Riposte 1997: Part 4
By Blackjack [Blackjack's Shadowrun Page:] [] [@BlackjackSRx]

Posted: xxxx

You never know when the PCs will unite!

So what: I have the cows.

I showed your humor section to a friend of mine who laughed so hard that he fell out of his chair..

I just want you to know that I am not legally responsible for any injuries sustained while reading material found on my page.

Don’t you think the runs you post on your page PROMOTE the level of violence you’re always talking about preventing?

Although these runs presented the overwhelming possibility for violence you probably noticed that, if the players were to use open violence as a tactic, they would immediately be descended upon by a superior force and would probably get wasted. If anything this should motivate the runners to be delicate and less violent in their actions because they know that if they go in with their guns blazing there will by many more guns and the occasional vehicle laser blazing back at them. A good analogy is the tension regarding nuclear weapons that exited and, in a way, exists between the US and the Soviet Union. If the US wanted to destroy, say, a research facility in Moscow they could very well drop an atomic bomb on it. We all know what the result would be: World War III. If, however, the US sent in a covert ops team that took out just the facility and escaped undiscovered the Soviets would simply wake up the next morning and notice that the facility was gone. So must a runner go after the target, be it data or a drug or whatever, with a minimal amount of force and with a maximum amount of finesse. They shouldn't WANT to kill large numbers of people, because then large numbers of people will want to kill them.

My runs also provide the runners with moral choices in which they must pit their beliefs and convictions against their profession which, when you get right down to it, involves violence and death and doing things you're not always proud of. To use another analogy (I seem to be full of these tonight) consider the defense attorney who, even if he knows his client is guilt as sin, must defend him because it's his JOB. Now, hopefully, many runners won't like the idea that they're supposed to snipe off an unarmed woman or destroy the antidote to a horrible drug. But, again, it's their job. You can't just tell your Johnson to "Go to hell, I won't do it" because it'd be like telling your boss at Mc. Donald's that you don't want to make hamburgers.

It can be safely assumed that a Johnson who has worked with his runners for a while wouldn't give them a run he knows they won't want to do. Fledgling runners, however, don't always have a choice. Or, rather, they do have a choice but making the wrong choice can lose them their Johnson or their rep or both. My new players usually go through a few Johnsons before they find one they can actually work with. During this time life is rough, but nobody said running would be easy.

Off the top of my head there are two good fixes for dealing with runs which really stretch you character's convictions. The first is the fact that, even if a group generally agrees on a common moral level there are at least one or two members who are willing to do the "dirty work". The group, as a whole, may be opposed to sniping off a target but, at the same time, may be placed in a position where this is this action is the most viable or, even better, the only option for completing the run. There is a silent volunteer who goes off, does the deed, and probably stops off at a bar afterwards to drink himself in to a stupor in the hopes that it will erase the memory of what he's just done.

The second option is one I try to build into a run whenever possible: A loophole that doesn't directly violate the runner's contract. Even if I don't build one in, one usually exists. For instance, in my Let Them Bleed Run, which I've pretty much ruined by talking about it so much, a character who's feeling really rotten about what he's doing could take a risk and keep a single sample of the drug's antidote. A year or two after the run the sample, or data regarding it, could mysteriously appear in a lab way the hell over in Japan. Odds of the runner's Johnson discovering that they did this is very slim. By that time the runner's Johnson may not even be a Johnson anymore or the runners could have gotten so good that they could shit in a bucket and their Johnson would pay them a million nuyen for it. If a runner is moral enough, they will find a way to keep their ideals and do the run as well. They need not be vicious killers.

I’m having trouble with roleplaying in the Matrix. What, exactly, does it look like and how should PCs and NPCs “act” in it?

As you probably already know, each system normally has a particular theme it follows. It may appear as hell, or a subway system, or any number of things. It's important to have a clear idea of the theme because it makes describing the rest of the IC constructs, individual nodes, and so on a heck of a lot easier. If the decker is running the computer for Seattle's mass transit system the SAN would probably appear as a ticket booth, the datalines as tracks, the data as trains, and the nodes as stations. Barrier IC could appear as a turnstile and heavier ICs could appear as transit police. If there were any Black IC I'd probably describe it as being some kind of monstrous "track cleaner" which comes roaring out of nowhere with various implements of destruction attached to it. Although the appearances are superficial (a black IC could also be a teddy bear) they tend to reflect the nature of the IC. Having a good picture of what they look like is also essential once various aspects of the matrix begin to interact with the PC decker.

Deckers also have a theme of some kind and every program they run usually has something to do with that theme. If the decker appears as, say, a Fighter Jet their Combat program would probably manifest in the form of missiles and their Sleaze program would probably parallel ECM. Again, it's all superficial (the decker could appear as a Zippo lighter if he wanted to) but it is essential to roleplaying.

Roleplaying a decker's interaction in the matrix is fun, if you have a creative person playing the decker. If a decker using a Fighter Jet as a image decided to sleaze the SAN to the transit SAN he'd better not just say "I'm going to sleaze". What he should do is say "I land, get out, and see if my fake transit pass works". The transit pass would be the matrix manifestation of the Sleaze program. If the Barrier was a giant medieval gate he'd probably describe the Sleaze program as being a skeleton key. Combat is even more fun. While mechanically it's a battle between data, in the matrix it appears almost like a dance with each move representing a tweak in the data the decker is generating. If the decker with the jet is in combat and his combat program is successful he'd probably say something to the effect of "Hot damn, we have tone." and the missile would hit. If it failed the target he was attacking could swat the missile away if it was that giant track cleaner, or cuddle it before breaking it in half if the IC looked like a teddy bear.

I hate having to stop the run in order to let the group’s Decker do his stuff. Is there any way around this?

I don't see why you have to stop the run. Normally the decker will be working simultaneously as the rest of the team performs their part of the run in the "real world". Simply keep the turn sequence going. You have to sacrifice a bit of realism because, technically, the decker operates much, much faster than his real world comrades but this is really the only way to keep things going without stopping to have the decker do his stuff. Another down side is that there's no way to keep the players from knowing what the decker is doing. Technically, if the decker was to get wasted by blacks the other players wouldn't find out until his body slumped over. A good way to get around this is to make up a piece of equipment which attached to the deck and allows the decker to inform the rest of the PCs what's going on through normal headset communication. If worse comes to worse you can simply pass a note to the decker containing "secret" information only he would know.

If the decker is going on a pre-run search for information, meaning the PCs would normally sit around and wait for the decker to get done both in reality and in the game, just have the PCs find something to do. They could do some leg work or buy weapons or do something. They don't have to sit around.

As a side note, just about everybody has simplified the decking rules in one way or another to make things run smoother. Make up a few short cuts here and there. If you follow every little decking rule the decking procedure will take forever whether you have other players doing stuff or not.

And, finally, if you have multiple deckers or magicians who frequently make use of astral space as well as a lot of players try GMing with TWO GMs. One GMs the "reality" based players while the other GMs anybody decking or in astral space. The best way to do this is to use two tables, set apart, and have a GM sitting at each with their backs to each other. This makes it difficult for the reality players to hear what the decker is doing but allows the two GMs to coordinate their efforts. When in reality, the player would sit at the reality table. If he pops into astral space or jacks in, he moves to the other table. I tried it once and, if the GMs coordinate everything well, it really works.

I find it difficult to use maps during a run. Do you actually need them?

It seems a lot of people still have a Dungeons and Dragons mentality when it comes to floor plans, meaning they feel the need to know exactly where and how far away everything is down to the Mr. Coffee sitting on a corps desk. Actually drawing a map ends up being a horrible waste of time because half the crap you end up putting on graph paper is never pertinent to the run anyway. Using a map also kills game speed and makes "running firefights" difficult because you have to stop in every room and draw more of the damn map.

So forget the map. Use descriptions and loosen up a bit on exact distances, ranges, etc. If the players has never seen the building before, simply describe it as you go along. If, for some reason, the players misinterpret your descriptions allow the misinterpretation to float unless it's absolutely detrimental to a run. There are usually only a few things players need to know about a building in order to run it: Location of the target room, location of security personnel/cameras, location of the rooms on their way past security and on their way to the target. If the runners obtain a "map" of the building through the matrix or something you can describe the high points of it, perhaps slop down a quick sketch, and also keep in the back of your mind the fact that the runners know what the building looks like so, even though they didn't say "I'll take a right down the corridor" you can assume they did so because that's the only way to get to where they're going. If a fight erupts in a building allow the players to fill in the details of their surroundings themselves. If they're in an office all you have to say is "The room is 10 by 10 meters and divided into three rows of cubicles" and the players should be able to draw in the staplers, fax machine, and Mr. Coffee themselves. They shouldn't have to say "Is there a desk? Well, where is it?" they should be able to spontaneously dive behind one because, hell, he's in an office; there's gotta be a desk near him somewhere.

Do you allow your PCs to have pets?

I'm more than happy to give a PC or two a pet if they had a good reason for having one. The character Attic, described in my article "Character" has a pet. Although the definition I give is simply that he found her it doesn't take much examination to realize that he likes Alley (the cat) because, at the moment, it's the only "friend" he has. Astonishingly, I've never had a PC request a pet before. One or two has acquired one along the way. But your pets comment reminds me of a subject I should take time to cover in a future article: Friends and Family. Everything from drinking buddies to possibly a wife. I, again, have never had a player start out with one but, on more than one occasion, they acquired a girlfriend and one even a spouse after they started playing. It was wonderful. The player was far more careful than he normally was. Once a hardened samurai ended up "adopting" a baby after he had accidentally killed it's mother and father on a run. Slowly his character became more compassionate and more thoughtful in his actions. Once this character made the "big score" he chose to retire and raise the child. Almost brought a tear to my eye.

By the rules, even if a Troll nailed an unarmored human in the head with a baseball bat the target would still only take stun damage. Don’t you think this is unrealistic?

Since my damage rules are rather fluid I determine whether stun or physical damage results from melee combat based on the weapon used, where the hit landed, etc. Since the physical combat in my games tends to get rather graphic in description it isn't difficult to determine where a punch on club landed and whether or not special considerations should be made as far as damage goes. If I determine that an "stun" attack was vicious enough to cause physical damage I usually give a little bit of stone and a little bit of physical. A serious stun blow may translate into a light physical and a moderate stun or visa versa. In a troll cracks somebody across the head full force with an aluminum baseball bat you can be that the target is going to be more than just stunned, they're going to be pulling pieces of skull out of their brain.

Do you use plots in your games?

Usually all I have at the beginning of a run is one of my NPC lists and I build a story around them on the fly. I don't suggest this for a novice. It takes a lot of practice to be able to come up with the ideas quickly.

The next best thing is a short summary of a run, giving you the basic premise of the run and the goals and then just figure out how the PCs get from point A to point B. With this method you at least know where everybody's going.

I also never fill out NPC sheets before hand and simply fill in attributes as needed on the fly. Again, I don't suggest you try this until you get some GMing practice under your belt.

How many allergies can a character have in your opinion? I mean there Paranormals who have more than one!

It depends. If the character takes more than one allergy (or even one) then they better do a damn good job at explaining WHY they have the allergy. They have to integrate it into the personality and history of the character. If it ever becomes apparent that a character is taking multiple allergies just because they want more creation points to work with I DON'T LET THEM. Also, remember, the more allergies a character has the better the odds that the bad guys will know about it and use it to their advantage. (p.s. Characters are NOT paranormals.)

In your article “Hurt” you stated that a character taking a light wound would lose a finger. That’s nuts. You also said that people could lose an arm without taking a deadly wound. I think this is stupid.

You're taking my examples as the be all and end all of situations. There are many more possibilities. My examples are just that, examples. Don't interpret it as meaning everybody who gets a light loses a finger. That rarely happens. It is just an example. Mostly they receive only a flesh wound.

I do, however, stand by my extreme hierarchy. The body has an amazing ability to withstand terrible amounts of damage and still function. It may go into shock or it may simply numb the damaged area via endorphins. It does not, however, die simply because an arm gets blown off. (Under the SR rules you HAVE to take a deadly wound before you lose a limb). I adjusted my damage effects to reflect reality. If you went by the loss of a limb means a deadly wound the runner would have no opportunity to drag themselves to a hospital, they would simply die on the street without help. It doesn't make sense. I also use this method so charectors will know to pull out before they get killed. Very rarely do I deliver Deadly damage in a single blow, regardless of what the rules say. It's no fun.

How can I convince my players to use the rules less and roleplay more?

You might be able to convince them to use the rules less if you create a situation in which the rules would lessen the amount of fun. A good example is a harsh negotiation in a crowded nightclub during which a gang bursts in and everybody starts fighting while the person you were negotiating with offers the runners 10k if they protect him, only he tries to run off with their cash and so on and so on and so on. If you stuck to the rules in this situation, it'd take forever to work everything out. If you ditch them for a while, you end up with a chaotic half hour during which everybody is allowed to act spontaneously and freely.

I had a guy in my group who constantly kept bitching my character for no other reason he wanted to piss me off. It ended in my character shooting his in the shoulder while I got hit in my stomach. We both had serious and went off into hospital. Then he blamed me for blasting his streetsam's shoulder to pieces. You know any way to handle such people?

You shouldn't have shot him. You shoot the BAD GUYS, not your fellow runners - no matter how much they piss you off. Either talk things out over a beer at the local Seattle Drink N' Puke or think of some other way to solve the problem. If you do want to solve your differences physically, have a nice civilized fist-fight (no blades). Don't go shooting each other.

Do your players ever kill each other?

Not often. I try to get rid of any player who might create a PC who would do such a thing (i.e. I kick them out of the group). It's just plain immature to be pulling shit like that. My PCs know better. The only time they hurt each other is if the violence is civilized (a good fist fight now and then never hurt anybody) or if one of them gets taken by a spirit/creature/spell or something and doesn't have any control.

Sniper rifles are excessively powerful. How can i balance the game?

First of all, they are excessively unwieldy which makes them impractical to simply carry around town or crawl around air ducts or tight spaces with. Therefore they're somewhat impractical to use as a primary weapon. Second, in my games Sniping rifles and sniping in general is a somewhat honorless activity. It essentially involves shooting people without giving them the slightest opportunity to defend themselves. While most PCs probably don't care, many of the NPCs do and will look down upon someone who constantly goes around putting holes in people from a half kilometer away. Third, they're somewhat fragile. If you drop a Sniping rifle it's almost certain that you'll knock the barrel out of alignment. Also, if you drop it in sewer much, it's likely to jam.

How would a mage survive on a space station? Even if he managed to keep himself from trying anything magical he’d probably eventually go out of his mind not being able to engage in magical activities.

I have a theory on how you can get around that. I figure if you have enough organic material on the station (dirt, plants, fab-1 bacteria flowing through pipes) you may be able to create a pocket of astral space. Going through such expense would be validated by the fact that they'd probably need magical support during the construction of the station. Actually, I started a short story about a mission to mars that uses a similar principal to keep a mage alive and sane during transit.

I generally build a run in my head then play it out with the PC's only because they tend to screw all GM's planning up. any ideas on how to make it easyer on me?

Stick with the freeform runs. One thing you'll notice the more you GM is that just because a PC screws up a GM's plan doesn't mean that the PC screwed up. It may also mean that the PC came up with a better idea for getting from point A to point B, an idea the GM hadn't counted on. So stick to the freeform, or at least be open to plot changes when using a more linear format.

My PC's constantly bicker and argue amongst themselves and with me. One especially likes to quote the rules. What can i do to keep this down, it takes about half the time at least away from gaming.

Use the rules he quotes to screw him over. Usually these people only quote the rules when it's to their advantage. So use the rules he quoted when it's to YOUR advantage. Once he puts his foot in his mouth a few times he may learn to shut the hell up and play the game.

Hello, I'm want to make a character, but could you give me any suggestions or advice on how to do this a simple manner. I'm pretty new at this and could really use some help.

If you're looking for ideas, try pulling a person out of a movie or something and make the PC's stats reflect this individual. As for actually writing the PC up, there really isn't an easy way. Make sure you take your time. Before choosing skills, attributes, or anything else, make sure they reflect what the PC does and how he/she thinks. Everything the PC has or does should have at least some backstory; right down to the color of their shoe laces.

Do you think the Companion metahuman variants are a good idea?

The metahuman variants in general aren't too bad, but it seems like they'd make the game difficult to play. (I never had any extreme mutations in a group before). If a particular PC is too 'out there' in some drastic way (be it personality, power, race, whatever) it is difficult to create realistic interaction. I guarantee you than EVERYBODY in Seattle would do a double take if they saw a Minotaur waltzing down the street.

Do ‘solo’ runs (i.e. one PC) work?

Sure, solo runs work. Just make sure you customize them to work with one player. Don't send somebody solo on a run that requires 4 different archetypes in order to work. Send them on something they can use their own skills to complete.

What is the point of light pistols? You can’t hurt anybody with them!

Using variations of the called shots rules, you can actually do damage with them (if you're a good shot). Also, many places don't allow large caliber pistols within their premises, but let light pistols slide. People aren't as nervous around light pistols as they are heavy pistols. The cops will hassle you less as well.

Do your players encounter child molesters, rapists, hate crimes and other sick-shit of humanity?

Every once in a while I like to test the moral convictions of my runners. To do that I tend to place them in some pretty sick and uncomfortable situations (uncomfortable for the players as well as their characters.) A good way to quell the thrill kill nature of some players is to show them that some people can be 100 times as fucked up as they are. When they're on the flip side of the coin, nastiness isn't all that fun.

What is a good level of "darkness" or "grimness" for a cyberpunk type game? How close to the movie "Seven" should the style of a cyberpunk game get? Is it still cyberpunk without these things?

I never really considered shadowrun as being 'cyberpunk'. In SR you still have trees and parks and good restaurants and malls and you can still catch a movie or pick up a soda or drive across the country just for the hell of it. Cyberpunk games tend to be 100% shit. That's no fun. Why would you want to do ANYTHING in a world without hope? Shadowrun offers hope. If a runner makes enough money, they can buy a house in the country, away from the filth of the inner city. Or they can even buy a nice apartment to stay in every once in a while. Even though most Shadowrun shit goes down in the barrens, there's nothing stopping them from driving to a decent section of town every once in a while for a beer at a good bar.

What ‘rating’ do you run your games at (i.e. R, PG-13, G, etc.)

My games run at an R (borderline X) rating most of the time. There's sex, gruesome un-fun violence, shit that will scare the hell out of Stephen King, and just plain nastiness. We also tend to use a lot of (real) dirty words. But it's not always so intense. Things slow down every once in a while. Hell, if a runner pets a stray cat, the rating drops to G.

Your page ROCKS!

Thank you. I also do a great impression of Beck and can balance a machete on my forehead. These and my Shadowrun skills are sure to get me far in life.

I like the way you classify different wounds by the type of REAL damage they deliver. But what about Stun damage from magic? Would it fall under a ‘big headache’?

My stun damage for magic is kind of nasty. Usually a Moderate may involve a nosebleed. Serious means the magicians eyes are bloodshot and they may bleed through their ears or teeth or start sweating profusely. Deadly magical stun could mean some busted capillaries on the skin. I know that seems like it would be Physical damage, but the bleeding stops almost immediately and busted capillaries repair rather quickly. Since moderate stun in a fistfight would probably mean a bloody nose (not a headache), I tend to have my magicians display some physical results as well.

Every once in a while there’s a mentioning of some kind of ‘Player Directory’ in your old writings. What/where is it?

The Shadowrun Player Directory was a feature on my page for about a year before I got rid of it. Too much trouble. When it ended, I had something like 250 entries in it.

Something to think about: If an AI computer was developed, would it acquire and aura?

Interesting concept. Since computer chips in Shadowrun have organic components, enough unified processing - enough to create a mind - may create an organic conjunction of sorts that may possess the magnitude to show up on the aura meter. Scary thought. Next time I send my runners on an AI run I'm going to try to trick one into accenssing the computer.

Is there any way to prevent another Bug City from happening?

Not sure. Taking out hives while they're small is a good preventive measure. Creating a magical force dedicated to astrally seeking out hive activity might be a good way to find them. You could also get 10,000 cans of Raid and spray the city (most of the spirits are susceptible to pesticides.) In fact, I don't understand why Chicago didn't drop an atomic caliber Bug Bomb in the first place.

Do you have any ideas for using Shadowrun mechanics in a nonShadowrun world?

What do you mean? Like tossing Shadowrun characters into a D&D like world? I have plenty of ideas. All you have to do is pick up a sourcebook from another roleplaying system or simply pick up a history book, create some kind of vortex, and toss the runners into it. Make sure you take their guns away first. One of my Blackjack Guides has something about doing this. Damned if I can remember which one.

A player in my game who was playing a supposedly professional PC wigged out because he was frustrated with one of my runs. He completely ignored the run he had agreed to do for the sake of screwing over some people who had dissed him. Most of his anger came from a situation in which he couldn’t defeat a bunch of NPCs in military armor. What should I do?

Even professionals get pissed, but normally they use their anger as motivation to conquer the situation at hand, not as a reason to undertake an elaborate and irrelevant revenge scheme. If he was dealing with people in military grade armor, he should have found ways to take them out which didn't involve shooting them. Bring the roof down on them. Blow the floor out from under them. Toss an IR grenade and mess up their sensors. Or, simply retreat and find a way around them.

One way to deal with this situation is via a post game critique so the situation doesn't occur again. If the PC had other options, point them out, so next time he'll be a bit more logical with his methods.

You can deal with the current situation by lowering his rep a bit and perhaps sending some agents of revenge after him. I'm not going to dwell on the possibilities because the last 5 e-mail questions I've received basically asked the same thing. I'm sick of dealing with it for today.

I’m having trouble keeping my rigger interested in the game due to the fact that he can’t do much else but sit in his car while the actual run is taking place. He doesn’t have any drones and high speed chases are becoming boring. What can I do?

Why doesn't he have any drones? He should get some. This is the easiest way to get around 'Rigger Run Boredom'. With the right skills, he could even build his own custom drones. If a rigger purchases a decent sized vehicle (a van of some kind) and puts some drones and a drone b/r shop in it, he'll have plenty to do. Drones are also great for bailing out runners in a tough situation. If the runners are pinned, a drone can make all the difference in the world.

A rigger in my (old, old) group once designed a high tech hover/ground effect drone he called Roger II (named after himself). This drone had all sorts of gadgets built into it, devices which could counter security and keep the drone extremely quiet. If also had a custom built two tube rocket launcher in it. When the runners in his group got in trouble, he'd send in Roger II, who would breeze his way through security, float through some vents, and pop out of an air duct right where the runners were pinned. He'd toss one of his mini-rockets, which scared the hell out of everybody long enough for the runners to get away. He even had Rodger II equipped to accept data from the group's decker, so if the decker got a map of the facility they were running, it'd be fed into Rodger II, who would then have no trouble getting around.

There's no reason a rigger should have to sit around with his thumb up his ass. There are hundreds of things he could be doing.

What are you supposed to do with a PC once he has all of the ware, decks, vehicles, weapons, and everything else he wants?

Man, I can't even imagine a PC getting to the point that they can afford EVERYTHING. You must offer some pretty good pay.

In any case, they can always upgrade their ware or stuff to beta (or an equivalent) grade. They can also engage in some sort of 'charitable' function, by finding up and coming runners or some other organization. They can rent places to stay all over the world so, the next time they're abroad, they don't have to stay in a hotel. If they have as much money as I perceive them as having, they shouldn't have much problem coming up with SOMETHING to spend it on. Read 'Leveling The Field' on Blackjack's Corner if you haven't already.

Of course, there's always retirement.