Fixing Assassin Nation SRM 04-09

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« on: <04-03-23/1645:50> »
I've been running my group through the SRM4 Ork Underground missions (interspersed with lots of other unrelated adventures). Assassin Nation sounds like a grand climactic moment where lots of tension from earlier comes together into a massive chaos, but now that I'm actually prepping it, I admit I'm a bit disappointed. It's actually very railroady, and all the interesting investigation happens off-screen by NPCs.

It starts with the PCs getting hired for a data steal from the DA's house. This turns out to be a setup and they're being framed. I'm absolutely fine with this. It can suck to screw the players over nothing, but considering their involvement so far, I consider this totally fair. However, at first all their contacts know nothing, except for two journalists who are mostly fighting their own vendetta, but one of them points them to a hotel/brothel where they can find the guy who betrayed them. They get interrupted by tons of goons shooting them. Then they get saves by Knight Errant arresting them. Turns out they're lead by a familiar face who leads them to all the important NPCs who have already solved the case for them, and now they only need to kill the final bad guys, but without the help of Knight Errant this time.

Having KE there en masse (to give the runners no option but to surrender) and then leaving them out of the confrontation with the real crooks, is weird. Worse is that all the interesting stuff, tracking Anarchy and Harbinger, connecting them to Gordo Buck and Blackfern, has already been done by Bull. Anarchy and Harbinger will mean nothing this way, not to mention that it takes away agency. So I want to fix that.

I'm also going to change the start, because I already have a much better alternative for that. One of the players has a foreign (Tir) SIN and isn't totally SINless. He also has a dependent (teenage sister). After Burn (04-07), they were expected to leave the city or get arrested, so I gave them a long mission away from Seattle, cleaning up some toxic waste for three months in Timshian (from Bloody Business). When they get back, stuff has gotten out of hand, but the authorities managed to track down the foreign SIN and arrested the sister. So instead of getting hired for a datasteal on DA Beatty's house, they find an informant with info about the arrested sister who says they can find it in DA Beatty's house.

But what can I do to give them more to figure out about Anarchy and Harbinger? It would be nice if they hear from him before they go for the final confrontation, and even better if they can figure out some of Bull's info by themselves, but how?

The steps in the mission as written are:
  • Meet Mr Johnson/informant (Leonard Freemont)
  • See Joe Martin, but he's useless right now
  • Shit hitting the fan at Beatty's residence, KE starts their manhunt for the runners
  • Their fixer informs them that they've killed the Project Freedom leadership (he doesn't know about Beatty yet, I think)
  • KSAF/Athena Tatopoulos contacts them
  • Their fixer contacts them again, this time to tell them to talk to Joe Martin (in a public place; I doubt they'll do that, although Joe's info is slightly better than Athena's)
  • They talk to either Athena or Joe Martin, and get the lead
  • Visit and question Freemont, who gets sniped by Harbinger (how does he know they're here?) followed by a Skraacha/mobster attack
  • KE + Tosh saves the day
  • Tosh, Dana Oaks and Bull tell everything: that Gordo Buck and Mark Blackfern are in this together, and Anarchy and Harbinger are really behind it, so go kill them now without us
  • Final confrontation with Anarchy and Harbinger

That penultimate step is the main problem. I'd like the players to uncover some of that. One issue is that Bull is their main fixer (I figured the initial fixer for this is someone), and they may call him at a much earlier step already. If Bull knows everything already, why do they even need to talk to Freemont? So Bull shouldn't even know everything, but he should have one clue for them that they can follow up on.

One thing they can figure out is that Freemont works for Blackfern, an perhaps also, through contacts in either the city or mafia (possibly even Tosh) that Freemont has gambling debts with Gordo Buck.

Another thing that can put them on the trail of Gordo Buck is the hit on Freemont: they may figure out that the sniper is the same guy who killed Beatty, and the combined Skraacha/mob attack smells of Gordo of course. Maybe they can fight them off without Tosh or KE.

But how are they going to figure out about Anarchy, Harbinger or the meet? Bull or Athena might know about Anarchy, and of course they see Harbinger when he kills Freemont. Will they be able to track Harbinger straight to the meet? Will they contact Tosh, or be contacted by Tosh, who tells them Dana Oaks is still alive? My group has a pretty good hacker, so maybe he should be the one to find out about Anarchy and the meet, but how?

I'm looking for ideas here. I don't want to draw it out too long, but I do want to give the players a bit more agency than they're getting from the mission as written. Any ideas?


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« Reply #1 on: <04-03-23/1653:10> »
One idea I just had: if the group's hacker ever hacks into a system, maybe he discovers Anarchy active in that system too. For example, if he decides to hack into the system at the brother where Freemont is staying, maybe Anarchy is looking there at the same time, to figure out which room Harbinger needs to hit. The hacker might notice Anarchy (is that possible?), and if he gets too nosy, Anarchy hits him with some sort of ridiculous attack that shows this isn't just anyone. The player might just spot an anarchy symbol before he jacks out.

But all of this depends on the hacker deciding to hack into a system that Anarchy also has an interest in. That's by no means guarantees, so this is only an extra.


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« Reply #2 on: <04-04-23/0535:20> »
I think their various contacts should each have one piece of the puzzle, so the runners can put all of those pieces together.

So their original fixer can point them to Freemont. Maybe also about the hit on Project Freedom.

Bull can definitely tell them about the hit of Project Freedom, and may also be aware of the existence of Anarchy, but not be entirely sure of what he's up to or who he's working with. He definitely knows Gordo Buck is important in the Ork Underground and connected to the Skraacha. Not sure if he's aware of Gordo Buck's mafia role, but if he is, he probably knows of Freemont's gambling debts to Gordo Buck.

Tosh knows Dana Oaks is alive, and can tell them that Freemont works for Blackfern. Maybe he also knows about Freemont's gambling debts.

Mafia or Ork Underground contacts might also know about Gordo Buck or Freemont's gambling debts.

The hit on Freemont could point to Gordo Buck and tells them about Harbinger.

But how do the figure out that Gordo Buck, Blackfern, Anarchy and Harbinger are all working together and where they are?

I also feel like with all this impersonation going on, maybe Anarchy should have access to a mage with the Mask spell.


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« Reply #3 on: <06-20-23/0431:10> »
For the benefit of the GMs of the future, maybe I should update this with what I ended up doing.

Firstly, I made the hook more personal. After Burn, where Dana Oaks asked them to leave town or else, they left town, but not after finishing the job. So authorities are mad. One of the runners isn't SINless but has a foreign (Tir) SIN, a shop and a dependent (teenage sister). After the runners return from having fled town (they helped clean up Tsimshian in the mission from Bloody Business), it turns out the authorities ransacked the shop and arrested the sister for questioning. A fixer helps them on their way, and finds an informant (Leonard Freemont) who tells them info about the whereabouts of the sister can be found in DA Beatty's home.

From there on in, shit hits the fan as intended. The runners flee, track down Freemont in the hotel/brothel, question him, he gets shot, the whole thing.

I didn't want to have Bull and Oaks piece together all the evidence for them as described in the adventure, so instead, I let them figure it out.

Before they tracked down Freemont, they already called Bull, who knew Anarchy was in town. Another favourite contact of theirs is Vandana Rao Bat’djoto, from Ashes. She's a bigshot in the Scraacha, and knew a number of Scraacha were working closely with Gordo Buck and opposing prop 23. (She also opposed prop 23 because it would hurt her smuggling business, but she doesn't want to oppose it violently.)

Also, using the Movement power from a spirit, the players tried to follow Harbinger's pickup truck after he killed Freemont, which was a great idea and would have lead them to the location of the final meeting, had Knight Errant not demanded that the spirit would be dismissed. They still got the location through Vandana, but they also had Tosh trace the pickup truck through Grid Guide.

So there's no need to have Bull and Oaks hand them everything on a platter. They can figure this out for themselves.

One final problem I ran into: the mission says that Gordo Buck escapes, but the map doesn't really offer him an escape route. The players were initially even willing to let him go, despite the fact that his goons tried to kill him, but they changed their mind, urged by Tosh when they called him, so Gordo was arrested too. They killed Anarchy, which cost them a big chunk of their reward, but honestly, arresting a technomancer like that sounds like a challenge.