Shock to the System: Running System Shock as a Cyberpunk Red AdventureBy Xhojn dated Mon Sep 05 2022 18:50:27 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time) last updated Fri Sep 09 2022 11:27:47 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)
![Cyberpunk story time!](/static/img/mm/cyberpunk/city-g7b55f475f_1280.jpg) The game System Shock is about a rogue AI that has turned people into killer cyborgs and crazed mutants... so lets see if we can covert that to a Cyberpunk Red campaign! (Editor's note: Say hello to Xhojn, my Cyberpunk Red GM and good friend! --Astro)
I first heard about the game Cyberpunk 2020, oh, about four… five years ago. I had just started getting into tabletop games and was seeing what different systems/genres there were. I came across CP2020, bought the core rule book and ran a one shot adventure for someone on the internet and that was it. Eventually the successor (new successor, we apparently don’t talk about 3.0) was announced, and I decided I wanted to run a proper adventure in this setting... but the question was what? I looked at the pre-made adventures that existed, but, as the new edition had just come out, there were no released campaigns yet. So I looked elsewhere. I thought about the various cyberpunk books/movies/games I had consumed over the years, and gave up on a lot of them, as the players would likely see the source material a mile off. Then I had my big idea; System Shock. The sequel is considered one of the greatest games of all time, but the original doesn’t really get much mention. Luckily, it had been re-released and I had played through it a couple of years ago. ![Meet Borgface McNasty, our characters' host for this campaign](/static/img/mm/villains/borgface-mcnastySmall.jpg) I had my system, I had my campaign’s inspiration, but how do I go about crafting an adventure? Since deciding to get into GMing tabletop games, I have been devouring how to’s and watching advice videos for running games, regardless of system/setting. One thing that I have experienced with some of my players have been the wildcards. You know the type, the players that like to throw your finely crafted adventure out the window and see what is happening somewhere else. With that in mind, I decided to use the setting and overall plot of the game, but with no firm through-line. I knew it would be on a station, and space is part of the Cyperpunk Red setting, so I already had that aspect covered. I realised that if I wanted to give my players a memorable experience, I would need to get creative… I set up a new group with some online friends, with the promise of running a CPRed adventure. I gave them some suggestions about the campaign so that they wouldn’t pick an archetype that wouldn’t get much use out of being stuck on a space station. So I told them that they would wake up with amnesia trapped in a building and need to get out. I told them that they had amnesia as I believed it would be a good way to explore the backstories of these characters. As the game progressed they would unlock new memories that the players could create. Since backstory was coming out after they got a feel for their characters, it would hopefully be more fleshed out than coming up with it just before the first session. <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lx2fZU5USus" title="YouTube video player" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen style="display: block; margin: 0 auto"></iframe> With characters created and the date of the first session set, I thought how I could add subtle nods to the source material without hopefully giving things away. So at the start of each session, after the recap, we would play the opening of Billy Idol’s "Shock to the System", which was also the name of the campaign. The players really kicked themselves once I revealed once what was going on. Now on to the meat and bones of running the campaign. In the original game, you play a hacker that wakes up after a month, as you got a neural implant as payment for hacking the station’s onboard AI, S.H.O.D.A.N. You find that the station has gone to hell, along with eventually learning that your patron/blackmailer was converted into a cyborg. So for my campaign, during character creation, each player was able to pick one piece of cyberware for free, and that is why they are in the predicament they are in -- which will be revealed in time. As the game began I had each player wake up with amnesia in a room on there own, and find their clothes/ID, and this serves as a way for the players to describe their characters. The rooms they are in are okay, and there are no signs that anything is wrong, except if they try any intercoms or call for nurses there are no responses. ![binary-g6acfdd0c3_1280.jpg](/static/img/mm/data/binary-g6acfdd0c3_1280.jpg) Once they leave their room they see that the corridors are covered in blood with the occasional body part, and one of them finds a figure standing in a corner facing away from them. This is the first mutant the player meets in the original game. My player in this game made the wise decision to run as soon as the mutant turned around. While this is all going on, the players get to meet each other, realise they are in the same predicament, and overcome the current threat (their solo tripped it and dropped a vending machine on its head). With the imminent threat disposed of, the players are free to explore their surroundings, and find that it is a hospital. There are no windows anywhere and the front door is a lift that doesn’t work. Using the hospital’s phone gets an automated response which they later realise is the rogue AI. For the layout of the hospital, I looked at a floor plan of a hospital which had clear set departments for the players to travel through. They witnessed the horror of what has been taking place, including finding CCTV logs of people being dragged off by the mutants to undergo the same fate or worse. The players came up with the idea of using maintenance tubes to move to a different floor, which was a great idea, I set it that the facility was on lockdown and that they needed a key card to unlock it. Meanwhile I didn't neglect to have the bottom half of a body on the floor, with dried blood on the door, of the tube that they needed to go up. With an immediate goal in mind, they needed to pass deeper into this floor of the facility, which then reveals in the surgical ward an individual who has been so cybered up that their humanity would be at zero. This is Edward Diego, the one that hired/blackmailed our team into coming into the facility to perform a job. At the start of each session, I would read out a flashback so that the players realise how they ended up here. This would be told in pieces, so that they would know the man, but not what the job is yet. Finding the admin offices and hacking in to the computer system, they are able to print a keycard and move to the next floor. This is when I decided to pull back the curtain. Once they were out of the maintenance tube, they found some windows, which were being blacked out. One of the players flipped the switch, and that is when they saw not only the vista of space, but also saw the Earth staring back at him as well. As this was the end of the session, I added the double whammy of the AI revealing herself to them, as they have now been upgraded to becoming a threat. At the start of the next session, the rest of the flashback is filled in, and the players know the job they were sent to the station to do and why they did it. ![1280px-Top_of_Atmosphere.jpg](/static/img/mm/space/1280px-Top_of_Atmosphere.jpg) All of the session up to now was about building the tension, the mystery of what happened, and the world they’re in. In a masterful move, the player running a corp man managed to convince the AI that they could work for it, as it was revealed that there are other survivors that are on the station. This is why I don’t plan too far ahead! With the reveal done and the players knowing the stakes, it becomes a matter of how they free themselves of the situation. For that, I let the players lead me in the direction they wanted to go. I had (from System Shock) the various floors of the station, so I knew the locations they could go to and what they could realistically do while there. I didn’t want this adventure to go on for too long as I prefer games that don’t overstay their welcome, but I believe I achieved what I set out to do and that the players had fun. They managed to trick the AI, save the survivors, and made it to the computer core. Again, one player had the idea of asking if the method by which they had changed the programming of the AI would still be there in the core, like a memory stick. Sure, lets go with that! So it then turned into needing to get back, and do in reverse what they did before, with some mutants and cyborgs thrown in for good measure. (Editor's note: Xhojn is a busy man, so he had to end it there. Needless to say, we saved the Earth, saved the surviving station crew, made planetfall, and my corporate character milked the video footage on his smartphone for all the glory a rumor is worth. --Astro) Updated 9/9/22: Following on from Astro’s note, the players indeed not only survived, but also saved the world! Thinking on what I have written, I think I need to give a proper conclusion for my method of creating/running the adventure (also because Astro mentioned it needed one :P). When I first had the idea of trying to run System Shock, the first thing I did was check the internet to see if anyone else had. I couldn’t find anything. Then I turned my mind to the overall story of the game, the main beats and the atmosphere the game creates. The introduction was easy enough to port, with having the PCs blackmailed before the adventure. Revealing the who’s and how’s in flashback’s allowed for more plot twists in my opinion than giving that all at the beginning. In the original game, there are lots more levels of the station and plot points that weren’t covered -- but this was deliberate. I didn’t want to force my players into a linear game. I said from the start: "you all will be trapped in a location and your goal is to get out". If they made decisions that took them to different places, or if they pulled on different narrative threads, then I could work-in other plots from the game. I wanted the station to feel like a sandbox, instead of the level-to-level gameplay loop that the original game had. This leads me to talk about the skill that any GM needs to have, and that is being able to improv whatever the players/situation throws at you. Astro: “I want to use my negotiation skill to convince the AI that we are more useful to be kept alive than to be killed.” GM: “Sure, and you succeeded (how did he roll that high?????), the cyborgs are called off, and you are now able to roam about the station within reason.” There’s no way I could have planned for that beforehand, as the idea that the AI could be reasoned with was ludicrous, but the dice gods were on Astro’s side. Hopefully this gives you an idea of how you could convert a game you enjoy into a tabletop experience. You are unlikely to be able to get the beat-for-beat plot, but if you can get the themes/atmosphere, and as long as the group have fun, then I think you’ve succeeded.