Because it was there

Because it was there

[Faustus’s note: this is another enormous adventure, that unfolded over 2 sessions. I’m going to give Drew’s overview here and try put a few fragments of other moments in other posts. This battle was so epic that it’s impossible to summarize in any reasonable blog format. Scroll to the end for a brief summary of events (culled from my EIGHTEEN pages of notes)].

Date: 22nd October, 2177

Weather: Rainy

Mood: Satisfied. We went in and did our job almost perfectly, and I got a really high kill rate and my Ghost came back, but this time it felt like it was a he not a she, and it was kind of angry, and I think it didn’t like it when I killed the FBR, but I killed an FBR so I don’t care what anyone thinks. Even my Russian Ghost. Which I’m a bit worried about, because it’s inside me and it comes out to help me but it seems to be angry. What is it? What did I buy? Anyway, I got it under control so it’s okay … right, dear diary?

Outfit: Hospital gown. I am getting my cyberware repaired because an EMP destroyed my eyes and half of my neuralware, and my contraceptive implant which apparently is electrical which is news to me because I thought all that stuff was chemical. So here I am in a hospital bed barely able to see, narrating this part of my story in a whisper to you, dear diary. But I’ll only be here a few days and I’m taking lots of pictures of the eye patch … I guess I’ll be able to see them properly once the repairs are done.

After we raided the topside mental asylum and liberated Hog, we owed a favour to some American dude called Blacklist. So it was time to deliver on that favour. We got a two week break before we got our job, and during that two weeks we mostly just recovered and bought some new stuff. Coyote spent a bit of time stalking the markets on the docks and came back with this old-fashioned grenade launcher thing that Pops calls Betsy, because Pops gives names to every technological item more advanced than his pacemaker (our espresso machine is called Angela). Coyote couldn’t buy me a decent sniper rifle because he’s too ugly to trust, but he made up for it by modifying this old Nomad Bolt Action rifle I have, to make it electrothermal. It’s my little personalized railgun, it doesn’t have a name or a gender but it’s really bad news if you meet it. It’s also pastel blue, so it goes with most of my outfits. I took it with me on our mission.

Our mission was pretty simple. There was a train, a Titan train, returning from the Indo Zone carrying gear for Arasaka. Blacklist wants something on the train. The train is a 10 storey high, kilometre long monster straight out of hell, and we have to break into it, steal the cargo, and get out. There are three teams: one to shut down comms across the whole train line, one to destroy the engines and stop the train, and one to extract the cargo. We got the extraction team, which is a mixture of us and a bunch of Blacklist’s American dudes, who are all flakes. The extraction was supposed to be simple: once the train stops we land on the roof, put down laser cutters, cut a big hole that falls to the bottom of the carriage, drop in on special zip lines, make sure anyone in the area is dead. Then some engineers put EMP charges on the crate, we all clear the area, the charges go off, they attach magnets, and the crate is lifted up out of the hold to a waiting AV. Then we all zip-line up, get into an extraction AV, and leave. The tunnel the train is in is tight but there’s an area where it comes out into a larger set of caverns, and that’s where we do the hit, coming down a kind of dropshaft that is maybe ventilation for the whole thing. Blacklist isn’t there but his main man, Winter, tells us this is a routine repatriation train and we shouldn’t expect trouble.

Of course he was wrong. But that’s why he wanted us, right?

Before we went in we had a one day long lockup in Blacklist’s base, preparing gear and getting familiar with each other. I spent the time introducing myself to the other Solos and their teams, memorizing who was doing what and what they can do, and making sure everyone knew my job. Coyote and Ghost spent it preparing equipment and vaping, but Pops spent it picking fights with younger men, and he even found the brother of that dude that Coyote murdered back when we first met. Understandably the big brother was upset about that but he somehow got the idea that Pops did the killing, even though a cyber chainsaw is completely not Pops’s style (he’d have used a baseball bat or some other oil age anachronism) and anyway it was Coyote who got all blood-happy on that job. So I broke up the fight and of course now it’s me and Pops that are in this punk’s sights, and Coyote is saying it’s not his problem, even though Pops is telling him to clean it up. But it’s pretty obvious that at some point on this train job this older brother is gonna turn vengeful when we least need it. I guess I just have to put a bullet in his head, but Pops told me to time it carefully, and frankly I didn’t want to do it – I’ve never shot a member of my own team before and it doesn’t feel right.

Human relations! What a burner! Anyway, then the job started.

First we got to see feed of the other teams while we waited in the AV to do the extraction. The engineering team was all buzzing bikes and crazy angles, but the control team were much nastier. They spent hours crawling through tunnels and air ducts into the control room, and managed to drop down into this room that had a thin wall between it and the control area. Switch to infrared and they can see everyone in the control area, and they pop them all in a couple of seconds of controlled shooting, then blast through the wall and clear out the room. Very professional. Then it was time for us to jump, and down we went …

The train was an amazing monster of steel and carbon, it really was the height of an apartment block! It stopped about a kilometre outside of this narrow tube tunnel, in a wider tunnel that had room above the train but still not much room each side of it. Even the tunnel was staggering, like half a kilometre high maybe and criss-crossed with access tunnels and maintenance shafts that have their own little maintenance and security transport trains in them that are the size of a normal metro train carriage. The Titan came screaming out of the narrower tunnel a kilometre away and it was throwing up this great cloud of smoke and sparks as it slowed down, brakes on full. The gigantic wheels were all locked up and the carbon fiber body was melting and catching fire from the heat on the tracks. The tracks are enormous, more like two roads more than rails, and they were being torn up by the train as it braked. It was like coming out of that tunnel it was doing an atmospheric reentry, and burning from the rails up. Spikes of metal the size of cars were being thrown up from the rails, red hot from the friction, and we could feel the noise of it stopping from half a kilometre up through the baffles on our AV. We all watched in awe as this dragon the size of a city came roaring out of that tunnel into our battle zone, screaming like an army of demons and burning up in its own rage, until it came to a kind of shaking, flaming halt just a bit past the target point. Then we dropped like a stone, the entry was hard, and the AV came to a hard stop maybe 10 metres above the train, and we were all tumbling out before we even had time to get nervous. It wasn’t hard to land on the roof – there was nowhere else in sight – and we landed right on spot, setting our laser cutters and yelling “clear!” well within our timing. We all stepped back and looked away as they burst into life, and 3 seconds later there was this huge bang, then a second bang, and a big cloud of steam and super-heated chemicals washed over us. We turned back to look and a huge section of the middle of the train roof, maybe 30 metres in radius, was gone. The edges of the hole it fell from were glowing red hot from the laser cutters for a depth of half a metre but we didn’t have time to let them cool – we latched on our zip lines just outside the hot zone and then took running leaps in – me and Pops first, with Coyote and then Winter’s team members behind. Ghost stayed on top to hack anything that interfered with us, and above us the AV was already getting up out of fire range, to hover there in place with two other AVs – the extraction AV and this giant insect-like cargo AV that was going to lift the target crate out.

We fell straight through that hole into this steaming, clammy pit of hell, and nothing in there was what we were told. The carriage was 10 stories high like they said but it had been divided into mezzanine levels, all of them kind of looking down onto the cargo hold. The biggest crates were stocked in the middle on the ground floor, but these mezzanines also had cargo stacked in them. Near the top though, right where we had cut through, they also had people – soldiers – sitting on guard duty in seats like a normal train. Our laser cutters had sliced through some of these seats and the guards in them, and had made holes in all the mezzanine levels. The ceiling then fell through, crushing anyone between it and the floor and bringing all the flooring of the mezzanines with it. That ceiling and the mess it took down with it had landed on the cargo hold 10 stories down, crushing a bunch of crates and shattering, and was maybe a metre high and broken apart – perfect cover for us. Most of the soldiers in the room had either been cut in half or crushed, but there were a few who were still alive and starting to struggle out of their harnesses. Some were already out and opening fire on us as we went down – I killed one during the descent, perfect head shot with my new rifle, but there were more down in the basement level. Pops dropped a burner grenade on them and I shot one, and they kind of broke down and hid in cover quick, I think one was stripping his armour off to get out of the flames, haha.

So much for “there shouldn’t be any resistance.” Winter needs to get better spies, or is it just that these Americans can’t do anything right?

Insufficient

Insufficient

We hit the deck and took cover, while up above Winter’s team started trying to clean up the guards on the higher levels and set up some machine gun nests. We had barely reached our cover when Ghost contacted us to tell us there were more men coming down corridors on the edge of the carriage. These corridors had doors entering the carriage in its middle, not far from us, and there were maybe five guys in each, we weren’t sure. Pops put a burner grenade on each door, one was really good and destroyed the door but the other one was a bit late. At the same time Coyote unloaded his entire kalashnikov cartridge on them, and that got them real scared. Five men were coming through then, but when the grenade and the gunfire hit two of them ducked back and one leapt into the room, shotgun in one hand, trying to pull the pin on a grenade with his mouth. I took him in the head as he came in, and hit the grenade, blew him up and made sure he wasn’t going anywhere. So there were two guys burning behind that door and two unhurt, and these guys were serious Arasaka soldiers, in some kind of cyber-enhanced full body armour with good gear and tactics. We were crouched behind cover when they opened fire on us from behind the wall, using infrared for targeting, and me and Pops were okay but the fire was so heavy it completely shredded our cover – we had to move. While we moved Coyote laid down a grenade, that kind of helped, but we were feeling pretty worried when one of Winter’s teams came down, loading suppressing fire and grenades down on those dudes. Somehow one of them got a shot off and one of Winter’s guys went limp but the other two finished the job. That got us a bit of a breather – until the cargo crate came hurtling out of the darkness and nearly smashed us all down!

While we were killing all the resistance we weren’t meant to meet, Ghost was busy hacking into systems, trying to work out what was going on in the rest of the train. He locked the doors to the carriage so no more troops could come in, then identified some kind of signal traveling down the train. He followed it to see if it was a warning, and found it was targeted at a specific cargo crate, and seemed to be intended to activate something. Going inside the crate he found a functioning cyborg activated, and entered its video feed. This was bad news – the feed activated just long enough for him to get jerky vision of a full body replacement (FBR) cybersoldier getting out of some kind of storage harness, stepping forward and smashing its fist through the chest of whatever cyborg Ghost had hacked. The cyborg died and the feed cut off, so Ghost tried another, and saw the same thing. Some kind of signal had caused the FBRs to attack each other in that crate – that crate, it turned out, was the crate that Winter wanted. Ghost told him what was going on and Winter started screaming for action, telling his engineers to come in and ordering Ghost to get the crate under the access hole fast. Ghost obliged, and accessed this kind of automated loading system on the train that moved crates around on their levels. He did it super fast, so he didn’t have time for finesse; the crate came hurtling out of the darkness and came to a screaming halt right under the hole. Engineers threw some EMPs on the crate, and we all had a couple of moments to get as far away as possible before they went off. I got that horrible tingle in my eyes that happens when an EMP goes off near me but I was just out of range, but the Arasaka marines who were coming out the other entry way were not so lucky – it hit all of them and fried their armour and they dropped on the spot. Then everything went real quiet, and the engineers came down and put magnets on the crate, then started lifting it up into the air. While it was being hoisted up I broke cover and started putting down those stunned Arasaka dudes, because hey, they’re Arasaka and plus I didn’t know how long an EMP would fry their special armour. Coyote was already starting to loot what he could from the bodies – we were all looking at that armour with a greedy eye, I think, but I am not going to wear anything that has a stupid Arasaka logo on it, so I kept my eyes on the job. I don’t count coups de grace, but outside of them I killed three men with five shots during that engagement – one of them an Arasaka marine. A good couple of seconds’ work!

I am NOT wearing this armour!

I am NOT wearing this armour!

But things didn’t go so smoothly with that crate and whatever was inside it. It was nearly at the hole, being dragged up towards the cargo AV, when everyone heard a massive bang inside the crate. The cargo AV stopped lifting it, and it hung there in the air at the centre of the wrecked carriage, these big bangs coming out from inside it, and it was slowly rocking in the air from the ferocity of the bangs. We all stared up at the crate, everyone thinking the same thing: FBRs inside, trying to get out – and us trapped on the ground floor …[1]

We didn’t have time to care though. We’d had a few moments to gather our wits (well – everyone else did. I was walking through the rubble shooting paralyzed Arasaka dudes in the head). But now Ghost contacted everyone again to tell them that more soldiers were coming from the end of the carriage. They must have regrouped there or something, because they hadn’t come through the doors, which Ghost was now lowering so that the engineering team, led by a Solo called Carbon[2], could get through. They were coming through on multiple levels: 10 troops on the ground floor and another six coming through doors on each side of a higher level. These weren’t Arasaka monsters but still, more than 15 guys with automatic weapons is kind of nasty, not my idea of the best way to rob a train. This Winter guy probably needs to improve his methods, because in the next 30 seconds a lot of his guys got slaughtered …

So thanks to Ghost we had time to prepare. Me and Pops took cover, and Coyote kept looting. Pops laid down grenades while I put out headshots, and up above Carbon was firing these exploding arrows that do really nasty things. Ghost joined in, using the automated cargo-loading system to shift crates fast, in order to knock people off of balconies or crush them, but he was distracted by one of the soldiers, who was some kind of weekend hacker and kept using his hacking to try and shut Ghost out of the train’s systems. Our hacker oscillates between incompetent and glorious, and this was one of those days when he was glorious, so he shut out the stupid soldier and crushed some guys (who were on fire anyway, because Pops was being a grenade master even though his eyesight is fading and his hands shake), Pops went to work with the grenades, some of Winter’s team were doing heavy machine gun cover, and Carbon was doing the Robin Hood thing with incendiary arrows. While we were fighting these guys, the engineers were trying to fix EMP grenades onto the crate to try and calm whatever was inside. One got shot down by the incoming troops before Carbon could pacify them, but the other one got an EMP grenade on. We all cleared the area but this one guy got shot down as he was fleeing, one of those stupid Arasaka guys got him in the leg, and so I had to run back and grab him even though the EMP was set. I ran as fast as I could but he was too heavy and too badly hurt, and we both got caught as the EMP went off. My eyes went haywire, but he was worse off – his neural processor and nerve boosting was connected to his muscle system, and he had a nose filter that went wild, so first of all he couldn’t breathe and then he was kicking and spasming. I was blind and my eyes were going crazy but my legs were still working so I just kept dragging him out of the zone, because I had a real fear that that crate was going to fall.

And that was when my Russian Ghost started to come out. Just like when me and Pops were under pressure at Lima’s place, it started to rouse. I tried to fight it, but I was fried. Exhausted after all that fighting, I’d taken hits to both my legs during the second push by those 16 guys, and now my eyes, a bunch of my fashion cyberware, and probably some stuff deep inside of me was wrecked, just so I could save this spasming guy who I was pretty sure was soiling himself because his body was completely wrecked. The Russian Ghost knows when to come out, and now was a pretty bad time. But I wanted to get out of here, not run off into the shadows on the whim of some insane cyberware, so I thought I should try and fight it down.

And that was when the crate burst open. Before the EMP went off something had smashed a hole in the crate and stuck its arm out, but the EMP temporarily paralyzed it. We (except poor blasted me) were cut into a feed showing the vision of the engineer on the crate, who was investigating this arm. We saw x-ray vision of the crate, lined with FBRs, and different images of the thing that had its arm stuck out of the crate. The engineer was leaning over the edge of the crate, looking more closely at the arm, when the arm twitched, then grabbed him, smashed him into the crate and threw him to the ground like a rag doll. Then it tore its way out of the crate, and hauled itself out onto the top of the crate. It was an FBR. A full and complete Full Body Replacement, in Arasaka corporate logo.

Sufficient

Sufficient

This was kind of unexpected for us, because FBRs are meant to be the exclusive technology owned by Goliath, and Arasaka is not meant to be taking on any security role in New Horizon – they have an agreement that ensures Arasaka keeps its military assets out of New Horizon. But here it is shipping military assets it isn’t meant to have into a city it isn’t meant to be investing …

Not that we had much time to think about the geopolitical ramifications, because the FBR tore the crate apart like paper, climbed out on top, and leapt the 20 metres from the crate across to the level Carbon was on. We only had one way out – up – and this thing was in the way, so we all went to work. I was standing near Pops, blind and both my legs bleeding, but I could feel the Russian Ghost coming up inside me. I knew what was coming, so I handed him my rifle, whispered, “the Ghost is coming,” and moved away from him, falling down as I went. I could feel it coming up, rushing through me like a wave of fury with an almost human voice, yelling “Brother! My brother!” at the FBR, and clamouring at me to let it out.

I let it.

From that point on I don’t know what happened. Pops told me later. The FBR tore into Carbon’s team but Carbon stood its ground, fighting hand to hand using its capoeira when things went wrong, but before the FBR could get fully into battle Pops managed to get a good shot into its leg with my rifle, tearing the leg apart and really slowing it down. I somehow managed to leap up onto the crate and then onto the back of the FBR, and it turned around to face me while it was fighting Carbon so I started trying to punch my way through its chest, to remove the chipset that we had seen being torn out by other FBRs on Ghost’s feed. Inside me my Ghost was going crazy, yelling at its “brother” in rage and joy, and that’s all I remember from the fight. Winter’s team were shooting the FBR and laying down suppression on the ground floor to make sure no more soldiers tried to join in, and Pops was firing more shots from my rifle to try and get a second lucky hit. With me pummelling the FBR, Carbon was able to shoot arrows into its legs, and at some point it realized we were going to smash its leg and bring it down so it leapt down from the balcony and disappeared into the shadows. At this point I managed to wrestle control back from my Ghost, and collapsed to the decks. Carbon started dragging me back to the zip lines, and everyone started retreating. While we had been fighting off the FBR that crate had been lifted out into the tunnel and the waiting grasp of the cargo AV, and now the extraction AV was getting ready to lift out the soldiers; all we had to do was get on the ziplines. While Carbon helped me and Coyote started lifting out, burdened under the weight of our loot, Pops moved to help the guy I had saved from the EMP; he was starting to recover his function but still couldn’t move himself. When Pops grabbed him and latched him onto a line he whispered, “Thanks man. You gotta know, as soon as you get to the top En plans to put a bullet in you.”

And then we all lifted out, with Pops dropping a line of burner grenades behind us as he went, to stop that FBR from coming after us. Me and Carbon got to the top first, and by now my sight was slowly returning, the EMPs wearing off, and so I could see En standing near the extraction AV, rifle in hand, waiting for Pops to come up. But worse still, somehow I could see the FBR. It was creeping up out of the side of the train, it must have cut a hole or something, and it had some kind of cloaking device on so no one else could see it. I don’t know how I could see it but I could still feel the Russian Ghost inside me, raging to get at it, so maybe it was helping me[3]. The FBR was completely oblivious of me and Carbon – it had the AV in its sights, and why not? The AV was hovering just above the train roof, its main access doors open, and it was full of troops, some of them already injured, most of them just standing there panting in their full body armour, waiting for the rest of the team to come up. They couldn’t see it, they were just there, sacks of flesh and blood waiting for it to come and rip them open like birthday presents. This FBR had a radline, which is this new electromagnetic weapon that messes up cyberware, and if it hit the right part of that AV with the radline it would short the controls and bring it down. Then the FBR and all those soldiers would slide off the deck and down, and at the bottom the FBR would be free to rip them all apart. And there at the front of it all was En …

What’s not to like?

I waited. I was thinking about it. Carbon was behind me moving forward. I put in a message on our team’s private line, telling them not to get on the AV and telling Coyote to get off, but Carbon wasn’t on our private line. It was gonna get on that AV for lift out, and the FBR was gonna get on with it. I could hear Pops coming up, nearly at the top, and En was there waiting … I just needed to wait a few more seconds. But between me and the FBR there was a machine gun set up on a tripod, just in case, but it was halfway through being dismantled and recovered, and it was facing the FBR. All I had to to was step forward, grab it, and open up.

I’m not the kind of girl who shoots people on her own team. I stood there watching for a moment, everything blurry and dazed through my messed up cybereyes, and I thought I could let it all happen, but then I thought about the kind of Solo I am, what happens to my rep if I let my team be slaughtered because of some kind of stupid human relations problem between some idiot whose brother was dumb enough to throw himself on Coyote’s tender chainsaw mercy, and I decided that my rep is more important than saving Coyote from his past mistakes. And Carbon was right there with us when this monster was trying to rip our hearts out, so I can’t just let it get on that AV and get dragged down to its death. I figured up until now Pops has survived a few gunshots, so I should do what is right for a Solo.

On the open channel I said to Carbon, “don’t get on the AV, the FBR is right in front of you,” and stepped up to the gun. The FBR somehow heard that and turned to face me, dropping its cloak shield, but it was too late. I hit full auto on the machine gun at close range, and just kept squeezing. At the same moment Pops breached the hull, and he and En opened fire on each other at the same time. En missed but Pops got him right in the chest and he went down like all our targets do, limp and gone. Guys poured out of the AV and grabbed him, yelling their fear, but they all just assumed he had been taken down by the FBR. Pops, Carbon and Ghost ran for the AV, I grabbed the machine gun and ran too, Carbon dragging me along, and the FBR lay there on the train roof, twitching and thrashing, cyborg ichor spurting out of it, completely useless.

I killed an FBR. Me! I am the DRUID. Dedicated Retribution Unit. No one will demobilize me again. Not even an FBR.

The doors slammed shut in the AV and we were all off. Me and En, we sank back in the hold and collapsed, him shot in the chest and me exhausted, ghosted out, clutching the machine gun like the only lover I ever had (I have never had any lovers, unless you count men who paid someone else for the use of me). The AV was roaring out on an insane trajectory, and we could all see why on the feed. While we were playing at arcane solo games with that FBR, Arasaka security had been closing in on us, in force. They took down the control team and came roaring up the tunnel, and they were riding a wave of wrath. A wall of lead and missiles was coming down on us and it was all we could do to haul out of there. It looked a lot like we were gonna die in the hold of that AV but then someone yelled “Engineers up!” and we all felt that strange, tingling feeling you get when a serious EMP goes off near you. We were entering the exit tunnel at that time, and it turns out the engineers had mined the tunnel with a whole ring of EMPs. They went off just in time and the pursuing AVs fell out of the sky like Icarus in that old oil age music video, tumbling back down onto the distant train.

We did it! We were out. We smashed a Titan train, and came out smiling.

Nothing can stop us. Nothing. I am coming for you Arasaka, I am coming for you. Your corporate boys in their suits, with their special measures and their business plans and their smug conquerors’ joy … I’m coming for you. You aren’t going to be so smug when this little shipment of FBRs explodes in your face, when the video goes across every news channel. And that’s just the start, because after your precious corporate reputation goes down the toilet I’m going to come for your worthless souls. I’m going to collect them like Anguta, so you better start locking your doors and checking your guns. You can swim with the beasts, you can flee with the storms – it’s nothing to me. You’re mine. I will destroy you. I am the Dedicated Retribution Unit, and I will destroy you.

The short summary

  • We had to do a train heist for some American dude called Blacklist, as payment for our venture topside
  • While we were preparing for the heist, Pops discovered that the brother of a guy Coyote killed long ago is on the mission and wants to kill us. This idiot is called En
  • The train is huge
  • We hit the train, dropped in, had a big battle with some soldiers – killed them all
  • Ghost got the cargo we were looking for out into the right position to be robbed
  • The cargo contains Full Body Replacements – it appears Blacklist was trying to steal Arasaka FBRs
  • Why does Arasaka have FBRs? They’re strictly Goliath tech
  • At the same time as the cargo got into extraction position we had to deal with another 20 soldiers
  • We dealt with them
  • An FBR in the cargo was not quiescent, it broke out
  • We fought it. My Russian Ghost came back, and we beat the FBR. It fled
  • We evacuated, but a guy Pops saved told us that En was gonna put a bullet in Pops as soon as he emerged from the train
  • I got topside first and discovered the FBR creeping up, invisible under a cloaking device, to our extraction AV
  • There was a machine gun right next to me. I grabbed it and destroyed the FBR
  • At the same time, Pops hit the deck and he and En had a stand off that En lost, but En wasn’t dead – just stunned
  • We all piled onto the AV, En’s buddies rescued him
  • We got out. Mission successful.

fn1: This is actually the point where the first session of this train robbery ended!

fn2: This crazy capoeira-fightin’, exploding-bow wielding intersex maniac played by a guest player!

fn3: Actually I rolled a massive critical success, three 10s in a row, on my awareness check. This has got to be the best-placed critical awareness check in the history of role-playing because that FBR is an absolute actual monster, and there were guys on that AV we wanted dead …

 

 

 

Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets

– The Falcon, dialectical ephemeralist revolutionary, talking about lackeys

Our recent train heist involved a serious number of low-ranked enemies, the full complement of which hasn’t been described yet (Drew’s breathless reports take her a lot of time to write, even if they might seem like a rant she spat out over the phone to a friend in 10 minutes). During the latter part of this battle (after Bob Millet got naked) we had five PCs taking on 16 soldiers in a rather drawn out and exhausting gun battle, which was only a taster for the main event. We soon discovered that this makes battles slow and exhausting, and you spend a lot of time resolving rules for people who, though potentially fatal, are largely just going to serve to wear you down a bit. Cyberpunk doesn’t have any special rules for handling this, so you just have a huge number of different people making complex shots, rolling hit locations, doing damage, keeping track of armour, etc. Cyberpunk doesn’t really have a style that is suited for minions in the sense that e.g. Warhammer 3 or Iron Kingdoms have them, but we often find ourselves dealing with gangers, grunts or low-level cannon fodder who really should be treated as just that.

We have also begun to run up against the problem of the nihilistic arms race that I described a long time ago. We have good armour and we’re dangerous, so if our GM wants to put in enemies who can kill us – or even just hurt us – he needs to give them powerful weapons that he really doesn’t want our team to get. Not only does this really up the lethality of every adventure, but when we win we will get those weapons. Drew has been salivating over the possibility of getting a military-grade sniper’s rifle, that does 7d10 or 9d10 damage and gives her a +5 to hit – she can take down anything with that. Our GM obviously wants to stop us getting that, but if he wants to stop us he needs to deploy some serious grade stuff against us. So we also need to find a way to derail this arms race.

Rules for minions offer an opportunity to smooth down combat and slow down the arms race.

The basic principle of the lackey

The lackey is the Cyberpunk version of a minion or mook in fantasy RPGs. They turn up in groups, armed with the kind of military cast-off stuff that no PC wants, and they aren’t individually dangerous but if you don’t mow them down they’ll take a piece out of you. They serve to distract team members while the big boss is setting up the rocket launcher, or the real solos are mainlining their combat drugs and getting ready to wade in. You could probably ignore them because you can tell each of them is a scrawny boosterhead, but en masse they might just get a lucky hit.

The way this works in cyberpunk is simple. Lackeys come with base stats for attacks, damage and armour, but they get a +1 to hit and +1 die of damage (up to the number of dice their weapon delivers) for every additional member of the group. To further simplify things, they don’t have hit locations – their bodies are a single routine armour type. They also don’t have a Body Type Modifier (BTM) or hit points: for every four points of damage you do over armour, one lackey gets it in the neck. They don’t roll skill checks for e.g. awareness/notice, dodge/escape or other challenged actions, but have a simple single difficulty level for all actions against them. Thus, hitting them involves a single attack roll followed by a single damage roll, and then a count. They also don’t vary their attack type except for narrative fun – you don’t worry about giving them three shot bursts or single shots or whatever, because they just make a single attack each round. The sole exception to this is if the GM decides to give them grenades or have them lay down suppressive fire – in the former case the standard to hit  rule for weapons applies, while in the latter case anyone who fails to avoid the suppressive fire simply takes damage equal to the level of the lackey multiplied by the number of them firing, minus BTM (armour doesn’t apply). This damage doesn’t hit any particular location – the lackeys are firing huge numbers of bullets so it is spread evenly over many areas. High level lackeys in large groups might deliver enough damage to knock a solo down, but they won’t take out any of her limbs because they delivered it through a wall of low-grade lead.

Stats for the four levels of lackey are given below.

  • Level 1 (shit kickers): Armour 0, attack 5, dmg 3d6, basic difficulty 12, initiative 7
  • Level 2 (gangbangers): Armour 12, attack 7, dmg 4d6, basic difficulty 15, initiative 12
  • Level 3 (basic security): Armour 18, attack 10, dmg 5d6, basic difficulty 18, initiative 15
  • Level 4 (corporate dogs): Armour 24, attack 12, dmg 6d6, basic difficulty 20, initiative 15

Key points about handling lackeys

Because no weapon can be boosted beyond the number of dice it rolls, there is no benefit to increasing lackey groups beyond a certain size: shit kickers don’t benefit from having more than 4 in a group, since they can’t do more than 3 extra dice with their weapon. This reflects the fact that people this useless can’t coordinate actions in large numbers; while corporate dogs can be up to 7 in number, which is a truly terrifying squad. Lackey squads can be larger than this (if some arsehole down in the docks can dose up 100 losers on enough ghostshock and set them loose then yes, you will find yourself having to gun them down by the dozen), but they won’t do more damage than twice the original damage of their weapon, because of reasons.

When a PC does damage on a squad of lackeys, they can’t kill more than the number of bullets they have fired. So Drew’s beautiful blue pastel rifle, damage 9d6+3, is a waste of time against lackeys because it only fires one bullet. However, if she switches to her FN-FAL, she can fire 3 shot bursts and take down three guys at a time.

When using multiple shots against a gang of lackeys, don’t waste time rolling multiple damage. Just add one die to your weapon damage for every bullet after the first. This applies to full auto, where every point of success above the target number indicates one bullet hits. Usually you would roll each of these bullets separately, but with lackeys you don’t bother; instead you just add one die per success. This rule doesn’t exist to benefit the lackeys or make them more dangerous, it is just intended to speed up combat.

When a leader is standing amongst his or her lackeys, area effect attacks do not harm the leader – the lackeys soak it up first. So if someone drops a grenade on such a squad, it might kill all the lackeys but it won’t harm the leader.

Grenades have no frag limit. If you drop a grenade on a group of lackeys, and you roll enough damage, it kills all of them. Don’t be a lackey!

Note lackeys have a fixed initiative. Shit kickers will probably react after your hacker, and you can rely on the higher level lackeys to act fast but not fast enough. You wanna kill corporate dogs, you gotta have at least a little bit of combat sense.

Example

Pops, Drew and Coyote need to kill a man because of reasons. The man has holed up in an abandoned warehouse down in the docks. It’s some oil age shitheap, so they go in the easy way – Coyote attaches a strip of explosive to a wall and they walk through once the dust is cleared. Inside the warehouse there are a bunch of crates that they immediately take cover behind, but not before they come under fire from a squad of five gangbangers. Because the gangbangers were lying in wait they get the drop, and lay down a curtain of suppressing fire on the huge hole Coyote made. The difficulty to avoid this suppression fire is 15 (the target difficulty for all actions against gangbangers), and Coyote and Drew make it but Pops just misses it. He takes 2 points of damage multiplied by the number of gangbangers (5), so 10 points of damage, or 7 after BTM. He is injured but not badly.

Now they are through the curtain of suppressive fire they are able to roll initiative. The ‘bangers don’t roll, they get an automatic 12. Pops rolls 14, Coyote 11, Drew 19. Drew switches weapons to her FN-FAL, pops up and takes a three shot burst at the gang, but it’s dark and this is her second action so she just misses. Pops throws a grenade at the squad, rolling a 15, so it lands, but it’s only a 5d6 damage frag, one of the crappy ones that Coyote picks up cheap from his “friend” Twitch. Pops rolls 18, which is 6 more than the gangers’ armour, so he manages to kill one. Four remain. These four now have a chance to shoot at Drew, who had popped out; they roll 15 but with four gangers they get a +3, so hit her with an 18. Their weapons do 4d6 damage but with +3 dice, so 7d6. The GM rolls 34 on the right leg, which after Drew’s armour of 28 and BTM of 3 leaves just 3 points of damage. She shrugs it off. Finally Coyote rises up and fires two shots at the gangers from his pistol. His first shot hits and the second misses. The first shot does 6d6+2 damage, and Coyote rolls a mighty 33, enough to go through 5 gangers (33-12 armour =21), but he only has a single shot pistol, so he can only kill one. Three remain.

The round ends. Drew doesn’t bother dropping under cover; she squeezes off two three-shot bursts, hitting with the first. She rolls d3 for the number of bullets, and gets three hits! However, rather than wasting time rolling multiple damage rolls, she simply adds 2d6 to her weapon damage, for a total of 8d6+2. Damage total is not so great, just 30, but that’s 18 above the gangers’ armour, enough to kill four gangers. Having fired only three bullets she can only kill three, but there are only three left, so down they go.

The squad is gone. Pops pulls out his grenade launcher and pumps a couple of frag grenades up to the higher level. Drew returns to her beautiful blue pastel Nomad rifle, and takes cover in a corner facing up the stairs. Pops and Coyote head up the stairs to the upper level, moving fast and low. The man they have come to kill is out of lackeys, and out of luck …

I have never been able to argue with authorial authority

I have never been able to argue with authorial authority

In a recent discussion with my regular role-playing group one player was complaining about the plethora of super-hero movies being released recently, and her increasing exhaustion with this genre. Another defended it partially on the basis that he has always really enjoyed superhero comics so seeing good movies of them is fun, but yeah maybe there are a few too many. I chimed in to this essential conversation to observe that I’ve never been able to get into super hero comics by Marvel and DC (and I guess Vertigo too) because I find the text so incredibly frustrating to read. The way they put bold/italic emphasis on almost random words in the text – in almost every piece of text – really distracts me from what I’m actually reading and drives me crazy. The original complainer agreed that she, too has always found this off-putting.

As an example, consider this blog post at Lawyers, Guns and Money about what a superb comic artist some guy is. It gives a long, detailed dissertation about how the action within the frame is juxtaposed with the flow of the panels to inculcate in the reader the same sense of discomfort and challenge experienced by the character the panels are about. This seems like a fairly plausible interpretation of the effect of this particular set of panels but I just can’t care about how great this makes the artist because the entire scene is so devastatingly annoying. What is with all that emphasis in all the text? Why emphasize the word “lightning bolt” and the names? It’s distracting and annoying.

I’ve felt this way for years of course but never really investigated, so I tried a bit of googling to see if I could find anything on the topic, and a brief search revealed nothing – possibly because including the words “Marvel”, “DC” or anything similar in a search term drowns out the rest, but possibly also because no one writes about this stuff. So what is going on? Why do they have to put emphasis in comic book text at all, let alone randomly throughout every second speech bubble? Is it something about the reading age of the audience? Is it meant to add dramatic tension? Is there no one in either of these quite large companies who reads this stuff, finds it annoying, and occasionally considers maybe not doing it? Are there two types of people in the world? As far as I know the method isn’t used in manga, at least not in Japanese and I don’t remember it in English either. Why do these comics do it? And is there a legion of haters of this stuff out there? If you do hate it, is it possible to enjoy the comics at all or are is it always overwhelming?

Inquiring MINDS want to KNOW.

British elections primarily interest me from a watching-the-train-continue-to-crash perspective, because I don’t think the UK has much to teach the rest of the world on how to run a social democracy well. The electoral system is completely broken; their Tories are the very picture-perfect image of the born-to-rule upper class who don’t care, their Labour party is weak and achieved its only long run in modern politics by electing a vampire; their only “functioning” industry is banking, and by extension the only economic plan either party has is to keep bankers rich and use the taxes to buy off everyone else; and their media are rotten. However, there are two aspects of British elections that interest me from a policy perspective: what they are going to do about the NHS, and what they are going to do about their terrible education system.

Before the election I was going to write about both of these, but got lazy. My first post was intended to be about the perils for Labour of “weaponising” the NHS (which I think they obviously have done), but the election outcome kind of made my point for me on that regard. However my second post was going to be about Labour’s education policy, which seemed to be the most sensible thing anyone had presented in the entire election period and thus, of course, the only thing that got no coverage. Sadly, that election policy is now going to be dead for at least five years, which leaves the Tories free to pursue their ideologically-driven and intellectually bankrupt, evidence-free Free Schools Policy.

The Labour education policy included two interesting and positive moves, and one very realistic and sensible principle. The first, and in my opinion biggest, move was a plan to make mathematics education compulsory to 18 years. As someone with a strong bias towards maths education, and someone who thinks that mathematics ability is more about education than talent, this plan really appealed to me as a way to turn around Britain’s woeful mathematics performance. The policy received support from an Oxford mathematics professor, du Simonyi, who is kind of famous, and also from the head of Britain’s National Numeracy charity, who said

We really need to challenge negative attitudes that assume that maths is a ‘can do’ or ‘can’t do’ subject. It is not. Everyone can – with effort and persistence – learn the maths they need for everyday life and work

Which is something I very strongly agree with, but something which apparently many British children are struggling to realize, with the result that Britain consistently underperforms its OECD peers in mathematics. It’s really sad to me that the country that did more than any other to advance statistics and mathematics has decided to abandon the census, and basically given away all its mathematical advantages to the USA and Europe, and Hunt’s policy seems like it would have been a first step to undoing this problem. I guess it’s just as well 16 year olds can’t vote though, because that policy alone would be enough to have the entire age cohort rushing to vote Tory …

The second policy, perhaps much less comprehensible outside of the UK, was a plan to abolish GCSEs and introduce a 10-year reform of education. This would break the long-standing division of British schools into technical and academic grades, recognizing that education in the 21st century isn’t just about getting a job and that a formal education until 19 is valuable to everyone in the modern world, not just those planning on going on to further education. This kind of reform finally breaks down an old-fashioned idea derived from Britain’s class structure, and essential to getting rid of that structure. Of course it’s not enough, but it’s a start. Furthermore, Tristram Hunt, the education spokesperson, made clear that they would not set forth on these reforms straight away, but would aim to enact them over two parliaments, giving teachers a break from the constant annoying reorganizations they are forced through every five years and building a coherent, long-term strategy for the system. This kind of long-term thinking is rare in any policy area from modern politicians, and when I read it before the election I was very surprised and hopeful that Britain might finally be making a positive step out of its education duldrums, and maybe even towards sensible policy.

Sadly, though, the election was dominated by Labour talking about the NHS and the Tories wailing about blue-skinned picts invading the mainland, and rational policy-making didn’t get a look in. So I guess now Britain gets the Tory bootheel it asked for. With a Tory majority you can bet that sensible education for the masses will not be part of the policy mix … I wonder if Tristram Hunt even kept his seat?

It’s Friday night here in Japan and I have better things to do with my time than political punditry, but I’m very interested in the shock results coming in from the UK general election. It appears that, against the flow of two years of opinion polls, the conservative party (the Tories) have not just held on to their hung parliament, but may have actually seized enough seats to rule in their own right. If they don’t get those seats it looks likely that they’ll be able to rule with the help of either just UKIP or just the Democratic Unionist Party.

It’s too early to tell but it looks to me like Tory gains have come primarily at the expense of the Liberal Democrats, who have been (deservedly, in my opinion) slaughtered at the ballet box, with the Guardian at this point in the count suggesting only 8 seats remain – down from 53. Another three might cling on, but even the best case scenario is a disaster.

The obvious dark horse in this race was the Scottish National Party, which took Scotland from Labour – they gained 50 seats, almost all of which were from Labour, and have basically ejected Labour from the North. This would not, however, by itself have been enough to prevent Labour from governing, if they had been able to get enough seats by themselves to form a majority with SNP support. Labour leader Milliband (immorally, in my view) refused to enter a coalition with the SNP, but he could have changed his mind on that had he seized enough seats in his own right. And this is where Labour failed – they couldn’t take seats back from the Tories south of Scotland, and this election, obviously, was a referendum on the performance of the ruling coalition. This coalition is very unpopular, but they only suffered (at this early stage) a 0.44% swing against them to Labour, indicating a dismal failure to punish the Tories for their unpopularity at the ballot box.

I think this is possibly because of the spoiling role that the UK Independence Party (UKIP) have played in many Labour seats. According to the Guardian, UKIP issued a statement that said

In many constituencies we are the opposition, on behalf of working class voters who have been neglected and taken for granted for decades. This is true of both Northern England where we are the opposition to Labour and in Southern England where we are the opposition to the Conservatives.

We’ve provided hope and truth for the electorate and driven the political agenda.

In Britain’s first past-the-post system, it’s possible that the spoiling role of UKIP in conservative seats was not enough to win Labour the vote, or that it was equally spread between the two parties, so Labour couldn’t capitalize on Tory unpopularity. Did UKIP cost Labour the chance to lead?

Of course this question would be moot if the UK had a functioning electoral system, with preference allocation, held on a Saturday. More working people would have come out to the vote, and those UKIP votes would have flowed back to the party they defected from. But the ruling parties have both resolutely refused to consider electoral reform. This election shows in stark detail the consequences of continuing with the UK’s flawed electoral system: it benefits regional parties, which both major parties have claimed don’t have Britain’s interests at heart, but worse still it disenfranchises a huge proportion of the electorate. Between them UKIP and the Greens won 16% of the vote but hold 2 seats out of 650; while the Scottish National Party won just 5% of the vote and hold 50 seats. This is because the SNP is a holdout from the time of local politics, while UKIP and the Greens are parties of national opinion – broad movements across the whole country, connected not through local constituencies but through national issues. In a system like Australia these parties would gain significant representation in the Senate, where they are nationally representative – but the UK “Senate,” the House of Lords, is unelected and the ruling parties have refused to give UKIP and the Greens seats in the Lords consistent with their vote share. In a system like New Zealands, these parties would gain some representation through lower house lists – but the UK ruling parties refuse to countenance any change to first-past-the-post systems.

Essentially the UK ruling parties want to cling to a system that dates back to the 19th century, when politics was by necessity local, or the immediate post-war era when politics was strictly defined on class lines and classes were strictly segregated by region and area. Labour thrived under this system 50 years ago as the party of the industrial north, and the Tories as the party of the landed gentry; residual class barriers and geographic prejudices mean they can maintain this benefit for the short term, but at a huge cost to the political aspirations of a large minority of the country. You may not like UKIP or Green politics, but their voters have a right to be heard; you may like SNP politics, but that doesn’t mean they deserve representation in parliament well beyond their ultimately very localized base. Yet this is the result of the current system in the UK.

I hope that the sudden surge in the SNP presence in parliament will get the major parties to finally seriously think about electoral reform. If they don’t do something about it, then at some point in the future the conservative vote will collapse, as always happens in the electoral cycle, and the country will find itself being ruled by a coalition of labour unions and Scottish nationalists. If the conservatives care at all for the future of their country they will look on that prospect with genuine fear, and start working on real electoral reform. Or not … given that if they do UKIP will eat them from the right.

Oh the horrors of being a British voter …

Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after a headshot

Drew contemplating the value of bad combat rules after taking a headshot

The original Cyberpunk rulebook has a simple and nasty system of armour, which is completely broken. In this system your gun does a handful of dice of damage, between 3d6+1 for a good submachine gun to 7d10 for a high quality sniper rifle, and your armour has a stopping power (SP) that ranges from 4 for a leather jacket to about 24 or 30 for full-grade military armour. If the damage you roll exceeds the SP of your armour, you take damage, from which you can subtract your body type modifier (BTM) before you take any actual damage to your body. BTM is usually between 2 and 4, and you can take about 30 hits before you die, but you can only take 8 hits before you start having to make shock checks to stay conscious, and 12 hits before you start making death checks. These checks become progressively harder, and these wound states (in blocks of 4) come with increasing penalties to activity. This means that taking damage is a rapid death spiral, and as soon as you can you buy one of the basic, easily-accessible armour types that makes you immune to low level damage. See the example at the bottom of this post for more details.

The result of this rule is the exact kind of nihilism I decried in a post on cyberpunk some time back, which attracted a lot of negative attention. It also drains out a lot of the sense of tactical battle skills and planning that seems like it should be the essence of a fight in cyberpunk, because highly-protective armour is much more easily accessible than highly-destructive guns: for example, “Motocross Armour” (SP 24) is easy to get, but the most easily accessible gun is the FN-RAL assault rifle (Drew is a proud owner of one of these) which does 6d6+2 damage, not enough to get through the Motocross Armour + BTM, and definitely not enough to penetrate Drew’s Motocross armour + body-weave + BTM (total target: 31). So instead of dashing from cover to cover, worrying about getting hit, Drew can just stand in the middle of the room gunning people down. If she’s up against people with SMGs she can use the same tactic naked (SP12+BTM=target of 15). Under this rule system you don’t need cover, tactics or planning, you just need a good set of motocross armour and a spine of steel (or, in Drew’s case, a complete lack of any sense of self-preservation and a COOL of 9). This rule is also, I suspect, unrealistic: although this blog says that armour has outpaced guns, this highly entertaining youtube video suggests that even a normal pistol firing certain kinds of normal ammunition can go through very effective armour and still do a lot of damage (the hole from the Hungarian bullet at the end looks to me like it must be at least a Mortal-2 category of damage!) Obviously we don’t want to play in a world where the first shot kills us, but as players we want to keep at least some sense of that furtiveness and care that we assume real soldiers must engage in, especially in close-range firefights of the kind we’re regularly caught in, and we don’t want the game to degenerate to a slugfest between heavily-armoured foes at 10m.

Our house rule, that bullets that don’t penetrate armour still do one point of stun damage, completely changes the dynamic of combat. When someone lays down suppressive fire on a small area you suddenly value cover very highly, because if your dodge/escape check fails you’re looking at 1d6 points of shock damage; you can only sustain this for a few rounds before you’re out for the count. And finding cover makes fights tougher, because moving around and ducking in and out of cover reduces the number of shots you can take and increases your activity penalties. This is why Drew bought her armour-cracking gun …

Drew’s Beautiful New Gun

Realizing that we are usually outnumbered in combat, and with this new rule making force of numbers a dangerous foe, Drew decided to invest in a weapon that can even the odds rapidly. Our street dealer, Coyote, can’t buy really good guns easily (probably because he is so ugly), and so Drew hasn’t been able to get the sniper rifle she keeps asking him for, but he is also very good at modifying existing weapons. So Drew bought herself a cheap, easily-available Nomad 7.62 bolt action rifle, and Coyote modified it to fire electro-thermal (ET) shot. Neither Drew nor I know what this means, but we don’t care: it adds 50% to her damage. This mod can only be applied to non-automatic weapons with caseless ammunition[1], but it means that Drew now has a 9d6+3 damage rifle with an accuracy of +2 and a six-shot cartridge. The accuracy bonus for this gun means that if she is not moving and focuses on just the one shot she hits the head with a roll of 2 or more on a d10; if she has to perform a second action she hits on a 4 or more. Head shots do double damage after SP and BTM modifiers, which is why in our last session Drew killed 3 men with 5 shots.

This gun is also in a tasteful pastel blue. Drew tries to avoid pink when she is working with other combat teams, because she wants to be taken seriously as a riflewoman.

Tactics for breaking armour

In our last session we ended up facing off against five guys with power armour, which has an SP of at least 28, carrying fairly heavy automatic rifles (probably FN-RALs, like Drew’s) and at least one shotgun (scary!). We lucked on a very effective method for breaking down armour within the revised rules, however. This was pretty simple: Coyote used a high-rate-of-fire Kalashnikov to lay down suppressive fire when they first arrived in combat, forcing them back through the door they were entering by, and Pops dropped burner grenades on them. Burner grenades don’t do huge amounts of damage but anyone who is hit by them has to make a COOL check to stay in combat and not put out the flames, and the flames themselves continue for a few rounds, causing additional stun damage under the revised rules. Drew, of course, was laying out head shots, because a single headshot with her beautiful new gun will probably kill someone even if they have SP 30 and BTM 4, especially if it has armour piercing ammo. Once Coyote and Pops had expended their initial ammunition, Coyote switched to throwing fragmentation grenades and Pops switched to three-shot bursts with his FN-RAL, which don’t do heavy damage but are likely to wear down single opponents fast with stun damage. Meanwhile Drew continued with the head shots, aiming at individual opponents who posed the most threat.

Unfortunately Pops and Coyote are really shit at delivering grenades, so most missed, but two of our support team managed to do that job. With this tactic, Drew cleaned up the riskiest guy in the first round, a lot of damage was laid down on the enemy in the second round, and in the third round the burner grenades caused two of the remaining guys to expire; the last two went down from another fragmentation grenade after that. None of these guys were dead (except Drew’s first target), just shocked and exhausted; but Drew soon fixed that.

This tactic works because it maintains a heavy pressure of stun damage on the whole group, because no one can stand in the blast zone of three grenades while they’re on fire and being shot at without eventually giving up the ghost. Under the previous rules, everything we had thrown at them except Drew’s ET round would have done nothing. If Pops now improves his heavy weapons skill so his grenade launcher is actually effective, and we find Coyote a better suppression weapon (e.g. a mini-gun) then this tactic will be even more effective. Even power armour won’t stop us now!

Example: The original rules

Ghost has come out of his hidey-hole in our first adventure, and finds himself facing off against a squad of three gangers armed with SMGs, who are there to kill him. He has warning, and has donned a set of full combat armour that he spent much of his starting money on. He needs to get down the hallway to the lift. The three gangers fire 3-shot bursts at him, hitting him twice and delivering 1d3 shots per successful burst, for a total of 3 hits. They roll damage, but their SMGs are crumby, doing 3d6 damage, and his SP is 24, so there’s no risk he will take any damage. He walks down the hallway towards them, shooting them down one by one as the rest of the group catch up and start gunning them down with assault rifles. Ghost is a hacker.

Example: The revised rules

Drew is lying on the ground unable to move, in plain sight, after a lunatic ganger tried to wrestle her and get her helmet off in our sixth adventure. Two men at the end of the hallway armed with assault rifles let rip on her with suppressive fire, and unable to dodge properly she takes 5 bullets. The men are using kalashnikovs, which do 5d6 damage, but Drew is wearing full combat armour plus SP12 sub-dermal armour (she’s a sensible girl!) so she has a total SP of 28. All five bullets hit her for less than 28 damage each, and she takes nothing. The GM, in a fit of rage, makes up the new rules, and so Drew takes one point of stun damage from each bullet that hit her. The GM, who is a complete bastard, also degrades her armour slightly. Drew is now in the lightly wounded category (-2 on everything) and if she takes 3 more bullets, even if they don’t penetrate, she will need to start making stun checks to stay functional.

fn1: One amusing thing about this game is that, since I’m not a gun nut at all, with no experience of any form of projectile weapons (I have never touched one, and have only even seen one in someone’s hand once), I have no clue what any of the language means, I just treat it as categories of stuff like magic items. One of our players was a conscript in his national army, and has a lot of familiarity with the various barbaric instruments of death that Drew deploys; I leave the details to him.

I'm sorry Doctor, you won't be able to leave ... that way ...

I’m sorry Doctor, you won’t be able to leave … that way …

[Faustus’s note: I wasn’t actually present for this session and wrote it up based on other players’ reports; this is why it is late and out of order with session 10. Go to the end for a summary of events]

Kill, it’s such a friendly word
Seems the only way
For reaching out again

– Old oil age rockers

Date: 8th October, 2177

Weather: Sunny!!!

Mood: Deeply satisfied. This is the first time in my life that I’ve really enjoyed close combat, usually it just seems icky and sweaty and kind of dangerous, it doesn’t have any of the elegance and clean lines of rifle-work. But there was something really powerfully satisfying about beating cyber-psychiatrists to death with an iron bar, close in where you can see the horror in their eyes and smell their fear. It’s the first time I’ve relished the smell of blood in my whole life.

Outfit: Blood-soaked boiler suit and metal bar. I was meant to be wearing a nurse’s outfit, because that would be the right outfit to wear when you’re breaking into a mental asylum, but the others insisted on going disguised as electricians, so here I am in a boiler suit. Everyone knows blood looks fetching on a nurse’s outfit, and just boring on a set of overalls … and I’m covered in a lot of blood! But as always I do what the team wants, even if it means I have to be like completely unfashionable when I’m doing my day job.

So we decided it was time to get looking for Alt’s mysterious transubstantiating sister, which means we have to bust a truck-driver out of a mental asylum. The truck driver is Hog, and he was shifting Ghostshock for Alt’s psychotic brother Lima back before we iced Lima or whatever shell of a body he was currently using. We wanted to ask Hog a bit more about the deal he had with Lima but we couldn’t because he disappeared, and Alt worked out that he had been suddenly declared cyberpsychotic and locked away in some top class rehabilitation unit topside. Of course now we know that “rehabilitation” means being reconfigured into a Full Body Replacement cybersoldier, which has got to be all kinds of scary. My guess is that is what they planned to do with me when I was held in the psych ward after Tunguska, and I have been really wanting to liberate Hog and teach those cyber-psychiatrists a few manners.

So I was happy when Coyote turned up at my apartment and told me and Pops that we were ready to roll, that he had used a tenuous contact topside to set up a van and cover as maintenance workers, and that the visas for topside had come through from Pops’s contact Blacklist. So all we needed to do was get a plan ready and head up. The good news: we were leaving as soon as possible. The bad news: we couldn’t take any weapons and even my Rippers had to come out, so we were going to be completely unarmed.

First, however, we needed to secure access to some fingerprints and an access card, which is how I got to meet Lady Zodiac.

Lady Zodiac at the club

Lady Zodiac at the club

Lady Zodiac

Pops knows a lot of pretty interesting people from his days as a cop and one of them is Lady Zodiac, a courtesan and sometime drug dealer who has a bit of a debt to Pops, which he won’t explain to me and which I try hard not to think about the details of. So he called her up and asked her if she was free this evening, and she was, and before we know it we’re outside some high class club on level 2, just below topside, and this beautiful woman is tapping on the window of Pops’s rundown little car. She was tall and pretty and perfectly dressed and she walked so gracefully and her voice was like music. I’m pretty sure she had some careful cyber enhancements to make it all perfect but they were really high class and subtle, so she exuded this sense of natural beauty that’s really rare in our plastic world. I had to sit in the passenger seat feeling small and uncouth and like I stank of gun oil while Pops carried on this conversation with his beautiful friend that was half flirting and half business. She was really sweet to him, and for a moment when I wasn’t staring at Lady Zodiac’s decolletage and imagining what I’d do if I was as beautiful as her, I had these visions of him back in the day, before he met me, handsome young cop with a family and a life and a mind of his own and goals and dreams that weren’t all attached to keeping me alive and finding the people who wrecked it all … like he was once a real person, and somehow Lady Zodiac floated through his life and he did something good for her like he did for me, and I bet he didn’t try to bed her either, at least they just seem like friends to me now, listening to her lilting voice teasing his rough looks and small car, and she’s looking at me all inquisitive like but not jealous, not that someone like her could have any reason to be jealous of a smouldering little nutcase like me, but then Pops introduced me to her, “this is my d-, ah, my friend and colleague, the Druid. You can call her Drew,” and she did that little moment of vague disfocused stare people do when they go online to check me out, and then that little doubletake when they see the video of one of my better jobs that always appears when the ‘net throws up information on me. Then she shook my hand and her skin was smooth and coloured like pearl and her eyes were this luscious blue-green like a gem and she talked to me like I mattered, then she whacked Pops on the shoulder and said that this means they’re quits but stay in touch and she really seemed like she meant it, and then she gave me a little wave, told Pops to wait five, and sashayed off into the club. Pops rolled up the window and looked at me kind of shy-like, but he didn’t say anything except “When the mark comes out you stay in the car and don’t do anything unless he starts shooting,” then he got out and went and lounged nearby.

And she was right, because five minutes later Lady Zodiac came tripping down the stairs, wearing nothing except this iridescent club lingerie, and this kind of nerdy dude was with her, holding her hand and urging her to wait. She came running across the road and she was saying something about “we can do it right here if you have the money” when she breathlessly bumped into Pops who was standing there stern in a leather jacket with this massive gun out and he dragged the guy around behind a truck and started yelling at him to turn around and stand still and was he armed and was he alone? And he was calling him by this random name even though we both knew that this guy was a technician at NaoCorps on topside called John Baylish, and he kept trying to tell Pops he was Baylish but Pops kept roughing him around and telling him to tell the truth and Lady Zodiac was squealing in this really fetching way that wasn’t actually loud enough to get attention, and Pops told her to shut up ’cause he’s from Goliath security and if she brings down any white knights that he has to kill the clean up costs will be all hers and she goes quiet with these little theatrical sobs. Then Pops start telling Baylish that he’s under arrest for a triple murder in the USA, and he don’t have any rights at all, so he better come quietly, and the dude’s like earnestly trying to tell Pops that he’s never been to the USA and he’s a New Horizon local and what is going on here? And then Pops acts all confused and tells him he better give him some ID so he can confirm that, and then he takes his fingerprints and gets the guy’s ID card and gives him a receipt on real Goliath letterhead and tells him he’ll get it back in three days or so and gives him a number and tells him to dial it every evening and give a full report of his whereabouts and he is now a person of interest in an international murder investigation.

And that’s how we got the access card and the fingerprints. Coyote worked overnight on the fingerprints and we had a bypass ready by morning. So we set off topside and I don’t think I’m ever going to see Lady Zodiac again …

So THAT's why there's so much water dripping through our roof ...

So THAT’s why there’s so much water dripping through our roof …

Topside

We went topside on the first lift the next morning, so we could get there nice and early and be out before the end of the day. Getting to topside is easy, on this three-minute long hyper elevator that you queue for for about an hour. It goes up so fast your ears pop, and you don’t see anything outside so when you arrive you don’t even know how high up you are but it must be pretty high because the first thing you see is blue sky. Then there’s this phalanx of guards and machines you have to pass through, and they check everything, with multiple scanners that must tell them everything about even what you had for breakfast. If I’d tried to smuggle in my rippers they surely would have found out, and would have sent me straight back. I followed Blacklist’s instructions, dressed nice and simple in a clean skirt and boots and simple blouse, like a good girl going to work for the nice people, and I didn’t make a fuss and I followed instructions and I must have showed my visa to like 8 different people and been through 10 different scanners, but finally we were all through. Coyote took a bit longer because they didn’t like the look of his face, which shows that people up here have got at least a bit of sense, so we had to wait for him but they let him through which was just as well because he was our contact for everything. We had an hour to kill before the van with our contacts arrived and I wanted to go shopping but Pops said no and anyway it was really early still and even some of the cafes weren’t open, so instead we just spilled out of the reception area into this park on a kind of a little rise near some office buildings, with a street going down to a little shopping zone, so we just wandered around for half an hour checking out our first and probably our only view of topside ever.

It was pretty amazing. There was lots of grass and real trees, and there was this gentle breeze that was cool and wild and you could tell it came from somewhere far away over the sea, and you could see the sky wherever you looked, and it wasn’t raining so you didn’t need an umbrella to keep off the constant foul-smelling water, and everyone was beautiful and well dressed and no one was really armed, though I saw a few police here and there who had guns, and the buildings were all clean and looked new and there was no rubbish anywhere and noone lying on the street looking sad and dirty and when you stopped and closed your eyes you couldn’t hear a single siren of any kind. Bliss.

Then our van turned up, and we set off to kill some doctors.

Asylum

In the van we changed quickly into our overalls, and we dropped off the guy who’d delivered it for us near a little tram stop of some kind. Coyote took over driving, and we headed out to the asylum, which was a NaoCorps unit out near the edge of this whole zone of upmarket medical places. On the way we dropped off Ragut’s wife at one of the cheaper clinics, with a change of clothes and what we hoped was a valid insurance ticket that Alt said she’d said up for us, then we drove on to the hospital. We parked around the corner and waited while Ghost hacked into the matrix, broke into the hospital system and set up a distraction.

Unfortunately the distraction Ghost chose was kind of big. He told us later that he discovered the Husk around here was constrained, like someone had chained the remnants of the Husk to the walls of buildings and structures, so instead of trying to arrange anything elaborate he just unchained some parts of the Husk. This cyberwaffle doesn’t make any sense to me, but the effects were pretty clear: the computer systems of the entire hospital district started going crazy as the Husk started fighting to regain control of cyberspace, and security systems started failing – along with lights, power systems, and even lawn sprinklers. We gave the chaos a few minutes then drove up to the car park at the front of the asylum, got out in our coveralls as cool as could be, carrying toolkits that contained nothing more serious than a metal bar and a comms unit, and walked up to the front doors. These doors were open and there was a guy at the front reception desk but when we explained that we were there to start fixing the trouble he just waved us through. He was furiously punching buttons and talking on what looked like eight different phones, and as we talked to him we heard this big bang outside and looked around to see a patient had just fallen from up in the building. As he waved us on we heard him saying to someone on a phone, “All the window locks have deactivated and the windows on the secure level are going mad, someone just fell out. Yeah, there’s a team on the way up now to check.”

At this point Pops told me to go back to the van, keep it ready to run, and keep an eye on what was going on outside. I did what he said, but that didn’t exactly go according to plan …

So I don’t know what happened inside but they told me later when they came out. They got as far as the level Hog was on, but at that point some kind of Artificial Intelligence started cruising around cyberspace looking for the source of the Husk’s release, and it saw Ghost. He tried to fight it first but it was way too powerful and really dangerous so he had to run, and it sent guards to his physical location to get us. Pops ambushed the guards and killed them both with just his bare hands (and his cyberleg – Coyote tells me he stomped one to death with it, mostly on his groin). To add to the confusion Ghost managed to release all the locks on patient doors while he was running from the AI, and so patients started coming out on all the levels. At this point the AI started activating the hospital’s full defenses, and these big blast shields started lowering over the front doors. I was worried I’d be left out the front with no way in, and that the way out would be blocked, so I drove our van straight into the glass doors. It smashed them but didn’t go through, and I got out and inside the building just in time for the blast barriers to cut our van in half and seal the hospital shut.

This was when I turned around, iron bar in hand, and saw the first cyber-psychiatrist come running out from the hospital, hoping to leave by the main door, a few half-sedated patients shambling after him.

What could I do? I beat him to death and made sure I did it thoroughly, but there was another one coming through when I got done, and I had to corner him at the reception desk. He was throwing phones at me and screaming and crying, but I got him a nice crunching blow on one knee when he turned to run and he fell over and slipped again trying to get up over one of the desk chairs. So I dragged him back by one leg and explained to him what all the problems with his profession were while I smashed all his limbs. I had to finish up a bit quick though because then this doctor and this nurse came backing into the room, with this little gaggle of really angry-looking patients coming after them. The nurse was a big, nasty-looking man holding a hyperdermic needle of some kind, and I didn’t want that in me so I slipped around behind them under the cover of the reception desk and pushed the dude in the back, so he went forward into the patients. He looked real surprised when it happened, and he started yelling when they were grabbing him and kicking him. The doctor was even more surprised, because he turned to me and didn’t understand what I did and he said “Little missy, you aren’t a patient are you?!” And he had that condescending look in his eye that some older men get when they see me and they don’t think I’m anything more than long hair and a set of breasts and maybe something for them to put themselves in, and I hate that look so I jabbed my iron bar in his eyes and then I pushed him up against the glass and made some pretty patterns all over it. I was still grunting over my artwork when another group of nurses came in. They were all big men too, which got me thinking that they have very special requirements for the nurses in this place, and the patients don’t seem to like the nurses at all and these nurses were talking about some patients they were especially scared of but when they saw me one of them said “Uh, no way man” and they all ran out of the other door. I always thought nurses were more sensible than doctors! I didn’t bother chasing them because another doctor came in – you can tell the doctors because they have longer coats and this supercilious manner that gets your anger up before you have even cleaned your iron bar off from the last one – and he saw me and started trying to run back down the way he came but I went through those doors like a demon and I caught him just before the men’s bathroom with a sliding trip because I’m a lot faster than some unaugmented, paunchy middle-aged sadist, and I was on his back before he hit the ground. He tried crawling but the floor was really slippery and I don’t weigh that much but it’s hard to crawl when you’ve got a piece of iron smashed into your spine and then I kicked him a bit and then the door opened and this really ragged-looking group of patients came in so I left him to them and moved back to the main reception area, because Pops was calling me to catch up with them.

They had found Hog but he was strapped into this huge machine and they didn’t know what to do so they had called Alt to investigate. While Alt was doing her megadata download processing thing another six guards came at them, but Ghost managed to lock down the closet they had gone to for weapons, but then this huge dude with cyberarms came into the room to rip off the panel, but Ghost used the software he’d been given by Alt a while back, hacked into the dude’s cyberarms and shut them down. Then they managed to get to the stun guns while he was getting all confused and his friends were backing away, and started stunning them. Then they got Hog out of the machine following instructions from Alt, but they had to leave fast so we all ran up to the roof of the hospital. There were helicopters coming from somewhere, with guards in with real guns probably, but Ghost managed to hack into their systems and crash them, which probably killed quite a few topside guards but really who cares when the joy of battle’s raging through you? Though Ghost seemed to because he set down the second helicopter without damaging it, which enabled the four heavily-armed guards inside to enter the hospital and come up to our level. We were panicking and telling Ghost again how he needs to learn to consult more when Coyote activated our get-out-of-hospital-free card: he smashed a medivac insurance card Alt had given us, which calls the medivac team tied to the card. Up on topside those teams arrive fast, and we would only have to wait maybe two minutes. Unfortunately those guards emerged after a minute, and we were running madly from cover to cover while we waited for the medivac. The medivac came real fast and when it arrived it laid down some really heavy suppressive fire with its machine guns, which I guess goes to show that topside is not as peaceful as it looks if the ambulances up here are just as vicious as the ones down below. Once it set down we threw Hog in, and we all piled in after it, but those guards didn’t let up easily and they let rip a final volley into the back of the ambulance before its doors closed. That volley hit Ghost square, and tore his legs up so bad he died on us right there.

Fortunately there’s no better place on New Horizon to die than a medivac vehicle. They got him back and kept him alive at the same time as they gunned down the last guards, and then they took us on this insane hectic ride out of topside, down the centre shaft, to this unnamed and dubious building. It took maybe 8 minutes of reckless flying and during that trip none of the medics in the car asked us any questions, they just worked real fast on Hog and Ghost. Nobody asked me any questions either, except Pops raised one eyebrow at all the blood, and Coyote flicked a lump of probably brains out of my hair with this real decent big brother-little sister gesture that made feel part of a real team. Then the back doors opened and this crew of grim medical professionals unloaded Ghost and Hog and we were led into this really bland waiting room for a couple of hours and then they came out and told us that Ghost would live but without legs. Since when does a hacker need legs? He’ll probably be happy to see the back of them. We discussed recovery options for a few minutes, then Pops observed that we were all beat and I really needed a shower, and we decided to come back and talk about it when we were all better.

So that, dear Diary, is how we smashed up a hospital on topside just so we could liberate a no-good drug dealing trucker from a bunch of sadistic doctors, and the first step on my road to rebalancing some of the things that have been done to me since Tunguska. I’m happy about what I did, and I’m reconsidering my opinion of close fighting, but it’s good to remember what the Falcon said about lackeys:

Kill them along the way, but count your bullets, for there are more worthy targets

I didn’t waste any bullets on those cyber-psychiatrists, but I’m listening to the Falcon’s advice, because hopefully liberating this Hog dude is going to get me one step closer to some more worthy targets. But for now anything we learn depends on his medical team, and we have a big job to do for Pops’s contact Blacklist, to repay him for the topside visas. So I gotta rest, and do a train robbery, and dream of bloody restitution. Good things come to girls who wait!

Summary of events for those who can’t bear Drew’s breathless prose:

  • The team have to go topside to liberate a contact of their sometime-employer, Alt
  • They got visas from a dude called Blacklist, to whom they owe a job
  • To get access cards to the hospital holding Hog, Pops set a trap for a staff member called Bob Baylish
  • The trap used an escort called Lady Zodiac to lure Baylish out of a nightclub where Pops could pretend to be a cop arresting him for triple murder; to prove he was not the murderer Baylish handed over his ID card and fingerprints
  • They went topside using the visas, and used the ID card and fingerprints to move around the facility
  • Ghost set a distraction, but it was an insanely big one – he freed the Husk to go crazy in cyberspace, which set all the security systems and lawn sprinklers going wild
  • They found Hog and got him out, but had to beat about 8 guards to death in the process
  • While they were doing this, Drew killed a lot of cyber-psychiatrists
  • They all fled to the roof and called in a medivac team using an insurance card Alt gave them
  • While they were loading into the medivac team some heavily-armed guards fired on them and killed Ghost
  • It’s very hard to die when you’re shot to death inside a medivac car, so Ghost survived after some work
  • He’s going to need an anti-gravity wheelchair but whatever, it’s cool
  • Time to move on to Blacklist’s job, to pay for the visas!
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