could barely describe as rags for clothing, immediately asking Radical Edward why she was there and showing great concern for her safety. After the initial wave of confusion from the players (and probably the Runners as well) passed, the ghoul began explaining that she wasn’t the first that he’d seen standing around waiting. He was well aware the cult frequently use the graveyard as a place to meet new recruits and that they also use it for another reason: Getting rid of the mess after they’re done with such recruits. This is of course what the ghouls have become accustomed to “eating” around here, but they have no interest in attacking living people or engaging the cult. In fact as soon as the ghoul heard the approaching vehicle, which he immediately knew to be associated with the cult they made themselves very scare and quickly.
Here I will take a little digression to talk about what I was trying to get across with this encounter. Firstly, I wanted to do something that would seem entirely obvious as a fight and then invert the whole thing on its head. Having the ghoul not only be polite, but actually show concern for Radical Edward (the runner is only around 13 years old) shows a degree of humanity from something that isn’t well, human, anymore. In many ways, I wanted this to be a somewhat poignant comparison to the way the cult was about to treat the new people they were recruiting. Here was this unfortunate person, affected by the HMHVV and degraded to a ghoul, holding onto every scrap of their former self they could, still able to show something resembling human compassion. I am hoping this came across this way to the players as well, because as the events in this game reach their conclusion this moment should be in the back of their minds.
In any event, Denise and another member of the cult, as yet unidentified, pulled up and she got out. As she did another man, who was clearly augmented strolled towards the graveyard from a nearby alley and joined up with Radical Edward. Apparently Radical Edward and the augmented individual were the cults new “recruits”. There wasn’t a lot of time for introductions or even for much talk, because Denise already had something in mind for them to do in order to show their dedication to the cause. She handed both Edward and the augmented man a gun like syringe, which was filled with an inky black substance. Immediately the Runners recognized this as the modified HMHVV, which causes the terrible mutations and warped cybernetic monstrosities they have previously encountered.
It became terribly obvious what Denise wanted them to do quickly: Edward was to escort the augmented man to a stuffer shack near the downtown district. Then while inside, she was to make sure he used the virus and carried out the attack. In other words, he was basically being used as a living biological weapon and she was to ensure that he did so. Naturally this started to raise some tough questions about how far the runners should actually go to keep their cover. How many innocent people do they let die? Quick plans were developed and after Edward successfully snuck a message out saying what they were doing, the Runners rapidly beat them to getting to the stuffer shack first.
Stuffer Shack Showdown
Here Nanna, Raijin, Junior and Found set up an ambush inside of the store, while Edward and the augmented man being used as the weapon turned up. Subtly manipulating the situation, Edward convinced the augmented man to go to a lesser trafficked part of the store – so he could use the virus “without interference”. There the other runners had established an ambush and would – hopefully! – be able to destroy whatever creation he would become before it could hurt anyone. Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on your point of view – the plan was rapidly unraveling as the augmented man stopped with the needle out…. And then started to have doubts about doing it. It became pretty clear he wasn’t going to do it anymore and that Radical Edward might have to make a terrible decision, but Found came to the rescue. Using the influence spell, she was able to convince him that it really *was* an excellent idea to do this. She filled his mind with a desire to take revenge for the terrible things inflicted upon him due to the old “Chrome” he sported.
That was more than enough.
His body warping and twisting into a long, sinuous creature with metallic claws and altogether too much spine – Radical Edward rapidly boosted for the door. Meanwhile, the other Runners sprang their ambush and even before the Stuffer Shack security could yell anything, they quickly wrecked the cybernetic monstrosity before it could do a single thing! It turns out that shotguns armed with explosive rounds really are a great solution to zombies, even the kind with cybernetics! An important thing to bear in mind if there is ever a futuristic zombie apocalypse coming out. Either way, Edward got out and was able to pile into the getaway car and start heading towards the cells real headquarters. Notably before the security or anything else overly complicated got in the way.
Unfortunately for the runners still inside the stuffer shack, even though they were technically* heroes for what they just did, would have a little problem known as the local security forces bearing down upon them….
*And technically not at the same time. He was unlikely to have gone through with it if it wasn’t for their intervention….