Shadowrun thrives on interesting missions and plotlines that allow players to interact with the futuristic underbelly of society. Regardless of what kind of game you are running an interesting story is always of the utmost importance. In this chapter we hope to walk you through the steps to building an interesting and unique run for your players. You may already have a set way of building your runs, and there are no two people who build adventures the same. Hopefully you can take these stages and get a new outlook on how you too build runs. If you're new to being Gamemaster, these steps will help you build an interesting first run for your players.
In the world of Shadowrun, there are many different types of missions your players can be sent on. Whatever the mission type, they will be plugged into a plot that is already in progress, which usually happens by a meeting with some form of Mr. Johnson. They will then need to do a little leg work to bring them further up to speed, depending on how much information their Mr. Johnson gave them to start with. After planning the run, they will attempt to execute it, and upon completion they will get their payoff. Of course, a Gamemaster will want to stage little "surprises" for his team, reminding them that for a Shadowrunner paranoia isn't a flaw, its part of the job description.
The steps to building Shadowruns are Determining Run Type, Creating Plotline, The Meeting, and Legwork. Each of these stages represents a stage of work you must prepare for. The players don't start interacting with the storyline until "The Meeting", and each of the stages thereafter can be altered or stylized for your players. The first two stages (Run Type and Creating Plotline) are what you can use to set the overall tone of your game.
This is the flow of a typical Shadowrun adventure, and what this chapter helps you build. By following this outline you can build many different and exciting adventures. Once you have run a few missions using this basic outline, you can start tampering with the flow of the mission by significantly altering specific stages.
It may seem that choosing the run type is more a function of plotline, but it is often easier to decide upon a run type, and then work towards making that specific run type innovative and unique. Starting with a rough "what the players will do" and building a plotline around that.
Sometimes someone has to die. That's where the runners come in. People in "proper society" would never imagine taking another life, but to a runner, that's just part of the job... a well paying job as well. There are many reasons why a target would need to be killed; sabotaging a research project, making room for promotions, political agendas or just plane revenge can motivate a person to hire Shadowrunners.
A wet work job at its core is simply the killing of a target. It's the most amoral mission a character can undertake, and some characters may not be willing to undertake murder for money. Wet work has only one goal, the end of a human life, for whatever reason, someone will die.
Wet work missions aren't suitable for every campaign. DocWagon and Journalism campaigns would seldom, if ever, require wet work missions. However gritty campaigns focused around hardened characters with serious "professional" demeanors can easily fit wet work missions into their plotlines. Games where the players work exclusively for a corporation or for a government military may include many wet work missions depending on the attitude or morality of their employers.
Not every wet work mission needs to focus around a clear assassination. Possible twists could include not knowing who should be killed, or where the target is. As with all missions, location can also be some very interesting twists to a run. Legwork for a wet work mission could be a mission all in its own as the players track a target down through different locales. This type of mission can easily be combined with other mission types as a twist to their mission objective.
Wet work missions often have the best payoff of any mission type, because so few people are willing to take a mission where they have to end a metahuman life. Be sure to pay your players very well for this mission in advance... you may want to dump a little of the "on the run" payoff (loot and cash garnered on the run itself) to keep the pay even. This keeps the money influx into your game predictable, while creating the illusion that the players are getting paid very well for a run.
Theft, Kidnapping or rescues, the extraction is all about taking something someone else owns. The runners are tasked with getting an item or person from the clutches of a third party, usually under some kind of guard.
Extraction jobs are often undertaken by corps who need to catch-up in a technology race, or by governments or corporations who need PoW's (prisoners of war) rescued. Usually stealth is of the utmost importance, so this mission isn't always suitable for teams who can't handle subtlety. The majority of Docwagon runs are extraction runs, as are many Newsnet missions.
Spicing up extraction missions is easy. The differences in extraction targets, guarding groups and locations can really spice up the run. Extractions have the most flexibility of any run type, from stealing a prototype cyber-deck from a corporate arcology, to rescuing an aging nuclear scientist from a hidden missile site in the Alaskan tundra, the extraction gives GM's a thousand options for creative and unique Shadowruns.
The payoff for these missions varies as much as the objectives. The up front negotiated price can often be fairly mediocre, but the "on the run" pay can be quite lucrative.
The sister run to extractions, sabotage simply leaves the target with the third party... but in a condition that either causes havoc, or slows down research.
Often undertaken for the same reasons as extractions, sabotage runs can also be part of an overall run. Often corporations hire two teams of runners, one to carry out sabotage as a distraction, as a second group of runners takes on another mission.
Sabotage missions can require special skills the players don't have, forcing them to hire and escort a specialist into hostile territory. They could also contain odd directions, for instance the target of the sabotage could be replacing the data in a scientists headware.
The payoff for sabotage missions can be as varied as extractions, but the "on the run" money is typically much smaller, as missing stuff tips the target off, and subtlety is of the essence.
Troubleshooting / Investigation
When you just don't know what to do, when your problems are just too big... who do you call? Your companies Mr. Johnson. Who does he call? Your player characters. Sometimes the client doesn't know what needs to be done, just that something needs to get done, and the players path to their objective left undefined, payment offered by the day or week, rather than for the job.
These tasks are usually given to local law enforcement, however sometimes the employer requires a certain measure of discretion, or a blind eye from their own illegal activities. If a crime was perpetrated in a bad location (such as the Barrens) many police agencies will simply mark the case "unsolved" and move on. This is where Shadowrunners might come in to solve a mystery.
Most corporations have Mr. Johnsons available to their supervisors and governments have "specialist" teams who they send in to solve ambiguous problems. Often less experienced corporate managers have never delved into the shadows, and they get the Mr. Johnson to put them in touch with experienced outside personnel. Lonestar and Newsnet campaigns almost always follow these plotlines as the characters solve murders, or track down facts for a story.
Runs of the Troubleshooting variety are best geared towards players with good problem solving skills, or a GM who can develop a string of events. These runs can easily be tailored to the real life expertise of your players, or to the specifics of the characters skills. Troubleshooting and investigation runs are the most complex games, and often require multiple game sessions to complete.
These plotlines often require interrogation, and sometimes many sub runs. Keep things loose, and let your players direct the run. Build all your clues/facts early, and keep them generic enough to be placed in the path of the players as they decide where to go next. You might think these runs require less work from the GM because they are player driven, but the exact opposite is true, as the GM must be ready for anything.
Since these games are often player driven, there are limitless ways to pay the characters, both in stolen goods and "legitimate" pay. Just as you must be flexible in the flow of your game, you must be flexible in the payoff.
When there are bullets to be taken, why waste corporation flesh? Protection runs center around a person, place or thing that the player characters are guarding, and can stay in one place, or travel the globe.
Often corporations need dispensable personnel to protect more precious human assets. Lonestar and military personnel also find themselves guarding locations or specialty personnel. Newsnet campaigns could also entail "embedded reporters" with military or corporate assets.
Protection games are as varied as extraction runs. The number of plot twists and turns a GM can work into a protection game are innumerable. If they are protecting a person, their client can send them on any number of other runs. One protection job can string together several smaller missions to form an ad hoc campaign as the runners follow the client to whatever task he is undertaking. This way the runners can easily be put into an observation mod, making them experience a story which they are hardly able to influence, making it easy for the GM to tell a story without the players altering the plotline much. However, it is important to keep the players involved. This can be accomplished by giving them information they can use to better protect their employer, or even sway the course of his actions. These runs should be very combat intensive.
Pay for protection jobs can vary considerably depending on what the players are protecting and how long they are protecting it. There is typically no "on the run" money to be made, so payment should be pretty good up front.
There are several ways to build more complex runs than these. By giving the players multiple objectives you can easily make their run more difficult, or just more unique. Combining extraction and wet work allows a GM to give the players a choice, bring the target back or kill them. This can give the players a moral dilemma. If the target doesn't want to leave, and they are unwilling to murder him, can they successfully kidnap the target?
A GM can also give the players multiple objectives by requiring them to sabotage a manufacturing plant while they protect an executive on his tour of the facility. Just by combining two types of runs a unique and interesting game can be created from seemingly random events. When ideas are short, just combine two types of mission archetypes and something fun will probably spring up.
Writing a Background Plot
The goal of any GM is to run a game that is fun and memorable. A good GM is always striving to make the game more fun, and to pull the players deeper into an immersive game world. The key to a memorable game is to set the stage with a strong background story. Even if the players never learn what that story is, they will sense it in the mood and feel of the game. A strong background story for a Shadowrun will give the entire game session a stronger suspension of disbelief, creating a fun game that will be memorable for years to come. Everyone creates plotlines differently, and nobody would expect every GM to do it the same way. There are, however, a few generic tools that GM's use to come up with new ideas off the cuff. Using these tools a GM can be ready to play with just a couple hours of preparation.
Simple into Complex
Whenever a GM sits down to put pen to paper, they know how complex they want their game to be. Beginning with a large complex plot and then finding a way to plug the players into it can be very difficult, especially on the new GM. It is important to keep in mind that every complex system is made up of smaller parts, and that by building a series of small runs with a consistent cast of characters, a GM can create a complex and interesting larger plotline that the players are already integral in. Here is an example:
Greg is trying to create a plotline that is more complex than "take job, do job, and get paid". His players have been working steadily for a Mr. Johnson for the last five game sessions, completing a wet work job, as well as a longer protection mission for a small pharmaceutical company, “Pharmtech Inc." Greg knows he wants to create a game where the players can see their actions affecting the game world over the course of several game sessions, so he decides to send the players on an extraction mission, this time against a rival company of Pharmtech, "Dynacutical LTD." Dynacutical has a bio-chemist named Dr. Torrence, who has discovered a new protein solution, allowing cloned body parts to be grown 20% faster. Dr. Torrence is willing to defect to Pharmtech for the right price and it is the runner’s job to spring him from the Dynacutical compound. After they players complete this mission, Greg will send them on a series of extraction missions against Dynacutical compounds across the globe, as Dr. Torrence needs pieces of his groups’ research to build a production plant for the new solution. After the characters have gotten used to fighting against Dynacutical, Greg can bring in their parent company, "The Seattle Medical Group", which just happens to be owned by Yamatetsu. If the players are successful, Pharmtech will grow, and eventually be purchased by a larger megacorp, bringing the characters into direct conflict stronger and stronger opposition.
While this example assumes that Greg has already run a few games, this is also a great way to design a campaign from the ground up. This creates the illusion that the players are part of a large, pre-planned plotline that they can alter through their game play. Their past exploits determine their future missions, and the course of the company.
Breaking down larger, more complex plotlines into smaller, one game session sized portions, lets player characters grow on their own terms, while at the same time embroiling them in the bigger picture. It also allows for deviation from the set plotline with a much smoother transition process. Players won't feel like they are being railroaded into a specific plotline, and if they fail in a run, it won't have consequences so disastrous that the GM must re-write his entire campaign. It also gives the GM the flexibility to break from the plotline to allow players their own sub-plots. If they appear to be getting bored of runs against the same company, they can investigate the murder of a friend or help their fixer deliver some dangerous product. This makes games far less stagnant, and gives them long lasting appeal.
Many new GM's want to build a fun and exciting game right away, and there are several easy ways to handle the situation. One popular approach is a local newspaper. Simply by opening up the paper to any section, and picking a random article can yield a goldmine of great ideas. The only effort needed is translating the idea into a "Shadowrun" concept. Here is another example:
runners have successfully completed their extraction of Dr. Torrence
and Greg is now looking for ideas for their next game. He feels it's time for the runners to
sabotage Dynacutical in some way, but he just doesn't
know how. Greg opens up his local paper
and finds an article about Refugees in
Most of the victims of the crash in the barrens were low income metahumans, and while they received emergency care to save their lives at the time, it is unlikely that they could afford expensive healthcare to handle the long term effects of their injuries, leaving many with debilitated limbs. Dynacutical will need to train their physicians on the use of the new protein solution, and have offered many low income metahumans in the barrens cheap medical care in exchange for the right to test the new solution on the limbs being grown for them. Pharmtech needs to slow Dynacutical's research down, as well as acquire a sample of "PS-102A", the latest iteration of the protein bath. It is the runners’ job to break into Dynacutical's clinic in the barrens, and steal all the "PS-102A" and replace it with a much lower grade compound. This will slow Dynacutical down, without letting them on to the fact that their entire project was spoiled, allowing Dr. Torrence and Pharmtech to analyze the new proteins and catch up a little in this technology race.
Newspapers and magazines can be a great source of inspiration. If you find your group is dealing with a specific situation on a regular basis, you can purchase a magazine or industry paper dealing with a specific topic, this generates far more in depth plotlines, and very believable world events. In the above example, Greg may want to go purchase a copy of a medical journal or Scientific America to generate more ideas. Using current world events translated into "Shadowrun" terms also creates an illusion of believability, since these things are happening now; it is completely plausible that they would happen in the year 2060. This approach is perfect of political games with a high "real world" sense to them. The addition of larger world events to a game session also makes the gaming universe seem more alive and realistic. Using print media is an invaluable resource for any GM hoping to build believable one night runs or campaigns.
Often players will want to do their own thing, and this will lead them often the beaten path. A physical adept player may need the beak of a griffin for his weapon focus, or a Decker might want to track down a decking legend to help him build a new program. Often the players desire to expand and progress with his character will generate ideas that can have entire game sessions built around them. Other times a section of your game you intended to take only a few minutes is of great interest to your players, and they wish to spend more time dealing with that specific area. Allowing your players to set the tone and pace of the game is an easy way to build quick campaigns. For instance:
Greg's runners have successfully sabotaged Dynacutical's clinic in the barrens, and Greg is preparing for his next game session. Just as he is about to pick up a newspaper, he remembers that his Street Samurai player Ian really seemed to enjoy a scene in an night club where the groups Mr. Johnson negotiated the run with them. Near the end Lonestar entered the club, forcing the players to quickly accept the run, and flee through the kitchen out the back door Greg decides that Ian's character, Seven, is now wanted for murder, since Lodestar had arrived to investigate gunshots on the roof of the club. As Seven fled through the kitchen he was spotted by one of the Lonestar detectives, and now his face is all over the trideos, the words "Wanted of Questioning" under a grainy security camera photo of him speaking with his Mr. Johnson. Seven must track down the real killer to clear his name... and his rep.
A characters background can also be a wonderful wealth of plotlines that make the player who created them feel appreciated. Making sure your players answer the "20 Questions" of character creation is one way of going about developing character background. Another method is to have them write a short story or biography for their character. You can pull elements from that background to help connect their character to your game. These backgrounds also give you a good insight into what the player wants out of your game.
Player driven games give each player a chance to shine. By throwing in the occasional "real life" problem for the runners, like nosy neighbors or car trouble, you can let them develop their own personality and style. It is important to not center your game to heavily around one player, nor to ignore your overall plotline however. Keep things mixed up to avoid boredom, or a feeling of uncontrolled chaos. Use player driven plots to ensure everyone is having a good time, and to progress a smaller "personal" story than the one being told by the larger story-arch.
One cannot discuss running Shadowrun games without mentioning the wealth of pre-printed adventures already out there. It is very easy to introduce a module into a game already in progress. First and Second Edition adventures books, while out of date, are not worthless. They can be easily updated for your current campaign. A gaming group could run modules for several years of weekly games without ever running out. Most modules have several chapters, and each chapter is roughly one game session. These can also give you a good starting point for larger campaigns, with a cast of characters to fall back on.
Greg is searching through a box of old books and stumbles upon a copy of "Eye Witness" a pre-printed Shadowrun campaign about a cyber-eye that gets lost in the ghoul infested sewers of Seattle. This cyber eye has information stored in it that is important to the runners’ employer. With little effort Greg converts the locations of the pre-printed run into locations from his game. The employer becomes Pharmtech, and the cyber-eye's previous owner becomes a Dynacutical research specialist. Now the players are desperately trying to find a cyber-eye for the photo's it contains, forcing them to solve a mystery to get to it.
Shadowrun also has many "run sourcebooks" available, like Blood in the Boardroom that are designed to aid GM's in the process of building plotlines that fit nicely into the Shadowrun universe. While many GM's scoff at the idea of using pre-printed material, the adventure modules for Shadowrun allow quick and easy in depth plotlines with limited adjustment. A GM could also re-write the entire thing to fit his campaign, making the module merely a jumping off point for a great series of unique missions.
Cast of Characters and Locations
While writing a Shadowrun outline, make a list of characters and locations that will probably come up. While it isn't necessary to have full character sheets or maps of each location, a rough description of each one will make them stick in the GM's mind, and thus the players mind, better. This helps game progress smoothly, and creates a dynamic environment.
If there is time, maps and statistics for people and places is seldom wasted effort. If a location isn't used now, it can always be recycled for later use. If the players fail to visit the apartment of a suspect, you can simply re-use the map any time the players investigate the apartment of anyone. Maps and statistics are especially important in any situation where combat is likely. If there are plans for a shootout in a hospital corridor, the floor the fighting is happening on, and a rough idea of the rest of the building become a near requirement for the smooth operation of the game.
Everything discussed up to this point has been preparing the world for your audience, the players. Role-playing is a unique medium because the audience takes part in the storytelling process, and in Shadowrun that begins when the players are linked into the storyline through "The Meet". It is important that this beginning goes smoothly, and that you prepare for it properly. This is where the outline of the story begins for the players and such special care should be taken to create an interesting setting.
Unless you haven't ever played a typical game of Shadowrun, you are some what familiar with how this portion of the game goes. It is assumed that everyone reading this has some idea of how a typical meeting with the players characters Mr. Johnson goes.
What they need to know
The first order of business when planning this stage of your session is to decide what you’re going to tell the players. You should have a good idea of the background that leads up to this point, and now is when the players get some of this information. Depending on the kind of game your running and the skill level of your players, you will want to tell them less or more. Everything about the background story you don't tell them, you will want to make available to them through legwork. More experienced players can be given less information, so that their legwork is more detailed, but new players will obviously need more handed to them.
Varying the amount of information the players know is a great way to mix things up. If the players are given a lot of information they can focus on the run itself, if they are given less, the game takes on a "Detective Story" aspect as the players attempt to hunt down more information. In games that are more "directive" focused, like Military or Docwagon games, the characters will be briefed with more specifics, but if their commanders don't know the whole story, you can still create an air of mystery.
It is important to remember that the pace of a game session can be set by the circumstance surrounding the players’ first introduction to the storyline. A phone call, or personal visit sets the game to a slower, more methodical pace, while a bustling bar, or a high speed car ride while the contact is being chased by Lonestar, creates a more frantic tone to the game.
The Johnson and Aids
simple way to vary the meeting, and alter the tempo of the game session, is to
make the players’ employer more unique.
The typical "Man in a suit with 2 troll thugs" descriptor of a
Mr. Johnson gets old very quickly. By
changing his race, sex or even approximate social standing, the character can
become full of life very quickly. Your
Mr. Johnson could be an
Altering the Mr. Johnson's experience and professionalism level can lead to an interesting turn of events. A private individual seeking revenge, or the rescue of a kidnapped child, might know a guy, who knows a guy, who sets him up with a meeting with the runners. This is a fun way to put some perspective on the player characters role in society, as this seemingly "normal" person is very afraid of them.
Using the players other contacts as an employer can be a great way to break the monotony of "Mr. Johnson" runs. Perhaps their fixer needs some goods "extracted" and instead of paying them in cash, he can trade them some very hot tech. This is a great way to replace expensive, but crucial, technology like Cyberdecks and Sports Cars. If a player expresses and interest in something he can't normally afford (and to introduce an amount of money that large into your game would cause problems) an appropriate contact might offer the item in exchange for a "service".
A quick way to alter the tone of a game is to alter the location where the characters get their work. A seedy bar gives an underworld feel to the game, and is considered the norm, but what about meeting in front of a famous monument? The game will quickly take on a political intrigue texture. Generating a manic pace to a game is easily accomplished by starting the game session with combat... nothing says chaos like being caught in gang crossfire.
Adjusting the events happening around the player characters can also lead to a lot of fun situations. If the players are meeting in a nightclub, a female associate of the Mr. Johnson could deliver the job specifics during a slow dance, whispering the situation into one of the players’ ear. Making the transaction less rote can drastically alter the entire game session, and the location of the initial meeting is a great way to break repetition.
Telling it to them Straight
Every printed Shadowrun adventure has sections titled "telling it to them straight". This is a GM's monologue designed to set the mood, and often includes Mr. Johnson's request for services. When preparing your Shadowrun it isn't always necessary to write this down, but giving it some thought can cut down on stammers and pauses, creating a much stronger illusion. This also prevents accidental divulging of to much, or to little information. A few well placed notes are invaluable.
Players often want to negotiate their pay. Familiarize yourself with the rules for negotiations, so you can make the rolls in secret. This lets the players’ roleplay the negotiations without making the Negotiation skill worthless. To exercise more influence over the amount of money entering a game, the GM can give the players other bonuses for skilled negotiations. Money up front, access to hard to find equipment (like some APDS ammo) or other intangible perks can give negotiations a less rigged feel. Being offered Nuyen and membership to an exclusive club can be much easier on a GM than a simple 10% bump in payment price.
If the purpose of the meeting with Mr. Johnson is to get the players hooked into the storyline, the purpose of Legwork is to tell that story, and prepare them to resolve it. Many GM's forgo legwork, or streamline it to a few dice rolls, but it can be just as fun and rewarding as the run itself. Spicing up the investigation can be a great way to prolong, or complicate a very basic run.
Anticipating the Players Actions
There is a very easy way to know in advance what the players are likely to do... tell them. Using subtle hints, during the initial meeting usually directs the players down the most likely path. Little hints can go a long way, if you mention a location or person, most players will start there. If things are kept simple, the players’ actions will be easier to gauge, allowing a GM to steer them towards areas that have been prepared for.
If the players jump the anticipated path, guided them back towards something you have prepared for is easy. If you wanted the players to investigate the apartment building, but instead they started talking to their contacts, their contact simply knows something "went down" at the apartment complex, or so he overheard. If the players are persistent in not going to the apartment, a GM can transplant everything in the apartment to a new location. It's then a good idea to have the apartment building burn down, in case they decide to go there later... doubling up on information, or coming up with something knew can be very taxing and redundant, slowing the game down.
Knowing what to reveal
It is important to have a list of things you want to reveal to the players through legwork. This gives you the flexibility to place the clues in the path of the players, or keep them away as the occasion requires.
Greg has a great run planned, but he wants the players to spend some time tracking down a key suspect, Jacob Takahashi. He has decided the person the players are tracking down is holed up in a safe house somewhere in the barrens, so to facilitate this he makes a list of things the players could stumble upon.
Jacob drives a white Ford Americar with a blue fire custom paint job.
The Americar is rigged for gridguide, and parked in the Barrens.
The car hasn't moved in a few days.
Jacob is an Ork
Jacob has an apartment Downtown, but hasn't been there in a few days.
He has family (2 brothers and his mother) who live in the Barrens.
Jacob's mother and youngest brother are bear shamans.
Jacob is a Decker
He has a hideout in the Barrens, 2 blocks from his family's house.
Armed with this list, Greg is ready for a night of tracking down Jacob Takahashi.
Most Shadowrunning groups have a decker. The matrix is the first place most deckers go when they need more information, and there should be something there for them. Deckers are very specialized characters, so it is important for a GM to make that specialization worth having. Having matrix security sheaves prepared in advance (from low difficulty, to insane difficulty) is a useful tool for any GM. The decker doesn't need to get all the information online, but getting at least some, like an address of a suspect or phone records showing their marks recent contact with a fixer, will give the players a clear path to pursue. In addition the decker will have been of the utmost importance, without monopolizing the entire game session.
Depending on the type of run you have prepared, the matrix can be flexible enough to give any information and clues you deem appropriate. If the player characters simply need to infiltrate a location and retrieve documents, the matrix can yield a floor plan, or time clock records for the security staff. In a run where the players are evicting a gang from an apartment complex, the matrix can have cell phone records, telling the players who the gangs’ fixer is.
You can make the matrix more important by placing more crucial information in the hands of the decker player. This allows him to be the star of the occasional game session. You can play down the importance of matrix legwork with more general information, like floor plans and phone records, things the players could figure out by other means. There should, however, always be something for the decking character to find, as this is his more important contribution to the group.
Greg's decker, Slider, jacks in from through an illegal jack point he just happens to know about. After a little thinking, he heads over to the local phone company. After suppressing a few IC's he is able to find the phone bill, and address, of Jacob Takahashi. Now the players have some place to start.
An often overlooked legwork tool is Astral Space. Basic floor plans, magical defenses, personnel rotations and even physical defenses can all be scoped out by a mage who is astral projecting. There is almost no limit to what a mage can find through a little astral stroll. This gives GM's a lot of flexibility in what is revealed. Once a player has gained the information that the GM wants revealed, astral barriers, other mages or paranormal critters can then scare the mage off, or turn the situation from legwork to combat. This "till the GM decides it's over" approach to legwork should only be used when the player is dragging out the astral session, typically players will simply use astral perception from time to time in hopes of finding something.
In games with a more magical bent, astral space will yield more clues. It is also a great way to give players forewarning of magical threats. Astral residue and stray signatures can let a player know if there was recent magical activity in an area and if they roll high enough on their perception tests, as many details as the GM deems necessary.
Magical skills are second nature to a character, a sense they probably take for granted on some level. Magical legwork can be made more important through the use of note passing. This will give the magic user a sense of how his character sees the world, and augment the feeling that his character is different than others at a very basic level.
The players have arrived at Jacob Takahashi's apartment, and after circumventing the maglock, Lo, the groups Wujen, decides to do a quick astral scan. He sees a watcher spirit rush out of the apartment and disappear into astral space. It's clear that Jacob is either a mage, or has a mage helping him.
Like crime scene investigators, the players often get the chance to comb a location for clues. This is the most difficult way to give clues to players, as they cannot be as blunt. Finding a cyberdeck, cyberlimb maintenance tools or magical paraphernalia can be great way to let them know about a person. It is much more difficult to let the players know what happened in a location. Bullet holes, blood splatters and footprints are great indicators of a fight, but for specifics a GM will often need to rely on surveillance equipment.
Investigating a location is often a go between to leading the characters to another location. If a game has a large amount of legwork involved, a bit of combat as the players leave a location is an easy way to break up the runs quiet time. Creating an interesting location can make this portion of the run stand out, and if done right you can give the players a lot of information, so much so that they will probably miss some of it. Later on, when the uncover information in other ways; they will make the connection, giving your game a well thought out, and realistic feeling.
Placing a crime scene, or other important location, into a game should never be done haphazardly. For a location to feel real, it should have most of the adventures clues rolled into it. Building an entire scene around a location is often advisable. The players could have all day to look over a location, or it could happen in a hurry, but either way they should have enough time to find crucial clues that will progress the game in a significant way. Often all other legwork will lead the players to a location that contains the rest of what they need to know.
Greg's runners are rummaging through the apartment of Jacob Takahashi, when Slider opens the door to a walk-in closet, he discovers that it has been converted into a cyberterminal design studio with some fairly decent equipment. Further searching the apartment, Seven (a Street Samurai) finds a photo album of Takahashi on vacation, now they know what he, and is family look like. Hatori (a physical adept) finds Jacob's spare mailbox key, and checks his mail. It is obvious he hasn't been home in at least a few days. Lo is looking through a cluttered bookshelf when he finds an old invitation to a Bar-B-Q at the home of "The Takahashi Family"... the address is in the barrens. After looking through the photo album, the players find photo's of a Bar-B-Q. The players quickly get the idea to go talk to his family. Greg mentions a Ford America with a blue fire stripe, but none of the players seem to pick up on this detail.
The vast majority of characters have several contacts, which they should be communicating with on a fairly regular basis. Many times the players will seek out a contact in hopes that they know something the players don't. Depending on the type of contact, they could know a lot or nothing at all. Making use of the clue list can be a great way to quickly role-play how much a contact knows. If a GM would rather use dice rolls to simulate the chances that the contact knows something, their relative etiquette skills can be used.
Contacts offer some great role-playing opportunities. It isn't always necessary for the contact to like the group, or even be willing to give them the information. Many contacts must be bullied or bribed heavily to give up information. If every meeting with contacts is different, the role-playing opportunities can be limitless. The better the players role-play, the more information they should be given. This process reinforces the players’ personality as separate from the characters personality, and aids in bringing the individual characters to life.
Using contacts can also be a great source of secondary run objectives. Spicing up a run of the mill adventure with a secondary objective is a great way to spice up a game. By role-playing scenes with the contacts of the players, the characters will feel more like part of the game world, and gives you opportunities for divulging information and altering the run. For instance:
Greg's team knows they are going to have head into the barrens, and may have to deal with a couple mages. They call up their fixer and meet him in an alley behind their favorite bar. While talking to the fixer about narcojet rounds filled with stimpatch fluid, he asks if they are trying to give someone a heart attack, because he has a few better ways. Seven explains that they might have to handle some magically active Orks, who are the family of a decker they are after. Their fixer responds, "Jacob Takahashi? That bastard still owes me for parts I got him for his Americar. You bring that car to me and I'll cut you a good deal on this narcojet."
Focusing on Legwork
Long time role-players can usually describe games called "The ABC" quest. These missions typically send the player characters to fulfill a chain of mini-quests one after another. In games with a more "enforced": moral code these quests typically involve the players retrieving item A, for person B, who will give them item C, who they give to person D for item E and so on. In Shadowrun the players are just as likely to kill person D and take item E. All is not lost for the Shadowrun GM however. By stringing the players along from location to location tracking down a person or object a GM can easily build an ABC quest for his Shadowrunning group. It is important to interject some combat or other "stress" situations to keep things from feeling redundant.
Preparation Wrap Up
Once you have all these steps in place, you should have a really strong foundation for making your game session run smoothly. Discussed in later chapters are guidelines for designing interesting locations and NPC's. As long as you put effort into populating your game world with well thought out people and places, your game will be a success.