Cyberpunk West Marches: A Follow Up

 Writing this in my phone, let's see if it actually takes. 

Hospitals suck. American hospitals more so. You'd think sitting here I'd have plenty of time to catch up on blog reading and jambling down the multitude of ideas I've got buzzing around in my diseased brainmeat but, nope, spent it worrying. Worrying and coming to terms with what a corrupt and bloated system we've got, especially when it comes to the insurance company hucksters. Americans aren't citizens of a country, we're customers. 

Wait, wait, nope, you're probably not here for that. Though I'll venomously go into it on one of the social sites, if you wish. 

I believe I owe a follow up. 


The game, before Life made the poor decision of allowing my former rock and roll lifestyle to catch up to me, took place in what the underworld mercenaries called Kill City. Not the official government name for the city, mind you, but a nickname given based on the violence commonplace in the day to day life. Also to stick with the Iggy Pop references.

The Hub of the world was Finn's: a seedy, dimly lit dive bar that served as a meeting place for mercenaries (who I almost called "Wild Boys" in sticking with the song. Good dodge on that one in hindsight) and third party fixers,  as well as neutral territory for local gangs. 

The bar itself was down a back ally, as all good bars are, between a shitty Asian fusion restaurant and the office of W. Smith, Attorney (a name I completely made up). It was a cloudy sea of nicotine heavy smoke, poor quality cyberware, and shitty tattoos. Jobs were initially offered up by a one Winston "McW00t", a burnt out hacker turned fixer that hides in the bar from his wife during the day (who herself thought he worked in a local chicken plant); and at least once by Killian, the proprietor and take-no-shit bartendress of the place. More quest givers were unlockable through certain actions, as well as other gang associated bars, however we didn't make it that far. 

Taking the jobs were two main players, each with a stable of four characters, and three other players with their own stables, that came as went as time allowed. Sessions usually had at least three folks in attendance. Though just the main two was not uncommon. This menagerie of assholes oversaw the partial destruction of a residential Fuller dome after a lover's quarrel with a husband saw the local gang (Sonic Reducers) called in to fulfill a protection contract; the Genesis of the idea that maybe the city's paramedics shouldn't be trusted; and the potential escape of a Laser Raptor from a secret and completely illegal biological research center - to name a few. 

Major landmarks and involved mega corporations were still sort of in flux at the time of indefinite pause, but included:
  • Gewalt Arms Battle Dome - Every crumbling empire eventually turns to bloodsports. This one is sponsored by an arms manufacturer. 
  • Patriot Burger Hologram - The twenty story tall hologram of a buxom blonde with impossible body proportions in an American flag bikini and welding dual assault rifles that fired into the air on the hour, which served as an advertisement for Patriot Burger fastfood restaurants, but strangely never mentioned Patriot Burger. 
  • Saint Iscariot's House of Eternal Servitude - A megachurch smack in the middle of an impoverished neighborhood, blaring religiosity over a PA system 24/7, yet never actually helping the people of said neighborhood.
  • Morningstar Laboratories - Experimental physics laboratory that probably should not have been built downtown.
  • Fission Plant - The local powerplant that was very obviously leaking toxic sludge into the surrounding area due to cost cutting on safety systems. 
  • Hodag Mart - A popular chain of bodegas around the city. Inspired by the incredible gift of artwork from Hodag (which will be included in the next PDF update, should I ever get my act together)
  • Vitulus Aureus - "People are our products"
  • Wormwood Pharmaceuticals - Pumping out strange and untested drugs for all to "enjoy." Had a multitude of illegal production sites around the city 
  • Zen Security - The privatized police force overseeing the City. Also the largest gang in town.
A bout of writer's block (my eternal foe) led to the creation of a Character Generator and Job Generator, both available on the SRD site. They ain't the end all be all, but they get the job done. 

Unfortunately, I still can't decide on a stat block format for enemies so most remain chicken scratches in a notebook. 

A "Gang Affinity" system was just the faction system from Fallout New Vegas with the serial number filed off. It (would have) affected reaction rolls of various gang members and fixers throughout the city, using the highest score amongst those present. Never got that far, however. 

I'm hoping to jam all this into a more fleshed out Setting document. Some day. 

The Take Away

Over all, it went fairly well. 

The stable of characters was a hit, and allowed for the smaller player base to adapt to the job at hand. With the system being fairly lethal and character creation being quick, generating a new character and selecting one from a stockpile is rather comparable. I should consider this and explore the idea deeper when I've more space in my Thought Cabinet. 

The Stable did make the Gang Affinity system a pain in the ass. Or would have - it didn't have enough time to fully develop, but I got enough to see the data I'd have to keep track of would pile up. Solutions for this would either be a program to keep track of the data for me and present it at relevant times or, more likely, give delta templates like "Loved by [Gang Name]" after certain thresholds are met, biddable to adjust reaction checks made by that gang. 

I also believe I need to adjust the XP system for when a Stable is used. Despite having applied vague numbers to it, I'm still a bastard who assigns XP along the lines of "feels about right." Through out TTRPGs the XP system is one of the most varied and, honestly, was never a high priority to me. If I'm gonna move forward with Stable play (a weird phrase I hope to never repeat) something more akin to popcorn leveling will be needed, though even that has never set right with me. I'd also have to adjust that one Face ability. 

I need to figure out how to adapt my famous "Bring the GM a beer" mechanics to the domain of online play. 

The largest take away was one I'm still trying to fit sensible words to, rather than the knowing nods and vague grunts I currently have applied to the notion. I'll start at the beginning and try to word salad into something useful:

The original idea was to follow a West Marches style of play. That being based around a large unexplored hex map where characters went out and explored, having to prepare and account for the unexpected hardships of overland travel. 

This made sense for West Marches.

It was a fantasy based setting and that genre (from my experience) tends to be long winded about even the most trivial of details. Tolkien, for instance, wanks off for twenty pages about rivers with no names, miles that stretch on into forever, and every singing chipmunk in between, then tries to retcon the details through another 30 pages in the next book, prattling on about a king that's been dead for ages. In short, the mystery is in the physical world.

It doesn't entirely make sense for cyberpunk.

The world of cyberpunk is, typically, close to our world, just with robot parts jammed into people. They have, at the very least, the conveniences we take for granted taken for even more granted. Especially travel: Hiro casual makes his way from Las Angeles to British Columbia in a matter of hours; both Sta-Hi and Case make it into orbit with ticket fare; Cowboy crosses the Midwest in comparatively little effort. They cross the world, sure, but there is no mystery in the physical world. The mystery lies in the social/technical world. 

I'm probably using the wrong words, but also I'm poorly educated. 

As cyberpunk is close to our world, we know what's there. While we don't know places like "Ungoliant's Liar" or "Great Gates", we know places like "Midwest" and "Low Orbit" and can picture these places with a general accuracy. The mystery then is from the advanced technology, for what it is, juxtaposed against a crumbled dystopian society fueled by the fascist systems of ultracorporatism as a reflection of our own modern problems. 
You know, the basic premise to the cyberpunk genre. Well, that and Toronto's drug scene circa 1967.


Also, I'm not sure if you're aware of it or not, cities are big and crowded. Even with a hex representing a single block that's still a huge amount of detail to pack in, where as a forest hex can easily be one encounter per six miles. Though, mind you, I do live in a backwoods forest town where everything is wooded and familiar while being terrified of the big city lights and sounds and buildings over two stories tall. 

Anyway, all that blathering to say that the exact map is less important, thus knocking it out of the "West March" play style. Perhaps the map should have been less representative of a physical city and more of a meta-map of interlocking conspiracies and secret plots. Something to chew on while I've nothing better to do.

In Closing

I need a stiff drink. Hell, I'd settle for a PBR and a pack of Mavericks found in an abandoned parking lot.