Where the Wild Things Are….A helping hand in making an RPG work

A couple of years ago I agreed to run an RPG for some members of the Corehammer crew. Most were first time role-players with a couple of more experienced heads in the mix. After careful thought and consideration I decided to go with what I knew best, Shadowrun 2nd Edition. For those who don’t know, Shadowrun is set in the near future dystopia of 2075. A calamitous shift in the world which has seen people evolve/devolve into mythical races, magic to resurface and dragons to take to the skies and the board rooms of mega corporations! Think Bladerunner meets Lord of the Rings!

After a quick snoop around I found a great simple starting adventure that was released as part of the 4th Edition quick play rules (available for free HERE) With some tweaking it was easily adjusted to 2nd Edition rules……

The adventure commences late at night in a futuristic Tesco Express called Stuffer Shack ™ where the players are relaxing buying junk soy food after a hard day running the shadows of Seattles underbelly. They find themselves in the middle of a kidnap attempt on a young mother and child……as is the want with RPGer’s they sprang into action rescuing the poor woman and whisking her away to safety at their base of operations.
Great success…well you would think so wouldn’t you…right? Right?

That’s when things went a bit “wonky”….the players discovered the child was the product of an affair between a high level executive and this young woman. Next thing I know  they are filming the woman for a blackmail tape.Things escalate….badly!

The session culminates with the players trying to bribe the executive which, as we all know in RPG’s quickly evolves into a team of murder hobos running riot and massacring every goon in site, money be damned!

Fast forward a year or two and my son and some of his mates want to play something other than Dungeons and Dragons so I agree to run them the same adventure set in the Stuff Shack ™. Again theres an explosion, the team prevent a kidnapping and rescue the girl and the kiddywink. Again she ends up back at their base this time safe and sound! The sample adventure has a little bit of additional info in the side bar entitled “digging deeper” which let me expand the original ideas set down in the “FOOD FIGHT 4.0” starting pdf and expand it into a full blown adventure experience spanning a good 4 or 5 sessions….about 20 hours in total playing time!

We thought it may be useful to new or budding Dungeon Masters/Games Masters/Story tellers to take a look at how you can plan out an adventure for your players with a narrative spanning several sessions with plot hooks and interesting personnel populating the world without having to railroad your players from scene to scene.

Heres my basic advice for running a game…..

Fun is First
My first rule for playing an RPG is don’t let things like rules get in the way of your player characters doing cool shit. You want your shapeshifting elf adept to jump through a window, do a somersault while transforming into a polar bear? Siiiiick. What you mean there isn’t a rule for it? Fuck it who cares….Roll me a dice.

Diversion route
Remember the players don’t have to go from A to B to C….this isn’t a novel moving through the pages from scene to scene, we are trying to tell a story together and build a narrative. As a GM you should have an idea of where you want the story to end up whether its in that big shoot out, a tense show down with the police or a double cross with the client and his team of hired killers. Whatever it is let the players live under the illusion they get there under their own steam….you can put a pair of stabilizers on them to help them along the way just don’t let on that’s what you are doing!

Here be monsters
Truth zone: You can come up with the most ingenious and intricate story , seasoned with clever plot hooks and hidden lore but 9 times out of 10 your players wont spot them and even if they do they wont realise. Remember that film you saw where the character you meet for 3 seconds in the first act turns out to be the big bad in the final act? That’s cool and all in a film that’s 2 hours long, but don’t weigh your story down with things YOU can see because the reason you can see them is YOU wrote the thing!

Sure you want your players to pick up on stuff but they might not remember that data thumb drive they found 2 sessions ago, which although in game time might be a matter of hours could be 8 weeks ago in real life! Therefore you might have to telegraph it, give them a prod or blatantly say “give me  a memory test”….especially if they are new to role playing games!

Live and let live
The aim of the game isn’t to try and kill the players so set the level of the game accordingly. On the other hand you don’t want the players to feel like they are invincible and there is no threat or challenge to them within the game. Like Run DMC said its tricky! Remember this is a game of cooperative story telling. Make it thrilling. Make them feel like they have succeeded against the odds or scraped a victory by the skin of their teeth. Similarly, if they walk in and the fully decked out super assassin player character one shots the Big Bad in the first scene of the first episode just riff it out!

What is it they say? No plan survives contact with the enemy? Adjust and revise the story. Plus how many times can they bring Michael Myers back? How many times has Jean Grey ressurrected……dead isn’t dead in 2075 or even the Forgotten Realms.

Strength, body, charisma……yawn
Do you know how many dice Han Solo’s blaster skill gives him? Do you know his charisma value? What level is he? Nope. Nope. Nope. But you know he is slick with his blaster, is charismatic as fuck and he is pretty much a total Don in all areas. Your players are more than a list of stats and skills. Help them be more than whats on that character sheet. Give them a reason to flush out some back story…..get them to write a little description of what their character looks like, their clothes and gear as well as their general attitude. This makes it easier for them to play “to character” and gives you as a games master hooks you can drop in…remember that guy that double crossed you and left you for dead in the desert? That looks like him over there in the corner booth…..

Get them to introduce their characters to each other in the first session…..some newer players might feel weird about this so let them sit back while the more experienced players describe themselves. If they still don’t feel comfy with it, do it for them. Once they get a handle on the character after playing them for a while there is nothing wrong with a bit of retconning of their look or backstory.
We will look at the story created by my players team of Shadowrunners in a later article.

Dramatis Personae
By the same token give your more important main characters of the story (known as NPCs or non player characters) a bit of a back story and a description. I flushed out the characters listed in the downloadable starter adventure to give them a backstory, motives and story arcs. For example the “digging deeper” section of the basic adventure has a couple of lines about Brandeen Mettlinger and her son as well as her motivation as a blackmailer within the adventure. I modified her motivation away from greed to her being a victim and gave her 10 lines of background and story arc along with 4 bullet points about the way she may react. This fleshes her into a character that should make her more interesting to both the games master and the players.

Meat on the bones
So as I said earlier, I took the basic story called “FOOD FIGHT 4.0” and modified it to run in 2nd Edition. The basic outline adventure can be found HERE. Its great starting adventure which has some interesting hooks built in which you can take forward and run with. With that small adventure completed and Brandeen and Cody safe with the team and her story and arc amended to where the team could become invested in her I let them go with it.

Things happened along the way…..for instance one of the NPC’s became a player character after someone new joined the group! An NPC who I had set up to be an ever present threat or a great contact for the team got taken out within the space of two turns by a physical adept troll Muay Thai expert ….but like our Liam said just roll with it!
The expanded adventure and the cast of NPC’s is available HERE to download.
Remember kids….watch your back, shoot straight, conserve ammo, and never, EVER cut a deal with a dragon.

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