By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 17, 2007

Filed under: Tabletop Games 18 comments

(The following is a little gruesome.)

Nilus left a comment here, talking about looting companions after they die when playing a tabletop RPG:

At least in D&D most lootable items are not surgically implanted in the player characters. I remember a Shadowrun game where we spent several hours debating how many times you would have to slam a car trunk in order to decapitate a person with it. This was because the party Decker, who had several million dollars in cyberware in his brain, just died and the rest of the party felt it a waste to let all that expensive equipment get buried with him. Of course no one thought it was a good idea to carry his whole body around and no one had a blade large or sharp enough to cut his head off easily. So thus we used a car trunk.

I’ve never played Shadowrun, but I’ve read Neuromancer and seen a few cyberpunk movies, so I think I get the idea.

Just for fun (fun for me, I don’t know if anyone else will enjoy this) I thought I’d detail how I would handle something like this. This is not to knock on Nilus’ GM – everyone has their own style, and there is no right or wrong way to play this game as long as everyone is having a good time.

If I was the GM in this case I would strongly challenge the players. Even if they were “evil”, I would ask them to picture what they were doing: Would your character really have the stomach to do something like this? To someone you know? Right after they die? With a trunk lid? I wouldn’t forbid them, but if my players were interested in roleplaying as opposed to rollplaying I would encourage them to imagine how their characters would really feel in this situation.

Assuming they still wanted the hardware, or their characters were callous enough to want to do this, then what we have here is a quest hook. Rather than let them attempt the above gruesome extraction, I would assume that this wasn’t the first time people were faced with this problem.

Again, I have no idea how Shadowrun works, so I’m just making this up as I go and coming up with my own words for things:

You guys saw a chop shop on your way here. You know that they probably have a wetware guy or a chipsmith that could pull this hardware out for you.

* * *

The shop looks like it was made from a renovated gas station. It’s the middle of the night, but the lights are on and even from outside you can feel the place humming. There is a sweeper zipping around the parking lot looking for trash to suck up. It’s loud and annoying and probably here to chase bums away rather than out of a desire to keep the place tidy.

You can see various faded certificates, medical licenses, and inspection notices in beat up frames, hung so that they are visible from the outside. They don’t look particularly new.

As you enter, a guy jumps up from behind a nest of old consoles and fat feed cables that dangle from the ceiling like jungle vines. He’s fiftyish, slim, disheved, and he squints at you over a pair of old-fashioned eyeglasses. As he comes close you can see he’s bouncing slightly and his pupils are dialated. He’s nervous and happy at the same time.

He introduces himself as…

(Think! Quick! Think of name!)

…as Diesel.

You get the idea. They meet this goofball who they can pay to have the hardware recovered from their dead “friend”. While they are out in the parking lot with Diesel, looking in the trunk and discussing the particulars of the job, some minor antagonist will appear. Maybe a “health inspector” who wants a bribe? A couple of lunatic customers who are upset about work Diesel did for them in the past? Some cops who want to know what’s in the trunk that has everyone so excited? Lots of fun can be had in this situation.

Once they deal with this threat, the guy will pull the hardware for them. Perhaps in doing so he’ll find that the hardware isn’t what they expected! If I can, I might try to tie this to the main plot.

Since we’re here, this would be a great time to introduce the new Decker to replace the old. Talk to the player whose character died, roll them up a new one (or whatever) and have them come into the shop while Diesel is working.

I do find this sort of thing can help you sidestep arguments with players. Instead of saying, “You can’t do that” I say “You have to do a sidequest to do that.” But that’s just me. I’ve never run a Shadowrun campaign (heck, I’ve never run anything besides D&D) so I’m not sure how well this sort of thing translates to other games.


From The Archives:

18 thoughts on “Sidequesting

  1. Dan says:

    Oh, you’re good…

    I’m just remembering a side-quest to acquire some armor-piercing ammo for a ‘run. There was a shipment we needed to hijack, and we accomplished this by starting a block party that escalated into an orc vs. elf gang war.

    Good times, good times…

  2. Julia says:

    Sounds a lot more constructive than repeatedly animating dead party members (all run one at a time by the same player) and having a small hoard of zombie servants at your disposal….

    (D&D. The 2 guys were roommates, and one was bugging the hell out of the other in their apartment. Not a good situation; the party was evil, the DM allowed it, but made the zombies fall apart after a certain amount of time, so there were never more than 4 around.)

  3. Katy says:

    >> repeatedly animating dead party members

  4. Katy says:

    (Well, that didn’t work. Was trying to quote…)

    >> Repeatedy animating dead party members

    Paranoia, anyone?

  5. Ben Finkel says:

    Skeletons are much better than zombies.


  6. That sort of behavior is very Shadowrunnish.

  7. Curt says:

    I can remember, in my miss-spent “yute” when a fellow AD&D character broke his leg while on campaign (we had our own home-made critical hit chart – who didn’t?).

    Well, he was the party “jerk-du-jour”, being a thief and always taking our stuff as soon as we bedded down, splitting up the party the instant we got into a city, skulking off the wrong way in a dungeon. You know, all that stuff that annoys a DM and the other players equally.

    Well, I was a Druid and just attained the spell to turn mud into stone. So, as a party, and to teach the player a lesson, we decided that “natural healing” would be best and we made him a cast of mud, which I promptly turned to stone.

    From there on, we were quite well within the city and developed a certain team cohesion. Of course, we didn’t think about inventing, or providing crutches so he stayed put – and we were all happy (this is where we ate Sir Robin’s minstrels =;^)

    Geesh… were sure jerks. I think I owe him a beer… But, I think collectively coming up with that solution was our first step to becoming a great party.

  8. tafka says:

    Yes. Shadowrun is that callous. Shadowrunners would do that, unless they had a very unusual quirk that made them actually care about . I have only come across one such character, and she was one I made with that quirk to make her interesting to play in such a field & mostly to see how other people reacted to the ‘but why do you have to kill him? he’s just a guard, we’re not getting paid to kill him & stunning him would equally suit our purposes.’

    Anyway, Shadowrun is a game where your character is hired to do the dirty work that honest citizens would never even consider. Still, lopping the guy’s head off is a bit much. If they were sensible someone should have had a dikoted something that would have helped with the messy headgear-retrieval problem.

  9. Deoxy says:

    “Shadowrun is a game where your character is hired to do the dirty work that honest citizens would never even consider.”

    Exactly. No resurrection of any kind, either (at least there wasn’t back in 1st edition, when I played… in my cave, where we were safe from dinosaurs), so “dead” is DEAD.

    But some characters really should care about their fellows… not anyone ELSE mind you, but even psychopathic murderers usually have a few people they like.

  10. tafka says:

    “But some characters really should care about their fellows… ”

    That really does depend on 1) How long they’ve known their fellow runners & 2) How they show that affection.

    In the runs I’ve been on lately used headware is very much second-class even if it is Excalibur. But then, we’d still be loathe to let such stuff just rot beneath the ground. Time to call up the clean-up crew in your contacts & negotiate some better contact levels with a quick ‘tidy this mess up for me & the gear is yours to hock on the black market’. With expensive gear, even at second hand, that’s easily an upgrade to a level 2 contact, maybe a level 3 if you were already in good with the guy & pushing goodies his way on a regular basis.

    At any rate, it’s never a good idea to leave stuff like that in the now-redundant meat body anyway. People might start asking questions. ;)

  11. Telas says:

    This is why every character should have a dagger. In every game. :D

    Or at least a sharp knife. Ask a deer hunter how easy is it to remove a head with the proper tools. :/

    And a car trunk? Nope. It would take forever, make lots of noise, and leave a very big mess behind. Don’t tell me they didn’t have – oh, I don’t know – any glass in the vicinity?


  12. Rufus Polson says:

    What kind of Shadowrun group doesn’t have a blade sufficient to cut someone’s head off with?!
    Yeah, I know, you had guns . . . lots of guns. But nothing says “ultraviolence” like big sharp pointy things.

    But really–if you had the trunk of a car, stuff the body in and get going. You never know what other ‘ware the guy might have had, and some of it could have connecting fibres going through the neck. You could ruin something just chopping the head off. And what about organs?

  13. Rufus Polson says:

    As to moral considerations, though . . . no. It’s not even that Shadowrunners are evil. In general, characters I’ve played or seen often have their own quirky codes of behaviour–things like “don’t screw a fellow streeter first”, “if you take a job, deliver the goods (unless you get betrayed, obviously)” or “try to avoid killing civilians”. Some would even include joe average security guards in that, although not elite corporate goons. As a Canadian, I’ve always been annoyed that the Shadowrun people incorporated most of Canada into bits of the US, so one time I actually had a character whose long range determination was to put Canada back. He never got very far . . .

    But hacking up your friend’s dead body? He’s dead. He won’t mind. You wouldn’t mind if your friends did it to you–it’s just meat. To a decker it’s just meat because real existence is the mind that moves in cyberspace. To a wizard it’s just meat because it’s so blatantly clear that you have a spirit that can leave your body. And street samurai are just very used to blood and gore–that’s death in the fast lane, chummer. Respect for the dignity of corpses just isn’t in the ethos; even someone who hadn’t been in the streets long and felt uncomfortable about such an act would feel weird actually saying so, and would have difficulty articulating what was supposed to be wrong with it.

    I still think it’s unnecessary. I mean, like a severed head is supposed to be less incriminating than a dead body? Take the whole body to that chop shop Shamus mentioned and do some colour and plot hooks, for sure.

  14. Ermel says:

    Good solution, Shamus. And if they’d still insist on the car trunk solution, make them aware that a) this might attract unwanted attention, and b) this might damage the hardware. Use that GM flavour of the word “might” that conveys its actual meaning, i.e., “will certainly”. :-)

  15. Dave says:

    “This is why every character should have a dagger.”

    Or, in Shadowrun, a monofilament whip stored in a fingertip compartment. Concealable, fairly cheap, and cuts through anything. 0.1 essence, 3750 nuyen…. And you get to make gratuitous Johnny Mnemonic references!

  16. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Shamus, your cyberpunk influences are showing. I think you have a good grasp on the basis of Shadowrun society. William Gibson will do that for you.

    Your ideas are excellent. The basis has to be “How can I turn what THEY want to do into a good story/game?” Thinking this way (outside of the box) makes the whole experience better for everyone.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. Matt says:

    You’re my hero.

  18. God of Awesome says:

    Now I feel guilty for being a bad, bad railroading GM.

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