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...
THE LIMO DRIVER
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.
This service might simply involve running someone between the airport and the CFC. Or they might be hired to take burbclavers slumming. They might serve on retainer for visitors to the city. What differentiates the cyberpunk era limo driver from a taxi driver is the assumption of service and protection.
Everyone has TripAdvisor, and the limo probably has an autopilot. What the clients want is personal knowledge and efficient security, both on the road and off it. This requires the new generation of limo drivers to appear more professional than the old LA "unemployed screenwriter" stereotype. Skills you need to get to the top of the profession (or just into Metroplex's Driver's Guild) include:
- a measure of personal style, to impress clients
- deep knowledge of local nightspots, hotels and tourist sights, along with "trustworthy" provenders of local vice
- equally deep knowledge of local go-gang, road pirate and guerilla activity (not to mention traffic patterns)
- defensive driving skills (for when your knowledge fails)
- light weapons training (for defending the client when he insists on buying drugs from a guy you know has a sideline in kidnapping)
- enough understanding of vehicle electronics to know what to do when corporate paramilitaries hack the car
That's practically a 'runner suite of skills right there. Which is good, because the average 'runner team looks at a private limo service and sees a weak point in a solid wall of corporate security. You might not be able to hit the target in the arcology, but on the 1-95 heading towards the airport? Easy...
If Die Hard and Strange Days taught us anything, it's that professional limo drivers are more likely to get caught up in weird adventures than just about anybody.
KIDNAPPING: a kidnapping attempt provides the most obvious plot hook imaginable for this archetype, which doesn't mean we shouldn't use it!
A contact meets one of the characters in the back of a limo, orders the driver to "just drive" and is merrily info-dumping about something important to the main plot when road pirates hit the vehicle. Chaos ensues. Through the skills of the driver (who might be a PC) and the PC in the back of the limo (who is definitely a PC...) the initial assault is probably fended off.
The problem is, the limo is now on the other side of the city from the other PCs and the road pirates have back-up. Lots of back-up. Drones, bikes, more drones, a drone with a signal jammer... a chase ensues. Here's the thing - the contact isn't the target. The PC is - and the people who hired the pirates know exactly what brand of plucky munchkin fucker they're dealing with!
So now the PCs have to track the limo as it hurtles through the streets, dealing with the signal jamming drone at the same time. The PC in the car has to survive the hail of bullets, biker chains and ECM heading his way long enough to get to the rest of the team...
KIDNAPPING (COLLATERAL): this time, the limo driver is complicit.
The kidnapping target meets an accredited, trusted limo driver he (and a player character) knows, which delivers him straight into the hands of his enemies.
This presents a series of questions, namely: why would the limo driver destroy his entire career by taking part in a kidnapping? Maybe:
- He got greedy
- He's being blackmailed
- He's secretly a member of a political extremist group or corporate espionage team
- He's been replaced by a biosculpted android
Any of these things could be true. The important thing is: the players don't know.
The kidnapping target might have some kind of tracking device which gives the team time to try to chase the limo down before it reaches its destination, or simply track it. The limo actively uses all the defensive techniques you'd expect to fend off pursuit. Either that, or it goes to ground and the team have to use what they know about the contact to try to find him.
...and find him before the corporate security teams and bounty hunters also in pursuit decide to kill the driver out of hand.
(the Collateral variant: the PC is the limo driver and decides to get involved in a kidnapping for any of the reasons above. That might even be how a driver enters the PC group in the first place...)
THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME:
The limo driver has been carrying a client with a secret lover to and from his/her rendezvous'.This might be:
- the teenage scion of an family corporation bound to an arranged marriage, having an affair that could reduce the value of the dowry
- an embassy staffer in a knowing relationship with an enemy agent
- a transhuman extremist idol with a "basic" mistress
or that old favourite
- an archconservative politician with a gay lover
Whoever it is, the client belongs to an organisation fiercely devoted to secrecy with a sociopathic security establishment.
The driver may or may not know what is going on. S/he has been hired as an "entertainment consultant" to help the client find night life to his or her tastes, and that's how it gets billed on the credit card report.
One day 'runners start coming out of the woodwork, aiming for the driver. First they loot her apartment, smash her computers and possibly even try to introduce a virus into any cloud storage systems she might have. Then they try to kill her as efficiently and quietly as possible. Naturally, the driver doesn't get given a reason for this - frankly, if she happens to be a PC or a PC contact, she might think it's because she's gotten mixed up in something the team does. So she reaches out for help.
The security establishment has discovered the secret lifestyle and is now aggressively covering it up. Everyone involved - including the secret lover (and maybe even the client!) - has to die. The death of the lover provides the clue which gives the PCs an indication of where all the heat is coming from. But once they know, they have to die as well...
|via Aero Limo Concepts|
This is one for a PC driver or ride-along.
There's trouble at the top of the local megacorporation. Political changes, maybe. A palace coup, perhaps. A new Hand of the CEO cleaning his sister's minions out of the security division, even. Whatever happens, the chief of security has to go.
At this moment he happens to be riding in the back of the limo, coming out of a nightclub. The first indication he gets that something is wrong is a panicked phone call from a minion.
Our ex-security chief is rich and well connected. Everyone knows that. If he can get out of the security cordon he can rally some support and deal with this problem once and for all - or at least that's what he says. Or maybe he'll defect to another corporation. At any rate, he will pay a lot of money to the team that sees him out of the cordon. A loyalist has a helicopter waiting to take him somewhere safe if he can reach the landing pad inside of an hour.
His own troops are hunting for him, although they don't know where he is (or what the limo looks like, or that he's in one). They aren't necessarily confident in the legality of their search orders, which the PCs can use to their advantage. Getting through the cordon will require lots of careful driving, blustery con-artistry and paranoid route planning!
Or the PCs might hear about the coup, realise who they've got in the back of the car, and then decide to kidnap him. At which point the coup fails or his loyalists try to get him free - see Kidnapping (Collateral)...
A team with a hacker has been paid (or simply wants) to put listening devices throughout the gated enclaves of the city. The limo provides cover for this - a registered Guild limo has a pass that will allow it to move through all the different burbclaves without too much hassle (whereas every security team knows the "telecommunications workers" trick these days). That said, a vehicle in a burbclave will still be monitored.
Between the driver and the hacker the team will have to find a way to legitimately enter each 'clave and get close enough to the right spots to install the devices. They might fake route itineraries and service requests. They might take advantage of regular customers. A Transhuman Space style meme hacker might even convince the burbclave residents to use the service, allowing the vehicle to enter the 'clave, drop a mini-drone, and install the tap...