Cyberpunk West Marches

 I’m currently hankering to run another game. Trouble is, the usual group has spread across this desolate planet and our lives have filled with frivolous troubles of day to day life, meaning real life meetups ain’t gonna work out, and weekly online play will be sporadic at best. I’ve heard, through vague passings on the internet, that a “West March” style play might be suitable. At this point in time I actually know very little about the style of play other than it involves multiple groups striking out in the same world. 

An internet search for “cyberpunk west march” provides very little in the way of results, other than “I’m going to run one” posts on reddit (which seem to be infected with trojans. Typical reddit garbage.) Looks like I’ve gotta start from scratch. Which means I’m going to have to start from scratch. 

# What is the West March Campaign Style?

The name itself was taken from the setting (by Ben Robbins, 2001), located on the frontier region of civilization’s edge. These Marches (which were in the West [citation needed]) were the last unexplored region of the continent and just absolutely infested with monsters and ruins. Player characters were adventurers residing in the farthest West outpost town, who would then proceed to strive further into the dangerous wilderness in search of treasure. Ruins and dungeons dotted the extremely detailed landscape, waiting for PCs to find and loot. Some were known, others rumored, and others still completely secret. PCs could choose to go anywhere they could get to, and were the driving factor behind the plot. Rather than the GM setting the characters on rails and saying “uh, uh, you need to go to Bugbearville and kiss the bugest bear” the PCs would announce they had decided to inspect the Spider Woods and the GM would facilitate their march to doom. 

Either way, the campaign play led to characteristics associated with the play style:

  1. No regular time: The players themselves scheduled the sessions on the fly, rather than the group meeting “Every Thursday.” The GM had to be available, obviously.

  2. No regular party: Each session had different players, drawn from a larger group of around 10 to 15 people.

  3. No regular plot: As said, the PCs decided where they wanted to go and do. There was no “mysterious stranger” or a “last remaining unicorn” handing out quests as part of an overarching plot, just the overarching world responding to the chaos they cause. 

Additionally, a few other tendencies formed from the play:

  1. Session reports: Experiences were shared between every participant in the campaign, even if they weren’t present for a specific session. This allowed people to stay informed about changes in the game world and allowed any combination of players to bite at new quests and story hooks. 

  2. Shared geographical map: This provided hooks to the players and allowed for players to make notes after adventures. It was an in-character item and was potentially unreliable. 

  3. Competition was encouraged: Acting contrary to the interests and plans of another player was allowed and encouraged. Jealousy was considered to be a motivational tool to get sessions booked and games actually played. Magic items are out there and up for grabs, after all. 

Apropos of nothing, as I’m writing this, I’m realizing how well suited “His Majesty the Worm” would be to this style of play. 

# How to Adapt This?

That is the question, isn’t it? West Marches was all about the players deciding what to do and striking out to accomplish it, getting loot, returning home and repeating. Cyberpunk genre game sessions tend to be about getting a job, doing a job, getting paid, and repeating. Sometimes an overarching plot forms, sometimes not. Not exactly congruent. 

Might as well start at the beginning and see what can be hammered out. 

No regular time: The issue that caused it all, and the purpose of this long form talking-to-myself-to-figure-out-an-issue based rant. Session will take place whenever the Ducks get their ducks in a row, and also I’m not destroyed after a day of work. 

No regular party: Where the original game had around 15 players, I’m working with about 6. To skirt around this issue, each player will have a stable of 3 or 4 characters they’ll be able to draw from for missions. The idea here being if their primary character was in the field when last session ended, but every Player isn’t available to finish the mission, and play is still wanted, characters are still available. Though the option for Black Bagging* is still available. 

No overarching plot: Easy enough, though some quest giving NPCs will still be present to provide jobs to pay the characters. I’ll still need some job generators, rumor generators, a few gang hideouts, and some Corporate skyscrapers for megadungeons. Sounds like blogging fuel. 

Good, great. Check, check, and check. 

Player agency: The system I’ll be using, Some Weird Sin, will actually be handling this one. In its current incarnation (I have thoughts of changing it, slightly) the Conviction system basically establishes why a character would be foolish/desperate enough to take up the Mercenary lifestyle, and rewards them when they engage in it. I simply take those wants and goals, and sling them out into the world for the PCs to find/accomplish. A job board and rumors should spur them into investigating the world. 

Discovery: “How do you explore a modern city? Everywhere is already discovered and on a map.” Sure, sure, someone knows about it, but you don’t. Being new to a city with a fully detailed map in hand doesn’t mean you’re going to know which pizza place sells weed out back (Gnocchi’s), or which seemingly abandoned warehouse is a gang stronghold. Players will get a subway or bus line map and be kicked out the door. 

Session Reports: The XP system of the game is based on the fact the mercenary community is a bunch of bored gossips spreading rumors and stories in between jobs. One template even gets a bonus to it. Hopefully that encourages some session reports, else they’re going to forget things. As the Ducks do. If it don’t happen, it don’t happen. Perhaps a discord channel or private subreddit (gross) to keep posts in. 

## Potential Challenges

Time Keeping: Mostly seeing this as an issue in the way one job affects another ongoing job. But also, it’s the Ducks, they might not notice. 

Effort: It’s a lot of work upfront, and I am very lazy. I’m already running out of steam to finish this. 

# Closing Thoughts

It’s not a perfect pairing, but I think it’ll be close enough to work. Certainly enough to handwave through any potential issues. If the Ducks lose interest, I’ll at least have a world for pick up games. 

Things I’ll need: 

  • “Town” 

  • City map (Real? Made up?)

  • Job generator

  • Hirable mercs 

  • “Dungeon” maps. So many maps. 

Maybe it’ll work?



* Black Bagging is a tool I use for explaining why someone wasn’t at a session. Should they be unavailable, mysterious figures show up no matter where the characters are, drop a black bag over their head, and drag them off. The next session they’re kicked out of an unmarked van and left to proceed on their way as normal. It’s fun, and solves a nonproblem.