Saturday, 28 June 2014

Archetypal Adventures: four netrunner adventures in Sektor:K

All pictures from Starcraft II
Sektor: Korprulu is an eSports bar on the decaying fringe of a central European city, named after a location in the forgotten progenitor game of the eSports scene. Situated in a rusting Soviet-era industrial park, the Sektor is a metallic realm of varnished steel and fading Americana frequented by eSports fans flocking to live broadcasts of Korean, French and Argentine professional matches. 

It is also famous in a different scene: criminal hackers and fixers from across Europe know the bar as a place to wheel and deal and make connections, safe from absent police and protected from underground rivalries. This post covers four netrunning adventures originating in Sektor:K, concerning match-fixing, political violence and the viler side of unlicensed cyberware installation.


Unbeknownst to most of the crowd, the staff and even the owner, the Sektor is located conveniently close to one of the pillars of the local 'runner economy: the underground "black medical" run by the Bandura clan, a Polish operation which manufactures and installs pirated, bespoke and illegal cyberware designs. 

The Bandura clinic attracts 'runners from across the region, possessing a reputation for discretion and competence. The clinic also has some notoriety within the same scene; the people who run it come across as totally amoral. In addition to 'runners - not exactly the most reputable people themselves - they have also been known to supply gear to paramilitary militias, football hooligan gangs and organised criminals. This last client is responsible for much of the special horror surrounding the clinic: the Bandura have been known to perform non-consensual surgery on various captives and "employees" of the Balkan mafias.

The proliferation of 'runners caused by the presence of the Bandura operation gives the Sektor its specific ambience. Situated close to a number of discrete hotels and far from regular policing, the Sektor is a convenient place to rest, recuperate and pass time while waiting for the mercurial Bandura to complete their work. Anyone who pursues a grudge or starts a fight anywhere near the clinic risks smashing the tacit agreements which keep the police away. The Bandura have promised to "blacklist" anyone who does so, so the Sektor remains neutral ground. The presence of so many cyber'd individuals attracts transhuman subculturalists and posers, reinforcing the chromed aura of the place.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Guest Post: Some Derivative Adventures in Banking

For awhile now I've been trying to write posts about a couple of different subjects that I just can't get a handle on. It all comes down to high finance - underground or otherwise - and my basic inability to understand it, whether I'm trying to write an archetype adventure post about criminal Factors or a BitCoin related heist story. You're reading a blog belonging to a GM whose players once made 8 million credits introducing naked short selling to the Star Wars universe!

So I reached out to frequent collaborator and VFTE poster Malek77, and just like that he gave me three campaign hooks straight off the top of his head.

I couldn't not post these. Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Archetypal Adventures: Corporates

Welcome to the second Archetypal Adventures post, covering the most maligned character role in the science fiction gaming universe: the Corporate. The last post in this series covered Limo Drivers; now we're going to explore the people they carry around!

The first part of this post covers the Corporate character's place in the game setting. Corporate Courtiers provides an idiosyncratic take on the Corporate's entourage (player group?) to inspire campaigns and PC ideas. Finally, there are five mini-adventures to round it all out.

It's difficult to think of many hero-hero corporates in science fiction, especially cyberpunk. Julia in Peter Hamilton's Greg Mandel trilogy and...? We need to make an important distinction between corporates and protagonist heroic entrepreneurs. The narrative gives representatives of that character archetype the agency to define themselves and even redefine the world. Whereas the corporate archetype is entirely defined by their relationship to The Company:
  • Corporates work for large corporations, the kind of organisations with giant hierarchies, paramilitary organisation and efficiency measures that stifle innovation
  • in order to rise through the company they've had to adopt the inhuman values of the company, which can lead them to make decisions which can appear unethical or even downright psychopathic (see Charlie Stross' alien invasion theory)
  • in order to survive performance reviews, business failure and management infighting, they always have to appear to be producing more value than their peers. Everyone IRL has experienced an incompetent manager covering up. Statistically everyone has been one, at some point!
It's already common practice for giant companies to use lobbying and lawfare to drive their innovative competitors out of the market, and everyone has been subjected to horrid workplace politics at some point. What differentiates this archetype in gaming from any real white collar professional is that these common events have become suffused with a ridiculous degree of ambient violence. Assassination, corporate espionage, sabotage... 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Archetypal Adventures: The Limo Driver

My favourite sourcebooks have always been the ones full of character archetypes (for players, contacts and NPCs alike). I've become increasingly fond of sandbox games over the years, but rather than producing a complex map I prefer to place the game in a shifting "human terrain" of relationships. Modern cities are much too large to quantify in any other way.

So that makes character archetypes important. My preferred way of building a city these days is to make a list of likely characters - people the players will need to supply information, equipment and skills - and brainstorm some names, locations and concerns for each archetype. An urban geography tends to grow organically out of the process of placing each person in their surroundings. Plot hooks emerge like weeds in broken concrete. 

And frankly, I don't get to use most of them. So this irregular series is going to be about cyberpunk character archetypes and the sort of plots they inspire. I'm hoping to cover the Shadowrun contact archetypes and CP2020's fixer variants (since those are the two lists I usually combine to fill out my sandboxes), but for now...


Strange Days might be one of the all-time classic cyberpunk films, and Angela Bassett's character is a big part of the reason why. Her character - part bodyguard, part tout, part luxury cab driver - forms the basic inspiration for this archetype. 

Independent limo drivers occupy a strangely liminal place in the metroplex. The city is atomising: disintegrating into a realm of privatized burbclaves, corporate living centres, gated communities, automs, extraterritorialities, special economic zones... each fenced and guarded and segregated from the rest of the sprawl. There are a few people who have a pass into all these regions - select law enforcement agency operatives and the wealthy, predominantly. Unlike those people private limo drivers aren't normally drawn from elite backgrounds, but they still get to move unnoticed between all these different urban enclaves. Walled gardens foster paranoia and fear of the outside world: when the inhabitants deign to leave, they want professional protection and service.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Cyberpunk Appendix N Part 4: The Magical Realists

This series is all about novels to inspire your cyberpunk games. The last entry was all about spies and spooks! This post is going to cover the magical realist tendency in cyberpunk, and traverses some strange territory.

Science fiction has alternated between inner space and outer space for decades now. In the 1960s the British New Wave - Moorcock, Ballard, etc - reached for the inner space of the mind, accessible through drugs or fringe psychiatry. Twenty years later, a new more technological inner space provided the backdrop for Cyberpunk: cyberspace. The British New Wave and Cyberpunk achieved their final synthesis in the Vurt.

I'm just going to come out and say it. Jeff Noon's Pixel Juice is my favourite short story collection ever, above Burning Chrome, above Cyberabad Days and Vermillion Sands and Ribofunk and even the unjustly ignored Mammoth Book of Future Cops. I read it when I was 15, when half my friends were into rave music and hour long electronic mixes shared over MSN Messenger, when I was discovering all pop culture in a rush, soon after I discovered Cyberpunk 2020 and most of the other nonsense on this blog. I brought it along with a copy of Naked Lunch in a railway station in Prague or Dresden or Berlin or somewhere else mitteleuropean, because the English language sections of foreign railway station bookshops are the best fiction bookshops anywhere.

I've made a semi-conscious decision never to read it again, because it can't possibly be as cool now as it seemed when I was a teenager.