Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Weird Wednesday Cyberpunk - Shock Wave Rider - A Surreal Old School Campaign Part II


 This blog entry is going to make a whole more sense if you read the first part right HERE. John Brunner isn't a nice author or an author that is going to make you feel comfortable. I first encountered him back in the Summer of 90's something. I was just leaving college and going into the summer part time job thing. The weekends I would spend with friends in Manchester Ct. and role play one game or another. We played a metric ton of AD&D or OD&D along with a mix of Stormbringer and Mage The Ascension.
 I came across this book in a box, in the trash on the side of the road waiting for the for garbage man. According to the owner of the house her father had recently died and she was cleaning out his books. Take what you want. I did! Each and every last box. There were three boxes jammed with Science Fiction and new Wave Science fiction. This was the same year that earlier Squares of The City had come into my possession.
 My friends were getting sick of switching PC's and games. I had dungeon master's ADD pretty bad back then. I needed something quick elegant and fast.
Fortunately the solution was right there in front of me.
The Over The Edge  rpg presented me with the solution. Actually it was Annie one of my players who gave me the idea. I was reading Moorcock at the time and so. The characters were escapees from an alternative world. Mercenaries for a strange organization that roamed time and space exacting a weird hidden agenda even they didn't understand. They were time travelers, alternative world jumpers, and adventurers across the oververse.
Each agent could store not only a new persona but an entire set of skills that could be programmed into their minds. The catch was that they could only store seven of these personalities before they would crack up. Some did just that. 
That began the so called "Club of Rome Quartet" campaign with the adventurers known as the "Amerikan Irregulars ".  The Amerikans roamed through  the games Cyberpunk 2020, Over The Edge, And finally were retired in Mage The Ascension.

Riding The Wave  

First we had the legs race. Then we had the arms race. Now we're going to have the brain race. And, if we're lucky, the final stage will be the human race.
  • Bk. 1, Ch. "The Number You Have Reached"

Please bare in mind that this was an adventure game and that the works of John Brunner are sociological science fiction. They were from a strange alternative Earth  late 60's perhaps early 70's akin to something from an episode of "Johnny Quest" on acid. There was a large dose of Moorcock and pulp thrown in as well. They were allies of the Blue Blazer Irregulars, went up against bizarre villains, the Cthulhu Mythos, and secured children from government agents. 
They used a combination of plane segrators, time displacement units, bizarre equipment, mental conditioning, downloaded personalities, and sheer fire power. 
Major Spoilers Ahead 
The novel is set in the weeks following Nick's recapture after several years on the run, alternating between moral arguments with his interrogator, who is trying to discover why the program's star pupil had absconded, and flashbacks of his career. The interrogator is Paul Freeman, a graduate of another secret installation known as "Electric Skillet", which focuses on weapons and defense strategy.
Although he initially felt at home at Tarnover, Nick eventually becomes aware of experiments in genetic engineering being performed there. These produce monstrous deformed children who are disposed of when they are no longer needed for study. At this point Nick becomes determined to escape. He studies data processing, steals a personal ID code intended for privileged individuals who wish to live their lives without surveillance, and goes on the run. He uses the stolen computer access code to cover his data trails and create new identities for himself, easily adopting entire new personas. One is the pastor of a popular church, another is an idle playboy gigolo.
In this last role, calling himself Sandy Locke, he becomes the lover of Ina Grierson, a top executive at Ground to Space Industries, a powerful "hypercorp" known to all as G2S. Intending to use the computer facilities at G2S to ensure that his code is still valid after the six years he has been away, he signs on as a "systems rationalizer" with the company. This brings him into contact with Ina's daughter, Kate, who attracts him despite her plain appearance and simple lifestyle. At the age of 22, Nick's age when he left Tarnover, Kate is a perpetual student at "UMKC". She is perceptive enough to penetrate Nick's adopted persona, deeply disturbing him even though she fascinates him. He visits her at home, helping her to clean out some of her possessions, and meeting her tame cougar, Bagheera. Bagheera is the product of her late father's genetic research into intelligence. He died shortly after abandoning the research because the government was using it to produce animals for military uses.
The 21st-century lifestyle produces a symptom called "overload" in many people, and most, including Nick, take tranquilizers to some degree. However Nick collapses completely when told that a representative from Tarnover is coming to meet him at G2S. He returns to Kate and confesses that he is not what he seems, asking for her help. She conducts him to one of the "paid avoidance areas" in California, where people are paid to do without the full panoply of modern technology, as an alternative to spending billions to rebuild infrastructure after the earthquake. After Nick risks exposure yet again in one of these places, they move to the least known one, a town called Precipice.
Precipice turns out to be a Utopian community of a few thousand people. The nearest comparison would be an agrarian, cottage industry community designed by William Morris. Precipice is also the home of "Hearing Aid", an anonymous telephone confession service accessible to anyone in the country. Hearing Aid is also known as the "Ten Nines", after the phone number used to call it: 999-999-9999. People call the service and simply talk. Some rant, others seek sympathy, still others commit suicide while on the phone. Hearing Aid's promise is that nobody else, not even the government, will hear the call. The only response Hearing Aid gives to a caller is "Only I heard that, I hope it helped."
Nick and Kate settle into the community. The inhabitants include intelligent dogs that escaped from the projects that Kate's father worked on. These act as companions, guards, nannies, and even lie detectors, using their sense of smell. Nick rewrites the "computer tapeworm" that prevents the calls to Hearing Aid being monitored. While at G2S he became aware of massive backups of data being performed, clearly in anticipation of a major network outage. The Hearing Aid worm is designed to scramble network traffic if attacked, but Nick realizes that it could be destroyed if the authorities were prepared for the effects and ready to recover from them. His new worm, which he calls a "phage", cannot be removed without dismantling the entire network.
Possibly encouraged by the government, local gangs and tribes raid Precipice, burning down Nick and Kate's house before being overwhelmed by the dogs. Nick, suffering another overload, blames Kate for the incident, since she, following Hearing Aid policy, cut off a call from someone attempting to warn Precipice. He hits her, and then, filled with remorse, leaves the town. He finally reveals his location to the authorities when, encountering one of the "Roman circus" operations which broadcast live fights and other bloody exhibitions to the country, he responds to an "all comers" challenge by the father of the leader of one of the gangs, and cripples him in front of a nationwide audience.
At Tarnover, Paul Freeman takes charge of the interrogation. He was the representative whom Nick, as Sandy Locke, was supposed to meet at G2S. Freeman, a tall gaunt African-American, gradually comes to realize that he has more sympathy with Nick's views than his employer's, and eventually absconds himself, giving Nick computer access so that Nick can make his own escape. The precipitating event in this case is Kate's abduction by government agents, who bring her to Tarnover for further questioning and to threaten Nick.
With the code he gets from Freeman, he sets up an identity as an Army Major, with Kate as his prisoner. Once clear of Tarnover, they disappear together. This time around, Nick has another plan, and rather than running and hiding, he and Kate spend a number of months traveling the country, aided by an "invisible college'" of academics who are allies or former residents of Precipice. He creates a new "worm" which is designed to destroy all secrecy. (Brunner invented the term "worm" for this program, as a self-replicating program that propagates across a computer network - the term "worm" was later adopted by computer researchers as the name for this type of program.)
The worm is eventually activated, and the details of all the government's dark secrets (clandestine genetic experimentation that produces crippled children, bribes and kickbacks from corporations, concealed crimes of high public officials) now become accessible from anywhere on the network - in fact, those most affected by a particular crime of a government official are emailed the full details. In place of the old system, Nick has designed the worm to enforce a kind of utilitarian socialism, with people's worth being defined by their roles in society, not their connections in high places. In effect, the network becomes the entire government and financial system, policing income for illegal money, freezing the accounts of criminals, while making sure money (or credit) flows to places where people are in need. This will only happen fully if the results of a plebiscite, again conducted over the network, allow it.
In a final atavistic attempt at revenge, the government orders a nuclear strike by a single aircraft from a local Air Force base. Warned by Hearing Aid, Nick is able to penetrate the military computers and manufacture a counter-order to stop the plane just before it reaches the town. The book ends optimistically, with there being no more privileged hiding of information, no more secret conspiracies of the rich and powerful.

 In The World But Not A Part Of It

 The Irregulars first mission on the world of Shock Wave Rider came during the "Electric Skillet" years of the book but even this isn't the same world of  Shock Wave. This is an alternative world with a much darker future unless the characters can recover a child from this program. Bring them to another world and return these kids at a critical junction to bring about the changes seen in the book. 
The adventure was one part "Mission Impossible" and one part "Naked Lunch" with a good dose of "Doc. Savage".
The players were jaded by that time having played every game up to that time but when the crippled kids were revealed from the book all bets were off.  Much of that section of the secret  base was destroyed and the kids taken back to the "Irregulars" employers.
 The PC's got another chance to get a bit of their own back when one of the PC's tried to store eight personalities. The results  of which being something out of Scanners. This wasn't before they were able to aid  the heroes of the book after their former employers 
 the "United Police States" who sent their own agents in to kill Nick and Kate. The PC's stayed for some months helping with the invisible college and setting up some of the technologies needed by the world. 
"This time around, Nick has another plan, and rather than running and hiding, he and Kate spend a number of months traveling the country, aided by an "invisible college'" of academics who are allies or former residents of Precipice."

 During an assassination attempt on Paul Freeman one of the PC's lost an arm against agents of "United Police Force. She had it replaced by a bio cybernetic one in "Night City". 

 The Mega Dungeons of Shock Wave Rider

 Cover of Cyberpunk 2020
At the end of the cycle of adventures the PC's had to recover a series of computer reels and a hard drive from a facility lost during the quakes in the Payment Avoidance Areas.
From Wiki: 
"The background to the story includes a massive earthquake laying waste to the San Francisco Bay area in California. Millions die and millions more are left to live on government handouts." 

They encountered one of the most deadly affairs in the campaign. One of the "Roman circus" operations which broadcast live fights and other bloody exhibitions to the country captured them. This gang of cut throats were out to capture and board cast the games the character's deaths. Things didn't go as they planned and the PC's escaped but not after the brave sacrifice of one of their own. He held off the entire gang with a shot gun, grenade, and chain saw. 
 The PC's bloody, wounded, and triumphant recovered the computer tapes and hard drive drum. They took over three months to heal their wounds. Then the biggest challenge lay ahead when they entered the world of  "Stand On Zanzibar" 
The massive ruins of the San Francisco have featured in a number of my games. Hundreds of museums, art galleries, and technologies lost to the earthquake have proved too much of a temptation for players in my games. The Bay as its called has been featured in everything from Gamma World first edition, Mutant Future, and even Mage The Ascension as my go to drop zone. Miles of ruins, weird life forms, and more prove a ready made crop of problems for dimensional hopping alternative Earth adventures. 
More "Amerikan Irregulars " and "Club of Rome Quartet" campaign coming up. 

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