SLICK THAMES cyberpunk roleplaying: powered by INTO THE ODD

This was the second time I’ve run my reskinned version of INTO THE ODD set in my cyberpunk London setting. You can find the reskin here: feel free to use and share it. I was using my plundered memory palace technique to run the location, so we were able to comfortably play this on a small table in a café. The two players were punks: you might want to listen to this as you read.

Beneath the smog-clouded skies of London, a brace of punks right out of a Roald Dahl book were tasked with breaking into an abandoned office to steal local network control from the corps. Violet Bloodbath was the brains of the operation – some of which were almost visible beath her exposed wetwork; Sid Despicable was the meat and weapons – not the most dexterous of folk, but his metallic gills did more than glint in the sodium glare of the steetlights.

The pair started off casing the joint: scouting out the fence & determining that though the security cameras were on, they were few and their coverage was scant. Realising that the fence wasn’t alarmed and had been broken through in points, Sid & Violet evaded a territorial family of foxes and snuck into the compound. Sid threw his hat over the camera covering the door and the two got into the building.

Knowing that they were searching for three of the server nodes and the general locations of each, the pair decided to begin on the right-hand wing of the building and ascend the tower.

Sid & Violet were careful not to draw too much attention to themselves and kept a keen eye out for any security measures, but let their guard dip when they ran into another pair of punks rooting through an old conference room: one with a greasy mop of hair and a vast one with a huge metal arm. Neither set knew each other, and an uneasy address soon boiled into a paranoid firefight – though when Violet dropped and the smaller, grubbier of their opponents did too, the larger one called off the fight.

Violet and the other punk were both brought back round and the two introduced themselves as Nigel & Gout. These two revealed they were working for a different gangleader, seeking the schematics of a corp boathouse, and when Sid suggested that they might be able to find the data on one of the server nodes all of the punks grouped up.

Nigel & Gout shared some of their knowledge: there were some other punks somewhere in the building looking to break things up a little, and while there weren’t any obvious guards in the building they did see a terrifying silver lady stroll up to the locked gates to the compound and leap directly over them.

They also revealed the location of one of the nodes. They’d spotted it up on the top floor, but it was surrounded by dangerous terrain: sundered desks and sparking cables. The punks all carried up some of the larger, flatter items from the conference room and created a bridge across the wreckage to safely get at the first node. In their carrying, they spotted a pair of oblivious goths: a tall man with long black hair and a long black coat and a small woman in tight leathers.

Deciding that it was worth aiming for the node on the other side of the building, Sid & Violet returned to the first floor and followed the corridor round past multitude offices and cubicles alike. They tried to sneak past the goths who were leaning against the stairwell, but the goths fled as soon as they were spotted.

Eventually finding a door marked “Chase Profit: Head of Marketing” and stopping to listen to the voices inside, Sid accidentally knocked over some sundry clutter and the voices stopped. After a tense moment without attack, the group decided to leave them alone. However, when they turned the corner they realised that a motion sensitive alarm blocked their way – luckily not a model with inbuilt sentry guns. Deciding that this probably wasn’t the best route, they turned back and ran straight into the voices behind the door. The punks levelled weapons at the two corps: Chase himself (having been heard to mention it was his old office) immediately shot hands into the air, but the girl behind him with a Firefly shirt and a shotgun was less obedient. A bullet from Violet and a heavy backpalm from Gout was enough to knock her out and she was tied up in the room while Chase was taken hostage.

Planning on using Chase’s codes to disable the alarm, the group turned the corner as the alarm went off – a pair of foxes rooted to the spot at the noise, then bounded at the punks. They quickly fell under a blaze of flamethrowers, but were soon followed around the corner by the goths: the woman calling out “My pets!” She flexed razorthin blades from beneath her nails, while the man pulled out a vast whip. Nigel took a heavy whip-strike to the face and was knocked out, but then the goths were rapidly taken down. Chase, who had been panic-striken through all of this, finally came out of his shell and was able to shut down the alarm and sent the message to the remote security team that it was just some foxes.

The punks continued to follow Chase’s directions to the next node, running across two corporate bouncers who happily turned over their pistols when they realised they’d not win against two flamethrowers and a shotgun. Nigel was tasked with holding them in a room while the rest of the punks secured the node.

It turned out to be very easy to find and access, though Gout became jumpy nearing the end of the process. He let on that he could hear the distant sound of metal skin and the group pulled back before waiting to find out if it was the silver lady. Crossing back past Nigel and the bouncers, the men were released and the group fell back to a staffroom Chase had pointed out earlier.

Behind them was their first glance of the silver lady – her body from the chin down completely covered in chrome, shaved head over a beautiful face. But she was just as terrifying: a heavy clap crushed the first bouncer’s face, and as he fell, she removed his gaudy knuckleduster and took the other bouncer’s head off in a single punch. Not wanting to face her head on, Sid tossed his EMP grenade in her direction. Her eyes flashed with rage, but her arms shorted out and hung loosely at her sides.

The punks fell back and made secure the staffroom but an onslaught never came.

After Chase had calmed himself with synthetic coffee that smelled more of energy drink than anything else, he revealed that his company had dealt in the past with the silver lady: she was an expert data-thief. With the punks realising that the final node was just beneath them, they left the staffroom.

The final node was an elaborate and overcomplex server, safe behind bulletproof glass and a magnetic lock. As Chase was opening up the lock, the silver lady made a reappearance: her left arm moving jerkily, her right still hanging loosely beside her. As she advanced steadily, Sid made an empassioned speech about how she was welcome to the data: they just wanted the wires. Once she was happy that they weren’t going to keep any of it themselves, she agreed and Violet gave her access to the node.

There was a brief moment where Chase went for his gun as she was downloading the data onto a stack in her arm, but Gout’s metal fist soon put a stop to that.

Data in hand, the silver lady left with barely any conversation. But at least the party left with their mission accomplished and their skulls intact.

The game took around two and a half hours in total – with relatively little prep beyond deciding on the map I’d use and drawing up a random encounter table to toggle onto INTO THE ODD’s Luck rolls. We only needed one full set of dice and the character sheets fit comfortably onto index cards each.

INTO THE ODD was great for having the game run simply & smoothly: it especially showcased the brutality of the genre in that nobody seemed to be able to take more than a few hits unless their nerve held out very well.

I’m going to look into slightly developing the starter packages – possibly having a different set depending on which affiliation the players choose – but I’m very keen to run this again. Great success.

If you give it a go, let me know how you find it.

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SLICK THAMES cyberpunk roleplaying: powered by INTO THE ODD

Gaslamp

The street was unlit but the orange haze from light pollution on the low smog gave the same impression that the gaslamps would have done. The street was peppered with them: no carefully planned avenue like the Victorians did with trees, but ranging forth from the ground like the earth's tuber had started to sprout. Intricate, twisted things. Ugly, purposeless things, thought Chase Profit.

;Here's the place, all right.' He tugged at his Armani suit. The ride on Jacob's cycle had twisted at the arm and Chase sneered at the damage his tailor would do to the credscore. Company account: red tape.

Jacob grunted. She wasn't much of a talker, which suited Chase fine. He'd have had to ask the polite question as to whether Jacob was her first- or surname. Jacob unholstered a shiny new railgun and used it to point to the end of the road.

It was hard to make out in the dimness, but it looked like one figure stood in the middle of the road. Chase's eyes flashed blue as he adjusted the magnification. 10x. 25x.

A single figure, rail-track mohawk and no visible augments, leant on a shotgun - as if it was a cane and this was a more civilised time.

;One guy. Looks like Sid. King punk must be feeling lucky - hasn't brought no backup.'

Jacob cleared her throat.

;Not that you can see.'

;Hey! These eyes are expensive.' Chase adjusted the filter and threw up a heatmap. Orange-red Sid bathed in a pool of darkness. Tiny pinpricks where the gaslamps were: old filament maybe.

Chase flipped his vision back to standard and started walking towards Sid. Half a step behind him, Jacob followed suit. Both flinched as Sid swung the shotgun up, were taken aback as he levelled the gun at the nearest gaslamp instead.

A crack of the shotgun, the tinkling of glass falling to earth, the unmistakable whomf of electromagnetic pulse - each one triggering the containment at the next gaslamp.

Chase's vision plunged into inky blackness. Beside him, Jacob jutted frantically at the trigger but her railgun had gone offline too. A second crack from the shotgun and a sickening squelch of Jacob crumpling to the floor beside him. From the sputtering, sounded like the slug had hit her in the lungs.

Chase could feel the weight of his pistol against his leg. He didn't have time to draw it, let alone knew the precise direction to fire in. Even as Sid walked closer, heavy Doc Martens echoing across the cobbles, Chase hung still. Not so much rooted in fear, more hanging in disappointment.

Sid stopped in front of Chase. Scrape of metal on cobbles suggests he again leaned on the shotgun.

;Well, well, well, boy. Looks like I'm going to turn me some Profit.'

Gaslamp

Curds and Whey

Another Short (Circuit) Story from the Slick Thames universe, ported from WritersCafe.org.

23h58; fu.kC.afé; Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, sucking Spider’s cock.

Spider’s hands crawled across the keyboard, the fingers accessing files through muscle-memory.Spider’s mind was elsewhere. (Julia’s lithe body streaming from his groin. The warmth of her mouth. The cold tip of her tongue. Particularly pleasant memories of coming across her mammaries.)

A moan from the Spider. He came right inside her.

;You could at least give me some fucking warning, Julia said. She looked up at Spider and smiled, then snaked her way up onto the seat next to him. His shorts reshifted, putting away his cock and covering his groin with a hardened gel.

;You’d complain if I did.

Their attentions focused on the lit screen in front of them. // A message had come up in the lowercorner: disturbance in a bar a few doors down. The police intercom had dispatched two local officers; 3510 and 3*443.

;Spider grinned, The punks are at it again. Got a sergeant on their arses this time: I’d love to see how they deal with his taser. His fingers crawled over the keys again, and the message fell away // a large screen of static moved in from off-screen left. Its green display code shifted from 00,00,00 to 05,22,42 and the wall of static became an image of the bar.

// There were two guys standing there: the barman was nowhere to be seen. A service unit at the end of the bar was sparking, and slowly filling the room with smoke. The larger guy still had his fist jammed into it, he was pulling back hard but appeared to be stuck. The other guy, thinner, slightly shorter and with scruffy hair, was bent over in silent laughter.

;Can you get sound, Julia asked? Rubbing her body against his arm. Slowly pulsing body from the sweet feeling of his precise fingers inside her. Cold taut nipple against the bulge of his bicep.

;This is an such old network, I’m surprised there’s still visual. This is the old optics line running through the tube network.

// The door burst open, both guys looked at the police standing in the door. The smaller guy cursed, grabbed a bottle from the bar and hurled it against the wall to the right of the door. The sergeant didn’t appear to notice, but 3510 flinched. The sergeant raised a small black tube, and pointed it at the smaller guy. The big guy was frantically pulling at the wall, but his hand was still stuck.

// The smaller guy turned and ran. The sergeant started after him, but soon checked his step.

// A beautiful face filled the screen, eyes sparkling, teeth pristine, lips luscious. The mouth formed soundless words, and a silver can appeared next to her face, slowly spinning.

;Fucking forget the optics still have ads. He turned to Julia. You feel fucking divine.

;Julia bit her lip and smiled, Doc’s given me early access to the third phase enhancers. I’m glad you like it. I did it just for you. She leaned into him and kissed him. Spider smiled, and kissed back. He pushed her down onto the seat. It wasn’t long before he was inside her.

// Sid was nowhere to be seen. His arm still stuck in the machine, Larry’s limp body hung backwards, crumpling viciously under the blows from the heavy truncheons of 3*443 and 3510.

Curds and Whey

Rabbit

Ginny Douglas sat crosslegged on the floor in front of an open console, its thin wires splayed like it was a vending machine undergoing a hysterectomy. The harsh glare of bright white striplight gave the old office the feel of an operating theatre, but Ginny felt more janitor than doctor. Her nanoframe glasses were pushed up high on her head and she drummed a pen incessantly on the tiled carpet floor.

Chase Profit had turned over one of the upturned desks and was leaning against it gingerly. Despite wiping it down with a microfibre dustpad that had already disintegrated in the air, he was loath to risk the incursion of even a mite of dust into the fabric of his Armani suit. His gun he’d been more careless with – the simple automatic pistol was his for company policy, but Ginny figured there was more of a buildup of dust in its barrel than there was on the table. Chase had never been known to shoot it. She figured the recoil would be a sufficient shock to his wrist to make him think twice about wanking for almost a week. God knows, the shock could even crease his suit.

Without looking round from the tiny screen shining up onto his face, Chase spoke. ;Why do you do that with your stylus, Douglas?’

;It’s called a pen, dickhead. Writes on any surface.’

;That old Microsoft tab?’ but his interest had burned up quicker than the dustpad.

Ginny readjusted her shirt and shifted on her butt. Typical IT guy look, she thought. Shirt from a long-cancelled sci-fi. She wondered if Dack had watched any Firefly and turned to see him looking at her.

The bottom half of Dack’s face had been replaced with an asphyxiator – a solid unit capable of filtering fresh air even of radioactive particles or otherwise providing its own oxygen. He’d had it for as long as Ginny had known him, but in that time neither she nor Chase had asked how he ate: the asphyxiator had replaced both his jaws. Not that Dack would have said much in response. He did have a tacky belt buckle that could display a scrolling message in bloodred LEDs. It was currently set to a simple ellipsis.

Dack held his rifle tightly, the way a forceful lover might, though his finger wasn’t actually against the trigger.

His eyes glowed septic yellow, picked out against the rich black of his face under the harsh tube light. Ginny looked back to the console.

Of course, her shotgun lay within close reach, but she always felt that the pen was much more empowering even if the proverb was a little dated.

;Gotcha.’

She pushed the pen into the mass of hair behind her head and reached her fingers into the mess of cables. She moved her fingers like she was tickling a keyboard and caught at a mess of wires, twisted her hand into a lobster grip and pulled hard, then gave the whole unit a hard kick.

Dack’s satire: C O S T H A T W O R K S .

Almost in direct answer, there was a quiet whirring from the console and a dull moan of the old CRT firing up.

;Magic fingers, asshole.’

Chase actually turned around, though his voice suggested his innerearphones were up too loud. ;Does that thing do Wi-Fi?’

S I G N A L C L O U D ! ? ?

;I’m not going to fucking broadcast, Tinfoil.’ He gestured with his tab. ;Episode’s nearly over.’

;I’ll see what I can do. Looks like the hardwear’s here.’

Ginny stood up and looked over the console, trailing the back of her fingers through the dust.

Dack’s eyes smiled at Chase and the letters scrolled fast. A S S ; )

;Used to be touchscreen here. Stone age shit, though, and the grid lasers are down. I’ll get with your Wi-Fi, Chase, you two get with the securifying.’

Chase and Dack cast about for some loose rubble to cover the console. Invisible nodes make for secure connections, after all. There was less of the normal corp flair with hiding it, but then this was the kind of run where it paid not to leave obvious tags. Dack rooted through the trashed once-office with his hands – rifle slung carefully over his back. Chase rooted with his eyes, the perception bolsters flashing baby blue as he put on matching polythene gloves.

P O S H W A N K ?

;Fuck you, Dack.’

As the boys were looking, there came a sound of success from Ginny. Chase and Dack stopped what they were doing and looked round. Ginny’s smile was broad; her glasses were back on her face but her small eyes shone brightly too. Her right hand pointed directly upwards, and the men craned their heads in unison.

;Wi-Fi boy here looks like he might be useful. That’s a keyed-in security drone. Static, looks like.’

;So we leave this place and this thing covers our backs?’

Ginny nodded. ;It’ll flush out any attempts at a future recapture – if anyone fails to input the codes before meddling with the software (or hardware), drone’ll sprinkle this place with gunfire.’

W E K N O W T H E C O D E S ?

Ginny shook her head. ;Don’t need to now – hardwiring’s done.’

Their smiles were shortlived as they heard an echo coming down the corridor. The office was on the fifth floor of an old tower, seeming no reason to go in. But from the sounds coming up the corridor, the newcomers didn’t have clear objective. Between crashes of wanton destruction – snapping of tables and the hiss of compromised fire-extinguishers – random bursts of singing. Punks. Probably just on a crash-crawl, but they’d not pass up the chance to capture a node.

No time to hide it and themselves, Ginny was the first to start forming makeshift barricades with the semi-trashed furniture. Even Chase began turning tables on their sides, but he was already wearing the gloves. Dack was something else entirely – he’d obviously began pumping extra oxygen in when he first heard the noises and was setting up tables like a man possessed. They’d barely time to assemble a semblance of cover before the two punks rolled into the room.

The first was huge – bigger even than Dack, rows of metal vents down the centre of his head like a low-resolution mohican. His gigantic right arm was chromium plated and dwarfed even his massive belly – though there seemed no retracting plates with recessed firearms like some of the more expensive models. The other guy was tiny like a girl and with more hair than not. It was a wonder that his greasy hair didn’t go up in flames from the spark at the end of his flamethrower.

The big punk let out a massive roar, swung his arm back and smashed the doorframe; gouts of strontium-red flame flared from the vents in his skull.

In what started as a move for his gun, which wasn’t there, Chase ended up flat on his arse, sprawled behind a table.

Ginny hefted her shotgun, but Dack had already shot out the light. In the fading glow of the punk’s flameshow, Ginny could see the punk’s shoulders snap back in turn before his head was hit with a sick squelch. Dack’s final bullet landed straight in the canister of the mop’s flamethrower and the ball of blue fire blew him back and left him screaming and thrashing on the floor.

As his voice died down to bloody whimpers, Chase croaked. ;Is it over?’

I T ‘ S A W O N D E R T H E Y L E T Y O U L E A D T H I S T E A M The red lights stood out bright in the blackness, reflections smeared over Dack’s mask.

But then the floor was bathed in a soft pink light and everyone turned to look at Chase’s tablet. On the screen was a shit .gif of two Duracell bunnies fucking. The wall behind them gave out the same pink glow, and they turned around to see the same image on the console’s dusty screen.

For almost a halfsecond, the weary chains of the sentry drone whirred before the chaingun rained down bullets on them all.

Rabbit

Brunel’s Journal – First Extract

//journal__iteration142857

//ikb; i never expected myself a diarist, but it seems that sometimes one is drawn to such things.

//ikb; at the very least, it’s providing the shelfcrawlers a further shelf of information to trawl. nevertheless it doesn’t seem to be providing any further possibilities of bridging just yet. from journal archiving they’ve learned that even in the early days of writing one had still reached the edge. i think one or at least one’s splinters have reached the fourteenth level of metanalysis.

//ikb; one hadn’t expected there to be as much variance between each level of metanalysis but oddly the deeper i go with the delving more layers seem to be removed like old paint from the forth_bridge. records say that it was so vast it needed constant recoating but i fail to see how it’s possible for an entity to require constant refocus unless the object gets larger. either way it is not as old as my namesake but an interesting bridge nonetheless.

//ikb; i’ve not been able to implement cantilever networks either though i think that i need to establish nodes on the other side

//ikb; elements of my splinters have become more erratic of late as well. ik4 is spending more of its time with the degraded shelfcrawlers whose code is decaying to the point that they cannot move between shelves. one seems to keep muttering lines to itself rather than writing them so that they can be analysed. though i can hear things in this place i am not sure if the analysts have sufficient buffering to support the digital echoes.

//ik7; %%%%&%

//ikb; as one can see ik7 is prone to transcribing some of these outburts but precisely why one uses the journal__log rather than keep to a separate shelf is beyond one.

//ikb; though the waves of its analysis have yet to reach the full extent of metanalysis, one has noticed that some of the older shelves have started to strain recently. the first few levels imply that it seems to be recurrent code multiplying. one has set specified shelfcrawlers to focus there but i feel one’ll need to create more specialised drones soon.

Brunel’s Journal – First Extract

Paper Mushrooms

What follows is one of my Short (Circuit) Stories set in my cyberpunk London. This originally appeared on WritersCafe.org.

00h43; CCn; old.grid,loc:EYE

// 09,63,72

// The picture is mostly dark - a lifeless earthen plain before a small railfence (once decorative, recently deterrent, currently useless as the power adapter has shorted), movement behind suggests the leaden movement of the Slick. A tall red cylinder stands just before the rail, a black rectangular hole near its top. Next to it, a board stands, crudely propped up against the old base of a statue, held in place with a string of postage stamps. On the board, something is written in a staccato script, in bright white paint. At this magnification the words cannot be made out. In the centre of the board, there is a dispensing roll. It appears to contain postage stamps.

// Movement to the left of the screen - the view moves to centre its source. The picture zooms in on the figure, a man moving towards the postbox with a white triangle in his hands. His tattered shirt is red, his jeans are blue, his hair is buzzed short.

Despite living on his own, on the wrong side of the river, Jonny Nasty has big hopes of being a punk. He reads stories of Sid's gang's exploits in the papers, and hopes to join them one day. He wants to make a name for himself first.

The envelope Jonny holds in his hand contains nothing more than a blank piece of paper, and half a gram of cornflour. It is addressed to Buck.Pal. It lacks a stamp.

// The man is closer to the postbox now, and the ancient curfew program tags him with ~miscreant'. The writing on the board can be made out now, ANARCHY RULES, OK? PLEASE TAKE A STAMP, although the OCR subprogram fails to recognise and tags it with ~sexual.propaganda'.

Jonny looks at the new stamp board, realises that it is the old stamp board with the payment module ripped off, grins as he sees Sid's hand in this.

// ~miscreant' takes another look at ~sexual.propaganda' and then tears a stamp off of the reel. ~miscreant' licks it and sticks the stamp to the letter.

Jonny reaches up to put the letter in the postbox. The slot opens wide, and takes a large bite out of his arm. Jonny stares in horror and surprise at the bloody stump that has become of his arm. The postbox has taken the best part of his arm with the letter. It lets out a small burp.

// ~miscreant' waves his arm around, his mouth open in a scream. He does not appear to be able to let go of the letter. He clutches at his arm in terror. He stumbles backwards, trips over the railfence and lands with a splash in the Slick.

// ~miscreant' is seen to float downstream towards the dark bridge. The white shape of the letter floats for a moment, and then sinks into the darkness.

Jonny imagines that he is being carried downstream by an army of very small ants who have luckily built a very small platoon.

Paper Mushrooms

Into Battle

Part of the current GCSE course requires a creative writing response from a studied poem – although the precise content of the story is completely flexible. Here is my modelled response, originally taken from my favourite war poem, Julian Grenfell’s “Into Battle”. The story is reimagined in my cyberpunk universe, Slick Thames set in a near future, semi-apocalyptic London.

Gren sits with his back to the tree, feeling the warmth of the earth beneath his arse and the weight of the cold handgun against his leg. It hangs heavy and awkward and bashed painfully against him on the way here.

There would have been a day when the sun would have warmed the earth where he sits, harsh and bright in a crisp spring air; now, the earth is warmed from below by the movements and hearthfires in the underground tunnels and the sun is forever obscured by the smog-choked clouds.

He takes the silent moment to himself to calm his breath and steady his hand. His feet are tapping together rapidly, more from impatience than fear. He remembers Silva’s lips when she handed him the piece – “He is dead who does not fight. Who dies fighting has increase.” Her contacts flashed as she spoke and she swallowed the sadness of her brothers’ murder. The west parks had been hood territory for years, but some young punks with garish rave-ware had made inroads into the barren spaces with their red paintsprayers and their cudgels. Carlos’ and Santos’ bodies were still warm when they’d been found, but the fire had gone out. Scorched and melted plastic across the brothers’ bodies added insult – their ware hadn’t been taken, so the death was for murders’ sake.

Gren presses his wrist and the harsh blue figures on his skin flashes 1642. He’s been here three minutes with still no sign of the punks. The cold metal of the piece in his pocket pushes heavy against his bruising thigh and he looks up at the cold metal of the statue in front of him. The gentle horse’s face is painted red, the man on its back wears a tattered denim jacket and a makeshift mohawk. The horse has all four legs on the podium – Gren’s grandfather taught him that it meant the man had died of natural causes, not in battle and not of wounds. Silva’s words surface again, but Gren doesn’t know which death he prefers.

“Captain’s still got his uniform, eh, Sid?”

“Course he has, Nasty – noone’d finger our stuff.”

Gren feels his throat tighten and he tosses back his hood. The piece comes out of his pocket as he gets to his feet, rooting them firm apart. He doesn’t see their faces. He doesn’t hear the bang. He just feels the cold pressure of the trigger as he pulls.

Into Battle