We’ve been talking reboots for a while, specifically, a Fallout 4 reboot campaign. This week I’d like to talk about another reboot I’ve been mentally outlining for potential use with my current game group. I very recently, picked up my hardcopy of Cyberpunk Red and suddenly I feel like its 1988 all over again—living the high-tech low-life and rebelling against the corporate elites. I haven’t had time to dive into the rules and setting properly but I have read enough to know I’m loving what I see so far.
Most often when we talk about reboots we’re talking about rebooting a story because it was a rousing success. Today, I’m thinking of rebooting one of the most disappointing gaming experiences I’ve ever had. In 1988, one of the guys we regularly gamed with brought us a new game and a singularly brilliant campaign seed poorly executed. Now to be fair we were all 14 or 15 years old at the time so we were all prone to some really basic mistakes.
Our GM, Clay, had a cinematic vision of what Cyberpunk could be. For the first session we faced biker gangs and strutted Night City’s mean streets. Then in the Second longer session we were hired for our first real run. A famous elite runner needed a support team help him take key data . . . in reality we were his patsies. It was possibly one of the most frustrating sessions I’ve ever played. The elite runner stole the spotlight and outshined every PC in everything they specialized in. Then he turned his preternatural abilities on the team and proceeded to hunt down and slaughter the lot of us effortlessly. My first TPK . . . Except we didn’t stay dead. We woke in a Trauma Team recruitment ward.
Between the second and third sessions we were able to buy a fortune in cyberware representing the necessary repairs performed on our injured bodies . . . so from a narrative point of view we’d accidentally “sold our souls” to Trauma Team. We needed to find a way to pay back our debt—or boom! While also finding a way to get vengeance on a runner who had the skills and experience that made us look like children.
He then narrated the next few months with a montage of missions before dropping us in an active medical extraction under fire. Which resulted in our second TPK and the premature end of the campaign.
Despite, all of the frustration, I still feel like this could have been one of the most incredible Cyberpunk campaigns hence my desire for a reboot. Sadly, Clay passed away several years ago so while social media has allowed me to reconnect with most of my first gaming group I’ll never have the opportunity to see how he might have rebooted this campaign but I’ll try to do my old friend proud.
Benefitting, from the experience we didn’t have in 88, there are a lot of things I would do differently. One I wouldn’t run a hard mode intro with an active intent to kill all the PCs. When Clay ran the scene I’m pretty sure he fudged a lot of the rolls to guarantee our demise or just plain stacked the deck against us. It was dramatic sure but also fostered an adversarial Player v. GM vibe.
Instead, I’d be clear going in what the intent was and have the PCs built with a group origin that had them betrayed together and allow them to outfit their PCs with the bonus euros. I’d also have each PC define how the villain contacted them originally and what secret or leverage did he have over them to get them to take this job. Depending on the answer I’d probably reward a bonus skill point or similar advantage related to the hook. Similar, to how campaign traits function in the Pathfinder APs.
Now one of the cool things about a Trauma Team campaign is you can have a lot of character types present. Medtechs have the most obvious value but nearly every PC could have a place on the team. Solos are the trained operators who provide tactical support to the less martial members of the team. Nomads and techies keep the hardware flying on mission and between missions. Netrunners slice through security barriers between the extraction team and the injured clients. Medias and Rockerboys might be team leaders or run comms while a Cop or Corporate might be Trauma Team in the field oversight.
Mission Concept: A dying Client the team attempt to rescue passes a PC an encrypted data stick. And urges them to deliver the stick to his contact in dangerous part of the sprawl. Even if they don’t read the data someone is taking no chances just being close to the data stick can be lethal as a deadly assassin stops at nothing to secure the data and erase all trace of its existence.
Mission Concept: While making a series of standard and mostly uneventful runs to collect Clients and get them each to medical facilities or their corporate fortresses. The PCs are routed to pick up a transplant patient a young teen who doesn’t seem like he could afford the low fee service let alone the tier of service the team is providing today. The Kid is talkative and likeable. This is a role-play rich opportunity. Turns out the kid is selling his heart lungs and spinal fluid to save an 80 year old corporate executive in exchange the corporation will keep his mom and brothers from starving.
Mission Concept: The Client has only superficial wounds but is someone important from one of the PCs past. Possibly friend, family, or lover the PC desperately wants to keep alive or an enemy the PC would very much rather see dead but can’t kill without violating the client contract and forfeiting their own contract (BOOM!). As an added complication the “ambulance” is hit hand goes down in the middle of a boostergang war. The team escorts the Client from tenement to tenement trying to stay ahead of whomever is pursuing the Client and away from the booster gang factions.
Mission Concept: After running a few baseline missions consider a mission outside of Night City. A corporate personnel transport drone goes down in the wilderness during wild fire season. The Team is one of several dispatched to locate the Clients before the fires or one of the many bands of nomad marauders catches them.
Mission Concept: Another mission montage scenario. Between Trauma Team assignments the crew is tracking information on the Villain who “killed” their old selves. At a critical moment the PCs must choose between getting to a Client or to the information . . . unless they can figure out a way to do it all.
I miss Clay, and his visceral and evocative style of running games. I hope this honors the mission concept laid out by one of my first and best GMs. In memory of our friend and on behalf of my original gaming crew, I want to remind folks, especially this year while we’re all isolated from our typical support networks. It’s okay to need help, it is okay to need support. It’s okay to be, “not okay.” If you need someone reach out and if you don’t know where else to go in the US you can always reach counselors via the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day [800-273-8255].