I really wanted to play Sync at Origins but ended up running in the same slot that Kira was. I thought I had lost out and wouldn’t see it again until who knows when. And then I noticed a G+ post where Ross asked if he could run it and then woot, it was on the Go Play games list forums. Yay!
What is Cyberpunk
After introductions at the table, our first activity was to define what cyberpunk meant to us. I didn’t catch them all, but here were the themes I jotted down:
- Corporate Power
- Individuals as commodities
Some pretty cool stuff there and none of it, except maybe style, felt all that different from today. Creepy.
Angel, the Apex physician who was broken when their company required him to extract the organ of a living person in order to allow testing of synthetic organs and because one of the top chrome wanted a new organ for themselves. After that, Angel, who had already viewed the body as the most feeble part of a being, snapped, and did all they could to divorce themself from the biological weaknesses most morals must endure.
J-Rom, a well paid and well protected citizen of the Pacific Autonomous Shipping Territory specialized in carrying product housed in his body. Sometimes data stored deep in encrypted memory banks, but also and far more frequently recently, biological organisms. Preserving and growing living tissue in your own body takes a toll, so J-Rom is often sent with a rigorous regimen of medications and treatments to perform.
Fox is an analyst that has been ground down by one job after another. She’s found that Big X doesn’t want to get the truth, even a subjective truth, out of data, they just want their corporate slogans sung across the waves of digital noise. She used to do sex work in the Violet Room, but that’s behind her. The only memory of it was her now bedridden father, kept alive by machines.
Zona is an angry punk. They just had a fight and broke up with their girlfriend at the bike collective, where Zona previously worked. Zona was now out of a job and out of place to live, and they slept in the tent city under the expressway trying to figure out what the hell to do next and how to stop the twin powers of Razorteeth and the MegaMart who are seeking to turn The Dockside District into a gentrified adventure zone full of fully radical extreme sports and energy drinks.
The places we lived
The Play is the Thing
Our establishing scenes showed that:
- Zona needed to find a play to live…her tent got washed away in the rain. Maybe Fox could put her up for a while.
- Fox was terrified by her boss and was sure he was going to ask her to do something she didn’t want to do…and that she’d probably do it. Maybe J-Rom, who she was in trouble for covering for could help her out?
- J-Rom had something inside him and the medication he was taking was really messing him up. He needed either to get it out of him, or to get a fix that would stave off these side effects. Maybe Angel could brew him up something.
- Angel was obsessed with finding the woman whose liver they removed. She had dropped off the grid. Was she still alive? She was connected with Zona somehow, maybe they would know where to find her?
All in all, some pretty good connections!
Play proceeded as we dug deeper into each others’s business and discovered our fears were worst than we expected
- Zona couldn’t stay with Fox. Her father’s obsession with porn and caustic nature drove her out of the apparement. She also was going to have a real hard time making up with her ex after said ex realized that she knew J-Rom, who epitomized the everything she hated.
- Fox was indeed caught for her subterfuge and not only asked to remain complicit with the human cloning and organ farming Apex was part of, she was also asked to round up a large group of homeless people to forcibly do experiments on. Rather, they had already rounded them up, she just needed to verify their genetic makup was compatible with the progress, and 75% of them needed to qualify.
- J-Rom found out he had a human fetus growing at an accelerated rate inside him. Taking the drugs might kill him. Not taking the drugs would be worst. Removing the fetus early wold be a breach of contract.
- Angel probably fared the best of us. They learned about the woman, realized she could be contacted throgh J-Rom or if not him through Zona. They never met up with the woman, but maybe they felt a little better appearing like Jesus in a crown of thorns in front of Fox and giving her some ammunition to use against her Apex boss Bullet!
Angel’s depiction of hacking everyone else’s augmented reality to make their avatar appear like an angel to any onlooker was pretty awesome.
The basic moves served us really, really well. Well enough that I never actually used a playbook move and I got everything I wanted out of them. I don’t have the move sheet to remember what they were called but I just remember feeling like “hell yeah, that’s what I want to do!”
During our establishing scenes Ross asked Johnstone what J-Rom does to settle in when he’s in a hotel room. Every hotel, no matter how nice he goes to, has crappy sheets. So when he first arrives he stripps the bed completely, then pulls out these vacuum sealed plastic bags filled with compressed silk sheets and down (or microfibers that are actually softer and bouncier than down) duvets, rips them open and makes his own bed. Every time. He just leaves the sheets behind when he’s done.
Ross did a great job of gently nudging us towards each other. Cyberpunk as a genre has something of a pitfall that is similar to fantasy. Everyone wants to look like the baddest ass there is. So many players spend a lot of time preening (read gearing up) and peacocking (read describing their character being cool and awesome) rather than paying attention to each other. In fact, I think John made a game that is just about doing that. Ross kept asking those leading questions that forced us to pull ourselves out of our augmented reality, our own mirror shades, and our own wells of depravity to look at one another for answers and for validation.
Wow, I felt for Zona. They were is a fix and there weren’t a lot of good ways out of it. We didn’t really play of Razorteeth or the MegaMart, but knowing their home was being gobbled up and seeing that as they fought for it they lost those closest to them was pretty rough.
The Group Moves! We didn’t get a chance to use them but I love how they moved past all the “we pull a heist” business and frame that as “yep, spend those resources together and you all did it!”. The things about the world that you can change are awesome!
What could be improved
There is a lot of character and campaign building steps that are currently distinct, but which I think could be integrated into play. Here’s the steps I was tracking:
- Define Cyberpunk
- Make Characters
- Form bonds with other other PCs
- Describe How the system has failed you personally
- Draw a map of your neighborhood along with notable features
- Lists of threats/adversaries (Apex, PAST, Razorteeth, MegaMart, etc).
As I’ve been running Blades, I’ve noticed the same kind of steps. Build a character, pick their heritage and background, choose an ally and an enemy, create a crew, decide who they have positive and negative faction status with, etc. All of these steps are fantastic for a campaign game where you want a larger sandbox, but for a one shot they have two deleterious side effects:
- They take a lot of time. We spent about two hours on character and campaign creation and while I that time is play, I wanted to find out more about what we would do rather than who we are.
- They give players fodder to splinter off into different parts of the world which can either result in the GM doing a lot of corralling to get the PCs all involved in the same thing or in lots of separate adventures. In this case Ross did some good work keeping us focused around a few individuals (yay for PC-NPC-PC-NPC-PC-NPC-PC heptagons) but even so we had several loose threads .
I think we had some confusion about character knowledge. Mostly about whether Angel knew that Zona’s ex was in fact the patient that they obsessed over and why Angel would wonder if they were dead, when J-Rom knew they were alive. It didn’t break the game but I noticed a few moments of “what, who is that – what now?”.
Our characters had some pretty different levels of humanity and empathy. Angel on one end, who viewed the organic as weak and fallible, sought to dissociate them self completely. Zona on the other end just needed a place to sleep and wanted to reconnect with their ex. They were strong but vulnerable. This vast palette of humanity all fits withing the Cyberpunk genre, but I don’t know if all fit within our game. Had we another hour, I think could have put that disparity under the microscope and seen how those two creatures could exist in the same world and in the same story.
The girl who is hard up and has an abusive parent that pimped her out as a child but who she now cares for is a tired trope and I wish I had some something to flip that with Fox. In fact the woman acting as caregiver for the man in general wasn’t something I was really happy about once I introduced it. Tropes, per se, aren’t a problem, but those tropes aren’t ones I want to reinforce.