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Author Topic: [Shadowrun] What's wrong here?  (Read 14535 times)
Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« on: October 31, 2005, 01:15:32 PM »

I think this is one of these "Please diagnose my problem" threads. I'm a jaded player who's been out of rpgs for a while, and I'm trying to work out:

a) If there's anything in rpgs worth coming back to.

and

b) What kind of play I can actually enjoy.

In summary: I was interested in (one might say "obsessed with") rolegames from about the age of nine until my last year of college. At that point, I just kind of lost interest, mostly because the games just weren't doing anything for me any more...and, I think, most of them never had done. In the space of five years, I ran a single session and played in none.

(I should add that for most of that period I almost always GM'd, and didn't start playing as a non-GM until much later. I don't think I *ever* really enjoyed the non-GM role. The GM role I did enjoy, at times, but I eventually pissed off all my friends (to the extent that they wouldn't play at all) by starting campaigns and losing interest after a few sessions. My longest ever run was, I think, three months....maybe less. I reckon that in five years of my teens I did this over thirty times.)

Recently however, my interest has been piqued, and I've come back to rpgs to see if there's anything I can salvage. Finding the Forge was a godsend; reading Ron's description of bitter, unhappy people obsessively playing games they didn't enjoy, I recognised my younger self.

So I found a gaming club nearby and signed up for an eight-week Shadowrun game that had just started, and I also joined a D&D 3E game (outside the club). The latter I'm still playing and enjoying, so I won't talk about it here.

The Shadowrun game was based on a commercial module, called 'Dreamchipper' I think, and it was played over eight sessions of about three hours each. There were five other players, most of which came to every session. I didn't know any of them before the game started; I suppose I still don't, because there was hardly any non-game-related chat around the table.

In particular, this meant that there was almost *no* metagame chat, let alone discussion about the kind of game we were playing or the style of play the players and GM liked.

Partly this was because we ran through all the time available; the GM didn't seem to keep track of time at all...at one point a major fight was nearly split across sessions by us getting kicked out of the building. These sessions were running from eight to nearly twelve on a thursday night, and quite frankly I don't have the stamina for that any more if I've got work the next day.

I was a bit stuck for a character at the start, so I settled on a Street Samurai based on the character 'Ghost Dog' from the movie of the same name. Throughout the run, I had real trouble "getting into character" - I just couldn't work out how he'd talk or what he'd do. Towards the end, I just started playing him as a "big, well-meaning dumb guy" which worked for laughs but wasn't what I'd intended at all.

The first session was okay, and a bit of a novelty, but the rest of them I found deathly dull.

About the only exceptions were the fights, maybe four significant ones in the whole run. As soon as a fight started, I "came online" and was very invested in what was going on. I guess I'd have been eyes bright, leaning forward. The game system (at least as we played it) didn't seem to offer significant tactical choices, but I loved the clash of my abilities with those of the enemy. Could I  solo the psychotic samurai who though he was Jack the Ripper? Yes, I could (with some help), but I think I'd have been just as happy if I couldn't. It was the resolution (one way or the other) that mattered.

(Actually, another thing I enjoyed chatting was with the GM afterwards and realising that I'd created the character that (mechanically) was the pyscho's worst nightmare, i.e. just as strong and skilled but using a longer weapon that gave me an advantage on the die rolls. Not that I could claim credit for this in any sense, but just that it put the character in a mechanical context (and also identified a role for him as a Shadowrunner)).

The rest of the time I just couldn't care less. The story was about recovering three stolen chips in return for lots of money; in the process, we saved Seattle from three very nasty individuals who were using the chips. But I don't care about imaginary Seattles. I dare say Shadowrun wouldn't work if you nuked Seattle anyway, so the result was a moot point (and, of course, after the eight weeks that version of the world ended anyway).

I don't think, really, that I'm interested in published worlds at all. I used to collect rolegame sourcebooks, but it's the creativity that makes rolegames interesting to me. Playing in a 'canned' world is, well, like having a canned conversation or dreaming canned dreams.

(Nominally, the D&D game is set in Ravenloft, but the actual area we're in is the GM's own creation and isolated by a magical effect from the rest of the realm. I think this is great.)

The interest level of the other players varied. I'm not that great at paying attention, but a lot of the them time when I did look up the other players just looked bored, often because one of them was tying up the GM with some extensive investigation action (which, of course, couldn't really fail if the story was to go forward). I think this improved a little over the weeks, but not for me.

The player that seemed to enjoy the game most didn't seem to do anything much either....but he spent a lot of time talking about things like his character's expensive car, and his (characteristically Elven) concern about clothes and furnishings (and not getting blood all over them).

Anyway, I found this game really uninspiring, and I remember feeling much the same about most other games (including some boffer LARP) during my college days. I.e. you come in as a little unimportant character, and plot happens to you (or, quite often, around you while you watch). If you're lucky, you get a fight (that you can't lose because that would end the game). You *never* feel that you're actually making a decision, or driving the game in any sense. Hence I never used to enjoy being a player, and always wanted to GM.

So, what's the diagnosis? Is this just me, does this sound like CA clash, or what? I'm quite concerned to work this out, because I may have some opportunity to GM soon (some of it with non-gamers) and would rather not make a hash of it.

(Reading the 'posting to actual play' thread, and the example linked from there, I imagine that I've not really hit the details here that this post needs. But it's already huge, so I'll stop writing and stand by to answer questions.)
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2005, 01:47:06 PM »

Hiya Rob.  Welcome to the Forge.

I'd like to throw a single concept at you.  You decide if I hit the mark or not.  Meaningful Choices

I played quite a bit of Shadowrun.  GM'd quite a bit to be accurate.  And I know from experience that the only time the players have enough control over the game to make informed decisions is during a combat scene.  So I'm not surprised that you got interested during the combats and rarely any other time.  I mean, it was probably the only time you weren't being led around by your nose.  I ran quite a few of those Shadowrun premade scenarios, including Dreamchipper, and that was the MO;  Players follow clue-path from fight to fight, eventually collecting cash reward in the end.

If anything that you'd said or did made any difference during the investigation scenes they might have been interesting to you and the rest of the players.  But the scenario required very specific things to occurr and that meant that you had to do very specific things in return.  So, your choices were snipped.  Thus, the game was boring.

But hey, I'm really just guessing based on my own experience. 

-Eric
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Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2005, 02:11:14 PM »

Hi Eric,

Quote
I'd like to throw a single concept at you.  You decide if I hit the mark or not.  Meaningful Choices.

Yeah, I can go with that. And I'm pretty sure we didn't get any except, as you note, in combat. If the GM wanted the scenario to work, he had to keep us on the straight and narrow.

(I said that 'there didn't seem to be many tactical options' but at least I had the choice to hang back or charge in, etc. In some ways, the D&D game I play in is similar, in that we're mostly on rails from dungeon to dungeon, but I've got many more combat options and there's much more combat. Not to mention traps, marching order, scouting etc.)

Now, I did worry before my last post if I'd just assumed this (from my memory of my own bad GMing), but then I realised that none of the other players tried, at any point, to step off the railtracks [1]. Either they were 'reading' the GM the same way, or had been equally conditioned by previous experience.

Now I just have to work out how to avoid this in my own games. Or, rather, how to provide meaningful choices to my players.


[1] On a related note, there was a younger player (maybe 16?) who tried once or twice to narrate the results of his own actions when the dice seemed pretty certain....but the GM stomped on that pretty quick.

--
rob
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2005, 02:21:54 PM »

Hi Rob, welcome to the Forge.

With the combat and your choices, would you say the GM would have fudged any character death away (for story reasons). But regardless of that, by watching how the dice went you would have found out and known how the fight would have ended up sans any fudging?

And as you say, even though the system tactical options are low, you could withdraw or charge in. Is trying to figure out when to do either of those, a meangingful choice for you? If so, how is it meaningful? Is it because you've got a stake in this character? And just as much as his life in danger draws him into the combat, so to does your stake in him draw you into the combat?

Also, I really think we should hear about the D&D game as well (D&D 3.0/3.5?). Your getting fun out of that, right? I think it's easier to figure out what your looking for in a game, from a game that suceeds for you.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2005, 02:53:21 PM »

Callan - Based on the next game I played with him (Pendragon), the GM would have had no qualms about killing characters if the dice said so. By luck it never happened (although I got close at one point).

Just seeing the characters clash *was* fun. I suppose it's a bit of the "What if Morpheus fought Agent Smith" kind of thing, i.e. you explore the physical aspects of the characters by watching them fight each other. I've always liked that.

If I'd suspected fudging though, it would have been spoiled, because the result wouldn't have been 'accurate' (with respect to the in-game reality). I.e. nothing would have actually been revealed.

With regard to the meaningfulness of tactical choices, I suppose that I was somewhat invested in my character's survival, and also in the opportunity to demonstrate that I could make those choices well (this is 'step on up', right?). This is more prevalent in the D&D game, where I want to demonstrate that I'm a skilled player and (in particular) can make a spellcaster work effectively as part of a fighting team.

And I think that rushing in (which I did at least twice) was a bit of a rebellious act on my part; I had just enough control there to stir things up and put myself and the party at risk. Sigh...sounds rather silly when you put it like that. (Although for all I know the other players enjoyed it...I was too involved in imagining and talking to the GM to notice).

I'll post about the D&D game soon (new thread is best, right?) although it may be tomorrow because it's getting late here and I'm tired.

Might put up a few of my fun GMing experiences, too. I've got more good experiences to draw from and they're a bit stronger in my mind.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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Posts: 1144

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« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2005, 09:15:22 PM »

Hi, Rob. Welcome to the Forge and welcome back to roleplaying!

You're probably experiencing the crappiness of the Shadowrun system. Sorry to break it to you.

What kind of stories do you like to tell and participate in? It seems most likely you need a better match. You also might want to check out FindPlay  and see what other people in your area are into.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
mutex
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2005, 12:12:01 AM »

I've always really liked the Shadowrun system.  It's true that it's basically designed to just throw a wad of dice at each other, but a good group could make it fun.  I mean, Ron's Humanity system is fairly similar to the Humanity system in Shadowrun, with the sole exception that Humanity was almost never meaningful in Shadowrun, because you either played it conservative or you simply died before it ever became an issue.

Now, if you were to take the same Shadowrun resolution rules and flavor, and give a nudge towards personal conflict generators, you'd end up with a damn fine game.  Hell, introduce some aspect that can threaten the player's Humanity so they end up gambling with it to achieve their goals.

I think the main issue with this group was that the GM got hypnotized into believing that the given adventure was canonical.  I mean, #@%, it's just words on paper, but this guy refused to deviate from the course it set out.  If he had allowed your group to start from the given setting and explore your own path from there, it would have been just as fun as any other system.

</rant>
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2005, 12:16:20 AM »

" I mean, Ron's Humanity system is fairly similar to the Humanity system in Shadowrun, with the sole exception that Humanity was almost never meaningful in Shadowrun, because you either played it conservative or you simply died before it ever became an issue."

Are you fucking serious? Or are you joking and I'm being thick?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
mutex
Member

Posts: 59


« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2005, 12:56:52 AM »

Haha, I guess I deserve that.  I really shouldn't have said "the sole exception".  I should have said "one exception being".  Not the same thing at all.  Sorry.

The similarity that I am referring to is that reducing your Humanity to 0 deprotagonizes the character.  In Sorceror, this is a real risk, because it seems to me that one of the GM's jobs is to push the players into making difficult choices that endanger their Humanity.  In Shadowrun, Humanity is reduced to a rather mundane currency.

I spoke imprecisely; please, no flame <dons asbestos Underoos> :D
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2005, 01:13:18 AM »

The difference is that Sorcerer is about that, while in Shadowrun it's tacked on, so it's both mechanically irrelevant and philosophically empty.

Now, a Shadowrun-like game using Sorcerer rules, that would be a different matter. I was discussing using Sorcerer for a Ghost In The Shell-inspired game with Vincent a couple of months back, and it definitely seemed plausible. And a better game.

I want to know what Rob wants before we discuss this further.
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: November 01, 2005, 01:21:58 AM »

Now I just have to work out how to avoid this in my own games. Or, rather, how to provide meaningful choices to my players.

I advise you to get your hands on a game that will make it impossible to fall into the traps of the style of GMing you've learned to hate. Try My Life with Master, or Dogs in the Vineyard, or Primetime Adventures, or Polaris, or some such system - it would be a real feat to play any of those without having meaningful choices.

Much safer to do that than to try to put meaningful choices into a system that wasn't built for them (say, Shadowrun) or that is more easily broken by players with wrong preconceptions (say, Sorcerer - if you misunderstand the concept of 'bangs' because of your RPG-background, the game won't work).
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Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« Reply #11 on: November 01, 2005, 02:08:31 AM »

Hi all,

I've started a new thread about the D&D game. Of good GMing experiences, one in particular springs to mind:

About two years ago, I had a brief interest in running a rolegame again. So I got in touch with some old school friends and arranged to run a few session over the Christmas period. In the end, I did one session with three players, all of whom I'd known for years and had run games for before.

For prep, I bought the 3.5E books (I'd already sold my very diverse game collection) and started mapping out a classic dungeon. Far too big to be cleared in one go, I'd envisaged it as part of a massive complex which would re-populate over time and had near-constant attention from many adventuring groups. Stealing some ideas from old Tunnels and Trolls solos I set up a bar and a shop above the dungeon in a not-wholly-unrealistic (for the setting) way. I created some NPC and (mostly other adventurers), and even some props (such as a sheet for the "dead and missing" board).

The thing that did it for me with this setting, and that made it really exciting, was the fact that it felt "alive". I.e. I could really imagine all those adventures living in a lose, transient community around this dungeon and trying to strike it rich. Kind of like a gold rush feeling. And the constrained environment (i.e. the mapped-out complex plus entrances/exits and the forest areas near them) meant that players would enter the same areas and meet the same NPCs repeatedly while experience intense tactical challenges and undertaking goal-driven expeditions ('Can we find the Sword of Solas?", "Can we get Mental's body back from the trolls?').

This mean that (a) locations would get fleshed out and (b) characters would come alive (both in the personality and stats sense) over time, rather than being plot-dependent throwaways.

(Regarding 'come alive in the stats sense' - I can't overemphasise how important it is for me to be able to say "Adelard is much harder than Grief, especially with all his flunkies, but if Grief got the jump on him he'd take him down pretty quick." and have it actually *mean* something that isn't dependent on GM fudging and the accursed 'plot'.)

At the last minute, I got cold feet, and decided that for a one-off a completely different kind of game was needed. I realised that I really wanted to wing it, to let the players go where they wanted in a sprawling fantasy city. So I scrawled down what I remembered of Lanhkmar on a single sheet of paper, along with notes like (Zanzibar the Necromancer has disappeared (with the black and white swords), Adelard is big in the wizard's guild, etc). Then I just ad-libbed it from there.

And it was great. The characters met notables, got into brawls, found the necromancers tower and went in, met with Adelard and he explained what the events in the tower might mean. At one point they nearly died (attacking some pretty serious thieves-guild members) but they lucked out. I came up with several locations and characters completely on the fly, and in the process of course I was fleshing out the city and its description.

I did use force techniques at the end of the session to give them a mission for the next one, by staging a too-hard-to-fight ambush by a major NPC. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake and an enthusiasm-damper.

I still used the D&D rules in the end, right down to using a wipe-clean battleboard and counters. This was great, took a lot of "scene load" off my mind and let me concentrate on playing the NPCs and arbitrating the rules. But I don't know how much I got lucky with the tactical balance.

I started the PCs at 3rd level, too, which was an excellent choice. I think those old players were sick of playing 1st-level weeds, because my games never lasted long enough for significant experience to be gained. I guess, they enjoyed having some choices, some powers to play with, and the ability to be a bit aggressive without being stopped. Of course, it was their only session in years so novelty and nostalgia probably played a big part.


****************

Thinking back to other sessions that I enjoyed running....the two that come to mind were also both wholly adlib. One was a Fudge one-off, the other was the start of a (short, as ever) Shatterzone campaign. The Fudge game was just anarchy (one player was "Werlin, Merlin's older, smarter brother"), while the SZ one was page-of-notes style and adlib from there (I think I'd planned that the players needed to steal a ship to get off their home planet, and I knew the name of the vegetable that the planet's economy was based on.). I'm pretty sure that in those the players really had fun, altho I was even less observant then than I am now.

So, can anyone detect a preferred CA or other preference there? The more I read Forge stuff, the more confused I get about my own interests. I think I may be interested in several different play styles and CAs that can't be (coherently) combined in a single game.
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Joshua A.C. Newman
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« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2005, 02:27:17 AM »

Rob, did you intend to make this a new thread? Or are you relating this to the Shadowrun discussion?

I don't see that much that points to a particular CA here. I think there's not enough information, frankly. In particular, what did you like about these stories you've liked?
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the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 390


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« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2005, 03:07:47 AM »

So, can anyone detect a preferred CA or other preference there? The more I read Forge stuff, the more confused I get about my own interests. I think I may be interested in several different play styles and CAs that can't be (coherently) combined in a single game.

Of course you are interested in different play styles that can't be coherently combined! Ok, maybe 'of course' is a bit too strong, but seriously, I think even most hardcore narrativists enjoy some tactical gaming now and then. You don't have to choose one Creative Agenda and play only games catering to that; that would be a bit like saying "I like chess, so I can't also like Monopoly, because the former is strategic and the latter is more a game of chance and luck". Of course you can like both chess and Monopoly, and of course you can like both D&D and My Life with Master. The activity of 'roleplaying' is not a monolithic whole, but rather a plurality of different activities.

So rather than trying to determine what kind of roleplaying you enjoy most by reading about it, I suggest you go and determine it by playing games. You've been playing some heavy Gamist D&D, and you enjoy it. Good. Maybe you want to try some Narrativist gaming too? Then you'll know more about your preferences. And maybe you want Gamism on sundays and Narrativism on Fridays - there is not wrong with, or even strange about, that.
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Rob Alexander
Member

Posts: 76


« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2005, 03:42:02 AM »

Quote
Rob, did you intend to make this a new thread? Or are you relating this to the Shadowrun discussion?

I didn't - should I have? I suppose this thread is meant to be about the Shadowrun game, and that other post isn't , so I guess I should have.

Is there any way I can fix this now?
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