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.