Friday, January 15, 2021

Kill Your Idols

Today's post is an elaboration of one of my entries for the Mothership 20x20 Jam. This is a one-shot scenario intended as a planetside adventure on a more civilized planet, if your players happen to spend some time on one. Feel free to run it either as a satire of the dehumanization rampant in the celebrity world and particularly the idol industry, or as a fun bloodbath with androids getting their heads messily blown off. Or both. Either (or both!) can work, depending on the overall mood at your table. You can also integrate Pink Is Blood into your campaign setting without actually running this scenario. Cannibalize, cannibalize, cannibalize.

You can also eschew the space setting entirely if you want, and plug this scenario directly into the currently in development official cyberpunk hack for Mothership, null.hack, with relative ease.

[Content warning: dehumanization, mass shootings, android gore, behavior-altering drugs, exploitative entertainment industry practices.]

The original 20x20.

Pink Is Blood is a very popular A-pop idol group from the core regions. Critics specializing in the A-pop scene generally rate their music as fresh, dynamic and representing a new wave within the genre. Critics outside the scene usually consider it uninspired, assembly-line faux-cutesy trash (like all A-pop). Their melodies and lyrics are, in actuality, procedurally generated by a subturing AI trained specifically to put out fresh takes on A-pop.

Whatever the critics might think, Pink Is Blood is massively popular all across civilized space. Their ethereal voices, perfectly synchronized dance moves and wholesome, marketable personalities make them a fan favorite on hundreds of worlds. By all counts, the girls are perfect.

This is because all four band members are androids.

The synthetic nature of Rozie, Linalool, Mopoten and Q-py is not a secret. Everyone knows they’re androids, and (aside from a few genre contrarians) almost nobody cares - in fact, it’s part of their appeal, being marketed as cute, perfect robot girlfriends. At least a dozen instances of Pink Is Blood are on tour at any given time, packing concert venues on at least 3 different core- and middle-region planets every day. Their record label, a subsidiary of an arms manufacturing megacorporation, stores 144 individual backup copies of each band member in an automated warehouse station orbiting a privately-owned Kuiper belt dwarf planet.

Pink Is Blood is holding a concert on the planet the players are staying on the moment. At the event, a contingent of luddites plan to publicly assassinate the idols, to protest the soullessness of big-label pop music and the increasing mechanization of art.

Fan-made robot replica of AKB48 idol Kashiwagi Yuki, aka Yukirin.

How are the players involved in this mess?

  • They are contracted by the record label as extra security at the event - they suspect the luddite attack is coming, and they want to ensure the idols aren’t harmed.
  • They are recruited by the luddites as infiltrators, to help them carry out the attack and ensure their escape.
  • They are bystanders - perhaps they were gifted tickets for the concert by their employers, or just had nothing better to do in their downtime. Perhaps one of them is a fan of the band, if you introduced them to your campaign setting previously.

The venue

The concert venue where the event takes place is a relatively small club. Pink Is Blood is capable of packing much bigger stadiums on more densely populated planets.

The venue's reinforced glass doors open automatically when presented with a ticket. Each ticket grants one entry and one exit; once someone leaves the club, they can only come back with a different ticket. Upon entry, two imposing robots can be seen standing at either side of the entrance: security bots made by the record label's parent company, armed with the company's state-of-the-art less-lethal weaponry (C 65%, I 25%, H (3)35; stun baton: 1d10 damage, Body save or stunned for 1d10 rounds; rubber bullet gun: 1d10 damage; pepper spray: Body save or blinded for 1d10 rounds, 1d10 Stress).

The inside of the venue is a dim, long room, illuminated by a neon pink haze. Air conditioning systems pump clouds of water vapor into the area, laced with a mild behavior-altering drug that increases spending mood. Make a Sanity save to resist the urge to buy something from either the bar or the merch shop. [For the sake of avoiding violations of player agency, it's recommended for the consequences of a failed save to be just telling the player their character really feels like impulse-buying crappy band merch, and leaving it up to them how they deal with that (instead of forcing them to impulse-buy crappy band merch). This isn't the main horror, so don't overstress it.]

The stage is in the far end of the room, decorated with Pink Is Blood imagery; this is where the idols perform, surrounded by strobing lances of colorful light, and swirling pink smoke. Behind them, speaker walls blast upbeat electronic instrumentals which flood the entire venue with eardrum-pounding, overwhelming loudness, and make it difficult to even understand one another. A massive crowd of raving fans swarms in front of the stage, cheering, waving glowsticks and showing off their Pink Is Blood merchandise. Pushing through this mass, which occupies a full half of the venue, requires a Strength check.

A bar counter stands sunk into the wall, off to the side from the stage. It is manned by the only human staff member in the venue (a local employee not in the band's employ). All the drinks sold here (which are in the 3-10 cr price range), are laced with a more concentrated version of the same drug being pumped into the air. If you have a drink here, your further saves to resist buying things are with disadvantage.

The merch shop

This is where you can get the players to wallow in their materialism a little.

The merch shop is a bulky, pink and white vending machine shaped like a shop stall, decorated with flashy, eye-catching lettering and glowing lights. It is guarded by a single security bot. A CRT screen built into its facade loops Pink Is Blood advertisements and scenes from the idols' dedicated cartoon show. Various exclusive, useless and overpriced fan merchandise can be bought here. Decking out the entire party in tacky Pink Is Blood T-shirts is not mechanically useful, but it's really fucking fun, now isn't it?

Here's what you can buy in the merch shop:
  • Glowstick (5 cr)
  • Band T-shirt (49 cr)
  • Vinyl figurine of an idol (199 cr)
  • New album release (129 cr)
  • Body pillow of an idol (159 cr)
  • Companion hologram of an idol, with subturing AI personality module (299 cr)
Hatsune Miku hologram concert, 2016.

The bloodbath

This is what happens if the players do not intervene on either side. Any player interaction at any point can change the outcomes. This is also a good reference for gauging what consequences each player action might have, in terms of difference from them not acting.

If the players do nothing, the following will happen:
  • After the players had their fun looking around at the concert venue, a self-driving car arrives to the venue entrance. Four luddites: Miks, Lowen, Rubric and Andine (C 45%, I 30%, H (2)35; SMG: 4d10 damage) exit the car. The car rolls away to the other end of the street to stand by, motor running.
  • The luddites spend about five to ten minutes visibly arguing in front of the entrance. If the players are outside, they can hear why: Lowen has chickened out and the other two are trying to convince him to grow a pair and continue on with the mission. Eventually Lowen storms off on foot, and runs home to cover his tracks.
  • Irritated and missing one of their number, Miks, Rubric and Andine enter the venue. After passing by the security bots at the door, they (poorly) blend into the crowd and don rebreathers to cancel out the mind-altering mist.
  • Over the course of about 5 minutes, Miks slowly, inconspicuously advances through the crowd towards the stage. (Intellect vs. Instinct opposed roll to notice this tendency.) Meanwhile, Rubric and Andine remain near the entrance and prepare to distract the security bots and secure their escape.
From this point onward, each numbered line represents one combat round:

    • Standing in the middle of the crowd, Miks pulls out their SMG and opens fire at the stage. Linalool and Mopoten are hit by several bullets, losing fingers, eyes and shreds of synth-skin. Q-py has her right leg shot clean off and falls with her back against a stage support beam. Rozie's head bursts open like a ripe melon, showering eletronic gore on the stage. She hits the floor like a rag doll.
    • The crowd starts screaming and stampedes towards the entrance. Panic Check. If you're in the way of the mob, Armor save or be trampled underfoot, 4d10 damage per turn, Strength check to get up. (The crowd will also stampede if guns are fired for any other reason.)

    • Four sec-bots arrive from backstage, evacuating Linalool and Q-py to the backstage area.
    • Miks is swept away and falls under the stampede of terrified fans.
    • Andine panics and fires into the crowd; several people are killed, others die by trying to stop and getting trampled by those behind them.
    • The sec-bots near the door attack Andine. Rubric fires at them to get them off of her. This combat is open-ended, although it's unlikely the luddites will win out against the bots.

    • Miks is trampled to death.
    • Several people who aren't in the stampede vault over the bar counter for safety.
    • The sec-bot near the merch shop vocalizes requests to remain calm to no effect, and is swept away by the crowd.
    • Mopoten, who suffered serious processor damage, shakes and contorts like a broken doll, and lets out a shrill, protracted, electronic shriek. Fear save as the inhuman screech ripples through the cacophonia in the venue.

    • The crowd tides against the entrance and frantically tries to open it, banging against the slow-to-open electronic doors. More people are trampled to death.
    • The four sec-bots return and carry Rozie's remains and the twitching and screaming Mopoten off stage.

    • The doors finally give way, and the crowd bursts out into the street, screaming.
    • If any of the luddites are still alive, they'll now try to slip out among the masses of humanity dispersing out of the venue. (The remaining sec-bots can make an Instinct vs. Instinct opposed roll to see if they notice and prevent them from escaping.)
    • The luddites find they cannot use the self-driving car as a getaway, like they intended to - people are everywhere, and even if they were willing to run people over, they couldn't get through. They have to escape on foot, licking their wounds.
    • Colonial police forces arrive in 1d10 rounds if combat is still ongoing, in about five minutes otherwise.
Short-term aftermath:
  • 3d10+10 people killed in the incident (not counting the idols).
  • Police arrive and take control of the situation. Make a single Instinct check for each surviving luddite to see if they manage to escape or get arrested.
  • Pink Is Blood takes off from the planet as soon as possible.
Long-term aftermath:
  • Widespread outcry. Corporate media in nearby systems chews on the event for two weeks before the news cycle turns over.
  • If either Andine or Rubric survived and got arrested, they will be given harsh sentences (life inprisonment, penal colony exile, or execution) for several counts of murder.
  • Corp police tracks down Lowen, who breaks down and confesses the details of the entire operation in return for a reduced sentence. Crackdowns against luddites, independent artists and anti-corporate activists sharply increase on the planet in the coming months.
  • Components blown out of Rozie's head circulate on interplanetary auction networks, selling for thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of credits per piece.
  • Pink Is Blood releases a song about rebuilding after a tragedy, which earns an award and tops the charts for months.
  • Rozie is replaced by a backup copy from the warehouse station. Mopoten's repair is not deemed cost-effective, so she's scrapped for parts and also replaced by a backup. Within a few months, this instance of Pink Is Blood is doing concerts with a full lineup again.

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