A few weeks ago, I drew up a really, really shitty session. It was dumb run in which the players breezed through it, and were frankly, pretty bored through the whole process.
Set-up was like this: A former employer wanted to get someone to plant bugs in the residence of a local Triad leader. The idea was to replace a cleaning lady on the staff of the Triad leader, someone he could trust to move the bugs around, etc.
But, the rub was this: on a previous job the team had picked up a police tail based on their penchant for killing lots of people in pretty distinctive ways. I thought that it would be extra fun trying to figure out how to shake a tail while doing a relatively simple job.
Stupid me: I didn’t count on the team just splitting up, sending the team’s killer off to his apartment while the rest of them did the hacking on the maid service server to get the maid info. Then, the team deftly lost the tail using magic on a random passerby, making him appear to be the team killer. Cops chased the random dude who was mind controlled and masked, and the full team got away to complete the gig.
And then to make matters even worse, rather than treading into the ethically murky territory of killing a maid, the team simply corrupted the most susceptible maid on the roster. No one fired a shot. I’m not sure anyone even used edge. They made 16 grand a piece. It was terrible.
They were too good for the session I drew up. So, I knew for my next gig, we had to see a challenge.
I went back to my previous sessions and put together a list of all the enemies the runners had pissed off. Luckily, there were plenty. So I opened the next session with them sitting down in their regular bar, about to plan the next job, when all of the sudden:
Their regular fixer runs in and tells them the Triads have been tipped off as to who raided their warehouse, and they are fucking pissed. A list of over twenty gang members and hit men have been hired to kill them. And just as that fact sinks in…
The cop cars tailing them explode in the street. Dead civilians everywhere. Their headquarters bar gets rained on with bullets. They have to run, all the exits are covered on both sides with local contracted killers and Triad assassins from the Red Dragon association.
My players said “Awwww fuck,” but you could hear the delight in their voices. They knew they’d been running roughshod over the game, and now it was time to pay up. I was going George RR Martin on their asses.
They made it out, but just barely. And after they made it to their cars, it was chase combat on the freeway. (I love the SR5 rules for this, by the way. Way to go, Catalyst.) There was never a moment when the players felt safe or secure, and I think that made it one of the most successful sessions of my career as a GM.
The PCs had to drop a sizable chunk of cash they’d earned that month on a safe house rental with a trusted contact in the Ork Underground, and we ended the session where they had time to breathe, and think about their counter attack for the next session.
So here’s what I learned: a shitty session doesn’t have to sink a campaign. You just have to recognize when your players aren’t being challenged. Then you blow up their bar, and REALLY try to kill them. Those that make it out will love their characters all the more, and now the campaign has a new life. Presto.
So, like my design post for the previous run in my new campaign, this post will focus on the design of a single job, so you can copy it for your own campaigns. My group and I ran it this week, and we had a blast.
Here are the rolls on my random run generated table that provided the inspiration for the gig.
Random Run Table Results
Meet: Warehouse, Loading Dock, Factory, Underused Industrial - (changed this to a strip club, sue me)
Conflict: MegaCorporation vs. Minor Corporation
MacGuffin: Bio-engineered Life Form
Twist: Target Has Been or is Being Moved
Location: AAA downtown (HTR 1d6 minutes)
One of the team’s fixers, Price, has a megacorp that is furious with a contracted laboratory over what they view is a breach of contract. She sets up a meeting with a pair of Johnsons to solve the issue. Because she suspects the Johnsons are soft and inexperienced, Price wants the team there to help negotiate the price, appear menacing.
NeoNet contracted Renault Laboratories to develop a prototype critter for defense. Renault made several promises that the critter, while traditionally difficult to tame, would be fitted with cyberware, making it easy to control. After countless delays, NeoNet backed out of the project, canceling the contract.
Neonet intelligence operatives confirmed that Renault only made it seem that this creature was impossible to control, as they lined up another buyer for the prototype that was developed with NeoNet investment.
The job from NeoNet: Break into the downtown lab and kill the prototype critter: a cyber-controlled spellcasting Naga.
The meet takes place at Club Haze, a strip club in the Filipino-dominated Ranier neighborhood. As GM, I open the scene with my standard teamwork perception test.
The Job Pitch from The Johnson
"So, here’s the ask. We need a team of external consultants to break into Renault Laboratories R&D department. Renault’s located on the 40th floor of the Dakota Building downtown. When you break in, we need you to eliminate their project: A drone-controlled Naga. Renault’s been working on a project to capture Nagas and compel them to participate High Threat Response and Security actions. This project has largely been a failure, but they we’ve learned that they have one successfully deployed prototype. If you kill it, we’ll pay you 75,000 for the contract. This project must be completed by 6 am on Thursday morning. So you have 32 hours to do the work. Questions. Concerns."
The Dakota Building Run
Every run has a twist, and this one was pretty devious. The Neonet Johnson who paid the runners to kill the Renault naga had long since established his partnership with the subsidiary. Which means, the Johnson just wanted to run a real combat test scenario to see the naga in action. He was recording the conflict for a sales demonstration video. The runners made this discovery mid-job, but went through with it anyway to collect the check.
It was a good fight, and it was only a stroke of insane luck from the team’s most impulsive member that won the day.
Rather than going through every system spec and stat out — because who wants a technical manual, right?— you can click my links below to see my notes, my tokens, my GM script and my maps from this session. Feel free to peruse and steal, steal, steal.
Parking Garage Fight
Author Note: This is fiction I wrote based on our campaign’s most recent session. While I did the writing, I give big thanks to my players, Shawn, Will, and Clark for the material.
Wago is drunk in the noodle shop at noon.
He contemplates the fourth stolen truck that the bosses had turned down in as many weeks. Cigarettes, booze, that truck full of the new Furby models—the ones with the new AI—none of it raised so much as an eyebrow with those ancient bastards. Since his wife’s father caught that bullet in February, Wago is a Triad non-grata. And it’s just not ever going to change. He knows it.
He watches the reckless crews send their least-high razorboys in to meet the bosses, and nearly all of those shitbirds walk out in less than five minutes with their chests chuffed. Strutting back to their tables, high-fiving, talking shit. Already spending the money in AR.
"Hey man," says an ork, sidling up to the bar, one seat away. "I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you’re having one piss poor day." The ork, he’s not Chinese, but he has a friendly enough face.
"You have no idea."
Wago’s vision blurs for a moment. He needs another drink. The ork, the friendly one, orders it up.
He won’t remember telling the stranger he wanted one.
* * *
Wago gave us everything we needed. The warehouse address, where the cameras were, even that the guy in charge of watching the place was banging some sorceress chick from another Triad. We were ready to sprint the fuck out of the place once Impulse dropped the spell, but Wago was so drunk, he didn’t even know we compelled him to spill. Or maybe he didn’t care.
Dude was one disgruntled widget maker.
Anyway, we hit the spot, and Impulse put the mojo on T-Ron, our decker. Levitate and invisibility, perching him right up on one of the security cameras. T-Ron plugged in and hacked the hell out of that system, using the cameras to give us a goon-squad headcount and the exact location of the stolen shipment we were getting the green to find.
Shit located. So we went back to the Butt Hutt to set-up the meet with the Johnson. Bones bailed on us for this gig, and we were getting paid 8gs per runner to find electronic records of the shipment. We didn’t want to leave 8gs on the table, so we got Moves to show up to the meet for 2gs. And we’d split the extra six grand between the three of us.
* * *
Thought I hit the jackpot. 2gs for nothin, but Fast Haul screwed my boys somethin fierce. Domino make the call, an Johnson be all like, “Need you to get the shit.”
Domino tell him that ain’t what they agree on, but that J don’t care. He tell him he double the pay for retrieval. And that’s when I step in.
"Yo, man. I run in an get that shit. You just give me the full 16k share. Put a little inviz on me, an I walk right outta there with whatever you need."
Domino down, so we tell the J that this bullshit. But it bullshit we take for sixteen large a pop. My new crew take me to the warehouse.
Impulse does the levitate/inviz move on me, an I up through an open second floor window where a dude pass out with this fine, fine girl. But I see the tats she got. Powerful as fuck. She slummin with this dude. Slummin with any dude who ain’t no dragon or god, if you want my opinion.
But I got that soft step, so I make sure to neither stir her pretty little self nor her big nasty mojo.
In the hallway, I find the door that my man T-Ron change the key code for. Punch that shit in and walk right into the storage room, find the case, pick it up. Catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I remember the rules:
Suitcase won’t be invisible.
I put the call in to my boys.
"Yo, I ain’t fonda walking back through that room, lookin like Sue Storm takin a weekend trip." I tell ‘em I gonna chop open the boarded up window with my blade. They gotta be ready to slam the gas when I get out the window. I tell Impulse he gotta drop his levitate once I’m on the ground.
"Dude. I’m faster than yo spell. Come on, now."
"No you aren’t."
"We gonna have this conversation now?"
"You’re not faster than my magic."
"Motherfucka, it’s called ‘levitate.’ Ain’t called ‘lear jet.’ Ain’t even called ‘fly.’ You done yo part. So how bout you drop the shit, and let me make yo rent check?"
"All right." And it’s the way he say it. I know the dude. He got emotional problems. He gonna fuck me. That shit is his god damn nature.
I start choppin’. If Impulse gonna hang me out to dry better got time on my side.
Sure enough, once my ass out the window, he drop all his magic. The inviz, the levitate, everything, and I fall. Just on the second floor though, and I hit the ground rollin, case in my hand. An ankle tweak, but I’m still fast as fuck. The Triads heard my ruckus choppin open the window, and they roll out the front door. But I’m in the car fore they pull they heaters.
Domino slams the gas, and we off.
I just look at Impulse.
He movie star good lookin, a funny dude, a talented fuckin spell sling. But there a reason he a criminal. Dude can only keep a job until somebody tell him what to do.
"You know what, motherfucka."
It pain me, but I let it slide. We each got sixteen large comin our way. And you can’t be too pissed when the sun’s shinin on yo ass.
In my working life, I’m a Program Manager for a major healthcare IT company. Some might think that my ability to organize, lead, and drive helps me with GMing, but it’s actually the other way around. GMing taught me to be a more organized individual, which actually had some real world, office-type value.
So, I thought I’d share the way that I organize my campaign for all of my fellow GMs out there.
Hard Drive Records
As you can see below, I use a single mac directory for a number of different types of Shadowrun files. Two files remain in the main directory, outside the folders for easy access: My core rulebook, and my campaign excel workbook, which is essentially my scrap piece of paper for the game.
I strongly, strongly dislike paper because I have the handwriting of a blind three-year-old.
Descriptions of my folders are as follows:
- Tools - This is where I keep blank character sheets (by character class), Player Aids, and Rules Summaries that I’ve stolen from the great, wonderful, and amazing Hayek on Dumpshock.
- Maps - has the base maps where I store the layouts that I pull onto roll20, divided up by run number.
- Tokens - holds the tokens that I make for each character (using TokenTool). And like “Maps” It’s divided up into PCs and NPCs, and the NPCs are broken up into run-specific folders.
- Blogs - This is where I put the drafts of the crap I post on this site.
- Runs - here’s where I keep the rtf files of the missions I draw up
- Session Minutes - These are the minutes that I distribute after each session. Typically I like to write these out the second the session ends, so that I don’t forget anything. After you get four or five of these, you can officially say that your campaign has “annals.”
Here’s the link to the public drive where I’ll be sharing all of my material from my latest Shadowrun 5 campaign. I’ll be updating this after every session with my crew. What’s mine is yours, so share, copy/paste, distribute, and—please—fix the spelling errors.
Now this is the fun stuff. And while I’m no expert in Roll20, I do use the journal feature to track my PCs and any character the team interacts with. No more than a sentence or two to summarize the action per run.
In a previous installment, I confessed that I write backstories for a few of my general thugs and goons. If a thug or a goon ascends to a contact status, they get a new, distinct token that makes them easily identifiable when in mixed company with a group (herd, gaggle, murder) of their original goon tokens.
Every entry in the Roll20 journal links to a token that provides the basic skills and attributes of each character. So at any point that the team wants to throw down with a contact who sold them up the river, I can just pull that token over from the journal, and my players are ready to spill blood with minimal look-up time.
Here’s a shot of what I put on each token:
And that’s about it. Feel free to shoot any questions my way on Reddit, where I am DodgingTheBullet. Cheers, and thanks for reading.
Recently, I asked my players what they liked best about the game of Shadowrun. We’ve been playing for years, so I figure in that time I must have gotten one or two things right.
The one overwhelming response I got wasn’t the combat, it wasn’t the gear, it wasn’t the time they sent a sprite to drive a stolen Eurocar from Cinci to Seattle, over three international borders.
Side note: That was my favorite.
It was the stuff they hadn’t gotten around to yet: the loose ends.
They loved it when they didn’t quite get a job all the way done, and there was a cop or a Mafia Capo out there who wanted them dead. They liked the feeling that the world was always moving outside of their influence. Other runners were doing other jobs, and the guys that their bullets narrowly missed in the last job were still out in the world. Operating. Moving, getting stronger, lining up their shot.
Hearing this helped me shape the campaign that we’re beginning this month. I wanted to create a larger world, and to do that meant giving more thought to my NPCs. Even the rand-os.
Roll20 helps me a lot because I can google search a token and put a distinctive looking individual up on the screen in a heartbeat. That image helps me define what that person looks like, and in some cases, behaves like, too.
But in most cases, the best NPC is crafted before my guys ever show up with the pizza and Mountain Dew. And I find that every great NPC has one critical element: motivation. Just like when writing fiction, or watching a TV show, the most important thing is establishing what the character wants. Frank Underwood wants the presidency. Dorothy wants to get back to Kansas. My latest NPC, Wago? He’s furious that his Triad bosses have been passing on all the goods he’s stolen. He’s angry and broke, and he needs to start making ends meet. This guy is just waiting for my runner team to come in through the door.
But here’s the catch. Wago’s not part of the mission. He’s just a broody guy sitting at the bar that the team can notice on their initial perception test. He’s an option to help them out, or he’s a glitch away from turning on them and ruining the job. But more than anything else, Wago is a window to a much larger world that the runners can open at any time.
I don’t do this for EVERY thug or EVERY civilian in a bar. But I do it for a lot of them. And before you think this is the work of an obvious obsessive-compulsive, let me assure you. It’s just a couple of sentences. A minute or two burned on some daydreaming.
If I decide to “enhance” an NPC with backstory, my first step is establish said motivation. From there, ask myself what’s been in the NPC’s way to reach her goal? And finally, I factor in all the ways the PCs can help or hinder this individual. I do this for every fixer, every session big bad, and in some cases, I do it for bystanders or goons just in case the players get chatty with their legwork.
By having just a couple of sentences drawn out in advance of the session, a PC can stumble onto an interesting NPC, and open up to a whole new character’s world. And that interaction is part of building that long duree that my players really love: a cohesive, fully interactive story arc that takes place over a number of sessions.
The sword’s mostly bullshit. Don’t get me wrong: I know how to use the motherfucker, and I’m fast. But get down to brass tacks, and it just strapped to my ass to impress the tourists.
‘Bout a dozen elves and humans done shown up, wearin heavy vests some street rat told them were lead.
It’s Market Square 4 am, and I can smell that soykaf in they travel mugs. We work out deals. And them tourist motherfuckers get all excited tradin’ chits with a real Zone ork like me, barterin for my services. I ain’t mad at em for it. After all I score some cool shit. Genuine gold watch, three cases of craft beer, one fancy squish couple gave me their flight vouchers back to Minneapolis.
Before we shake on the exchanges, I get them to turn on their comms, see if they can work here. They can’t: never been no kinda signal here, but it’s all part of the hustle: my big trogga smile flashing over snappy jokes and fast talk. Pure urban charm, making them squish forget they ever activated their paydata.
When we all square, I round ‘em up and hike the four miles down to the Shattergraves.
I never wanna take them too deep, don’t wanna wake up anything nasty, but more mornings than not, around dawn, the spirits start kicking up, startin they 40-year-old day. Taxis sputter and hot dog vendors steam up. Pretty dead women stroll to work in their short August skirts. All of em sepia toned, all sad and lost, never knowin that the Sears came down and took them with it.
Part of my game is telling their little stories. Give those ghosts a personal touch. The little terrors, know what I mean? Babies cryin for their mamas in the rubble for years afterward. Shit that make them squishes straight shiver in their burb hotels for a couple nights. Fun yarns to spin around the pool back home or whatever.
My boy, K Breezy is always the last tourist I take money from. He sticks to the back of our group, hackin the tourist’s freshly activated commlinks in AR. Standish’s boys tell us to never take more than what will be noticed. And we more or less careful to follow orders, but we even more careful about kicking up Standish’s cut of our profits every week.
Halfway to the ‘Graves, and I get a call from Reina. It’s high priority, which ain’t normal for her: she normally cool as the other side of the pillow.
I pick up right away. The tourists are surprised, check they own commlinks.
She tells me it’s our boy. It’s his breathing again. She tells me it’s really bad.
I cut the tour short, and me and K-Breezy hustle down the street to our old Ford faster than the marks can follow. We keep all their shit.
Welcome to Chicago, motherfuckers.
* * *
Our baby’s lips are turnin blue.
Since he been born, he been wheezy. He catch a cold and rattle all night. And Reina, she work for a living, so I’m the one who sleeps on the floor by his crib, listenin to the phlegm kickin around in his lungs. Makin sure that rattle don’t stop.
Like I know what the fuck I’ll do if it does.
“I don’t think he’s breathing!” Reina shouts from the backseat. K-Breezy swears under his breath, as a giant fuckin RV cuts us off on 94, heading up to Northside.
“Yo, feel his chest!” I shout back at her, feeling my own lungs tighten. He gotta make it.
Cause, Jesus. If he don’t, I’ll never be right. I know it.
Most mornings, after my tours, I come by Reina’s to take over daddy duty, fore she goes to work. I used to like making his bottles, because I could figure that shit out. Now, I’m always askin little man if he can eat an apple. Or a twinkie. I ask him if he can chew up a pancake. Like, “Yo, Bee. If I put nuts in this, will you chew that shit up?”
He just eighteen months, so it’s not like he can tell me. But he always laughin at his daddy.
No laughs this morning when me and K-Breezy showed up. Just stayed in his mama’s arms, droopy eyed and outta gas. Coughin up green an nasty.
Up ahead, that same fuckin’ RV veers into an ol hippie school bus, and the collision goes slow-motion, the two slammin hitting the barrier and then swingin around, taking out about three other cars. K-Breezy stops in time, and pulls us into the grass, while a rear-ending chain reaction crunches up the whole fuckin highway.
An we stuck. K-Breezy trying to get her movin again, but even if he did, this highway’s jammed.
“David! I don’t know!” Reina’s falling apart. Our boy dyin. “I don’t know! I don’t know!”
Man, I havin trouble to just turn around to see.
When I ain’t busy, I help Reina’s old man Bobby at nights when she has a concert. He calls Bee “Daddy’s Shadow.”
I know now, I ain’t around as many nights as I should be. If little man goes this mornin, will he go thinkin of me as Daddy? Or just some dude who make him pancakes sometimes?
“David,” Reina says. “David.”
“Fuckin’ asshole!” Yells K-Breezy. He poundin the wheel, like that’ll make a difference.
I close my eyes, feel the world under my feet.
Find that hum.
I jump out the car, and open up the back. I see Reina, devastated and beautiful. We ain’t together anymore, she don’t like my schemes and my cheats. But she my girl. And this little barbarian—he our boy.
The kid’s belly swells while he try to gulp air. He just ain’t getting any.
And I feel that ol’ charge. My legs and arms catch fire.
“Give him to me, fast.”
Reina and K-Breezy both knew me when we were kids, back when I was the best tailback this husk of a city ever saw. The people who still loved football, who wouldn’t switch to that urban brawl bullshit called me “Moves.”
She puts little man in my arms. Tiny little ork. His tusks just beginning to sprout out from under his lips. His hair smelling like his shampoo and a hint of Lake Michigan, the good parts of it.
“You still with me, little man?”
The kid moans.
I fire down the shoulder with him coughing in my arms. Dead sprint over the pot-holed freeway and screamin under the shattered streetlights. We blur over my old neighborhoods, over the stores I used to steal from as a little boy, before the bugs and the Knights worked everything over.
Trids and knowsofts call me an “adept,” but that word ain’t been nothin but stupid to me. I’m just the fastest motherfucker alive. I can jump, I can run, and when it matter? My ass can fly.
A coupla beaters swing up through an on ramp, cut me off, and I take the kid right over them. I hear some junkies under the overpass shout up at us. They herdin together against the cold, waiting for their corner boys to show up. We give em a show for a second.
The kid starts to laugh weakly. He feeling the wind in his hair, startin to have fun. An maybe that ain’t such a bad way to go if it’s his time.
My muscles heat up, feelin that energy, that rightness, and I launch us over a truck tumped over on its side on the shoulder. We land smooth and I burn even harder to the same clinic where my momma took me when the Chi went tits up.
Road signs start tellin me that the freeway’s closed ahead, Talkin bout a bridge that collapsed onto the streets bout three years back. They forcin me to the exit, but I ain’t no car. I juke around the orange barrels and plascrete. An I see that big ol pit ahead. Forty foot drop easy.
Clearing it is my little man’s only chance.
“You good for a jump?” I ask him, burning up the road.
He don’t say nothin. Just clings onto me tight.
And then we in the sky.
When we rebooted our last campaign, I wanted to have a go at building a headquarters for the team. Not that this is a specific need. My players almost always want to rent out a firehouse as a group, Real World style, and see what happens when people stop being polite and start getting shot.
But for me, that always felt so insulated. Rarely did they ever invite other runners to their home, and they almost never conducted business there. And who can blame them? Don’t kill Yakuza where you eat. So going into this campaign, I needed something that would bring biz to them, and provide a view into the runs of other teams, and the careers of fixers.
And thus, the Butt Hutt was bequeathed unto the world.
The Butt Hutt is a runner hangout in Seattle that features specialized runners, fixers with contacts in multiple corporate and criminal elements, and awesome barbecue. Because I’m a nice guy, I gave the team free level 3 loyalty contacts for each of the eight runners and six fixers who frequent the Butt Hutt.
The Butt Hutt is the centerpiece to my entire campaign, and I welcome any other campaign’s use of it. As this blog progresses, you’ll see fiction vignettes, character bios, and pictures for all of the Butt Hutt’s regulars.
But first: The Hutt itself. Here’s the description from my Game Notes that I read to them during our kick-off session:
The Butt Hutt
Five years ago, this was just a shitty Famous Dave’s franchise. A hole in the wall to get some soy vaguely shaped like ribs. The douchebag who owned it even had a “No farting” neon sign displayed prominently over the bar. It was hard to tell what was trashier: the clientele or the tired-eyed waitresses slurring your order back to the cook picking at his ass.
Then Big Roy, a Dwarven arms dealer, got the call of his life. A whole shipping container full of panther assault cannons fell off a boat. And onto a shadow runner’s boat. Roy fenced the goods, and made a fortune. He bought the Famous Dave’s.
And so began Big Roy’s Butt Hutt.
Step one, Roy fired the whole staff and cooked the fucking ribs himself. He was from Carolina, so he knew barbecue. Second, hired help from the local universities. Acting students with high aptitudes and antisocial tendencies. All beautiful, because if Big Roy was gonna slave over ribs all day, he was gonna look at pretty girls taking it out to the tables.
Finally, he renamed the restaurant “Big Roy’s Butt Hutt.” For the pork. And the hot pants on the waitresses.
It wasn’t long before his Shadow world contacts came by and started to set-up shop, and in just a few short months, this was one of the best places to do shadow biz in the city. Big Roy hates surveillance, so wireless is jammed on premises. Every table has a wired connection for biz if you need it. But if you’re plugging away on a commlink and not talking to the girls, Big Roy will throw your ass right out. Only one rule in this place: Have some god damned manners.
Confession time: I love the random run generator. Left to my own devices, my runs can sprawl on to infinity. Because some shitty street level gang is always backed by some larger criminal syndicate with ties to a megacorporation, which has its greedy little fingers jammed right in the eyes of the common man.
The random run generator breaks that bad habit. It spits out a simple job with a start and end that I can cover in a four-hour session. Because most of my guys are in their 30s, and one’s in his 50s. Our show needs to be over before we all fall asleep in our cream of wheat.
The job below is one such randomly generated gig. I used the 5th edition random run generator with a couple of tweaks. One, I roll the Employers field twice so that I get the opposition. Two, I add a 1d6 roll for the security zone rating where the bulk of the action will take place. (AAA, AA, A, B, C, Z).
Here are the rolls and the interpretations.
- Type: Datasteal
- Meet: Moving Vehicle
- Conflict: Minor Corp v. Criminal Syndicate
- MacGuffin: Prototype Product
- Twist: Target is not what it seems.
- Location: B
The moving vehicle gave me my initial hook. The first thought is always a limo for this kind of thing, but I began to wonder if a moving truck would be better. Also, what better way to hide in plain sight, than for a Johnson to show up in one of his company’s own moving trucks? Thus, Fast Haul, a minor shipping corporation was born.
They were going to do a data steal against a criminal syndicate, so the first thing that popped into my head was a payback run. So I had the Triads rip off a high-profile shipment of a prototype product, which put Fast Haul Trucking in a bad spot with a big client. They need to find out where the prototype went, and fast.
I rolled B for location, so that made it a warehouse. So I had the 88 Lodge of the Triads run a smuggling operation out of Tacoma, where they store all of the shit they steal for redistribution. The “target is not what it seems” twist didn’t give me much, so I decided to trend more toward a double-cross.
The team is hired to hack the Triad’s warehousing system to confirm a precise location. But when the team hits jackpot on their hack and sends the location over, Fast Haul won’t pay them unless they retrieve the item too. The company is good enough to double the fee, but it’s double or nothing. Twist in place.
So the team has a number of tasks off the bat, and a potential for a big combat if they choose to stick with the job:
1. Find the warehouse location/host - legwork at a local Triad hangout
2. Hack the warehouse/host to get the precise location of the prototype
3. If accepting of the changed terms, raid the warehouse and retrieve the artifact.
I’ve built out the Noodle Shop for the legwork and the Warehouse for the run, and you can find those images attached below. We’re running this job on May 3rd, and I’ll have a run post-mortem then.
A few fun side pieces I’ve included:
1. The hottest troll waitress in the world at the Noodle Shop
2. A drunk Triad lieutenant down on his luck and able to be bribed
3. The noodle shop features Triads gambling on a bunch of classic tabletop games like Jenga, Uno, and Connect Four
4. A Romeo and Juliet style relationship between an 88s Triad Lieutenant and a powerful Yellow Lotus sorceress. They’re at the warehouse together.
5. A number of magical items stored at the warehouse if the team gets ambitious with their hack.
Shadowrun is hard because it takes place in an environment so much like our own. Yeah, we don’t have dragons flying around and scaring the shit out of bullet train passengers, but we do have a sprawling virtual world and an FBI that’s not afraid to poke around in it.
And when presented with a run, all of those present-day variables can come crashing down on the players, paralyzing them. And who can blame them? Me and my players are working stiffs. And the closest we’ve ever come to crime is watching The Wire. So when it comes to executing an illegal plan of action, all it seems they can think about are the myriad of ways to get caught.
Initial Teamwork Test
One way to get around this player paralysis is the Opening Scene Teamwork Perception Test. At the opening of every scene or locale, I have the PCs roll up their perceptions, supplying the chief perceiver with dice and limit enhancements. The task leader rolls, and the crew gets a piece of information about the scene per success.
I love role playing games because of the freedom allowed the players. They can do anything they damn well please. But on the flip side, the world can do anything to them that it damn well pleases. By conducting this test, they get a gentle nudge from the GM of where to get started.
As such, I typically write down 8 details for each place that will help them along their way, or create an interesting NPC for later use in the campaign. Here’s a layout of what the successes on the test yield for the players.
You get the demographics of a location and the basics. Size, shape, color of the walls. A funny or interesting detour like a disgruntled employee or a gorgeous waiter/waitress.
The mood of the place, the flow of the information, the food, the interactions of the people inside and out.
3. Interesting Actor
This is where I describe a key NPC who will help move the plot of the adventure forward.
4. Under the Surface
One or two speculations on the nature of the hidden business of the place. It’s a crime game. This is where you get the feel for the criminal element entrenched in the scene.
5. Specific Run Info
This is background information that will help the players infer the true meaning of their job, or this location’s role to the specific job they’re doing.
6. Valuable Tangent
This is unrelated to their job, but can lead to an easier method of completing the gig than initially thought. It can lead to extra gear or a new opportunity down the line.
7. The Missing Piece
An overheard phone call, a dropped piece of evidence, something that will give them the best info on where and when to execute their job.
8. Weird Bonus
If the score this high, a team specialist finds a bonus that can help him in this locale. A back door into the system for a decker, a bit of astral space that can make the phys ad more effective in his combat.
Glitches happen, and when they do, I consider it a misunderstanding. A certainty that is totally wrong. As GM, I’ll deliver the misinterpretation as part of the scene description, buried somewhere in the middle of the rundown.
On a critical glitch, the team knows they screwed up, so I give the team no information beyond just the physical details, and penalize their social rolls by 2, because they’re clearly missing how this environment works.
It’s important to note that I try not to hand out too many gimmes in these descriptions. It’s still up to the team to interact socially, physically, magically, and matrix-ally with the environment.