roleplaying games

Campaign review: Interface Zero 2.0

As mentioned in the last couple posts, my year-long campaign in the second edition of Interface Zero has come to an end. While I’ve reflected in bits and pieces, now is a good time to summarize the campaign in total.

First, as I said in an earlier entry, I liked the system but this campaign has not been one of my favorites. In some ways the last session helped a bit with that, because when your players are at the table you can see them really having fun. In addition to that I learned a bit about Savage Worlds which I will reflect on later in this piece.

The campaign started a year ago with the characters meeting in Delaware to recover the plans for a simulacrum (an artificial human designed for a specific purpose) from Scientology, who had stolen it to boost the plans of their leader, Armind Cruise. After the initial caper the characters were requested by another religious organization to help apprehend the Scientology hackers who stole the plans in the first place…it was at this point that the characters were introduced to William Bradbury and the ACC, a religious power broker that worked inside the splinter nation North American Coalition. When it became clear that the ACC did not have noble intentions, the group canned the mission, rescued the hackers and high-tailed it for a new city.

The group hopped, skipped and jumped to Boston, rescuing some hybrids out of Syracuse and beginning to understand the sinister intentions of the ACC. After discovering that Bradbury was conducting a clandestine meeting with a local extremist group, they recorded the meeting…but sensing an opportunity, they ambushed Bradbury in a parking garage, took him alive and delivered him to the Scientologists. Then, it started getting weird. While still in Delaware, the group had met James Hoffmann, a mid-level executive for the defense contractor Ravenlocke. Hoffmann was responsible for double-crossing the group’s original client, but thinking he had the upper hand was more than willing to speak glibly. It turned out that things got interesting, as Hoffmann’s role in double-crossing that original client helped to destroy a buyout deal that Ravenlocke’s parent company attempted to negotiate. With no power and no friends, Hoffmann called the group begging for a hot extract out of Chicago before his former employer ‘disappeared’ him.

The group obliged, and headed to Chicago to get Hoffmann in exchange for a large sum of money and access to as much insider information as he had on the ACC through Ravenlocke. In the process, they got much more than they bargained for. The departure from Chicago turned into a chase, but not before a hacker got their hands on the group’s TAPs (tendril access processors, implanted personal computers) and a lot of data. Two things were revealed. First, Hoffmann had walked out the door with a lot of very privileged information which was now in the hands of some random hacker. Second, one of the characters, Iggy, had an encrypted partition in his android brain that had also been swiped. Uh oh.

The information in both cases concerned the inner dealings of a group of powerful corporations, the C-7. Hoffmann’s information was about an internal power struggle that the ACC was trying to foment through its proxy, an American company called Helios. Iggy’s information was about a series of illegal collusions between two other C-7 corporations, Chimera and Subarashii. In a power play, another one of the characters, Sister Maria, brought all of this data to the Boston archdiocese, whose Cardinal reluctantly agreed to back Subarashii and Chimera to balance the ACC and Helios. Subarashii and Chimera cooperated in part because Iggy was a former Subarashii employee…and in part because they were being blackmailed.

Under pressure from Subarashii, Chimera, and the group’s handler, the group took off for the C-7’s annual conference in the Cayman Islands. They started investigating the one C-7 corporation they knew nothing about, New Frontier Enterprises, to try and figure out what the missing link was between the C-7 and the ACC. And then things started to look…wrong. NFE was missing, and all the Helios invitees to the conference had left. The characters put the pieces together and realized quite quickly that if they didn’t leave the island, bad things would happen. They gathered as many people as possible into a boat, and just barely got far enough away when the large tungsten rod slammed into the facility, destroying everything. It turned out that Bradbury had maneuvered so that everyone senior to him in the ACC was there…leaving him the leader.

Everyone returned to the big island all right, but things immediately started getting weird. First, in the chaos a brace of clones had been released. The clones, which the group had received from Subarashii as payment for covering the conference, were hijacked by Ravenlocke in order to cause chaos. Trying the direct approach the group sat down with their clones, agreeing that one group should stay on land and one go to space. Why space? NFE’s primary motivation for the rod attack had to do with their cold war in space with Chimera and the UN, which had gone hot. The clones went into orbit to begin to deal with this…though it is still a loose end for another game.

The group stayed on land, dealing with the last clone, a clone of Hoffmann who was still loyal to Ravenlocke. Returning once more to Chicago, the group killed the Hoffmann clone and rescued their boss, who informed them that the key to stopping Bradbury was likely in Australia, the recently abandoned headquarters of NFE. Trying a risky gambit, the group was able to Ocean’s Eleven their way into the NFE headquarters and walk out with all of the hard drive backups the company had. That gave them what they needed to make their next move.

The last session involved that last bit of intelligence, the timing and place for a meeting between Bradbury and the Helios CEO, Max Bell. The meeting would cement Bradbury’s legitimacy and could spell certain doom for the characters. As such, they hijacked Bell’s limo in order to put him face to face with the group’s, er, face. Max Bell is an opportunist and has no sense of loyalty, so he listened to the pitch and agreed. After an intense gambit wherein one of the characters was disguised as Bradbury’s wife, a limo was driven through a plate glass window and Bradbury was dispatched with one punch to the face from a mutant honey badger.

***

Writing this all out in summary actually helped me understand a lot. This campaign really went all over the place. Like, even moreso than a lot of my other Cyberpunk campaigns, which due to the number of players (as in organizations, not literal players) were all a little bouncy. But this…this is nuts. Without a strong, cohesive narrative, I as a GM was feeling lost. The players latched onto an antagonist, which gave me some strong sessions and good stuff to work with, but the sessions without either Bradbury or another strong problem statement wandered quite a bit.

The amount of wandering may reveal a disconnect between the length of the campaign and the arc I was writing. There was a lot there…I could have slowed down and built up half of the organizations in three times the time if I had been thoughtful, but it was frenetic. By the time I was ready to stop, I had already gone too fast and revealed too much, while leaving most of the organizations as mere outlines. It wasn’t just the new setting, I had spent very little time trying to fill any of these in.

Beyond the campaign itself, considering the two sessions I ran in person gave me some insight about Savage Worlds. Savage Worlds is a game with a lot of physicality, it’s even designed to be run with minis. The physicality ties things together so much. Running initiative with cards online was weird, even using the Roll20 card deck, but in person it’s immediately intuitive. Bennies are spent more when people have the tokens in front of them. Everything about the game is geared towards moving around a table, and in a way I haven’t seen as much in other systems, the table is essential. FFG Star Wars, as a counterpoint, runs smoother online; the custom dice are neat mechanically but physically rolling them and counting results is a pain in the ass and slows down the game. Online with dice rollers, things move faster and nothing seems lost. Knowing this, I’m more inclined to stick with Savage Worlds if I want to run a Cyberpunk game in person in the future, especially for a one-shot or other fast-paced adventure.

I feel better about this game, both due to giving the players a satisfying and fun ending and because I understand how I can improve next time. My intent for the next Cyberpunk game I run is episodic with a lot of world-building, and keeping the players away from the top reaches of the tower until they’re ready to go there.

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