15 TIPS FOR NEW SHADOWRUN GM'S Edytuj
Recent events have lead to a morphing of roles within the Classic BattleTech commandos. Here’s a small tip sheet for new or returning GM’s.These tips are not exhaustive and are based on my individual experience, however limited as they may be.
I’m hoping more and more Classic BattleTech Commando’s make it over to the dark side of gaming with the Fourth Edition release of Shadowrun. I’ve put these tips together as more of an illustration of suggestions rather than hard cut and dry rules.Take from it what you will, but try not to take it too seriously. I’m writing this as sort of a welcoming of the Classic BattleTech commando’s to the Shadowrun side of the game and hope many more join us. I hope you find Shadowrun as entertaining as I do.
So without further ado here are 15 tips and tricks that I think will benefit new GM’s.And remember there is PoWeR in the DaRk side...
1 Don’t worry if you make a mistake — wing it.Edytuj
Shadowrun is a game; if you make a mistake the FanPro police won’t mame and kill you.
Hell when I started up 3rd edition I ran spell drain totally wrong until one of my players corrected me and I looked up the rule.You don’t have to know every rule, or quote every page. (Although some Dumpshockers probably could, but they’re uber-Otaku.) Don’t worry about looking up every rule update, focus on keeping the flow of the game moving. Next game you can make any alterations that need to be corrected. If you’re surprised by your players and were not expecting a particular action or they did something completely unconscionable just wing it. A large part of running the game is just running the game and winging things as you go. Don’t worry if the game didn’t work out as planned just keep going. Players are the incarnation of chaos. Don’t look at improvisation as something bad, performing on the fly keeps things from getting boring
for you and the players.The players are invariably going to do something completely unexpected, just roll with it. Improvisation isn’t easy but the more you do it the better you get. If the players do something to maliciously destroy the game like shoot everyone, kick’em out of the game and chide them for being Trekkies and living in their parents’ basement.
2 Details, details, details, there can never be enough details.Edytuj
Sometimes creating NPC’s takes a little detail to flesh out the personality, drive, and quirks a NPC has. Organizations are made of people usually in a hierarchical relationship with many NPC’s. Flesh out the organization by creating NPC’s and their hierarchy.
(If you have time, create an org chart for “Company or Division X”.The detail helps you lock down who the power players
are and who the clueless underlings are.
This gives the organization a shape and form.
Every organization or corporation has folks at the top and folks on the bottom. (See number four for more detail.)
I prefer when creating a game to have a good bit of detail already pinned out. I like to visually think about the areas where players are going to be and see if I can pull from real world examples for details to make up such places. One area that I get lots of ideas from are the old run down parts that every city has.The ghetto’s of Mission Hill in Boston, the old abandoned factories and mills of Everett. I like to think back to the experiences and history a particular area had and try to picture it. I ask myself,“What is this area trying to tell me?” Is this an area that has a story to tell? Is the old Revere Waterfront still echoing with the laughter and vaudeville performers of yesteryear?
Good science fiction I think focuses not on the new but on the old. It’s taking those aspects from the old and reworking them a bit so they provide for new interpretation.
(Case in point Blade Runner,“The future is old.”) What do the towns and places have to tell us? Pretty much anywhere we live now will be the old face of yesteryear in 2064.
Everything new is old, everything old is new.
I like using history to build that mental and psychic impression that I draw upon for details in my world.This can be how an old home smells or the impressions an old neighborhood has. In general it’s good to ask yourself these kinds of questions when making a home or place the characters enter into. Have your game sketched out. Ask yourself, what kind of story are you trying to tell? Is it a mystery, action based, horror or a mixture of many genres? What’s the relationship to the players and does it involve any of the characters background or contacts? How will the game flow and fit together? Basically
you can break this down into the basic questions Who,What,When,Where, and How? Often all you need is a flow chart other
times have every room worked out ahead of time helps a story flow more coherently.
3 Try to make campaigns realistic and well thought out.Edytuj
When creating a game I like to really think about the protagonists involved. I like to have a well thought out arc and to link my games together with key clues as part of an intertwined campaign. Each clue the characters find only creates more questions till the players learn what’s really going on.
I like to involve the players and keep them stimulated and curious. I’ve found campaigns tend to last longer if they see a bigger picture starting to form. If your story arc is somewhat or generally planned out you can map key events and how they occur.This helps add to the overall mood of the campaign.
If your plot is planned out you can build energy in the plot culminating in a climax.This builds a more interesting experience for both GM and players.
Remember that organizations and corporations have a project time line that is often pushed blatantly forward.
(When project deadlines are cemented and draw near, Runners may be the Corporations last resort.) The players many times are
caught in the cross fire in a plot they might scarcely understand but playing a key role.
4 NPCs should have realistic selfish motivations.Edytuj
Personally I like realistic NPCs. I find myself constantly trying to make NPCs interesting and realistic.There’s a great history and personality creator in the old Cyberpunk 2020 book. If I’m having writers block I’ll usually use some of they’re charts to get ideas for creating interesting NPCs. I have to give Mike Pondsmith kudos for his creation system.When creating NPCs I like to start out with what their relation is to the game.
Are they contacts, or are they actual protagonists in the big picture? When protagonists are organizations or corporations it’s a good idea to sketch out the entity and the entities involved. Creating a realistic structure is helpful when creating power plays, struggles, and general intrigue.
Flesh out important NPCs and important background NPCs who pull the strings. It’s a good idea to create a good detailed write up about contacts the characters have lots of interaction with.This helps them become real for the players. Folks are going to have skeletons and things they hide. Hell, some have down-right self destructive habits.
Personas and personalities are complex. Life isn’t usually black and white, NPCs shouldn’t be either. (I’ve met all kinds of folks who at one point are the life of the party, only to find later they’ve had a schizophrenic breakdown and a dark past.) Many times it’s our faults that make us interesting. It’s those things that make us stand out that others see and equate with a personality. Frequently good friends do things that go beyond logic and loyalty. It’s during those divisive times that we as individuals either support friends or re-evaluate our relationships. Contacts are the same way. Folks in power who have
influence might call upon characters to do some really heinous stuff. (Possibly a Mr. Johnson cuts up a teenage prostitute and needs the characters to dispose of the body in exchange for a favor with a large megacorp.Who would have thought he was
the East Coast VP of Ares Operations,“Go figure”. ) You get the idea.As people we have faults.We as individuals have a capacity for good or bad — it’s the combination of both that makes characters and NPCs interesting.
In Shadowrun everything and everyone is grey or black.There are some light souls out there, just not in the sewers.
5 Sometimes you have to ignore the dice, they lie anyways: Luck vs. Accountability. Edytuj
Every now and then the dice just don’t go the way you want at a very, very, inopportune time. If it’s going to kill the game, or destroy the plot then it’s not a bad idea to flub the rolls. If the players earned the rolls outright and rolled fairly in combat and killed the evil master mind dark mage then let him die.
If they got a lucky shot on someone or something that could cause problems in the game then ignore the rolls. Maybe they have
an unknown benefactor.The core problem is, the plot possibly needs to be re-thought out.
Important people tend to stay out of the action when they can pay underlings to take a bullet for them. I’ve had a couple of
protagonists die in a hail of badly rolled dice even after spending karma for a re-roll.
Unless a body is properly taken care of, I’ll bring NPCs back for future games as a “Hey I’ve got friends too Puta!” Every now and then getting lucky adds to the drama of the situation.This isn’t always a bad thing.
Surprises for the GM keeps the GM on their toes and makes the game more interesting for all.
NOTE: If a Decker is trying to combat an uber-A.I. in a matrix showdown, I don’t care how much karma they’ve earned.That
Decker is going to be the next resident at Meadow Acre’s retirement home for the indigent and disabled. (I see a lobotomy in
your future!) You just have to think about balance and “If this NPC dies is it really all that important?” If a player really starts to mess with the wrong people the character has to deal with the consequences. I’m not about to go and tell some Mafioso wannabe that his pants are ugly and the gold chain around his neck looks like something Donny Osmond might wear. I don’t want folks with firearms knowing who I am. If players brazenly do something stupid then players may be dealt with in a particularly vicious manner. One thing my players always forgot to wear when going into corporate facilities, the ubiquitous ski mask.The Decker gets most of the pay data but isn’t able to fix the vid’s, it’s only later that the players mugs
are on the evening news and Lonestar is looking to question them. Luck and consequence need to be dealt with, players must
be accountable for their actions for good or bad. (Note this goes for Riggers as well.)
6 Take your time, only one person can speak at once.Edytuj
At conventions especially tables have a way of growing in proportion and size.When dealing with large groups of runners it helps to have folks take turns talking and acting.
I usually go clock wise or counter clock wise in non combat situations. In smaller homegrown groups this isn’t so much an issue but with larger groups come semblance of order is needed.Your players will thank you for it.
7 Don’t worry about being a Ham.Edytuj
When running NPC’s I like to portray some very dysfunctional folks. One favorite is the drunk alcoholic Russian who turns out to be the player’s pilot. Only later do they find out he installed a level 4+ autopilot system.
I tend to ham it up a bit.The world of Shadowrun has always been sort of cartoonish in my mind. Magic, gunfire, and combat tends to be fairly dramatic and cinematic. Having a hammy NPC only makes sense. I’ve noticed that wargamers tend to be a bit more discreet when playing when compared to the Roleplaying crowd.The only problem is that acting a bit weird comes with
running a game. If you don’t ham it up you might be missing out on a fun opportunity to act and exaggerate the action.There’s nothing more fun than a large hyper active troll looking for Crack or is addicted to BTL’s.
When you’re hooked on BTL’s the real world and the virtual tend to blend together in many odd and disturbing ways. It’s the GM’s job in a sense to portray folks who aren’t flying on two or even one pistons.
8 You’ve got to get rid of the Decker if he’s slowing things down.Edytuj
I like the matrix, the plot lines and even the old story in Virtual Realities 1.0.The problem is that action tends to be very fast and very furious.The matrix tends to occur at a speed far greater than the outside world. So easily two and a half hours of gaming might only equate to lest than a minute in real time.
This and the problem that all the players are not in the matrix makes that one Decker stop the flow of the game.The best way to integrate the Decker is if the others in the game need to make a food run or take some other break.Then you might be able to sneak a quick decking session.The Mr. Johnson’s Black Book has a nice reduced rule set for decking but I’ve found it easier to relegate Deckers to NPC’s.
9 The Mr. Johnson only lies, it’s your job to screw over the characters.Edytuj
Surprises are a good thing.The Mr. Johnson is always going to screw the players over at some point. Isn’t that why they’re runners?
Shadowrunners in the darkness of the sixth world are expendable assets. On occasion they become more of a liability and have to be liquidated. It happens and players always hate it. Mr. Johnson might sell the players out for his or her own gain? Who knows?
Maybe that Mr. Johnson is just a pawn working under someone higher up in the corporation? (What? We’re working for a low level accounting manager?)
Intrigue is a part of the game and what makes the game so interesting. Invariably the players are going to get the old knife in the back at some point. It happens, will happen, and will continue to happen.
Remember though that there’s a cost tied with everything. Make sure when the players get the shaft or barrel it’s for a good reason that ties well into the needs and context of the story. Screwing over players just to screw over players is silly. Even in the underworld there’s a level of professionalism.You start from the street where an everyday pusher would sooner sell your organs to a street doc than look at you.You move up the ladder slowly. Just be mindful of who the players are
dealing with. Even the big boys liquidate assets. Especially if there’s a large monetary gain. Ultimately motivations for deceit can be broken down into one of two things:
power or money, and the lengths that a Mr. Johnson or individual will go depends on those two attributes.A great movie that
demonstrates this is Tom Clancy’s “Clear and Present Danger”.
10 Know your audience, occasionally hack and slash is a good thing.Edytuj
Every now and then players want less intrigue and more hack and slash. Knowing your players a little before the game is a
good idea. In general I’ve found kids don’t like really complex plots overall.That’s not a bad thing, hell many adults just like to blow off some steam enacting fantasies about killing hapless co-workers and supervisors. It just sort of comes with the territory. Especially if you’re running an intro game a little or a lot of violence is a good thing. One of my favorite games to run for newbies is my, “Night of the Zombies”. (That’s where I discovered that SR shotguns are a zombies
natural predator.) I wanted something kind of fun and pulpy and zombies are a great way to unleash some hidden hostility. Ironically, every time I run this game players ignore the 20 zombies prostate on the ground.
Coincidently they’re all pointed toward the large column of light, beaming up into the night sky.This never seems to bother the players till after they figure out what’s going on.“...Uh, guys, I think we’re going to have to fight our way out of here.”
11 Have fun; but it can be more fun writing than it is running.Edytuj
The trick is to have fun while running too.
I like to ham up my NPCs and really delve into their quirky nature.Think about all the corpses a street doc might have to
dispose of and the lasciviousness of Tamenous ghouls.Try to make things more than they are and exaggerate a bit.
The whole point of doing this is really so you can have fun with the game.
12 Take notes during the game for future reference.Edytuj
Often you have to make up NPCs on the fly.
Having notes to refer back to can be handy when trying to add more detail to a NPC for later use. (Usually first meetings are just impressions anyways, it’s not till later that we really learn about someone and who and what they are?)
13 Props — you can never have too many!Edytuj
Actually you can, but that’s beside the point.
I like turning my games into a little bit of a live action game around a table. Props are the perfect way to do this.They can really be just about anything. Say starting off the easiest are forms, pictures, scraps of paper, news articles anything you can use.You might create some scream sheets for a download type newspaper print out similar to older games.You can create multimedia pieces, music, video, what ever floats your boat.
I’ve created scream sheets, maps, old match cases, bits of a receipt...hell, the pictures you find when you buy a picture frame could work.A prop is anything you make, buy, steal, scavenge, or put together to represent something in a game. Good places to look are Goodwill stores, arts and crafts shops or what ever you’re looking for.The sky’s the limit when dealing with props. Ideally the prop should fit in with the plot of the game but it could be something to throw off the players as well. One prop idea was the ichor of Roth-Shogoth which is molasses I poured into an empty water bottle. It gave a nice
viscous consistency. Players look at it in the bottle and they’re first reaction is,“This doesn’t look healthy, drop everything”.
Props are just fun. I’ve heard of one guy who rebound an old Webster’s dictionary to make it a Tome of unholy knowledge. (Who ever thought the secrets of evil would be in alphabetical order.) Props are fun and really spice up a game.
14 Come to games prepared with well thought-out scenarios.Edytuj
Some GM’s can run a whole game on the fly completely unprepared. In high school I played with a Call of the Cthulu GM who ran
games completely on the fly and did it well.
(To give props where they’re due, Don Fergoso in TX is a great example of an improvisational GM.) I like to plan out my
games, clues, links and game flow about a week before the game. If I have time, I’ll go in and fill in notes on NPC’s and other events in the game. I tend to use a meta-flow chart to map out the game and where hopefully I would like it to go.You don’t have to write a thirty page book but just having the basic stats down, notes on flow and NPCs and key events is usually enough. If you have time, maps are always fun to hand out to players.
15 Behold the power of the Pimp! Encouraging interesting PC’s is your job.Edytuj
I never get to play. I mean I never get to play, ever. I’m always the GM. (I think that’s one reason I like wargaming so much, no GM’s.)
So from time to time to stave off nostalgia I’ll make out a character or two. One such night was the birth of Master Spanker aka Mr. Ivy.
I based him on the DVD “American Pimp”, having got a good deal of enthusiasm from the DVD. So after buying 5 level II Ho’s,
other gear and drugs, Master Spanker was part face, part pimp, and part drug dealer.
Since I didn’t have a chance to play him in normal game play he turned into a NPC.
One night I had a new player sit in who needed a character and saw the pimp. From there the magic happened. For some reason
the Pimp is the ultimate clown.Take every bad Blaxploitation film from the 1970’s, add a little bit of Blackula and JJ from Good Times and you get Master Spanker. Ironically the first player to play the Spanker was a kid from Sri Lanka who you would never have guessed would open up as a Pimp. (He has a very clean almost British accent.) He took being a Pimp to a new and greater level.
Even when his character was out gunned he grabbed both pistols and opened up Hollywood style. I gave him extra karma for
that since he was fighting a pretty butch set of drones. Now at every convention there’s at least one player who play’s the Spanker.
The point of this is to illustrate that breaking the mold when making a character with style and purpose is more important than substance. Creativity does not come from being a munchkin but putting out a character with that “extra” touch of style. Characters that stand out help give the players a level of depth to focus on and act upon. Creating a personality and a history for new players helps them get into the mood of the game.
Never underestimate the power of stereotypes.