"It all started with a simple extraction..."
Originally published in 1994, Land of the Free is billed as a cross country mega-adventure for the Cyberpunk line of tabletop games popular in the 90's. In this respect it certainly delivers. It also states that it should take about 8 sessions to complete, which I don't think is realistic but more on that later. In this adventure, the punks take on a mission to extract Adriana Young at the behest of her father, Dr. Francis Young. What ensues is the PCs in a cat and mouse race across the country being pursued by her employer, Narcoss, with numerous set pieces depicting what has become of the U.S in the setting of Cyberpunk 2020. The expanded setting can be found in the campaign book to this adventure, Home of the Brave.
I’m not sure how long a session the author had in mind, but it took us 11 sessions to complete the game using Veil 2020, a rules-light, modified system based on my own game, The Veil. The system truncates conflicts such as long firefights and other conflicts, designed to specifically be able to run these old-school adventures without the crunch. Our sessions were three hours long and the table was drop in, drop out—resulting in maybe a little bit of time being chewed up by new folks joining. However, the system massively reduces the time it takes to get through encounters and conflicts so didn't contribute that much to the increase in expected sessions. I ended up skipping some areas in the last 20 pages or so to nail the pacing I wanted and cutting out some unwanted, problematic content. Otherwise, it probably would have been 12 or 13 sessions.
I ran the adventure rules as written. It was my first time using a module/adventure. Ever. And I wanted that experience to be as close to what the module intended as possible. Time has certainly brought out some blemishes in the adventure. Particularly a lot of sexualized women in the module, most often Adriana Young herself. Sometimes even with weird connotations. For instance, a ninja set out to kill her on a plane might be introduced to the players via hitting on her; after all, she is extremely attractive, the author suggests. There is also a honeypot later in the module, in which a PC is meant to just wander away and witness a woman in lingerie, drawn to music in a house; later being possibly captured by her as she is, of course, a ninja. Each woman in the text is depicted in weird, model poses very indicative of the times. There was also some stuff x-carded at the table, such as going to the south where puritans are running around with confederate flags. That kind of stuff.
Adriana Young herself is also a plot device for the players to have their morality tested. Spoilers! A large reward keeps being offered for her to be turned over, as it is revealed that she is not only a clone but also, ala Jonny Mnemonic, carrying secrets from Narcross in her cybernetic mind (in the first couple pages of the adventure but revealed substantially later in the story to the players). The main questions posed via Adriana’s existence are ones that were explored in media like Blade Runner already. If she’s a manufactured being, is she human? How would the world react? How do the players react? Will, they sell her out for a 1,000,000,000 euro bucks or stick by her, ostensibly as she’s made friends with them as the story has gone on.
While these questions are interesting in 1994, they feel somewhat dated now; much like the sexualized art. I did appreciate that the whole point of the adventure was for the players to learn that she is a person like any other, though. Literally spelled out in the module at the end. I imagine that when this was run when published it would feel much more substantial than now, as this was not a divisive issue for my players at all.
It’s still fun to go through the motions in the module, however. After all the locations are well realized, the characters interesting. It has more diverse art than some do now, even! I was pleasantly surprised in that respect.
Everyone had fun, including me. We basked in the retro cyberpunk aesthetic. Old brick phone, 90’s style, over-the-top action. They stuck it to the man every chance they got.
While the sort-of grand finale at the end was predictable, the players still enjoyed the cheesy nature of it all in keeping with the 90’s aesthetic. You can still get a lot of enjoyment from these adventures and I learned a lot running this one. I plan to run Eurotour next, in fact.
You can find the actual play of those sessions on my YouTube channel here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cr13_CTDdVM&list=PLdShDUcnZ1VFvG4kr5RKGoCChEawbtiA7
System-wise, Veil 2020 is extremely simple. There’s one roll which encapsulates the stakes of a situation. Players say what they wish to accomplish, the Referee and player set stakes for the role reflecting the context of the situation, and the player rolls 2d6+modifier. The modifier comes from what the player character is feeling, distilled into 6 core emotions which are assigned modifiers. In this way, the players are rooted in their PC throughout.
They can also roll normally, with advantage, or disadvantage depending on their fictional positioning, determined by 3 classes (heavily inspired by The Whitehack). There are skill jockies, melee fighters, and hackers, basically. But they’re left up to enough interpretation that many different character concepts can fit into those three categories. Folks could play Shadowrun classes in the game easily, should they want to, for instance.
PCs gain experience for completing their missions and Eurodollars, the currency in Cyberpunk 2020, is used in Veil 2020 as well. When you accrue EB in service to subverting or harming an establishment which perpetuates capitalism, that money also is counted as experience. With each level, players choose from two different choices of advancement (and fictional positioning).
There are, of course, gear lists and cybernetics the players may choose to augment themselves with as well.
Otherwise, that’s pretty much it. This simple system worked well in the module. Stating out the antagonists was easy. Corresponding to their level I chose the same upgrades as the players, or else, if that didn’t make sense for the particular villain or mook, I simply had them deal more damage or be able to take more harm with each level. Easy peasy.
You can find Veil 2020 over in The Gauntlet gaming communities’ monthly zine: Codex; featured in Codex Chrome 2 along with some other awesome cyberpunk content. It is no longer in their Patreon feed but should be available for purchase via DrivethruRPG soon.
I’m toying with the idea of making a Veil 2030. The word count prevented me from going into more detail and I was also not able to get chip upgrades in the game (ala Hardwired). Having an expanded edition with some additional guidance and more gear and cybernetics is appealing, as I plan on using the system to run a bunch of content and perhaps craft my own.
Let me know what you think in the comments; interested to hear what people think of that idea.