Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vote With Your Feet

Gaming is supposed to be a fun thing, but sometimes you are faced with a hard choice. Maybe the game isn't to your taste, maybe there's another guy at the table trying to GM over the GM, or there's just someone that smells like bad cheese. That's when you, as a player, have to draw back and take stock of things. Is this game more fun than it is stress? If the answer is "No," then don't torture yourself find something better to do.
Finding a Shadowrun game is pretty difficult, its true, but there's no reason to settle for a situation that makes you unhappy. Don't let peer pressure keep you in a situation that you are not enjoying.
I always say that I don't like McDonalds, so I don't eat there. When I am old, half senile and sitting on my front porch I want to have at least the knowledge that I lived life with no regrets.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

I came, I saw, I rolled negotiation. I'll be in the car..

Ah the Face, on the surface it might seem like such a simple role. However I find that it can be one of the most complex ones. I've been in games that were the Face of the group never really spoke in game. You could go for 20 minutes with them just sitting there and listening unless prompted to offer input. The team met the Johnson, they rolled negotiation and they were done until the shooting starts.

As a Face, you need to be proactive, you need to be creative, you need to be active. A Face is not a passive waiting for things to happen role.

In my opinion, a Face needs more than just the social dice pool. A Face needs a lot of contacts. Next to the Matrix person and the Face are the two main sources of Legwork for a team. The decker can hit the Matrix and search for info sure, but the Face knows a guy, who knows a guy who knows a guy. You should have contacts in various social circles. Corporate, Street, Local Government, Law Enforcement, City Services, Organized Crime, the list goes on and on. Your finger is on the pulse of the world.

A Face should be a social chameleon, you should have a lot of different outfits. Sure the trusty Armor Jacket is a big beefy 12 armor in 5th edition, but it really sort of stands out at a formal dining situation. Your Lined Coat might be the definition of black trechcoat cool but if you're trying to pass yourself off as a wageslave it might not pass the muster.

Having several fake SINs also helps. OK so you're tooling around Seattle use your Area Knowledge to figure out which corporation has the most presence in the area. Use a SIN for that Corp. KE stopping the car, ha got a R5 fake License that shows you're a KE officer from another city. "C'mon guys, we're on the same team here."

In closing the Face should be a sort of in-your-face making sure they're always working an angle to help the team out. If not then you're basically a pretty street ganger that can string a few words together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hello...I'm God.

One of the things that just drives me insane as a player is when you just know you're meeting one of the GM's beloved PCs as a NPC in the campaign.

You get a call from an unknown number, he hacks through your firewall and leaves a file on your comlink. You arrive at the location and there's the NPC. His bodyguards are decked out in milspec armor carrying assault cannons..downtown. Your decker tries to get some info on who the guy is, but his firewall is beyond milspec. Best of all, he's got the I'm-a-badass attitude #5.

I admit, as a GM its a whole different muscle to flex than as a player. You really don't get a lot of the RP in because your job is basically handling the world reacting to the players.

If you're more a player at heart and you have the world at your disposal its tempting to bring in a PC as a NPC and just impress upon the players how awesome they are. Its your world, Dreckkickula just happens to be a prime runner now with his own corporation behind him.

You should step back and pause a moment. While you might be having a good time RPing your old character the players are likely sitting there groaning thinking, "Okay, okay we get it. The guy is God. Can we get onto the parts where we get to be cool?"

A RPG is about give and take, its a social contract between players and GMs (I'll touch on this topic at another time). While setting a rich, vibrant world is part of that contract one the other parts is accepting this is the story where other people are the main characters.

If you really want to have a PC of yours be a NPC in the group, have them there as flavor. Maybe they're the gruff bartender that used to be a runner until he took a ... ahem ... turn at bartending. Maybe he's the pawnshop owner that just wants to trade things so he can feel like he's still in the game.

Don't make him, or her, a NPC that has dominion over the plot and the players. It doesn't often make them think the NPC is cool, it more often makes them resent the NPC because in their mind the NPC is that rich kid that is given all the new toys and rubs your nose in the fact you don't have them.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Para, paranoia! Paraaaaaaa, paranoiaaaaa!

Doesn't mean they're actually out to get you. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I love players, generally speaking, I count myself as one more than I imagine myself to be a GM.

There is, to me, a line when "healthy paranoia" and plot bogging detail over trivial matters. I'll give a few examples of the situations I have run into recently.

I'm starting a game on Saturdays and I have a pretty good group of players. I'm really excited and I'm trying to build a world they can feel a part of. I want their choices to actually make an impact in their surroundings. It remains to be seen if my reach is further than my grasp or not. However the subject came up in regard of car theft. Not the players stealing cars (a poor beaten dead horse in Shadowrun) but their cars..or rather their car getting stolen. I mentioned that generally speaking I try not to destroy/steal expensive gear but if reasonable precautions are not taken shit happens. Decks get shot, cars get stolen.

So the player that owns the team's car started to worry what I saw as a reasonable precaution. We had a long talk where he expressed his concerns that he might have his car stolen and I tried to reassure him that yes if he locked his car door that he need not worry about his car being stolen more often than not.

To me, that's reasonable paranoia. I can go with that and I have no problem taking the time out of my day to handle the situation.

Its the unreasonable stuff that gets on my tits.

Player: I go up to the bar and order a beer.

GM: The bartender deducts the cost of the beer and slides it across to you.

Player: How did he get access to my comlink?

GM: were buying a beer..

Player: OK I take a moment to reboot my comlink. I want to roll judge intentions on the bartender. Does he look nervous now that I have my beer?

GM: Uh...what?

Player: Does it look like he might have slipped something in my beer? I have a chemical analyzer in glove, I stick my finger in the beer to see if there's any drugs in my beer.

GM: What makes you think he's drugged your beer. You just ordered a beer, he gave you a beer!!

Player: I'm just being careful, you never know, someone might have paid him to drug my beer.

GM: Aaaaarrrrghh!!!

Other Players: Does anyone know CPR? I think the GM just had a heart attack.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Character Is So Funn*SMACK*

How often is it that you are sitting in a game, the rest of the people have said what they're looking to play and you glance over and see that one player that's about to vibrate themselves into another reality. Just CHEWING at the bit to spit out their concept.

Speaking personally, that always fills me with dread.

So with a resigned inward sigh you ask, "So, what are you thinking of making?" Then they lay out this character concept that just totally doesn't fit with the campaign you're looking to run. Maybe they've watched too much anime, maybe they like children's shows about tiny horses, maybe they've had too much redbull. Who knows, but in the end its laying there and they look like they're waiting for everyone to applaud.

Humor is a subjective thing, what you find to be hilarious others might not. Even The Joker admits "you had to be there" jokes never work out because the person by default wasn't there. Its like that with "funny" characters. You might be a huge fan of Rainbow Sparkle Horse Hour but the rest of the table might inwardly groan knowing for the next 4+ hours they're going to have to sit through a running gag and try to treat it seriously.

So try to judge the group you're joining, if they're jolly jokers (thank you Shultz) you might be there with JUST the right character for the game. However if they're wanting to play a serious game Princess Sparklebutt might not be the right character to roll out.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Burn them, burn them all!

Sorry all my pyromaniac friends but this is a grumbling about comlinks, not flamethrowers (which I admit rock).

A good friend of mine introduced me to the concept of "sanity checks" as he calls them. When you make a Shadowrun character pass it along to someone and let them go over your stats and gear to make sure you haven't done something insane, or forgot something simple.

Like a burner comlink, and a dummy comlink.

Coming in at 100 nuyen the disposable comlink, or a simple metalink comlink is a runner's best friend. In ye days of old a SIN was carried on a credstick like device. Want to use the bus, slot your SIN. Want to get a burger at McHoughs (you poor bastard), slot your SIN. Since 4th edition the Matrix went wireless and as such a SIN, both real and fake, became a digital item. In polite, or rather legal society you have to keep your comlink in public mode broadcasting your SIN. This lets people know you're a legitimate citizen, not one of those scummy SINless sorts. The problem with running your comlink in public mode is that you open yourself up to all the wannabe deckers out there.

So the dummy comlink comes into play here. You slap a few sims on there, maybe a music list, some contacts you've picked out of the directory and your fake SIN. Switch it on broadcast and you look like a real person. Sure its easy to hack into due to its crappy firewall, but that's the point. You're not using it anyway, in 4th edition at least you could even set a script on it to have it reboot itself after a period of time.

Then there's the burner comlink. You have taken all the time making connections in the shadows, you've protected your comlink the best you can and you keep it hidden. Its one of the most essential pieces of gear you can have on your list. You go on a job and you meet Mr. Johnson, or worse yet some random yahoo you have to con during the course of a job. They need to get in contact with you, but you don't want them being able to track you down once the job is done. So you spend 100 nuyen at the local stuffer shack and buy yourself a disposable comlink. Pull the tab and its active for a week, works just like the real thing, and you can give out the LTG to whoever you need. Once its served its use, you just toss it away, no fuss, no muss. At 100 nuyen a pop, there's no reason not to have two or three on you at all times ready to be used at a moment's notice.

So, in closing, use your comlinks wisely. Use a burner to deal with "legit" people, use a dummy comlink to look like a legit person and always, always, keep your real comlink safe.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Pink Mohawk vs Black Trenchcoat

I freely admit I lean more towards the Black Trenchcoat way of playing cyberpunk. While I liked the Smokin' Aces films I really don't want to play in a game where one fires explosive filled dwarfs from a circus cannon "as a distraction".
Sure, blowing up things from time to time can be fun, but when a game boils down to "we're going to need a bigger boat/more guns," it just gets down to dice pool measuring contest.
As a GM I try to make it clear what sort of game I am running from the start. This is because it really sort of sucks for you to spend days of free time working on a session only to have players say, "Let's just blow up the building."
One thing I often see from Pink Mohawk players is they want to cause mayhem, burn and pillage but then they just sort of want the repercussions of their actions to be glossed over, or presented in a format that lets them blow up, burn and pillage the fallout from their last rampage.
To me that's more like playing a FPS than a RPG, while some might enjoy it, its just not my cup of tea. If I wanted to spend hours dealing with how much ammo someone has, the ballistic arc of grenades thrown and how many mobs are inside the building I'd play a FPS. At least there I don't have to spend as much time prepping for a game.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Shadowrun vs Splatterpunk

As you might have noticed, I can be a bit opinionated and one of the things that drives me nuts in Shadowrun are players that think killing NPCs is the only way to handle them.

As a full disclosure thing, I have played a very pink mohawk character that did kill a lot of people. However, the situations were either in the Barrens, on a wetwork job, or when hopped up on kamikaze.

The typical Shadowrunner is supposed to be a specter, a crew of high tech criminals that can do jobs that the average Joe off the street wouldn't have the skills, know-how or resources to pull off. These are the type that could steal Canada's Global Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve and escape clean.

Well, almost. As I have said in the past things never go as planned and typically one of those nevers happens to be running into a guard. OK this is no big deal, the typical corporate security's job is not there to kill a runner, or even to stop them. Their job is to _delay_ the runner until the HTR boys can get there and handle business. They know they're not as well trained, or well armed as the runners they come across. So they try to slow them down and keep themselves alive.

So there you are, four badass runners facing off against Officer Doughnut. There's several was to deal with him, but before you can even twitch the Street Sam cleaves him in half with a battle axe.

This is where things go south quick. A corporation will sort of gloss over you knocking out Officer Doughnut. Sure, he might get a demotion and there will be a disciplinary hearing against the whole security department for that facility. However, that is just business as usual for a Mega. After all, if you did a good job hitting them this week they might be hiring you next month to hit one of their rivals. No harm, no foul. Sure they're going to make an effort to get their Whutzit back, but to them the runners are just tools not the hand that deploys them.

No, when you kill Officer Doughnut now the corp has several problems. They have to pay death benefits to Officer Doughnut's wife, grief counseling for his kids, training his replacement not to mention the internal PR issues they have to face. After all, if your company's security can't keep itself safe, who will keep the rank and file safe? Think of the kids!

At this point what went from a typical price of doing business in the 6th world to a "this is costing us real money" situation. As we all know, there's not many things a corp really hates than for its profit margins to be messed with.

So now the corp starts hitting back, they need to make an example of the team that bloodied their noses. They need to regain that internal confidence that makes their employees happy little wageslaves. So Mr. Johnson visits an illegal arms dealer to find out who's moved some of their stuff recently. Maybe they talk to the Fixer who hired you (what's that loyalty rating again?). If they find you and your crew, it won't be Officer Bagel that comes looking for you. It'll be the black ops division of the company, or their HtR crew depending on how public a message they want to make.

So really when you're facing down Officer Doughnut, unless the job CALLS for killing everyone (and pays a hell of a lot) tase him, stick-n-shock him, hit him with Narcoject or just have the troll bonk him over the head. Because killing him is going to cause you more trouble than a Doughnut is worth.


So you ditched the comlink, the knife and the jacket (seriously who wears orange?), however a gun is a gun after all.

So you settle into your apartment and decide its time to make this gun yours. Ha well changing ownership of an item isn't as romantic as it sounds. First of all you need the right tools. Next you need the right skills. That's an extended Hardware+Logic [Mental] 24, each roll of the dice takes an hour in game time. Sort of sucks you took logic as a dump stat right? Well at least you have enough sense to hand the gun over to the tech in the group.

Settling down to work on the pistol, she breaks out her hardware toolkit and gets down to business. Now she's no slouch so we'll assume she gets 4 successes per roll. So it takes her 6 hours to convert the gun's ownership over to you.

Well that's assuming things go perfectly, but if a glitch happens that's when things get especially nasty. See ownership is tricky business. If you glitch on the roll that means the item calls the cops. Yup, you just got this Ares Predator off a dead ganger and now its dialing KE.

So now your tech is in trouble, KE is on the way. Her apartment has been identified where a stolen device is being tampered with. She needs to get her gear and get the hell out...pronto.

Depending on the GM this could mean her apartment is gone (it was used in an illegal activity), her fake SIN is burned (she was paying rent, right?) and she may be wanted (the gun was taken from a dead person). All this over a gun you could buy from your Fixer with little to no effort.

P@wn St@rz

Man that was one hell of a firefight, you and your crew were attacked by some Halloweeners but you managed to defend yourself and now the enemy lays sprawled on the ground.

OK so it really wasn't all that epic, four gangers tried to mug you and your go-boys when you came out of a Soybucks in Touristville. You had mojo and chrome, they had ares predators. What the hell, time to loot some bodies!

Assuming the gangers all had the same gear you get:
Ares Predator: V: 725
Knife: 10
Armor Jacket: 1000
Sony Emperor Comlink: 700
- Total: 2435 per ganger.

Hot damn what a haul! That's almost 10K worth of gear just for getting soykaffe...and you got soykaffe because of your Mild Addiction (yet another topic). Time to hit up the pawn shop and see what you can get for this stuff.

First you need to find a shady dealer, so that's an extended Etiquette+Charisma [Social] 10 roll with an interval of 2 days. Hope your Face has been reading How to Make Friends and Not Shoot People.

Four days later you stroll into Rizzo' Pawn shop and lay out the gear. He looks over it and rubs his chin thoughtfully. He gives you a offer but you know he's lowballing you. They always do. The Face steps up and slaps on a plastic smile then the haggling begins. We'll assume there's no net hits on the Charisma+Negotiation roll, Rizzo is a bit of a prick. So you get 2426 for the lot. Why not 2435 you might wonder? The knife is worthless, it is legal and has no availability at most he might give you a nuyen or each.

You think  to yourself, "Screw this, it took us two days to FIND this guy and now he's trying to screw us? Well forget that we'll go to someone we know."

Good idea, you go to your Fixer and he looks at you like you're crazy, but hey cash is cash right and you do good work now and then. Let's assume your contact is a Loyalty of 3, fairly solid working contact. With nuyen in your eyes and scorn for Rizzo fresh in your mind you wait for the offer. Teeg offers you 1461, no questions asked.

What the hell? You've worked with this guy for over a year, you've done good work. Sure you monowhipped a guy, got most of your team on the trid that night but it all worked out in the end. How's he offering less than that mook Rizzo?

Simple, a contact offers you 5% of the gear's value times their loyalty rating. You actually come out worse than the 25% offer a random fence would give you.

"FINE, I'll use the stuff myself, a gun is a gun right?"

Ah ownership, I'll cover that in my next post.

Friday, July 11, 2014


To paraphrase William Gibson, Shadowrun is basically cyberpunk with D&D slapped on top. There's a lot of things that can be seen as parallels in D&D games that show up in shadowrun.

Gangers = Kobolds
Corporate Security = Orcs (sorry tuskers!)
HTR = Ogres
Dragons = Demi-gods

Then you have your typical Dungeon aspects. You have to go inside the dungeon (R&D lab), look for the artifact (the McGuffin), deal with the monsters (Guards), traps (security systems), escape and enjoy ale and whores (ale and whores).

One of the long time problems Shadowrun has run into is people that just cannot break away from the kill/loot methodology of typical RPGs. They gun down a ganger and want to know "What has it gots in its pockets?" Who cares, its a kobold, are you going to need those few copper pieces you find? Sure if you come across something worth while (a cyberdeck, some hard to find/expensive piece of gear) go for it. Just know in 5th edition changing "ownership" is a LOT of work and takes a LOT of time. Also, if you fail you've got the fuzz on the way.

Then there's the Gotta Kill 'Em All mentality. As a good friend of mine pointed out recently, "If you need to shoot your gun on a quiet run you've already failed."

Take this example:
 The team has managed to sneak into a office building, but they're stuck with no way to get past a security panel. They need a keycard, or someone with the code to open the door. No one in the group is especially techie and the Johnson said this needs to be a quiet job, so no blasting the door open. The team hears someone on the floor above and heads up to investigate. The Face quietly assures the group that he'll handle it. So the team hunkers down poised to spring should things go south. The Face goes up and tells the guy he met he lost his badge and needs help replacing it. He's dressed in street punk clothes, he's inside a building that he shouldn't have access to without a badge. Naturally the NPC finds the situation a little suspect. Seeing that talking isn't working out as planned the Face moves to the unannounced plan B. He kills the guy with a monowhip.

So now the quiet op has gotten very, very loud and very wet as the corporate guy's DocWagon contract goes off and security is alerted his biomonitor just flatlined. The guy's badge was looted and the Face says, "Well it worked," only to be backed up by the Mage saying, "We got the badge didn't we?" At the cost of half the pay for the job. At the end of the session the player said, "I just wanted to use my whip."

There's a time and a place for combat, there's plenty of situations where its kill or be killed. If a job doesn't call for people to be murdered, don't cause undue problems for the rest of the team by killing people because you want to try out your new +3 magic

If you feel you are not getting paid enough for shadowruns tell the Face to negotiate. If the Johnson refuses to negotiate talk to the GM. If you feel like you need to loot every kobold you come across just to afford ale and and simsense then payouts or player expectation needs to be adjusted.

In closing: Shadowrun isn't a kill and loot game, its about being professional high-tech criminals not street thugs mugging people for McDonalds cash.

Shadownoob Evolution pt2

In my last opinion editorial I talked about the evolution of a new player slowly bringing themselves into the world of Shadowrun. So now we'll fast forward a bit, they know the roles and they have an idea that is just awesome.
GM: So what are you playing?
Noob: I want to make a Mystic Adept/Face/Rigger.
GM: Mother of god..
On the surface a jack-of-all-trades seems like a good idea. In a pinch, you can fill in for someone not there. Mage player got a case of the flu? Game on, I can sling spells! Face player out on a date? Well, I have social skills and two contacts, LET'S DO THIS!!
There are a few points where this can be problematic. Some "multi-classing" can be good, there are natural synergies that work well. Physical Adept/Face. Your magic enhances your skills as well as your physique. Decker/Drone Rigger. You handle tech, and you're good at it. Street Sam/Covert Ops. You are a high-tech ninja.
Where this breaks down is when you get into triple dipping. When you get into three roles your dice begin to dilute to the point of you start to go from Jack-Of-All-Trades to Master-Of-None.
Sure in a pinch your Mystic Adept role can fill in for a caster and a street sam. However in that aspect you've spent skills towards two roles. Casting and fighting. You're also a Face on the side. So those two roles get spread a little thinner because you need 3 to 6 social skills to be an effective Face.
Next you throw in being a wheelman, your Priorities have to shift because had to have Resources high to get all your vehicles and drones. So now your Mystic Adept/Face aspects suffer from having lower attributes and skills split between four roles (Magic/Fighting/Social/Tech).
Say your team is okay with that. Sure your character might not be as effective at things as the "single class" characters, but you're a solid player and they like gaming with you.
Enter the new player.
Your group has a street sam, a tech-ninja, a decker and your Mystic Adept/Face/Rigger.
GM: What would you like to play? New player: I was thinking I would like to play a B&E type. GM: Well that's great we have a tech-ninja the two of you could work together! New Player: Oh you have a B&E type already? I suppose I could play a decker. GM: Oh we have a technomancer. New Player: Face? GM: Dave. New Player: Mage? GM: Dave. New Player: Rigger? GM: Dave again.. New Player: Street Sam? GM: Sam, Tech-Ninja and Dave...
By taking up more than two roles you weaken your character and you make it harder for new people that might join the campaign to have an area to shine in. Either they're not playing what they would really enjoy, they're second-stringing someone, or they're outshining the generalist making an established player have less of an impact on the game.
Nothing sucks worse than being left sitting in the van on a run because you're not needed.
So in closing, pick one or two things your character is good at. Be GOOD at those, and trust your fellow players to do the same. Shadowrun is about running as a team, you will always have others to count on you don't need to be an Army of One.

Shadownoob evolution pt 1

Ah the internet, hotbed of creativity, enthusiasm and often times a shallow grasp of the subject matter. Shadowrun is a semi-complex game, it involves at least three overlapping "worlds".
You have the Mundane that everyone interacts with.
You have the Matrix which technically everyone interacts with but functionally only a few really thrive.
Then you have the Magic world that are the Awakened's domains.
Each has its draw to people that are new to the game, but not all "roles" are suitable for new players to jump into. So I will start with what I feel is the best "newbie" role.
The Sprawl Ganger: Here is the best archetype for a newbie looking to get into shadowrun. You're a mundane, you have a few connections in the sprawl, you've got a little chrome but nothing too complex, you've got muscle and an attitude.
  • The Sprawl Ganger allows a new player to soak in the atmosphere of a game, learn the ropes as it were and pick a direction they wish to go towards. Also, if the sprawl ganger leaves the team to make way for the new character...its not a huge loss.
Now you've done your time as a Sprawl Ganger and you're thinking of picking up something a little more complex. You need to think what suits you. Not what looks cool, but what suits you.
Do you like to shoot guns or punch people in the face? Street Sam or Physical Adept. Faster, stronger, more skilled but still a pretty "basic archetype."
Are you an extrovert? Do you sort of like the mastermind role? Then a Face would be a more complex mundane role to try. On the surface, a face seems easy but really its not. You have to be proactive, you have to be working angles to get things done. You can't go up, try to talk to someone then just monowhip them when things don't immediately work out. To me they're a very "think outside the box" role to play.
Moving up in complexity would be the magic user. To me at least, a mage has less to learn. You learn what your spells do, what your spirits do, what your drain is and what you can do in the astral. Ready? OK go!
Lastly comes the Matrix types which to me are often the most complex role for people to play. Not only do you need to know what your gear can do, you need to learn a whole new set of actions you can do per round. In addition you need to often know both sides of the rules, you roll A&B the system rolls X&Y and the result of the roles iiiiiisss? It helps speed along the Matrix when you can help the GM along. When two people are trying to get a handle on the Matrix rules it can really slow down a run.
Then lastly there's the technomancer. You have to learn the Matrix actions that a decker needs, you need to learn both sides of the rules like a decker does, and then to top it off you need to learn the Resonance rules. Sprites, complex forms, fading, registering. Its a madhouse, a madhouse!