Sunday, July 17, 2016

Headspace: Vancouver Aftermath

Yesterday, I ran a session of Headspace, a new cyberpunk PbtA RPG by +Mark Richardson. I ran it in preparation to write a review, like I do. Most of the time, when I run game for review purposes, they wind up being one-shots, but I'm always interested to see which ones will make the players say "let's play this some more." Unwritten would have, I'm sure, but the group that we assembled was disparate enough schedule-wise that it wasn't tenable. This group, though, is an established one; we were played Epyllion for a while, but then hit the end of a story arc and were waiting until the full game is released to pick it up again.

Anyway, the point is, we played a session yesterday, and the players decided they'd like to continue the story next month. That, Mark, is the best response you can get from players. As such, I need to do the write-up (which is not the same as the review, which I'll work on this week and try and get it up before GenCon), but first:

We made characters first. Since we have four players, we wound up with two Ghost Operators (the Handler and the Whitecoat, as it happened). The remaining Operators are:
  • Grease, the Runner (played by Mike). Grease got used by Aescupalian labs to deliver drugs to (he thought) folks in need, but it turned out to be a bunch of execs and their hired goons. He and his family emigrated from the US, and were investigated as possible terrorists (Americans are dangerous, you know, they're violent and gun-obsessed; we also joked that Grease might be a descendant of Jethro, Mike's character from Misspent Youth).
  • Spider, the Tech (played by Rob). Spider was the one hired to investigate and then smear Grease's family. He's hacked into a lot of people's lives and ruined them, but wants to make amends for what he's done. 
  • Willis, the Ronin (played by Sarah). Willis is expert in blowing stuff up, and made their bones (Willis doesn't like pronouns) taking on dirty jobs for Pacific Security Systems. 
  • Arrow, the Infiltrator (played by Michelle). Arrow, too, used to work for PSS, and burned down a food warehouse as part of PSS' plant to start food riots in 'Couver. 
I read over the Vancouver setting for the players and introduced them to the five corps that are relevant, and asked which one they would like to take on, figuring that since a couple of them have tied to PSS, they'd pick that or Aesculpian (Mark, a note: I hate that name, it's hard to pronounce and spell). So obviously they picked Applied Optimism, the least overtly evil and most subtle of the corps to work against.

So Applied Optimism wants to turn the unwashed masses against the other corps, and use the masses as a weapon (they're said to be involved with the Occupy movements, some 60 years ago in-setting). I decided to go with their corporate project listed in the book: Leak corporate involvement to the wage slaves. To that end, their three Objectives were: Find proof of 3H involvement in the quake (Cost), start riots in the reclamation zones (Quality), and broadcast proof of 3H involvement (Time). Since this is the first session, they've already achieved one; I decided it made most sense if they'd achieved the Cost Milestone already. The Operators chose the Quality milestone as the one they were working against (after some deliberation). 

The broke their approach down into three milestones: First, rescue Kevin Mitnick, a civilian resident advocate whose popularity and notoriety made him a voice of the people. AO had kidnapped him and reported him dead; they were using that as a way to whip people up. Second, they planned to make sure a critical food delivery arrived safely. And finally, they planned to take out a group of paid agitators out on the streets. 

We start in medias res, and the Operators were working on rescuing Kevin. They'd made some progress - Grease had found Kevin in the upper floors of a high-rise and had called in Angel (their Whitecoat) to help treat Kevin's injuries (we justified that by saying that AO employed some tech that disrupted the Headspace enough that Grease couldn't just treat Kevin himself). Meanwhile, Spider was outside the building observing through drones, Arrow was on the upper floors being sneaky, and Willis was downstairs with Keaton (the Handler). Turns out AO had rigged the building to collapse via several explosive charges. 

Grease jumped off the building, lugging Kevin, and yelled for Angel to follow...but she froze, and Grease heard gunfire. Angel disappeared from the Headspace, but Grease landed and rolled, keeping Kevin safe. One of the charges exploded in the bottom of the building, vaporizing Keaton. Willis reset the other charges, figuring if the building went down, AO would think Kevin was dead and the Operators could use that to their advantage. 

Spider provided backup on drones, but wound up taking a couple of Grief complications and fleeing. Grease jabbed Kevin in the leg with a hypo to dull his pain, but hit a nerve and Kevin screamed, altering guards. Arrow saw he needed help and looked for a way (using Observation, which isn't her skill), and wound up revealing her Regret, triggering a flashback for all of the Operators. She spotted a fire escape, zipped down, and landed on the guards all martial-arts style. 

Willis blew the building and everyone fled. The Operators had achieved their first milestone, and created an Event: AO thinks Kevin is dead and he's getting ready to hold a press conference.

Next up: The food delivery. Grease contacted the Dodge, his gang of car thieves, and got himself a hoverbike with a faulty altimeter (take it too high and it doesn't know how high up it is, which can lead to problems). Spider did some hacking using his AI, Diane, and learned that the food was being delivered via aerodyne and then split up into multiple shipments and taken throughout the zone. If AO was going to hit the shipment, it needed to it before that point. 

Arrow did her infiltrator thing and got on board the aerodyne, wearing the appropriate uniform. Spider, as always, hung back and watched through his drones. Willis rode on Spider's predator drone (it's loud and hot, but Willis has a pain editor, so Willis don't care), and Grease swooped in behind on his new bike.

As they approached the landing site, the aerodyne pilot reported that something was taking control of the ship and throwing off the gyros. Spider tracked the signal and found a dude on a rooftop with a rig. He sent the predator drone over, and Willis, not one to fuck around, shot the dude in the face. Crisis averted?

Maybe not. Grease noted someone on another rooftop with what he thought was a rocket launcher (he may also have picked up a couple of Fear complications and overestimated the danger). Willis flew over and shot that guy, too, and then realized the "rocket launcher" was a really high-tech camera; the dude was just filming everything, probably for AO. Willis hopped off the drone and picked up the camera, keeping an eye on the the ship, making sure it all went smooth.

Not so much. As the aero came in for a landing, Arrow recognized one of the dudes on the landing strip from her time freelancing for PSS. She had Spider run facial recognition - they all were PSS goons. Spider sent in his wolf drone as the ship landed to take out one of the PSS guys, and everything kind of went chaotic - the PSS guys hadn't threatened the delivery guys, so no one knew of the danger. Grease started heading toward them on his bike, Spider had the predator drone fire a missile near the strip, and Willis shot the dude Arrow had ID'd. The remaining goons opened fire on Grease (the only target they could see), and he crashed his bike into a wall, Taken Out. 

The pilot of the aero, deciding "fuck this" was the better part of valor, took off. Arrow, still on board, managed to coax him into touching down a small distance away, after which he got out and ran. Arrow contacted the folks waiting for the delivery and they showed up to unload and distribute. Success.

Mostly success. The collateral damage had made this a qualified victory. The food is distributed successfully, but collateral damage has the populace spooked

The Operators dragged Grease out of the wreckage and treated him, and then they got to work on their last objective - the agitators. 

Willis, of course, was of the opinion that "find 'em and shoot 'em" was effective, but the others noted that AO could just as easily use that to get what they wanted. Instead, the Operators decide to find the agitators and dox them, revealing their real professions and allegiance. They went to work using Hacking and Sprawl to find these dudes, and somewhere in here Willis reveal their Regret to gain Sync - when Willis set off a bomb to start riots, a young girl wound up half blind after taking shrapnel to the face. That stayed with Willis...and now with the other Operators, too. 

Anyway, the Operators spread out through the city, finding the agitators, ID'ing them, and putting names and profiles up on the great big digital screens on the sides of buildings. They also had to convince the volatile populace not to kill them, since violence would lead to riots just as surely as agitation. For the most part, they were successful - no riots, no big explosions. At the end of the day: The agitators have been disowned, but the wage slaves are out for blood

It's a dangerous city the Operators find themselves in, and we'll see what that means next time.