Help me flesh out my shadowrunning.
November 10, 2005 11:12 PM   Subscribe

Pen and Paper role playing geekout question. I am going to be GM'ing a Shadowrun campaign this weekend and I am still working on getting everything together. I have a premise.. I have made some pretty nice maps up.. Working on some NPCs and such. But I am stuck on writing room descriptions. How do you flesh out your campaigns?

This is my first time running a decent sized game in anything other than D&D, and I am having a tough time writing room descriptions and coming up with interesting nuggets of "color" to feed my players.
I threw a copy of one of the maps up on flickr so you can go here to check it out

Any other advice anyone that has ran a shadowrun campaign would like to give is more then welcome
posted by JonnyRotten to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
For "flavor text," I put most of my effort into "setting the scene" when the player characters arrive at a significant location. After that, I focus on the action and keep the descriptions simple. One trick I use to to make up lists of "dungeon dressing" that I can add to a scene where needed; there's little point in writing up a full room description to a location that the players never visit.

I have a set of generic maps I use when the situation demands that level of detail. Most of the time, though, I just improvise.

Likewise, I keep simple lists of names on hand, so that if I need to make up an NPC on the spot, I can do so without breaking the narrative flow.

GMing, in my experience, is largely about painting the scenery and letting the players tell their story themselves. Think of it as the Grand Theft Auto model: you can create "missions" for the players, but it's really up to the players to set their own goals and pursue them.
posted by SPrintF at 11:27 PM on November 10, 2005

Don't bother to describe rooms' specific details unless they're either requested or necessary for the plot. Just keep a simple map detailing the relationship between rooms, simple room descriptions like "power station" or "armoury" and fill in details only when necessary. If you're not planning to show things to the players, draw it as a simple flowchart, with a few notes beside each node. "20x20, has automated defenses, contains power switch for rooms D-F" "Guards keep on entering and attacking so long as PCs remain, door out can be jammed shut as they leave" "Chasm with balconies on either side, plus narrow bridge, sniper on bridge above"

To flesh out your campaigns, what you want is a "relationship map". This is basically a map with all the major NPCs (or NPC groups) and PCs' names written onto it, and little arrows connecting them all. On each arrow, write a quick description of their relationship. Update it between games or whenever you get the chance. Whenever you need to figure out what a particular NPC would be doing, look at the relationship map, figure out which relationship would be most important to them, and think of what they would be doing about that relationship. Change the relationships as necessary.

Once you have a spatial map and a relationship map for any given Shadowrun, it's pretty simple to work out the rest. Think of a few random events, an intro to get the PCs to the Shadowrun, and then let them do the rest.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 12:11 AM on November 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


For example: Ogri-tek - a technology company run by ogres/orks/trogs, or a technology company for ogres/orks/trogs?

I agree with Pseudoephedrine. I let my players do ther imagining themselves by giving them a "stereotypical" description first (glass&stainless w/ lots of light, concrete&candles with flickering shadows, dark lucite&crystal with indirect light, brushed metal&poly panels
with diffuse light).

Fill in with one or two small detail (non-standard power/communication plugs, soft polyfoam carpeting, an annoying 7 Hz bead - probably from an overloaded power couple intefering with the lights, extraordinarily cheap wallpaper, meticulous detailing by the cleaning crew, an odd cleaning-solvent-like smell, everything looks very very very "normal").

Throw in something memorable (if applicable) (giant garish oil portrait of [describe founder], a profound dampening of sounds that feel like being underwater, oddly retro burnished brass sculptures, workstations look like no-one actually works there, persistent and ungodly BO odour worse even than from a trog hobbo who habitually vomits all over herself, everything evokes a sense of symmetry [phi/golden mean], everything looks way way way too "normal")

If you set the stage well, the players can fill in (small) the details for themselves. That's where stereotyping comes in handy especially in the practice of suspension of reality.

Of course, as a GM you can use this to get your players complacent and throw something entirely un-stereotypical (but to be fair, drop hints beforehand that this "un"stereotypical behavior is consistant with the characer exhibiting said behavior.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:31 AM on November 11, 2005

beat, not bead. It's the pulse that occurs when two sound sources (instruments) have the same harmonics but slightly differnt frequency. The overlaps in sound waves will give a "beat" which increases in frequency (the, er, beats per minute increases) as the frequency (of the tone) becomes closer to one another.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 12:34 AM on November 11, 2005

Also.. I guess its kinda related so I am going to ask it on here and hope some of you see it. Any suggestions for music to set the ambience?
So far I have a little NIN some Oingo Boingo from their cd "Boingo (1994)" which is about the most creepy forboding tense music I could think of off the top of my head.
Not sure if its ok if I piggy back a question like this.. but I hope so..
posted by JonnyRotten at 2:32 AM on November 11, 2005

Remember that you are responsible for the sensory data that the players (and thereby the characters) receive. When describing a room try to use each sense - don't just concentrate on the visual description - provide a smell, a sound etc. How does the floor feel beneath the PCs feet? Is it a rubberised floor, tile or just plain concrete? If there are working machines in the factory are they loud? Do they make a regular noise (if so has countersound been used to decrease the volume? Will it affect sensory perception?) Can you smell the lubricants of the machinary? Is it a cloying smell? Are there moving machines (robotic arms etc.) Is the factory entirely automated (in which case there may be no lighting at all). Do moving parts kick up dust? Will this affect breathing without a respirator - will it make someone cough at an inopportune moment?

Remember to think in 3 dimensions as well - nothing ruins a 2-D map like forgetting things like walkways or an upper floor office. Don't forget that buildings designed for people have comforts - a break room, perhaps a smoking area or even a games room. If it's Shadowrun then be aware of the size difference in races - are machines designed for operation by Ogres or Dwarves?

This post from the SLA Industries Team8 forums has some good suggestions for atmospheric music - mostly industrial type stuff with some other bits and bobs thrown in.
posted by longbaugh at 5:42 AM on November 11, 2005

A lot of the supplemental material & official campaigns for Shadowrun have some really great descriptions of everyday things, it's one of the things that makes the game more "real" than, say RIFTS. You could look at some of the stuff there for inspiration.

The main thing about Shadowrun, of course, is you take all that stuff that you could never do in Dungeons & Dragons because it's too modern and you fit it in, because you have all your corporate mages and elves on motorcycles and troll bouncers and everything. And all the companies are like Wal-Mart. And it's also a Tarantino film, because the Yakuza rule everything.

Like longbaugh says, think of the people that inhabit this building normally, not only with regard to their races but also their individual personality. What do they do for fun? What turns them on? (and that has all sorts of possibilities in Shadowrun) Even if they're ordinary humans -- are they policlub members? Do they like troll thrash metal? Are they wannabe elves?
posted by dagnyscott at 7:03 AM on November 11, 2005

Oh, and as for NPC characterisation that's a doddle too. Once you've worked out your wheat from your chaff (i.e. main NPCs vs. throwaways/mooks). Each NPC should have an identifiable characteristic - a handlebar moustache, a particular piece of jewellery or an item of clothing. Perhaps he carries a particular weapon and won't ever shut up about how wonderful it is. Perhaps he dislikes a particular race (or species) and this will colour his perceptions with your PCs. Maybe he has an out of town accent or is an immigrant. Does he or she have a family? How will that affect how they act with the PCs (those with a family will likely not risk their lives).

Think of your favourite minor characters from film or TV. What made them stand out? Was it their attitude (brave/cowardly), their intelligence (smart/stupid)? Look at the stats you've chosen for the character - what do those statistics translate to in the physical realm? High Strength normally translates to heavy, muscular looks but maybe this is concealed beneath a layer of fat. Make each NPC stand out - you don't need to put a huge amount of effort into it as long as the players can see you've not just reached over for generic cardboard cutout Security Guard A-1.

I am more used to playing slightly more morbid games than Shadowrun (SLA rules!!!) so I can't give you any game specific advice but I played Cyberpunk 2013 and wrote two or three systems for myself in the same genre and GM'd for many years so I might be able to give you some other pointers. Email is in my profile.
posted by longbaugh at 7:54 AM on November 11, 2005

Also.. I guess its kinda related so I am going to ask it on here and hope some of you see it. Any suggestions for music to set the ambience?
So far I have a little NIN some Oingo Boingo from their cd "Boingo (1994)" which is about the most creepy forboding tense music I could think of off the top of my head.
Not sure if its ok if I piggy back a question like this.. but I hope so..

For Shadowrun, I never strayed too far from late 80s, early 90s punk and industrial. Ministry (Psalm 69), NIN (Pretty Hate Machine, Broken/Fixed), Helmet, Black Flag, White Zombie, etc.

Ran a Shadowrun campaign once where the culminating meetup took place in a bar, and the characters were forced to practically scream out their questions of the drug dealer who was supposed to give them information to survive the next encounter. Rather than do it in a quiet room and mumble out my responses, I made sure the neighbors weren't home or didn't mind, and I cranked the home stereo system to 11. A couple of strobes and black lights helped with the ambiance as well.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:03 AM on November 11, 2005

I am more used to playing slightly more morbid games than Shadowrun (SLA rules!!!) so I can't give you any game specific advice but I played Cyberpunk 2013 and wrote two or three systems for myself in the same genre and GM'd for many years so I might be able to give you some other pointers. Email is in my profile.

By the end of my gaming days, we were mixing in Shadowrun, the White Wolf settings, and the setting from source materials from a game called Kult. Of course, as I slowly mixed in these rules, I didn't bother to tell the characters. When one of them died, he almost threw away his character sheet, until I told him that he could still seem to see everything, and everyone was just looking at him funny. When the Street Samurai got bit by a wolf-creature on the street, they made light of it until the next full moon. My, oh, my, was that fun.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:07 AM on November 11, 2005

Wow, Shadowrun! What edition? Not that it really matters to your question.

Something that helps is trying to have characters remember their motivations. And to not reward them except for doing something right PLOTWISE. Otherwise, they blow all their money on ammo and go on killing sprees which just bore the hell out of GMs.
(I always liked the pirates sourcebook they had... Oh, and remember that Aztlan is fucking creepy as hell... Jungle noise mp3s?)
posted by klangklangston at 9:48 AM on November 11, 2005

o/t to thanatopsis - Kult was great but "The Truth"* from the SLA Industries writers guide was one of the eye-poppingest things to ever happen to me and roleplaying.

*If you don't GM SLA but you do play it and you don't know what this is DON'T GOOGLE IT. You will regret it. Seriously.
posted by longbaugh at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2005

I'll be running a fourth edition campaign. I am getting more and more psyched about it. Lots of great advice in here.. thank you all.
Now I am trying to create some hooks to hand out to each of my players to keep them playing in character. So far I have:
- You have a cyber-eye with capture ability, and a memory dump installed in a hidden location that is basically undetectable.
- You are a member of a secret organization of Mages, who’s purpose is a deeper mastery of magic. This affords you a contact at level 4 for any magical information. If you Let any information slip of your membership and it is found out, you will be disbanded and lose the contact.
- You’re a BTL user with a addiction (mild, simsense) +5bp
- “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live.” Even though the world has been awakened the entirety of your life, you are part of a religious cult that believes magic is the working of the demons and you will only keep quite about it to a certain extent. Accept no beneficial spells or targeted effects, Rage out on any spell casters you are up against.
- You are a notorious underground hacker. The feds have no idea of your identity, neither does Mr. Johnson, and you want to keep it that way.
- Mr. Johnson is paying you a Large amount of Nuyen on the side to make sure that your entire group gets captured after completion. You were told to have no fear about being punished, as Mr. Johnson would take care of you.
- Your family was killed by Orks when you were very young. You hate the bastards. You normally wouldn’t fraternize with them. But this payoff is too nice to turn down. But your not going to be their chummer either.

Heres my setup for anyone that cares. When the players create their characters they are also picking out a "profession" that they do in a everyday situation. Their lives have been normal up until a week ago when Mr. Johnson got ahold of them and told them to meet him for the chance at a big nuyen payoff with some null sheen biz.

Well the biz won't be as null sheen as he said.. There will be Execs with brain bombs installed and it goes without saying the drek will hit the fan. Once they finish the job (hopefully the one with the cyber eye and hidden storage is keeping record of it) they are going to be "captured" by some corp police and held until Mr Johnson springs them in exchange for their future services.

As this is my players first time running the shadows, I want it to be their characters first time as well.. I'll be awarding bonus karma to everyone for staying true to their hook.
Thanks for all the great tips chummers
posted by JonnyRotten at 12:28 PM on November 11, 2005 [1 favorite]

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