Between May 27 and May 29, a team of four MCs ran a series of linked missions set in a collaboratively generated Sprawl.
This was Operation Angel Basin.
You can read the initial public pitch here and the discussion of the setup session here.
After the setup session on Friday night, the four members of the MC team spent about 30 minutes discussing the setting that had been created and spitballing ideas for how it could link to the clone ideas we had come up with in advance. The setup session gave us some corporations to insert into certain roles: which corp was leading the field in clone research, which corps knew about that research and wanted a piece of it, that kind of thing. We also had some specific colour and technological information that we could link in (those picites would play a major role in what was to come). Also importantly, we had some major clock states, including Ares Manufacturing at 0000 and GeneSense at 2200.
Session 1: The APL Infiltration
Saturday morning was a slow start. The morning slots are never as well attended at Strategicon, especially among the BarCon crowd that make up a decent proportion of the story game community there. Late night room parties will do that to a crew. Rob and I had discussed our mission options over breakfast and we both had ideas ready to go. As it turned out, we only had one table, so I ran a mission I called The APL Infiltration.
We wanted the first session missions to establish the setting. Because of the way the clocks turned out (Ares at 0000), this mission was also a great chance to establish Ares as a major villain of the series. The team were offered the opportunity to clear their name with Ares by recovering the data stolen in the last links mission, the mission that had moved the Ares clock to 0000. The data turned out to be in an underwater research lab run by a secret division of GeneSense that the (happily) +owned Genesense Tech had not heard of (hooray for shadowy organisations!) Right off the bat, I was using the two highest clocks established in the setup session.
The great thing about having a corp at 0000 in a starting mission is that when the characters miss a roll, there’s a really good source of hard moves right there just waiting to complicate things before you have to push up the Mission Clocks. Sure enough, they missed a research roll pretty early and were soon in a firefight with an Ares kill team. That put the team on the run and they were happy to be infiltrating an ultra-secure facility out of Ares’ reach. They recovered the data and ended up selling it to the Pixie Killers.
This mission was pretty traditional, but it set up a lot of recurring plot activity. All four of the characters in this mission made an appearance in the final missions: two as NPCs, two as essentially the main protagonists (Liam Ride [Driver] and Amity [Hacker]).
Session 2: The Murder Line
The Saturday afternoon session was also only one table (I played). This time the game ended up pushing a lot of buttons and establishing a clear moral compass for certain characters.
The goal for the second session was to establish cloning as a technology. The mission was to infiltrate a hospital and eliminate some plague victims who were going to be released into the sprawl, but once the characters got in they discovered that it was actually a batch of force-grown clone babies. They were in a situation where the characters were being paid to kill the babies (which weren’t prepared to do), the characters didn’t have the means to rescue them right then, and the players didn’t have time to leave, make a new plan, and return to rescue them. They walked away, which wasn’t a satisfying end. (My character didn’t walk away, and became an NPC instead.)
There was a lot of discussion of the game afterwards which can be boiled down to three ways to make this kind of bait and switch work:
- Give lots of information in the Legwork Phase: have the characters find out what was really going on through research, assess and hit the street.
- Get through the Legwork Phase quicker: give the players time to realise the shitty reality, retreat, regroup, and come back to be Big Damn Heroes.
- Build in a way out: think of how the characters might use things in the fiction to adapt to the situation and build them into your Legwork answers from the start. If there’s a big thing that might need to be removed, add a loading dock; the characters can call in a favour from a contact on a fly. If there’s a remote, nefarious plan afoot, build in a matrix kill switch. Remember that you’re going for an action, intrigue and complication, not hyperrealism and the horror or powerlessness in the face of inhumanity. Well, there’s a certain amount of that implicit in the corporate vibe of cyberpunk, but your agenda says action, intrigue and complication.
That aside, this session established a powerful emotional motive for Liam Ride, and established Memory Solstice as a major player in the clone game.
Session 3: The Two Where Hamish Was Absent
This session had two tables playing. I didn’t participate here, and instead played a game in the next room, interspersed with occasional visits. Our goal for this session was to reveal more of the corporate machinations behind the clone activities so that the characters would have a good idea of what was going on in time for the final session.
Session 4: The Skyline Switchback
The final session also had two tables playing, most of whom had played in at least one previous session and included Amity at one table and Liam Ride at the other, both of whom had played in two prior sessions and had thus established a lot of history with the world, the NPCs, the corporations, and the other characters.
This is the session where these multi-session con games play off. You have some players who have seen a lot, some who have seen a little, and some who are new and the interaction between the players and characters is great to see. As MCs, we didn’t have to do much explaining, just the occasional, “X works for Y” and all of a sudden the wheels are spinning and the web of intrigue is unfurling before you in the words of the player explaining it. Magical.
We had set up these two missions to potentially connect, hoping for a scene where the two teams meet, discuss the nasty BS the corps are having them do, and make a combined plan to turn the tables. I was also hoping for some movement between tables. That didn’t really happen.
We sent both teams up a space elevator to do things at the top: steal a thing and implant a virus. The two goals weren’t in direct competition. We didn’t want to moderate an 8-way PvP arena fight. However, PCs being the wonderfully imaginative creatures that they are, my table decided to avoid security on the space elevator by going up a competitor’s elevator and flying over (Liam Ride was an ex-”Rock Jock”, an asteroid-dragging space pilot). Liam’s team found out that the virus that Amity’s team was implanting was going to bring down the space elevator, but Amity’s team thought Liam’s Team were trying to stop them completing their mission! Amity’s team continued and spent the second half of the session sabotaging and then trying to repair the space elevator while Liam’s team made a whole new plan to burn Ares and spent the rest of the session enacting it.
Another way we made use of the previously established story was by bringing previous NPCs and PCs into the story and killing them. Picite plagues are a bad scene, my friends. That led to some frantic cross-table messages and phone calls, as well as some ominous “they don’t pick up” moments.
Having run three events like this now (the previous two were Living Dungeon World games), there is definitely a tendency for players to want to sign up for the big conclusion without playing through the build up. I definitely get that, but it does mean that you will end up with more players at the end than at the start. It can be harder for players who try the series at the start to get a place in the final game if they decide they like it.
This was the first time I had dedicated an entire slot to the setup. We definitely had enough players that we got a great setting and had a lot of fun. All of those players came back for at least one game (except for one emergency situation). We also had several drop in players who didn’t come to the setup session. We were prepared with three tables in our room and four MCs; we certainly used all the space and staff in the setup session, but we only ever had two games going at once, so we had extra capacity if necessary.