Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Sandstorm, by Darude. 🎵
I'm in another tabletop game! This one is in the setting of Cyberpunk 2020, so: "jacking in" to the network to do some "netrunning"! Swords and street samurai in neon! Body modification and augmentation with tech, like in Deus Ex. A feudalistic/capitalist megalopolis where the government has no jurisdiction called Night City. It's delightful and pulpy.
Meet "Fin," cast in my head as… well… that one's complicated!
John Ferguson never keeps company, nor do the police have any reason to search his apartment. If they did, it would take a very careful search to find the button in the wall, behind the garlic salt, that when pressed opens the door to a cramped basement compartment. Here you can find Alicia Rathbone, Esper, Eduardo Migadu, and at least 6 others, their faces hanging on the walls, staring back at you without their host's eyes.
None of them are real, of course: like "John Ferguson" himself, these identities are (or were once, very specifically) useful to their builder, who goes by many names (Owo, Hur, Patch, Mist, Stitch, Nova) and is currently using "Fin." Law enforcement calls it "Ghost."
To the outside, little is known about Fin: how old it is, its sex or gender, or what its original face looked like. But others do know that sometime about 10 years ago, Fin started doing jobs with adaptation tech most didn't believe would be practical in their lifetimes: a full-face implant. Many on the force still don't believe it and are looking for separate suspects, but Detective Boris Rabinov has made it something of a pet obsession to hunt it down.
Back to the face: Through a mix of machine tech, carpentry, 3D printing, and a pinch of insanity, Fin filed down the cartilage and bone of its own face, placed studs and connectors at the front of the skull, and is able to construct masks to fit the enclosure. The studs keep the face in place, and the connectors send the signal to operate the motors to simulate the 43 "muscles" in place. Boris is looking for someone with a background in ripping or cosmetic surgery (or both).
Fin's first jobs were mostly information gathering, espionage, and theft. But somewhere down the line… it changed. Fin never revealed its own motives, sometimes forgetting to collect payment, or turning down a job from a strong referral of its last clients. But its most common gig of late is assassination. And there is no "middle-ground" Fin assassination: it's either a "send a message" gory display of horror and viscera, or a quiet "could have been an accident." This seems dependent on criteria only Fin knows: its clients now know not to request one, since it doesn't seem to matter.
Because I have to play this character, I do have to make certain decisions about how it came about. Here's a shot.
Fin was originally Carlos Orellana, who before that was born Carla Orellana and assigned female at birth in Madrid. Carlos was the only child of loving and accepting parents encouraged him in all his hobbies and activities. He took more to theater than sports, finding solace in acting, dancing and costume design. His abuela had given him well-intentioned sewing and embroidery lessons when he was a child, and while he applied them happily to theater costuming, he was also eager to put his hands to use in woodworking and machine-building.
He got eventually left Spain to matriculate at Yale, where he entered a fraternity and joined a secret society much like Skull and Bones. There, he met the primary love interest for the next few years: a young medical student named Tiberius Ramio. The two spent an obsessively long time together, and their favorite hobby could only be described as hijinx. Carlos would work with forgers, hackers, and use his machine work to help them run the best pranks Yale has ever seen. With graduation nearing, Tiberius was offered a job at the FBI, and he referred Carlos in for his skills in an experimental operations division. They accepted.
This division was in charge of sneak tech: how to get field agents where they needed to go. Biometrics and hacks were increasingly becoming common, and the FBI needed better tools to infiltrate. Their team consisted of 6 people of various age groups, legal statuses, and disciplines to come up with the very best in sneak tech. Their boss never revealed a complete name, she just asked to be referred to as "Mayfly."
The next four years were a blur: drunken nights, wild experiments for all sorts of prosthetics. He remembers his excitement at his first 3D-printed component, he never thought he'd end up getting so familiar with it that he'd find bugs in its designs and be designing its upgrades.
A few of their inventions went out into the field, but there was one project Tiberius and he always privately came back to: the "Doubtfire" project. What if you could convincingly change an entire face? They speculated as to how, but even the most plausible way seemed incredibly risky, mentally and physically, to whoever would undergo it.
One day, Tiberius disappeared. Mayfly's second-in-command, a man named Rune, told them he was needed in HQ and unavailable for contact. Something felt very, very off about this, but Carlos knew when he was being blocked. He bade his time and respected the process, but was growing impatient. Furthermore, every day, Tiberius's belongings and notes were being confiscated by G-Men. He stole what he could, but he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
During his panic, Rune takes a walk with Carlos, and informs him: The FBI is pretty sure Tiberius is a mole. "I'm sorry, the man you loved was a traitor to organized crime in Night City. The sooner you can let him go, the better."
Carlos had heard of the horrible interrogation techniques they'd had for suspected traitors. And the possibility of a mole is real, but he could never believe it was Tiberius. Rune? Mayfly? Someone else from their crew?! But there was no way out: his official search paths were all blocked, and being a federal employee, they'd never give him peace in civil society from surveillance. So… he tried to move on. He tried, but it was far, far too much. Months of creeping alcoholism, and the nagging feeling that it was just impossible to lose everything like this, he started engaging in self-destructive behavior. He saw enemies where he saw his friends. And he kept fixating on Doubtfire: if he could make it work, he might be able to "disappear" from the FBI and continue his search. And being the old theater kid he was, he'd love his and Tiberius's ideas to be what brought them back together.
This… was all 15 years ago. It's lost the memory of what finally drew it to do it. It's likely it repressed the painful, horrifying memories of the disfigurement. And it knew Tiberius was probably long dead. Wearing enough faces… it's forgotten its own. It made a copy, but it refuses to look at it. It'll only ever wear it to be re-united. Until then, it's building up its nest egg and contacts, seeking answers the whole time.
Wigs, spirit gum, makeup, woodworking, a 3D printer, a work bench, hi-definition monitors for reference work. Checklists, checklists everywhere: which poses to try to QA a face.
The largest direct inspiration for Fin was Metal Gear Solid's Decoy Octopus, a character so obsessed with disguising himself convincingly he'd inject his own veins with the blood of the person he's impersonating. When considering the Cyberpunk world, I asked the DM how far body mod could go, and the idea of someone making a full-face implant (and what that would cost) was alluring.
I've played Fin for two sessions, the third is tonight, and I'm finding it to be a very successful fit. Whereas Homage was me playing "along the grain" as a smartass who deflects with jokes, I've tried recently to play more "normie" characters. They were fun! But it was a bit harder to tap into them, and I'd often go back to being travieso. To contrast: at this point in Fin's story, it lives in a state of constant dissociation, except while "playing a character," in which case it's hyper-focused and more sincere-seeming than the people who are sincere around it. Feels familiar! 🙃
I had (and still have) some reservations about playing someone trans when I'm not trans. If you have feelings about this, please email me, I'd love to hear them. I'll say that while I'm a man, how I perform it and feel about it is a bit more flexible than I've expressed publicly. I also think the stakes of inhabiting someone from a different experience are different when it's representation in popular media/taking someone else's commercial opportunities (e.g. Scarlett Johansson and roles of Asians), "playing up" characteristics or stereotypes to an audience for titillation (blackface at parties, Amanda Palmer and disability drag), vs. playing a private game with three friends.
Fin fits a lot of other recurring themes in my games: I've always liked Rogues, back when they were called Thieves in 2E. I've read and re-read The Complete Thief's Handbook dozens of times when I was 12 or 13, fantasizing about adventures my many thief characters could take.
I've also always had a penchant for doppelgangers and shapeshifters; one of my all-time favorite monsters is the Greater Doppelganger, which eats the brains of a victim and has all the knowledge, skills, and memory of the creature it ate. When I was 15 I wrote a character backstory for a campaign about a character witnessing… themselves?… kill a community member, and becoming a fugitive from that community due because everyone saw him do the murder (spoiler, it was a doppelganger assassin).
Another Pablo note: I love masks. In college, before I settled on CS but was disatisfied with traditional acting path, I did a lot of research on what it would take to learn maskmaking under a master. My favorite theater was always physical, and Commedia Dell'Arte (with their "living sculpture" half-masks and exaggerated characters) was where I would have dug as hard as possible. There's a lot I love about my life, but I often wonder what that life would have looked like.
Last detail of this game: this is the smallest group I've played with in a while. There's only 3 of us in the party, most of my other games had between 4 and 6. While there are downsides, I'm enjoying the intimacy of it.
(all my creative work for tabletop games is here)
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