Project Aphelion Solo Play #010: Gods of Emergent Gameplay

Welcome to another episode of Project Aphelion‘s playtest, in which I’m making sure the mechanics work regardless of the world and play style. In the last post, my PC Tomorrow went for a holiday break for a couple of days, taking care of her familiar relationships. If you’ve missed it, give it a read.

Meanwhile, we’re ending the first month of play, starting another, updating the character and Faction sheet, pushing the world forward a month, and checking what did the gods of emergent gameplay bring me as a Yule gift!

Faction Layer: Bright New Month of January

After the last Scenario, I’ve raised two contacts to R2 (dear mommy and dear daddy) and added +4 (Scenario Payout) to total Rep, netting myself another point of Influence. As we’ve upgraded the gear list in the rulebook (there’s so much cool stuff in there now, y’all), I need to redo it and recalculate the maintenance costs etc etc, but I’ll only take a moment anyway.

But first, I still have some days to account for! Between 28th and 31st of December there are still 4 days I can use to my advantage and I’m about to run a research project in them – with Payout of 5, I’ll be rolling my 1 dice of Scientific Focus against the difficulty of 5 until I get to my 5 marks. It will probably require more days than 5 but that’s okay – the important thing is, at the end of it I’ll have 10 points of magical research intel and can spend it on coming up with a new spell / Advanced Action Card. After rolling, it actually took 6 days total, so on January 2nd Tomorrow’s research project will be finished, bringing in the whole Payout.


A new month roll-over!

Time for the monthly upkeep math! Not that much, as I’ve already sorted out most stuff last month.

Necessities: 6
Biotech: 0
Maintenance: used to be 11, but I’ve raised Steven to R3 (+1) and added R5 Wits’ End as a consumable spell (+5) = 17
Luxuries: 31 days = 31
Contacts: 3 x R2 + 4 x R1 = 10
Income: 6 (covers 6 points of expenses)
Total monthly upkeep = 58 = 5,800c
Total number of Scenarios run: 4
Deployment cost for a single Scenario = 1/2 of total monthly Upkeep
Total cost of Scenarios run: 11,600c
Total to pay on January 1st = 5,800 + 11,600 = 17,400c = 3 Payouts + 2,400c

Now, remember that each point of Payout is worth 5,000c, whether it’s in cash, in intel, or in influence (or literally anything else). It’s not that I need to pay 2,900c for each Scenario – I’m ‘paying’ by spending my time, research necessary to pull it off, calling in favors etc etc. So, as it’s all done for Chloe, I’ll spend 3 points of Chloe-connected intel to cover the 3 Payout points and cover the rest by cash.

That leaves me with Faction resources for January:

  • 2 Payout worth of cash
  • 3 Payouts worth of Influence towards Henequen’s Faction
  • 5 Payouts worth of magical research Intel (+5 that will be added on Jan 2nd)
  • 5 Payouts worth of Chloe Intel
  • 2 Payouts worth of Dragon Intel (+5, triggers on Jan 8th, see Zacualtipan’s section below)
  • 3 points of general Influence for Rep
  • Cash: 4400c

The Life Goes On!

Whatever Tomorrow was doing, she did. But remember when I set up the ongoing projects for other Factions in the story? Here’s a recap:

  1. Aztechnology is trying to get a Passive Resource Generation Asset, so a Facility to establish themselves in the area. Their Crew of agents are looking for a good starting point in Denver, outside of Aztlan district – maybe they’ve heard about the Anomaly and metaplanar gate that exists on Cutters’ turf and want to get in a prime position to investigate.
  2. Henequen. The dragon uses his crew of art purveyors to learn about the whereabouts of several artifacts and masterpieces, while avoiding anybody else. With his spare assets, he’s upgrading his garrison, in preparation for Aztech’s attack that will happen – sooner or later.
  3. The Cutters. The gang, as usual, goes all-in on establishing their dominance in the area against other gangs.
  4. The Hellhounds. The wiz gang is continuing the magical research using other people’s resources, including Crowley’s and Tomorrow’s. Their biker retinue makes sure nobody messes up with their turf.
  5. Doc Harmon’s clinic is currently focusing on fixing the relationship with Factions of the lowest Familiarity. That would mean the Cutters, clinic’s hosts and landlords. A heavy discount on gun wounds is certainly provided. Meanwhile, the creative side of the hustle is raising money for the clinic’s operation.
  6. Crowley. The free spirit is currently busy reinforcing the protections around his penthouse and the metaplanar gate hidden within it. The rumors about the Anomaly leading to a chaotic metaplane are slowly beginning to circulate, and Crowley prefers to be prepared for it. His mini army of fire elementals is standing by, ready to strike.
  7. Phase. The ex-shadowrunners trains her combat biking team while doing a good-natured, relaxed research into a multitude of topics. As it’s the winter of 2055, so right after the near-total destruction of Chicago, she’s focusing on the bug spirits, especially the ‘how to fight them’, not ‘where they came from’.
  8. Ancients are currently expanding their new nightclub with live music, The Stampede. It’s another part of their growing spy network, so they’re keeping the nightclub open to everybody who can show some class, regardless of metatype. While not officially affiliated with the club, the protection of Ancients over the crew and the band is a secret to none but the most obtuse.
  9. ALOHA is fighting against all corporations that moved in after Hawaii seceded from UCAS and everybody who’s not Hawaiian. Which is a lot of people in Hawaii. They commit all their Assets to the fight, rarely paying attention to anything outside of their country.
  10. Yakuza/Mitsuhama is focusing on their research in the two facilities they’ve recently built: one in Denver, one in Hawaii. On the grapevine, there’s enough stories of MCT scientists being on the brink of a massive discovery – whether all of that data is discovered through research or espionage, remains to be seen.
  11. Green Bishops. Running a project to uncover whereabouts of Chloe. Finished in mid-December, resolved.
  12. Zacualtipan. Scheming against her brother, Dzitbalchen, to Tomorrow’s benefit.

Now, Aphelion is a strategy game. If one wants, a Grand Strategy game, or even a full 4X strategy. However, this is not exactly my jam: I’m more into following my character through her personal mess. That’s why I’m only using ‘Strategy Lite‘ rules for the resolution of the doings of other Factions.

To do that, I’ll be rolling 3d10 and picking the mid result. 1-3 means that the project has failed, 4-7 that it is ongoing, 8-10 means that it was successful (and then I roll again to establish the effect).

As we’re walking into the year 2056:

  1. Aztechnology is still trying to establish themselves in the area. Their Crew has a hard task, trying to find a base of operations in Aurora Warrens, the absolute worst part of Denver, where this story mostly takes place (and where the magical anomaly / metaplanar gate is located).
  2. Henequen is constantly on the lookout for his shinies and artifacts. He’s working on his garrison meanwhile.
  3. The Cutters are actually failing to establish their dominance in the unending turf war! Maybe Wheeler really needs a bigger budget for magical defences – or maybe Tomorrow dragging him to Dallas interrupted something rather important. With the project failed, a new one needs to be picked. I think it would make sense for them to run a project specifically connected with one of their competitors (I’ll need to generate a new Faction) and get Tomorrow mixed up in it. After all, she is rather entangled with The Cutters as it is.
  4. The Hellhounds do their business as usual.
  5. Doc Harmon’s Clinic is still fighting an uphill battle to fix their relationship with the Cutters – maybe there will be an opportunity to join the two?
  6. Crowley does what Crowley wants, which is mostly researching all the cool things he can do as a free spirit.
  7. Phase has actually finished her project of research into the matter of bug spirits, and the effect of that project is: reducing the Asset Rating of another Faction by 1. Now, 1-5 means it’s a new Faction, 6-10 that it’s an existing Faction… And it looks like I need to make a new, bug-spirit-adjacent Faction in the story. That’s… dangerous, because that means they’re getting agency in the story. Meanwhile, Phase goes on a warpath against them – she has a bone to pick and a friend (ish) to rescue.
  8. Ancients run the Stampede with a relative success, still waiting for the Fair O’Raspberries to make their breakthrough in the music industry.
  9. ALOHA fights its battle against establishment and everybody who’s not Hawai’ian.
  10. Yakuza/MCT continues its magical research and scheming.
  11. Green Bishops are an Obsessive Faction, so their default thing is repeating their previous project – which is both good and highly suspicious for Tomorrow.
  12. Zacualtipan has actually finished whatever she had planned, which means that Tomorrow’s life is about to become very, very interesting. The mechanical effect of the project: again, reducing another Faction’s Asset by 1. Now, she’s been running that project against her brother who is Aztechnology-affiliated, so I’ll treat this as reducing Aztech’s R3 Fleet of a flying lab for magical research to R2. Meaning that Tomorrow has maybe a chance to strike against them. Zacualtipan’s finished project is something that directly influences Tomorrow, and the Payout of this project, 5, adds to the main campaign’s tracker (bringing it to 22/100) and is probably best interpreted as 5 points of dragon-related Intel. But what exactly has happened and how this influences the plot, we’ll learn when we get there.

New Factions

First, I need competition for the Cutters: setting- and campaign-wise, there must be BBs – a neighborhood gang. Quite a lot of our SR campaign was centered around that conflict. Let’s roll, as usual for procedural Faction generation:

BBs – R5 Faction, Technical (exclusive offense) / Warfare (exclusive defense) / Other (benefactory offense).
Placating Faction (Add 2 priority to beneficial Projects resulting in improving Familiarity with a Faction with lowest Familiarity.)
Assets: R3 Facility (Shadowmarket), R2 Crew (gangers).
Relationships: The Cutters 1, Tomorrow 6.
Ongoing project: establishing trade relations with The Cutters as they’re already pushing themselves into the turf.

Bug SpiritsR5 Faction, Scientific (exclusive offense) / Investigative (hostile defense) / Other (benefactory growth).
Exploitative Faction (Add 2 priority to Projects acquiring Resources from the environment and gain control of Resource nodes.)
Assets: R2 Facility (research lab), R3 Crew (we’re all better not knowing). R2, actually, as per Phase’s project’s effect.
Relationships: Phase 1, Zacualtipan 6, Green Bishops 3.
Ongoing project: Taking over people and the world, probably – if you don’t speak ‘Shadowrun’, they’re basically body-snatchers. Whatever they’re doing, will stay in the shadows until investigated.


A Busy Month Ahead

That was a trip! Just look at all these plot hooks and disasters looming on the horizon. Aztech is going to retaliate against Zac next month (as they’re a Vindictive Faction that was targeted by a hostile project), Cutters and BBs probably need an intermediary (who’s not at Familiarity 1 with either of them), Green Bishops are continuing their snooping into Chloe’s case and they’re suspiciously friendly with ALOHA, there are now bug spirits in the story, with connections to both Zac AND Bishops… which means there’s 100% of reason to include them in the main plot…? And Zac being ‘neutral’ with a Faction that literally only wants to take over the world, infect everybody, and kill all people…? There’s the shoe dropping.

However. I need to set up triggers for some things. Remember how I had Scenario rolling its Payout towards Scenario Rating to trigger the complications? I’m going to do the same with Faction Ratings towards Campaign Rating to establish what’s going to happen when / in what order.

Zacualtipan’s introduction: 3v6, gathered 9 marks in 8 days.
Cutters/BBs business: 5v6, gathered 9 marks in 4 days (1 net).
Phase’s bug spirits business: 4v6, gathered 9 marks in 4 days (2 net).

So: bug spirits, gang business, dragons’ feud, in this order. The specific days aren’t really relevant. I’ll trigger first on 4th, and the rest will wait until I got the time.


Skill Learning

Teaching – 3v6=1 mark, skill rank 1 learned (by Jan 1st). From now on, I get to roll Teaching each time I’m attempting to learn another skill (if I have it at least at R1 – it doesn’t help with absolute basics, but the absolute basics don’t have any Resistance anyway).

Sorcery – (Teaching 3v5=1 point of Clout for learning Sorcery! Also, +1 tick for Teaching, enough to attempt raising it to R2!) 5v8=2 marks, total 4/3, skill rank 4 learned (by Jan 5th)

I’m not going to go any further, as I already got myself to the first event triggered.


Downtime Projects

With Tomorrow’s spell research project finished, I can attempt a project to figure out and learn a new spell, ie. new Advanced Action Card. Just to remind you, it’ll eat 10 magical research Intel resources and then will require running a project with Career Rank as dice pool (1) vs difficulty with Resistance equal to cards known (2), towards Challenge equal to number of known cards x 5 (10). Teaching Skill lowers the difficulty by Rank. So, 1v7=>10. It will take a while, probably over two weeks, and Tomorrow will be working on it between Scenarios and legwork.

For now, she scored 0 marks on 3rd and 4th of January – the time is spent nevertheless.

And it’s the high time to start the story!


Back to the Action!

January 4th, 2056

‘Oi, Tomorrow, how’s life? Your folks alright? House still standin’?’

‘Barely. Got in a bit of a… ah… disagreement there, but I think we’ll be fine. Managed to not blow shit up.’

‘That’s an improvement.’

Tomorrow nods, not entirely sure how to proceed. Today’s training was… weird, and the fact that clearly-distracted Phase has asked her to lag behind when it was over was even weirder. They’ve checked the bikes, said ‘bye’ to the rest of the combat biking team, and now found themselves alone in Phase’s office, both vaguely uncomfortable.

‘Sit down, T., we’re losing daylight.’ The dark-haired team captain places herself on the sofa, kicks off her heavy combat boots and rolls her shoulders. ‘We got shit to discuss and I need to know if I can count on you.’

‘Possibly?’ volunteers Tomorrow, more perplexed than anything else. ‘What’s up?’

‘Right.’ Phase massages her temples. ‘Frag, that’s why I always had a face to deal with this. T., you know I’m from Chicago, right?’

‘I can hear it in every word you speak.’

‘Well, yeah. Hard habit to break, especially when you don’t try. Anyway, after what happened there, I’ve been running-‘ There’s a tiny bit of pressure on the word and Tomorrow understands she’s being suddenly trusted with more than she deserves at this point. ‘-A small investigation. Which I think is going to be of interest to you.’

‘Do tell.’ Tomorrow frantically searches her brain for connections – but the only thing Phase can be referring to is insect spirits, and why would they be of any interest to her whatsoever – except for the obvious ‘threat to the humanity’ reason, which would not warrant a one-on-one meeting after hours?

Phase looks very unlike herself, and she’s clearly searching for words – her tan skin is pale, her dark eyes underlined with almost equally dark shadows, and her pretty features sharp and almost gaunt. She looks at Tomorrow for a while in silence, then sighs.

‘Ah, frag it. Listen, T. I know we don’t really know each other that well, but it’s been half a year and you didn’t bring cops, dragons, Human Nation, or immortal elves on my head, so I guess there’s no point keeping you at a distance. You know I’m a runner, right?’

‘Heard some rumors.’

‘Yeah, right. Good legwork ain’t bad. I’ve figured you’ve ran some on me before you’ve joined, though I don’t really know why.’

Tomorrow shrugs and opts for truth. There is little point hiding anything from Phase – she is much better at interpreting auras and sniffing out deceit than Tomorrow is at lying. ‘Your husband sold my friend intel about an old demon-shaped focus, so I’ve figured you might know more about it than he was willing to share. But, you know – we kinda started on a bad foot, so I’ve never had the opportunity to ask you about it.’

‘He did fucking what?’ asks Phase and for a second, she’s back to her punch-it-in-the-face standard attitude. ‘I’ve fought a fucking dragon to disenchant this bloody thing. Over fifty people have died!’

‘I know,’ acknowledges Tomorrow, waiting for her host to calm down.

‘Where is it now? Do you have it?’ Phase looks at Tomorrow with utmost, almost unbearable attention. ‘No, it would already drain you. What happened to it?’

‘It’s destroyed. Rather spectacularly: proper explosion, half a building to repair. Nobody will ever use it again. I knew it was dangerous.’

‘Of course you knew. Why did you even…? You know what? It’s not important. I’m glad it’s gone.’

Tomorrow nods. The least she says, the faster she gets to the bottom of this weird conversation.

‘Anyway.’ Phase has clearly gotten to the same point. ‘Back in ’53, my team and I encountered one bug shaman, with an obsession over that movie star, Euphoria. I’ve told you about it – kinda. Well, it didn’t end well for the girl. When she died, it was no longer her inside.’

‘That sucks. You said he wanted her for a queen?’

‘Yeah, that.’ Phase’s face is grim and hard, not a trace of the spunky ex-ganger athlete to be seen. Just a cold and tired professional who has seen too much. ‘Well, there were some people disappearing in the UCAS Sector lately, and then reappearing, changed… The same pattern, you see. It’s always the same. It got worse after they bombarded the Universal Brotherhood chapters – or at least, it spread outside of the Warrens, so people actually started noticing. I was following that trail for a while, and yesterday…’

Phase winces, and Tomorrow cannot take it anymore.

‘Can you just tell me what do you need from me? If you need help burning something down, I’m game. I’ve already seen those bastards, killed one. It seemed to die perfectly well in an embrace of a fire elemental.’

‘It’s not that.’ Phase takes out her commlink. ‘I’ve tracked one guy to his hideout. He’s dead now. But I’ve found this in his apartment.’

She opens a file and throws it at a holo bracelet. Tomorrow watches the tiny feed from a camera, probably in Phase’s helmet. A dark flat, full of rubbish and clutter. A silhouette of a man – a bug – a something in-between – laying on the floor in a puddle of greenish blood. There’s a distortion in the air as Phase’s arm covered in reactive stealth material raises to open a door to the bedroom. For a moment, Tomorrow has trouble orienting herself – the walls are covered in photos smeared with red ink – blood, she realizes right after. Dozens of photos, taken from a distance, through zoom. Different people, different metatypes, different genders, different age groups… And as Phase’s camera slides over the photographs, she suddenly stops and Tomorrow sees her own face. She hears Phase swear in the recording – and hears herself saying the same words.

It’s not her face. It’s younger, a bit rounder, surrounded by gentle waves of pale blond hair. Honey-brown eyes are focused on a translucent screen of a commlink.

Chloe’s eyes. Chloe’s face. Chloe.

Tomorrow barely notices when Phase pulls the photo from her pocket. The blood has been cleaned off, rather hastily – some reddish-brown marks still mar the surface. But there’s no mistake, no doubt – even though Tomorrow really wants there to be some.

But she can’t lie to Phase, and she can’t lie to herself.

She peels her eyes away from Chloe’s face, looking for a date, a sign, a detail that would give her something to think about, something else than what she’s thinking about right now. There it is, in default commlink font: November 11th, 2053. Three days before she disappeared, realizes Tomorrow, her stomach tied in knots. She fights down the bile and forces herself to be calm. Even though everything in her wants to lay waste to the world.

‘How about the rest of those people?’ she asks, hating the tremble in her voice. Deep breath, chill. Think. ‘What happened to them?’

Phase is looking at her with a peculiar expression – sympathy and anger, all wrapped up into one. It takes Tomorrow a second to realize the anger is not aimed at her.

‘I don’t know, not exactly. I’ve been running facial recognition soft ever since I got back. Some of them seem perfectly fine. Others have disappeared. Other turn up with closed SINs, probably dead. Sorry, T. I don’t have the answer you need. But I know where we can, maybe, find them.’

Tomorrow’s head snaps up, every ounce of attention she can muster focused on Phase. The runner reaches out her hand and Tomorrow stops herself from recoiling at the unexpected closeness – but no, Phase just pushes a few buttons on her commlink and the feed from her camera changes to a collection of blueprints of some facility.

‘Listen, T. There is this tiny lab in UCAS Sector, about two miles north from the Warrens. They’re called Agni Institute, a subsidiary of Bukavac Group, a mid-weight heavy industry corp. There are three people in those photos that have been recently hired there, all within one month. It can’t be a coincidence.’

Tomorrow nods slowly, carefully. ‘Sounds reasonable.’ She stops herself there, not trusting her voice.

There’s a deep, deep sympathy in Phase’s eyes as she continues:

‘I can’t promise anything, T. Definitely not happy endings and possibly, not even any certainty of outcomes. Everything I know about those fucking bugs tells me it’s going to be ugly and potentially deadly. I don’t know what we’ll find there, but…’

‘Not my sister,’ Tomorrow cuts her off. ‘I have a pile of leads going elsewhere. Still under double-checking, but I don’t expect them to be false. Which doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what this is about.’

‘Huh.’ Phase shrugs lightly and smiles, just a bit. ‘Well, that’s a relief. As it happens, I also want to know what this is about. Because it’s nothing good, and the thought of them even taking interest in your sister is not something I want to consider at night.’

‘Me neither. Thanks, Phase. Can you send me the details of this lab? I’ll… figure it out.’

‘I was thinking you may want to go with me, actually. I need to check it out, and you need back up.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘You’re excused.’ Phase is still serious, but Tomorrow sees that the runner barely stopped herself from rolling her eyes. ‘We’re both in the same biz, T. Don’t tell me you don’t have a bloody stealth suit in your wardrobe. We stake the place, check the security, suit up, go through the vents, avoid detection, steal the data, and if we have to, burn the place to the ground afterwards. I’m pretty sure it’s exactly your thing.’

‘Good legwork, huh?’

Phase shrugs. ‘Important skill if you want to survive in the shadows. You game?’

‘Yeah, I’m game. I like the burn to the ground part.’

‘I can get it arranged. Let’s go kick some bug butts.’

‘Abdomens.’ Tomorrow smiles, against everything.

‘Kick whatever you want, girl, I’m not your mom. We start tomorrow. Dress appropriately. You look good in feathers.’

‘I look good in bloody everything, Phase. But seriously, thanks. This is… Well, not great – but this might answer some questions. So, thank you for telling me.’

‘Duh.’ She looks like she wants to say something else, then just pushes her hair back and down. The softness of those dark waves contrasts with basically everything Tomorrow knows about Phase – but then, she barely knows anything. 

The runner grins and Tomorrow cannot stop herself from responding in kind. 

Guess I’m just about to learn. 


You Think You’ve Seen It All?

Hah! Guess what: I want a bigger challenge and I’m adding a second character to the party. Not connecting the Factions, not using Phase as a contact – creating her character through chargen and going on a Scenario together.

Why?

A, I want you too see how the game looks like when you have more characters in the party, how it affects difficulty and complicates tactics. Having another Crew will affect the Threat Rating of the Scenario, raise the difficulty of the main tasks, make it easier for the Scenario to score against me – but it will also give me option that were not previously available on the tactical level. And who knows, maybe they’ll end up teaming up more often.

B, I really like Phase – she was my SR character before Tomorrow. She’s a speedster ninja physical adept with B&E focus and martial arts. Think ganger Karate Kid, only moving with a speed of a subsonic bullet in a security armor, and punching dragons in the face. She has the scars to prove it.


Coming up!

A quick and dirty chargen (you know how this works – if not, see me create Tomorrow in this post), then we’re planning the first proper heist of this Campaign. Will be fun!


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