Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Let's Build: How Low Can You Go?

This isn't going to be a full "Let's Build" instead, I want to talk through an idea that's been bugging me for weeks now.

When building a Shadowrun 5th Edition character you're given the option for "Alternate Gameplay" these modes, either high-power or street-level change the starting funds, and other limits for your character.

However, I was curious. If I really wanted a player to start at the bottom, and work up, what's the most restrictive set of limits I could place on a character and still have the game playable?

Why would a GM do this? Well, I wouldn't, usually. But, if I was running a group that really wanted a challenge, or I wanted to focus on a group building up their assets as a unit, and not as a group of individuals then imposing harsh starting conditions has some merit.

I've not gotten through the idea yet but I wanted to leave this here, both as a tease for my readers, and as incentive for me to chase this idea down and see where it leads!

Off Topic: Shadowrun Returns

I wanted to pop in to say that no, I've not fallen back off the face of the earth. Instead I've been stuck in that enviable, in tiring, position of having too much to do, and too little time in which to do it.

However! I have gotten a chance to buy, and play through the start of Shadowrun Returns.

While it's no replacement for a good group and a handful of dice the game nails the "feel" of Shadowrun. From the Barrens, to Pike Market, Shadowrun Returns feels like a Shadowrun game.

I'm not saying you should run out and buy a copy, but if you did, I would be surprised if you didn't feel it worth the price.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Fireside Chat: Policing

Well, I'm back. It's been awhile but I reached a point where I'm looking to put a group together, and with that I started thinking about Shadowrun again. It only made sense then to restart the blog as well.

I want to ramble for a bit on one of the hardest points to GM of a modern, or pseudo-modern RPG. The police.

I recently wrapped up a play-through of Mafia 2, on the XBox 360, and one of the things I liked about that game, that I think is missing in a lot of games is the fact that the police behaved in a semi-believable manner. Hit someone while a cop is near? That'll get you in trouble. Speed, that'll attract attention. Commit the usual bevy of mayhem, or mischief? That'll get police attention.

Granted, the game handles the police far too leniently in my mind, which results in some odd behavior. For example, you duck down a side ally for a minute, and voila, all is forgiven. Pull back out in front of the same police cruiser, and it's as if you'd never hit them at all. Now, I understand this makes sense from a game mechanic perspective, the game is supposed to be fun, but it rubbed me the wrong way. It, in a way, violates the "rules" that we all intrinsically understand.

The Seattle police department, today, isn't known for their ethnic, and cultural sensitivity. In fact, they aren't known for sensitivity, period. I cannot fathom that this viewpoint will change much in the future, and especially not once you start talking about Megacorps, and meta-humanity.

Where am I going with this? Quite simply, I think the police, and security in general are one of the hardest aspects to get right in Shadowrun. I'm reminded of Shadowrun 3rd Edition. Lone Star officers came equipped with a burst-fire only heavy pistol, the name escapes me, but it was simply terrifying. A car with two officers was a serious threat, simply because they were lethal. Granted, I handled this all wrong when I was GM'ng SR3. I played the cops as bumbling fools, often fudging the dice to reduce the lethality. This made for a more playable game, a more "fun" game, but it's not a memory I look back on fondly.

I firmly believe that the police should be scary.

Part of this comes from a shift in my understanding of what a Shadowrunner is. When I was younger I liked my characters to survive, to reach nearly Godlike levels of skill, and lethality. Character death was unheard of. It wasn't uncommon for characters to retire with millions in the bank.

This isn't Shadowrun.

Shadowrunners die. A lot. Shadowrunners are disposable, cheap throw-away bang-bang for their corporate overlords.

Characters should die. If they do something stupid, or are simply unlucky.

I'm still wrestling with exactly how I want to play the police in my new group, but as the thought processes gel a little more, you'll see my thoughts here.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

On Hiatus

Sorry all, with work, and being completely unable to get a Shadowrun 5th Edition group together I'm going to shelve this blog for awhile.

Given that I live in Seattle, you'd think it would be easy to get a group together. Well, you'd be wrong. With no group to GM for, I'm finding it hard to stay in the mindset to write regularly.

If you're in Seattle, and you're looking for a GM, let me know. Else, I'm sure I'll swing back around to this blog in the future. Be sure to add me to your RSS feeds, so when I come back, you'll be the first to know.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Off-Topic: Hungry?

So, a little background. I'm currently dieting, and it frankly sucks. But, this got me thinking. I don't often take advantage of the mechanics of hunger in my games. Let me elaborate.

Say you have a group, and they are stalking a mark. They've got some downtime parked in the team Riggers van. As the hours pass the team gets hungry, tired, thirsty, has to find a restroom. Their effectiveness wanes. They, quite simply, aren't as fresh, or observant, as they could be.

I thumbed through the rules last night and I couldn't find a good set of modifiers for being hungry. This seemed like an oversight to me. If you have a character with a Squatter/Street lifestyle, meals might be few and far between, and most likely not terribly filling. How does that effect the player?

This lead me to another great thought. We've all had that player that picks up a month of Squatter lifestyle to begin the game, simply to 'get by' as he didn't want to spend the money on something better. So, he shows up to a meet, unwashed, clothes are wrinkled, he's most likely unshaven, and rank. He's hungry, and cold, running on minimal sleep this should, in my mind, effect his rolls, how he's perceived, and even if he can get to the meet.

For example, Mr. Johnson is at a corner table in a swank restaurant. A scruffy looking bum isn't even going to make it past the door, let alone to the table. Heck, in certain parts of Seattle a reasonably well dressed middle-aged man wouldn't make it to the table without jacket and tie.

So, here's the challenge I have. In the comments, let me know if you handle hunger, or appearance, in your games? If you do, what rules do you use? What's your gut feeling as a GM?

I think, at the very least, it might help to toss some ideas around. Remember, as always, comments are moderated but I try to keep up on them, so there shouldn't be much of a delay.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Run Hooks: Monster of the Week: Ghouls

This is the second part to my discussion of how to build a game arc out of separate pieces. What I want to talk about today is an issue that I see all too often in Shadowrun, and one I've had to deal with a number of times myself in my groups.

Shadowrun, unlike D&D and Pathfinder, isn't built to encourage a single play style. This is the biggest draw of Shadowrun in my mind, but it poses some interesting challenges for a GM. If you have a group of players with separate focus, it can be hard to keep the entire group happy. let me explain.

Take the following party: A troll ganger, with a heavy combat focus. A dwarf Rigger, with a mixed focus on vehicles, and drones, a elf Decker/face, and a human ex-Corp Shaman, with a focus on Conjuring. This is a great party, good diversity, tons of run hooks, and no obvious gaps in capabilities. However, with that diversity comes the challenge for the GM to keep the players who are combat focused, and not combat focused, both happy.

My previous run hook, 'The Long Con : Part 1' allowed the group Rigger, Face, and Shaman to flex their muscled, but it left the ganger in the cold. Simply put, a good, well-planned run, shouldn't involve a lot of shooting. This is great if your party doesn't like combat, but every now and again it's a lot of fun to simply shoot things.

So, as a GM, with a vested interest in keeping everyone happy, what do you do? You have an old fashioned monster hunt. This is a run hook with a million variations. Pick your favorite metacritter, and your resident fixer/talismonger/magical contact, and voila! You've got a run.

Simply put, your contact needs pieces from a certain critter. Or, your police contact is having issues on his beat with a pack of devil rats/ghouls/random hell hound etc. The variations are limited only by your imagination. The result, is a shorter, action-packed session that's sure to leave your combat heavy characters grinning, and the rest of your team thinking how nice the quiet runs are.

I'm going to give you my favorite setup here. One of the players, at least in my group, always has a safe house in the Redmond barrens. It's become a bit of a running joke, right along with the 'local dive-bar bouncer/bartender' contact. One of the locals around your safe house has started complaining about the local pack of ghouls. I, frankly, love ghouls. A local talismonger heard the griping down at your local dive bar, and the bouncer/bartender slipped them your card.

Simply put, you're going hunting. Every kill is worth a certain amount of money. Usually, in my games, a few hundred ¥ for a corpse, and a smaller sum for pieces. Makes it worth the team's time to be surgical and not simply blow up everything that moves.

The best thing about this Monster of the Week run is that it's infinitely tailorable. Want it to be harder? Throw a few higher intelligence ghouls into the mix, or some other metacritters. Things going south for the group? It's easy to add a police response to the mix, to let the group grab their bounty and retreat. It's ideal to introduce new contacts, or to flesh out a part of the city for use in later runs.

Runs like this are great to keep in your folio of run hooks for when a session ends early, or you're in the mood for one more game.

Now, how does this work with the wider run arc laid out in 'The Long Con : Part 1'? As the team wraps up the hunt, and gets ready to bag, and tag, their prizes they notice trackers on the ghouls. Monitors, that are reporting via the Matrix.

This is a great way to loop in your Decker, and/or tech-centric character into a combat heavy run. What are the trackers for? Who's monitoring the Ghouls behavior? If the team doesn't notice tyhe trackers, or if the team doesn't have a tech heavy character feel free to have the contact they deliver the corpses to mention the hardware, even in passing.

I've often had the receiving mage grumble about having to remove a bunch of implants from the bodies. Innocuous in itself, but it gives you a point to hook back to in later runs.

In my next entry, I'll tie back to the Long Con, and give you part two of the arc!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Run Hooks: The Long Con: Part 1

I got talking with a friend the other night, and he was complaining that in Shadowrun, as opposed to D&D, there wasn't a sense of continuity between runs. As we talked, I realized that his issue was not a mechanical one, it was an emotional one. We're asked as players, and GMs to invest in out characters, and in our players but as a GM we're not often well prepared to run a story arc.

I wanted to try and sit down, and over the coming few posts set out a sample series of runs that work as an arc, without turning the game into a railroad. To that end I'm going to follow the X-Files story line formula. Where, I have a series of interrelated runs, interspersed with "Monster of the Week" runs. The advantage, if they are done properly, then my players shouldn't know if the run of the day is a story arc, or a MotW.

Let me set the scene. Mid-tier runners, my usual group sits at four players, good gear, a little money in the bank, my team has run together before. A fixer extends a run, good money, some danger, a chance for a little showboating on the side. In short, it's another day in the business. The hook is simple. There's a shipment coming out of the Tacoma docks, four armored 18-wheelers, the team simply needs to delay them. Trucks are on Grid Guide, and can be tracked easily via the Matrix. The longer the team delays the trucks, the better the pay. However, the truck cargo cannot be destroyed, or damaged.

The advantage here is that the team is left with enough information to do the run, and there's ample opportunities for misdirection. If the team digs deep enough they encounter a shell company, and then another, on both the shipper, and receiver end of the transaction. If the team follows the trucks to their destination they find that, after a drive up I-5, the trucks board a heavy-lift hovercraft in north Everett. If the team is watching from the Astral plane, they see that the trucks cargo is inanimate.

The shipment's Matrix trail is a rats nest of shell companies, fronts, accounts, and dead-ends. This relatively simple run allows for a number of follow-up directions.

In the coming posts I'll explore possible follow-up hooks, how I build a story-arc, and a few of my favorite MotW runs.