My Cyberpunk 2020 campaign ended last night in rather unexpected fashion. Well, the ending was planned - I'm transitioning to an OD&D Yoon-Suin campaign, though we'll also be doing a rotating-GM-style Microscope-created Shared World type project in tandem.
I tend to glaze over when reading other people's Actual Play blog posts, but I've done some short APs from the "Cyberpool" campaign here and here. It may be remembered that my players had a huge project underway which involved parachuting £200,000 of heroin into an inner city park, hiding it in plain sight in the form of an aerial DJ gig in front of an audience of 10,000 people. (They came up with this crackpot idea during a secret gaming session in my office in blatant contravention of regulations - we live this cyberpunk shit.)
There was another "grand theme" to the campaign, in which the PCs had become involved in a corporate-war-by-proxy between Gazprom and a Bulgarian IT conglomerate called STRELA, and one of the characters was about to throw himself full-pelt into this.
In the end, neither of these strands came to anything. In the final session (I think we've had somewhere in the region of 12 to 15) the PCs rocked up at the Cameroonian pentecostal church whose mysterious pastor, Father Philemon, is their erstwhile employer in the parachuting heist. They had, in true cyberpunk fashion, decided that their cut of the heroin money (10%) was not enough given their expenses (they'd already spent about £10,000 laying the groundwork for the gig) and they had decided they wanted the whole £200,000. In order to achieve this, they hatched a plot to smuggle a cell phone, jury-rigged into a primitive bugging device, into the church, and use it to gather information on the organization. Their ultimate goal appeared to be to set up a huge bomb under the church by entering the sewage system, thus killing Father Philemon and his cronies and allowing them to complete the parachute jump and keep the full amount of smack.
They didn't even get this far - after an altercation with Father Philemon in an attempt to create a distraction for planting the bug they were marched outside and told the deal was off. Things rapidly spiralled downhill and guns were pulled. 15 seconds of in-game time later and one of the PCs was dead (after taking at least a dozen bullets and two shotgun blasts) along with 5 of Fr. Philemon's gunmen, who were mown down by Patrick's assault-rifle-toting Somali teenage girl. The remaining PCs then fired a Light Antitank Weapon into the church and drove off.
I decided this was a reasonable point at which to End Credits, at least for Season 1.
From this we can draw two lessons:
1) In CP:2020, handguns and shotguns are all very well, but what you really want is an assault rifle when the shit hits the fan.
2) More importantly, I think our campaign demonstrates the messiness and Picaresque brilliance you get when you give players free reign. If I'd been plotting things out, there's no way the PCs would have ended up even coming up with the parachute heist anyway - I threw so many other adventure hooks their way - but once they had done, it would almost have been perverse for it not to happen. It would have been such a natural conclusion to the campaign - such a narratively logical, complete note on which to end it. It would have been climactic.
Instead, not only did the parachute jump never happen, the PCs plotted an entire level underneath it (kill employer; keep heroin), which itself didn't happen, because they ended up involved in a full on gun-fight which laid waste to all of their carefully laid plans in the course of less than 20 seconds of shooting.
If it had been a film or book, there's no way it would have turned out this way. But it did, and it was in its own way highly satisfactory: we didn't get a plotted ending, but we got an ending - and one that felt realistic. Life doesn't tie things off neatly. If you were going to compare it to something plotted, the ending seemed more like the end of Season 1 of The Wire: confused, slightly arbitrary, unexpected, and very life-like.
The conclusion being that it's important to stay true to your principles: when the sirens of plot and narrative come singing, plug in your ear wax of sandbox purity and keep on going. You won't be disappointed with the results.