Starting GMing shadowrun

Recently, I have started to get involved in Reddits. Some people have a rather negative view about Reddits, although currently I have found the community really helpful and interactive. Now before you start to think I am watching videos of Chinese/Japanese game shows, the Reddits I get involved in are not those types of communities but more related to Shadowrun and Runequest/Mythras. To be honest, I haven’t even searched for a D&D one because I have a feeling that there will be more discussions about the finery of the rules rather than more direct understanding of the them – the latter is what I actually need as I embark on these new games. So am I writing this waffle about Reddit? not at all, I am writing it in response to a Reddit post that I often reply to…

As well as reading posts on the Reddit, I try to make a some small contribution to the community as well, by replying to the posts. As you can imagine my contributions are not that ‘mind blowing’ or ‘beneficial’ but one post which seems to come up again and again is one from new GMs asking for advice for starting off their first campaign. Now, since I have recently done this, I tend to answer these and provide some information from my own experience. I suddenly found myself typing the same content over and over again and thought, why not just write a waffle about it and then direct them here. So here is my advice for new GMs of Shadowrun based on my own experience.

  • Street Level Campaign – Initially I was going to put this in the introduction and not as one of the points, but I suddenly realised that this decision was part of being a new GM. If you have ever read any of the Shadowrun books you will be aware that the game is set in a world dominated by the ‘Big Ten’. These are powerful corporations who basically rule the world. As I started to create the first series of adventures I didn’t want to get their overall ‘power’ incorrect. As the runners embarked on their first datasteal I suddenly didn’t want to find out that they had easily just wiped out Ares Technology’s security guards with a couple of bullets and that the decker had completed by-passed every ICe and grabbed the archived data without any problem at all. Because of this I started the campaign and the characters at street level. I wanted them to start in the low end of the campaign and then hopefully, if they survived, work their way up to the top. This was more to allow me to gain the balance of the game, but also for them to get some indication of the power of the corporation and other corporation run companies, for example the local law enforcers. If Ares Technology did turn up believe me, the current runners would run for the hills!

  • Game Balance and Rolls -Whenever I start a new game, or sometimes even when I am DMing Dungeons and Dragons, I get the game balance wrong. In a recent D&D encounter some players were concerned about the balance of the encounter since I had knocked several of the characters out within the first few minutes of combat! When starting a new game, it is very hard to determine whether you have the balance correct. Will that security guard actually be a threat to the party? Will that wild dog cause any problems? Because of this I would recommend two things. Within the first gaming session, start at the lowest of the low and then work your way up. In the first few adventures, if the runners are easily dispatching gangers and guards then they get that feeling of power and confidence – something which is always good for their first few encounters. Interestingly enough, despite being quite a few jobs through the campaign, my players have still not encountered anything which uses two dice for initiative. When they do, then they will suddenly notice the difference! And, talking about dice – I would recommend that on the first session, you keep your dice rolls hidden so that you can ‘adapt’ them. To some of you this might not be an issue since you are using ‘real’ dice behind a screen. For me, a Roll20 user, the dice rolls are always visible, even when they are secret rolls.(I stream the games so even though the players can’t see them the one stream viewer (!) can). I know that my players take significant time to create their characters and although I have no issue in sending them to their maker – doing it on the first session because I have got the encounter balance wrong is something that I don’t really want to do.

  • Rules – Whenever I start GMing a new game, the rule book always seems to be huge! Combat is always the most complex system but then you have the skills, the Matrix and then Magic and even Rigging, all to content with. When I started Shadowrun, I limited the rules that I would have to engage with significantly so that we could focus on these as a group to learn them and hopefully promote the general flow of the game. Initially I just engaged with combat and social skills and the session reflected this. You can still see the session here and you can tell that there is a bit of talking and interaction and then some combat. Believe me this was enough! The other aspect of rules which is really important is that I made it clear to the players that I did not know all the rules and that there would be time when I would have to be ‘creative’. This meant that I would create a rule to cover the situation and then look it up at a later date. In this way, players are not ‘tunneled’ into just using certain actions and I, as the new GM, do not need to spend every initiative pass searching the rule book for the rules.

  • Watch YouTube/Twitch – My last piece of advice might seem like self promotion but I do not mean it like this at all. Although you might have read the rule book from cover to cover there is always a huge difference between reading the rules and actually seeing these in action. Because of this I would strongly recommend that you, as the GM, watch or listen to a range of Shadowrun games to see how the game flows and how people play and engage with the rules. Roll4it on Youtube have several games recorded and the Arcology Podcast have some great sessions to listen to. This not only allows you to see the actual flow of the game but also allows you to see how the GM and players interact with each other. I find these sessions so valuable even if it is for new adventure ideas. Of course, if you want to see me struggling through adventures, then you can always search this site for the Shadowrun adventures or catch us on Twitch or Youtube. Remember – I wasn’t meaning this to be self promotion at all! (please subscribe!)

  • Starting a new game always fills me equally with excitement and utter dread. The majority of my players will go with the flow and just enjoy the game and then feedback issues after the session so that we can sort it out outside the game arena. I think streaming the games adds another dimension to the ‘starting a new game’ emotions and you might suggest that not doing it would be helpful but to me, streaming it keeps it for prosperity and allows you new GMs to see that you will always be better than me…

    Have fun and I’ll catch you all later and, until then, consider yourself waffled!

    2 comments for “Let Me In! – Simon’s Cat – YouTube

    1. February 19, 2017 at 2:00 pm

      Would be cool to play an one off, one of the dungeon crawls you made! Maybe the 8 level one!!!

    2. March 21, 2017 at 12:05 am

      I miss those early days so much. The current state of rpg’s , the rpg xubculture if you like, doesn’t feel like it did back then. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

      I was introduced to Advanced D&D 1st Edition, by my sisters boyfriend (the BEST boyfriend of the many she had IMHO..), who showed me S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module after discovering I enjoyed computer based adventure games, I was hooked immediately and it wasn’t too long before I was hanging around the local game shop, Games Gallery, from which I was invited to join in a game run by the assistant manager, who was to become my long and good friend Steve, who was coincidentally, the reason I got to work at the local branch of Games Workshop for a time. Working there, in those days, before it became a Warhammer only shop, was amazing. It was the proverbial kid in the sweet shop!. Staff discount made it even sweeter – 50% off GW’s own products, and 25% off everything else. We also ran a great rpg club, with about 60-80 members at its peak.
      I was always the GM for my main group as no one else had the time it took to prepare a game properly, though after a few changes to the group, and people from the club popping up, I eventually got to play. Games by a company called Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU) were very popular in all of my groups. FGU sold games such as Bushido, Aftermath,Space Opera, Chivalry & Sorcery, Freedom Fighters, and Bunnies & Burrows, but there were many many more games, by many different companies, covering all sorts of genres – and I still have them all. Many were, as was the style back then, table and chart and rule HEAVY. We loved that. Comparing themto the current crop of “rules lite” systems, I would certainly go back to the old games instead. We played these games sometimes 5 days a week, as for a time we were all unemployed. It was all we did.
      I often spent days creating scenarios, making maps, creating player characters as well as npc’s. I found it quite therapeutic, as is miniature painting – thousands of the little buggers packed away testify to the time I spent doing it. My “toy soldiers” as my brother in law calls them…
      I used to get quite attached to my favourite characters, and whilst one or two died over the decades, most did not.
      For almost all of my characters I would go overboard by most people’s standards. I like to have an image for my characters, whether a photo or artwork. Sometimes I will see an image and that is the base for the whole character, built around the image.
      I always believed as a player, that giving the GM a detailed background, list of goals, motivations, friends, contacts and enemies, will help the GM bring my character into the game more, by using some of what I have given him in the game. As a GM I like to see what players come up with for their characters, and will often use it in the game. It involves the player more, makes the game more personal if part of the game is suddenly about them, and it can help the players become more invested in their characters.
      For myself, I would often map out the characters home, create a family tree, siblings, etc.
      For our Star Trek RPG (by FASA Corp), I created the whole crew of a 500+ personnel star ship… All as detailed player characters. Unnecessary and a bit OTT I know, but it helped bring every department on the ship alive, every member of the landing party was a person not simply a red shirt.

      I am often bemused whilst watching streams when I see the gm of a streamed game pull some “new” idea out of his box of tricks, and the players are like “wow!”, “that’s original”, “I would never have thought of doing it that way!”, knowing we did it 30-40 years ago.

      The games my most recent group and I played/ran, were very detailed games with a lot of depth. Quite dark games too, mature themed, and often very emotional and intense. Having played with the same people for nigh on 20 years, you create a bond, a closeness and familiarity that allows you to communicate in a way you couldn’t, with people you don’t know very well.
      I have been brought to tears several times in recent years during the last (decade long) game we played ,as some scenes were simply too emotional or powerful, overwhelming (GM was a bastard – but an EXCELLENT GM).

      Sadly the group folded, but the GM offered to keep the game going for just me, which he did for a few years, which to be honest I really needed, as it helped me through a bad depression at that time).
      Over the years I have experienced a lot of things because of rpg’s, and made some great friends, too. I have a lot to be grateful for, regarding rpg’s. I was discussing with my brother in law, my collection of rpg’s and miniatures. When he realised how much they are worth, (some regularly sell for £100’s!) he always tells me to sell sell sell. He doesn’t grasp what they mean to me .
      Yet I won’t. Part of me hopes and prays that I will get a local group together (even some of the old group!) and start using them again. But aside from that, as my memory fails, little by little each year, these boxes and books and miniatures on the shelves are my constant reminders of happy and sad and exciting moments, and great fun, and more importantly, great friends.

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