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.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fireside Chat: Running in the Real World

I recently read a review of Elder Scrolls Online, and the biggest complaint is that the player didn't feel like they were the center of the world, and in previous games that had been a major selling point. The reviewer stated that he felt okay with the idea that when he left a town that the inhabitants simply froze, waiting for his return.

That got me thinking about role-playing games and how we as the GM tend to build the world around our players. For example, what's it matter if the next town over is under attack, if our players never visit? When I run D&D I build my world as a series of points each of them existing as a chain as the party moves throughout the landscape. However, if the players journey off that road I'm left scrambling. Simply put, I didn't build a world, I built an adventure, and when that adventure went an unexpected direction I was left flat footed.

I've been guilty of the same behavior in Shadowrun. However in Shadowrun I feel it's almost inexcusable. I've talked a bit about the value of having a folio of people, and places, and the help that can come from having a standing cast but I want to touch on the idea that maybe the players aren't that important. I know, this seems radical but stay with me.

Let's envision a run, the team is hired by a rookie looking Mr. Johnson, new suit, ill-fitting, he pays too much out of the gate, and flubs the negotiation badly. The team is looking to make a lot of money for relatively little work. So far this sounds like a standard Shadowrun setup. Let's take a moment to step back. Why is the Johnson hiring the team? Why this specific group. Remember there are hundreds of Runners, of various levels of professionalism, and skill set. Why did he pick this group? What is going on in his background to make him need a Runner team in the first place?

Let's assume that Mr. Johnson is running a scam. He owns a business, and needs an out. He's going to hire the team, make sure they damage the business so he can walk away with the insurance, and to top it all off he's going to make sure he doesn't need to pay them. Why? Because he's Mr. Johnson. Still sounds fairly vanilla-Shadowrun.

A day or two after the meet Mr. Johnson gets nabbed. His insurance company got wind of the attempted fraud, and he's been picked up and is currently sitting in jail with no way to alert the team that the poorly planned insurance fraud scheme is not going to work. The world has taken an action outside of the context of the team, at this point there's no way they can get paid, but they don't know that. Maybe they go on the run, and finding no resistance, quickly accomplish the tasks set for them. Of course, they don't know that the reason they don't meet any resistance is because the building has been seized by the insurance company, and when they contact Mr. Johnson he's gone quiet.

This is one of the hardest things for a GM to work with. You have a group that's now most likely disappointed. They had a milk run, and now there's no money. Bills need paid, and there's no payday. However this is one of the reasons I absolutely love Shadowrun. The world, the real world, doesn't have to sit still and wait for the team to come along and give it meaning. Have a contact you really like? He bar tend? Well, now the bar's closed. What do you do now? Or, he's been shot. There was a row at the bar and he ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun blast.

I'm still playing with the concept, but I like the potential of having a living, breathing world, and the party is a tiny, tiny cog. I'm sure this will come up again, but in the meantime, if you've ever thought about the wider world in your games, or have interesting ways of keeping your party from feeling that the world revolves around them leave a comment!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fireside Chat: Matrix Topography

I'm in the process of putting together a new story arc, and I decided I wanted to challenge myself and build a Matrix-centric story line. Now, in most of my games the Matrix is seen as a tool, something my players interact with to accomplish the mission, and not as a crucial part of the gaming session. A lot of this is a hold over from Shadowrun 3rd Edition when running the Matrix was a very painful experience.

However, in Shadowrun 5th Edition the Matrix blends with the real-world action a bit better. While it's still not perfect, it's close. So, with that I mind I sat down to think about what I wanted the Matrix interactions to look like. In previous games I always tried to make Matrix hosts ritzy, and glamorous, wild colors, and crazy layouts. However, as I started planning the run I realized that from the perspective of a system administrator, that's the last thing I would want.

A Matrix host is tied to a physical location, so, why would you design your Matrix host to be wildly different from your physical location? Especially in the case of an office building, bank, factory, or other production facility.

I started with the first major location, a boat yard in Everett.I modeled the location on Vigor Industries, a real-world shipbuilder in Seattle. I had a good idea of the yard layout that I wanted, several large dry docs, fabrication sheds, storage sheds, liquid tanks, parking, etc. all enclosed by a high fence, and a legacy drone on rail system, that's a hold-over from Shadowrun 4th Edition.

With the physical layout roughed out I turned over to the Matrix. At first, I envisioned this nautical themed host, with boats, and pirates, and parrot IC. This seemed like an amazing idea at first, but as I played with it more, and the physical location came together, the analogy fell apart. It simply was a pain to remember the pirate-centric theme as I developed the run. I realized, that if I couldn't remember the theme in planning, I wasn't going to remember it at the table.

With that in mind I sat back with a coffee and thought about the problem from a real world view. I've worked in web design, both front end, and back end development, and I wondered if I was handed the challenge of designing a Matrix host for a shipyard, what would it look like? How would I design it if I had to sit and maintain it day after day.

I started with the drones. I wanted legacy drones on a rail, with a smaller number of tracked drones inside, and a large group of worker drones in cradles and on charging pads around the 12 acre facility. All of these were represented in the Matrix by an icon that roughly mirrored their function. Welder drones looked like a MIG set, trundle drones looked like a hand cart, etc. Security drones used their default icon, and so would be immediately recognizable to my team, with a spot check, and possibly a knowledge check.

With the drones sorted, I moved on to the buildings. I theorized that with RFID tags, and smart inventory systems, there's no reason that the security rigger shouldn't be able to see the buildings contents, once he had a mark on the building's icon. With this in mind, I developed a layer-cake model for the buildings. Each building was an icon itself. Once a building was marked, the contents icons would become visible, and the building itself would become translucent. Each of these icons would display their contents, unless the container was secured, then it would have to be hacked, and marked, like any other icon. This lets me handle the large amount of material in a fairly natural way, without a cumbersome analogy.

Cranes, dry-dock controls, tenders, and other large machinery would be represented by their own icons. As if they were large drones themselves. As I thought about the cranes, and other large machines I couldn't think of a reason they wouldn't be rigger adapted. With rigger adaption you run the risk of your players deciding to drive a crane into the sound, which I guess I'll deal with if/when it happens.

As I looked over the notes I'd made I realized I still didn't have the objective mapped out, or the IC that would respond if the team botched something. I wanted to use the shipyard offices as the objective. I played with the idea of making the office building it's own host, or going even further and making the office a cable only, no wireless, location. However, making the office offline didn't seem to fit with the idea of this being a working shipyard.

So, I went with the building being a sub-host, with dedicated IC. When the team's rigger jumps into the building he's going to see a relatively standard office space. Devices, files, feeds, will all be represented as small icons similar to their physical self, and roughly co-located with their real world counterparts. I wanted to keep the feel of the real space as much as possible.

At that point, securing the objective data became trivial, the iconography worked for me, a safe, a digital representation of the data store, and the files within represented by manila folders.

I did take a minute to play with the icons of the IC. I wanted the offensive IC to be sculpted as welders, with the torches being their damage output. Marker IC would be represented by a worker, with a spray can, Patrol, would take the shape of a large junkyard dog, and the analogy continues. However, this is still a relatively natural jump. The IC's icons map to their real-world abilities, while providing some dramatic flair for the game, and the story.

Overall, I'm really happy with the session, and I'm curious if my players with actually play in the Matrix, as I've planned for them to do, or if they will try to scale the fence and simply wander around getting into trouble in meat-space without ever bothering to do more than check AR for drones. Only time will tell.

Friday, March 14, 2014

By the Numbers: Playing the Police

Piggy-backing on my previous post I'm going to go through a combative encounter with the Police, as I would run it if I was in game. This should help clear up some of the questions from my last post. If this goes well, I'll do more of these to help illustrate some of the other GM concepts I plan to cover in the future.

As with my previous example the party is trying to rob a store. Specifically they are looking for financial records related to Mafia money laundering in an other wise unassuming Mom & Pop shop. They choose to force the back door, assuming that the alley will give them the cover they need to work undisturbed. The store's back door is guarded by a keypad lock. The team's electronics guru goes to work on the case, making a Locksmith + Agility [Physical] test, and scoring a number of hits. This gets him access to the guts of the keypad. He then goes to work rewiring the internals.

For tests that may have Dramatic Consequences(tm) I will generally make the roll for my player, which some players don't like this, most enjoy the added dramatic tension, especially when I describe success, or failure, with some thematic flair.

On the second  Locksmith + Agility [Physical] to rewire the internals I roll a glitch. Now, when I'm making rolls for my players I'll occasionally fudge a roll in their favor, It helps to keep the game moving, and helps to keep the story tight. However, I won't fudge a roll against a player. If they make a roll, great. This also changes depending on the experience of the group, if I have a veteran group, I don't fudge the dice. To each their own I guess. Anyway. A glitch is rolled, not a critical glitch, so the door does open. However, they have now tripped the alarm.

Once the alarm is tripped I start rolling a threat pool. Adding a die every minute of real time, or, every initiative pass. Whichever is greater. I use the professional rating of the threat as a limit to the test, raising that limit by 1 if a Lieutenant is present, or if combat is underway. Successes on this test determine the amount, of response. Especially for police this pool can grow quite large, and with a limit of 5, or higher, once combat is joined, and senior officers are on site the opposition can ramp up very quickly.

I'll fast-forward through the police response to the actual combat, using the method above the first officer arrive three rolls after the players tripped the alarm. I rolled a single success on three dice, and so a single car arrived, with one officer. Now, the question was asked in my previous post how professional rating effects the behavior of my threats. I'll get into the details a bit later, but at this point the difference in professional rating means that the officer isn't going to be stupid.

Pulling into the parking lot, lights, and spotlight shining into the store the officer takes cover behind the drivers side door, side arm readied. Now, the lights entering the store give a -3 dice penalty, and the officer gets to use the door as a barrier.

Once combat begins, the officer ends up wounded in the opening exchange. I like to view professional rating as a gauge for wound levels. For example, a professional rating 1 grunt is going to retreat at a light wound, anything equal to, or above, a -1 penalty. Simply put, they don't care enough to hang around. However, an officer with professional rating 3 is going to hang around up to a much more serious wound, and a -3 penalty. Also, professional rating determines how a threat will react up to the point where they retreat. For example, in the opening exchange of fire the officer takes three boxes of physical damage, for a -1 modifier. His immediate response is to switch from his side arm, to the shotgun in the cruiser, effectively increasing the lethality of his response.

At a -2 modifier, he's going to move towards the rear of the vehicle, increasing his cover. Also, at the higher professional rating he's more likely to keep calm, and radio effective instructions back to his superiors. This means that other units arriving on scene will arrive in more advantageous positions.

For example, let's take the same storefront. At professional rating 0, the opposition would flee at the first sound of gunfire. At professional rating 1, any backup would simply charge at the front door, and most likely end up in a meat grinder scenario. At 2, they might think about the alley in back, but the focus would still be on the front of the store, at 3, they have the back alley covered, and will work to limit escapes. At 4, or higher, things get really ugly for my players. Specialist opposition, vehicles, drones, snipers, well laid traps.

I always assume that a Runner is professional rating 4. So, at a professional rating 4, you're playing yourself. Anything my players might do, my opposition will do. At rating 5, or 6, the opposition is smarter, faster, better equipped and meaner then my team. I rarely see the need to go above 4 in my games. Police, at 3, with a Lieutenant, or a hardened security team are usually enough of a threat.

Remember, every initiative pass you're making that threat pool roll, each hit means more bad guys show up. Eventually if enough hits are rolled, I usually view it as when I reach a point where I'm losing hits due to the limit, the next group up the threat ladder responds. That might be a drone, or drones, or a SWAT team, whatever is appropriate. At that point the limit for your test goes up, and you keep rolling.

Also, when the team effectively neutralizes the threat, the pool resets. Let's assume that the officer responds, and in that opening volley he's killed. He's not had a chance to radio back, as he's not had his combat turn yet, so all dispatch knows is that he was sent to the store. At this point, the pool resets to zero, and I go back to adding a die a minute. It's a good way to teach players to deal with threats quickly, and cleanly, to prevent them from rapidly growing.

Well, I hope that helped flesh out a little bit in terms of how I handle professional rating in my games, as always, feel free to leave comments and I'll address them.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Errata is Here!

I know, I know, I'm a little late to the party but the first round of errata for Shadowrun 5th Edition has been released. It's a relatively short four pages, and free. Find it here on DriveThruRPG.com a lot of the changes are minor, issues that have been pointed out here, and elsewhere on the net.

As with any body of errata if you have the print edition it's a good idea to grab this, print it out, and tuck it into the back of the book. I also like to tag areas of the book that I know have errata with little post its. It won't damage the book, and it keeps me from forgetting that things may have changed.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fireside Chat: Playing the Police

In my previous post I spoke at length about the benefit of thematic encounters in Shadowrun. Now I'm going to go over the various pieces of a combative encounter, as I run them, starting with the police. In Shadowrun the police should be a nearly constant presence, at least in the nicer parts of town, Runners should at least be aware of the police, if not afraid of them.

Let's look at the basic police stat line:
Police Officer: SR5 pg. 383

Solid, middle of the road stats. With a Pistols skill of 4, and when I run them, a Longarms skill of 3. Why Longarms you ask? Because every police cruiser in Seattle has a shotgun strapped between the two front seats. I give each patrol car a long barrel Defiance T-250, with Smartlink, and five extra rounds in a bandoleer on the stock. This, on top of the Area Predator V that every officer is given in the rules makes the police dangerous.

However, what it doesn't do, is make an individual officer a threat. Nor should it. Police travel in pairs, and their response escalates with the duration of combat. I like to run police thematically, as well as combatively. By that I mean the police show up when my players have made a mistake, and then they show up when it's convenient for the story.

Let me illustrate a typical police response in one of my games. The team is tasked with breaking into a mom & pop store, they approach the back of the building and promptly glitch the test to force the maglock. It's not a catastrophic glitch, so the door is open, and as the alarm is silent, the team doesn't yet know that they should be calling it quits. The alarm notifies a security company, not the police, think Brinks Home Security. This company accesses the cameras in the store, and sees the team, they promptly notify the police of a burglary in progress.

At this point we have to fudge the numbers a bit. In Seattle, response times vary widely. In Downtown, or Bellevue, police response is a matter of minutes, in Tacoma, or Everett, 5 or so minutes, in the Redmond barrens, good luck. When you plan police response keep these times in mind, however they aren't written in stone, and any team that comes to rely on a "window" for police response should be taught a very harsh lesson. I generally have an officer respond if the team isn't moving with the speed I feel they should. This can be a random patrol, or in the case of the example above, response to a call.

Let's get back to our example, the team has taken a few minutes slowly casing the store. They don't know that the alarm has been tripped, and as far as they are concerned they have all night. The first squad car rolls up, and parks with the headlights shining into the store. The officer opens the drivers door, and takes cover pistol at the ready. He can see some of the team inside the store, and has taken precautions. Given a professional rating of 3, and the nature of the call, he would have already called for backup on-route, and so the timer for more officers to arrive is already rolling.

Immediately the teams Street Samurai pops a semi-auto burst out the front door, as the team begins to frantically search for their objective. This action causes the officer to call in shots fired over the radio. I let police radio in 10-codes as free actions. This puts all officers in the area on alert, and speeds up response time dramatically. Remember, at this point you have only one officer on scene. He's not going to wage a protracted gun battle.

At this point, the officer has to make a choice. He can hear over the radio that backup is inbound, and his job is to now contain the situation. This is where the few points of Professional Rating really matter. Officers are going to keep their head, and operate as a solid unit. Furthermore, if any police drones are in the area, it's at this point that I'd re-route them to the scene to provide over watch, and to track the team, should they escape.

In game, we're talking a combat turn, maybe two. The officer is going to return fire while keeping in cover, and at least un-racking the shotgun from between the front seats. Even if the team manages to incapacitate, or kill the officer in the opening turns they know that other units are inbound.

This adds a delicious level of tension, as I've said, a single officer isn't a serious threat, but five, or six pairs of officers, working with drone coverage, are a serious threat and can rapidly take apart a veteran Runner team.

Let's assume the team kills the officer, and then decides to unwisely hang around the store, hoping to complete their objective. Within a minute (20 Combat Turns) multiple cars will arrive, blocking off the rear ally, and blocking the front of the store, with the officers using their cars as cover. At this point, if the team continues to stand and fight, I bring in drones, Lieutenant's, a police Decker, and Rigger, and whatever toys I feel are worth throwing at them. This generally means that the run has gone decidedly pear shaped.

What do we take away from this? What's the lesson for a GM here? Put simply, don't be afraid to punish your players for their mistakes. Don't be afraid to make the police lethal, efficient, and dangerous. Remember, these are professionals, not mall rent-a-cops. In Shadowrun the police are your best weapon, especially early in the game.

Furthermore, don't be afraid to punish teams financially for making bad decisions. Unless you're working for a crime syndicate, nobody likes a cop killer. If a player develops a reputation for killing cops, and attracting too much police attention, don't be afraid to have employers refuse to hire him. Or, conversely, those that do hire him tend to be the seedier elements in the shadows.

I also like to remind my players that police have long memories. If players continue to resort to guns to solve problems, eventually the wealth of forensic and ballistic evidence will come together.

Have any great cop stories? If so, post in the comments!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fireside Chat: Thematic Encounters

I'm in the process of gearing up for my next run. At present I have three players, two of which are veteran and one veteran role-player, who has no experience with Shadowrun. This has gotten me thinking about an are where a lot of GM's fall short. Playing the bad guys.

In other Role-Playing Games, like D&D and Pathfinder, the opposition is fairly clear. You have monsters, and they follow the usual cinematic flow of going from little, to big. Everyone knows the big bad guy at the end of the castle is the boss fight, and aside from a handful of traps, and maybe a hidden door or two, the bulk of the opposition is the monsters themselves.

Shadowrun is different. Both in the scope of the potential opposition, and the wide range of the severity of the opposition. This mean that you have to think about Shadowrun opposition in a completely different way. So, instead of viewing security as a challenge to be overcome our players let's look at security as a narrative device.

When we approach the idea of opposition in Shadowrun I divide encounters into two rough groups, the first being combative encounters, the second being thematic encounters. While most of your time will be spent planning the combative encounters, it's the thematic encounters that occur most often.

What do I mean by a thematic encounter? This is a tough one, as it's not a hard and fast rule. However, when you design an NPC, that you don't think is going to result in combat, that's a thematic encounter. Of course, sometimes, your thematic encounters turn into combative encounters. Every run has at least one thematic encounter. Most GM's call it meeting Mr. Johnson. However, I like to have a number of other thematic encounters. Think about every person you encounter in your day to day life. The barista that makes your coffee, the ticket taker for the subway, or the cabbie that gets you to work, the doorman for your apartment, and the homeless man on the street corner, All of these people have the possibility of being thematic encounters. While these encounters might seem trivial, but a good GM knows that their players live in an area, and that area is populated by other people. Those people can become regular sights, contacts, enemies, or friends. Over time, the group can come to expect these people in their day to day adventures.

I base my games in Seattle, and love to have my players live, and run out of a specific neighborhood. Areas of Seattle, like Tacoma, or Freemont, or Capitol Hill, make for amazing backdrops for Shadowrun. These areas, and the people that populate them humanize the game. It's one of the reasons I love playing Shadowrun over any other role-playing game. I love the people, the city, and the thematic elements that as a GM you can weave into the story. This is one of the reasons I always keep a folio of the people, the NPC's and the locations in my games. Over time, even across story arcs and characters the players in my groups develop an attachment to the areas and the people in the game.

When ever I talk about thematic encounters, and the power they can have in a game I like to tell a story about a tinker that I used in one of my long running D&D games. This tinker was a throw-away NPC, older human that would wander from town to town with a cart full of goods. I described him as a bit of throw away color in one of the villages my party stopped into, and without really thinking about it, described him again in the next village. This, while a mistake on my part, caught the attention of the group, and they began looking for this tinker in every village they stopped into. So, not one to waste a good story, I had him randomly pop up in villages and towns, or on the road carrying a vast array of stuff. Never anything too useful, but if you needed a ten foot pole, he was your man. Over time this tinker developed a bit of a mythos, my group couldn't believe that it was just a tinker, they assumed there had to be more to the story. This is the best part of a thematic encounter, your players become invested in the NPCs.

Let's turn this around to Shadowrun. You have a player, in a low lifestyle, on the edge of Redmond, they have a mild addiction to alcohol, and so they stop into their local Stuffer Shack on their way home. As a GM, I can gloss over this little transaction, doing nothing more then making a note that they've satisfied the addiction for the next few days. Or, I can use this as a thematic encounter. I can describe the store, the sales that are running, the girl behind the counter, and the homeless troll that's always sleeping against the side of the building. I can have a bunch of wannabe gangers loitering in the parking lot, and have them harass the character, to see what they do. Maybe I can have a Knight Errant officer in his car in the parking lot, see if I can't spook the player into going home instead, and triggering the negative effects of the addiction.

No dice need to be rolled, but this is a perfect way to build an environment, to show your players that they don't exist in a  vacuum between their lifestyle, the meet, and the location for the latest bit of mischief.

Hopefully this has shown a little of what you can do, in a storytelling perspective. Next week I'm going to go over combative encounters, and how I design physical, astral, and matrix security for my runs.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Let's Build: A Rigger

I'm going to let you in on a dirty little secret. I love Riggers. I rarely get to play, and most of my groups don't have a PC rigger, so it's a rare day indeed when I get to show my love for the guy in the van with the shotgun. Did you ever notice the Rigger almost always has a shotgun? Or, is it just my groups. Anyway. In honor of Gun H(e)aven 3, and my now un-closeted love of Riggers. I'm going to build a PC rigger. Normal build rules, no street level here, and we shall see how he comes out!

As you may know from my earlier Let's Build, I prefer human characters. However, I'm going to set myself a challenge with this one, and will build a Metahuman rigger. I'm also setting myself the goal of building a character that isn't going to be content with sitting in his car, and letting his drones have all the fun.

Now comes the hard choices.

I want to have a large pool of money, so my initial thought is to assign Resources to Priority A. However, I've said I'm not going to run a Human, and if I want to run a Troll, I really should make Metatype my Priority A. I think, in this case, I'm going to have to let money, and my leftover Karma keep me afloat. So, Resources gets Priority A.

With that settled, Priority B gets Attributes. As I strongly feel that your attribute scores should be as high as possible.

That leaves me C, and D. If I make C skills, then D has to be my Metatype, which in this case would mean Elf (0) Which, if I must admit, is hardly ideal. However, I don't want to have 22 skill points either.

Elf (0) it is then.

Resources: A - ¥450,000
Attributes: B - 20
Skills: C - 28/2
Metatype : D - Elf (0)
Magic: E

Body: 3/6 - 2 pts.
Agility: 6/7 - 4 pts.
Reaction: 5/6 - 4 pts.
Strength: 3/6 - 2 pts.
Willpower: 3/6 - 2 pts.
Logic: 5/6 - 4 pts.
Intuition: 3/6 - 2 pts.
Charisma: 3/8 - 0 pts.
Edge: 1/6

I went for a more general spread, maxing out Reaction for the piloting skills, but at the same time, not leaving any real holes in terms of a weak attribute, or a low limit. The advantage of playing a non-Human character is that you don't have to spend points on the boosted attribute, to still have a solid attribute. Charisma in my case, with no additional points, is still a 3.

As I've stated earlier I love qualities. I think it's a great way to add flavor to a character. For my Rigger, I had a few in mind. However, I have a slight issue, my Edge attribute is a 1. This, is a very bad idea. So, I'm going to plan on bumping this to a 3 with Karma. However, that means that my 25 Karma I'm given has been spoken for, so any positive qualities must have a matching negative quality to balance out the Karma.

SINner - Corporate SIN: This is a huge 25 point negative quality I take very rarely. However, I love the back story possibilities that come with it. In my case, I'm going to say it's a Mitsuhama SIN

Juryrigger: This is another favorite of mine, I love the idea that I can coax just a little more life out of scrap, and it dovetails nicely with...

Gearhead: Yep, I'm the pilot you're looking for. This is a great 11 pt. positive quality. It let's you get just a little more bang out of your equipment when you really need to. Plus, when added to the bonuses from Juryrigger, you can make a drone do magic, for 1D6 minutes, then well, it bricks itself.

This leaves me with 4 extra Karma, for Contacts.

Next, we need skills. This is always a hard part for me, as I want to take points in absolutely everything, and then have to scale back until I'm in budget. For this character, budget means 28/2. Let's start with the skill group.

For the skill group, I'm going with Engineering. This gives me Aeronautics Mechanic, Automotive Mechanic, Industrial Mechanic, and Nautical Mechanic at a rating of 2. Useful for a vehicle based character.

For the rest of my skills I've taken the following:

Perception: 4
Gunnery: 4
Heavy Weapons: 3
Automatics: 3
Pilot Aircraft: 5
Pilot Ground Craft: 5
Hardware: 2
Electronic Warfare: 2

Skill Group:
Aeronautics Mechanic 2
Automotive Mechanic 2
Industrial Mechanic 2
Nautical Mechanic 2

While I'm not going to be a rock star in combat, and I'm out of my depth in social situations, the character has a good spread of combat skills, vehicle skills, and can fix his own gear, a valuable skill set for someone who's expensive toys get shot at.

Next, I get to spend my money. This part always makes me feel like a kid at Christmas. Remember we took Resources A, so we have a whopping ¥450,000 to spend.

Let's start with the easy stuff first. Lifestyle: Low, 3 months. This takes ¥6,000 but guarantees me a safe place to sleep, and a place to park my vehicle. I'm also going to add on the Special Work Area perk, bringing the per month cost up to ¥3,000 and the total bill up to ¥9,000. For the sake of back story, I'm going to say I live in a loft over a garage.

With Lifestyle in the bag, I usually buy my armor, primary, and secondary gun. In this case, I'm going to hold off, and skip to the vehicles and drones next as they will take up a large portion of my money.

For starters, my two vehicles. One for work, the other for play.

GMC Bulldog (¥35,000)
- Rigger Interface (¥1,000)
- Standard Weapon Mount (¥2,500)
- Standard Weapon Mount (¥2,500)
Suzuki Mirage (¥8,500)
- Rigger Interface (¥1,000)
- Standard Weapon Mount (¥2,500)

I took Gunnery, and Automatics, because I wanted to be able to un-mount the guns from my vehicle if needed, and carry them.This obviously packs more punch with machine guns, but the assault rifles are not exactly weak tea. This helps to make the character more well rounded, as well as keeping me from being tied to my vehicle. Having two weapon mounts on the Bulldog lets me un-mount one gun, while providing covering fire with the second weapon. While Ideally I'd love to have Heavy Weapon mounts, the availability is simply too high.

For the vehicles, and later the drones, and as my personal weapon I'm taking the Colt Inception from Gun H(e)aven 3. With an Accuracy of 7, and a 10P damage code, it's a rock solid assault rifle. Keeping one rifle across the board makes life easier as you can share clips, and ammunition across all your vehicles.

Colt Inception x 4 (¥9,000)
- 10 clips (¥50)
- 1000 Rounds Explosive (¥8,000)
- 1000 Rounds APDS (¥12,000)
- External Smartgun (¥800)

One thing I found when playing Shadowrun 5th Edition is that when buying restricted gear, especially ammunition, it's best to buy in bulk at character creation, as it can be a pain to source in game.

Now, drones, this is one area where we have far too few choices in the core rules. There are, in total, 11 drones in the core rules. Eleven. Some of those 11 are not restricted. The ones that are, some are well worth the money. My personal favorite is the MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone. It's highly modifiable, and that makes it ideal for Shadowrunning. On the ground, the GM-Nissan Doberman is a rock solid choice. For less offensive operations the Lockheed Optic-X2 is a great VSTOL spy drone, and it's not even restricted!

Remember, you don't have to bring every drone on every mission, and it helps to have a variety back at home, so that you can pick and choose to fit your mission profile. With that in mind, I've grabbed the following:

1 x GM-Nissan Doberman (¥5,000)
- Built in Standard Weapons Mount
2 x MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone (¥10,000)
- Standard Weapon Mount (¥5,000)
1 x Cyberspace Designs Dalmatian (¥21,000)
- Standard Weapon Mount (¥5,000)
1 x Steel Lynx Combat Drone (¥25,000)
- Built in Heavy Weapons Mount

For the heavy weapon mount, I'm going to pick up a really inexpensive LMG from Gun H(e)aven 3, the Krime Wave. At (¥2,000) it's an absolute steal. Also, it can handle a clip, and belt, and can switch feed sources. I'm going to add a smartlink for the following setup:

Krime Wave (¥2,000)
- 2 clips (¥10)
- 500 Rounds Explosive (¥4,000)
- 500 Rounds APDS (¥6,000)
- External Smartgun (¥200)

This stable of death and destruction gives me a wide range of options for mayhem, and for a surprisingly reasonable price tag!

So far, I've spent ¥175,060 of my ¥450,000 budget.

Let's look at what else I'll need.

Ares Crusader II Smartlink (¥830) (my backup gun)
- 2 clips (¥10)
- 100 Regular Rounds (¥200)
- Concealable Holster (¥150)

Actioneer Business Clothes (¥1,500)
Urban Explorer Jumpsuit (¥650)
- Helmet (¥100)

Hermes Ikon Commlink (¥3,000)

Fake SIN Rating 4 (¥10,000)
- 10 x Fake License Rating 4 (¥8,000)

The point of the fake SIN, and licenses, is that it gives me a cover story, to help put a line of defense between myself, and the corporate SIN I bought as a quality. Plus, it gives me the option to carry some of my restricted gear, including the drones, and the guns on them, legally. Always a good idea.

Aircraft Mechanic Shop (¥5,000)
Ground Vehicle Shop (¥5,000)

Now comes the other expensive part of the package, Cyberware. First on the list has to be the Control Rig Rating 2 (¥97,000, 2 Essence) and the Smartlink (¥5,000, Capacity 2) in a set of natural Cybereyes Rating 3 (¥10,000, 0.4 Essence, 12 Capacity) in addition, I'm going to pick up Low-Light Vision (¥1,500, Capacity 2) and Vision Magnification (¥2,000, Capacity 2) Here's the cyberware in list form:

Control Rig Rating 2 (¥97,000, 2 Essence)
Cybereyes - Natural Rating 3 (¥10,000, 0.4 Essence, 12 Capacity)
- Smartlink (¥5,000, Capacity 2)
- Low-Light Vision (¥1,500, Capacity 2)
- Vision Magnification (¥2,000, Capacity 2)

So far, I've spent ¥325,000 of my ¥450,000 budget.

One piece of gear that I've not yet bought is a Rigger Command Console, mostly because the table for them isn't in the gear section. With that in mind, I want to pick up the most expensive one I can afford. With an Availability of 12, I can get the Proteus Poseidon. Device rating 5, Data Processing 5, and Firewall 6. For the low, low, price of ¥68,000

On top of that, I need to pick up a few autosofts, and cyber programs. Autosofts, are programs that run on drones, enhancing their abilities. The cost for these isn't listed in the first printing of the core rules, but has been released in the errata as follows:

Availability: Rating * 2
Cost: Rating * ¥500

Note: Don't take the above as gospel, always check your rule book, and any published errata.

I have the following drones:

GM-Nissan Doberman, MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone, Cyberspace Designs Dalmatian and a Steel Lynx Combat Drone so any model specific autosofts will need to be bought for the different drone models. This is another reason to only carry a small number of models.

I'm looking to buy the following list of Autosofts:
Clearsight 6 (¥3,000)
Electronic Warfare 6 (¥3,000)

[MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone] Evasion 6 (¥3,000)
[Cyberspace Designs Dalmation] Evasion 6 (¥3,000)

[MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone] Maneuvering 6 (¥3,000)
[Cyberspace Designs Dalmation] Maneuvering 6 (¥3,000)
[Steel Lynx Combat Drone] Maneuvering 6 (¥3,000)
[GM-Nissan Doberman] Maneuvering 6 (¥3,000)

[MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone] Stealth 6 (¥3,000)
[Cyberspace Designs Dalmation] Stealth 6 (¥3,000)

[MCT-Nissan Roto-Drone] Targeting 6 (¥3,000)
[Cyberspace Designs Dalmation] Targeting 6 (¥3,000)
[Steel Lynx Combat Drone] Targeting 6 (¥3,000)
[GM-Nissan Doberman] Targeting 6 (¥3,000)

That's ¥42,000 worth of software.

So far, I've spent ¥435,000 of my ¥450,000 budget.

I also want Encryption, Signal Scrub, Toolbox, Virtual Machine, Armor, Biofeedback Filter, Guard, Shell, and Sneak cyberprograms. That's ¥250 * 9 = ¥2,250 I'm also going to pick up all the Common cyber programs, for another ¥560.

This is the point that I really like, I've bought all the necessities, now I can buy things that are just silly. That is, bits of gear, or cyberware that I want, but don't consider critical. Unfortunately, I'm sitting on a measly ¥12,190. I'm going to spend that on a few extra hard to find bits of equipment.

- Krime Wave (¥2,000)
  - 500 Rounds APDS (¥6,000)
  - External Smartgun (¥200)

This brings me down to ¥446,010 spent, giving me ¥3,390 + (3D6 * ¥60) to start the game with.

All that's left now, is to assign contacts, and spend my karma. Remember, I'm boosting Edge to 3, which leaves me 4 karma to add to my contacts. For Rigger contacts, I like to keep it simple.

I start with Charisma x 3 in free Karma, that's 9 points. With the 4 leftover Karma I have from Qualities, I can spend 13 karma on Contacts. Some people like to have a few very close contacts, while I find that can be helpful, I like to have a larger number of contacts. However, there's not much I can do with only 13 points.

Fixer: 2/2
Mitsuhama Inventory Clerk: 4/1
Parts Store Owner: 1/3

I grab the usual Fixer, and a Scrapyard owner, think your local Autozone, good for getting parts for the legal vehicles in my fleet. The Mitsuhama Inventory Clerk is your average middle-management drone, left over from my corp days. He can possibly provide me with sensitive parts, and intel, from within Mitsuhama. Not the best contact, but flavorful, and could open other options.

Final Attributes
Body: 3
Agility: 6
Reaction: 5
Strength: 3
Willpower: 3
Logic: 5
Intuition: 3
Charisma: 3
Edge: 3
Initiative: 8 + 1D6
Essence: 3

Mental Limit: 6
Physical Limit: 5
Social Limit: 4

There you have it! Feel free to comment if you think I've gone off the deep end, or more likely if my math is wrong!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Review: SR5 GM Screen

Man! It's the second coming of Christmas, or maybe it's my birthday come 9 months early. Anyway, hot on the heels of Gun H(e)aven 3 earlier this week, I just received a call that my local game store Games & Gizmos got in my copy of the Shadowrun 5th Edition GM Screen.

Now, I usually don't go for GM screens for a number of reasons. I've never felt the need to hide my dice from my players, and I usually structure my game table in such a way that a player would be unable to casually glance at my notes. For maps, and other items, I have a laptop, which keeps the master view of the map, so there's nothing to hide their either. But, I got talked into the Shadowrun one, mostly because I was curious.

You see, when a company like Catalyst sets the quality bar as high as they did with the Shadowrun 5th Edition Core Rules, you have to wonder if they can find a way to make a GM screen that isn't flimsy paperboard, doomed to be a creased mess inside a few sessions.

Well, I'm proud to say that the quality is superb. The screen itself is made from a hard paperboard, very similar, if not identical to the material used in a hardcover book. This alone makes the screen worth it's price. I cannot fathom damaging this screen enough to render it unusable. The back of the screen is a number of high-quality glossy fluff photos. However, it's the front of the screen that really shines.

I had seen a few promo pictures for the GM screen, and had been worried that the scatter table, for grenades, would be too large, as it seemed to take up nearly a quarter of one of the four panels. As I opened the screen it became quickly obvious that that wouldn't be an issue. While I'm curious about the positioning of some of the tables on the screen, I found that the majority of the data I would need to have to hand was present. All of the applicable modifier tables are there, combat, weather, noise, etc. As well as the weapon range table, which is something I always seem to forget. On top of these are a bunch of utility tables, success thresholds for tests, example test difficulty, and a smattering of other test related tables, all grouped helpfully together.

However, there were two tables that I found odd. First, was the assensing table. While other GM's might find it helpful, this isn't a table I have found much need for. Fortunately it's tucked off in near the bottom of a side panel, and doesn't attract much attention. The only other head-scratcher came in the form of the payout table. This takes up roughly a third of one of the four panels. Maybe it's just me, but I usually plan my payout, plus or minus Negotiation, as part of the run hook, and can't fathom a need for the table in-game. Maybe I'm wrong, but this seemed like a less than optimal use of the space.

However, don't let that dissuade you from picking up the screen. The test modifier tables alone make it well worth the money. I'm going to have it set up to hand for my next session, and I'm sure my players will be shocked when I actually remember to ding them a few dice for the fog and rain that is a Seattle standard.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

And, We're Back!

It feels good to be back! Happy New Year everybody, as I'm sure you realize I took the holidays off. Between work, and family obligations I didn't have much time left to game. However, as things get back on track I'm going to be back to gaming, and writing here.

To start the new year off, I took the liberty of buying myself a present! Specifically, Gun H(e)aven 3 off of DriveThruRPG. This mini-supplement tips the scales at 38 pages. Containing 33 new guns, and a few new weapon keywords, and modifications the books not a "must have" but it's certainly a lot of fun, and with a price tag under $8 it's not going to break the bank either. One thing I really like about Gun H(e)aven 3 is that the weapons have both Shadowrun 5th Edition, and Shadowrun 4th Edition stats. This makes the book much more versatile.

As is the norm with Catalyst Games books, the quality is superb. Granted, this is only in PDF form, but even then, the coloring, and layout, is gorgeous. Every gun has it's own page, stats, and flavor text.

However, the one thing that I must say, and feel free to call me crazy, the book contains a number of "antique" guns. Old style revolvers, over-under shotguns, a number of gorgeous Winchester pieces. Makes me want to build a character that would make John Wayne proud. Little details like this really make the book worth the, tiny, price tag.

I will give you one peek, to whet your appetite.

M1 Garand
Acc: 5
Damage: 12P
AP: -1
Mode: SA
RC: -
Ammo: 8(c)
Avail: 3R
Cost: $1,100

The book is filled with in-game remakes of classic firearms. From the Garand, to revolvers in line with the Colt Army, to wild muzzle-loading muskets that you could literally hang on the wall of your flat, and nobody would ever think it strange. That dovetails nicely with two of the new weapon keywords. I've paraphrased below.

Vintage: An old weapon, can be modified but costs twice as much.
Cap & Ball: three complex actions to reload. Ammo code (cb)

While they aren't game changers, they do open up a load of fun ideas, blunderbuss shotguns, and homemade guns now have a rules-legal ammo code. Whenever possible, I like to use what's printed, and rules like this really make me pleased. All in all, for $8, I found this to be worth the money, and I sincerely hope that the rules, and firearms here, make it into Run & Gun, when it's released.