Friday, 24 January 2014

Ruralpunk 5: even more antagonists!

Low born smugglers and fast living privateers

Any place with borders or commerce restrictions will have smugglers, whether they run international boundaries or bringing narcotics to the masses. Often, they move quietly between production centres in the hills and the big cities. In real life, Canadian marijuana smugglers go out into isolated, desolate regions and dig underground bunkers made of steel shipping containers to use as aquaculture centres growing cannabis - similar outfits become more and more common. Organisations looking to dodge patent laws, sales tax and chemical prohibitions all have these hidden manufacturing facilities out in the bush. 'Runners are often hired to find and destroy these organisations, or draw off the hunters. 

There are various kinds of smuggler. Quiet smugglers hide in plain sight, using mules or hidden compartments to avoid detection. Either that, or they use hidden routes through inhospitable territory. Surveillance drones have complicated things for that kind of smuggler, so many spend a lot of money acquiring hunting license IFFs or similar credentials to dodge border rangers. Still other groups use tunnels to move covertly past barriers. Quiet smuggling methods could fill an entire article, and frankly they aren't often antagonists

There's a second sort of smuggler who will exchange fire with 'runners, from the safety of a flying tank.
These smugglers - sometimes known as panzerboys/girls in honour of the novel Hardwired... - almost only ever exist in conditions where governments have become too hollow to enforce law and order. They use aircraft or fast, armoured ground effect vehicles to rapidly run blockades. The former are rapidly being supplanted by the latter as it becomes increasingly difficult to disguise aircraft from cheap sensor systems. GEVs (T-Birds in Shadowrun) can fly under the radar and evade pursuit through sheer speed. Many smuggler clans equip their vehicles with chaff launchers or anti-rocket microwave turrets, if not a rack of AA missiles.

These smugglers become enemies of the protagonists for ideological reasons. When rebel forces create a bandh around the city or when corporate armies launch economic blockades to bring down states, GEV smugglers make their money. Blockade running is a frightening, brutal affair. Buyers have to be willing to pay a chaff tax on top of ordinary transport costs. 'Runners might be paid to chase them down or simply support the blockade for one reason or other. More than one plague has spread outside a quarantined metroplex because a smuggler took it out. That said, players are more likely to be the smugglers, in my experience.

Corporations have smugglers of their own, particularly during periods of uprising and anti-corporate revolution. The metanationals like to destabilize hostile governments by flooding their economies with black market goods - for these kind of operations, where start-up cost considerations are somewhat secondary to the political goal, they might use expensive VTOL stealth aircraft for this task. These planes operate from (literally) offshore pirate manufacturing facilities, which become targets for deniable retaliatory strikes.

A GEV's nightmare is a fast aircraft with guided missiles. When they can't afford an airforce, bankrupt governments or provinces hire privateers to hunt down the panzers. These - famously undercapitalised - organisations use a variety of cheap or second hand military aircraft. From Hardwired:

They are all there, a dozen or more warcraft squatting like evil metal cicadas, sunset flames reflecting off their polished bodies, the barrels of their guns, the pointed noses of the weapons in their pods. The airships have slogans and cartoons painted on their noses, evocative of swift mechanical violence, warrior machismo, or the trust of the gambler in the instrument of his passion: Death from Above, PanzerBlaster, Sweet Judy Snakeyes, Ace of Spades. 

Privateers hire bush pilots and veterans to chase down GEV pilots from the same stock. These battles can be extremely vicious: more than one GEV pilot has loaded up with rockets or simply an armoured ramming prow and assaulted a privateer airfield directly. Privateers also assist in counter-insurgency warfare and police searches. A 'runner racing away from a bank job in a small town might find a prop plane loaded with air-to-signal missiles and autocannon in hot pursuit.

Copperhead Road


Outback moonshine stills and meth labs are spattered across the countryside, along with hidden aquaculture centres (a fancy name for a computer program spraying water mist over cannabis plants in a greenhouse made of plastic sheeting) and illegal unregistered 3d print shops. 

There are three main types of crime syndicate in the countryside:

  • Political thugs and cultists, essentially covered in the last post.
  • Producers, manufacturing products to be smuggled into policed areas.
  • Black marketeers serving the ecogee camps.
The ecogee camps are full of people fleeing drought and flooding, living off scop and kibble and wearing paper clothing. FEMA and the like are barely funded or competent enough to keep these people alive, let alone overthrow the constitution of the cyberpunk state. Existing towns and cities would prefer to see these people bottled up away from them, in the hope they'll just disappear, than try to integrate them into cities with too many problems already.

The black marketeers serve these camps, bringing in luxuries in exchange for what little the inhabitants have left. They ride around in big SUVs and tote assault rifles. They often look little different from the town militias covered in the last post, if they aren't simply the same people! Famous syndicate leaders like wide brimmed hats, tricked out automatic weapons and crass mansions. 

Worse, they engage in people trafficking. The Okie Syndicates sell ecogee teenagers to urban criminal organisations, or run roadside brothels in the fortified truck stops between cities. They allow victims to run up huge debts and then take their organs in payment. They kidnap people for use in Corporate laboratory experiments. They hunt down people running from the metroplex gangs.

What police do exist are often members of paramilitary units (gendarmes, in many places). They ride around in mine proof vehicles and are often better armed than the infantry soldiers they sometimes fight besides. In fact, they often do more of the fighting in insurgency situations than the regular forces. Government paramilitaries can be extremely brutal - for a variety of reasons, jaded or brutalised cops will commit covert atrocities in a systematic fashion that military forces rarely achieve.

Your questions don't matter! We're surrounded by biological killing machines!

Cyberanimals and genemod animals sometimes go rogue and escape into the wild. Mutants and cryptids might already live there.

Regular maneaters, driven into populated areas by deforestation or overpopulation, can rack up horrifying kill counts. A genemod creature with chameleon skin or suppression pheromones can achieve far worse. If it's some kind of weapons test...

In game, these creatures serve to make the countryside seem hostile again. Westerners are used to a relatively tame rural region, walks in the wood, picnics... not with para-animals! They - more than any rebel or smuggler - contribute to the idea that the city is besieged by the decaying countryside, a bastion of civilization surrounded by dark woods. 

These creatures lair in dark places or in the forest canopy. They stalk through ghost towns. They are almost as much of a threat as the corporate teams sent into to cover-up the evidence...

(the title comes from this NSFW bit...)

This town, is comin' like a ghost town


Ghost towns, abandoned because of agricultural decline or agricorp takeover or rebel violence, are a common sight in the ruralpunk world. The rotting buildings could hide any of the enemies described in this series, along with exiles and criminals running from the metroplex. 

Outlaws often use ghost towns as hiding places, digging secret caches into old basements and taping sensor baffling foil to the walls and windows of decaying houses. Bounty hunters hate ghost towns - too many booby traps, too much cover, too many angles of escape. 

In Shadowrun, they hate ghost towns for another reason. Bug spirit hives...