Thursday 17 October 2013

Guild Dogs: Shadowruns in a Fantasy City

A friend was describing to me a Lawful Evil campaign he once ran (the campaign world was Lawful Evil not all of the Player Characters). It sparked a thought in my mind; Shadowrun's the Sixth World (the cyberpunked earth that Shadowrun takes place in) is a Lawful Evil campaign world. The Megacorps that run the show are solely interested in profit and power (I assume this to be evil). There is a very oppressive and prevalent sense of  law though. Mostly because these law benefits all of the Megacorps more so than not having any laws. The law keeps the Megacorps from initiating all out war against each other.  This is why the Megacorps need to hire Shadowrunners, to break the law for them in a completely deniable, off the books, kind of way.

This concept could be transferred to a D&D campaign in a world run by self-interested superpowers.  These superpowers would also be bound by a common set of laws they can themselves can not break. It would be a Lawful Evil campagin, but I wanted to to transplant the game formatting of Shadowrun as well as the re-skinned take on PC's working for Evil Megacorps that run the world. 

The basic structure of a Shadowrun adventure/mission/game is a bit like this;
  • PC's get offered a job.
  • PC's do some research on said job.
  • PC's do the job (with help from research)
  • PC's get paid for job

 From my experience this more or less happens every session, there is a definite "job" that is attempted, with either success or disaster. The "jobs" normally involving a specific site where something has to be destroyed, extracting, researched etc. The PC's also have no alliance to one another, and are free to come and go as they please before and after a job. The only thing binding them together is the "job" for the specific time they are actually attempting it.

Sessions of D&D seem to have a much more liquid formatting. Some games you spend a lot of time mucking around in town, sometimes your wandering the wilderness, sometimes you explore a bit of a dungeon. Each session is different. There's no definite chunk or packet of easily quantifiable success per session (other than everyone having fun). Adventuring groups of PC's are also always assumed to have some sort of comradery ,friendship or some sort of other metaphysical glue binding them together.

This liquid formatting of a D&D session is great if your sitting down with more or less the same people every week and you can pick up exactly where you left off. It's not as great if you have different people dropping in and out each week and have to spend a bit of time letting everyone know where you are up to and what was achieved last session. Players not present for every session can also get annoyed with random distribution of reward. They might only be there for the 6 hour long "Talking in Town" session and get little to no reward, and then miss next weeks "Bumper Haul of Treasure from the Dungeon" Session.

I've been toying with the idea of campaign that's built to be played entirely online. I've noticed most sessions I run online go for 3 hours. At the end of these sessions sometimes I feel that the adventure was a complete, neat package, other times there's lots of loose ends that may or may not be remembered. I want every session of this campaign to feel like a neat, completed package.I want a campaign that could crank out 2-3 hour long sessions where something tangible is always completed, that each player felt like they had done something, gained something and more or less ready to move in any direction the next session (whether they make the next session or not).

I want to do Shadowrun-like mission based D&D campaign. The PC's are free-lancers, not owing allegiance to an specific entity or group in "The City" ("The City" is what I will refer to the place the campaign will take place in). Specific entities and groups see the value in free-lancers because they can hire them to do things that would get them in a lot of trouble if they were caught doing it. If the PC's are caught doing those things the specific entities and groups can just say " We deny all association with those lunatics".

It makes sense for these groups to use "adventurers", there will be lots of them around, just milling about at taverns between dungeon delves. They have the skills the groups wants and the groups have the gold that the adventurers want. Adventurers are almost a pest to any city, being a bizarre class of people akin to super powered gypsies, so they make a good deniable assest or scapegoat. Basic D&D PC's are essentially treasure hunters, and thus have the basic skills required to break into places and do illegal things. Its also a format that works well with the motley cast of characters that can randomly turn up at a game. There's no need to explain why they are all together in an "adventuring party", there just working together to get a specific job done. 

The classic example of Fantasy City Shadowrun is when the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd meet for the first time in Lankhmar. They're freelancers, both of whom have done enough research to know a certain entourage of Thieves Guild representatives will be walking down a certain street, at a certain time. They also know this entourage will be carrying something of quite a bit of value. They both plan an ambush and take the loot, meeting each other in the process.

That's what I plan for many of this campaigns sessions to be like; some planning, some research (legwork) and then a very specific scenario or site that can be approached (and go wrong) in any number of ways. Then depending on how the "Job" went the campaign world's balance of power will change.There would always be a number of "Jobs" on offer, as well as the ability to just cause some havoc in "The City" if none of the jobs appealed to any of the players.

Now I've got to get to work planning out "The City" and the myriad of self-serving douche bag Guilds that run the place. Also some nods towards Shadowrun in the form medieval body modification augmentation would be cool.

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