Why Insurance Rates for Shadowrunners Are So High.
It all started innocently enough. Over on the ShadowRN mailing list, someone posted something about how in their Shadowrun game session the playerís characterís cars and apartments seem to get trashed with alarming frequency. Are all other games like that?
It seems so. Most of the initial respondents said that this happens in their games, GMs and players alike. And it seems as if no matter what the players do, the bad guys blow away the new motorcycle, or blitz a huge elemental through the runnerís apartments, or wipe a runnerís credit line.
Now if this happens because it is part of the ongoing Shadowrun story your gaming group is telling, then itís okay. But if this happens with unnerving regularity, despite what precautions the players take, then something is wrong. I discovered why this seems to happen.
In a response to my message that the GM shouldnít destroy the PCís hard-earned stuff solely because itís the PCís stuff, someone replied, "you SHOULD destroy the playerís stuff, just because itís theirs." According to this GM, the players never remember the adventures where they got away with a lot of payola and managed to keep it all. They remember the time they held "an elevator [door] open and got their arm lopped off when it moved levels. Or the time they led the goons back to the van and got it trashed. Or the time they let a cellular phone call last a few seconds too long and were traced to their apartment." They donít remember the times where they were able to take out the assassin from across a crowded room without being detected. They donít remember the matrix run where they pulled down a few hundred thousand nuyen from a hidden account at a Grand Cayman Island bank account. They donít remember when the contact they thought of as just a friend started to date the runner, eventually getting engaged to the character. They only remember the crap that the GM did to their character.
Sorry, gotta call bullshit on that one.
Why does the character run in the shadows? Thatís one of the twenty questions that you, the player, are supposed to answer when you create your character (Another important one is ĎWhat would make your character leave the shadows?í). For most of the characters, theyíre driven by greed. The shadowrunning is a means to an end, the end where the characters can walk away from it and retire or live fat for a long time.
The ones that arenít driven by greed are probably drawn into it. After resolving why theyíre running -- whether itís to avenge their parentsí deaths, to find what Lion has planned for them, or clear their names from a crime they didnít commit -- their goal is to have their life return to normal. To do that, theyíll need to have their lifestyle return to what it was before they were drawn into the shadows. And to do that, theyíll probably have to make some money while running to maintain or regain their former lifestyle. So we can agree that the primary goal of the majority of characters is to make money to provide a lifestyle.
In order to get this lifestyle, the character has to obtain things. Pure money to pay for a higher lifestyle -- which includes things like rent, entertainment, and the monthly bills -- or physical things like a really nice car or expensive apartment in a nice neighborhood, all these things are the end product of what the characters want. If you, the GM, decide to destroy these things just because they are the PCís possessions -- and that is the only reason -- then you should seriously rethink your style of GMing. Youíre turning into Harlan Ellisonís AM from his short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream".
AM is an artificial intelligence that puts five people into a living hell with no escape. By giving the PCs things and then destroying them without reason, youíre keeping the characters in their place, never advancing. Why are these characters still there? Because you like tormenting them. You have no intention of letting them have enough things where they can retire. Because you keep destroying everything they have.
Put yourself in a characterís place. Why would you get involved in shadowrunning if after each mission  deckers break into your bank account and wipe your funds clean,  you have to move again because youíve lost your apartment and all of your possessions when a fire elemental ripped through your condo,  you canít hold onto a car for longer than three weeks without it getting shot up, crushed, or blown up, and  your closest friends have all disappeared, possibly dead, simply for knowing you and what you do for a living? To hell with it, youíre broke all the time, all your cool stuff might as well be non-existent for the limited time you have it, and you might die, yes die, on any single mission! Youíre not making any profit out of the whole thing, so itís better to just give up and move onto another profession.
Right, you say. Theyíre not saving up anything. Theyíre buying a bigger gun or souping up the van to carry more weapons or spending the nuyen as fast as they can.
Of course theyíre spending it. If the GM destroys everything they own, itís just a matter of time until the bank robbing decker wipes their nest egg. But what was that theyíre spending that nuyen on? Souping up the van? More weapons? Letís look at my game. Hong Lang just spent a bundle on his car. The add-ons are banking on the future -- future runs, that is. With a faster vehicle and better armor, the vehicle will be an asset for a future run -- the future run with a bigger payoff. Lynxís new gun? Itís a Narcoject, for runs where they have to kidnap someone or obtain a hostile extraction target. Dancing Flameís upgrading of her DocWagon contract? To keep herself alive after a future run if it goes bad, allowing her to live longer to complete future big money runs. Guttersnipes new bookstore? To launder money and make a profit. All of these trivial squanderings actually go to bettering their lifestyles.
As the dialogue continued on the mailing list, I noticed that the GMs who were saying that the players only remembered the bad things instead of the good are the same GMs who advocate destroying the player characterís equipment simply because itís the characterís equipment. The inference I pick up on is that if all your group experiences is the decimation of everything theyíve tried to achieve, thatís all youíre going to hear about when the players talk about their game experiences. Your players arenít talking about the good times? You might want to ask yourself if youíre allowing any good times into your campaign.
Yes, I hear about some of the things I had the NPCs do to the PCís possessions (or even what the PCs did to their own possessions). But I hear about the good things too. I hear about how Lynx, wounded and hanging off a fire escape, managed to drop an escaping mage with a Narcoject. I hear about how Queensryche really jammed out at Club Nails and the management asked her back for an extended engagement. I hear about Hong Langís relationship with Buítrey is going so well after their rocky beginnings.
If your players arenít talking about the good times when they discuss your campaign you should ask yourself if your campaign has any good times. Or to paraphrase a message that was posted to the initial dialogue, there should be a reason why the PC's possessions are destroyed. The GM has to remember that they are causing destruction for reasons, and not making up reasons for the destruction.