Design Notes for a Zaibatsu scenario: Frozen Heads & Fanboys

I recently had a scenario for Zaibatsu, Bring me the Head of Izumi Takahiro, published in issue #10 of the Cepheus Journal. I thought I’d post some design notes and inspirations. You can download the issue for free.

The name of the scenario comes from the curious Sam Peckinpah movie Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. It was about a drunken American piano player in Mexico who has to bring a severed head to a local gangster to collect a bounty.

The basic plot in the scenario is similar, in that the players are assigned to recover the severed head of a two-bit grifter named Izumi Takahiro. In this case, the head is still technically alive, and the players need to keep him that way.

Zaibatsu, at heart, is an action game. So I kept the plot simple, and made sure to include at least two big action set pieces.

The scenario starts out as an investigation. I wanted to give the players enough clues to get started, and I made certain that the main clue, Reiko’s employment at a medical facility, repeated itself several times. (per the Alexandrian’s Three Clue Rule)

The first big action sequence is on the roof of an apartment building, where the players will discover Izumi’s body (sans head) and encounter the violent fanboys. I took the idea of the rooftop shrimp tanks from William Gibson’s Count Zero:

“Shallow pools on the muddy concrete floor caught and reflected the limbs of the dwarf trees, the bare pale roots straggling down into makeshift tanks of hydroponic fluid…Then they pump that into shrimp tanks, and grow a lot of shrimp. Shrimp grow real fast in warm water. Then they pump it through pipes in the concrete, up here, to keep this place warm…you can still get you some damned good shrimp in the Projects… Catfish, too”

Count Zero – William Gibson

The tanks are there to provide a little cyberpunk flavor, and to provide a challenging combat environment when they’re breached.

The idea of the Venus Rangers fanboys themselves is just an exaggerated version of real world genre fan misbehavior. They’re basically a militant wing of a Star Trek fan club.

The Mile-High tower is based on the proposed real-world Sky Mile Tower project. It’s a proposed megacity project in Tokyo Bay. Actually proposed developments and high-concept architecture concepts are good sources of ideas for creating near future cyberpunk cities.

The final battle is inspired by the Union Station shoout-out in Brian DePalma’s 1987 film The Untouchables, which in turn is inspired by the Odessa steps scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film, Battleship Potemkin.

The whole bit about the head slowly rolling down the staircase, is designed to do two things: First, make the combat about more than just trying to kill the bad guys. Second, set a time limit, so the players are forced to try dangerous and dramatic moves to resolve the situation.

I was a little worried that the whole scenario was a little too railroady. Railroading generally has a justifiably bad reputation in RPG circles. However, I think a little railroading is actually OK in a one-shot adventure. A short railroad with lots of excitement is just a roller coaster, and roller coasters are fun.

2 thoughts on “Design Notes for a Zaibatsu scenario: Frozen Heads & Fanboys

  1. Thank you for another excellent post! Whenever I see your posts in my inbox I always read them. Even the short little updates make me appreciate what a fan of TTRPG’s you are.
    Well it has been years since I’ve had the chance to play any Table top games, at least I get to live vicariously through your posts.
    Keep up the good work!

    Like

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