Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How Cheap Is Life?

In RPGs life tends to be cheap. In some games you get character advancement based on how many creatures you kill, so it encourages players to slaughter things in droves. I like to think of Shadowrun as a more thought provoking type of game than those sorts.

Character death is often cheap as well, either you can just get a spell to bring you back, burn an edge to "survive the scene," or just make a new character. In dark future games, life is viewed as cheap because that's part of the setting.

However, each character is different, much like each person is different. Its really easy to fall into the convention of the stone faced killer that can slaughter people and go out for dinner right after. What does death mean to your character? How do they process the idea that through their actions, or inaction they have caused the life of another being to end?

If death has no sting for a character, does life also have no meaning? What drives a character that is so inured to suffering that they've divorced themselves so far of human empathy that the destruction of another being isn't even a blip on their mental radar?

For the past 11 years more or less, I had a cat that was a constant companion. I couldn't go anywhere without him following me. He got terribly sick and was wasting away as I watched, I had to have him put down.

 I used to think I was a hardened heart, I've had family members pass that the news was little more than an inconvenient telephone call. However, for the past few days all that's been on my mind is the passing of my cat.

 It got me thinking, have I been cheating my characters by treating the world as a series of cardboard cutouts? Do I lessen them as 'real people' by giving them a "I've seen worse" blase attitude? I might need to re-think future characters and re-connect them with life, because if death has no meaning, how can they really ever have the spark of life in them?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Smutty Deckers

Hey folks, its been a while. Quite honestly, I didn't think anyone was even reading my blog but apparently its referenced now and then. So I guess I will try to get back to adding content every couple weeks. I figure even with my lazy nature I can whip up a post that often. So without further ado lets talk about decking and smut.

As a decker its your job to be proactive, you need to be on point always looking to leverage an advantage for your team. Right up there with a Face, a decker is top of the list when it comes to legwork. While the face, and the rest of their team (hint hint) are working their connections, the decker is delving brain first into the matrix during the legwork phase to find out any sort of information they can find.

Legwork's done, information is found and maybe a host or two was invaded. The job's not done though for our decking friend though. The team goes in and they're under attack, decker bricks a gun and then the enemy goes wireless off. Its at this point a passive decker throws up their hands and says, "Good luck guys, I can't do anything."

They're so, so wrong.

Deckers have high intuition to do their job. So there's absolutely no reason they shouldn't have the knowledge skill Small Unit Tactics. That knowledge skill gives a team everything from bonuses to avoid ambush, to bonuses for attacks.

Seize the initiative, most things are wireless, and have been since 4th edition. Think beyond bricking enemy gear.

The team is inside a facility, jump into the host and control doors, funnel the enemy into choke points, limit their access to retreat and advancement options. Grab camera control, let your team know where they're going. If you can hear them through sound sensors, maybe you can hear them planning. Distract them with sounds, I'm not saying "hur hur, I play fart noises," I mean something useful. Maybe over the speakers in another part near by play the sound of a gun racking, or the rattle of gear approaching. If they hear this phantom coming they might divert forces to protect about this 'ambush' giving your team less people to fight. Set off the sprinklers, not only does that impose a vision penalty for them (your team too, keep in mind) but it'll give any fire spirits something to think about.

The team outside on the streets? Try a little vehicular manslaughter. The tier of control goes Manual>Pilot>Remote>Rigger. So unless the driver is jacked in, the traffic is your oyster, sure its a bastard move, but crash some hapless citizen into the opposition. If its gangers then they just got crushed by a car. If its cops, well now they have an injured citizen to protect as well as lead to dodge.

Lastly, brush up on your social skills. If anything the media has fed us a steady stream of the awkward, quirky hacker that the cool guys come to because they need a little nerd power. Even if you're perpetuating that work on you social skills. Specifically, leadership. You throw some dice and you can give your team bonus dice to actions, composure, initiative, as well surprise tests. That is, if they accept your leadership.

If they don't, well that's on them, but at least you're in the fight not waiting for it to end because some schmuck on the other team switched off his wireless.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

But I just wanted to test it out...

We've all been there. This cool weapon we've just been jonsing to get. Maybe its a new submachine gun. Maybe its a silly string of death. Maybe its this vibrosword. At long last the GM says, "OK yes you can have it."

Man its just great now you've got your gizmo and life is just grand.

...for you.

For the rest of the group it absolutely SUCKS when you're doing a job that's supposed to be sneaky, or low lethality and then BAM out comes the monowhip. Down goes some hapless wageslave and then you hear a player say, "I just wanted to test it out."

Let me say it for the other people that may want to but don't want to be rude. "You ~~fucking~~ what? Seriously?" If you just **have** to get your dice on for ~~fuck's~~ sake make up a 15 dice pool. Roll your little gizmo dice. Subtract its AP from the 15 dice and blam you just tested out your new thing. No job was thrown out the window, no players were saddled with Notoriety for being an amateur on a job and best of all the mission is completed and everyone is happy.

If you absolutely just have to 'test out' your weapon on a job, don't be upset when a fellow player just has to 'test out' what it feels like to called shot your character in the back of the head.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Some new people to Shadowrun may be a little confused about the nature of spirits. While different traditions view them a little differently what remains the same is that spirits are beings that come from the astral. They have their own domains that they reside in, for the sake of simplicity I use the elemental of fire, earth, water and air for example. Even when a spirit of Man is called by a magician they are simply spirits that embody things of humankind. In older editions these were hearth spirits and city spirits.

Hearth spirits were the representation of the home, they could be conjured inside any building that was inhabited and used as a home. City spirits were the embodiment of the city itself. They were called within the city and often took aspects of the area they were in.

In Shadowrun there are other beings on the astral, ghosts, wraiths and most likely a lot of other oogly booglies in magic books. These are the traditional Jacob Marley type "spirits". While in some ways they work the same as the astral beings we call spirits they are different in a fundamental way. They were once living beings. The Shattergraves in Chicago are filled with ghosts for example. While a magician can banish a ghost unless something is done to give a more lasting removal it will be back...and likely kinda cranky.

Now Free Spirits add another fun aspect to those with an eye towards the astral. They were once conjured by a magician and though they somehow became free of the spiritual bond they decided to stay close to the material plane. They can take on many forms and different roles, they can be helpful or harmful, wrathful or playful tricksters and even if one looks like Elvis it was never the King.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


A while ago I ran with a player that had a character that was very personal for them. While they were a fantastic player they clearly had a story arc for their character. Now, I love story arcs, I enjoy writing rich backgrounds for my characters, NPCs that work with the concept, gear that is reasonable. The problem with the situation before is no one was let in to what the intended arc was. So when one character teased their character in a way the player didn't like it was an awkward experience for everyone. It eventually felt to me like I was walking on eggshells so as not to cause the player more stress.

I admit, I am like that sometimes. My first D&D character had a whole storyline in my head. And by whole I knew how it started and where I wanted it to end. When he was an apprentice he fell in love with the apprentice of another mage. However, he had a jealous rival and one day said rival tried to use a high level scroll to kill my character. The spell misfired and killed the girl they both loved. Torn with grief my character realized that there was no way he could bring her back to life in a lifetime so he set about to become a Lich. When you're immortal, you have nothing but time to work on a project. Besides, he figured, once he could bring her back to life he could make himself mortal again.

In my mind the end of the story was my character sitting on a throne in a tower, the landscape around him was a black, blasted landscape with undead wandering the land. He would resurrect the love of her life and she would see what he had become and all the terrible things he did just because of his obsession with bringing her back. She would then fling herself from the tower leaving him alone with no hope in a world he burned. I was 15...I'm no literary master.

Recently however I decided I would try something new. A character who's background I don't even know. The character's personality is dictated by personafix software. I decided I wanted to put my character more fully in the hands of my GM. I let go of control and started just enjoying the feeling of freefall.

A GM looked at my sheet and really got into the concept, asked me a few questions about my character's history and I said, "Well that's up to you." What happened was one of the more memorable RPing sessions of my gaming life. My character met someone that knew them before they had their personality and memories scrubbed. Problem was it was someone that my team had to turn over to a corporation to be disappeared.  So with only a little time left, and the rest of the team looking to get paid my character was desperate to find out anything this person knew about them. Apparently five years ago my PC and the NPC had a love affair. This was backed up by a flashback my character had upon hearing their name.

Anyhow, long story short, it was awesome.

The point, I am trying to make is that sometimes you have to have faith in the person running the game to take care of "your baby". Sometimes things will not go as you planned but sometimes those things can just be all the more awesome because they enhance what is going on. Don't let your own internal story take away from the fun of the moment. The player I mentioned before quit the game because the game's story arc deviated from their internal story arc. As for me, I am having a great time enjoying the freefall.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Story Time: A little Shadoze Magic

Ah Shadowrun "Everything has a price".

I am a player in a roll20 campaign. All of us showed up and were waiting for the GM to show up. Eventually after a long period passed one of the players saw in the game description the GM had left a note saying he wouldn't be able to make it to this session or the next. Normally a two session no-show means, to me, a game is dead. However, as it was supposed to be our first session and most of the players are either new to Shadowrun or new to Shadowrun 5th I decided I would run a introductory game just to keep the game alive (I want to play, damnit).

So the team is hired to track down a missing daughter. She was in Touristville in Redmond slumming with a friend. The Johnson invited the group to sit down and they settled on terms. It was a 10,000 nuyen job to be split among the four of them. When asked if the Johnson could provide more information he invited his bodyguard to bring a girl over to the table. This shamefaced 16 year old girl settled down at the table, she was a witness to what had happened. One of the two mages (yep there are two) didn't pause he immediately hit the hapless girl with a mind-probe spell. Why bother asking questions when you can rip the information brutally from someone's brain using your miiiind magic? So as the girl sits rigid in the chair, sweat dripping off her brow Mr. Johnson frowns. I mean really, its not a pleasant sight to see anyone mind probed, especially a girl that is a friend of your daughter. However he wanted his daughter back safe and sound, KE wouldn't come to Redmond to find her at any real speed so being a parent outweighed moral outrage. With a firm image of the girl and the last person she was seen with ripped from the girl's mind and fresh in his, the mind mage used a mental link spell to send the image to the team's decker. Mr. Johnson took the visibly shaken girl, the surly bodyguard and the three of them left the runners to work.

They swung into action! The decker rendered an image of the guy they assumed made off with the girl. The mind-mage went to the bar to talk to the bartender. The decker went to browse the matrix to try to get info on the guy. The second mage broke out his alchemy kit and set it up on the table, in the middle of a busy club and began mixing potions(?). The street sam thought over what gangs might be involved with this operation.

The mind-mage got a name from the bartender after a short discussion between player and GM what a reasonable bribe would be (its not 5 nuyen if you're wondering). With name and image in hand the decker got a lead. It seems the guy does this sort of thing in Redmond every night, going to various clubs picking up a girl and leaving. Don Juan eat your heart out...or worse..

The Street Sam shrugged and headed to the door, as he was leaving the decker left too, plans of tracking the guy down spinning in his mind. The Mind-Mage followed and the Alchemist furiously worked to make potions at the table. Realizing his team had left him behind he quickly scooped up his hastily made concoctions and hustled to catch up. On the way out the Mind-Mage tried to talk to the troll bouncer and flash some nuyen around. Irritated the troll who had no love of the slumming round ears trying to make out like HIS people were so poor they'd leap at some cash flashed told him to buzz. The Street sam gave the troll a steely gaze and then left with the Mind-Mage. The decker managed to hack a security camera, then get the grid information of the car. After all, when you have wireless matrix, AROs, and chips who needs license plates anymore?

With a name, and an address the runners sped off to go confront the sleaze that made off with the J's daughter!

They arrived at the location and parked outside. The street sam spotted some gangers that were lounging a little TOO casually across the street. A big troll, an ork and three humans just loitering as gangs oft want to do. So the Street Sam threw open his door and swept out of the car, his black trenchcoat sweeping out behind him. A tumbleweed ARO drifted across their AR as he took in the scene with the gaze of a hardened warrior. The decker, mind-mage and alchemist stepped out of the vehicles as well. They began to walk towards the building that the sleaze ball lived in. The troll pushed himself off from the wall and confronted them pointing out that they weren't locals and wondering what business they had on their turf.

The mind-mage said they were going to be visiting their friend the sleaze ball on te 4th floor. The troll said, "Oh really now," and the street sam sighed because. IT WAS ON!

The street sam pulled his SMG and the potion the alchemist had given him. The troll seeing the gun come out tried to stab him in the gut with a short (hard to tell with trolls really). Then it was bullets, bullets for EVERYBODY. The remaining gangers pulled their pistols and started shooting. Much to the despair of the decker the alchemist and mind-mage took cover behind his car. Mostly because the street sam might have killed them if they ducked behind his truck. Nobody messes with that tusker's wheels...nobody. The mind-mage managed to yank the passenger side door open just in time to keep from taking a bullet to the chest and thereby making the paintjob on the car look more legit. The Alchemist was not so lucky, he took a round to the head..thankfully his helmet saved him. As for the car window...not so much. Saves on air conditioning now, right? The Street Sam weathered the bullets like a hardened professional, ignoring them as they wizzed over his head. It was just another Saturday night for him. He stitched a burst of fire up the troll's chest. The decker tried to brick a ganger's smartgun that's when the mind-mage took control of the troll's mind.

As the song goes, "If you're happy and you know it, shoot a friend," the troll turned around, drew his shotgun and blew away the guy that tried to shoot the mind-mage. The remaining gang members seeing this magic brought into play and not wanting to get Trolled decided it was best to make like bananas and get the flock out of there. The team then heard from the alley of their target building someone cursing and running like hell.

That's where the session ended. It was fun and informative for us all. The new players go to learn a little of how the world of Shadowrun is. They got to smack around a few gang member and I learned that Alchemy is sort of lame. Cast spells ahead of time, sleep off the drain and be ready for a run in a few hours.

Everything has a price my left *beep*.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Gentle Art Of Negotiation

As I have touched on in the past, GMs have a lot of things to manage in a long term campaign. Some of which may not be apparent to people sitting on the other side of the screen. While yes they are there to join in on making a fun evening for everyone they're also responsible for keeping a campaign within their view of reasonable.

Shadowrun 5th has gone a long way towards explaining risk vs reward when it comes to paying out for jobs. Without giving out too many specifics it works out to be around 4-5K per runner per session with the option to adjust things here and there in the form of phat lewtz.

Its also a Shadowrun trope that the Johnson/Fixer always lowballs payment. I used to work for a company that had an electric gate that would at the push of a button slide open. Every two weeks the gate would break and I was one of the people that had to go out there with a fork lift and pull it open. I asked the boss, "I know it costs money to have people come fix this gate every few weeks, but do you think maybe they're not doing their best so they'll be paid every two weeks or so to fix the gate again?"

Mr. Johnson has a slush fund for hiring a team, if he can get them cheaper that's good for the company. A fixer is offered a stack of cash and if he can lowball a team to do the job cheaper. Well he just pockets the extra. Its how things work. So its expected that player characters will negotiate to get more cash for the team.

Negotiation is give and take. Its also usually handled with a simple formula of raising/lowering the payout by +/- the net hits in the Negotiation roll * 100-500 nuyen. With those sneaky behind the screen things this allows the GM to give the runners extra up-front cash without unbalancing a campaign. The min/maxed Face that likes to pre-spend Edge to blow past limits then throw 25 social dice? Not a problem, his hits are only worth a hundred each. That guy out of town this session and the technomancer has to default her charisma for negotiation? Welll maybe her hits are worth 500 each this week.

This give and take style of negotiation breaks down when the players handle negotiation in hard numbers. The Johnson offers three thousand each for a job. The runners demand eight thousand each. It puts the GM in the position of saying, "Well okay either I pay them somewhere in the middle...which is more than I am comfortable in giving them, or this is going to be a really...really short session."

If the GM gives in and says, "Well okay, the Johnson is willing to give you each six thousand for the data steal job," it sets the bar for data steal jobs at six thousand. After all if the job is basically the same, with roughly the same difficulties. Tom the Mr. Johnson paid us six each, and Bob the Mr. Johnson will only do four? What the hell?

The GM has gone from a progression of three thousand per data steal job to six thousand per job. Top that off with the fact that Mr. Johnson/The Fixer always lowballs the payout. "He's offering us six thousand for the job, that seems kinda low. I want to roll negotiation."

In closing, when handling a negotiation try not to set hard numbers down on the table. It gives the GM a lot less "wiggle room" for keeping control over game balance. Shadowrun is often a stuff based game. You get paid karma/cash and you spend it on goodies you want. If within a few sessions you have milspec armor 0.005 Essence in Delta grade cyber while rocking a tricked out deck where do you go from there?

I guess the only place to go is start building your own mass drivers so you can Thor Shot dragons.