28th November 2020
It's a cold Saturday night in lockdown and I'm in my living room, logged on to Skype.
Matakishi's new campaign using the 'Wired Neon City' rules begins tonight.
Wired Neon Cities
Since lockdown 2 is still in full effect, we're still playing over Skype. This means that we're looking for another minimalist RPG that's easy to manage over video chat.
After a discussion, we've decided on a cyberpunk game.
For the game we've chosen Wired Neon City. The game is basically a hack of In Darkest Warrens and has mostly identical rules.
The magic rules have been removed and replaced with rules for augmentations and hacking, making this iteration of the rules slightly more complicated, that's not saying much though.
Characters choose from 6 classes and have 4 stats.
All actions are rolled against these stats by rolling a single six sided die. The higher the roll, the better.
There's not much more to add.
You can read about our adventures in In Darkest Warrens here.
Welcome to Neon City
Bill Harkleroad: Played by Mark.
A man with smooth moves, a smooth face and an even smoother voice. Didn't so much Kiss The Blarney Stone as bought it breakfast in the morning. A tailored suit and designer shades are deadly weapons in this operator's hands.
Koko: Played Michaela.
This greaser girl knows her way round a 3/8 wrench, or a fuel injection manifold, or a titanium transmission synchromesh or a... well you get the idea. If it's got moving parts, she can make it purr, climb or land on its feet.
N. 'Nox' Fluke: Played by Giro.
Doesn't talk about why he was disowned by a family with a (dis)reputable name. Lives one day at a time on his data-slab skills. The City of Electric Dreams may be his home, but the GLOWNET is his universe.
Trigger Mortis: Played by Kevin.
Cold-hearted and dead-eyed, Trigger always keeps one had close to the hilt of his carbon-folded nano-edged street-katana. As the name suggests, he's quick to solve problems in a very fast and very cutting manner.
The aircon had to work overtime pumping recycled stale air back into the over-packed elevated tram, a dull throbbing hum against the rattling carriage.
Once a point of pride in The City of Electric Dreams, now an outdated and overworked, graffiti painted testament to her decay.
It was mid-morning, rush hour had ended and the tidal wave of cheap suit wearing wage-monkeys had washed into their cubes. Only the malcontent, transients, gangers, unemployable and bargain hunters rode the tram.
Which were we? Take your pick.
The tram rolled into Shibuya-cho and stopped at our destination; Dogenzaka Hill. A shopping district with a schizophrenic personality, the gleaming, exclusive Chou-Nata Corporation Mall was stacked with high end designer boutiques that contrasted with the bustling street level family run shops and market stalls.
Somewhat unhappily; we now appreciated the tram's aircon, upon exiting the station unrelenting heat slapped us in the face like a gleeful, laughing street thug.
The surging crowd pulled us on to a block filled with street vendors loudly hawking their wares or blaring out throbbing music. Steamy open air food joints plying their noodles or burritos or pizza-slices.
But the colourful sights, sound and smells couldn't quite hide the boarded windows and faded façades in the background, or the overflowing trash cans on the street level.
Neon City in a nutshell.
Anywhere else we might've looked out of place, under this heat with our suspiciously bulging jackets, threadbare clothes and worn boots. In Neon City however, the well-to-do fashionista paid double to try and look this authentic.
One block over was Alison, our contact in the Chou-Nata Corporation Mall who owned one of the high end boutiques called Aisle 10.
Aisle 10 was a draw for the movers and the shakers, the great and the good, Alison's eye for the latest trends allowed her to rub shoulders with the most exclusive clientèle.
Meanwhile, her ear kept her in the loop, Aisle 10 drew in rumours and stories just as much as it did the fashion conscious. This made her a good source of work for people like us.
Aisle 10 was only half a block away when everything took a turn for the unexpected.
Our attention was drawn to a well dressed Chinese woman, she had come running out an old style antique shop. She was screaming, frantically looking up and down the street and shouting in Mandarin.
Bill knew the language and tried to calm her down but she kept frantically talking through her running mascara.
Bill turned to us and said it was her daughter, her daughter was gone, kidnapped!
Turns out her name was Xue Mi-Wu and she ran the antique shop; Xue's Antiques. Talking through Bill, she explained that twelve year old Woo Woo had been kidnapped only minutes ago.
She brandished a piece paper, a note left behind by the kidnapper. Bill looked at it and handed it over to us.
It was Russian and said 'Payback's a bitch - Vissi'.
Vissi was Mi-Wu's husband, they had divorced four years ago and Mi-Wu had gotten custody of Woo Woo. It looked like a pretty straightforward case of parental disgruntlement.
Time was ticking though, we needed to get on the trail of the kidnapper.
We got lucky, a small crowd had gathered around the commotion and a local had spotted Woo Woo being bundled into an air-cab by a particularly large suited man. The local had caught it all on his Kuaijing optic recorder, he ran through the footage and got us the air cab's license number - 7635685.
Neon City's air cab companies all still used lo-tech radio transmitters to move data and comms to their cab fleet and there was a transmitter tower close by.
Breaking into it was child's play, we now had access to their data relays.
I hard-wired my Nonohiki 212-4a heuristic data-slab into their system and jacked in. It was simple to clone one of their SysID's and access their database. 7635685 had just dropped their ride off on Chuo Street.
It was a short tram ride to Chuo Street, there was no time to lose.
Chuo Street was another schizophrenic shopping district. The upper district was home to Neon City's thriving music retail centre. It was also home to most of the city's augmentation clinics.
Meanwhile the gloomy lower level was mostly given over to love hotels, massage parlours and brothels.
It was the lower level for us! Sunlight barely penetrated this low into Neon City, placing it into an unending dimness, Rentacops rarely came this deep and it was a good place to avoid watching eyes, most joints had hired muscle watching their doors.
This part of Chou Street bustled, but in a strangely quiet way. Business was always busy, but no one announced their trade, no one needed to and avoiding eye contact was de rigueur on Chuo Street.
Checking around, no one looked anything like the suited man and there was definitely no twelve year old round here.
Further along Chuo Street was the only thing that caught our eye: a rustic looking mom-and-pop Russian eatery called The Potato Palace, a slim lead but our only one.
We scoped the joint out, deliveries were being made down a dimly lit unmaintained alley way. It was a possibly way in but in the end we decided on a different approach.
Strictly speaking, Neon City's municipal responsibilities lay with corporations that ran the city. Reality told a different story, they only cared when was profit involved, which is where we came in.
The Potato Palace was designed to look like a little bit of home - if you were Russian - but there was no disguising the cheap knock-off that it was. Bill strode in and loudly proclaimed that he was from The Department of Safety and Health and was here for an unannounced inspection.
Seconds later a nervous man came bustling out of some door. He told Bill that they were paid up for the month.
Bill was playing hardball and didn't miss a beat. He didn't care Bill told the nervous man, he also explained that I was here for a tax assessment.
Bill was on his A-game, the proprietor suspected nothing and gave me unfettered access to their computer.
As Bill distracted the staff with a flurry of imagined regulations, I sifted through their internal security footage, nothing, no one matching the description had come into The Potato Palace.
It was time to think laterally; I looked through all today's orders. Their last order was a delivery for five adult meals and one child meal, to room sixty-five in a nearby hotel; less than thirty minutes ago.
Another slim lead but what choice did we have? If this was correct; at least we knew that we had five targets on the sixth floor.
The hotel itself was fairly nondescript for Chuo Street, a good place to hide out - provided you didn't leave behind a sloppy paper trail.
A direct intervention was out of the question, we didn't know who these players operated for and we were outnumbered.
A quick check revealed a functional fire escape in the alley at the rear of the hotel, a way in?
Kevin was a Ngumatadi drone owned by Koko, a Ruoinha MKII spy-model to be precise, about the size of a box of matches.
Koko grabbed her control pad and powered Kevin up. With a jab at her slab, Kevin effortlessly buzzed upwards with the stealth of a housefly.
In a few moments Kevin was peering through the grime and dirt smeared window to room sixty-five from outside.
There were five adults and one child crammed inside a room too small for them, it was obvious they weren't there for long.
The men were large and clearly roided up, smartly dressed in Desullo suits and brandishing Prosya 7.62mm Kirzak rifles, they stunk of corporate security.
The girl matched the description of Woo Woo.
Koko fed the images to me, I ran facial recognition and we got a hit on one of them. They worked security for Oshin Amalgamated, out of their branch in the London Arcology. The question was why were they here, kidnapping a girl?
Somehow these corporate enforcers were linked to Vissi. It was time to look into Vissi.
Jacking into my data-slab, I flowed into the GLOWNET, a kaleidoscopic ocean of undulating data opened up before me, washed over me and pulled me into its currents. We became inseparable, where I ended and it began, no longer existed.
It was time to plunge deep.
Vissi Goneva, it turns out was a low-level exec at Oshin Amalgamated in London. It looked like he was misappropriating corporate assets for his own personal interest.
Still deeper I went and turned my focus on Oshin Amalgamated.
We knew they enforcers would be leaving soon. The return to London would be by air, so they would have to appear on a flight manifest somewhere. I hacked into the air transport providers and found nothing.
I did find a logged flight plan that listed a Oshin private jet arriving in Neon City yesterday.
Still not enough, so I turned to Oshin's own corporate servers.
These kinds of servers were well defended. But even the toughest rock can be overcome by the pounding ocean.
It took effort but I got in and I was floating there, in their data banks.
According to Vissi's emails, the enforcers were in Neon City on some sort of counter-hacking operation.
Before I could look any further into it, I detected a change in the data flow. Was some other user was prowling the server? I got my answer soon enough, the server was calling out a high priority alarm and their systems beginning to trace all users.
They didn't know I was there, but out there in the real world in a few moments they would begin tracing me. Time to exit.
Pulling the headjack plug from my brain was like pulling the plug from an old time bathtub. The data flow distorted and twisted into a whirling mess that drained away into darkness. I was out.
At almost the same time, as Koko watched, one of the goons in the hotel room got a phone call. A couple of gestures and four of them filed out of the room, their Kirzaks tucked under their drab khaki raincoats.
One enforcer had been left with Woo Woo. Trigger knew an advantage when one jumped up and down in front of him and stormed up the fire escape.
A call from Koko confirmed what I suspected. I stepped into the shadowy corner alley and watched. I had been traced to the vicinity of a GLOWNET access node and the corporate goons were coming my way. With their bulging overcoats, the four massive thugs strode into the street, looking left and right and searching for any camera that overlooked the street. If they got the data, it would be a couple of minutes before they possibly identified me.
Meanwhile, back at the hotel room, its window spider-webbed for a millisecond before bursting inward in a hundred jagged fragments as Trigger dived through boots first, katana in hand!
As the fragments bounced of the hotel room floor Trigger struck the enforcer, who stumbled backwards under the blow but stayed on his feet.
Levelling his rifle, the enforcer tagged Trigger with a before he could close on the Russian. Trigger ignored the pained and pounced.
On the street, it was time for me to move. It was badly timed though, while one of the enforcers searched footage, the remaining three were watching up and down the alley, then if only for the briefest moment I met the gaze of one of the brutish enforcers, it was enough.
As he called for his colleagues, I sprinted for the other end of the alley. there was only a couple of seconds lead as I bounded out and ducked behind a gaggle of tourists gawking at distractions provided by Chuo Street.
The enforcers streamed out looking left and right, I stayed low and mobile, those giant goons could never blend into a crowd on the city's street level like I could, so I managed to slip away.
Trigger was now locked in hand-to-hand combat. As they exchanged blows, Trigger landed a couple of hard knocks on the enforcer, but the man just kept on coming.
Eventually though, Trigger put his opponent down for the count. He was left leaning on his katana, fighting for breath and gripping his injuries, the man had been a pro.
Like most good things in Neon City, time was a luxury that Trigger couldn't afford. He grabbed wide-eyed Woo Woo and ran.
We all converged on a busy corner on Chuo Street. From there we fled into Neon City's underbelly. Economic downturn and automation had left swathes of the lower city abandoned and derelict, particularly the old industrial districts.
This part of Neon City was populated with decaying empty warehouses, gutted manufacturing plants as well as trashed offices and shops.
There was also a transient population who made their homes here, the most marginalised and those who had slipped through Neon City's wide cracks and of course criminals of every variety.
Luckily there was room enough for everybody in the underbelly!
After we had holed up in a out-of-the-way safe spot we made a secure call to Xue Mi-Wu and instructed her to meet up with us.
Soon mother and daughter were tearfully reunited.
Xue Mi-Wu couldn't pay us anything substantial, instead she gifted us a lacquered wooden box made of stained cherry wood and inlaid with gold trim.
Inside, sitting on red silk lining was a Chinese Dragon Gun, it was an antique Xue Mi-Wu informed us, but even so a formidable sidearm.
Xue Mi-Wu thanked us and we went our separate ways.
Noon had come and gone in Neon City by the time we got to Aisle 10 and hard as it was to believe, the day's heat was beginning to subside.
Inside the Chou-Nata Corporation Mall, the well regulated climate control kept if cool. As inane music piped through the mall, we traipsed along the smoothly polished imitation marble floor and past the glass-fronted shops filled with opulent goods. We could palpably feel the sideways glances of the mall's up-market patrons and rentaguards on us.
Aisle 10 was a classy joint, too classy for us, which is why Alison led us to her office.
As always, she was good for putting work our way.
Binary Johnny was looking for protection on a job.
Big game at the Ramen Ritz needed security.
The statue at the Shrine of the Street Goddess had been stolen.
We talked amongst ourselves and decided to check out the shrine.
Alison told us that we needed to contact Max Zu, he ran an eatery close by.
Following Alison's directions took up into Dogenzaka Hill's retail district and past a small park; one of the few green areas this low in the city.
Max's place was close by, the exterior decorated in cheerful, garish colours. A soy bun makes the meal fun was printed in large letters across the frontage.
We met with Max, turned out Max was a bit of a big deal in the community here, he gave us the low down. The statue at the shrine was importance and represented some kind of a lucky charm for the residents and all of the local small retailers, none of them were happy that the statue was gone. They were clubbing together to put up a reward for its return, two hundred bits and steadily increasing.
Max told us that the shrine was in the centre of the park.
We went and checked it out. The park was an oasis of calm in a industrial desert of concrete and glass, a tiny respite from the grind and the noise of city. The little park was well maintained and somehow the gangs and hooligans were kept out of the park, maybe there was something to this lucky statue.
Small clusters of people took advantage of the grassy patches and were sprawled out under a rarefied sun as buskers plied their trade.
Small paved paths criss-crossed the park and converged in the centre where there was a plinth and some sort of Buddhist monks in white and orange were begging.
After strolling up, Bill dropped a couple of bits into a monk's begging bowl, in return the monk happily handed Bill a little ceramic pot labelled White Lotus Liniment in gratitude. The monk explained that once it was applied to the skin it strengthened the body and spirit in other words the monk said, it made you invincible!
Bill could barely hide his incredulity, but the insistent monk urged Bill to hit him. Bill didn't take up the offer, Trigger on the other did, he knew how to use his fists and swung hard at the monk, the monk took the shot and was unmoved.
Impressed, Trigger readily accepted a pot of the liniment from the smiling monk and eagerly slavered it on.
Turning to the plinth, it was clear that it had once housed a smallish statue of some sort, small enough to be easily stolen.
The plinth had been vandalised with graffiti; a purple kaiju head. It was the tag of a street gang called Poison Jam.
When people gave up giving-a-damn in Neon City, they sometimes joined a street gang and began their personal downward spiralling journey into a nihilistic dead end. Dead being the operative term.
The upper echelon's of the city were left untroubled by street gangs, heavy rentacop presence and security networks quickly laid the smackdown on gangs getting ideas above their station.
But street level was another story, street gangs freely roamed the busy streets, indiscriminately meting out ultra-violence, indulging in any criminal activity that piqued their interest and rubbing one another out.
Poison Jam was one of these gangs, word was that they'd staked a claim in Kogane-cho and operated of the Sewage Facility.
Getting to them would be a tall order and it was late in the day.
We switched up instead; Alison had told us Binary Johnny was looking for muscle. I'd heard of him, a hacker and netrunner with a sick rep who liked to play hard and fast.
Going back to Alison, she gave us a burn-phone to contact Johnny once-only.
Let's Bet, You Betcha! was where Johnny told us to go. A quick trip to another part of the hill.
No surprise; Let's Bet turned out to be a tacky looking gambling den and a busy and noisy one too. The décor was faded and peeling in parts, the floor was grimy and hadn't seen cleaning in a while. Meanwhile the surly staff sat back, paying little attention to anything other than absorbing content from their media-slabs. Players gambled at cheap tables equipped with custom data-terminals.
Whilst sizing the place up, we heard someone whispering at us.
Sat in a corner was a young skinny man, he wore a world war two aviator's cap and goggles. He was jacked into a data-slab which in turn was jacked into a gambling terminal. It had to be Binary Johnny.
After exchanging pleasantries, Johnny told us that he was shaking down a mark over the GLOWNET and needed protection for ten minutes. Johnny was willing to pay forty large for this ten minutes work.
He didn't need to say anything else, we knew what to expect.
Johnny jacked in and zoned out. I knew that glazed look, he was now drenched in the GLOWNET.
Meanwhile, we set ourselves up at a table between Johnny and the shop's front door with our safeties off.
Outside, Kevin was buzzing around left and right, running a small patrol loop above the front door.
Five minutes into the hack and Koko got a ping from Kevin. Four unknowns were making a move for the door carrying hardware.
They were seconds away but we were ready when the flimsy front door bucked and almost folded in two as it leapt it's hinges and crashed into the gamblers.
Even before the screaming and shouting had begun, our table was flipped and we'd unloaded at our attackers, except for Trigger who'd leapt in with his katana.
Despite the swarm of hot lead that had flown at them, the attackers were still up! Then we clocked them; the Russian enforcers from Chuo Street and they'd clocked us too!
This must have been the hack they were here to shut down. Johnny was hacking Oshin.
Chaos erupted throughout the room in a cacophony of yelling. The staff were nowhere to be seen and the patrons were stampeding over each other to get to the rear door, it was locked and wasn't budging.
We were caught in a stand up fire-fight with the Russians, they weren't going down easy but then, neither were we. Trigger had taken a hit and shaken it off, the White Lotus Liniment had done its stuff.
Since we were at a seedy gambling joint in the bowels of Neon City, it made sense that everyone here would be carrying. The customers all wanted out, the back door was locked and the enforcers stood between them and the only way out. Result; the customers all began indiscriminately firing at the Russians.
Suddenly, Johnny was jacked out and up! He told us to cover him and headed straight for the back door. He busted out a key card swished it across a box next to the door and was out of Let's Bet.
Things had started going our way, we'd taken down two of the enforcers and they were smart enough to know when they were up against it. They lobbed a couple of grenades into room and dragged their fallen colleagues out. It wasn't a good time to hang around, the back door was still half open so we chased Johnny.
The door went to a corridor and stairs, we felt the building shake and heard the explosion behind us. The stairs led down and out. We met up with Johnny a block away from the carnage at Let's Bet.
It was all good he told us and handed over a burn-card with with a code for a once-off payment of forty thousand bits, a good haul for ten minutes of mad crazy danger.
As we split with Johnny, we could hear two-tones approaching Let's Bet and quickened our pace.
It was becoming dark when we left Johnny and when darkness fell in The City of Electric Dreams, so did the rain. Neon burned brighter in the dark and the rain, but somehow sleazier?
Constant corporate abuse of the ecosystem and the stratosphere had led the creation of an inexplicable torturous micro climate that hung over the city like an ecological sword of Damocles. So when day gave over to night in Neon City, the oppressive heat gave over to the downpours.... and more heat!
Dim, unreliable silver-white street lights lit our way to a cash terminal. We punched in the code, it swallowed the card and spat out the cash.
This being Neon City, withdrawing this much cash attracted unwanted attention even in miserable weather.
None of the gathered general lowlife wanted to make a move though, we were packing hardware and were still bloodied from the rumble that went down at Let's Bet.
There was a moment that we all silently stood unmoving, watching each other and letting rivulets of rainwater pour down us.
Then the crowd parted and some bad-news gangers swaggered in. We smelled them before we caught their colours; Poison Jam and they weren't in the mood the mess around, which suited us fine.
Street thugs weren't in the same league as corporate goons and we put them out the picture pretty quick, but one them managed to stick Trigger with a knife.
Trigger was in a bad way for a while, he'd been poisoned, now we knew where their name game from.
Once Trigger's head had cleared, it was time to go shopping! We had ten grand apiece and we were still Dogenzaka Hill, where the shops never shut.
For myself I bought a black leather Verskeit long coat, not the most fashionable but a classic, it had layers of kevlar interweaved with ceramic plates, it even had an armoured little interior pocket for my data-slab.
For personal protection I got a pair of .45 acp Xiuzholi 'Blockbreaker' pistols with adaptive triggers and finished in matte black.
The night was still young by the time our shopping was done.
Alison had told us about one last job that we could hit up if we were lucky.
Big Game was a gambling tourney that rolled up in the Ramen Ritz hotel on a regular basis and pulled in every chancer in town. They needed muscle tonght, two bodyguarding gigs in one day? Why not?
The Ramen Ritz was as respectable as it got at street level in Dogenzaka Hill. The elaborate façade with it's fake arched square columns was pretty much free of graffiti. A pair of doormen in Oltrante tuxedos flanked the entrance doors, and a third greeted vistors as they scoped people out with the tactical assessment software in their Kuaijing Maoshi shades.
As we were talking to the third door man, we were distracted by the tortured squeal of brakes as a tram pulled in at the stop a way down the street.
A smart but slightly rough looking man in a suit stepped off with a hot girl on each arm, too hot to be normal dates.
Lingering around the tram stop were some Poison Jam thugs, we hadn't spotted them until they cold cocked the guy. The girls screamed and flinched as the thugs went for their victim's pockets, at the same time ran at them.
Seeing us coming, the Poison Jam gangers ran for it. We fired off a few rounds at them and gave chase but they hopped aboard a tram and gave us the slip.
Going back to the guy, we saw the hot girls helping him to his feet and fussing over him. I guess the muggers hadn't got his cash!
He thanked us profusely and introduced himself as Vlegei Kreshoma, he wanted to hire us as protection and would pay us at the end of the night.
It was the work we were looking for, so we said yes.
Inside Big Game it was pretty posh, no two ways about it.
Some high-ceilinged conference hall had been given over to the event and was decked out in pricey fittings, glitzy lighting and a thick carpet. There were blackjack and craps tables, as well as roulette wheels.
The restaurant area had been turned into a smart looking cocktail lounge
Staff cheerfully attended the tables and well suited guards roamed the hall. Well dressed gamblers filled the hall with their expensive suits and gowns. Some of them sat intently at particular tables and other flitted from one to another.
Vlegei was the intense kind of gambler and concentrated on it all night, I'm sure that he didn't remember to blink or breathe in all that time.
We made ourselves as inconspicuous as possible and watched and waited.
Every game has and end and Big Game was no different. Hours later Vlegei stalked away from the blackjack table with slumped shoulders. We noticed that he no longer had the hot girls hanging on his arms, it was a bad sign.
Vlegei admitted that he had gotten cleaned out and couldn't pay us until later. He gave us his business card and said he was good for it. He then went on his way, there was little we could, other than remember to ask for payment up front next time.
After this we asked around about Vlegei and one of the doormen told us he was a regular at Big Game and a well known gambler about town, mostly known for losing and losing big! He liked to play for big stakes and occasionally got a big-time win too.
Finally the doorman told us that not matter how much Vlegei lost or how badly, he always came back with more cash to burn. Well at least that boded well for us.
Night was coming to an end and it had been a long day. I could feel the sandpaper behind my eyeballs. We had made a small step into getting out of Neon City, but it was time to hit the sack and see what tomorrow held?
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.