CyberTex Episode 1

1/10/2014

First session of CyberTex, a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign set in the Texas Corridor Megacity of 2065. Think Bladerunner meets William Gibson meets Gunsmoke.

I was pretty happy with how this first game went. Writing the adventure as “scenes” really helps keep an open-ended game like this (unlike a classic dungeon adventure) on track. The players were very inventive. Total playing time was 4 or 5 hours, which passed very quickly, and there was less actual fighting than any game I’ve ever run. That is what I wanted — to have a story driven game in which non-combat skills were just as important as combat skills.

We have some fine-tuning to do with guidelines for cyberspace cowboy hacking kind of stuff, etc., but I found GURPS to be excellent for this kind of game.

We played this session mostly in a “theater of the mind” style, occasionally drawing very simple maps on graph paper.

I’ll post some starting facts about the CyberTex world soon. Need to edit so it doesn’t reveal stuff to my players.

Episode 1 takes place in the DFW region of the dome-enclosed megacity stretching down the old IH35 corridor.

Character starting points: 200, plus max 50 in disadvantages/quirks. Starting them somewhat high, as we are only playing once per month. Also going high-side on experience points awarded for this reason. 5 character points awarded to each PC at the end of this episode.

Cast of Characters/Players…

  • Hawk — played by William. Superintelligent former astronaut candidate, maimed in explosion and fitted out with cybernetic eye with lots of extrasensory and tech-interface functions and a bionic ear.
  • Inuyama – played by Randy. Former Sumo wrestler from Japan,  kicked out of league for cheating by use of cranial skill chip slot giving information and advantage on opponents. Sent to Texas by his benefactors to get him out of Japan. Big, very fast, and tough in hand to hand combat.
  • Joe played by Jeff L. – psychologically damaged vet from the corporate wars, Joe is an expert marksman, sniper, and gun slinger. Suffers from odd delusions and blood lust.
  • Max – Played by Jeff K. Jack of all trades tinkerer, medic, and hustler, with contacts in the criminal underworld and streetwise skills.
  • the Gamemaster — Bob (that me!)

The games begins as Max is contacted by an underworld contact and offered a lucrative contract to put together a team and rescue the kidnapped cyberneticist Tien Salazar. Max contacts three sometimes-associates (the other PCs), and they meet outside Gus’s Rotgut Emporium, a popular watering hole for rogues, scoundrels, and underworld types. Their contact is to be a man known as “the Pinky”. Upon arriving, all but Hawk go in together and find a table. Hawk remains behind, using his enhanced perception to see who in the room shows any interest in the team. Hawk does, in fact, notice a patron who seems to be following the team, and using his bionic eye’s telescopic function he can tell that the person also has a cybernetic eye. The Pinky arrives and introduces himself, but by this time Hawk has used his data uplink to text a message to Max, informing him of the spy. The spy realizes he has been spotted and makes a break for it. Hawk distracts him, while Max and Inuyama approach from behind. The sumo easily takes the guy in a bear hug, and the group remove him to a dark corner for questioning.

Inuyama succeeds with an Intimidation roll, but the guy really doesn’t know much. Just babbles about how “The Lord will soon arrive and rule the world.” Hawk uses his bionic eye’s microscopic vision to examine the spy’s own bionic eye. He is able to see that it is both an eye, a camera, and has a tiny parabolic microphone. He switch to his bug detector function, and determines that the spy’s eye has been transmitting. Using his own data uplink and hacking skill, Hawk enters CyberSpace and can determine that the eye has been transmitting to an old data center, but can’t get a location in the real world. He then makes another hacking roll and shuts the guy’s bionic eye totally down. After Max threatens the guy a bit, they run him off, seeing that they will get no more info.

Finally, they have their meeting with the Pinky, who is known as the Pinky due to bionic pinky on his left hand. The Pinky explains that Tien Salazar, a gifted cyberneticist, has been working for his employer, but disappeared last night. He was not supposed to be out on the street. He can’t be located. The Pinky’s employer wishes to remain unknown, and thus wishes to hire the PCs to recover Salazar and return him to a safe house. Payment upon recovery and return of Salazar will be $100,000. The Pinky can also offer the group support in the form a working budget, reasonable weapons, and transportation.

Finally, the Pinky reveals that Salazar is a man of disturbing tastes, and is known to frequent an establishment called Pearl’s Party Dome. He suspects that is where he went.

The team parts with the Pinky, and procedes to Pearl’s Party Dome, where the scum go to have a good time. All manner of pleasures are available within. They arrive, and once again Hawk lags behind to check for anyone tailing them. He sees none. Joe strikes up a friendship with the bartender, who introduces him to the proprietor of the place, Pearl. Pearl is a double amputee transvestite in a motorized wheelchair. Chubby, with a slight five o’clock shadow under the heavy makeup, Pearl were some kind of cybervision goggles and is flanked by 2 small hovering drones. She is also extremley intelligent. Sounds like Truman Capote. Joe explains what kind of “fun” he’s looking for, and discovers that another person was there last night looking for similar wild fun, and disappeared with two of Pearl’s girls. Pearl is pissed. She is protective of her girls, and wants them back. Joe negotiates a deal to recover them, and Pearl gives him and the team access to the room from which they disappeared. She clearly will be a good ally and resource for the PCs.

While this is happening, Hawk has hacked into the security system and is examining video of Salazar entered the place and partying. He finds time missing from the video records.

After the team searches the room and investigates, they eventually discover 2 clues. First, an unusual looking Tarot card, with an odd run on it, and images of cybernetics and circuitry. Hawk discovers that the data port in the room was used to inject a virus into the security system, producing false security data to cover up the disappearance of the scientist and two women. He also finds some hidden occult messages in the virus, similar to the “our Lord is coming to rule the world” line of the spy, and the symbol on the tarot card.

Still, the team is unable to determine how the 3 disappeared from the room. Joe and Inuyama investigate in the service area of the Party Dome, questioning employees, and discover that 4 people — 2 men and 2 women – left via the service entrance at about the time of the missing time in the security recordings. Hawk is able to patch into a security camera in the alley and get plate numbers of the group’s car. The team acquires the name and address associated with the car, which leads them to the apartment of one of the 2 missing women.

They find no one at the apartment, and break in. Inside they find a books, programs, and art of an occult/cyber-occult nature. They find a picture of Tien Salazar pinned to the wall. They find materials similar to the cyber-tarot card they found in the room at the Party Dome. Hacking into an active data port in the small apartment, Hawk is able to tell that a frequent data connection has been made to a data center from the early 2000s. He is able to determine the center’s physical location. The group assumes this is the same one the spy’s eye was transmitting to from the Rottgut Emporium. They gear up to infiltrate the data center, mainly by picking up Joe’s weapons.

They surveil the data center, a 3-story concrete building with no windows, and one door in the front. It is surrounded by taller buildings. Hawk’s IR vision detects two heat signatures up on the roof. Hawk and Joe take position on top of a 7 -story, confirming 2 guards with guns on the roof of the data center.  Inuyama and Max create a distration by throwing a bunch of Max’s firecrackers to the roof of the data center, causing the 2 guards to turn their backs. Joe quickly and efficiently kills both with deadly shots from his sniper rifle. To fast, in fact, for the guards to signal any trouble. As the data center is concrete and secure, no other guards show up.

The team quickly move to the door of the data center, and Hawk attempts to hack the door control, rolling a critical failure and setting off the alarms. It’s a large heavy metal door. Inuyama uses his great size, strength, and speed to bulldoze through the door.

With the alarm sounding, they search the building. In the basement, they discover 12 cyber-cultists all jacked into a massive spherical data device – a huge cyberspace deck. All are deep in a trance, completely zoned out. However, 3 cyber-enhanced pit bulls rush the PCs. After some manuvering in the building, the PCs kill the dogs, and return to the basement. They discover the cultists have been automatically un-jacked from the data sphere upon activation of the guard dogs, and the sphere itself has self-destructed. They do not find Tien Salazar in the building. However, they do find the two women from Pearl’s among the cultists.

The episode concludes. Next time the PCs will deal with the captive hookers. Pearl will not be happy to find that 2 of her valued employees were involved in abducting a customer, or that they are occult weirdos.

 

Character death within a party

This is not a new topic. I’m sure it has been talked to death, but when a member of a somewhat advanced party is killed, how do you handle it?

In D&D, I think this presents a very large problem, since the gap in survivability of 1st level characters and say, 6th or higher, is huge. So you lose a character or two, and what do you do. I’ve recently read about various ways people handle this. Some have the person roll up a new character, and advance them to the old character’s level, or maybe a level or two below. I’ve never been a big fan of starting characters at higher levels. For me as a player, I never feel like I have any emotional investment in that kind of character. It just doesn’t feel the same as running a character up from level 1. I actually saw one guy on a Facebook discussion say he considered the Experience Points to belong the the player, rather than the character. Obviously people can do what they want, but that seems weird to me. A little too much like just getting extra lives in a video game.

BUT – if you have a party of somewhat advanced characters, and one dies, if you make that player start over again with a 1st level character, a couple of undesireable things seem likely. First, the new 1st level character may simply ride on the coat tails of the rest of the party, gaining levels almost by association. Or second, the challenges faced by the party may simply be too difficult for the new character, killing him/her quickly if the DM doesn’t go easy on him. I can remember really good DMs who could integrate the new characters in, and give them challenges appropriate to their level whilst still challenging the higher level characters, but that’s not easy in a D&D game.

In the past I’ve participated in groups that avoided this situation a couple of ways. In some cases, in a particular DM’s word/campaign, players would have more than one character, so that if one died, there was still another to work with. We only played one at at time, so this made progress slower. It did have the added advantage of giving the players a more diverse group of characters to chose from when starting a game. If you played in a shared world, with multiple DMs running games at an agreed upon power level/style, the multiple characters can work out pretty well.

As I am about to start a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign in a couple of days, it made me realize that game systems like GURPs make it a lot easier to introduce new PCs to replace dead ones.  In GURPS, a PC gets better, but the world is still pretty dangerous. There isn’t such a huge gap in survivability between new PCs and experienced ones.

 

DMing Again

Just DMed my first game in about 20 years.

Gave my nephew the 5e D&D Starter Set a few months ago, and we started through it to teach him to play. A little challenging as I was not totally sharp on the new rules, but I had the basics down OK, which is really all you need. Did about 1/2 of the first segment of the adventure than comes in the set. Will finish tomorrow. Overall it was pretty fun, and a good chance to get back into the gamemastering thing.

To simplify the learning process, we used the Starter Set straight-up, prefab characters and all. I had him control two of the characters, a fighter and magic user, and I used another fighter and a cleric as NPCs. At 14, I think my nephew is to the point he can start to learn role playing and the rules system. He won’t have it down perfectly, but did any of us at that age? Probably not. I think that keeping the spirit of the game is what counts.

Granted, we didn’t go deep into the 5e system, but I really must say that we I experienced as DM was pretty much identical to my experiences with 1e.  I liked it. We played pretty bare-bones. Pencils, paper, graph paper, and dice. Not even any miniatures. It worked quite well.

Anyway, we’ll finish up that leg of the adventure tomorrow afternoon. My nephew was pretty stoked, and is talking about getting his friends together to play, which makes me very happy.

OK, interesting thing. At one point he was trying to figure out a way to test the depth of a stream. I explained to him that in D&D you can do anything you want, like cut a branch off a tree to use. He said he had thought of that, but wasn’t sure if he could do that. He is very involved in video games, which of course are totally restrictive. You can’t do anything the game designer didn’t account for. But in RPGs, you don’t have that limitation. It was cool to see this fact register on my nephew’s face.

 

A few things…

Hoping to finally get the GURPS game started in January. It is time to start, even if the first couple of games are mostly for learning the system. I have been looking forward to this for months now, and I am ready to get it going.

I played RISK last night with my nephew – the Doctor Who edition. Pretty fun. I could do that again, even though I’m really not any good at it.

Ready to play some D&D too.

Still more preparation

We had another GURPS meeting this weekend, to go over more character creation stuff. I’ve never spent so much time on starting characters before, but then again I’ve never been this committed to running a really good game. We’re almost done, and should be able to launch the game as planned in late October.

So far, looks like we have the following…

  • A gadgeteer/medic/hacker guy
  • A big touch ex-sumo champion bodyguard type, with a chip slot in his head
  • Ex-astronaut with a bionic eye
  • A Cyber-Bard — uses music and science to influence minds
  • A ranged weapon/sniper guy

Looking forward to this.

Reading and RPGs

Reading lots of fun and weird stuff, or informative interesting stuff, enhances the Gamemaster’s “game” tremendously. It’s one of the really great aspects of being a gamer. It’s hard to avoid. If you are a gamer, and especially a GM, you are always looking for inspiration, source material, and ideas for your game.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your genres separated. You know – you start out in a fantasy setting, but then you watch Mad Max and get drawn into the post apocalyptic mindset, and soon your orcs are driving cars across the wasteland.

Is this your experience too? Is it just me?

Anyway, I’ve been reading all the Hellboy compilations. Well, not all of them. I’m on number three right now. Good stuff.

Taking a while…

It is taking a while to get my groups GURPS characters created, but it is coming along. I’ve let one of the guys borrow my GURPS characters book so he can finish his PC, and the other guys all have some great backgrounds and concepts developed. Just a matter of getting them on paper. I anticipate that we’ll be ready to play in mid October. For the guys who are having trouble, I may offer to take their ideas and translate them into a rudimentary character, then let them complete the process with details.

One of the guys, who has never played an RPG before, has developed this really fantastic background for his character. No numbers yet! Well, he had determined that the character will have a very high INT, like 15. But with the character background set, the number crunching will be very easy, and as GM I already have ideas for how to work with this PC. Exciting!

Really, I’d rather do it this way. Really have the group put some time into the character creation process. Have them create a character they identify with and will enjoy playing.

 

 

First Session!

Well, we had our first GURPS session on Saturday. Well, sort of.

I had the guys over to work on character concepts. As I fully expected, we spent a lot of time catching up. The guys I’m gaming with are all old highschool friends. They were not my regular gaming group, but I played some Champions with them. Anyway, a lot of catching up was needed, and it was a lot of fun.

The two guys who got there “on-time” decided on a couple of general ideas of characters. I really liked their ideas, and I think the game is going to be fun.

It was really fun seeing the interaction of these two friends as they talked about characters. I’ve known these guys for most of my life, but as I’ve said, they weren’t my main group of friends. It was incredible to see how their friendships really haven’t changed in all this time, and it was clear that they’ll have a very tight gaming “team” for GURPS, D&D, or whatever.  I’m sure it is nice to make “new” gaming friends, but it is really great to just be able to rekindle the fire that has been simmering for 30 years.

 

Interwebs Treasures #11

I’m back with more cool stuff…

Clearly, until my friend Williams starts up the very cool looking 1st Edition D&D campaign he has been working on, my GURPS obsession is dominating my gaming-self’s mind.

One last time………………………………. GURPS!