Friday Night Firefight

Friday Night Firefight

David, Christoffer & me are playing Cyberpunk, first edition.

When sharing our « inspiration list », David, Christoffer and me has always a very similar list. If there’s a jungian inspiration ocean, we’re surfing on the same wave. Also we enjoy playing together, although it didn’t happen much. I played my most functional and enjoyable game of S/Lay W/Me with Christoffer, and I appreciated David’s aesthetic choices in our Bushido game. We played two sessions.

I’ve provided pregens to facilitate character creation (see joint file). Those pregens had basic equipment, debts (sometimes not fully spent with rooms for the player to buy things), and life-path elements written as raw as possible.

I have played a bunch of Sorcerer games the last 5 years, and when I finally clicked on the gm techniques, I realized « Ah man, that’s how you play Wraith or Cyberpunk ». Our goal was to try « now that we have broken some cultural assumptions, how would we play that game and see what its potentialities are ». The main cultural assumption to break was « the PC are a group ». 

I had three interests about this game :

  • using the current city I’m living in to make own « Night City ».
  • finding « how to play » with this game, not the instrumentation but when and how to frame scene with what elements.
  • seeing the 1st edition combat system in action.

Framing a scene and playing it by including the character’s life paths elements is an exercise we did in the People and Play course, which I forgot until I review the course, for independent reasons, between the sessions! Brain mistery.

Prep: my Night City

I followed the instructions from the book, a view from the edge. I took Gibson’s definition of Science-fiction at heart: it’s not about forecasting the future, it’s about looking at the present, with different lenses. So what I did was looking at the city I’m living in, Brussels, and magnify actual traits and current sociopolitical trends. In other words, it’s not me trying to imagine « Brussels in the future », It’s a strong political statement about the contemporary politics. In the same time, I didn’t want to fall in the trap of writing a long write-up with lore, stories. I wanted a feeling of the dirtiest traits of today’s city dynamics. In the same time, the city is still called « Night City ». It’s dark, it’s raining, it’s dirty. I’m using every proper nouns from the book as abstract concepts in which I infuse my own content. I’m looking at Night City at two levels of infrastructure: urban infrastructure and social infrastructure.

Urban infrastructure

  • The Undercity. One of the historical district has a history of massive evictions, that repeated itself two times in the century. First when they built the biggest Justice Palace in the world in the beginning of the 19th century (thousands of people were evicted), then 150 years later when they decided to expand the archives of the Justice Palace with new buildings (a famous struggle in urban city where the organized community won and the evictions did not happen). I’ve decided that a Corporate Arcology has been built upon that district who is now always in the dark.
  • The Justice Palace. It’s the biggest in the world, and my lawyer friends always get angry that full rooms of archives may disappears. It’s a maze with the original floorplans lost, corridor walled, etc. It’s also infamous for the longest and most disorganized public renovations in the country. I’ve never seen myself the Justice Palace without Scaffoldings. Everybody jokes here about the fact that they had to build scaffoldings to repair the oldest scaffoldings. So in Night City, the Justice Palace is still full of scaffolding, abandoned, and it’s a nest for gangs lairs and a bar called The Court where fixers are.
  • The Royal District. The North East is actually the king’s castle – where he actually leaves, with half of the district being his private property, and the rest populated. This rest is one of the poorest zone of Brussels. I made it a green Corporate residential park  where 200 hundreds people are living.
  • The Combat Zone. Today’s Molenbeek is also one of the poorest zone in Brussels. Three years ago in northern Belgium, floods destroyed whole villages  and houses. We know today that a waterlock was discharged at a critical moment, aggravating the floods. So, in my Combat Zone, the Royal district discharges waterlocks which create destructive floods. There’s always 1 meter high of water and people are living at least at the 1st floor of the buildings, and residents arranged paths of car wreck. They also arranged paths of catwalks 2 meters higher. They use them when the Corpo waterlock discharges and the water rises to 2 meters. Of course, this water has an incredible level of PFAS (google it if you don’t know about PFAS and suffer some eco-anxiety), which may become a source of tension in play but I don’t prep anything about this.

You see where I’m getting at. See my full description of Night City, without the explanations in the joined file, with the Pregens. Imagine that every item of the bullet point list has a related story in the present.

Social infrastructure

Here I’ve looked at the rulebook, and what I understood is that the concept of Night City is, above all, a social infrastructure. I made:

  • 2 nasty corpo. With one or two names and their occupations. I based one of them on my knowledge of the local institutions. One is based on the french holding group Dassaut who owns both most of the French Medias and is also a military weapon seller. And a bit of Israeli touch with Medical and crowd control technology. I named it Skygold and it sells weapons and braindances. The other is the local City government, which I treat as a corpo and name Brutech. I create a Cyberpsychotic fully cyberwared Cop at the head of the Cyberpsycho Squad, and crowd control service. This character is based on a real Chief of Police, very known to anyone who participated to a protest, known for his disproportionate use of violence and involved in multiple trials (the guy has been removed sinced, but operated for 15 years). This may look like a detail, but this choice helped me a lot to « feel » the character, his motivations, his reactions almost intuitively during the game.
  • 2 nasty booster gangs. With their leaders and ideology, but also what they directly want, today. One is a far right flemish group (the biggest party of the country), the Technokluddes. A Kludde is a scary folkloric animal from south of the Baltic, something like a big wolf with wings. So that’s how those guy modify themselves. The rise of far right is a concern everywhere, so here I wanted this concern to be real. Those guy are here, and they’re gonna hurt. I named the other Booster gang the Sisters of Mercy.
  • 1 nasty Nomad Herd. I kept cyberpunk’s concept of « ex-farmer without a land » I called them the Dubliners, but they are mostly middle-eastern or north African people, the heir of the seasonal workers of mediterranean Europe. Dublin is the name of the European Convention stating that refugees should apply for asylum in the first European country in which they arrived (which is not always the one they want to stay in). 
  • 2 nasty fixers. Actually just names.

Play – framing scenes

I designed a situation based on The Sorcerer’s Soul technique of the relationship map. I have two unrelated short relationship maps, which I won’t describe here because we are still playing the game. 

David chose Hassan, an unemployed « cop ». Christoffer made a whole new character, Psyche, a Netrunner but more the artistic style than the hacker geek. I decided to treat roles as more abstract than they are described, more a story role and disconnected from a profession.

The Social infrastructure prep is super effective to me. It’s incredibly easy for me to check at the character’s lifepath elements and plug it into one of the social infrastructure element.

Hassan has a corporate enemy in a national-wise corpo? Great, I have Skygold. He also have a debt. I suggested criminal debt in the Pregens but I let him choose, he keeps criminal, and I let him choose his Boostergang. He doesn’t like the far right, so he chooses the Sisters.

Psyche has a corporate enemy too (damn you randomized life-paths!): in the local Government. Great, I have Brutech. And I have a really bad guy there, I feel sorry for Christoffer (or not). Christoffer went to jail for 3 years and he made friend with a Boostergang there. Sure, I like the Sisters, so now I decide that the Sisters’ leader, Drider, were in jail too and just got out.

Now I take my relationship map and rewrite it based on what I have. 

Play was enjoyable, really smooth, though I was surprised by the player’s aesthetic choices. Hassan has a lover who was killed 10 years ago, and nobody knows who the killer is. His favorite value is Vengeance. Psyche has Vengeance too, and she was betrayed by her ex-girl friend. So I expected them to tell me, right at the first scene, « I’m going to shake where I can to find some clues about who killed my lover », or « I’m going to find her, and she will pay ». I did not prep anything special based on that, trusting that I would have sufficient prep to respond.  And to my surprise, neither David or Christoffer did that. 

David looked for a job, so I provided a scene where Brutech is actually feeding gigs in an Uber-like app where unemployed strike-breaker are hired to do shitty job. Such as strike breaking. Every knees broken = 1$€ or something like that. We used the regular skill system. It was easy from my « look & feel prep » to frame a short backstory of a new productivity app making workers crazy in a flooded factory near the Combat Zone. Then add a cyberpsycho killing the management team because they harassed him too much, and sending the Cyberpsychotic Cop with 1 empathy crushing workers to get his way to « restore peace » (protect the management). 

Psyche spent time to help a friend (from her lifepath) to enter an art school by helping him on his entrance examination. Art School ? Sure, it’s funded by Skygold. And there I put bits from my relationship maps to intrude in the networks.


Combat happened in the second session, to my surprise in both scenes! 

Again, I’ve been surprised by the players. Psyche is everything but not a combat character. She doesn’t have any skills in pistols. I framed a scene where professional solo, explicitly paid by a very rich employer, is forcing her to delete encrypted data that has been hidden in specialized artistic forums and that she downloaded the previous session. To my surprise, Christoffer chose to rush at his gun under his coat, and shoot! He was acting exactly in the same time than the Solo, who fired two shot and succeeded. The first shot was totally absorbed by the Kevlar vest (1D6+3 damage against 18 SP – so basically a gun cannot beat a Kevlar vest even at Point Blank), the second shot her leg, inflicting a Serious Wound.

It was clear to me from my prep that the solo was not here to kill anyone, but to intimidate – and he only could be as surprised than me. So with a success roll, the guy left, kidnapping Psyche’s friend to pressure her.

David was more successful, but hey, he has a rifle. Weapons are everything, really. His character got embroiled in a typical neonoir job inside the job, with a cop promising him to find him a job in Brutech if he doesn’t do what the Booster gang told him to do to pay back his debt. Let’s pass the details. David succeeded at his infiltration roll, but missed the first shot. We had an orthogonal situation, where the target, a Gang Leader, FragMax, in a Drug Lab, tried to grab his girlfriend to use her as a shield, the girlfriend was trying to run, and David was trying to shoot at FragMax. All those people were acting exactly at the same time, as they all had 7 in REFLEXES. The girlfriend made the best roll, FragMax failed at grabbing her, and David succeeded. So a rifle was like, 11 dices of damage. The guy was shot dead from a single bullet in the left arm, I narrated him twitching under the shock.

So for the moment, my main conclusion is that I really can feel how Cyberpunk influenced Sorcerer. There are small bits everywhere where I can feel that « Hey, this needs some tweaking » and that sorcerer seems to fix. One of those thing is the half-diegetic essence of some concepts: Humanity affects empathy and where you’re at Empathy 3, « you act differently », when I think it’s better that you just lose your character at 0 without diegetic constraints at 1. Or the Roles, such as cop, seems to assumes that you’re really a cop (or a corporate security), when i think it’s more functional if it’s a Story role instead of a fictional occupation – I prefer that it’s disconnected, so I’m pushing in this direction.

This post is way longer than I intend, so be welcome to ask any questions or provide any insight.

, , , ,

6 responses to “Friday Night Firefight”

  1. So here’s I think an interesting insight for how to play.

    The players really needs to know what they want from this world, and try to rip out aggressively from it. If they just “follow the story”, or try to live a “normal life”, fucking around, they may well be fucked very fast, taken into someone else’s crazy agenda.

    I’m playing the enemies from their lifepath as grabby antagonists acting right now for their personal interests, ever directly or through other persons/means, but now. Most NPC sees the PC as nothing else than tools to be used and discharged. Of course, there are other relationships possible (Hassan had a lover who’s still alive, Psyche has a friend, I have no reason to antagonize him with this character and I’m going to embrace fully their good heart towards them). Those relationship are fundamental as a contrast and, I think, for us the players to care at all about this world.

    But they are definitely seen as resources or obstacles by other NPC who have agendas and pressing priorities. So I won’t let the players achieve whatever they want to achieve easily. They will have to make good plans both in the fiction and by maneuvering the rules – getting bonuses, setting good fictional conditions for them to act, etc.

    • I hope you can see how this principle applied to our Sorcerer game a few years ago!

      By playing NPCs as adversarial, the GM/players relationship becomes non-adversarial, i.e., there is no control to be fought over (“bad players”) or to be conceded (“good players”). Furthermore, it is not neutral in the sense of the GM being a bot, and it is not transitive in the sense of the author-GM providing ultimate/outcome content to an audience.

      From my point of view, there was no way to explain this to you at that time, not as principles or concepts. If a person is wrapped up in concepts of neutrality and control and author-audience, the only path is “doing,” and there’s no guarantee via guidance or anything else.

    • Yes!

      I actually think that’s my reflective practice at playing Sorcerer a fair amount on time since 2017, partly shared here at the website, that gave me a new look on how to play this edition of Cyberpunk.

      Also the Clay that Woke, which is partly based on similar principles (emphasis on partly) – with the intrinsics trying to manipulate the player minotaurs most of the time.

      One of the annotation of Annotated Sorcerer echoes in my mind, where it’s written “Just play the NPC”, and a small statement about how this sentence can be easily misunderstood. It’s both an easy concept ton understand, anf a very difficult one if you just think you “know”, but actually give it another meaning.

      I’m reading the rules of Cyberpunk through a specific lense: the small excerpt about debts in the rules: “what the institutions will do to get the players do what they want” (take hostages, etc.) and pushing it hard. I read everything else from that premice.

      For instance, the combat rules are really letal. Why would a NPC get into a firefight if he can get someone else to do it for him? So NPC want to do very dangerous things, but they don’t want to do it themselves if they can force someone else to do it.

      During this firefight, Clair “Psyche” (Christoffer) took one bullet in the leg. The Solo could have killed her, if he wanted to. He didn’t because I have good reason of why he is employed and I see no reason to unnecessary kill someone (I mean, even killers don’t kill for the pleasure). The result of the fight is that he kidnaps Psyche’s friend, who is living with her, to force her to do what his employer wants her to do. While Psyche is bleeding with a serious wound that will take 4 weeks to heal.

      That’s also why the cop with whom Hassan “Black Angel” (David) negociated with him to do another job which involves robing some drug dealer to get money. Black Angel was investing to find a girl on the request of the gang leader of the gang with whom he is indebted. But the, he realize that this girl has been tortured, has a debt too, and is going to torture her again. In other words, in Psyche’s situation, someone uses an hostage to force Psyche to do what she wants. While in Black Angel’s situation, Black Angel is used as a mean to take an hostage for some reason he doesn’t about. And there, Black Angel meets someone who knows a situation involving risks, and convinces him to do it for him to protect the girl (with a carott in the end: a real job in the police).

  2. Regaining a measure of creative confidence is a major challenge I foresee for myself: As a result of playing & conducting railroads for many years in the distant past I have an overarching need to be a neutral referee — “bot” sounds *good*, though it shouldn’t!

    If I so much as suspect that I might be biased (or someone might think so), I grab the dice, nail down a bunch of outcomes and roll, intuition be damned. This has served me well these past years, but I think it is holding me back now.

    The advice to have NPCs ruthlessly aim to exploit the PCs – and exploit them right now – is excellent.

    (I had a taste of this when I had a giantess start to kill PCs intruding on her turf and offering no compelling reason to show mercy *without* rolling for it, as related here:

    • Hi Johann! Thank you.

      There’s a slight nuance here, between “I’m not afraid to kill your character if it makes sense” and “I’m playing the NPC ruthlessly so they exploit the characters for their own end”.

      See my comment to Ron: I would say that the other way works: “I’m not afraid to NOT kill your character if it makes sense”. I had really good reasons for that, though I was surprised that Christoffer engaged combat at all: “He’s going to kill me anyway” was is rationale. It’s also not a general advice! You can’t play Traverser (Paul Czege ‘s next game) like this for instance.

      So that’s true, I don’t think I was “neutral” or whatever. But I’m not trying to save or kill the character, I’m just .. “playing my npc” with a very strong bias toward exploitation of the players, because that’s what that game is about, as I read it.

  3. > The main cultural assumption to break was « the PC are a group ».

    I’m really resonating with this statement.

    There is a phenomenon of certain game texts being associated with culture of un-play and that being just “The way this one is played”, with no further reflection upon it. “What do you mean you’re not playing as a group! Don’t split the party!”

    “The PCs are a group” I’m not exactly sure where this comes from as a default assumption, but I’ve come to associate it strongly with GM story-control techniques.

    There was a horrible Runequest session I attended (can’t really say “participated”) here in Finland where a GM heavily resisted framing PCs individually in any actionable way in space and time. It was mostly delivery of content, where non-GMing players acted as essentially audience for the GM’s story, contributing small theatrics that weren’t reincorporated by the GM.

    In this context “the PCs are a group” is just a baseline assumption that needs to happen, since your PC being present is your conduit for the delivery of content, and PCs are not individually framed (lest they take individual action that can affect something).

    And I’ve come to understand here in Finland people think “this is how you do Runequest”. But nothing in the text suggests you have to do this (alright, latter editions may be ambivalent about it and require some fire-axing, but the point stands).

Leave a Reply