Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Punisher as a Guide to Running Cyberpunk Campaigns

As Cyberpunk Red is due to come out in full later this year - yes, I realize that the Jumpstart Kit is already out, I have it, and it is by far not a complete enough product to get more than a taste for the new ruleset, much less a continuing campaign - more than likely in conjunction with CD Projekt Red's release of the much vaunted videogame Cyberpunk 2077, I have been pondering running some 'punk. Why do I think they are waiting for the release of CP2077 for the release of Red? R. Talsorian Games has not kept any secrets that they are working with CDPR on CP2077 and then I notice this in the copyright section of the Red Jumpstart Kit rulebook:

Click to embiggen
Yep, that is CDPR's copyright next to RTG's. So, yes, I am pretty sure that RTG will release the full version of Red when CDPR releases CP2077 to us salivating masses (mid-November is the latest revealed release date, as I am typing this). I really like what I have seen so far in the Red rules and world setting, and would really like to run my group through the CP2020 Firestorm campaign (the 4th Corporate War) so the world setting info does not spoil the surprise for them, and then straight into Red with a continuing campaign based on their characters' (at least those that survive Firestorm) from the previous adventure. Wrinkle in that plan is my current group is fully focused on reaching level 20 in our current 5e D&D campaign, to then maybe go on to an Eberron campaign (why? airships!), and even if we skip Eberron to go into my grandiose Cyberpunk dreams, that is still going to take a few years just to get them through the final two arcs of the campaign and to 20th level. Oh well, maybe they will suffer a TPK before then and decide that maybe 5e can be put aside for a while.

Related to that, I was perusing one of the firearms related groups on the Book of Face, and was reminded of a firearm from an issue of Punisher Armory from all the way back in the 1990s. First, a little history - back before 1994, there was no internet. This thing I am posting this blog onto? Yeah, the World Wide Web, did not exist before these comics came out. Yes, you had local BBS's over dial-up modems and ARPANET was being experimented with, but the internet as we know it was not a thing. If you wanted information on anything, much less firearms, you had to find it in the library in the form of a book or a magazine. Being a young man with an overabundance of testosterone and having watched too many 1980s era action/adventure movies starring the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, I had an interest in the military in general (yes, one of the reasons why I did eventually join and serve in the United States Army National Guard) and guns in specific. Do you think my parents would let me purchase firearms related magazines? No, not a chance, but they would let me buy comic books (which they did not approve of either, but I had a lot of friends who were already loaning me their copies, so it was an avenue that was already well trodden) and that is where the aforementioned Armory comes in. No Forgotten Weapons, no C&Rsenal, no Firearm Blog, just a bunch of newsprint stock colored comic books. This series was all about the titular character's guns and gear and training and living spaces and with just a few exceptions was as realistic as if Frank Castle was a real person in our world, and it had a ton of info on everything from Saturday-night-special crap up to multi-barreled cannons. I have no idea where this series came from as I cannot find much on the history of it other than what I linked above, but apparently someone at Marvel, most likely Eliot R. Brown, was a serious firearms enthusiast and knew what he was talking about.

This brings me to the aforementioned reminder of this series. Someone had posted up what looked like a home-made pistol that fired full powered rifle rounds in the .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO range of power. Yes, from a hand-held, no stock, short barreled pistol. Anyway, that reminded of one of the pistols found in the Punisher Armory series, which after a little digging, I found to be issue #7, on page 5, a Philippine home-made, 4-chambered revolver that fired 5.56 NATO rounds. Here is the page in question:

Again, clicky to embiggen
That revolver has fascinated me since I first saw it in the early '90s. I had no idea what it was then, as I had no real experience with firearms (BB rifles and .22LR rifles at Boy Scout camp do not convey much beyond the fundamentals), but even now, after serving in the military and shooting competitions at a local level, that revolver still breaks my brain. Science knows that beast has to be a wrist-breaker, and with only 4 rounds it is not very long to empty, yet the firearm still fascinates me - someone with access to a decent machine shop and the knowledge to use them, plus an overabundance of 5.56 NATO cartridges, built this from scratch. Not only that, but they built enough of them that the group that used them became known for this firearm, yet they built few enough of them that you really could not call it a serialized production run. Why, for the love of Athena Promachos, would anyone build it, though? One word: necessity. Fascinating.

This mini-series of The Punisher as a whole always fascinated me - here is Frank Castle as real as he can get, no one else in the Marvel universe, no mutants, no super-heroes, someone who is fighting organized and unorganized criminals and corrupt law enforcement practically on his own, with only the skills he learned in a nasty war and the material he can steal from those he "punishes". Oh, and he has Micro as well, his techie assistant, who is the most polar opposite when it comes to physical characteristics, but he is the one you want to go to when you need something technical like computers, electronics, vehicles, or firearms sorted out. The pair have to do everything themselves, cannot go to law enforcement (too corrupt) or the government (also corrupt but also too uninterested in such "small matters"), and everyone else is in the criminals' pockets or thinks the Punisher is crazy and has gone too far. They are practically alone in their quest.

Is it just me, or are Punisher and Micro edgerunners? I could use this as a campaign setting - the party are up against some powerful organization that has wronged them personally, and when the party fought back, they pissed off everyone - other powerful and semi-powerful organizations, the locals, the gangs, the corps, the civvies, other edgerunners, local and regional law enforcement, everyone - and now the group is on their own. Even their usual Fixer will only do business with them on a very limited basis and everything is more expensive, automatically. All they can count on is their own skills and whatever material they can steal or plunder from the corpses of their targets. Obviously (or maybe not), the rockerboy/girl, the nomad, the media, and the fixer all got much harder to play. Who listens to a rockergirl that has betrayed her fans (she was set up, of course, but the fans don't know that) so many times? Or a media who constantly lies about such and such corp (said corp moved the evidence into LEO and slandered the media)? Or the nomad who killed fellow packmates (again, setup job)? Those characters would have to reduce their special abilities to almost nothing (temporarily or permanently, that is up to you, the Ref), and either be allowed to build up other special abilities, or work through the handicap as a challenge. Basically the team is on their own, can not ask for help from anyone outside the group, and is facing an organization that normally is very dangerous, but because now everyone else believes the team is less than scum, they are facing a huge uphill battle.

Of course, this is how I would want someone to run a CP2020/Red game for me so I can live out my Punisher fantasies, I am not sure how much other players out there would enjoy it. I would totally enjoy going after my own intel, spying on the bad guys and figuring out what their organization's structure is and who rests in the key positions. I would totally enjoy having to dig through all the gear my team would get off of the bad guys and trying to figure out how much ammo we have for which of the guns we also got, plus what other goodies we come up with: tech scanners, medical supplies, vehicles, even what illegal drugs we gathered and could sell off to fund our adventure (or use recreationally... no one is as straight-laced as Frank Castle in the grim dark of the dystopic future, everyone needs a break from time to time). I would totally enjoy mapping out each of our safe houses, showing hidden closets full of hardware, fast escape routes, illicit workshops to tinker with all the hardware, training rooms to test hardware and hone skills, and garages full of modified vehicles. After typing all of the above, I am just not sure how fun any of that would be for a normal group of CP2020/Red gamers. Also, I am very aware that your normal game of CP2020/Red is probably one of the most deadly out there, so putting your group into this situation just cranks up the difficulty to a quite possibly unmanageable level.

Oh well, it was fun to think about and peruse the old Armory issues. And maybe some of my ramblings may spark some creativity from you folks. It is interesting, as a modern firearms enthusiast, to see what was considered to be what the operators of the late '80s/early '90s considered high (and low) tech. Single stack, 7 round 1911s in .45 caliber (favorites of Frank Castle and practically every shooter in the late '80s/early '90s) are poo-poo'd these days, if not in favor of the "wondernine" high capacity polymer 9mm pistols like the Glocks and the Smith & Wesson M&Ps, at least for the more modern "2011" double-stacked magazine 1911s, most in .45 but some in 10mm or 9mm or .40S&W. Glass optics and laser sights mounted "above the slide" on semi-auto pistols, where today our semi-autos come with an accessory rail under the barrel and the "slide ride" optics are rugged enough to withstand repeated recoil impulses. Remote control drones the size of sub-compact cars, streaming VHS-quality video from cameras the size of a toaster-oven. A GPS unit the size of a briefcase with the antenna and everything, and all it can do is tell you your longitude and latitude, so count in the other briefcase full of survey maps and a protractor. Every once in a while, Mr Brown and his cohorts let a little bit of sci-fi slip through and believed the advertising script from some of these manufacturers that promised a lot more than they could deliver, but it was usually on something that I could totally see existing in the grim dark dystopic future, like an automated construction bot that builds multi-story training areas unsupervised. Or this "dalek" protection robot, that even our modern military is still trying to come up with that will only kill the bad guys and not the good guys (hint: even the US DoD in the actual year 2020 has not made this happen yet).

I do not think this jaunt down memory lane has been a complete waste. Yes, I do not think I will ever crank up the difficulty on a CP2020/Red game to "Punisher" level, but I think I can incorporate parts of it into my next game. Maybe the party's Fixer isn't that good or the local leftist party is threatening stricter gun control laws, whatever the reason, the team cannot seem to get any gear beyond the cheapest of the cheap, and ammo is scarce too. Maybe the Nomad's pack is heading out of the region for a while and the Nomad cannot ask for any help. Not all of the things I mentioned before, but just one of them, crank the difficulty up just a smidge. I definitely need to go back through all the Armory issues, see if there is anything else I can use. I will try and post it up here if I do run into anything.

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