Riposte 1997: Part 3
By Blackjack [Blackjack's Shadowrun Page:] [] [@BlackjackSRx]

Tweeted: May, 2021

In my game there’s a PC who has purchased a large number of highly rated Knowledge and Language skill softs. Since there’s no real limit, how do I keep stuff like their Military Theory from getting out of control?

In order to control this problem I strongly reinforce the idea that it is very difficult to translate the knowledge skill soft thoughts in your head into something you can present in reality. For instance, you can use your language softs to speak Japanese, but you'll still look awkward on some of the pronunciation because, although you know how to say the word, your mouth has been using English or Cityspeak for so long that it has trouble sounding everything out. Military Theory is grand, until you try to draw a diagram or map of what you're thinking, because what your mind sees cannot necessarily be translated into somthing "solid" by the body. It would be like trying to paint a picture of a daydream when you have no artistic skills.

What do you do when a Shaman blatantly ignores their totem?

The information on what to do if someone is ignoring their totem is rather spotty but it basically adds up to this: Since the Totem is a Shaman's source of magical power, if they turn their back on it their magical power is lessened and can eventually go away. First off, if they're not roleplaying their totem they don't get any of the totem's bonuses and, because I'm a jerk, I double any negative effects the totem might give. If this doesn't turn them around I sort of "warn" them of what's going on by having their totem animal (or whatever) symbolically warn the player of what's going to happen if they don't shape up. If the Shaman is of the Wolf they may hear howling, see wolf hallucinations, and perhaps even be attacked by one. If the shaman still doesn't turn around I begin lowering their magic rating until finally it's gone. The spirit has left them. The Shaman is now a mundane.

Don’t you think roleplaying games are a bit “childish”?

I find it humorous how many people still perceive role-playing games as being only for children and the childish. They don't realize the skill and creativity required for the successful operation of a game. Recently I had to justify my involvement in such games for a group of film makers at my university. I simply brought up the fact that running a roleplaying game is identical in nature to writing a film script, only ten times as difficult. In the roleplaying environment you're writing a complete story ON THE FLY, with no time for revision, plot correction, etc. That shut them up.

I have a player in my group who is a really nice person in reality and this niceness tends to overflow way too much into the game. She doesn’t realize that sometimes, well usually, in Shadowrun you HAVE to be mean in order to survive. Any advice?

I've never had the pleasure of encountering a player who was consistently the same in a nice way but I could see how it would get annoying after a while. I suggest putting the character into a position in which their nice personality and pretty face aren't going to get them anywhere. It's kind of mean, but I believe it would work. Put them in a position where screaming in the face of a foe may mean the difference between life and death. Anyway, if necessary slap her character around a little bit. Just because she's nice doesn't mean everybody's going to be nice to her. In fact, ass holes tend to prey on nice people. Soon she'll learn she's going to have to adjust her personality in order to survive. If her character dies as a result of her being too nice she may be more motivated to adjust her new character's personality. If you really want to send a message you may want to, and I shiver at my own suggestion here, have somebody mess up her nice pretty face. Just make sure anything you do is part of an existing situation and you're not generating people for the simple purpose of messing her up. Odd are you've been going kind of soft on her anyway (or maybe your not) and your NPCs have failed to do mental or physical damage they realistically should have.


How do you feel about the use of current day profanity in Shadowrun games?

In my opinion, the only reason words such as "drek","frag",etc. are used is because the publishers didn't want to erk any parents by using actual profanity. Normal bad words have been around for hundreds of years and I see no reason why they wouldn't persevere into the 21st century. I guess it is simply a matter of taste, of which I have virtually none. Perhaps I'm just a connoisseur of contemporary profanity.

How can I get my new group of players to play enthusiastically? They don’t seem to have much interest in the game.

If the players have no interest in the game then you might as well forget about getting them to play enthusiastically. With people like those the game just turns into another way to waste time. I'm currently stuck with a group who would rather have their nose hairs pulled out by pliers than read a source book. My only suggestion would be to find a way to manipulate the game in order to align it more closely with the players interests. If they like music, introduce some rocker runs. Art, have them steal a painting. Use something they already have knowledge of, something they can more closely relate with, and if they finally get into the game slowly introduce more aspects of shadowrun into it.

My group’s GM recently left and none of us have ever GMd before. Any ideas on how to make the PC, GM transition a bit easier?

My best advice as to how to convert one of you into a GM is to start out with a narrow playing field. Something simple and precise. A simple run in a simple area of town. Start out with as few rules as possible and have a few test runs with, for example, everybody being one archetype, like a Street Samurai. Then, slowly, introduce more complex aspects into it like magic, decking, politics, street smarts, etc. If the run starts to break down at first: Let It. This is not to say you should let things get too ridiculous but by allowing the players, and the GM, to have a little unrestricted fun you'll build interest. Avoid stringent plots. A GM who wishes to stick to a plot is a frustrated GM because nothing ever goes the way it's planned. Let events run their course and, if possible, manipulate the spurs so they eventually get everybody back on track. The Front, a collection of places and people you can view and download from my page, may help you out. It keeps the players in a small area of town and gives them, and the GM, a bunch of people who are willing to bail them out if things go badly.

I have a player who knows more about the rules than I do and it’s getting annoying. Any advice?

I love it when a player knows more about the rules than I do, they can figure out all the target numbers for everybody while I play with my NPCs. I just wish so many of those players weren't jerks about the whole thing. If they're being snotty little know it alls, let them know that they're more than welcome to correct you, but they should do it with some finesse. Also, if you don't know a rule while GMing, ask this player. Don't open yourself up to criticism by trying to use something you don't understand.

Don’t you think the “Maximum Firepower” rules you invented make the game way too lethal?

The purpose of this rule is not to add death, it is to add energy and excitement. Normally if a runner was dashing across an office, firing blindly in an attempt to cover himself, he would be able to get across the room in about 1 action, which means during this time he would only be able to fire 2 shots from his Heavy Pistol. With the Maximum firepower rules he can empty his entire clip, blowing apart coffee mugs, fax machines, water coolers...papers flying all over the place, lights blowing out, during his charge. Granted he won't hit anything important. A bullet hardly ever connects with a human target in my game. But it adds an unbelievable rush. Most of the time, if we know the target number is outrageous, we don't even roll. It's the psychological effect that‘s important.

How do I deal with Bad Ass PCs?

When running a game with bad ass I usually analyze their actions and find out their weaknesses (both player and character). Then I exploit those weaknesses to, basically, remind them they’re not infallible. Remember as a game master you have unlimited resources at your disposal and thus have an unlimited number of options you can use "against" them. (Notice the quotes. It's not like the GMs waging wars against the PC. Well, not normally.) Once you find these weaknesses and begin to exploit them the runners usually have no choice but to alter their usual bad ass tendencies to compensate for the dwarf with his two fire elemental friends. Basically, if you mess up their world or, better yet, make it as confusing as life in 2057 actually is, they won't WANT to mess with you. Because they'll know that if they hose up this run that the gamemaster will use their actions against them in the future.

Now here's the tricky part. The gamemaster has to wield this power with such finesse and subtlety that the runners don't realize he has it. The game has to flow so everything: shadowruns, weapons deals, buying a cheeseburger, etc., blends together in a mesh of anxious existence which is SHADOWRUN.

Could you give me some examples of “Cow From Space” situations?

In the first the runner was simply being an ass hole and decided to blow up the hospital he had been staying in in order to prevent anyone from knowing his identity. Him being the leader of the group, the rest of of the runners hesitantly followed his lead. Finally the place was rigged to blow and the leader and his band of runners stood in a lot a few blocks away ready to detonate the explosives. The leader gave a semi coherent speech regarding something I recall as being stupid after which a cow landed on his head. The runners then quickly disassembled the explosives.

I think the second one involved a slaughtering Sammy who was raking pedestrians in a small, semi abandoned mall. He was ready to blow away a stroller with a grenade launcher when a cow fell through the ceiling, right in the middle of the sporting goods aisle.

What can I do about whiny, complainitive PCs?

1. Bring up the fact that nobody bothers him while he's gamemastering. If there are specific examples during which he has violated the rules while GMing and the players have simply gotten over it, bring these up.

2. Say "Aw, ya big baby." every time the individual whines.

3. Make sure the gamemaster isn't violating the rules to an extreme. Sometimes whineing is justified.

4. If the whining is about target numbers being off by a little bit think of someway to justify this, even if the justification is complete bullshit. If you do it right, he won't know the difference.

5. Remind the individual that he's slowing down the game.

What’s the stupidest death a PC has met in one of your games?

A mage had somehow gotten hold of a single tube AVM launcher with an altered fuse that allowed the weapon to explode immediately on impact with the first object it hit. The runner went on a solo eviction run in which he, basically, had to kick a crazed CAS veteran out of an apartment building. To make a long story short, they got into quite a fight and beat the living hell out of each other. Finally, almost dead from drain and wounds, the mage managed to pin the guy, who was still waving an SMG. Very dramatically the mage shoved the barrel of the AVM launcher into the vet's mouth and, again dramatically, muttered the following words:

"You're evicted."

You'd be amazed at what a AVM can do to two people at close range.

What’s the most depressing death one of your PCs has ever met?

I’m not especially proud of the following, but here goes:

A player had a character named Vlad which he managed to keep alive for nearly a year and a half real time, or about six years game time. He acquired great skill and had an unparallel reputation. His runs involved high level extractions, presidential kidnappings, and other stuff that would get any other character wasted. Then, while performing an extraction in a science lab he was injected with a toxin that essentially gave him a single day to live. He did all of the necessary interrogation to find out the location of the antidote, a small secret lab located in the barrens. He set out to that location in an enormous semi he had acquired a long time earlier and, a few blocks away from the facility, he ended up getting it lodged in an alley way while avoiding a squatter (Vlad was nice like that). The corporate security, which had been alerted at his approach, arrived and set the truck on fire before Vlad could get out. He finally did break through the windshield, severely burnt and virtually blind.

He was never able to find the facility and died of the disease among the squatters and broken buildings of the barrens.

My PCs keep picking something like seven allergies but there is no rule prohibiting it. Is there anything I can do to stop them?

I don't see the problem. Just have the sky clear up, silver come back into fashion, pollution levels rise, and increase the lead count in the water.

I can’t seem to get my players motivated. Any suggestions?

Anyway, if the players have no interest in the game then you might as well forget about getting them to play enthusiastically. With people like those the game just turns into another way to waste time. I'm currently stuck with a group who would rather have their nose hairs pulled out by pliers than read a source book. My only suggestion would be to find a way to manipulate the game in order to align it more closely with the players interests. If they like music, introduce some rocker runs. Art, have them steal a painting. Use something they already have knowledge of, something they can more closely relate with, and if they finally get into the game slowly introduce more aspects of shadowrun into it. It puts a lot of burden on the GM's head but nobody said the job was easy.

I gave my PC the Military Theory skill because he’s a mercenary. What exactly can I do with this skill?

On page 84 of the Field Of Fire sourcebook there is a section which discusses Small Unit Tactics and how the Military Theory skill would apply in various situations. Aside from these set rules, I use a more fluid system allowing for the use of Military Theory skill. If, for example, your character is battling an opposing force and the enemy begins to conduct "maneuvers" of which you only have a vague idea of what's going on, I would allow for a Military Theory skill roll to see if your character can successfully "guess" what the logical outcome of the maneuver would be. Many military actions use a text book approach to execution and thus the PC may be able to predict what's going to happen.


What does the border between Seattle and the surrounding nations look like? Is it like the Berlin wall or something?

The border between Salish-Shidhe and Seattle probably looks like the border between any two fairly friendly nations. Travel passes and visas are required. There is no Berlin like 'wall' separating Seattle from Salish-Shidhe (the surrounding nation) but there's probably a chain link fence or something similar covering most of the border. Some of the wooded areas of Seattle tend to merge with those of Salish and at those places there probably isn't a fence at all. Border crossings consist of a checkpoint and probably a few security vehicles to chase down border runners. The more heavily traveled the route, the more security you'll find.

I usually think of the current day border between Canada and the US and add on the need for a visa. It really isn't too difficult to get travel passes; it just takes time. It is more difficult for runners because they don't have a SIN and therefore must obtain forged passes. Somebody with the right passes, driving the speed limit in a street-legal vehicle, and possessing no contraband items shouldn't have any problem getting from Seattle to New York, although they may want to avoid nations like Tir and Sioux.

The Seattle Sourcebook and Native American Nations sourcebooks have more info on international travel.

There’s a player in my group who’s a complete moron, not only in the game but in real life as well. What can I do about him? I mean, the guy’s STUPID.

I could drone on about working to make him a better player, but instead I'm going to take the cheap way out and give the following suggestion. If he has no common sense help him to create a PC who also lacks this common sense, a PC that is there to take orders and do what the more intelligent and imaginative players tell him to do. You're subtlety saying to him, "Look. You're an idiot. You can't think for yourself. Just shoot what everybody else tells you to shoot and all will be well." If it is predetermined that the PC is going to be a moron, then the rest of the group won't get so aggravated by his lack of action and intelligence. In other words; If he's an idiot, let him play an idiot.

The player in my group have the imagination of asparagus. How can I get them to actually think about what’s going on?

Again, I'm going to take the cheap way out. Perhaps the players should create PCs that are less challenging to play than those who 'help the player explore their creative horizons'. They might want to try creating PCs which more closely relate to the way they are in reality and, more importantly, the ways they utilize creativity in reality. Sometimes people can be really creative in unrestrictive situations but freeze up which tied to an unfamiliar archetype. If you asked a player to write a story they may have no problem, but if you asked them to write a story about, say, gun runners they'll have a tougher time because they have to mold their creativity into something restrictive. So the creation of a more generic PC may help them along.

Also, make sure they read my Blackjack’s Corner articles until their eyes bleed.

What are the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of starting a game with PCs who are really, really powerful?

In order to keep this short, I'll just go over the cons of starting out as the best:

#1. They never learn respect for those more powerful than them becase there are less of them.

#2. They tend to shoot more and roleplay less. 90% of roleplaying seems to be talking or thinking your way out of/through situations you could more easily blast your way out of if you were more powerful.

#3. They never learn to respect their abilities and/or powers. If a mage starts the game being able to cast a force 6 fireball without taking drain they will never learn to truly respect how much power they hold. The same goes for a sammy with a kick ass martial arts skill. They never for a moment think that what they are about to do might not work. Hence, they are never afraid.

#4. They tend to get killed more. You'd think it would be the other way around, with Beginner characters getting killed more. But I've found that advanced PCs, thinking they're hot stuff, will get themselves into a situation wherein they challenge the barrel of an assault cannon because they honestly believe it will not hurt them.


What’s your opinion on shapeshifters as PCs?

It'll be a cold day in hell when one of my PCs is a shapeshifter. End of story.

How about other paranormals?

Fine, as long as they don't tip the game balance or make things too difficult for the rest of the group. Usually, however, the balance is tipped or the game becomes annoying because every day and a half the PC vampire runs off to suck somebody's blood.

My players keep picking magically capable PCs. What can I do about it?

Only allow 1 fully active magician per 4 PCs. You can also throw in a Phys Ad, or Conjuring Ad BUT there should only be one full fledged mage per 4. Besides, a group consisting of all full fledged magicians would never work. There’s nobody to deck and nobody to drive. It’s also somewhat unrealistic considering how much of a minority full fledged magicians are. Just set a cap.

What power level do you run your games at? How do the PCs rate vs the general population, and other shadowrunners?

VS the general population, the PCs kick ass. That's probably because most of the general population works behind a desk. When compared with the shadowrunerish population, they are on pretty much equal ground until they screw up. I increase the power of my NPCs and the danger of the runs parallel to the ability and power of the PCs. As they get better, the danger increases.

During my last game a player had a PC who was so funny that he kept the group in stitches the entire time. How should you hand out karma if the roleplaying group was laughing their asses off through the entire session?

Just follow the normal Karma requirements in the rulebook. If they fulfill them, then it doesn't matter violent, non-violent, humorous, etc. the game was.

es. If they're stupid and start pissing off people who are more powerful then they are I am always more than happy to let the PCs know just how insignificant they are when compared to the "big picture".

You give some great DM advice!

Thanks. I just have one comment: 'Great DM Advice"?????? Where the hell do you think you are, Ravenloft or some other screwy, ass backwards D&D realm?

If I had a rubber hose........

Friends of mine who have been in the military say that suppression fire doesn’t exist. In reality you wouldn’t hose a target to keep them down, which wastes ammunition, you would set up “fields of fire” and simply cover their position, plugging them if they popped up. What do you think?

I can see their point. It is illogical to burn ammo for the sake of keeping somebody's head down when it makes much more sense to wait until they show their head and then put a bullet in it. (At least I think that's the way covering your "field of fire" works.) But, again, I prefer the rush of hosing the area with bullets simply because you, in the heat of corporate office firefight, lights flashing, bullet wounds burning, shells falling everywhere, sirens whooping, may have been pushed to the point that all your thinking is KEEP THE FUCKER DOWN. Situations like this shouldn't even arise unless something's gone terribly wrong, security has been alerted, they're entering the room, you're one step away from getting the goods, everybody's beat up, and you're breaking your teeth in half, gritting them, pissed at the world over everything that's gone wrong, and are now one step away from simply jumping out a window in an attempt to get out of the damn building. When a fire fight erupts in one of my games, it's a living hell. If you stop and simply aim at where the person may or may not be after you've dove across several computer terminals and pulled out your SMG while sliding across the floor, setting up a "field of fire" may not be the first thing on your mind. You know your enemy is coming, perhaps he's already here, perhaps he's behind those file cabinets. Screw it, wherever he is he's not gonna have time to THINK about shooting you because you're going to be filling his mind and soul with the sound of steel death raining down at 600rpm.

Again, most situations won't get this far. If you do things right, you can set up for firing fields. You can plan your escape. But when the shit goes down wrong. When emotions and anxieties are peaked on adrenaline, the world is about to end, you've got security in the room and more on the way, you're working off thermo and the smell of your enemy’s blood....all that's left is how long to hold the trigger.

Right now my PCs respect the fact that life in 2050+ is dangerous. Should I risk that respect and go "Hollywood B-movie, John Woo style” in order to add more action to the game?

Whether your playing by the book or high-octane John Woo style one basic rule should always apply: A dumb move is a dumb move. More often than not, a dumb move involves not performing a smart move. I honestly believe that I have never killed a PC, they have always killed themselves. The most popular dumb move PCs tend to make is putting themselves in front of a bullet. I'm guessing that's how your PCs got wasted. They were in a position wherein a bullet, or bullets, were fired at them, journeyed to them, hit them, and killed them. This is their fault. They never should have given the bullet a chance.

The Shadowrun roleplaying system is equipped with many ways to get out of the way of the bullet. You can dive for cover, you can keep moving, you can scale walls, you can dive through walls, you can toss smoke grenades, you can shoot out the lights, you can slide a chair into them, you can dive and slide across the floor, you can confuse them with obscure racial slurs, you can bring down the ceiling, you can blow a hole through the floor.....

Ok, so where does actually shooting back come into this? Well, the PC can pretty much do all of these things while pulling the trigger of your weapon. Will the PC hit anything? Probably not. But, eventually, the PC will get into a position where they can stop for a second and shoot, and the bad guy can't.

In short, a PC must use action and ingenuity to defeat an NPC. In a back,forth,back,forth firefight the PC doesn't usually stand a chance. By using a "chaos" system you can supercharge the game as much as you'd like. Everybody can dash around, empty their clips, blow stuff up and not really get hurt because nobody has a chance to hurt them. It's not like in the movies, where the bullets just bounce off everybody, but it still has a rush.

I don't think I answered the question you asked but I hope the above helped anyway.