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Message no. 1
From: Arcady arcady@***.net
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 99 16:16:05 +700

I'm about to kick off my first regular game GMing Shadowrun.

What are some good things to watch out for?

Key rules to keep in mind? Good tricks to pull? Plots ideas or concepts that
work well or don't work so well at this stage of things?

I've got 17 years experience GMing (if I could put that on a resume...), so
I know how to GM. :) But in particular to Shadowrun I'm new.

Any major trouble spots I look out for?

Most of my experience is as a Super Hero GM. So I'm used to doing near pure
hero types. I expect I'm going to need to make a few adjustments in thinking.

Any one have a good website of advice or something along those lines?

Thank you.

Arcady <0){{{{><
/.)\ Stop making sense. Be an Anti Intellectual
\(@/ Be Tao. Live Tao. Feel Tao. But don't do Tao.
Message no. 2
From: Brian McCallister mccllstr@********.edu
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 20:36:09 -0400 (EDT)
I originally wrote this in response to Arcady's request for any tips on
GM'ing SR. After I wrote a short novel on the subject I realized their
are prolly a few other people on the list that might like to read it so
I'm CC'ing it to the list. Hope this helps at least 1 of you out.

PS: I'm still loking for any SR players in North Carolina. (Fayetteville)
let me know...

GM'ing SR...

SOme pointers.

1. Go read Blackjack's Guides to Bitter Gamemastering at He
points out a lot of the basics of SR Gm'ing (and GM'ing in general there)

2. Think Episodic not Epic in SR, it works better. The difference is the
difference between X-Files and Star Wars. In X-Files you have a bunch of
episodes, some are related, most aren't (though you wonder if they might
be). There may be a big plotline, but it isn't one that needs to be
resolved RIGHT NOW. In fact it probably cannot be resolved in the
foreseeable future. There is no one huge climax, there are a series of
small climaxes (about once a session :). In the Epic it all builds to one
big climax (Death Star etc) after which it is pretty hard to motivate the
players. Everything has to be bigger than the last one in Epics, but not
in episodes. It is an important distinction. In my many years of GM'ing
SR I have come to the conclusion that it works much much better as an
episodic game.

3. Play magic real low key. Look at Lord of the Rings for how magic
should be done. Yeah it exists, and everyone knows it (most even admit
it) but you don't actually see it. Name the times you see the GREAT
WIZARD Gandalf cast spells. Magic in SR works much better when it is
hidden in the background. PC's will usually flaunt magic at first. Teach
them not to. Anyone who is not magically active will naturally be
prehudiced against those who are. Read Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker
books for a really good view of what jealousy will do to people. Think of
how much you enjoy being around people who flaunt wealth, or diplomatic
immunity, or some form of power. You don't. Mages who flaunt who they are
usually wind up dead in an ally. This fact helps to keep magic secret,
hidden, mysterious.

4. Make sure you use the target number modifiers in gun fights. A lot of
GM's don't at first. For instance, we'll take an ideal situation - 2
people on a flat plane in good light shooting at each other. Both are
running to try to avoid being hit. (close range, with smartlinks) 2 base
+2 shooter running +2 target running = 6 Now add a telephone pole for
cover, 8, make it night time under streetlights and flickering neon,
10-12. The SR combat system lends itself nicely to the movie type bullets
flying gunfight, if you use target number modifiers. You'll still get
hits, karma and whatnot guarantee it.

5. One house rule that helps SO much - have karma pools refrsh at the end
of a session - not end of adventure or end of a scene (SR1, 2, and 3 all
did varietions on adventure, or scene).

6. As with magic, play spirits low key - keep em mysterious.

7. Don't play NPC's too smart. In SR the PC's really would need to be
criminal geniuses to succeed at almost any typical run if the opposition
used all of its resources intelligently. In RL the defense team would
actually have thought about how teams would try to get into a place and
have counter-plans to everything obvious already in place. PC's will
almost always use something fairly obvious. Let it work sometimes.

8. Subplots are your best friend. Some that I have used very successfully
have two different organized crime organizations working to
recruit two different PC's :) Mafia wants one, Triads another. It is hard
to say no to the mob, or the Tongs. Stretch it out.

have a PC get involved romantically with a runner from another
team. What Runner ever tells their lover what they really do? If the PC
tells the romantic interest. This can come out later in all kinds of
ways. Way i ended this subplot was when the PC team screwed over the mob
and was cut off, word went out that the mob wouldn't mind the PC's
dieing, and anyone caught helping em would be cut off from the mob. The
PC's runner (unkown, he thought she wrote romance novels) girlfriend
decided to help the runner and get him the gear he needed to fake his
death. Only prob is the mob found out and offed her for it.

have a PC that cybers up to the gills ( so his essence is below 1
) start getting visits from his totem. Oops. There is NO getting essense
back so he will never become magically active, but he is still tied to
his totem. In general this will be seen as tragic, and can lead to all
kinds of funky stuff when the Sam tries to get magic to work, and cannot
ever do it. maybe in a life or death situation he will once, but the
drain kills him (don't do this without warning the PC what will happen if
he uses the magic to save the day) etc. Play this line as something very
very tragic. Make it a totem like Dog or Wolf where the totem would never
give up on the character outy of either stubborness (dog) or pack ties
(wolf) to help things out. Besides, most Sams fall into Wolf pretty
easily. Make it one the player would think was way too cool. DO NOT GIVE
IN AND LET HIM/HER HAVE MAGIC (unless it is something like the dieing
thing I mentioned earlier).

Have one of the PC's gain a new fence who just wants info on what
is going on in the shadow community. Choose a PC who will keep it to
himself. In exchange for knowledge PC gets money (good but not
exhorbitant, should be enough that other PC's realize he has been
spending too much, eventually) and make the fence/fixer want to keep his
identity, and even his existance completely secret. He has other sources
and will know if the PC blabs, and the money will disapear. This will
probably happen, at that point throw out clues pointing to some massive
shadow conspiracy being orchestrated by the fence/fixer that relates
closely to the PC's (who has betrayed him by this point) interests.

9. Subplots part 2 - I generally try to have one good subplot running
around each PC at any given time. These subplots are what really lend
life to characters. They get more discussion than the main plot (going
back to X-files the Gov's/Alien/???? conspiracy) or the individual
episodes' plots. Try to avoid the temptation to tie these subplots into
the big undercurrent plot running beneath the episodes. Be realistic in
that regard, this isn't an Epic where everything comes together at the end.

10. have the players make characters together and make their team as a
team. Do not have them meet in game. Shadowrunners are inherently
paranoid. They will need to spend a couple years game time learning to
trust eachother. Every time I have tried to do this it has ended in the
team breaking up and usually at least half of the team dead at the other
half (or 1 survivor's) hands.

11. Create a basic description of every shadowrunning team in your
setting. Every single one. This doesn't need to include wannabies (though
it should include the promising newcomers). Decide who the major fixers,
fences, undergroud docs, arms dealers, etc are. Decide on what gangs are
in the areas you'll use the most and create a couple spare ones for new
With all this info create a basic underworld food chain.
Shadowrunners are awfully close to the top of the underworld food chain.
Play this out. gangers will generally show respect to people they know
are runners, just as they will show respect to known fixers. Talk to the
PC's about this food chain, they should know where they stand. If they
are a brand new team they are at the bottom with the street gangs. A
couple successful runs under their belts, some street rep, and they jump
up real fast. The line between wannabe and real runner is usually as thin
as two jobs. First may be fluke. Second is not. Show the PC's where they
stand by how the lower (and higher) people on the food chain treat them.
Pulling off 5 runs in a row successfully is cool, but what is cooler is
when the local gang pointedly stops collecting protection money from you,
nods when you walk by, and stops busting up the coffee shop that you
usually hang out in.

12. have the PC's fail. A couple years ago I started having the PC's
almost always only partially succeed on their jobs. They would usually
accomplish enough that they could argue it out with their johnson and get
the money, but not do so well that they considerd it a success. It helps
to set jobs up this way, though it takes a bit of work. This technique is
most successful when PC's take some initiative and make their own jobs
(ie - they know Ranaldo the Fixer moves a lot of intel on what Lone Star
is up to, and they get wind through some source of their own that the
Star is testing out a new piece of gear. So they set up a job to steal
the gear and sell it to Renaldo on their own. (i'd throw in a twist wear
Renaldo may have hired another team to steal the data on how well the
gear performed, and let the PC';s stumble onto this intel. The group I'm
thinking of would have been smart enough to go to Renaldo AFTER the team
he hired got their info back to him and say, "You know that data you got?
Well here is the gear that generated it. it performed so well we thought
you might like to have it.")) That type of job l;ends itself to partially
successes really easily. Also, let them all out fail about 1 in 4 times.
Also - make sure that they are not the only team failing. Jobs
are tough - that is why not everyone is a runner. No team should have
even a 75% success rate (for complete succes). Over the course of the
game the PC's will get better and better, and eventually they may start
to get a good success rate. That is when they discover the other 2
successful teams. No one knows about em. The PC's just upped the ante.
Now they get jobs where they know who they are working for, and Johnson
will actualy try to ge5t them the gear they say they need to do the job.
God protect em if they break someone's trust at that level of play though...

12. If you can tell a PC doesn't particularly feel attached to their
character after a period of time take advantage of the situation. Kill
the character. As a GM I usually try very hard to not kill off
interesting PC's who's player's care about them. When you have a PC that
the player doesn't really care about, now is your chance to kill a PC and
raise the stakes. The players now know that you will kill PC's for no
perceptible reason. The tension and danger level go up. We know you
prolly won't kill off the interesting PC's, but the player has to worry
cuz you killed off Joe Bob's...
(Note this only really applies to GM's like me that realy don't
like to kill off characters and risk having the players realize this. I
have no problem having PC's fail, or messing with their lives (characetrs
know this) but they also know I bust my butt to keep PC's alive (if they
don't commit Discworld Suicide (read terry Pratchett's Discworld books if
that means nothing to you - suicide there means picking a fight with a
troll in body armor.)

13. Always ask the players what they want. After a session ask what they
liked, didn't like. This encourages em to get more involved with the plot
and gives you direct feedback.

Hope this has helped!

Message no. 3
From: Scott Wheelock iscottw@*****
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 1999 22:11:19 -0300
"And now, a Channel 6 editorial reply to Brian McCallister."
] I originally wrote this in response to Arcady's request for any tips on
] GM'ing SR. After I wrote a short novel on the subject I realized their
] are prolly a few other people on the list that might like to read it so
] I'm CC'ing it to the list. Hope this helps at least 1 of you out.

<snip big ol' list o' GM tips>

Boy. I'd love to play in YOUR campaign...that's a mighty fine guide
to GMing, I think.

-Murder of One
Message no. 4
From: Mockingbird mockingbird@*********.com
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 09:12:46 -0500
----- Original Message -----
From: Arcady <arcady@***.net>
To: <shadowrn@*********.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 17, 1999 4:16 AM
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list

> Hello;
> I'm about to kick off my first regular game GMing Shadowrun.
> What are some good things to watch out for?

Pretty much the same stuff as in any game. In ten years of GMing most
genres out there, I find that a player basicly acts in all genres the same.

> Key rules to keep in mind? Good tricks to pull? Plots ideas or concepts
> work well or don't work so well at this stage of things?
You say you have Super Hero experience. Shadowrunners are basicly Super
Villian thugs. Think of things you had the Hero's stop, and have them do
those. As you play, you will learn what works and what doesn't, no one can
tell you what will work for you and your group. For example, in five years
of bi-weekly games, my runners have been in less than twelve firefights.
They prefer to use their wits to keep them out of trouble, other groups
would just go in shooting everyone between them and their goal.

> I've got 17 years experience GMing (if I could put that on a resume...),
> I know how to GM. :) But in particular to Shadowrun I'm new.
> Any major trouble spots I look out for?

The guy who can quote the rules faster than you can.

> Most of my experience is as a Super Hero GM. So I'm used to doing near
> hero types. I expect I'm going to need to make a few adjustments in
> :)
> Any one have a good website of advice or something along those lines?
> Thank you.
> Arcady <0){{{{><
> /.)\ Stop making sense. Be an Anti Intellectual
> \(@/ Be Tao. Live Tao. Feel Tao. But don't do Tao.

Hope this helps some,
Message no. 5
From: Marc Renouf renouf@********.com
Subject: New Shadowrun GM Watch out for list
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999 15:57:01 -0400 (EDT)
On Thu, 17 Jun 1999, Arcady wrote:

> I've got 17 years experience GMing (if I could put that on a resume...), so
> I know how to GM. :) But in particular to Shadowrun I'm new.
> Most of my experience is as a Super Hero GM. So I'm used to doing near pure
> hero types. I expect I'm going to need to make a few adjustments in thinking.

Well, others have already stepped up to the plate with various
suggestions, so I'll confine my advice to be a little more general in
nature. These are just a few observations on the general nature of
running a campaign, rather than a one-shot scenario. So here goes...

1) Consistency. No matter what you finally settle on as a
campaign premise, it needs to be internally consistent. Any glaring
errors in the logic of the backstory or timeline will become painfully
apparent later down the road. It's hard to make everything work out
perfectly, but the more consistent you are in creating your world, the
better off you are. Eventually, your world will get its own "in game"
history, that will drive current events and future plot developments.
Which leads me to...

2) Dynamics. A static world is no fun. If the world never
changes, the players never get the impression that they're caught up in
something larger than themselves. This is especially true if nothing ever
changes without direct player action. There should be events, be they
major or minor going on in the world at any given moment. Some might
affect the players directly, some might not. Some might be under the
players' control, but most are outside of their realm of influence. Wars
in foreign countries, economic disasters, whatever.

3) Life Goes On. However dynamic your world may be, you
still need to keep the bigger issues relevant to the campaign setting in a
reasonable way. The important thing is that each of these events has
effects which "ripple" throughout the game world, serving as the causes to
still more events. A foreign war (even one the players' country isn't
even involved in) might create a shortage of arms that raises the street
index of assault rifles and other front-line military hardware. Economic
or political wranglings may cause drastic changes in stock prices, which
can have profound effects on the local economy. Suddenly there are
squatters everywhere because rampant unemployment has increased the number
of homeless people, be they individuals or families. Perhaps a rash of
excessive gang violence in another city kicks off knee-jerk public opinion
that leads to new gun-control legislation which in turn leads to the
banning of handguns across the country. The players aren't involved in
the foreign war, they have no direct influence over the unemployment rate,
and the gang warfare is going on in another city, but they'll feel the
effects of all of them.

4) Verisimilitude. In order to portray your world with the
minimum amount of inconsistencies and maximize your players' suspension of
disbelief, you need to know "how the world works." This is different for
every world. Start with the big stuff - how does the government work, and
who are the major economic and political players. How does business get
done every day? What does this say about the infrastructure of the
setting? For instance: Why are banks in the Carib League so popular with
corps and criminals? Why is there no public mass transit system in
Detroit? What difference does it make that Senator So-and-so is up for
Even something that the characters might take for granted needs to
be outlined, especially until the players are comfortable enough with it
that *they* take it for granted too. For instance, take the existance of
"public dataterminals." Just what all is involved in this seemingly
simple and mundane concept? What information is available through public
libraries connected to them? Can I connect my pocket secretary to the
nearest public dataterminal and get the latest on the Hong Kong Stock
Exchange? Do public dataterminals even exist in a given area? Who
manufactures them? Who provides them? Who maintains them? Who paid for
them? How much is charged for their use? Is their use being monitored in
any meaningful way by the government? By the corps? By someone else?
What do they look like? Are there lines to use them in crowded areas like
airports and sports stadiums? Is there any privacy when using them, or
can random bypassers read my mail over my shoulder? As GM, you need to
know exactly how these things tie in with your view of "how the world
works" in order to make it consistant, like a real, living, breathing

5) Parallels. Shadowrun is interesting in that it's set on Earth
roughly 60 years ahead. As such, there's only 60 years of "future
history" to learn. You can draw on the rich history of our own past for
source material, adventure ideas, conspiracies, conflicts, other
craziness. In addition to a well-defined history, there's also a
well-defined infrastructure. This relates to item 4) above. You can
answer a lot of questions about how your fictitious setting works by
drawing parallels to our own world.
This is where one GM skill will pay off more than any others:
research. If you know how things work in our own world, you will be much
better at conveying how your world works to your players. On the other
hand, if you know nothing about law enforcement, trying to run a Lone Star
campaign will fall flat. It won't be believable. So do some research.
Read books, watch the Discovery Channel, talk to police officers, talk to
This is true of many facets of Shadowrun. In the course of GMing
a number of campaigns, I have expanded my own knowledge in subjects as
diverse as business, law, investment, banking, police procedure,
sociology, deviant psychology, firearms, explosives, computer systems
administration, intelligence, counterintelligence, terrorism,
counterterrorism, medicine, and military tactics. Having this information
can never hurt, and it will make your campaign infinitely more vivid for
both you and your players.

6) Culture. Every campaign needs to have culture. There need to
be social rules and regulations just as surely as there are legal rules
and regulations. Putting your arm around your drunken sarariman buddy
may be okay depending on your society's social mores. But perhaps such a
public display of comraderie or affection for a member of the same sex
marks you as an outcast. Either way, putting your arm around the gang
leader's chica is almost certainly *not* okay. What part of society do
the players fit into? Is that society highly stratified (basic Shadowrun
assumes it is, but this is by no means strictly necessary)? How do
cultural factors interact with politics? With economics? Is racism a
problem? For whom and why? Is prostitution viewed as a morally bankrupt
profession, or a respectable career in entertainment? Who sees it as
either and why? Does everyone vote? Does no one vote? Is the political
power of the minority protected by constitutional law, or does a
particular minority exert a disproportionately large amount of political
clout? If so why, how did they get it, and how do they keep it? Who
wants to take it away from them?

7) Follow the Money. Things happen for reasons. As much as we
might like to think otherwise, the most common reason that things happen
is because it's in the economic best interests of the individuals or
groups involved. Until there is a sound, profitable monetary incentive
to do something, it will remain largely undone. Look at finding
alternatives to fossil fuels in our own day and age. Yes, it's
ecologically friendly. Yes, it's almost certainly a good idea in the long
run. Yes, the technology exists, and has existed for quite some time.
But has anyone done it? No. Why? Because currently, there's no money in
it. The risk is too great and the potential return is seen as too small.
Private space exploration/exploitation is in exactly the same boat. So
when deciding what events shape your world and how, follow the money. Ask
yourself if anyone would reasonably do what it is you're having them do,
and why.

8) Personality. The world is driven by people. People make
financial, political, and personal decisions that affect the world around
them. It is important to get across the humanity behind your NPC's.
People don't do things for no reason. Granted, they may be stupid reasons
driven by ignorance or chemical dependence, but there's still a reason.
People have hobbies, likes and dislikes, wants, dreams, aspirations,
secrets, hidden shames, individual senses of humor, and differing
priorities. Don't let your players start to view their contacts as a
collection of skills. The people that you deal with to survive the shadow
world are just that: people. And people can be gotten to. Coerced.
Ragged. Bullied. Intimidated. Bribed. By the PC's or by somebody else.
Not all of the PC's contacts should necessarily like them.
How do you portray this humanity? Little things can make the
difference. Perhaps every time the players go into the sham electronics
front for their Technician's illicit business, he's at the counter
assembling model airplanes. Maybe their Fixer is a rabid Red Wings fan
with season tickets. Maybe their Street Doc is a sad woman with a history
of miscarriages. Maybe their decker friend is a manic-depressive who
refuses to take medication. Maybe their armorer is a paraplegic, courtesy
of a strange neurological disorder than can't be corrected with cyberware
or gene therapy. Maybe the disorder can't be corrected yet, but the
contact still has hope and keeps up on all the latest research (even
though it's totally outside his "area of expertise").

9) Information. Decisions are made on the basis of the
information at hand, but no one, not even the best and the baddest NPC's
is omniscient. No one knows everything, and glaring errors have been made
by brilliant people simply because they were missing crucial pieces of
information. When considering NPC actions, always keep in mind what
information those NPC's have and more importantly what they don't.
Further, individual perceptions, prejudices, and experience can lead to
radically different interpretations of the same raw data. Some people are
stubborn and small-minded, others are open and free-thinking, and still
others are ignorant and gullible. Whether deciding on how an NPC will
interact with a PC or what various world or corporate leaders are hatching
at any given time, it's extremely important to remember what information
they're using to make those decisions with.

10) Walk Away. For as much personality, depth, and thought as you
put into an NPC, don't be afraid to walk away from them if the story
dictates. Your players may love a particular contact, may think he or
she's "the shit," but if that contact runs afoul of the world in general,
don't be afraid to squash him or her like a bug. I've had numerous
"sidekick" NPC's that players have come to really value and enjoy
interacting with, but when they encountered a situation in which that
sidekick could not logically or reasonably survive, that was it. The NPC
was gone, and gone forever. For as much as you like playing an NPC or as
much as your players like interacting with that NPC, it destroys your
players' suspension of disbelief if you bend reality to let them survive
situations that no reasonable person could. It also serves as good player
motivation when they realize that their own carelessness has led to such a

11) Lethality. Like NPC's, the GM should be willing to let PC's
die as well. It's harsh and nobody likes losing a favorite character, but
The alternative is a campaign in which the players have no fear that their
characters' actions will have lethal negative ramifications. I'm here to
tell you, I've seen campaigns in which the GM refused to kill off PC's,
and all but one of them suffered severely because of it. Death may not
even be necessary. Grievous wounding, imprisonment, early retirement, or
capture and brainwashing by the corps are other options. If you encourage
your players to play in character and accept the ramifications of their
actions, you'll be amazed at how their role-playing skills will improve.
Hell, I had a player who had a favored character commit suicide, because
it was in character to do so and because the opportunity presented itself.
I give kudos to any role-player who is as willing to walk away from good
PC's as I am from good NPC's.

Anyway, these are nothing specific, but they are helpful to keep
in mind when running any campaign, especially one that you intend to have
as a long-term gaming experience. If you want my input on anything
specific, or even clarification of anything above, just ask.

Marc Renouf (ShadowRN GridSec - "Bad Cop" Division)

Other ShadowRN-related addresses and links:
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Adam Jury <adamj@*********> Assistant List Administrator
DVixen <dvixen@****.com> Keeper of the FAQs
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David Buehrer <graht@********> GridSec "Nice Guy" Division
ShadowRN FAQ <>;

Further Reading

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