14 August (Lake Placid -> Massena)
This year the Great Gen Con Expedition began one day earlier than normal due to the different travel plans than I usually had. Since my van is clearly on its last legs, I didn't want a repeat of last year's incident when the catalytic convertor decided to start falling off the car 50 miles east of Indianapolis. Thankfully, one of the 'local' airports had switched carriers for its EAS flights and was now offering cheap flights to BWI. This worked well for me since my two possible start locations for the group road trip were Northern Delaware or the SoMa (Southern Maryland) component of the DC Metro Area. The problem with this new option was the fact that the airport in question was about a 1.75 hour drive away and the cheap flights were 0920. So I ended up getting a hotel up by the airport for the night before, and drove out there after work. I ended up working later than I had expected due to some last-minute stuff coming up and therefore didn't get into the hotel until about 2145. The hotel internet was having some issues and I had to get up early the next day, so I hit the hay early.
15 August (MSS -> BWI)
On G-Day -2 (August 15th) I was up around 0600 which was way earlier than I needed to be up, but I checked out the hotel anyway. The first task of the day was to find some breakfast. Foursquare, for once, failed me, directing me to a Tim Horton's since nothing else worthwhile was open that early. While I was on the way there I found a diner that was open, and had some eggs while correcting Foursquare's data for that eatery so it had the right opening time. After I finished eating, I went to the airport, arriving before the check in counter was open.
The Massena International Airport is a small facility, like most local airports - one air carrier, a few flights a day, and no 'gates' to speak of, just a waiting room past security. Speaking of security, it doesn't open until about 20 minutes before boarding time, and apparently my bag of dice looks really suspicious on x-ray machine readouts.
Boutique Air runs the flights from Massena to BWI on Pilatus PC-12s, 8-seat planes from Switzerland that have leather seats and a pressurized interior, a big difference from most of the other local flights which are on unpressurized Cessnas. The first two passenger seats on the plane face backwards, which doesn't feel that weird until the plane goes in for landing.
The flight to BWI was uneventful, we arrived on time and I made the trek all the way from the far end of Terminal D to the baggage claim to meet one of my friends who was waiting for me. We snagged lunch from Checkers and went to his place to finish some Shadowrun character work, watch Rick & Morty, and work on more Shadowrun character stuff. nner was obtained from a DC area chain named Zkabob - lamb kabob and veggie samosa was tasty, and more importantly - something I can't get at home. While eating we watched Stranger Things, a show I'd been wanting to see but since I don't have Netflix I can't watch it. Around 2230 everyone went to sleep since we had an early morning the next day.
16 August (DC Metro -> Indianapolis)
There were no incidents with hitting the road this year, with everyone waking up between 0400 and 0430, and we were on the road by 0510. The other car in the trip was leaving from Northern Delaware and they hit the road around 0430. The morning's drive conditions could best be described as "dark and foggy, followed by increasing daylight with increasing fog, eventually met by decreasing fog." We stopped in Fredrick, Maryland for breakfast at a Waffle House I'd eaten at several times before. I got my usual order - the All Star special with over easy eggs, raisin toast, a waffle, bacon, hashbrown (scattered, smothered, and chunked) and orange juice.
Getting back on the road, we spent the next few hours driving through more fog until the fog finally cleared out. Throughout the drive we watched some more episodes of Stranger Things. Eventually we got a call from the other car - only one person in that one had a driver's license. We found a Dairy Queen along the road for lunch and both cars met up. After lunch I switched cars and drove that one for a few hours until we rallied up again and I switched back to the car that actually had my luggage in it.
We arrived in Indianapolis without incident, and checked into the hotel to find that it was still under renovations and the rooms were missing some furniture - nothing critical, it was just weird to find that the room which was supposed to have a sofa instead had...a whole lot of nothing where it should have been. Once we were all settled in, we headed off to Shapiro's, a local Indianapolis NY-style deli. This is a yearly tradition for us, it is our usual location on Wednesday for dinner. I chose to break with my usual corned beef tradition and instead opted for meatloaf this time, which was a good decision since it was some really good meatloaf. I picked up some latkes as well which I knew would make for a good breakfast at some point during the trip.
The rest of the day consisted of more Shadowrun prep work, me going through convention press releases to see if anything was worth looking into, and the usual amount of "OHGODTHECONVENTIONSTARTSTOMORROW" happiness. I went to sleep early since I was going to have to get up really early again the next day.
17 August (Con Day 1)
The first day of the convention is always one where I'm up really early, and the time at which I get up early just gets earlier and earlier every year. The reason for this is the fact that I got to the convention as press - we don't get our convention badges sent to us in the mail, and we don't pick them up at will call. Instead, we go and get them from the press room which opens around 0730 on the first day of the convention. As for why we need to get there early, that's because the first approximately 100 people in line (the number varies from year to year) that ask for one can get an early access ticket to the dealer floor - the only other way to get this is the expensive Very Important Gamer (VIG) ticket, be a friend of someone with a VIG ticket and talk them into giving you one of their friend passes, or to be a dealer with a table on the dealer floor. The reason why I wanted this ticket is because you can go into the dealer floor area when there's only about 1,000 people in there who aren't working tables. This means its quieter and far less crowded, an important thing when you're trying to talk to people at the tables about what they've got in the works for the next year.
I left the hotel at about 0530 and made it to the convention center at 0540, getting to the line for the press room so that I was easily within the first 90 people (the number of early access passes being given out this year). The press room opened a bit late this year, but I had my pass with plenty of time to spare and went to go stand in the early access line. Normally this line was in an area that had chairs, but this year they put the line inside one of the halls being used for tabletop gaming. This meant standing in a line for almost an hour and a half, but it was worth it. The dealer floor opened for us at 0900 and I immediately started to work through my to-do list for this year.
My first stop was Modpihius Entertainment, publishers of the Star Trek Adventures tabletop RPG. Since I had ordered my core rulebook online when it released I wasn't there to pick up that, instead I wanted to get one of the official dice sets (Operations department, of course) and talk to them about their release schedule for all the other books we knew they had in the works. If all goes according to plan, in September we should get a book called "These are the Voyages" which will contain 8 new adventures which can be used as an overaching campaign, or standalone on their own, or with a pre-existing campaign. Sometime around New Year's we'll get the Command Division Book which will be full of options for Command track characters - leadership, piloting, group management, and so on. Shortly after that we'll get the Beta Quadrant Book which will detail out the Beta Quadrant, including the Klingon Empire and the Romulan Star Empire, along with lots of other things they're keeping a close wrap on. I had some discussions with Chris Birch about Subspace Radio's upcoming Star Trek Adventures game which takes place in the Star Trek Online era.
After my trip to the Modiphius booth I went to Catalyst Game Labs' booth - they're the publishers of Shadowrun (which is actually owned by The Topps Company, makers of chewing gum, candy, and trading cards (long story involving them buying WizKids who had bought it from FASA)). Along the way I made my yearly stop at Crystal Caste to get this year's Gencon Commemorative Dice. Shadowrun didn't have any actual new releases for Shadowrun-proper, there were some new sorta-Shadowrun products being released including a two-player card game called Shadowrun: Zero Day. More bizzarely, Catalyst was Dragonfire: The Dungeons and Dragons Deckbuilder and an expansion pack for it. Seriously. Catalyst Game Labs, the publisher of the Shadowrun tabletop RPG has published a product for an IP licensed to them by the publishers of a competing tabletop RPG. Look, I have no idea what's going on with Wizards of the Coast these days since 5e has honestly been a disaster from a publishing point of view, but this is probably the weirdest thing I've seen in the gaming industry in years. Speaking of Wizards of the Coast, they were actually completely absent from Gen Con this year - I think this is the first time they've missed it in since Magic: The Gathering became popular. No booth, no seminars, no room set aside for officially-sanctioned events. The days of the DCI are gone, Magic: The Gathering tournaments are now outsourced to another company, and even the D&D Adventurer's Guild official play is done by an outsourced organization. Hasbro truly has finally killed the company that used to be Wizards of the Coast. Anyway, back on topic - Shadowrun. Shadowrun tabletop didn't have any actual 'new' releases in the way of books - but two books that had previously only been released in PDF form (The Complete Trog and Forbidden Arcana) were now available in print, which is important for those of us who have been sitting and waiting (im)patiently to use the material in them in our characters for officially-sanctioned gameplay. Now we just have to sit and wait to see if a new Missions FAQ gets released in a month - if it doesn't the material is technically legal for use, you just have to use 'best discretion' on what you should and shouldn't consider usable - for example, all the stuff in Forbidden Arcana that deals with blood spirits and implanting 'blood crystals' for cool abilities is proooobably not legal for missions use. Of additional note, the Catalyst booth is where I made my only big purchase of the convention - 3 sets of limited edition Shadowrun metal dice. I was kind of limited in what I could get size-wise since I was technically already over my baggage weight limit for the flights I had to take.
After this, I went to the Paizo booth to pick up my monthly Pathfinder subscription. The reason why I do this during the early access window is because you can get through Paizo's booth in 10 minutes at this time...instead of the 1-hour wait in a line it takes during the dealer floor's normal hours of operation. Also at the Paizo booth is Polaris RPG, an old French RPG that was finally released in English last year with the help of the French publishers of Pathfinder. Polaris is a game that I discovered last year, a science fiction game set in the far future after an unknown number of disasters have flooded Earth. Its one of those games that I admit I own purely for the lore and some of the game mechanics (I'm a mechanics nut and love to look at other systems ideas for my own use in homebrew material) - I'd love to run a game in it but let's face it, my local game group is pretty much dead (oh, the problems of loving life out in the sticks). I talked with them a bit about the next book they'll be releasing for Polaris, a sourcebook full of all the hostile and not-so-hostile critters of the deep. After that I got in the line for Paizo (who handles the checkout for Polaris) to buy the aforementioned book and pick up my subscription. At this point the line took about 10 minutes long, which I spent flipping through the new Polaris book and talking with a fellow Green Bay Packers fan - I'm a bit weird in the sense that I actually wear sports gear to the gaming convention (my seemingly ever-present packers hat and my Ironman Triathlon backpack). I haven't had a chance to get through this month's Paizo subscription for analysis yet, but it included the core rulebook for Starfinder (their new science-fantasy Pathfinder derivative RPG), the first installment of the Ruins of Azlant - the new Adventure, and Elemental Master's Handbook - a new splatbook. At this point it was about 5 minutes before the yearly "oh god how does nobody get hurt during this" occurrence - the opening of the dealer floor to everyone who doesn't have early access, so I promptly fled the dealer floor for my own safety. There may be some overexaggeration here, Gen Con's staff does a great job keeping everyone safe during this.
NSDM Seminars and Contemporary Game
Of course, the other reason why I had to go was the fact that I had a seminar to get to. My love of the National Security Decision Making Game doesn't come just from the game itself, but from the fact that the team that runs the game also does historical seminars throughout the convention as well. Now, some people will ask why I willingly go to seminars for my own enjoyment. Look, I'm just that kind of weirdo, one of the most important thing I learned in college was how to enjoy learning. I've taken vacations to drive 7.5 hours to go to a US Department of Energy lab for 2 days of seminars on advanced astrophysics which included math far above my level. Anyway, the first seminar was on the Six Day War - the 1967 conflict between Israel and the forces of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria which lasted...six days. This is one of those things that doesn't get much in the way of coverage in history classes taught in the United States. Part of the reason why I go to these seminars has to do with the fact that the past is always a source of good inspiration for writing future events, which is kind of an important thing to do when most of your creative endeavors revolve around near-future science fiction tabletop rpg setting. Consequently, my notes sheet for this seminar is basically just a list of questions I'm asking myself about my homebrewed setting. Who is using conscripted military? Correspondingly, who is using small, highly professional militaries? What does this particular military conflict that's kind of a long, drawn-out background conflict the players have no involvement with actually consist of historically? My notes for the following seminar - a study on the 1930s Spanish Civil War focusing on new technology and new ideas introduced in it are pretty similar. What is Catalonia doing now that a resugent group of Francoists took over Spain? Which interstellar powers are still monarchies? The questions make no sense to anyone who hasn't looked at the setting, so lets just leave things there.
After the second seminar, it was time for my first NSDM game of the convention. This year I once again signed up for the two 4-hour (fast play) games. The first one was the Contemporary game, titled "Iranian Resurgence." The player factions for this game were Iran (predictably), Russia (because Russia is seemingly always a player faction), and Saudi Arabia (this was a semi-regional scope game). An important thing to note here is that the United States was not a player faction this time around, which was probably for the best. I'd hate to see how that would play out in a contemporary setting game right now. Once the player role cards were handed out I found myself playing as the Iran Chamber of Commerce, which meant that I was representing a political party and voted in the Islamic Consultative Assembly. I was a reformist, hoping to change Iran to be a more open country. One of my goals was "become the Foreign Minister" which I accomplished rather easily since I have actual player experience performing that role from previous years. The game opened calmly, like it always does. I discussed things with the President, got a list of things to work on, and then went about my way accomplishing them. We used backroom deals and secret negotiations to help North Korea speed up its nuclear program in return for a mutual defense agreement and access to North Korea's warheads 'in the event we needed one' while at the same time dialing back our own nuclear program in order to get sanctions lifted. Honestly, this was probably only possible since the United States was not a player cell this year, I don't see any sane player ever falling for that deceit. The North Korean deal also included the sale of Iranian oil to North Korea via Russian pipelines since there was concern about the tankers being intercepted or stopped.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was starting to oppress its Shi'a population (Shi'a are the majority in Iran and lets leave it at that - this is not the place for me to get into a discussion of sectional divides in religions). This oppressed population reached out to me as the foreign minister asking for us to recognize them as refugees and allow them to send their best and brightest to Iran for asylum. This would of course be a huge PR win, and getting scholars, and trained workers would be a huge boost to our economy, so of course I signed off on the deal. There was definitely some interference from Saudi Arabia with them getting to us, with reports of mechanized infantry harassing the refugees along the way. Little did I know that this decision would come back to bite me in the ass later on in the game. Gameplay proceeded as normal, with most of my time spent in discussions with Russia over regional problems and attempts to stabilize the Middle East for everyone's interest since there was a sudden uptick in random acts of violence all over the region. And then, about halfway through the game it was time for the Iranian elections.
We went into the elections pretty sure that the faction I was a part of (the reformists) would retain control of the presidency, but instead we had a 9 to 8 split in the voting, which qualifies as 'too close to call.' Violence erupted in the streets as the military split between to the two factions, with the 'standard military' backing the reformists and the special forces (Revolutionary Guard and Quds Force) backing the other side. This was when all hell started to break loose in the region, and when the decision to let the refugees into the nation came back to bite me in the ass. It turns out that the Quds Force had been secretly training the refugees and sending some of them back into Saudi Arabia to wreak havoc, and had been doing so without the knowledge or consent of the Supreme Leader of Iran or the Guardian Council (the head of state and what could be described as his cabinet). At this point Iran fractured into 3 groups - the Supreme Leader and the Guardian Council (who could not really interfere since they had no military backing), the Reformists (backed by the military), and the Hardliners (backed by the special forces) and devolved into a civil war that lasted for the rest of the game. Not even getting the United States to put pressure on the Hardlinders to back down with threats of swooping in and seizing Iran's nuclear sites could bring an end to the conflict. Throughout the conflict I got to see all sorts of deals I had worked on backfire - the domestic technology industry was subverted into producing drones for the special forces who used them to attack my faction, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. The domestic defense industry I had set up of course profited greatly from it, but that was probably part of the problem. North Korea backed out of the defense deal and ran off with the tech we had given them (and then had several failed missile tests). And then, right at the end of the game the Iranian president was assassinated by Russian Spetsnaz operatives. And at that point it was the end of the game, so we didn't get to see how the aftermath of that would play out. One interesting thing to note about this game...the guy who was handed the Vladimir Putin card for the Russian faction was wearing attending the convention in rather superb Captain America cosplay (Avengers era, not WW2 era), so there was definitely a fair bit of humor going on as well.
Following this I had...lets just call it lunch, but it was at about 4PM. I had a short break between the end of the NSDM game and my next event, so I went to the food trucks and got a lamb shwarma wrap before settling down into what certainly seems to be my usual eating spot - a corner of the nearby Pan American Plaza which commemorates the Pan American Games held in Indy in 1987. This break was also used to meet up with a listener who was at the convention this year (HI WILEY), something I hadn't managed to do in previous years. Seriously, more of you need to get to Gen Con so we can do some crazy SSR meetup event next year.
News @ 11
After lunch, I set off for my next event - an hour of playing the unreleased game called News@11. This game was released in a small batch a few years ago, but beyond that it isn't available...yet. A Kickstarter for a wider print of the game will start in the middle of September, so keep your eyes out for it. The game itself kind of plays like Cards Against Humanity...only a fair bit more family-friendly. One player is the Lead Anchor who runs the game, while all the other players are Field Reporters. All the Field Reporters are given three cards with two blank spaces on them mad-lib style - the cards also each have one additional word printed on them. The players go through and fill one of these spaces by taking suggestions from the other players and picking which one they like best, and then all the cards go into a pile which is shuffled and then one card is dealt to each reporter. The game then does the morning news, with a prompt like "Political," "Home & Beauty," or "Sportsball" being assigned to each Field Reporter. The Field Reporter then has to use the word filled in on their card and the word printed on their card to make up a news story. For example (card words highlighted) here is a story for Home & Beauty: A new craze is sweeping the nation - live bears are being sold on Kickstarter for the purposes of weight loss. This step then repeats for the Afternoon News and the Evening News with each phase adding an additional card to each of the players. The cards should be shuffled between each news phase, but even with that shuffling we kept getting some of the same cards, which led to some hilarious stories developing through the game. Overall it’s a fun party game, the kind that would work well with a group of friends who like inside jokes.
CMP 2017-04 Cash Out
A quick note about that title: this is how Shadowrun missions are designated. First you get three letters which denote what kind of mission it is. CMP means Convention Missions Pack, SRM means Shadowrun Mission (official living campaign season content), PM means Prime Runner (basically high-level character games), and SMH which is used for the yearly April Fool's day 'special missions.' 2017 is the year - convention missions are always tagged by the year they are released in, and -04 means it is the 4th mission in the pack. Convention missions are released in packs of 8, which actually consist of two separate mission groups that are released in those two separate groups when they are printed. For example, 2016 had CMP2016-01 through 08. 01 through 04 are the BBQ Bob series, where you are in Kansas City working for a Fixer named, predictably enough, Barbecue Bob. 05 through 08 are the World Tour series, where the mission to Casablanca that opens the series causes you to draw enough heat that you have to spend a few weeks travelling the world (Cape Town, Mumbai, and Singapore) getting involved in various corporate shenanigans for the attention to die down.
Its kinda weird playing the last mission in a series as the first mission you play in it, but that's what happens sometimes. Cash Out has the runners being hired by a Mrs Johnson to destroy an R&D black site that her company has in the Miami area. For reference, Miami in the Shadowrun setting is part of the Caribbean League). The black site is performing illegal medical research and she wants it eliminated before it can compromise the company. The job was to destroy the equipment, erase the data, and eliminated the lab staff. The site itself was located in a seedy part of Miami, inside an old gentlemen's club (the "Sassy Strumpet"), and had relatively light staffing. It should have been an easy job - but of course nothing ever is. The party had no rigger, so our first problem was getting transportation, the decker ended up buying a van with their personal money in order to fix this issue, this would become a running theme at the convention which eventually culminated in me just turning myself into a backup driver - on Saturday I gave up and bought off my Accident Prone quality (which was decreasing my competency at driving), boosted my driving skills, and bought an SUV. Our ability to recon the facility was limited due to the signal blocking paint on it, and the facility had a minor magic ward on it. Since we needed to do the job ASAP, we just raided the building via the loading dock after buying a van for transportation purposes.
Inside the facility, one guard was bleeding out, the other was knocked out, the three technicians were all knocked out, and the lead researcher was missing. Now, my character is an ex-NAN Special Forces soldier who was a medic for the military, so his first instinct is to stabilize the one that was bleeding out…but honestly this may have created more trouble for myself in the long run. The character also follows a strict code of honor, the Akichita Code. It’s a relatively simple enough code to follow: Never show fear. Challenge your strength against worthy foes. Do not allow yourself or your loved ones to fall into decadence or slothful behavior. Never harm the weak or innocent. Oh. Right. That last bit. Yeah, I knew that one was gonna be trouble, but I decided it was worth it when I built the character. I ate some Karma loss after we had interrogated the lab staff, with my character wandering off to destroy the lab equipment, cringing every time he heard a gunshot coming from the room we found the staff in. Lab equipment destruction was accomplished via plugging my laser rifle into the lab's power system and using the lab's power to destroy the lab - this became a running theme for the convention as well.
After the...grisly work...of the rest of the team, some of the team members who had played other missions in the Miami series already contacted a local fixer (AJ) who was able to give us the contact info for the team that hit the facility. He wouldn't give us details on them or why they hit the facility, and we had to bribe the contact info out of him. We called up the other team and managed to hold them on the phone long enough to trace their location to a no-tell motel (The "Bambi Inn"). Unfortunately, by the time we got to the motel they had already fled the location and left their room trapped, with their sniper on overwatch duties. The door to the room was trapped with a manaball which almost took down several party members, and I narrowly avoided getting one-shotted by the sniper by spending some edge to dodge the shot. We weren't able to take down the sniper before he fled, but we did wreck his sniper rifle pretty thoroughly by bricking its electronics and melting the scope (I was hoping to hit him with the shot, but my desire for laser fire refracting through the scope into his eye was not fulfilled).
Inside the hotel room, we found the imprints of an address on a pad of paper, evidently the other team had not covered their tracks well enough. The address led to a location in the warehouse district, where we were able to ambush the team by hacking the loading bay doors so we could enter. This let us bypass the traps on the more normal entrance so we could face the opposing team unhindered. A gunfight erupted, with several drones entering the mix as well before we silenced our opposition. They had attempted to grenade us early on but I managed to shoot the flash grenade with my laser and set it off in mid-air which meant it hurt them as much as it hurt us. Thankfully for me, the missing lead researcher had fired back at us - he was apparently the one who had hired the other team to extract him. His goal was to report his own employers' misdeeds to the Corporate Court, which was a noble aspiration - but the fact that he had shot at me meant he was not week, and his status as an innocent was dubious at best so there were no conflicts with my code of honor when he fell during the firefight. With the warehouse cleared of hostiles, we called up Mrs Johnson and reported success, and were wired our payment almost immediately. I didn't do any character advancement after this mission mainly because I was tired, so I banked the rewards and called it a day.
At this point it was 2200 so we headed back to the hotel to call it a night. Several of us hadn't eaten a proper dinner, so we fired up GrubHub and ordered gyros at about 2230. Everyone was pretty tired, so we all went to sleep before midnight.
18 August (Con Day 2)
Day two of the convention opened much like day one, with me eschewing breakfast since breakfast was no longer free at the hotel (the hotel changed brands during the intervening year between Gen Con 49 and Gen Con 50). The first event of the day was another Shadowrun game at 0800.
CMP 2017-02 Double or Nothing
This mission opened with a virtual meeting in the Denver Library. In the Shadowrun setting, Denver is this weird, semi-independent city divided up between the four powers of North America - the Native American Nations (NAN - it includes the Sioux Nation where my character is from), the United Canadian and American States (southern Ontario and all US states east of the great plains and north of Tennessee (except Virginia) plus Seattle (long story)), the Confederation of American States (half of Texas, all of Okahoma south of the panhandle, half of Iowa, Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida north of Miami), and Aztlan (the wholly-owned national subsidiary of Aztechnology that used to be known as the nation of Mexico (though I think right now Aztlan is still evicted from Denver per order of the great dragon Ghostwalker (long story)) . Basically, think of Denver like Berlin during the Cold War. Consequently, it’s a location full of intrigue, ripe for use as a long-term campaign setting...and you pretty much never go there aside from a few missions. Its notorious as a data haven, providing safe harbor for all sorts of deckers, technomancers, and other malcontents. Anyway, the virtual meeting was with the same Mrs Johnson who had given us the previous run. This job was to hit a manufacturing facility in Miami - her employers want a 1-week delay in their production, and we were given 3 days to accomplish this. We had to use a local fixer, AJ, for anything we needed since there was a pre-existing deal between her and him. The pay was to be 10,000 Nuyen, with a 1,000 Nuyen bonus for every day that we accomplished the job ahead of the deadline. Naturally, our instinct was to complete the job on the first day.
The facility in question was a Mitsuhama Computer Technologies (commonly known as MCT) site that produced biomonitors and other cheap cyberware. The site is completely automated, with the few personnel that run it controlling it from a nearby MCT arcology. All supplies and finished products are sent via a local shipping company, and the facility is known to be protected by a high-threat response team located at the aforementioned arcology. To make matters worse, the facility is horribly polluted, and is a confirmed MCT Zero Zone. Zero Zone is a MCT concept regarding defensive operations - no prisoners are taken, the policy is to shoot first and never ask questions, and Zero Zone facilities will use any and all available means to ensure protection is complete. Magic wards, paranormal critters, riggers remotely piloting drones, and so on.
We meet up with AJ and he provides us with the explosives we need to delay the facility's work, along with a demolitions drone to place the explosives since we have nobody with competency in them in the team. Since our goal is to finish the job on the first day we don't do as much research on the facility and instead go right to stealing a van from the company that supplies the facility. The whole team gets concealed by the mage's invisibility spells for this step since we were stealing the van from a highway on-ramp. We set up in ambush near the ramp, with me finding a good vantage point to snipe the van's antenna from (the vans are remotely piloted). Once the fan was off the grid it coasted to a stop and we broke into it, revealing another problem - apparently the vans were configured to shut off and remain shut off if they lost wireless signal. Our technomancer worked around the problem and we headed off to a warehouse to fence the random collection of steel bars and silicon wafers in the back of the van while we wiped the vehicle of all tracking hardware.
Transportation secured, we rolled up to the MCT facility and used what could only be described as 'matrix fuckery' to attempt to get through the gun turret protected gate. This doesn't go as planned, so we instead ram the gate to get inside as the technomancer delays the automated security system's response. We cut our way through the building's loading dock pretty easily and take down the drones inside the facility without much problem - one of the mages had a spell that basically wrecks drone sensors, so it was basically like shooting devil rats from a well-protected rat-proof bunker. The pollution wasn't much of an issue since we are all experienced runners and wear respirators or gas masks as a matter of tradition. With the drones down, we wreck as much of the computer systems as we can while the demolitions drone plants the explosives. Once the explosives were placed, we fled the facility before the high threat response team could arrive, completing the job with minimal danger and maximum pay - the best way to finish a run. After this run I increased my magical abilities, initiating to Grade 2 and grabbing an ability that lets me ignore penalties to combat skills and physical skills like running, jumping, climbing, and so on. More importantly, this also lets me ignore some of the penalties for making called shots - which is kind of a big deal since my character revolves around called shots and actually has to make one whenever possible.
The shadowrun game ran late, so I had to bolt pretty quickly once we wrapped it up. There was no time for a proper lunch since I had to basically walk the farthest possible distance between two events at the convention that there could be. NSDM is normally at a hotel closer to the convention center, but that hotel is renovating their meeting spaces so instead NSDM was at a different, farther hotel. While on the run from Shadowrun to NSDM I swung by an Auntie Anne's in Circle Center Mall, a shopping mall built into the buildings that the skyway from the convention center to the Embassy Suites goes through. I snagged an order of pretzel nuggets and ate them while continuing my journey.
NSDM Cold War Game: Korea Revisited
Yeah...ignore that name, we kinda didn't pay any attention to Korea during the game. Like the say, the best laid plans of game designers never survive contact with the players. This year's Cold War game started in 1959, and the player factions were the United States, the People's Republic of China, the USSR, and (in a first for a Cold War game) the United Kingdom. I was randomly assigned to the United Kingdom, and represented the Crosland Wing of the Labour Party. Now, 1960s Labour Party goals line up pretty much with my own, so this was relatively easy to keep in mind throughout the game. Unfortunately, Labour was not the party in power at this point, so we faced an uphill battle to do anything right from the get-go. I was assigned Shadow Minister of Defence. Well, more specifically I volunteered for it - not because I have prior experience as a Defence player in NSDM (which I do), but because one of my faction's personal goals was to cut the budget of the Ministry of Defence. "Wait, grabbing that position seems counter-intuitive!" you say? Well, that is true, but accepting that assignment meant I had more influence over the Ministry of Defence's budget - I actually did manage to accomplish this goal by diverting funding from the MoD to what turned into the United Kingdom's joint space program with the United States. My approach to the Ministry of Defence during play could be summed up as "cut the army, cut the air force, keep the navy where it is, and boost deterrence (i.e., nukes)."
Unfortunately, as the opposition, we had very little ability to do anything - we were excluded from any kind of budget or policy discussions right from the get go - we found out pretty quickly this was because the head of the opposition had rejected an invitation from the Prime Minister to include the opposition in budget talks. At this point we (Labour) basically rejected our own leadership and began to cut backroom deals with more moderate members of the Tories (Conservatives) to find support for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. We were making headway at this, especially when numbers came out showing that the UK's economy had shrunk. However, all that headway meant nothing since about halfway through the game the USSR started to make military moves - first in the Pacific, and followed by an abrupt shift towards the end of the game towards Europe. They launched a sudden invasion of Finland right after Finland had been invited to join NATO, and there were a few tense minutes as all of us waited to see if Finland had actually joined NATO before the invasion - since that would have immediately led to a shooting war with everyone.
It was about this time that we learned that the Prime Minister had been given early warning of the USSR's moves by the US Ambassador to the UK - the USSR was going to strike either Finland or Poland, and the Prime Minister had chosen to think that Poland was the target. I know, I know, Poland was a Warsaw Pact nation and the player should have known this, don't ask. Immediately after this incident, MI6 learned that the US Ambassador to the UK was being arrested in the US and being charged with treason - apparently he was a spy for the Soviet Union. At this point we ran out of time and the game ended with the USSR drawing back from Finland and Finland officially joining NATO after the 'border skirmish' ended.
My notable actions during this game include negotiating a trade deal with the People's Republic of China to improve their agriculture and light industry in return for them making no moves on Hong Kong or Taiwan. Nobody really paid any attention to Korea except the US faction, and nothing really happened in Korea aside from the usual back and forth bluster until the end of the game. Towards the end of the game there was a commando raid on South Korea's presidential residence which left the president 'unable to fulfill his duties' so the military stepped in to stabilize the situation. Naturally, the military blamed North Korea, but the staff running the game placed a lot of emphasis on the general in charge of the 'stabilizing force' spending a lot of time maintaining his shiny helmet and pinning a lot of new medals on himself. Pretty much everyone assumed there was just a coup in South Korea, but we didn't have any time to look into it in any detail. Additionally, there was a military coup in the USSR near the end of the game which ousted Khrushchev and installed Brezhnev, but we didn't get to see how this would play out since we were out of time.
The game was packed this year, and if I had one gripe it would be the fact that the venue change forced the NSDM coordinators to pack 4 player cells into a space about the size that they would normally only put two allied cells. We (the UK faction) had to set up shop in the room right next to the China players, so there was a lot of 'unintentional espionage' going on since everyone could easily hear what the other factions were up to.
After NSDM I had just about enough time to get some food from Island Noodles, a hawaiian-style yakisoba outlet that travels to various large venues to serve food. They're a repeat participant in the Gen Con food trucks and are very popular. I snagged an order of their vegetable noodles and ate it on the way to my next seminar. In the afternoon I had two seminars, an Industry Insider panel on how to write and build mysteries for books or RPGs - which I can't talk about since that would spoil the mysteries I may or may not be building for my players to solve. After that I had the yearly Unknown Armies panel. Unknown Armies is another one of those games that I have simply because I love the lore in it, I've never been able to get a group to actually play a game of it. It’s an urban occult game, the latest edition of which is still in the process of being released, and it is best described as "an occult game about broken people conspiring to save the world."
CMP 2017-03 Let it Ride
This is definitely not a normal run by any means. Let it Ride is another job in Miami, hired by Mrs Johnson to break into the apartment of a corporate executive to find blackmail-worthy dirt on him. We were not allowed to fabricate evidence or produce evidence, it had to be actual, pre-existing dirt. The target in question was a Mr Kensei Hansho, employed by Streamline Life. He was married, with two children, and we were not allowed to cause any harm to the family. Naturally, the best time of day to look into this was in the middle of the day. We were able to hack our way into the apartment building he lived in and create fabricated access cards so we could get in and get into his apartment. We didn't find anything of note in the apartment until we found a hidden safe, which contained some medical records from 15 years ago along with the commcode for a street doc named Hemlock.
With this lead in hand, we departed from the apartment building as I used my medical knowledge to look through the records. It turned out they weren't really records, it was actually a genetic workup supposedly of Kensei Hansho, which lead to about 30 minutes of us getting derailed onto trying to figure out what exactly it was. 15 years ago from the current Shadowrun date was 2062 - more commonly known as the "Year of the Comet" since it was the year that Halley's Comet returned. More notably, it was the year that there was a sudden surge in the appearance of Changelings, metahumans who suddenly manifested unclassified meta-characteristics like gills, photosynthetic skin, and octopi for heads (don't ask). So our new theory was that Hansho was actually a changeling, or was related to one (which would be a source of great shame for someone with ties to a Japan-based megacorp - don't ask, Japan got all obsessed with 'human purity' for a while in Shadowrun).
We tracked down Hemlock to the old barbershop that she ran a clinic out of, and after a 'donation' to her operation she spilled the beans on the report - it was indeed of Hansho, but it had been drawn up as part of the process of making a clone. More specifically, to make a clonal hybrid of Hansho and his favorite artist, a clone which was being passed off as the artist's son. Now that we had the dirt, we just needed proof, which we figured we could get from Mr Saint, the money lender that fronted the money for the whole project. He worked out of a club called Equilibrium, so we caught him right as he was getting ready to leave for the day. At this point we were actually running out of playtime, so I decided on a bit of a gambit since we already knew that Mr Saint had the data we needed on his cyberdeck and I didn't want to risk it getting damaged in a firefight. As we walked in and saw Mr Saint getting ready to leave with his bodyguards, I quickly drew my laser pistol and blasted a shot right past Mr Saint as a warning shot - my goal was to intimidate him into not starting a fight and just giving us the information we wanted in return for us not killing him. Surprisingly, the gambit worked - he walked away alive, and we walked away alive with the data we needed to get paid. The pay wasn't much, only about 5,000 Nuyen which meant I walked away with barely any pay since I had paid for the 'donation' to Hemlock's clinic out of pocket - but pay is pay.
After this, it was once again 2200 and time to go back to the hotel. I had actually ordered my dinner for delivery to the hotel ahead of time this night so that I could order something that wouldn't be open when I get back. Shortly after I got back, an order of lamb vindaloo arrived, along with some garlic naan and vegetable pakora. With day 2 of the convention complete, I ate some food, saved the rest for consumption later on, and went to sleep.
19 August (Con Day 3)
The 19th was a Saturday, and I was once again up at 8AM for another early-morning Shadowrun game with only one of the two other Shadowrun players in my group (the other one was off at a different event).
CMP 2017-08 Farming the Shadows
By the ghost this run was hilarious. This is easily the breakaway hit of this year's convention, just like last year and SRM 07-04 Do No Harm, but for a completely different reason from that run's "be a terrible person" nature. Farming the Shadows opened with a trip to meet Mr Johnson in a high-end steak resturaunt in downtown Columbus, Ohio for an early-morning meet. The Johnson, one Mr Joseph Fujioka, a tall Japanese elf who wore Zoe suits, had rented the entire place for this meet. Real filet mignon was served, a rarity for shadowrunners accustomed to processed soy and whatever they could get from a Stuffer Shack. The job was a straitforward one - data retrieval from a covert corporate R&D site located outside of Columbus, and the handoff of that data to one of Joseph's contacts. It was a short-duration job, the deadline was 5AM the next day so we had about 24 hours to complete it. And that's about where the run stopped being normal.
This R&D site was located on a farm, with the entrance hidden inside the barn. The farm was Astero Farms, an 8-hectare grass-raised cattle and rabbit farm that was a family-run institution until it was bought up by TyzerVito Medical a CAS-based firm (remember them?). According to our research, the farm was part of their health food portolio. A quick call by one of the runners to a local hotel owner contact got us in touch with one of their former customers who told us that the meat quality had drastically dropped once TyzerVito took over. Apparently they were still selling meat that was claimed to be from the farm, but it was actually relabeled lower-quality meat imported from Aztlan. A few more calls got us information that the farm was supposedly a research farm that now does genetic engineering work.
Once again we had no rigger, or even anyone with a vehicle this time, so we rented a 2056 Ford Econovan (Club Version with all-around windows) which was in pretty bad shape. Having secured transportation, we left the meet to go pick up the van and were approached by a local investigative reporter, Danielle Collings, who was working on a story about magically-talented teenagers that had gone missing from a local club in Downtown. A few of the runners had worked with her before, so they assured us she was a good source of information. We promised to tell her any kind of story we got.
Driving out of town, we arrived at the farmhouse for a quick survey during the day. Our technomancer spotted a few smartguns in the farmhouse, but other than that there was no visible matrix activity - the facility was truly off the matrix as we had been told in the briefing. We drove off for a bit, and swung back around near dusk. Now there were two farmhands visible, along with an old woman petting a dog while she sat on the farmhouse's porch. The more eagle-eyed of us realized immediately that the people were actually drones. Our breaking & entering expert hopped out of the car and made his way up to the gate, where he unlocked the simple padlock on it but was confronted by one of the drone-people. The drone didn't get much of a chance to react since a quick burst of gunfire from our car obliterated it once our presence there was exposed. The Technomancer also bricked all the the drone's guns in short order.
An earth spirit appeared inside the van and proceeded to do…very little of anything, since we kept resisting its attempt to use the Fear power on us. I fought off the spirit with my knives, while the other party members took out the drones. And that's about when things started to get crazy. The dog charged towards and leaped into the van, the cows began to stampede towards us, and bunny rabbits suddenly hopped out of the fields. The rabbits leaped up and attacked us with razor-sharp teeth (which were actually hand razor implants). Oh, and the rabbits were all on a drug called Kamikaze which makes them into battle-hungry berserkers. We learned quite quickly that these cybernetic rabbits were far more deadly than they first appeared, because when one was cleaved in twain by the troll's axe…the rabbit promptly exploded with the force of a frag grenade. It turns out that whatever deranged corporate program that created these critters also had implanted cortex bombs in them! To make matters worse, two of them had made their way into the van. One was thrown out the back and shot in mid-air by gunfire, while the other one was kicked out of the van and right next to the charging cows. The plan was to have the rabbit land in front of the cows and get stampeded, but instead it landed next to them - however the falling damage was enough to slay the cybernetic beast of fluffy doom. The cows had already been zapped several times with ball lightning by our mage, so the detonation of the creature of furred, long-eared doom took down the cows as well (which turned out to also be cybernetically-enhanced). The dog was dealt with by a grisly slash to the neck by one of my knives - don't hate me dog lovers, because this dog was chromed and drugged to the gills…and I think it probably had cybernetic gills too. Another Earth Spirit was located up near the farmhouse, but it was dealt with via concentrated blasts of automatic weapons fire.
Finally making our way to the barn now that all the obvious threats were dealt with, we found that the barn was filled with more Kamikaze Rabbits and Cybersteers, which were all dealt with in short order now that we knew what we were dealing with. Inside the barn we found a hatch that led to an elevator which took us deep underground to a warded basement, where we were greeted by a flamethrowing-wielding NeoNET Juggernaut drone. The drone didn't have much time to do anything since automatic weapons fire obliterated it, hit the fuel tank, and created a general mess of things. Once that was dealt with, we found the ransacked offices of a Dr Zao, MD - a name which scared the crap out of several of the runners. It turns out that Dr Zao was an Azzie doctor specializing in the interactions of magic and cybernetics…a portfollio that just screamed "cyberzombie research" to us experienced shadowrunners. Nearby, we found several holding cells, one of which contained a young, haggard-looking elven woman who somewhat matched the appearance of Sylvie, one of the missing girls. Her head was half-shaved and tattooed with the number 30, and my character's prior experience as a military doctor allowed him to pick up on the fact that she had undergone numerous cyberware surgeries. The mage used assensing to determine that she did indeed have numerous deltaware-grade (i.e. expensive and hard to get) cybernetic implants, enough to take her from a competent mage to a burned-out mage. Our technomancer thankfully was actually a former Otaku from before Crash 2.0 so he had a datajack that proved to be handy. Using some social skills and my doctor-experience, we talked Sylvie into letting him connect to her datajack. Once he did so he was able to find the full extent of her cybernetics, she had numerous high-grade implants RFID trackers, and more disturbingly - another goddamn cortex bomb. Through some clever programming he managed to switch the cortex bomb into a way that it could only be reactivated by plugging into Sylvie's datajack again, and he fried the RFID trackers as well. While Sylvie hung back with the Technomancer the rest of us delved deeper into the lab. We found a surgical lab which looked rather grisly, and inside it was an enemy team consisting of two drones, a decker who was wired into a non-wireless host with a stack of datacards in front of him…and more disturbingly, a full-body cyborg who was clearly a cyberzombie.
Combat erupted, with the decker getting shredded by automatic weapons fire before he had a chance to do anything, a fact that would later mean we were able to retrieve all the data instead of just some of it. The drones did manage to shoot at us with their flamethrowers before they were taken out as well. The cyberzombie proved to be more trouble due to its heavy armor and damage resistance, but it was eventually taken down through the combined efforts of all of the team.
While we didn't actually get to do the next fight due to running out of time at the game table, we did find out what was in the next room when the GM narrated the next fight for us. In the heart of the lab was a grisly chamber which was clearly used for cyberzombie creation. A blood spirit was there, along with a cyberzombie made from a Dzoo-Noo-Qua, a troll infected by HMHVV Strain I (the Human-Metahuman Vampiric Virus, responsible for making all sorts of grisly near-undead critters). And of course, that’s where Dr Zao was found as well. Through a pitched battle we managed to take them all out and flee the facility with Sylvie. Once we were up top we were greeted by a beat-up van loaded with Purity League members who were there to deliver another elf for the experiments. Needless to say, a group that consisted of a troll, two elves, an orc, a dwarf, and human who followed a code of honor that could be boiled down to "don't be a dick," wasn't exactly going to let Purity League members drive off alive.
After exterminating the racist pricks, we handed Sylvie over to Danielle so she could be reported as 'found' without us having to interact with law enforcement. And of course, we gave Danielle a story of a grisly research lab that was creating cybernetic berserkers from humans and animals - it wasn't the complete truth but we didn't want to hand over any information about cyberzombies to anyone except the client. We uploaded the data to Kori & Kasai, Joseph's local hacker contacts, got paid, and went off to go drink until we could forget how deadly rabbits could be.
After this game, the two of us headed to the food trucks to snag some grub. We decided on Thai food…and then stood in line for a very long time. We finally got our food at quarter of 1PM, which meant it was time to head back to the other side of the convention center for our next Shadowrun game. We ended up eating lunch at the game table - I got some spicy basil chicken, which I ordered as a 5 on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being not spicy and 5 being spicy. It was actually what I was expecting from a 5, with a slow-build burn that came from both chili seeds and chili oil which soaked into the rice.
CMP 2017-05 The Heart of it All
So before this game started, I had gotten so fed up with our repeated transportation problems that I did something about it. I spent some karma to buy off my character's Accident Prone quality (a negative quality that impairs his driving and piloting ability), bought a Nissan Hauler (an cargo SUV because driving a van in 2077 means you stick out like a sore thumb - wageslaves associate vans with shadowrunners).
Receiving another call from Joseph, we found ourselves out at an airport for a briefing this time. Joseph's boss, a 'hotel manager' (read: Yakuza Boss) by the name of Takuma Irota, was in a serious pickle - his son, Alexander Frost, had been kidnapped a Triad-affiliated gang known as the Bad Boys. He had been grabbed as a secondary target, having been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and of course Mr Irota wanted him safe. Joseph has a contact within the Bad Boys, but they've recently gone dark, so he wants us to investigate. The clock was ticking, so we hopped in my newly-purchased SUV and made our way to Triad territory.
While on the way, we did some research into the Bad Boys and the boss's son. Danielle Collings (the reporter from the previous job) was able to tell us about the Bad Boys, who were associated with every form of illegal vice imaginable…and organlegging. We knew that the Boss's son was an up-and-coming musician, so our group's Face (a failed reality trideo star by the name of K Paris) called up her agent and learned that the son usually hangs out with Ziggy Zag, a popular rock star in the Columbus area. Additionally, while we were on our way there Joseph called us with an update - Buddha had contacted him, but the call was abruptly cut off. The call was traced to Uncle Woo's Dry Cleaning in Bad Boys territory, so that was our first stop. The face went in to create a distraction out front by claiming she was there to pick up a non-existent expensive dress, while our covert operative snuck in the back and looked around. It turned out that there was nothing inside the dry cleaner, so we went outside to think of a new plan. This was when we met Jossepie Jules, a 'street accountant' who had both information and items for sale. One pair of shoes and an RFID Eraser later and we had the location of the Bad Boys' hideout in the area - the house right behind the dry cleaners.
We surrounded the house as casually as we could, with the mage removing the gang members assembled in the backyard in short order. The covert operative was invisible thanks to a spell from the mage, and he managed to sneak inside without much incident. The rest of us were out front when we were taken by surprise by a small green dragon, a plant spirit. We all failed to resist its fearful nature and ended up fleeing in terror, which for some of us meant running pretty far away. By the time I had managed to get back up to the house, the combat was pretty much over. The invisible covert operative created all kinds of havoc on the ground floor and we managed to take out the reinforcements that had come down from the top floor of the building. In the basement we found Ziggy Zag and Buddha. We patched the two of them up and learned that the gang had learned who the boss's son was and had taken him to "The Needleman" so that he would be killed and the body never found. We investigated The Needleman but didn't find much - he's probably a mystic adept, and is used by the gangs in the area as a tattoo artist. Beyond that, he also disposes of bodies for people and was rumored to be using the corpses in some quest for 'perfection.'
We tracked the Needleman down to his base of operations, an old bar in a warehouse district. Some initial magic reconnaissance revealed an extremely strong mana barrier in the back of the building, which would pose a problem for us magic-types, plus a spirit of Man hiding in the Astral in the parking lot. We sent the mage to go mess with the spirit (who did not realize that anyone could see it) while the rest of us went to go cut our way in through another entrance that had been welded shut. While we were doing so, 4 gang members swarmed out of the main entrance and attacked us, but they were taken down with little difficulty. A troll with a bow followed them out and was readying to attack our mage...but he was dealt with in a most squick-worthy fashion. You see, I'm playing a called shot build - I don't focus on raw damage as much as I do hitting specific targets and causing debilitating effects such as blindness, nausea, knockdown, and slowdowns. There's also one called shot that I hadn't gotten a chance to use yet, mainly due to how...gratuitous it is - genitals. It doesn't cause much damage, and most of its effects could are negated by a Troll's high resistance pool, but it has one additional effect that was too good to ignore. No matter what, if the shot deals any damage, the target falls to the ground and rolls around in pain for a length of time dependent on how much damage they took. So, one well-aimed shot to the junk from my laser later, and the Troll was singing soprano while rolling around in pain. We went and put him out of his misery later on.
With the troll out of the equation, we finished off the spirit in the parking lot and burst in to find no sign of the Needleman, who had fled in the commotion. However, inside the mana barrier protected back room we finally found the boss's son, nailed to a chair in what could only be described as a BDSM lair that looked like it was also used for disturbing magic rituals involving human sacrifice. Conveniently, there was a power outlet in the room, so I plugged in my trusty Ares MP Laser Rifle and once again blasted apart the contents of a room using someone else's power bill. We treated the son's wounds on the way to the handoff point, got paid, and wet about our merry way.
Every year we do a group dinner during the actual convention, in addition to the one we do at Shapiro's the day before the convention. This year it was at Mikado, a Japanese restaurant about a block from the convention center. This place has a bit of infamy for two of us in the group - in 2008 we were the only people on the convention trip and we managed to rack up a pretty sizable bill there, my parents continue to remind me of this as an inside joke every August. While we did go over the size of that bill this year, there were 5 of us this time instead of two and we all actually have jobs now (we were in college back in 2008) so it wasn't an issue. Much sushi was eaten, alcohol was consumed, and a good time was had. However, next year we're going to go to somewhere a bit farther away from the convention center since the place was packed.
NSDM 2017 Global Hotspots Seminar and Q&A
In this year's installment of the "things to worry about" seminar, we discussed a wide range of topics. North Korea, Iran, climate change, civil unrest, racial tension, the cheeto-hued elephant in the room, the election itself, the EU, Brexit, Russia, the Makron Presidency and French issues in general, the refugee crisis, Syria, and even more topics. This is actually a really enjoyable event since you can get a lot of different viewpoints represented at it.
20 August (Con Day 4 and Indianapolis -> (Delaware)
Sunday was the first day of the trip where I could really sleep in…until 8AM. I got up and ate my breakfast, polishing off the leftover vindaloo from the 18th and the leftover latkes from the 16th in the process. After we all packed up and loaded up the cars, the three people with no Sunday events headed for home while the other two of us headed off for one more Shadowrun game.
Shadowrun CMP 2017-06 "A Friend in Need"
The team received another random call with an offer for work, specifically it was another call from Jonathan - he wanted us to pick up a package for him from someone at the semi-regular assembly of Shadowrunners and people who sell to them in the Columbus area. When we got to the location, we got called again with a cancellation and a new high-priority job. One of Jonathan's contacts needed an extract, he was under fire from a hostile team. We rolled over to the location and engaged a troll street sam (with a minigun), a decker (somewhere - we never did find him), and a mage. The troll's minigun scattered the initial 3 of us pretty effectively but 3 additional players arrived at the table and rolled up to provide additional firepower. The troll proved to be a pain in the hoop, mainly due to its high damage soak, but our mages eventually took it down with lightning balls and powerbolts. The decker's drones were taken down via lightning balls, and the mage fled before being taken down, but not before he triggered cortex bombs on the troll, the decker, and the troll's minigun because we're shadowrunners and not allowed to have nice things.
With the combat cleared, we retrieved our extraction target, a covert operative by the name of Zephyr. Reporting success, we received instructions to take him to a nearby squatter community called R3FUGE, where we helped out the locals with repairing a rocket launcher, fixed a damaged generator, and treated the injuries of those in the infirmary. Zephyr handed his data in to Kori and Kasai, a pair of local deckers who we had worked with before, and then went to go into hiding. Kori and Kasai then handed us a new job - kill the fixer who had sold out Zephyr, one Valentine Korchenko. Korchenko owned several bunraku parlors in the area and did a lot of work for the Russian mob, and he was known to be working closely with TyzerVito who was the company that he had sold Zephyr out to. Needless to see, my character wasn't amused to hear that company's name again.
The job had some specific requirements - not only did we need to kill Korchenko, we needed to retrieve data from his cyberdeck for Kori and Kasai. Thankfully this would be relatively easy to do, his cyberdeck was inside his skull. However, the job also required that we kill Korchenko in the Zone Matrix, a hot new nightclub that he owned. Additionally, we had to do it soon, and we were instructed to not harm any of the patrons of the club or the club itself in the process - a tall order for a group that consisted of 2 combat mages, two street samurai, a face, and my stabby-shooty adept. Kori & Kasai were willing to provide the floorplans for the club and we set off to case the joint for preparation. While we were on the way there, I called up Danielle Collings once again to put her reporter skills to the test for more information about the club and its target demographic. As usual, I promised to pay her in a story lead to be delivered later. Additionally, while we were on the way to the club, we reached out to our most bizarre contact: Shadowhoof, a lesser centaur who lives among the Amish of the Neur Tag Dorf community outside of Seattle, and he's a huge fan of Shadowrunners. Once upon a time we had saved him and the Amish from a gang of centaurs called the "Bronies." I shit you not, this is an actual Missions-legal piece of content, SMH2015-01 'Friendship is Tragic,' the April Fool's Day mission from 2015.
Locating a door in the back that led to the kitchen, we formulated our plan of infiltration and attack. The face, the two mages, and myself would head in through the front door since we had the proper attire to get into a swanky establishment like this. Meanwhile, the two street samurai waited by the door to the kitchen waiting under an invisiblity spell cast by one of the mages. Once we had bribed our way inside, the Face caused an 'accidental food spill' by a waitress onto his suit and talked her into letting him into the kitchen so he could clean off the spill. Once in the kitchen, he did just that - and then went to the door to the outside and talked the guard into letting him out the back for a smoke. When the door was opened for him to head outside, the two waiting street samurai snuck inside. While the face went back in through the front door the group lured the guard away from the elevator to the VIP rooms upstairs and met up with the face in the elevator. Upstairs, we found the room that Victor was in, only to find out that he was in there with Ziggy Zags, the rock star we had rescued from certain death at the hands of the Bad Boys not long ago. Victor's razorgirl bodyguard attacked us immediately, but she was sent to the floor via a knife slash to the jugular from me and a stunbolt from one of the mages, leaving her there to bleed out while unconscious. Meanwhile, one of the still-invisible street samurai ambushed Victor by thrusting his cyberspurs right into Victor's chest, killing him instantly. We did the grisly deed of packing Victor's head into a conveniently-placed trashbag from the nearby trashcan and talked Ziggy into helping us get out of the place without making much of a disturbance. This came in handy because right as we left the room to go to the elevator, the security mage on staff confronted us and asked us why we up here and openly stated we were a problem. Ziggy Zag stepped up and talked the mage into believing that we were there to take him home.
After leaving the club, still in amazement that the escape plan had actually worked, we fled the premises in my Nissan Hauler SUV as casually as we could. We reported in and delivered the grisly plastic-bagged loot to a drone sent by Kori and Kasai, and got paid.
After talking to some of the Catalyst staff about possibly joining the Demo Team to run missions at Carnage on the Mountain (Killington, VT) and MEPACON (Scranton, PA), we headed back to the car which we had let in the hotel parking garage. We were on the road by 2:40 PM and headed to our first stop - a Steak 'n Shake who's exit we missed. We instead went to a different one along the route. Once upon a time we used to go to the Steak 'n Shake by the convention center, but we realized a while ago that was a terrible idea since it was always packed. I had a KitKat milkshake, a garlic steakburger, parmesan herb fries and a salad.
Getting back on the road around 1545, my friend drove for a bit while I worked on this writeup, before he needed a break and I took over driving his strange, tiny car called a "Prius" once again. I swear, I will never get used to driving cars that low to the ground. I drove until about 2100 or 2200 - seriously I can't remember what time we switched drivers again, he was asleep for most of that time I was driving. He took over driving after that, and around midnight we tracked down a Sheetz for whatever you call a meal your eat at 0000 that isn't from Taco Bell. Totally-Not-Fourthmeal consisted of a some crispy chicken snack wraps, a soft pretzel, and a banana smoothie. We finally made it to Northern Delaware around 0240, at which point we didn't even bother unpacking the car and just kind of passed out.
21 August (BWI -> MSS and Massena -> Lake Placid)
On the 21st I woke up around 9AM (oversleeping by about two hours) and had breakfast (homemade waffles). While getting ready to head out I apparently misplaced my car keys, and we were just about to write them off as a loss when I spotted them in the bottom of my backpack. How in the hell they made their way into there is beyond me, but crisis averted. We drove down to the BWI area and went to a Adamm's Airport Deli, local sandwich shop for lunch before going to the airport. I ate a Shrimp Po'boy and had a local favorite of mine - Old Bay seasoned potato chips.
The ticketing counter offered to take my heavy duffel bag to the gate, a decision I would come to regret in about an hour and a half. After the incident in MSS at the beginning of the trip I opted to take my dice bag out of my backpack and send it through with my pocket stuff and shoes, which led to some interesting looks from the TSA agents and an amusing conversation with one who had to inspect my laptops. I may have turned him into a Shadowrun fan! Remember folks, the best way to get through airport security without incident is to treat the TSA agents like people, because they're just regular folks like us.
After getting a ginger ale from a vending machine (…which gave me $3 of change in dimes), I arrived at the gate. There were some weight issues with the amount of luggage people were bringing, so I volunteered to leave my duffel bag behind for a day so a family with a young child could bring more of their luggage. This was when I found out that I couldn't get my work laptop out of my duffel bag since it had gone through checked baggage security and therefore nobody is allowed to go in it. While we were waiting to board I called into work to let my coworker know that tomorrow will be weird since I'll be needing the guest meetings laptop. What this means for my conference calls tomorrow I have no idea, but at least my email lives on the server and most of my important documents live in Dropbox or Google Drive instead of on my laptop.
We boarded late due to the baggage issues, but we were still able to get some good views of the eclipse. I'm still working on processing my eclipse photography, so it'll be a few more days before I see if I got any really good shots. I passed around my eclipse glasses to people on the plane who didn't have them so they could get a look as well. After arriving at MSS I talked with the local Boutique Air staff about getting my duffel bag back. I live too far away from the airport for them to drive it to me, so I was going to have to drive back out for it. I suspected that I wouldn't be able to drive out Tuesday due to work, so it was going to have to wait until Wednesday. After this, I hopped in my van, crossed my fingers that it would start - and thankfully it did. It is about a 1.75 hour drive back to home, and I extended this to about two hours by missing a few turns. Along the way I made a stop at a local ice cream stand for ice cream and grocery shopping (a dozen eggs), the day's flavor was butter pecan. After that I picked up some groceries and headed for home, then set about getting caught up with about a week of work emails that I had only been paying cursory attention to. At least, that was the plan - it turns out that the power outage at home on Friday had caused some shenanigans with my boot SSD, so I had to power cycle it to get it working again (which ate up about an hour).
22 & 23 August
The 22nd was just another work day, albeit one where I got in really late - I think all the lack of sleep from the previous week finally caught up with me and I slept through all my alarm clocks. I got a call in the afternoon that my duffel bag had arrived at the airport. The 23rd was a day off, so I added a trip to the airport to get the bag back to my errands for the day.