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 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!