After some weeks I've finally nailed down a date for my first Shadowrun 5th Edition session. I have nearly all new players, so I'm running this as a one-off. I'm going to build a number of canned PCs and let the group pick. As this is a one-off, that will make things smoother, as I'll know the player's characters, their capabilities, and can offer advice as the game progresses.
I started by trying to come up with a hook, that is, the point of the run. I wanted to keep the players at street level, so I started thinking about a less technical run. I wanted them to experience Shadowrun, and have an enjoyable game, yet in a lower threat environment. I decided that they were going to be hired by a friend, of a friend, to help deal with a local gang that is muscling in on some new turf. Setting the run in Tacoma around the Port of Tacoma and Commencement bay would give me ample opportunity to tie the narrative in with the wider Seattle area, and the Shadowrun world.
I plan to expose the characters, some who are SIN-less to the dangers of not being a citizen in a world where the police are for profit. Police presence, the hazards of open carry, and the risk of low-rating SINs are all going to come into play between the call, and the meet itself. For the meet, I'm borrowing a favored location of mine the Three Stone Steps Pub. This is a well known, and well loved, location. As with most of it's incarnations it's a small, basement level pub. Mafia controlled, usually by the Finnigan family, it does treble duty as a watering hole, money laundering front, and fence house. I describe the location as small, dark, and well worn. Think of your favorite townie bar, put it in a basement, add bagpipes, and you have the rough idea.
Mr. Johnson is a low-level made man in the Finnigan family, who's been contracted to deal with a problem in Tacoma. A new gang has started moving chips, and setting up a protection racket. This, obviously, cannot stand, but the family can't get involved directly, for political, and personal reasons, which if this wasn't a one-shot could serve as a plot point for later runs. When I plan a run, even a one-off I try to leave myself options, leave things open, so that I can reuse the run later, in a different setting, if needed. This keeps me from ever having to toss a run, everything is reusable.
Once the team goes through the negotiations they will need to use their contacts to find the gang, their hideout, and any other information they might need. I like to leave the legwork phase open to interpretation. Depending on the player they may think to ask an unexpected contact, an unexpected question, and if their logic is sound I like to reward them. This means I rarely tie specific bits of information to specific questions or contacts. Instead I have a list of answers, and when a player asks a reasonable question, to a reasonable contact, they get an answer. For a more experienced group, I might take a harder line, but for a one-off, with mostly new players I focus on the fun, and flow, of the session rather then trying to run a tough game.
Once the players have amassed enough information they move to planning the run itself. This is a fine balancing act. If they dig too deep, I'll have the gang get wind of the impending attack, and the lethality goes up some. If they don't have enough information, then the run becomes more difficult if not impossible. Once the planning begins, I leave it wholly up to the players. If they want to scope out the hideout, great, if they want to show up guns blazing, great, if they want to wait for nightfall, and go in stealthy, great, but the point here is that I'm leaving it up to them. This is one of the big issues I have with canned adventures. You lose that flexibility. I like to have a series of points, plot points, if you will that the players will bounce from. Keeping a series of points in mind keeps the session from turning into a railroad, which is no fun for myself, or my players.
Once the run is planned, I let them execute. At this point my role shifts, I move from being a narrator, to being the op-for, I am the bad guy. While I need to keep the game moving, and fun, I need to put myself in the shoes of the NPC, the mindset of these gangers. Once that is done, then I can have them react in ways that make sense, that mirror reality. This, again, is where staying flexible really helps out.
Here's the roster I've put together:
- A human decker/face.
- An orc investigator, think Eddie Valient with tusks.
- A human street aspected mage, no SIN, focusing on combat spells.
- An elven adept, focusing on stealth.
- A human rigger, with a small arsenal of drones, and a large shotgun.
- A troll "street samurai" though at street level play there's not much cyberware.
- A dwarf gunman, two pistols, and a leather duster.
- A human shaman, low-grade mage, mostly optimized for conjuring.
With four players, this gives them some choice, and flexibility. For me, it limits the potential pool, and makes planning the enemy much, much, simpler.